We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. ~Isaiah 64:8

Monday, December 3, 2018

Advent Devotions - need a hand?

As promised, a few suggestions for Advent devotionals.  I would not even attempt an exhaustive list...who could??  (Well, on second thought, I'm sure someone could, but not me!)  These are some I've used or have seen or have some experience with.  There are so, so many others.

Remember, perfection is the enemy of the good.  Don't look for the perfect one...pick one and run with it.  Pray for the Lord to use it in your family's hearts, and trust that He will.  And enjoy!


  • Jotham's Journey (readings are long, so make sure it is appropriate for your kids' attention spans).  There are four of these, so if you like them, you can choose another for next year.
  • The Jesus Story Book Bible Advent Reading Plan.  I think this lines up pretty well with the traditional Jesse Tree symbols.  The Jesus Story Book is a really lovely childrens story bible.  This one is ideal for younger children.  (But if you have older children, they'll enjoy it, too.)
  • Printable Jesse Tree ornaments - print and let your kids color one each day.  Then hang on a tree.  (I'm doing a paper tree on the back of a door, and then taping the ornaments up.)  Use these with the Jesus Story Book Bible Advent reading plan above - or find another Jesse Tree devotional. 

Whatever you choose, please, don't ditch it just because you are getting a late start...or because you missed a few days.  It's ok, just pick up where you left off.  You can always go past Advent and into the Christmas season.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Preparing for Advent - 4 ways

Remember, links in the text are re-linked at the bottom of each post.

So, it is time...time to begin seriously preparing for Advent.  Are your candles ordered?  I scoured Amazon and decided on these.  They are solid color candles and are supposed to be dripless. If you don't have your Advent candles (and you plan to use them in a wreath) order or get to the store quick!  (Michaels and Hobby Lobby often carry Advent candle sets.  Of course you don't have to buy them in a set, you can buy individual colors.)

That's one thing you can do to be prepared (and often the thing I forget until Saturday before Advent!!)...but what else?


Create a Holiday Binder

Over the past few years I've been collecting resources for the holiday season.  I have a great make-ahead Thanksgiving menu that I clipped out of the newspaper in 2007 and have used ever since with a few adjustments to suit my family.  A Santa Lucia bread recipe.  Several cookie recipes. Poems to read. Lists of books and movies we own (so I won't forget them).  A large stack of activity pages I found on various websites to keep the kids occupied while I wrap gifts. A list of our favority holiday shows to record. Lots of scraps of ideas scribbled down. A plan for an Epiphany house blessing.  I bet you have some of this bits and pieces, too.
  •  Find a binder and binder dividers.  If you are like me, you have plenty of these around the house.  One just needs to be found and cleaned out. I use, and recommend, a 3-ring binder with several pocket inserts.  You can divide it up into seasons (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany) or by topic (recipes, crafts, fun stuff to do around town, etc - I find this the most useful for me). 
  • Print a blank calendar.   This year mine runs Nov 30th - Jan 7th (Feast of St Andrew to the day after Epiphany).  Mark your calendar with important dates (parties, local events, feast days, etc)
  • Use it and then don't forget to store it in your Advent box for next year, or whatever box will be the first you open to get ready for Christmas.

Make a plan to attend local events  

The holidays are such a good time to get out and get to know your neighbors and community.  Make good use of local events!  We will be going to our local small town tree and town lighting, a gingerbread contest that benefits a local charity, several particularly well-decorated homes, ice-skating in an outdoor rink, for example.

  • Try to find several events that can be attended during Christmastide.  Our culture does most of its celebrating before Christmas even gets here, so it can be challenging to keep celebrating after the 25th.  I usually try to find several events or activities that will be ongoing after Christmas and save them for the 12 Days of Christmas.  
  • Look for events on small town websites and in newspapers. Ask around, check out facebook pages, and pay attention to signs and other analog notices (posters in store windows, for example).


Get the house cleared and ready  

This is a good Advent activity for the whole family.  Start thinking about where decorations, the tree, etc will go.  Clear surfaces to make way for those decorations.  Plan where you'll move that furniture to accommodate the tree.

So many years I've left this for too late into Advent and felt harried.  While you don't have to do all this BEFORE Advent, it certainly helps to begin before Advent and have a plan for getting this done.

  • Give the house a good deep-cleaning.  Then you'll just need to do touching up and some minor cleaning as the season progresses.  Clean out the coat closet a bit to make room for guests' coats.  Encourage the kids to do a purge of their rooms for give aways and junk.
  • Clear out pantries, fridge and freezer.  And stock up on food storage supplies.  You'll probably be doing lots of baking and making ahead, so be prepared and get these ready.


