Monday, December 31, 2012

Traditions

     This Christmas season has given many moments to remember and many of them have been all about the traditions of this time of year. At the risk of creating a post too lengthy even for me I'll try and look back on the season concisely enough that 2013 doesn't arrive while I'm still writing!

    Our Christmas tree came right out of yard this year - really! Everyone always laughs when we've said that, but it's true. And no, it's not the top of the one that fell during Hurricane Sandy but another lovely Frazier Don had growing that fortunately didn't suffer any storm damage.

    
     Decorating the tree a weekend in December instead of the weekend of Thanksgiving broke with tradition, but it did give us a little less hectic time with Logan before he headed back to school and I'm thinking we might maintain that new schedule next year. Unless the decorating Nazis complain - we'll see!!

     If you have a dancer in your family or know a dancer, you probably know that Christmastime usually means the annual Nutcracker production. We've had that tradition in our family since our dancing daughter was 6 and because, for a variety of reasons there was no December show with our company this year, we had both some breathing room (lovely!) and some Nutcracker withdrawal (sigh). Katrina was asked by her choir director to create an accompanying ballet piece to one of their choral numbers and since I was on video cam, I have no still shots, but let me assure you, she was lovely and wonderful, atop satin pink pointe shoes in a snow blue and white tutu. The traditional Candlelight Concert brings our community to tears and bravos each year thanks to our choir director extraordinaire, Mr. Steve Mosser.

     Our annual Ritchie family Christmas party has been part of an earlier post this year and our gathering for 2012 did not disappoint. Aunts and uncles and cousins, food and folly and fun and some traditions that we maintain each year . . . 

      sharing of the Christmas socks . . .

    

    
singing of the Twelve Days of Christmas


from the Partridge in a Pear Tree








to 8 Maids a Milking

(yes, that's my 98 year old aunt

good naturedly being the cow!!) : )








          and my cousin Kathy, who used to lead the entire Dining Hall at camp in this song during Christmas Week, bringing in the 3 French hens on the left (my crowing Mom in the red standing) and the 4 Calling Birds on the right, who for some reason felt inclined to add stork like poses to the mafan! Yes, the season would not be the same without The Twelve Days of Christmas a la Ritchie party style!

     Christmas Eve is one of the few times of the year all 4 Shellenbergers can attend the same service, all together, in a row. I love it. Because we attend a large church with several services on Christmas Eve Eve and then on Christmas Eve, we both served and then attended the last service of the series.

  
        Logan donned the "Blizzard" mascot costume and greeted delighted children and adults alike (ok, he did make one child cry, but I think Mickey would have had the same effect!!) with a hug or a high 5 and a candy cane. He decided if this whole childrens/youth ministry thing doesn't work out, he'll head to Orlando . . .   : )

      

    The service was an amazing celebration with lights and music and fireworks and joy. It was not a traditional Silent Night Christmas Eve service, but our pastor reminded us that Jesus kind of turned the world upside down when He came and if we can celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and sporting events and everything else with great cheer and noise and excitement, then why not the greatest gift of all? So we did! Traditional, no. Wonderful - yes! And when we left church to head home, lo and behold, a light snow was falling. My favorite kind - just enough to create atmosphere, but not enough to make the roads dangerous or the walk needing a good shovel. It was so pretty and delighted even this I'm-really-not-a-winter-fan.

     Christmas morning's newer tradition since our kids are older and don't wake us at o'dark thirty let us all sleep in and then enjoy some overnight egg bake and sticky buns. That tradition we're happy to keep! Sharing presents and then dinner with my Mom and Dad (Don does the lion's share of the work taking care of the turkey, the stuffing and the mashed potatoes while I pick up all the other side dishes) made for a lovely day once again.

     And can I just say how much I've enjoyed having several days to do nothing? I mean, nothing other than sleeping in, reading, watching a marathon of Seasons 1 and 2 of Downton Abbey (which my friend Kristen highly recommended and now I know why!!) and eating leftovers. : ) No early morning rush, no afternoon rehearsals, no evening dance classes - just down time to catch our breath and relax. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh . . . a tradition I could cling to!!

      We did head out one evening as a family to see Les Miserables, the movie. Oh my!! If you haven't had the chance to see this amazing musical on the big screen, please try and make the time to do so. I'd seen the stage production several years ago and told anyone who ever mentioned it that I felt it was the one musical everyone should see - such an amazing story of redemption! Truly one of those 'this is a movie experience you really don't want to miss' films. Truly.

