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December’s Adventures in Homeschooling

This year we began homeschooling Lucy (7) and Hattie (5). We’re including this on our Giants & Pilgrims blog as all our family adventures seem to impact our art & music so much! Also, we just like sharing the stories. So we’ll be sharing posts on the themes we’ve been covering each month and calling the adventure “ABACUS”! Our hope is that these posts will help spark creative direction and inspiration for your family as well as giving us somewhere to be document and record our experiences.

December has been a full month around here learning how to be a family of six, shuttling kids to Nutcracker rehearsals and performances, doing ALL the advent things, baking cookies, celebrating Christmas, and enjoying time with family. Here are some highlights from this month of homeschooling –

ADVENT Activities:

For years, we have enjoyed the Jacquie Lawson computer advent calendars. This years was a British seaside theme.

 

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We also always love the Lego advent calendars. They have a tiny set to build every day..

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This year we purchased Jennifer Naraki’s Slow + Sacred Advent. It is an ebook that was written to guide families through the four weeks leading up to Christmas.  It includes personal stories, Biblical theology, and four weeks of creative, yet simple thematic plans. We really enjoyed it and look forward to using it again in years to come.img_7291

Advent closed with all of us at a candlelight service together at Tim’s Church – Saint Andrew United Methodist in Highlands Ranch.
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Getting MOVING:

December is always hard because weather in Colorado isn’t the best for playing outside. And, with a new baby, it’s hard to get the girls out and about. Here are a few of the fun activities we fit in –

Cosmic Kids Yoga (always a hit around here) –

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Tim took the girls ice skating –

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and sledding!

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And Lucy and Harriet had their debut in the Nutcracker Ballet as presents! They were stunning.

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Arlo missed most of the show…Grandma was just to cozy.
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RUSSIA:

One of the things we are doing this year is our Passport idea for Geography/World Cultures. We are “visiting” a different country every month – exploring the food, culture, dress, arts, and music through themed activities. This month, because the girls were part of the Nutcracker, we chose Russia. img_7139

We had a wonderful “Russian” tea time – listening to Tchaikovsky, making these delicious Russian tea scones, and drinking Russian spice tea, and reading the Nutcracker.

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Canon has a whole set of the amazing (FREE!) printable paper models of famous building. So we made St. Basil’s Cathedral! The instructions and cutting were a little too tricky for the girls, so mom and I did most of it. My puzzle loving brain had a blast. I want to make more!
img_7281img_7163 img_7175  Here are the books we read about Russia. Thank you High Plains library!img_7337

History:

Our favorite history activity this month was visiting Centennial Village’s Homesteader’s Holiday.
Centennial Village is a living history museum in Greeley (actually where Tim and I got married!).
Here are the girls making hand dipped candles in the old Carriage House –
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And Beatrice exploring outside the historic church – img_7242

STEM:

Lucy saw an experiment in The Dangerous Book for Boys on how to make a Battery. She has been asking about it for a while so we decided to try it. And it worked!

img_7426 img_7429  Battery making led to playing with our Snap Circuits Jr. kit – a great toy that teaches the basics of Electronics.img_7430

We also picked up a cool new single player puzzle game called Katamino that is quite the brain teaser. Harriet got quite into it.img_7482

Art and Handicrafts:

With the flurry of gift making and house decorating, we spent a lot of time MAKING this month.

Making foil stained glass windows –img_7152 img_7154
Making Foil star garlands and stick stars (for our Nature Pal Exchange friends) img_7324 Making Waldorf window stars –img_7346

Making handmade Christmas presents – img_7529

Making all the Christmas cookies – Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

And making a stocking for this handsome little man –

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MUSIC:

The girls have continued with their music classes at Union Colony Children’s Music Academy which they love. Tim has been working on tracking for our new album -which means we have amazing musical visitors in and out of the studio. Our friend Sigourney was kind enough to let the girls try out her stunning concert harp.

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NATURE STUDY:

For our nature study we received this super fun box of nature crafts from our nature pen-pals in Florida.img_7479

WRITING:

We did lots of letter writing this month – tons of thank you notes, pen-pal letters, and of course some super sweet correspondence addressed to the North Pole.