Begin a good devotional practice for your family 

Obviously, this is the MOST important thing you should do to get ready for Advent.  And while purchasing a devotional is helpful, it isn't the only way.  You can find free ones only...or just plan to spend some good time in bible reading and prayer with your family. If you do decide to purchase one, there are so many good ones out there for kids, kids and families, adults, teens.

In a separate post, I'll recommend some we've used (purchased or free), but don't let yourself get too bogged down trying to find the "perfect" thing....you won't find it.  Maybe all you can do this year is light Advent candles and say a few words of prayer - that's ok!  Just select a book or activity that seems like something you can easily stick to for the season ahead and give it your best.
  • Make that devotional time a priority.  It can be hard to find the time in a busy schedule.  Think about your days - when are you all gathered as a family naturally?  If you homeschool, first thing in the morning might make sense.  If your kids go to school, perhaps just after dinner.  If you can't do it every day at the same time, that's ok - even a few times a week is great!
  • Make that devotional time appealing.  What will your kids enjoy (and what makes sense for the time slot you've selected)?  Snuggling on the couch in front of the fire?  In the morning gathered around the table with hot chocolate or tea?  At night with dessert?  Maybe sitting by the Christmas tree with only the tree lights on?
Be watching for a follow-up post with suggested devotionals and activities.  (Here you go!)

Above all, take a cue from the Grinch...
"He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more!" 
That goes for Advent, too!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Wait! Before Advent ... Saint Andrew!

Our Thanksgiving Table


(All links in the text are re-linked at the bottom of this post.)

Have you finished all your turkey, yet?   Ours is slowly being digested.  Last night was turkey soup, today is turkey casserole.  I do love the leftovers from Thanksgiving...but my kids seem to be tiring of turkey!  Maybe we'll resort to tacos later this week.

My slow roast turkey was another hit - whew!  It is pretty easy, but I made the mistake of needing my oven that morning to make a breakfast casserole.  Need to rethink that for next year.  Maybe an intant pot breakfast instead.

With the turkey almost gone, it must be time to start thinking about Advent!

Why is Advent my favorite time of year?  I'm not exactly sure...maybe it is in my contrarian nature to want to do something different from the culture. I do love the slowness of it, which is ironic because my actual days are a little crazy during early December.  Maybe it is the reminder to take it slow and really dig into the season of waiting and expectation.

Is there some link between how we approach Advent and how we live the rest of the year?  Perhaps.  We do live in Advent days...days of waiting for the coming of the King.

Frey enjoying the
Thanksgiving feast...
with a little kitty helper
Advent traditionally begins the Sunday after the Feast of Saint Andrew (Nov 30th).  So this year, it will begin on Dec 2nd.  But let's not overlook dear Saint Andrew in our rush to get to Advent!  Saint Andrew was fishing with his brother, Peter, when he answered Jesus' call to follow him, and thus became Christ's first disciple.

Because he is very closely associated with Scotland, and we have Scottish heritage, we lean toward those customs, but you can certainly find customs from the other cultures he's associated with (Greece, Russia, Amalfi in Italy, and Barbados).

Share the story of Saint Andrew's life with your children.  Many Saints' lives books will feature him.  The pickings are a little slim for individual books about his life, but I found a couple.  There is a Kindle book (I haven't read it, so I can really vouch for it - but it is only 99 cents!).  And another written for Scottish children by Lois Rock.

Here's a little kid-friendly video that will give you and your kids a quick overview of Andrew's life:




What other ways can we celebrate this last feast day before Advent?
Image result for scottish stovies image
Scottish Stovies -
doesn't that look delicious?!

  •     
  • Enjoy some Scottish delights: shortbread (buy it or make it), Scottish Stovies, or serve fish for dinner.
  • Hang a Scottish flag (or the flag of one of the other countries that claim him as a patron saint)

Of course right on the heels of St. Andrew's feast (especially this year!) is the beginning of Advent.  Time to begin planning what you and your family might do.  In the next day or two, I'll start posting some ideas to get your family started!  Until then you can check out my Church Year page and follow the links under "Advent".

Blessed Feast of Saint Andrew!


Links from the text:

Monday, November 5, 2018

Christ's Soldier: St Martin, November 11th

El Greco - San Martín y el mendigo.jpg
St Martin and the Beggar - El Greco
I am a complete sucker for a good medieval festival...and one that we don't know much about...and one that has given us many traditions without us even being aware of it.  It's like a little treasure box of mystery! Gourds, squashes, turnips being carved into lanterns, kids going begging (like the beggar in the most famous story of St Martin) house to house for treats, having a big harvest feast including a large bird, and honoring soldiers...all these can be traced back to the Feast of Saint Martin of Tours.