     And a post about traditions would not be complete without the mention of one of our annual traditions. Don and I had our first date going down to the city to one of the landmarks of Philly - the department store that throughout my childhood and much of my early adulthood was known as Wanamakers. Since then it has changed hands a few times and now is a Macy's . . .  but they have maintained a light show in the store that spans the height of several floors (the second to the seventh if I count correctly) in their majestic central atrium or foyer area.

    
    There used to be these really beautiful dancing fountains at the base of it all but unfortunately, they were not part of the restoration. Every year as a kid we would get on the train and go 'into town' to see the light show, the Colonial Christmas Village at Lits, sometimes have lunch with Santa and enjoy all the gorgeous decorations and hustle bustle that is the city at Christmas time. Now Macy's, no Wanamakers, is full of families bringing their children or their grandchildren for this traditional treat. Is it high tech? No. But it's still delightful and people arrive early to stake out their spot on the first floor below or one of the other floors directly across from the show.

    
      The store also has a whimsical display of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol that we walk through each year. This year we got there while everyone else was watching the 2 o'clock light show and had the little lanes almost to ourselves.

       













     A visit to the Reading Terminal Market is part of this day and we broke tradition by having something other than a cheese steak (gasp!!) but of course visited Termini's Bakery for cannolis. Yum!

    Our final stop for the last several years has been Mummer Fest in the Convention Center. All the Mummers groups are adding their final touches and rehearsals for this year's New Years Day parade - a huge Philly tradition - and the Fancy Brigades do a Sneak Peek of their shows on Dec. 30. We love wandering around 'backstage' (if you can call the huge area behind the performance area backstage) to see the creativity and tremendous work behind their sets. We indulged in some photo ops and enjoyed seeing all the clubs' rehearse their shows, without costumes.

         
      And now we're looking at the last tradition of 2012 . . . seeing if we can stay up until midnight to ring in the New Year! Only the first post of 2013 will reveal how successful we are. : )

      Happy New Year everyone!!        

Monday, December 10, 2012

GLORIA!

          Our Christmas tree is up. It's a lovely Frazier fir, cut down right out of our own backyard. Don had planted it several years ago as a transplant from the farm where he and his Dad labored lovingly for years over soft and fragrant Douglas firs, pricky but great for heavy ornaments Blue Spruce and gorgeous silver backed Fraziers. We're a little late this year, as we usually put our tree up the Saturday after Thanksgiving and then spend the next day, well, probably more like the next week, adding the lights and the ornaments. Right now it's full of twinkling white lights. The ornaments will be added this weekend. We're waiting for all of us to be together to decorate the tree.

      Once upon a time a high energy, curly headed little boy used to skip happily around when the Christmas music would come on. Well, he would skip happily around for lots of reasons, but he always enjoyed music. Michael W Smith's Gloria would come on. One of my favorites. The majestic symphony orchestra surging. His voice praising God.

     And the unmistakable sound of joy from a toddler, crooning along . . . "Oreo! oh, Oreo!"
 

      That toddler is now a college junior, in the midst of finals, with a voice that has dropped into the lower octaves, but still with high energy, still with curls (although a much shorter version these days) and still loving music. And he'll be home in just a few days!! Oreo! I mean, Gloria! : )

       In a few short years, another high energy blonde would add her rendition along with it.

           "Oreo! oh, Oreo! It is Chelsea's Day - ay - o!"

                She would dance excitedly around the room and she pretty much hasn't stopped dancing since.

  
                                                                                    
 
                                                                                          
     And when our family goes to the Christmas Eve service, and the worship team breaks out the intro to Angels We Have Heard on High, you know of course, that we will quietly giggle and look at each other out of the corners of our eyes and while the congregation unites their hearts and voices in singing "Gloria in excelsis deo!", the Shellenbergers will be mouthing our own traditional lyrics, inspired by a cream filled chocolate cookie.

      And two tots who have grown up entirely too fast.

    

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

HODGE PODGE TIME!

I can't not find time to add some thoughts to a Christmas Hodge Podge from Joyce (the other Joyce as we say of each other!)  so here we go! 

