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Merry Christmas from Giants & Pilgrims

Here’s to the yearly traditions- strange and eccentric, quaint and normal.

Betony and I are watching Lord of the Rings now- one of our stranger Christmas traditions. For several years we’d spend time watching all three extended editions (12 some hours of hobbitude) from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas. We’ll see how far we get today. Life got busier with kids. Then I’ll be grilling out in the snow later. We started that yearly one a very cold Christmas 4 yuletides ago.

Our more normal traditions have already been enjoyed- the picture on the stairs starting the morning of presents. And the Christmas Eve service was beautiful last night.

Soon we’ll be traveling- two more celebrations to enjoy with my family then Betony’s- complete with two more Christmas mornings!

A very Merry Christmas to you all and all your traditions, usual and unusual. Our blog will be quieter in the next two weeks. Then we’ll be making some announcements about where we’re heading this next year!

Grace and Peace,

Tim Coons
Giants & Pilgrims

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Instagram Games: Snow Angels Everywhere

#SnowAngelsEverywhere

A few years ago Betony and I saw an art piece of a snow angel. But this one was done in some sort of sand that was glued together and up on a wall, making it look quite surreal. We thought, what a fun idea that’s filled with wonder and magic, that one could do a snow angel on a wall…

That led us to this idea. What if we did a prompt for each other? What if all over the nation, maybe the world, we asked folks to post pictures of themselves making snow angels in all sorts of crazy places and crazy ways (maybe not even using snow)?

So here’s the Instagram challenge. Take a photo of a snow angel: standard, creative, and anywhere in-between. Post it on instagram and use the hashtag #SnowAngelsEverywhere and we’ll enjoy the collection together.

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Free Printable Gift Tags

Here are some lovely little wildflower wreath gift tags to brighten your gift wrapping this next week. The original graphics came from a series of small painting I did for Wildflower church as a thank you to the volunteers. Print these out on cardstock paper and cut out in circle shapes. Click here to download an 8.5X11 pdf – printable gift tags
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printable gift tags

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Featured Artist: Katie Mai

Bio: I am a Senior at the University of Northern Colorado, majoring in Painting and Drawing. As time has gone on, I have really grown to understand and interact with the medium of paper. Paper is one of the oldest mediums and has been used for centuries to tell stories. It can be manipulated, torn apart, cut, or merely written on. It is diverse in so many ways. This gives me direct access to my stories and journeys of personal trial that I have not been able to access before.

    During the process of cutting paper I become completely consumed by each negative shape I am removing. I am taking away substance to gain substance. In some ways it’s very chemical. I am surgically dissecting what once was whole, to create the broken but fleeting story of myself.

    ​I have written love stories with multiple mediums, but for some reason I am constantly pulled back to paper. As an artist I portray the story that the medium is telling me. That is my only job.

You can find more works from Katie online at

Maikatie.wordpress.com & etsy.com/shop/KatieMaiCreations

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“Tears of timeless reunion”

From the artist: Lately I have felt very isolated from individuals and from my own solitude. Usually my time alone is so fulfilling. Lately it has been something so uncomfortable. I believe it’s because I have forgotten the soul. This is a piece that represents the mending of my soul to my
mind and body.

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Original Christmas Songs by Tim Coons

Original Christmas Songs
by Tim Coons

Eric Long, director of music at Frontier Academy Elementary in
Greeley, CO, commissioned me to write 4 Christmas songs a few years ago.

The concert was in December so I decided to do a song cycle of the famous poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. The music was received wonderfully from kids and parents so I thought I’d offer them as a download here, just for this Christmas season.

Here’s the link! You can download the songs for FREE here:

https://timcoons.bandcamp.com

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Midnight Matins Playlist

 Several years ago I had to work on Christmas Eve, which is a common hangup when in ministry. But Betony and I still wanted to be home on Christmas, celebrating with her family. So we devised a plan to make the long late night drive awesome.

