Christmas Morning Blessings!

This post should arrive on Christmas morning! (assuming you are reading somewhere close by!) So, for today, no great insights to share with you… just a simple message to say “thank you” for following along with me and my adventures! Enjoy the beauty of the season, and may you truly sense God’s presence today as we celebrate His gift to us !

Christmas Angels

   The days are getting colder here in Canada.  Soon the fluffy, white snowflakes will begin to swirl in the skies above and it’ll be time to cozy up indoors with a good book and my coveted cup of coffee. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season has come way too soon for me… we just pulled out all the Christmas decorations this past weekend!  I have a few favourite ones in my stash.  All of them are angels.  One is a teeny wooden one, given to me by a dear friend in memory of a special little baby. I safely tuck it away every year and cry a new batch of tears when I pull it out again as the memories flood over me.  Another is a primitive little crafted thing,with a toilet paper roll for a body and some lace tucked in for a skirt.  It was supposed to be “faceless” … but my kids secretly drew a magic-markered-happy-face smile on it because they didn’t think it looked right without features. The final favourite is a beautiful figurine, decked out in eyelet lace with feathery wings and a delicate, china face. I bought it when we were first married at a country fair.  There were rumours the vendor was a witch, and perhaps I shouldn’t buy from her, but I didn’t care… it was (and still is!) so pretty.  If I had an unlimited budget and didn’t have to dust, my house would be filled with Victorian angels decked out in fine royal purples and regal reds.  They are one of my favourite things at Christmas.

Yet, I wonder if my concept of angels is wrong.  Have I some how twisted my view of these very special messengers of God?  Created to serve Him faithfully forever?  Recent polls suggest that a large percentage of North Americans, no matter what their religious backgrounds, have a belief in angels or heavenly beings.  Are they truly the chubby, naked little cherubs we imagine all decked out with harps and bows and arrows?  Or the Christmas tree toppers adorned with gold ribbons and flowing gowns of crimson?  Perhaps we are too casual with our angelic references: “Thanks so much…you’re such an angel for bringing me that… Oh, what a darling, little angel she is…”  When the Bible refers to angels, humans tended to bow down in absolute fear (Gen.19:1, Luke 1).  Even the Christmas angels who brought the good news to the shepherds caused them to be “terrified”.  These heavenly hosts were definitely not the adorable 5-year-olds with make shift tinsel halos hailing “Fear not” in the Children’s Christmas pageant. 

That being said, I am thankful that these messengers of God are still so very present in our lives.  I have heard countless stories of missionaries narrowly escaping death because “strange groups of men” seemed to be protecting them.  I am confident that my children have been protected from harm on more than one occasion because of the prayers of believers around them.  Those prayers have sent angels to fight the spiritual battles we all face every day in this fallen world.  I am comforted that God still sends His heralds to remind me, like Mary and the shepherds, “not to be afraid”.  He has messengers of the good news all around us.  We just have to search them out.

I don’t think the true heavenly creatures are as cute and gentle as we imagine.

The angelic creatures described in the book of Revelation should be an indication to me that God Almighty is in control of all, and that one day the battle will be won.  The flaming, sword bearing protectors will vanquish evil on Christ’s behalf and we will enter His gates with thanksgiving and joy. 

Can you imagine what it will be like to join voices with the heavenly choir of seraphims and cherubims and cry “Holy, Holy, Holy to the Lord God Almighty”?!  Oh, my friend, it is no wonder we admire these creatures who were made for the infinite purpose of praising the One who saves us.

This season, as I pullout my tissue wrapped treasures, and top my tree with the guardians of Heaven, I will be encouraged that “… we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28,29 NIV)

And when the swirling flakes arrive, and the busyness of the season preoccupies my time, and I am flustered with all the preparations that need to be done, I pray that I will be able to look at that magic marker smile of the “toilet paper roll angel” sitting on the shelf, and be reminded to “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing, some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:1,2 NIV)

Christmas Markets

Wowza!  I can’t believe Christmas is right around the corner!  I am so unprepared this year.  Our decorations are not even out of the basement yet, and it is already the middle of the month!  We’ve just been very busy.  I’ve been thinking, lately, about all the opportunities we have to celebrate here in Canada — parties, special treats, traditions, gift giving.  Seems like the entire country takes on a whole new look at Christmastime,  with lots of places getting all dolled up for the occasion.  I thought I would share a few of the places I would love to visit (or have already!) and share how they decorate for the season.