1.  Share your traditions surrounding the Christmas stocking. 

      We hung stockings when we were kids even though we didn't have a real mantle. My Dad put this corragated brick paper around the card table the tree was set up on and we hung our stockings there. I often went to my stocking first and savored some chocolate treats before opening my gifts. : ) Today my fam has their stockings hanging from our mantle and traditionally find that year's ornament plus some other treats from Santa in their stocking.

2.  How many hours of sleep do you average at night?  Is it enough?
     Oh, I love to sleep late but alas, it is not to be. I average maybe 6 1/2 - 7 hrs. It's just about enough but not really. I do much better with 7 1/2 - 8  . . . . and I don't feel like I"m running on a full tank until closer to 9 a.m. most days, night owl that I am!

3.  If you had to give up one thing for the remainder of this year what would it be?


Hmmm . . . well, not Christmas cookies as I'm looking forward to baking and enjoying some of our favorites soon! Not sure what I'd choose - I"ve been  thinking more about what's nice to enjoy this season that we don't have all during the year.

4.  The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (or Wills and Kate as I like to call them) have announced they're expecting a baby. Do you follow news of the Royals? 
     I do follow it casually and am very happy for the young couple. They'll be followed so closely by the media it seems they won't have a chance at a normal 'life' and yet, I think we all hope they will be able to navigate that well somehow. And who will the baby look like with two good looking parents?? : )

5.  For me,  the sound of childhood is__________________.
     . . . . kids voices playing in my backyard.

6.  Fruit cake-yay or boo? What's your favorite dessert made with fruit?

I am really not a fruit cake lover . . .  although I appreciate all the work that goes into for those who take the time to create them. I don't know anyone who is wishy washy about fruitcake - you either love it or hate it, I'd say!My favorite dessert with fruit could possible be mango crisp warm out of the oven with vanilla ice cream. Of something raspberry and chocolate is always wonderful too!

7. What is one thing you want to accomplish before 2012 comes to an end?

             Oh maybe finishing going through all the varieties of clothes - kids, ours, etc. - and getting everything we really don't wear or keep on tap for costumes for shows bagged up and out to the Care Closet at our church. It's been an ongoing process that would be great to finish by the end of this year!

8.  Insert your own random thought here.
         Can we keep this unexpected warm weather a little longer? If I had my way, it would be fall (lovely fall, not cold drizzly or even freezing rain fall) up until December 24, then a day of cooler temps with some flurries for the atmosphere, then spring could come on December 26! Anyone else like that plan?? : )

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Welcome to Our World

      It started last year with some of the drama kids. You know that commercial for the insurance company with the catchy little jingle, "We are Farmers, bum bum dum bum, bum bum bum"? Well one of my actors, who played the Genie our production of Aladdin JR last year, changed it to "We are Thespians, bum bum dum dum bum bum bum" and we all put our hands together in a circle and unite in our love for all things drama while singing it, then end by flinging out hands up with a wooooooo! Everyone laughs and enjoys that moment of being part of a group, part of a team, part of something worth being part of. We relish the safety and joy of belonging to our little world.

    This year, the PA State Thespian Conference was not local like it was for us last year, so we packed our bags and took ten lucky drama kids and headed out for two nights and three days with close to 1,000 other theatre arts students from across the state. Yes, I actually spent that much time with my darling idiots and lived to tell the tale. And yes, they know I call them my darling idiots - they actually love that moniker and take great pride in it. I think they're even trying to figure how to work it into this year's Tshirt!

     How to describe what a three day drama conference is like? Perhaps you realize that drama kids are kind of a unique group. They are not exactly the shy, quiet type. (Although some of them actually are, until they get up on the stage and take on their character's persona.) They come to the conference exuberantly expecting to not just meet other students like themselves, but in being with them, having the freedom and joy of expressing themselves without any fear of criticism or harassment. They wear their fun, colorful outfits, hats and accessories and worry not about the teenage fashion police, all still back home in their look alike mall clothes. They break out into song and dance in the corners and hallways of the host school and no one shushes them. They embrace each other with welcome warmth and appreciation for their kindred spirits. Safety. Joy. Belonging. Our theatre world.