Who was Martin of Tours?  
From the Encyclopedia Britannica:
"St. Martin of Tours was born in 316, in what is now Hungary and died November 8, 397, in Candes, Gaul (France). He is know for being the father of monasticism in Gaul, and the first great leader of Western monasticism.
Of pagan parentage, Martin chose Christianity at age 10. As a youth, he was forced into the Roman army, but later he petitioned the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate to be released from the army because “I am Christ’s soldier: I am not allowed to fight.” When charged with cowardice, he is said to have offered to stand in front of the battle line armed only with the sign of the cross. He was imprisoned but was soon discharged.
Legend holds that while he was still in the military and a catechumen of the faith, Martin cut his cloak in half to share it with a beggar. That night, he dreamed that Jesus himself was clothed with the torn cloak. When he awoke, the garment was restored. Moved by this vision and apparent miracle, Martin immediately finished his religious instruction and was baptized at age 18.
On leaving the Roman army, Martin settled at Poitiers, under the guidance of Bishop Hilary. He became a missionary in the provinces of Pannonia and Illyricum (now in the Balkan Peninsula), where he opposed Arianism, a heresy that denied the divinity of Christ. In 360 he rejoined Hilary at Poitiers. Martin then founded a community of hermits at Ligugé, the first monastery in Gaul. In 371 he was made bishop of Tours, and outside that city he founded another monastery, Marmoutier, to which he withdrew whenever possible.
During his lifetime, Martin acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, and he was one of the first nonmartyrs to be publicly venerated as a saint."

Lanterns
One story surrounding St. Martin involves his donkey becoming lost in the woods at night and children helping him to find the donkey with lanterns.  This transformed into a tradition of a parade of children with lanterns on St. Martin's day. There is an old tradition of using a root vegetable carved into a lantern that probably grew into our pumpkin jack o'lanterns.

Your jack o'lantern is probably long gone by the time St. Martin's rolls around on November 11th, so maybe instead of lighting that you could make lanterns another way: luminaries (paper bags with some sand in the bottom and a small votive candle, hole-punched tin cans, mason jar lanterns, or paper mache lanterns

The Beggar
Saint Martin is best known for sharing his cloak with the beggar.  Perhaps a recognition and remembrance of St. Martin's generosity would be to follow his example by giving away warm clothes and coats to those in need.  Spend the day culling clothes and deliver them to an organization that will get them to those in need.

Fall Feasting
In the Medieval church, the time of preparation for Christmas began in the middle of November. People saw St. Martin's (which occurred right before Advent), as a mini-Mardi Gras type celebration before the fasting of Advent began. This, of course, is also a time of harvest and putting up food and supplies for the winter.  It was a natural impulse to have a feast to celebrate, and on St. Martin's day a fat goose was the tradition.  This tradition continued well into the Renaissance and then came over to America with the settlers (in Virginia first and then in Plymouth), where it became a turkey very quickly!  It might be hard to pull off a big feast on St. Martin's day with Thanksgiving right around the corner, though.  But it is fun to know where this tradition originated.

Instead, perhaps a different type of "feast"?  This time of year is when vintners begin tasting the year's new wine.  Beaujolais Nouveau is still realeased right around mid-November, so why not find one to enjoy on St. Martin's day!

Another idea for modified feasting is to serve items that can be cut or torn in half and shared with the person beside you.

A Roman Soldier, Armistice Day and Veteran's Day
At the end of World War I, November 11th was chosen as the day for the ceasefire.  Was this just a wonderful coincidence that they choose a day on which people had traditionally celebrated a former Roman Sodier who became a Christian and gave up warfare?  That's a good question that I haven't found an answer to...but I have a suspicion that someone chose it purposely.  Regardless, it is a wonderful day to remember our Veterans (as we do in America) and give thanks for them and pray for soldiers and those affected by war all over the world.

A good children's book: 
Snow on Martinmas by Sleightholm

Coloring Page:
I found this lovely copy of the El Greco for coloring.

More reading:
St Martin traditions
Martinmas Lantern Walk
Some interesting articles on Martinmas



Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Fright Night, Fun Night

Erik, Frey, Freya, and Faramir sorting
out the pumpkin seeds.
(There are several good links to articles and a podcast in this post for futher reading/listening.  I've also posted them at the end of the article. Enjoy!)

Our pumpkins are carved, the candy is purchased, the last feather has been hot-glued into place...it must be Halloween!