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On a different side, Harriet has really enjoyed playing Reading Eggs on the computer.readingeggsmap

READING:

We enjoyed so many wonderful stories this month. (Especially thanks to lots of time sitting nursing!)

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We also really enjoyed Read Aloud Revival’s Christmas Book list recommendations – img_7423

Merry Christmas everyone! Thanks for following along!

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How to Enjoy the Season: The Practice of Immersion

I love the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. I love the music, the lo-fi lilt and pace of the kid’s speaking voices, and the melancholy. The show starts out with Charlie Brown musing on something we’ve all felt as adults, at sometime or another. He confesses to Linus that he’s just not feeling it this year. He wonders if there’s something wrong with him. He has these ideals of how Christmas should feel and they’re getting overshadowed by commercialism and business.

I know I’ve felt that too. There was a few years ago that I went to a Christmas Eve service and it was really beautiful. We lit the candles, we sang “Silent Night”, we were with family… and after 45 minutes I left thinking, “Man, did Christmas just happen and I missed it?” It went too fast. It’s hard to pack in “all the feels” in under an hour.

I’m sure you’ve felt that too. As a kid, maybe you loved Halloween or Christmas or your family did something special for 4th of July, but now life is too fast and complicated. The days run into each other with no real variation and a quick meal or church service just doesn’t do things justice.

As a family, Betony and I actually love intentionally celebrating the holidays. It’s one of our favorite things- there’s such special activities that come with fall, winter, summer, and spring. It’s a priority for our family to have traditions and things we come back to. For us, it keeps us rooted in the season and helps us mark the passing of time.

So we came up with a way to enjoy the holidays; to set aside time for doing the things we enjoy with each month. I jokingly began to call it:
The Practice of Immersion.

It’s really simple actually. Instead of the holiday being just a day (or a meal or a party or a church service), we make sure and do several things we love and enjoy in the season leading up to the observed hoopla. For example, when October hits we don’t just get dressed and go trick or treating on Halloween… we listen to spooky music, we rake leaf piles to jump in, we make pumpkin bread, we read Poe’s The Raven out loud (I’ve gotten scarier and creepier with it each year)… It becomes a bunch of little things we love to do that slowly happen over the month. When Halloween arrives, we don’t feel rushed or pressured to do just one more house. We’re full. We’ve immersed ourselves in the season and it’s been great already.

(A side note on Christmas, I think this is why the early church leaders made sure Christmas wasn’t just a single event, but a whole season leading up to the celebration called Advent. We just need more than a day for the deepness of those wonderful themes to sink in.)

Below we’re offering some categories of ways a season can be observed. For each of the larger headings I’ll provide a Christmas example and some other holidays as well. The idea would be to pick a few of these you want to do for yourself or your family. Then when the day of celebration comes, it won’t feel like a one-off. It’ll feel like you’ve been swimming in the holiday themes for sometime. And in the immersion you’ll feel like you’ve truly lived in the season!

DISHES / DESSERTS / CANDIES

Around Christmas Betony likes to make a variety cookie plate. Who am I to stop her? In the fall we make sure and make chili and cinnamon rolls . In the summer we cook out on the high, holy days of grilling: Memorial Day, Labor Day, 4th of July…

Here’s a cookie recipe we’re trying this year.

MUSIC

We have a set of Christmas playlists we come back to each year. As well as Halloween, Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, 4th of July playlists… and so on. As a musician it’s one of my favorite hobbies! Here’s a link to our Spotify. If you follow us you can see all of our seasonal playlists.

 

ACTIVITIES

This is a pretty big catch-all category.

But our trip to buy a tree and then decorate it is always a Christmas must. Before Halloween we find an enjoyable pumpkin patch then later carve the pumpkins we picked up. (We try not to just go to King Soopers for pumpkins, you know?) On St. Patrick’s Day we have people over for a meal and sing drinking songs and tell jokes.

RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE

This Christmas we’re doing “Slow & Sacred Advent”. We’ve been enjoying how it’s written in a way we can do it as a family. For Thanksgiving we have a “tree” and we add cut out leaves written with things we’re thankful for on them. That becomes our prayer. Also, I know families who have an advent wreath and light candles with scripture verses each week this time of year.