We began the 8 hour car ride at 9 that night. We packed some intentional surprises, like opening our stockings and favorite car-trip snacks. But the most memorable thing we did was celebrate Midnight Matins.

My best friends growing up were Catholic and they would go to their church service at the stroke of 12 AM. I always felt there was something intriguing about trudging through the cold as the clock struck with full-tolls for a late worship experience.

So Betony and I had our own Midnight Matins. When the digital car-clock hit 12 we played a CD of 10 songs. These songs corresponded with readings of scripture Betony would say aloud and she had pictures of ancient artwork she’d printed that embodied the different parts of the nativity story.

Here is our playlist of the Midnight Matins. As you can see we sometimes got creative with it. We hope it brings mystery and depth to your season as it still does for us.

Midnight Matins Playlist

Once in Royal David’s City • Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Hark, The Herald Angels Sing  • Vince Guaraldi Trio

Messiah, oratorio: For Unto Us a Child is Born  •  The London Philharmonic Orchestra
Peace on Earth  • Disney Studio Chorus & Donald Novis
Mary  • Patty Griffin
Dickens’ Dublin  • Loreena McKennitt
Lo! How a Rose E’re Blooming  • Linda Ronstadt

Ding Dong! Merrily on High • Chanticleer
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing  • Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
We Three Kings  • Sufjan Stevens
Magnificat • Mary Behan Miller

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The Cookie Exchange

Things get competitive this time of year as some friends of ours host an incredible cookie party. People bring a tray of their own, then take home an extravaganza of various delectables in exchange.
During the event a contest is held where a “best of” cookie is voted upon. Here are a few of the favorites from the last few years!

 

Chocolate Hazelnut Thumbprints

INGREDIENTS:

1 C. all-purpose flour

1 cup powdered sugar

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon instant espresso (optional)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup finely chopped hazelnuts, toasted

1/3 cup hazelnut-chocolate spread (such as Nutella)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, cocoa, and salt; stir with a whisk. Place butter in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Stir egg yolks with a whisk, adding espresso, if desired. Add the yolk mixture and vanilla to butter; beat well. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; beat at low speed just until combined.

Turn dough out onto a sheet of wax paper; knead 6 times or until smooth and shiny. Shape dough into 28 (1-inch) balls. Roll sides of balls in nuts, pressing gently. Arrange balls 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Press thumb into center of each cookie, leaving an indentation. Bake, 1 batch at a time, at 350° for 10 minutes. Remove cookies from pans; cool completely on wire racks. Spoon a scant 1/2 teaspoon hazelnut-chocolate spread into center of each cookie.

Cooking Light 2009

 

Chewy Brown Sugar Cookies with Brown Sugar Frosting

Makes approx 24 cookies

INGREDIENTS:

Cookies:

14 tablespoons salted butter (1¾ sticks)

1¾ cups packed light brown sugar

2¼ cups flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk

1½ Tbsp vanilla

¼ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup light brown sugar

Frosting:

½ cup light brown sugar (packed)

3 tablespoons butter

¼ cup milk

2 cups sifted powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS

Cookies:

Preheat oven to 350°
Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Heat butter in medium skillet over medium heat until melted.
When butter melts slowly swirl the pan and continue to cook the butter until it becomes a nice, brown-caramel color.
The swirling helps it from burning. Let cool for 15 minutes.

Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl and set aside.

When butter is cooled mix 1¾ cup light brown sugar and browned butter with electric mixer until no lumps remain, about 30 seconds.

Add egg, yolk and vanilla and mix for another 30 seconds, until smooth.

Slowly add in your flour mixture and mix on medium-low until incorporated.

Combine remaining ¼ cup brown sugar and ¼ cup granulated sugar in a small bowl. Roll cookie dough into balls and then roll in sugar mixture.

Place on lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart.

Bake approx 10-12 minutes or until edges begin to brown.
Do not over-bake. Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Frosting:

Combine brown sugar and butter in small saucepan over medium heat.

Bring to a boil and continue cooking 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes. Mixture will slightly thicken.

