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

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A limping celebration

The Twelve days of Christmas are here - in fact today is the 6th day, if you are keeping track - and my hopes for a full celebration are lying sick in bed coughing and sputtering like the rest of the family, yours truly included.  Yeah, this year, it's not happening.

A couple of weeks before Christmas I heard an announcer on a local Christian radio station proclaim about Christmas, "Well, in two weeks it is all over."  What?!?!  The driver in the car behind me must have worried as my van made a sudden veer toward and correction away from the roadside ditch.  Can you you hear me muttering, "It isn't all over - it has JUST BEGUN!"

What's the big deal you ask?  Am I just being a liturgical snob?  Well, maybe, but I sure hope not.  I really do think it matters.

When we celebrate the church year, we learn through story, image, and repetition not only the stories of our heritage, but the truths of our faith.  Take Advent, for example.  We keep Advent and we are reminded of preparing our hearts for the arrival of the King, Jesus.  Not only the remembrance of his first arrival, but the reminder of his future arrival - the Second Coming.  We are reminded to prepare our hearts like the wise virgins prepared their lamps.

But when He comes that second time, is that it?  Is it "all over" like the radio announcer thinks?  Of course not...it has just begun!  Keeping a full Christmas reminds us of this truth.  It won't end with the return of Christ, it will BEGIN.

Perhaps you've heard of the Advent Conspiracy campaign?   An even more important and counter-cultural campaign would be a Christmas Conspiracy.  Instead of celebrating for one day, we'd blow the world away by celebrating a full 12-Day Christmas season!  Can you imagine it:  Keeping a real preparatory Advent and then letting Christmas burst forth on the 25th...and burn bright for 12 whole days of delight and merriment!  Sharing our tables and homes with all those we can.  Give gifts from the heart to those we love and those we don't even know.  Serving our families and communities.   A celebration conspiracy!

Oh, I could get really carried away in the romance of that idea.

But this year our little Christmas is limping along.  The tree is still up.  And we are burning the Christmas lights all over the house each night.  It is still Christmas in our hearts at least.

And maybe that the most important thing of all.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The First Day of Christmas - 2010

On the first day of Christmas, we awoke to the soft, closeness of a snow-blanketed forest.  A delightful little Christmas gift, no? 

It is now nearly 3 in the afternoon and the snow has mostly stopped.  The road is visible and some snow is melting, but it is still so lovely and bright outside.  I'm tucked under a cozy comforter sipping chocolate-cherry hot cocoa (I'll share the recipe!) and nursing a flu.  Yes, the same one the boys had earlier.  Our dear little "E" (8 year old daughter) is also ill.  So, we will enjoy just looking at the snow.  The boys have been out, but only for a bit.

Not quite the way we expected the day after Christmas to be spent, but a quiet, lazy snowed-in day is nice.

How are my other east-coaster friends doing?  I think there are some of you who have quite a bit of snow on the ground.   White Christmas blessings to you all!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Have a very merry Christmas today!  

Before the paling of the stars,
Before the winter morn,
Before the earliest cockcrow
Jesus Christ was born:
Born in a stable,
Cradled in a manger,
In the world His Hands had made
Born a Stranger.

Priest and King lay fast asleep
In Jerusalem,
Young and old lay fast asleep
In crowded Bethlehem:
Saint and Angel, Ox and Ass,
Kept a watch together,
Before the Christmas daybreak
In the winter weather.

Jesus on His Mother's breast
In the stable cold,
Spotless Lamb of God was He,
Shepherd of the Fold:
Let us kneel with Mary Maid,
With Joseph bent and hoary,
With Saint and Angel, Ox and Ass,
To hail the King of Glory.

C. Rosetti
26 August 1859

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve 2010

May your Christmas Eve be filled with lovely delights and the warmth of family and friends. 

CHRISTMAS hath darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Earth, strike up your music,
Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven hath answering music
For all Angels soon to sing:
Earth, put on your whitest
Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

C. Rosetti

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent pictures

Our artist.  Not a day goes by without a painting, a drawing, a sculpture or creation of some kind.

He got this silly hat (it sings and the bell shakes back and forth) from a friend at church.  Check out the YouTube video!  (you can see some of his other goofy videos - yes, we homeschool.)

E and I found this wasp next in the woods a couple of weeks ago.

Saint Nicholas Day (Dec 6th ) goodies!   My goodness, don't those two look sleepy?

And L discovering her St Nick goodies.  I think she is amazed we gave her candy before breakfast!

Yum - the goody jars!  So tempting...and almost gone now.  