     In a group of mostly high school students, my middle schoolers were notably in awe. Only two of them had been to last year's conference, so this was indeed an exciting new adventure, especially for those who need to have their ducks in a row. It was a growing, stretching and wonderful time for all of us. We watched five full stage productions by other attending schools as well as several one acts and showcases, which were lineups of a variety show style - productions numbers from musicals, serious monologues and humorous comedy sketches. Everyone received thunderous applause simply for taking the stage - for this group knows exactly what that feels like - and the most superior performances were capped with standing ovations. The actors, the stage crews, the 'techies', the costumers, and the directors were all equally lauded, for again, this group gets that it's not just about the leading man or lady.

     Several of the productions that were performed were absolutely stellar. It was hard to believe that some of the talent on that stage was coming from mere high school students. My budding performers watched wide eyed, soaking it all up and aspiring to attain that level of performance some day. And it did my director's heart good when some of them would say, "Hey, Mrs. Shellenberger, you know how you tell us to . . . .  that's what they were doing and it made it so good!" : )

    I know it sounds like a recipe for insanity to spend that much time with kids, but we truly had an amazing time together. The kids we took to the conference are really great, well behaved kids and I loved seeing them experience their first overnight conference. Plus some of my former students were there with the high school group and it was a joy to get to hug them and catch up with them and see how they're learning and growing.

     A few of the productions tackled some pretty serious topics and I had some concerns about whether those shows would be appropriate for middle school students. Their parents had entrusted me with their babies, some of them going away overnight without family members for the first time. But we stayed for all of the performances and I think it was really good we did. This world these kids are growing up in is not the world I grew up in - even in the 60's and 70's with all the tumult those eras brought to idyllic baby boomer families.

     Back in our hotel, we gathered in one of the girls' rooms (the boys had their own space down the hall and there was no visiting each others' rooms, even with chaperones present) and I sprawled on the bed with them and listened to their responses to shows about drug use and alcoholism and suicide and cutting and AIDS. While my heart was desperately wishing that at this age, they could still just be enjoying listening to music and giggling over crushes, I was encouraged to hear that they were working on strategies for simple matters like choosing to not curse, even though lots of kids around them in school do or because it was part of the language of some of the shows. The infidelity of the characters in the fairy tale based 'Into the Woods' bothered them, rather than leading them to think it was an acceptable choice. Their hearts were broken for the characters who were so hopeless that turning to drugs or alcohol or cutting or suicide seemed their only choice. For some, it may have given them a greater understanding of why some of their peers act or choose what they do, or compassion for what struggles may drive them to their decisions or choices. The power of live theatre had shot its arrow straight to their hearts and while yes, it was depressing in ways, the pain and consequences of some choices was also driven home in a memorable way. My hope and prayer is that their earnest goals to resist the lure of all the temptations around them can be maintained throughout their teen and adult years!

     While I know that several of my kids come from Christian families and all are trying to make good choices because of the values they've been taught, as a public school employee I'm not really at liberty to bring the hope we can have in God into the picture during our discussions. And yet, my response during those performances dealing with some of the dark and difficult issues of our time was "Oh, my, how we need Jesus!" It was obvious from several of the shows, that everyone both on the stage and in the audience, was feeling the reality of the anguish of darkness and the quest for filling that void, finding an answer, discovering a strategy for coping . . .  or for recovering from not coping. And my heart broke for our broken world.

     Life is hard, no matter what age or season we find yourselves in. It's one of the reasons Christmas can be such a welcomed season, for it is rich with joy and hope in a dark and trying day.  We fill our December days with our favorite music and foods and decorations and movies and activities. It can be a wonderful celebration or it can be a desperate attempt to fill the void. As we enter the Advent season, my prayer is that something of this season will bring hope to your heart. It only takes watching one TV show, one Hallmark movie, one theatre performance . . . .  one look at our checkbook, one conversation with a neighbor or friend, one look into another's eyes to remember that we all have fears, struggles, worries, temptations and darkness that threaten to take our focus off the bottom line of this season. My prayer is that each one of us will open our hearts to whatever it is God is trying to say to us, to however He is trying to remind us of the amazingly, overwhelmingly great love that sent His Son to us. To our world. To each and every one of us.

So we can know beyond the shadow of a doubt, the safety and joy of belonging. To Him. The King of Kings.

 No matter what darkness we face.

 We need Jesus. Bum bum dum dum bum bum bum.

Welcome To Our World - YouTube

www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVwmdPHzA0U