Abacus: Mountain – Creative Curriculum List for January

Read all about how to use this list and our heart behind this project here.

And, here is a sweet pinterest board I put together with lots of project ideas and inspiration

Mountain list_small



The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Sound of Music

The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Mountains from Planet Earth



In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Grieg

Rocky Mountain High by John Denver

America the Beautiful





Rock Collecting/ identifying rock-types

Making Egg Geodes

Breaking Geodes

Volcano Making

Elevation Maps

Examining rocks under a microscope- sugar vs salt, etc.


Art & Craft:

Plastic wrap and tape mountain paintings

Build Mountain Shelves

Mountain Pillow Sewing

Painting mountains

Torn Paper mountain Range Stencils

Carving rock stamps


In the Kitchen:

Haystack cookies (we’ll call them Mountain cookies!)


Heidi by Johanna Spyri

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer


Listen to our Mountain spotify mix

Download our January desktop wallpaper


Mountain Shaped Poems

Journal Keeping/Adventure Logs


Here is a printable pdf of our little chart we made for ourselves: 

Mountain list

The Practice of Remembering a Year




hattie in snow


I LOVE the first week of January.

Very rarely do you get such a strong overlap of everything ending and at the same time, beginning. It’s captured in that moment of Midnight on New Years Eve. Then the week that follows is filled with putting away ALL those decorations and presents (and definitely turning off all the Christmas music) while the paper and pen is out to fill the blank page of the year to come.

The Calvin and Hobbes comic above is one of my favorites because of just that. It’s the last one that the brilliant cartoonist, Bill Watterson, ever did for the Calvin and Hobbes series. But it gives you the sense that at this ending, everything is just beginning. The real adventure for both Calvin and Hobbes will continue on.


Betony and I have a tradition that we’ve done, I believe, as long as we’ve been a married couple. (So, ten some years?) Before we jump into the planning and dreams of the next year, we spend time remembering the previous one.

We really take our time with it. In year’s past we did this practice right at midnight on New Years Eve. After having kids it’s now usually on the drive home from visiting family. Regardless, we give ourselves an hour or two to really dig in.

We start in January and begin asking questions,

“Ok, where were we last year on New Years? What were we doing? What special events were happening that January? Who were we hanging out with? What happened?”

This year we used Instagram as our crutch to jog our memories (in other years we’ve pulled out planners). We moved to February then all the way to December. We recalled our Iceland trip, the concerts and tours, starting new jobs, special meals, our small group times, when Hattie hurt her leg, Betony finishing the library mural, the birth of baby Bea… It was SO good to remember this intensely special time.

We look forward to doing this every year. Often, in remembering, the most cherished moments of the year are brought to mind, dusted off, and enrich our understanding of just how sweet life really is. The stepping back and recalling the past reminds us of just how blessed we are. It helps us feel centered in who we are and what we’re doing as a family.

And when the hard times are remembered, we’re surprised by how much those difficult seasons have shaped us or led us to better places. That can be seen when it’s hindsight much more easily.

So allow me to suggest this practice to you: Take time to remember you year. Really give yourself time to do it. Recall the good and the bad and let this remembering enrich and center you, teach you, and remind you of how sweet life can be. Let it all shape you as you take on the magical world to come.

Tim Coons
Giants & Pilgrims

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

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

katie mai color

“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.

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, I found the best ceramic coating for cars 2018 to protect my car from those long rides… 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

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


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


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


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 –



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.


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


Cyber Monday Special for Christmas Gifts

From Black Friday to this Cyber Monday we’ve been running a big special on our Giants & Pilgrims paintings by Betony Coons. We’ve put them on sale for half off!

Each of the remaining pieces have gone from $900 to $450. The special ends tonight so if you’re heart is set on a piece pick it up! (or tell someone you love about the sale…)

Also, prints of these are all available for $30 a piece at Betony’s Etsy shop! https://www.etsy.com/shop/graysparrow

Below are the 36 x 36 paintings that are left in the Almanac No. 1 series:

Ships Passing in the Night_smallarrow_small

All The Lights_small



Around the Table



Have you ever snapped a shot of your dinner or dessert? This month focus not just on your good food, but capturing the wonderful people you’re eating with as well. Use the hashtag #aroundthetable.

Last Meal?

This time of year always has me thinking about my favorite foods. Which leads me to the question:

What would be your last meal?

Is there a story behind it? Want to leave a recipe in the comments?

For me, I’d have to say Roy’s BBQ (a whole in the wall establishment in Hutchinson, KS), the Ribs and turkey… with my mom’s sausage soufflé’ and my wife’s cake-batter cookies. And maybe a pumpkin beer to go with it… Wow, I think I just described the most unhealthy dinner ever. It would definitely be my last meal- cause it could kill me. Haha.

PS Ask this question on social media and see what kind of responses you get!