A quiet late fall afternoon.  H and E spent the afternoon drawing and listening to some old Christmas radio shows.

S - still has some Christmas humor in him despite being a high schooler. 

Farmor arrived last night.  The girls enjoyed a snuggly Christmas book.

Advent pictures

Our artist.  Not a day goes by without a painting, a drawing, a sculpture or creation of some kind.

He got this silly hat (it sings and the bell shakes back and forth) from a friend at church.  Check out the YouTube video!  (you can see some of his other goofy videos - yes, we homeschool.)

E and I found this wasp next in the woods a couple of weeks ago.

Saint Nicholas Day (Dec 6th ) goodies!   My goodness, don't those two look sleepy?

And L discovering her St Nick goodies.  I think she is amazed we gave her candy before breakfast!

Yum - the goody jars!  So tempting...and almost gone now.  

A quiet late fall afternoon.  H and E spent the afternoon drawing and listening to some old Christmas radio shows.

S - still has some Christmas humor in him despite being a high schooler. 

Farmor arrived last night.  The girls enjoyed a snuggly Christmas book.

Advent in our home - weeks 3 and 4

Busyness kept me from posting this last week.  Not that I am not busy now, but I've got a little time in the early morning...

Gum drop and toothpick structures - a favorite crafty activity

Our eldest, 14, enjoying a little Christmas humor.

A Saint Nicholas waits quietly on the mantle.

Handmade replicas of family landmarks (Aland, Finland).  Front: a typical Swedish cottage (Aland is owned by Finland, but is Swedish in heritage.  Both languages are spoken. Middle: Christiansund the family home (c. 1932 ) where my M-i-L was born.  Back: Eckero church the family church. (c. early 1200s ).

One of our favorite play nativity sets.  (I know, I know, shoot me - the baby Jesus is already in the manger. )

Baking, baking, baking.  I'm discovering that despite the larger kitchen, I seem to have less working space.  Hmmm....

Farmor, E, and L enjoy a Christmas story.

We wait all year for this delight: Svenska Glogg (Swedish Glogg).  It is sort of like mulled wine, but the only wine in it is port (the rest is more port, brandy and vodka).  A warmed mug is the perfect nightcap on a cold winter's evening.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Daybook - Monday, December 20th

outside my window . . .  watching our little Louie stalking something - a blowing leaf, probably.  The trees have mostly shed their leaves and now we look out to a forest of gray bark which is beautiful in its own way.  

in the kitchen . . .  today we are making St. Lucia breads and Peppermint Mocha syrup for our friends.  Tomorrow we make bread for our Christmas company.

around the house . . . cleaning and sorting and decorating.  All of our storage closets are now  sorted and organized: broom closet, coat/storage closet, linen closet, and I'm setting up one storage closet as a little prayer retreat.   The house is all decorated for Christmas, except for the tree - lights only.  We'll decorate it Thursday evening with our family.

listening to. . .  hubby wrestle the breadmaker off the top shelf of the pantry. 

thankful for. . .  a successful youth Christmas party last night.  There was a good devotional,  wonderful conversation, lots of laughter, and delicious food.  The highlight was the  hysterically funny human Christmas tree decorating contest.

one of my favorite things . . .  toasted St Lucia bread with orange marmalade on Christmas morning.  Can't wait!

milestones in the past week . . .  
:-: Little L's speech has taken a wonderful turn for the better.   She's begun putting lots of words together and trying new ones regularly.

a few plans for the upcoming week . . .  
:-:  Baking, Cleaning, and getting the house ready for guests that arrive on Wednesday.
:-:  Visit to a Gingerbread House exposition on Thursday, decorate the tree.
:-:  Visit to Biltmore House on Friday
:-:  And of course, Christmas Day on Saturday!

If you think of us, pray for my eldest son who has come down with the flu in the past 24 hours.  Pray for his quick recovery and that we'd keep it from passing to the rest of us (and our guests).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Links for Advent - Dec 10th

I'm currently snuggled in a warm fluffy bed watching my favorite of the old 70s "clay-mation" Christmas specials: A Year Without a Santa with my daughter is who is feeling achy all over and very tired.  Most likely she is just worn out after a sleepover and a very busy errand day, but we are taking it easy (and missing a dear friend's Nutcracker show) this evening to make sure.

Tomorrow is Gaudete Sunday (wow - how'd we get here so quickly?!) and I'd hoped to get the tree up and some lights today...but it will just have to wait.  How was your Saturday?  Are you settling in for a quiet home evening, too?  How about some reading?