SCENTS

This one is strange category, but Betony and I go to Bath & Body Works every change of the season for candles. With Christmas we buy the Balsam Tree or Winter ones. For summer Cut Grass or Pomegranate are wonderful. Smell is so closely tied with memory and nostalgia that we LOVE to do this at the beginning of each change of season. It preps everything else in our minds.

CLOTHING

I don’t get into this one but my girls love finding matching outfits and go all out pretty much every holiday. I say I don’t do this but I do dress in all black on Good Friday. And I’ve been eye-ing an ugly Christmas sweater that is The Legend of Zelda themed. haha

DOCUMENTING

I don’t know if this would count as a category in and of itself, but Betony loves taking photos of all these different moments we’re experiences and then when New Years rolls around, we have markers for our memories!

In fact, a big thing I’ve heard people talk about lately is FOMO. Have you heard this term? It stands for “Fear of Missing Out”. When we do the Practice of Immersion and document what we’ve done, we can look back on the activities we’ve done. We can be comfy saying no to loads of other things to do.

 

Thanks for letting us share with you our method of enjoying the holidays! Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and catch a good sense of the holiday magic!

 

 

 

December Ideas and Activities around the Theme “Advent”

For this entire year (I can’t believe it is the last month of the year already!) I’ve been doing an at home curriculum with the family (Lucy 6, Hattie 4, Beatrice 1). Tim and I call the project “Abacus” and we’re sharing it each month for the fun, challenge, and community of it. Each month we choose a theme and then come up with a bunch of activities around that theme. Read all about how to use this list and our heart behind this project here.
Explore past months themes here.

Our theme this month is “Advent.” To me December is a month of anticipation. Our family is OBSESSED with advent calendars. We literally have 5 that we will do every day this month. For me it is a way of slowing down and fully enjoying these favorite of days. I am going to share some of my favorite advent traditions here, as well as our own little “activity” advent of 25 perfect December activities – one for each day until Christmas.

DECEMBER Dates to Take Note of:

December 6-12 – Hanukkah
December 13th – The Feast of Santa Lucia – we are hoping to take a trip up to Georgetown to partake in their annual European Christmas Market –
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December 22nd – Winter Solstice – I love the tradition of making a small bonfire outside on this day.
December 24th – Christmas Eve (Also my grandmother’s Birthday!) (for us, it is Christmas eve services, followed by takeout, leaving cookies for Santa, and opening a package that is always pajamas)
December 25th – Christmas Day – (for us it looks like – photos on the stairs before coming down, sausage souffle and cinnamon rolls, opening stockings and presents as slowly as possible, playing all day, a family walk in the cold, and grilling outside)
December 26th – Boxing Day

Local: Greeley, CO events:

December 5th – Teddy Bear Bash at the Festival of Trees – 9-11am
December 5th – Handmade for the Holidays 10-3 at the Kress Cinema
December 11-13th – The Nutcracker at UCCC
December 11-13th – Twas the Night before Christmas performed by the Stampede Theater Troupe

Let me know if you have other fun Greeley events I should add to this calendar!

 

The Coon’s Family 2015 ADVENT CALENDARS:

You might laugh at this one. But our family LOVES Jacquie Lawson’s advent calendar she releases each year. It shows up as a Snow Globe on your desktop and each day another little animated short or activity is released. It borders on overly “thomas-kinkade” sappy, but at the same time it is SO great. We all unabashedly love it. This year the theme is Victorian Christmas.
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If you haven’t yet discovered Sparkle Stories, I am so happy to get to be the one to introduce you.  The stories are very simple but sweet original audio stories for kids. They have a specific Advent calendar as part of their Martin & Sylvia Series. Each day showcases a very simple holiday activity. They released the advent calendar in 2014, but it is still great. We listened to it last year and are excited to relive it again this year.
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Partly thanks to having a brother who manages a Lego store, we can’t miss out on the Lego Advent calendars. This year we opted for their Star Wars edition (in anticipation of the new movie). Each day you get a tiny set of legos to build.
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Tim loves playing the Angry Birds seasons (which unlocks one new level each day)
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We are participateing in our church community Atlas’s Random Acts of Christmas Kindness list12314495_10153078112937470_3401969149545698084_o

25 ADVENT Activities:

These don’t have to be done in any particular order, but this is our list of 25 “Christmasy” activities that don’t require much extra money or time, but are what this month is all about for us.