Of course, Halloween can be a bit of a minefield for Christians these days...with mines mostly laid by other Christians.  So, I understand if you feel some real apprehension about how to celebrate.  And if you are particularly sensitive to scary images or have issues with the occult, then it makes sense to find an alternative for your family.

Artemesia, Freya and Frey
working on their jack o-lantern
designs
But if you enjoy celebrating a day of imagination and fun, then let's frolic on Halloween!  It's like one big scary, fairy tale story...a great way to face our fears and laugh.

Most of you probably have your own Halloween traditions, and I'd love to hear them (comments!)!  Please share!  Here's what we enjoy:
  • Selecting a pumpkin, creating a design and daddy cuts it out.  Then we turn out all the lights and light the candle.
  • Toasting the pumpkin seeds.  This one takes some work!  
    1. Seperate the seeds from the pumpkin pulp and give them a rinse.  Let them dry a bit (30 minutes or so) in a colander.  
    2. Spread them on a cookie sheet and put in a 200 degree oven.  Leave for several hours (4 hours is about right).  Turn off the oven and leave overnight.  They may need more time, so check them in the morning.  They should be crunchy more than chewy.  
    3. Once dry, coat in vegetable oil (olive or whatever you like) and season.  We use Old Bay, but even just salt will be good.
    4. Cook again at 250 for about 30 minutes.
The final pumpkins!  Frey's drawing
was the inspiration for the one on the right.
Artemesia and Faramir did the Studio
Ghibli cat on the left.
  • Trick or Treating, of course!  Then we come home and swap candy and enjoy a belly-full before bed.  My girls are pretty good at regulating and don't drive me crazy about the candy, but in the past when all the kids were little I had a three-day rule.  They had three days of unrestrained access (they had to have a good breakfast first) and then all leftover candy went in the trash.
  • This year I'm adding a new tradition: pumpkin spice latte.  I do enjoy them, but only in small doses.  So, Halloween seems like an appropriate day to enjoy my ONE pumpkin spice latte for the year.
    Artemesia and Friend
    (Cheshire Cat and Katniss)
  • This is a great day to talk about heroes of the faith - saints!  What are your beliefs, which saints might be appropriate to learn more about as a family?  Maybe choose a few to learn more about for the year ahead.  Some your kids might enjoy: St Francis, St Martin, St Nicholas, St Brigid, St David, St George, St Patrick.
All Saints and All Souls Days
Of course the next two days are for remembering our loved ones who have passed on.  If you have access to your loved ones' burial place, Nov 1st or 2nd is a good day to go visit and clean it up a bit.  Perhaps add pictures of loved ones to the mantle or in another place of honor and tell some fun stories and memories.  This year we'll be remembering my grandmother who passed away last year in October, the day before her 100th birthday.
Friend and Friend
(Malificent and Misty
Copeland's "Firebird")

Books your family might enjoy for Halloween:  
Gibbons, Halloween is...
Dr. Seuss, What Was I Afraid Of?
Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are
Willliams, The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything


Links from above:


  • a podcast from the Anselm Society (for Christian Arts): Welcome, Great Pumpkin
  • a classic article from The Internet Monk: The Great Pumpkin Proposes a Toast
  • another article from Anglican Pastor: What is All Saints Day?


  • Freya as a princess; Frey as a
    Stormtrooper


    Time to go run and get my one and only pumpkin spice latte of the year!

    Tuesday, October 23, 2018

    Four years later.... a daybook

    outside my window . . .  chilly air has finally settled in after a few bouts with tropical storms and hurricanes.  Leaves are *just* beginning to blush.

    listening to . . . my morning NPR.  Little Fiona (6 month old border collie/lab puppy) attacking her newest toy.

    wearing . . .  grey workout pants and a UNC Chapel Hill sweatshirt. 

    so grateful for . . .  afterschool care for Frey.  The first month without that was incredibly exhausting and stressful.

    pondering . . .  whether or not I can actually get this blog up and running again.

    reading . . .  Dead Wake (Eric Larson), Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear (Stephen Manes) - this is ONLY a book for those in the dance world, Beauty in the Word (Stratford Caldecott) - that one you gotta take in tiny chunks!

    creating . . . Not a darn thing right now.

    around the house . . . time to pull out the fall clothes, the space heaters (we have a room that doesn't get sufficient heat and my homeschool area has a lovely, but chilly bay window), and down comforters.

    from the kitchen . . . Chicken and Dumplings tonight! 

    real education in our home . . .  Reading Charlotte's Web with my nephew.  I'm really enjoying going back through the many wonderful children's books we have!  Artemesia is becoming a very independent learner. 

    the church year in our home . . . Because ballet has taken over our lives so thoroughly the past 2 years, we are finding less and less time for these celebrations.  I'm trying to adjust our celebrations a bit to fit our current schedule.  One saint a month...and of course the big seasons. 

    one of my favorite things . . .  this funny little fuzzy hedgehog ornament that sits on my desk, a gift from my girls.

    recent milestones . . . Faramir just started a new job.  It involves a lot of travel.  He's in VA for a week and then OK for 3 weeks!

    the week ahead . . . errands today and a home visit from the kids' social worker, then a full week of school and dance.  Hoping to buy and carve our pumpkin this weekend.

    picture thoughts . . .