:-: from one of the best resources for those concerned about education, CiRCE Institute, a list of 5 great books for gifting this Christmas.  And while you are there, consider making a donation of ANY amount and you will have access to a some of the best downloadable audios available today!

:-: This was a great article: Make Better Choices by Asking Two Simple Questions.

:-: Amy, a dear bloggy friend, from Splendor in the Ordinary has a really wonderful series about the Church Year.  Even if you are an "old hand" at the liturgical year, you'll find these posts edifying.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent in our home this week - week 2

Baby L enjoys Saint Nicholas morning treats: candy cane and pencils.  Do you see her sly little smile?  She's thinking, "They gave me candy before breakfast?  YES!"

E and I discovered this while taking a walk in our woods.  It had fallen out of a tree sometime in the last few weeks.  We found it on the "fort" the kids have been working on.

I love this simple display of candy in mason jars.  I'm going to move them from the window sill to a mantle with lovely twinkle lights around them.  But for now they look pretty glittering in the morning light.

Finally got my advent calendar filled!  Each day has a note with a "treat": Christmas movie, hot cocoa for elevensies, open a family gift, getting a treat from the treat jars, etc.

Our Saint Nicholas display.  I can't seem to find my Saint Nicholas icon (just a little pasted on wood one).  Maybe it will turn up as we unpack more Christmas boxes.  Next year, I'll make SURE it goes in the Advent box

H working on a perler bead kit: a Santa ornament.  We turned on a Christmas story CD (old radio shows) and had a lovely afternoon crafting.

Another fruit photo.  Hubby found this three tier plate rack and I just think it looks lovely with the fruit on it.  It also helps camouflage the dirty dishes in my sink.

It has been positively frigid here!  We have been in the teens at night, which is rare before late January around here.  The days have dawned so clear and cold.  Does this photo capture the chill?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Fall of 2010

I'm slow in posting! Here is a quick look at our fall activities . . .

My cousin's wedding at Peace College in Raleigh, NC.  In the middle is my 93 year old grandmother posing with the founder of Peace College, William Peace.  Beside her is my cousin's great-Aunt.

My girls in matching colors (I also wore lavendar) - right down to their lack of shoes!

Lots of unpacking!  The girls had a great system: big sis stuffed newspaper in the box and little sis smashed it down.

I went on a retreat weekend with the ladies from my church.  We visited Montreat, NC, which is very near Asheville.  Beautiful autumn weather and leaves!

Louie, found in a dumpster feasting on scraps, became a member of our family.

Our Halloween (All Hallows Eve) was a bit different this year.  We attended a GREAT All Hallows church party and had so much fun, we skipped trick-or-treating.  We didn't carve a pumpkin, but we did decorate a few.

General goofiness ensues on a daily basis.

Explored the woods and began creating a scrap-wood fort (or something).

The Christmas Craft Box

The days leading up to Christmas can be full of excited, overly rambunctious, and nosey children.  I don't know about you, but I find it hard to get much done in those last few days unless I have a good way of keeping them happily and productively occupied.  They are great helps with wrapping, cleaning, and baking, but some things a mama needs to do unaccompanied by little hands.

Of course plopping them down in front of a Christmas movie is an option, and sometimes that is a nice quiet thing for them to enjoy, but I'd rather keep the movies for special family snuggle time.  This calls for something that is on-hand and ready to be used anytime it is needed.  One Advent season a few years ago, I began collecting easy, fairly non-messy craft supplies.  I don't mind a little mess as long as it is easy to clean up.  I organized all the crafts into a large box, "The Christmas Craft Box".  We all love to pull it out when the need arises!

Here are some of the sorts of things I've used:

:-: perler bead sets - save the pattern instructions that come with any kits and these can be made again and again.  These would make cute gifts, just add a hanger so they can be hung on the tree.  The only worry here is that careless hand will knock them over before they can be ironed and all that hard work is lost.  You could let the kids work on these while you are ironing Christmas tablecloths and napkins and clothes near by then you could quickly iron them as they make them.

:-: foam sticker sets - The gingerbread sets are particularly fun.  Watch Michael's for super sales on these - don't pay full price!  The small "drums" come with hundreds of stickers and seem to last forever.  We are still using stickers from drums we bought a couple of years ago.  These can be used to make cards, decorate gifts, or just to make fun pictures with.

:-: glittery and Christmas colored pipe cleaners - These can be used for so many fun things.  One year my kids used these to make a huge glittery garland to decorate our tree.  We still use it!   (Take a pipe cleaner, bend the ends together, then gently shape into and oval, do the same with the next pipe cleaner, but loop it through the first "link" before bending the ends together - keep going!)