Old Montreal/Quebec City, Quebec

  We’ve been to “La Belle Province” numerous times and the architecture is fabulous in any season — but nothing compares to when it gets all dressed up for Christmas.  The cobblestone walks and quaint shoppes step right out of Currier and Ives.  Twinkling lights and the snow amidst the sound of french accents… ooh, la, la!  It’s as romantic as Paris without the plane ticket!  The stone and stained glass of the candle lit basilicas demand silent reflection. For the more adventurous, Quebec has some great skiing (or so I hear.).  Quebec should definitely be on a Canadian traveler’s Christmas bucket list!   

Craftadian Market in Hamilton, Ontario

I haven’t been to this one yet, but was exposed to it via the Hamiltonhippie.  It sounds like a super duper craft market featuring local artisans!  I love seeing what other people are making from scratch!  Celebrating their God given talents and sharing them!  And what a better excuse than Christmas to share?  This one is on my list for next year!  Perhaps my cousin’s son, Jonathan, from an edible therapy will be there next year displaying his wares.  He (with help from his wife Chelsea) has turned a challenging experience into a beautiful testament to His Saviour, through his beautiful wood pieces.  I am hoping to get him to share his story someday here on mittonmusings.com!

Brickworks/Evergreen Toronto, Ontario

This is our go-to, Sunday afternoon date destination! I especially love it at Christmas time when their Winter Village is alive!  They have a tiny, little (free) public skating rink surrounded by evergreen boughs that smell super Christmas-y!  We get hot cocoa or cider and tour around the pond before stopping at the big Muskoka chairs for a snuggle by the fire.  The food is phenomenal and I love the diversity of the artisans who display their wares at Brickworks!  Fresh and usually straight from the farm, the market is a unique blend of farmers market and craft fair… I love to scoop up unique treasures here for gifts!  

Christmas Market in the Distillery District Toronto, Ontario

For a more adult date night, the distillery is a must see.  Definitely instagrammable (yes, that is a real word!) it is the millennial hang out at Christmastime.  It makes me feel young and hip. (A statement that just made me old again). The first time we visited, we sipped free mulled wine at the fires.  Now, the marketers have discovered it’s popularity and commercialized it up a bit with tourist-y samplers, but it is still the best decorated spot for that classic, European Christmas market experience in Canada.  Book early if you want a reservation for dinner, though!

Vintelier Boutique in Abbotsford, BC

Okay, so I thought this was just a fleeting Christmas pop-up shoppe when I first saw it on Facebook, but apparently it is a quaint boutique that sells all kinds of adorable little things!  Shout out to my fabulous sister-in-law, who has been graciously employed there recently, for getting my boutique senses all a-tingle! If they have a stationary section, the first born daughter and I are going to drool. Literally.  Oh, how I would love to see inside this gem in person — and especially see what trinkets it has for the holiday season!  I am expecting a cute gift sent to me, O, darling sister-in-law!  

Your local Thrift Shop!

A bonus locale for all things Christmas.  It’s funny how second hand stores get an eclectic gathering of Christmas goodies piled up from days gone past.  Being a big thrifty shopper, I seek out these shops often… not so much to purchase, but to browse the holiday aisle to see how quickly the holidays are discarded.  Those oh-so special objects become outdated, worn and donated away, all too quickly.  I am taken back to my childhood when I see some chipped china plate or tacky, tinsel lined, flashing star tree topper à la 1970, shoved onto the discount shelf at my local Sally Ann.  Occasionally,  you can still find a singing fish or a Macarena dancing Santa.  Oh, the memories.

And so, I take a step back this Christmas season, and see the beauty in “things”.  Of places decorated so beautifully.  The outward appearance of places that represent a little bit of our inside lives.  Yet, I am reminded, again, to dig even deeper than the “things” I see around me.  These picture perfect places and lovely bits and baubles, although beautiful, are not the true meaning of Christmas.  They are precious, yes, but I have to think of Mary on that first Christmas night.  Oh… I am sure she wished she was in a beautifully lit inn off the cobble stone streets, and had warm flannel blankets to wrap her newborn in as she sipped mulled wine by the decorated fireplace.   But these are the romantic gestures we have come to associate with Christmas.  May you and I never lose sight of the cold, dark, dirty stable, as we are coerced by the “pretty things” of this world.  For the true joys lie there… in the warmth of a mother’s touch, the awe struck shepherd’s weathered features, and the piercing cry of the newborn who came to save the world.  