  1. Make Gingerbread Cookies/houses (my sister just recommended this recipe)
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  2. Cut Paper Snowflakessnowflakes 4
  3. Visit a Christmas Tree Farm to pick our tree

  4. Take our time decorating the Christmas tree and tell stories and memories
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  5. String popcorn and cranberries
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  6. Bake Christmas cookies for the neighbors – Here are some recipes to get you started.
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  7. Drive around and look at Christmas lights (especially the Greeley Grizwalds)
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  8. Go caroling
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  9. Eat dinner by candlelight

  10. Go Ice Skating (The Greeley Ice Haus or the Ice skating rink at Centerra are good choices if you are local)
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  11. Go on an icy walk and then have hot chocolate with marshmallows
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  12. Make snow angels
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  13. In Hutchinson, where Tim and I grew up, they have an INCREDIBLE night of illuminaries in the Hyde Park neighborhood the Saturday before Christmas. Blocks and blocks are illuminated. They don’t allow traffic through and instead have hay rides of carolers and horse drawn carriages. I would love to have our own tiny version one night.
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  14. Write and send Christmas cards (just wait until you see the adorable family photo I have…)
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  15. Go sledding – just need a little more snow first!!
  16. Get matching pajamas for our whole family. Shhh… don’t tell Tim…and have a family game nightmatching-family-pajamas
  17. Eat a candy cane – I have heard that the Hammond Candy factory tour in Denver is pretty cool
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  18. Make a wreath (isn’t this gold feather and leaf one pretty?)
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  19. Read all the Christmas stories out loud – We love: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Max’s Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Polar Express, and so many more…
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  20. Go to the Nutcracker (or at least listen to it)
  21. Write letters to Santa and deliver to the Currier Inn Reindeer Route mailbox.
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  22. Lucy really wants to have a Christmas scavenger hunt. I am not sure what that means, but I’m working on it.
  23. Keep the bird feeders filled and chart the visitors
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  24. Have a Christmas movie watching and present wrapping party
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  25. Watch Charlie Brown Christmas and Ice Skating – the two shows we would always watch on Christmas day at my grandparent’s house.
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Why you must come to the Indie Art Greeley Winter Market

Forgive me for getting a little local-greeley-centric for a moment. But, at the end of this month, on small business Saturday, is my favorite local art event of the year; Indie Art Greeley’s Winter Market. This year there will be 35 artists showcasing their wares – many of whom are my closest friends. Giving and buying at this time of year can be hard. A beautiful season and holiday can sometimes get overwhelmed by consumerism. I think that is why I love the Indie Arts Market – I know firsthand the love and craftsmanship that goes into the gifts I buy there.

Here is the info for this year’s market. I love getting to design the posters for this event and am thrilled about how this years turned out!

Indie Arts Greeley Poster
The market this year is being held in the lovely Atlas Theater – which is doubly great because you can enjoy artisan coffee drinks made at John Galt Coffee Co. all day long.
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Here is just a quick sampling of some of the goods that will be for sale from some of the artists/makers:
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This year BOTH Tim and I will have booths. Tim will be selling his hand-crafted beard-oils, colognes, and after shave. Which, as a wife I can say truly I am OBSESSED. My husband smells AMAZING. I mean really good. He is taken, sorry ladies. Truly, Tim has a highly discerning nose and has crafted some mighty complex and delightful smells inspired by the era of his grandfather. He can’t wait to share them with you.

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You might not know this about me, because I love making paintings. But I also LOVE getting a little crafty. Art markets give me the opportunity to play and create small batches of goods.  This year, creative batch of goods will feature black & white illustrated pillows, handmade marbled kraft wrapping paper, sparkle star wands, and large wall art calendars. Excited yet? I am!!
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I will also, for the first time, have ALL of the becoming series art prints available.
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And if those are not reason enough to come, my little aspiring artist, Lucy, will be joining my table again with her painted sunshine and butterfly pictures.
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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

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.

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

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

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!

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