:-: gum drops and toothpicks - My kids have had more fun making crazy creations with these. Use them like you would tinker toys (gum drops are the round "joints" and the toothpicks are the long sticks).

:-: brown paper bags - lunch size and grocery size.  The kids can make puppets, vests, masks, or decorate and use for gift bags.

:-: pom-poms - all sizes!  Add some googly-eyes and they can make little puff-ball creatures.  Pom-poms are fun to ad to anything: gifts, cards, or just a Christmas drawing.

:-: styrofoam balls - again, all sizes!  Paint, glue together, or just play with.  With some adult supervision, you could hot glue little things to these and make fun decorations.

:-: Christmas stamps - You'll have to decide how independent your kids can be with paint.  My older kids are fine using these on there own (with me keeping an ear and an occasional eye on them), but of course the 2 year-old needs me right with her. 

:-: Christmas stickers - I'm sure your kids can think of some fun uses for these.

:-: paper, coloring books, markers, crayons - It helps to keep it all handy in one place.

:-: Christmas-themed activity books - like madlibs, highlights, etc.  

:-: small, inexpensive craft kits - some require quite a bit of adult help, so consider how much you can help at a given time.  I only get the easiest ones.  There are so many to choose from: pom-pom creatures, felt ornaments, beaded ornaments, etc.  Watch for sales, because these can get pricey when you are buying for a few kids.  

Any other craft supply ideas you would like to share?  How do you keep your kids occupied when you need some work time during the Advent season?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

This week the boxes that need opening are not the ones under the tree, mostly because I don't even know where the tree box is, nor under how many other boxes it currently sits.  Rather, they are the ones that remain to be unpacked from our move.  We are functioning well in our new home, but there is still quite a bit that is unsettled. How do I prepare an appropriate welcome for Christmas is such a disarray?

As I dig through closets jumbled with items that need to find their proper homes, I wonder how Mary did it.  How did she travel to a far off city, give birth in a barn, and then set up house as a young mother with few if any relatives around to give assistance.  Perhaps she didn't have all the boxes, but how do you welcome a new child in such uncertain and unprepared surroundings?

But did it she did.

Does it matter that we are pulling our Advent bit-by-bit from boxes piled in a corner?  Does it matter that our celebrations and remembrances are hobbled together from a bit of scotch tape and wrinkled drawing paper?  Is it enough to welcome Him?

It surely must be.

If Mary and Joseph can hobble together a nursery for the King of Kings from a stable and a feed-trough, certainly my hampered preparations will be blessed.

Repost: Rethinking the Christmas Craze

 . . . a repost from 2008 . . .  Looking for more on Advent?

Sometimes I get irritated with the mad push for Christmas.

The local Christian radio station started playing Christmas music last week. The stores have pulled out all the holiday merchandise and the city decorations have begun to appear. Why can’t we wait for the holiday to arrive before we celebrate it?

This is a bit of a cliché gripe, I know. Everyone loves complaining about how early the Christmas rush begins. I love complaining about it, too. It is an easy shot to take and does make us feel a bit "superior". But there is something truly symptomatic in it, isn't there?

All this craziness seems to me to reflect the spiritual state of our culture. Despite what we may hear and read, I believe the Christmas Craze is evidence of the desire for spiritual fulfillment for believer and non-believer alike: the coming of the Savior. We are anxious for the future: both near (Christmas) and distant (Second Coming). It is so tempting to begin the celebrations early! This is not an altogether bad desire – it reveals the Christian's hope. However, it does become a distraction when it overshadows the work that must be done before both those long-awaited days of the Savior's appearance. Both of these events require seasons of preparation – Advent. To skip these might leave us unready to fully welcome the Savior.

In the past, I’ve found myself trying so hard to avoid all Christmas celebrations until Christmas was really here. I was determined to observe a good Advent season. Our culture makes this almost impossible – and in fact it was for me. But, now I’m not sure this is really necessary or preferable. I still maintain that a thoughtful Advent observance heightens the celebration of Christmas; however, Advent can be enhanced by appreciating a taste of the joy awaiting us. It awakens our hearts a bit and makes them yearn even more for the end of Advent, both the seasonal and the eternal!

My family will continue our usual Advent traditions, maintaining our focus on this season of preparation. However, we’ll also enjoy those moments of festivity knowing that the full celebration is yet to come and allowing the yearning for that celebration to grow! And instead of griping about the premature and over-the-top Christmas celebrations, I’m going to focus on being thankful for this proof of the desires deep in the hearts of us all.

  Looking for more on Advent?