    Backstage at our Nutcracker production - one of my favorite places to be!

    Sunday, December 14, 2014

    Links for Advent Week 3

    Oh, my - busy week!  The Nutcracker (Kalliope's first!) is one for the books.  She did great - as did all the young dancers. So - anyway - very quick on the links today.


    How to wrap gifts like a Japanese professional.

    Making traditional mincemeat pies - I do LOVE mincemeat!

    You know, the Advent and Christmas season can positively buzz with activity making it difficult to provide healthy home-cooked meals.  And right at a time when you are trying to spend more time as a family...and less money at restaurants!  Once a Month Meals is a like the honey in that wild buzzing beehive of the holiday season.  Check it out - great resource for quick fix and make ahead meals.

    Do you, like me, seem to wind up every year with some oddly-shaped gift that absolutely defies wrapping?  Oh, sure you can just get an enormous gift bag...but then the gift just sort of knocks around in there always tipping over.  Check out this helpful idea!


    Sunday, December 7, 2014

    Links for Advent Week 2

    The parade coming down Main Street.
    Good Sunday evening, friends!  Our little Kalliope is going to be in the county youth ballet's production of The Nutcracker...and today all the cast members got to participate in our small town Christmas Parade!  She was so excited to ride the float and feel like a "star".



    There is something so comforting and lovely about a small town at Christmas, especially: walking the town today, seeing some familiar faces, hearing greetings of "Merry Christmas" yelled back and forth.  Love it!



    Here's the float - I marked Kalliope with a yellow arrow.

    On Saturday, we had a very low-key St. Nicholas feast day.  Shoes by the fireplace and gingerbread for breakfast.  The weather was awful, so we ditched some outdoor plans and opted instead to drive to a local house that does an amazing light show.  Then we came home and watched "Rudolph".


    Here are some links from the last week:
    Faramir, Erik, and Artemisia
    An Advent calendar from The Economist - not at all "Advent-y", but interesting!

    This is an older post, but I just love the humility and grace she expresses as she shares with us her desire to incorporate Advent into her life.   (Becoming Peculiar)

    Christmas Trivia Game - One is more secular, the other has more religious-oriented questions.  I'm going to combine the two to use with my classes for a fun game on their last day before break (Dec 4th)...and then again with my family!

    More serious: Ferguson in the Shadow of Advent



    Artemisia and I enjoying some Peppermint Mocha
    from our awesome coffee shop.
    This one isn't particularly Advent-ish, other than that I've put this book on my list to Santa...wonder if he'll bring it?  Marilynne Robinson's "Gilead" books, now a trilogy, are by far my most favorite pieces of contemporary literature.  Some people find them too slow...I adore them for their slow, careful pace.  I haven't read Lila, yet, but I can recommend it highly based on the previous books. And I think it would make exceptional, if un-orthodox, Advent reading. A good review by Amy Frykholm.








    Wednesday, December 3, 2014

    Saint Nicholas Feast is nearly upon us!

    Jan Steen - The Feast of Saint Nicholas - 1663
    Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Today I had to run a couple of errands, and so that means, as is almost always the case, a child or two is with me.  This makes shopping for Christmas tricky.  But I'm good at distraction and subterfuge.  Which is good, because I had a couple more things to pick up for St. Nicholas' feast day.

    Are you celebrating?  It doesn't have to be a fancy celebration...shoes by the fireplace with a bit of chocolate and maybe a very small gift is certainly in the spirit!  Sometimes we do a lot, sometimes we only do a little.

    This year it will be a little feast as we have a busy Saturday.  Some goodies in the shoes and a breakfast of freshly made gingerbread.


    Here are some posts to get you started:

    • And, if you homeschool, perhaps a little Picture Study using Jan Steen's Feast of St Nicholas (that's the image above).  Here's a little background from the Rijksmuseum where this painting is housed.
    I'd love to hear how you celebrate!  Please share in the comments - and link to your blog if you have a post about your celebration!  I'll update here!