With hand mixer beat in milk until smooth. Slowly add in powdered sugar until spreadable consistency.

Spread approx. 1 teaspoon frosting on each cookie.

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An Evening of Carols & Ale

Items needed:

•A Song Leader

•A Source for Christmas Song Lyrics (ie. a carol book, a website, some printouts)

•A Fancy Drink: preferably a friend bringing some homemade brew for the season! Hot Chocolate or floats made with sprite and peppermint ice-cream are great options to enliven the dry, non-beer-ing households!

A few summers ago I had a chance to experience a great event. At a Christian festival called Wild Goose I played guitar and helped lead “Beer & Hymns”. It’s exactly what it sounds like.

A great micro-brew business from South Carolina provided craft beers and all of us, pastors and concert goers alike, pulled out the old favorites. We sang songs like “How Great Thou Art” and “Come Thou Fount” with Irish Pub abandon. It was a really special time of connection for me.

That winter I wanted to try to host something like what I’d experienced while back home. As the holidays approached I thought it would be perfect to change it from “Beer & Hymns” to “Carols & Ale”.

We broke out the songs people love to sing at Christmas time, mostly religious, but throwing Rudolf and Frosty in there too. And we asked friends of ours who brew their own beer to make an ale for the occasion- a nice dark, malty beverage to compliment the season.

So here’s a toast for you adventurous folks wanting a spin on caroling – May your beer be dark, your voices loud, and your joy be bright!

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The Story Behind the Song and Painting: “We Are Strong”

LYRICS:

We’ll be strong and carry-on

We’ll be strong, carry-on

I need you to believe in me, like I believe in you

all things aspiring the way young lovers do

I bought you an orchestra with a brand new tune

But the sound was wrong and just wasn’t you

Ooooh…

I need to believe in you, like you believe in me with eyes to see you through untiring

You bought me a 3 piece suit and painted every seam But the fit was wrong and unflattering

Ooooh…

Believe in me, I’ll believe in you

Believe in me, I know you do

(gifts of the magi story)

There’s a famous story that’s told at Christmas time. I always thought it was bizarre. I was young and I didn’t get it.

It’s called the Gift of the Magi and it tells the story of a young, poor couple. They want to give the other something truly wonderful for Christmas, but they have no money for it. 

So the young man sells his family pocket-watch to buy his wife a comb and clips for her hair. Her hair is very beautiful and special to him. 

She, unknowingly, sells all the locks of her hair to buy a chain- for his family heirloom, the pocket-watch.

At the end of the story they are holding each other and they’ve given everything they have to each other, and there’s this sense of deep sadness. The story ends with some line like, “and they gave the greatest gifts of all to the other”. 

I thought it was a terrible story! They totally missed each other and ended up with nothing! 

As I’ve grown older I understand more and more the power of sacrifice, and how that is truly the greatest gift. They didn’t end up with nothing. They ended up with each spouse fully poured out for the other. 

Here’s a song I wrote about this story. I was going to title the song, “The Gift of the Magi” but a friend said, “Everyone will think it’s a Christmas song, dude…” So now it’ s called “We’ll Be Strong”. 

Here’s the last paragraph of O. Henry’s story:

“The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

You can purchase prints of Betony’s art print of this painting here –

https://www.etsy.com/listing/189335397/whale-well-be-strong-11×11-art-print
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Poem for December: “Mend”

Welcome to the December Almanac. Our theme this month is MEND. All our posts will center around that theme in some way. Below is a poem written by Giants & Pilgrims own Tim Coons, all about this month.

“Mend”

by Tim Coons

December is an old quilt

a warm blanket near the hearth-
the home’s foundational fire

We tuck in after feasts and toasts
and carols around the table 

We cozy in as the snow blankets
all corners of our city

Amidst the joy of the tree and holly,
sweet nativities,

and lights
inside and out

a Great New birth stirs in our hearts
And we are put together, mended

in this shelter
and home