 

Is Homework Necessary?

 December first has come and gone.  We celebrated the first Sunday of Advent, and are anticipating the weeks of holiday bliss which are about to arrive.  But before the Mitton clan goes whole hog on Christmas, we have to get through the last few weeks of school.  Which, in our neck of the woods, means a whole whack of homework.  A topic that has led to a rather brooding debate amongst us… is homework really necessary?!  My first answer as mom, educator and lover of learning, says yes, yes, of course!  Homework is a must.  How can we continue learning if there is no homework, no testing, no study?  The rest of the clan disagrees.  It’s stressful, it’s useless, it’s too time consuming, it has no purpose.  These are the things I am hearing!  Even the hubby, who is thinking of branching out of his comfort zone and taking a course in the new year (to which I am very proud!) wants only to audit a course and not do the homework.  Awk!  No, no, no, I say!  How can you really learn if you have no concrete evidence… nothing to show at the end…no “mark” of your ability.  But — I am willing to be open minded — and so I muse:  Is homework really necessary?

  From what I have gathered, “homework” — the work sent home because either it is not completed in class, or is assigned to enhance the practice, preparation for, or extensions of, lessons done in class — is becoming a hot topic.  There seems to be a growing trend to eliminate it all together.  In Canada, “no homework policies” are being pushed by both parents and educators alike, labeling homework as stress inducing, and time-robbing.  A 2008 study done in Ontario, discovered that the dreaded homework hour can become the primary source of arguments in a household.  Not only in parent/child power struggles, but even among marriages as well.  (Which seems to be happening in my house, too…)  And so I muse again… Why?

Apparently the answer lies in the amount of time.  The “ideal” amount of homework, as laid out by the National Parent Teacher Association and the National Education Association in the US, suggests a standard of 10 minutes of homework per grade level.  Canadian educators pretty much follow this standard as well.  However, reports are coming in that students are doing much, much more than this.  On average, Ontario students are given 40 minutes of homework per night.  Add multiple subjects and this can get pretty stressful. Families argue that this cuts into family time, not to mention that if there is misunderstanding or learning struggles — that 40 minutes could drag on in to infinity….

So.  Let’s take a step back.  Let’s look at the big picture of why we educate in the first place.  If our Christian lifestyle impacts our understanding in this topic, then God should have something to say about it too.  The Bible tells us in Proverbs to “…get wisdom and understanding at all costs…” (Proverbs 4).  Could this mean giving up some favourite television show to study the multiplication table?  Or forcing our students off the devices to sit with pen and paper to make a “useless” title page?  Possibly.  Now, don’t get me wrong, we are not perfect scholars over here… we have had our fair share of homework struggles… pulling our hair out to get that perfect paper machéd, 3-D model of some obscure parallelogram.  Or setting the timer for exactly 21 minutes of reading because that is the bare minimum required.   I have seen my teens burn the midnight oil on more than one occasion to complete that assignment simply because they procrastinated the rest of the week.  Homework can certainly be stress inducing.  And as parents, I think it is our job to shape, encourage and instruct our children… that yes, education is important.  And yes, this teacher’s expectations may be out of the ball park… so let’s deal with learning to have difficult conversations, let’s deal with how to interact with people who do not see our points of view, let’s be present in our education systems and seek wisdom.  Let’s make homework part of the bigger idea of “gathering wisdom.”

I’m not convinced there is an easy answer to the homework debate.  We are a full mix of people with many given gifts.  We have different goals and different learning styles.  Good grief… even within my own little clan, we cannot agree on this debate!  For now… I will encourage the completion of homework in our house, with the premise of gathering wisdom.  Skills like multiplication tables and correct spelling and grammar are necessary, yes, but so is good communication, and loving your neighbour, and standing up for what you believe.  Can homework achieve this?  Certainly not in 40 minutes a night.  It becomes a piece of a much, much broader idea, that I will continue to muse about often.

Let me know your thoughts… do you home school and avoid homework altogether?  Do you enforce homework time at your house?  Is it a struggle? Have helpful hints to share?  We’d love to hear from you!   Drop us a line!