Posted in family life

on the first day of Advent…

Thanksgiving pictures will be up a little late because I forgot my camera at my in-laws’ house and will have to wait a few days for it to be returned (my FIL fortunately works fairly close to our house, despite living rather far away – I don’t envy his daily commute).

However, life in our house has moved on from Thanksgiving to Advent with what feels like incredible speed. The downtown area where we live is fully decked out for Christmas, with a whole street blocked off for a three-story Christmas tree, photo ops, and continuously-playing holiday music. Even our church this morning (to my disappointment) was fully decorated and singing Christmas carols all service long, and I honestly felt overwhelmed by it all. I love Christmas – don’t get me wrong! – but I love Advent even more, and the abrupt switch from ordinary time to Christmas, without the slow build-up and growing anticipation of Advent in between, made me feel like Christmas was just being dumped on me at the expense of the specialness and wonder of it all. I can’t remember feeling like this in the past; for some reason I am just not ready for Christmas this year, and I’m hardly even ready for Advent. I need time to live the lamentation and longing of Advent, to prepare my heart for the unbelievable joy and promise of Christmas… maybe I just need to spend time alone in the daily readings for these next few weeks, immersing myself in the pattern and calling of the Church.

For now, though, I did bring out a few decorations and the Advent wreath (and discovered that I only had two whole candles, one purple and one rose, along with five or six candle stumps… ah well, our Advent may be interrupted by the baby anyway!). I had hoped to do the Jesse Tree this year with the boys, but I didn’t find/make a set of ornaments I liked in time, so we’ll just be reading the stories without the visible accompaniment. I did find a great children’s Bible with beautiful, well-written stories that are still short enough to easily add to dinner and the Advent candles, so we’ll be using that for our Advent readings as a family and keeping the Jesus Storybook Bible in regular circulation with our picture books – Rondel has been choosing it for his bedtime story for a few weeks now, and I don’t want that to stop! Anyway, this is our new one:

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The illustrations are done by different artists from around the world, and represent different artistic styles as well as different ethnicities and cultures – and they are all absolutely beautiful. I’ve read quite a few of the short (two to three page) stories on my own, and read the first one tonight at dinner; I’m looking forward to the rest! I’m especially excited that Ruth and Esther are both included here, as they are not in the Jesus Storybook Bible.

One thing that gave me hope for the season in the face of my own lackluster feelings so far was Rondel’s reaction to helping me pull out some preliminary Christmas decorations, and finding our nativity set amongst them. My plan was to introduce the characters slowly throughout Advent, like I did last year… but Rondel spent the whole afternoon playing with the people (pretending they were random Bible characters like King Darius and Daniel because we haven’t read the Christmas story for a while!) and chose the baby Jesus for his bedtime snuggle toy tonight. So that was significantly sweeter than my well-laid plans would have likely been, and a gift for me to see his delight in the season even if it isn’t rolling out perfectly and liturgically correctly. My goal is to meet him in that joy, and make the most of the Advent time we have before our baby comes, instead of morphing into my inner curmudgeon…

I hope your Thanksgiving went well and that you are entering Advent with a more Christ-centered and joyful heart than I have had so far!

Posted in family life, phfr

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – Christmas cookies!

One of my family’s cherished traditions is the annual Christmas cookie bake. Now, we make many different types of cookies for Christmas, but this tradition centers solely on the rolled and cut frosted sugar cookies, because it is such a monumental group effort to bake and decorate them all. This year my mom, my sister, and I rolled and cut the cookies, and then everyone pitched in to decorate some later in the day. Unfortunately I forgot to get any pictures of the decorating or the finished products… you’ll just have to take my work about the heights of our decorating abilities! 😉

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My lovely sister (and my mom lurking in the background).

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Two of my favorite women – so happy to be laughing and doing life together over the Christmas season.

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His little jammies are just a bit small for him, and he doesn’t like to stay still, so diaper changes usually end with him running away with the legs unsnapped, like a little skirt. Even when I do get them snapped, the two snaps right by the diaper usually pop open after he crawls or climbs around for a while… drawbacks of using cloth diapers, I suppose!

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I suppose my {real} is that this is as far into the process as I remembered to take pictures! Also I suppose the fact that it’s a secret family recipe so I won’t be sharing it with you 😉

Do any of you have fun family-specific traditions like this? I feel like it adds so much happiness to Christmas to have things to look forward to every year – things that are always the same through all the other things that change, pieces of familiarity and festivity that endure as time passes. They help bind us together with both shared memories and shared expectations.

Don’t forget to head over to the link up today at Like Mother, Like Daughter!

Posted in family life

before Christmas is totally gone…

…I’d like to share some of our pictures from the season! (And knowing me, probably some random meditative thoughts as well…)

I had wanted to find a tabletop-sized tree for our home this Christmas, but it didn’t end up happening. However, the city generously provided us with a Christmas tree by putting one up in the center of downtown – conveniently located about two blocks away from our house 😉

It is, I suppose, the urban child’s equivalent of a tree out in the woods, uncut, decorated with a single candle perhaps, and ribbons, and cookies and popcorn for the birds – the sort of tree described in Temple Bailey’s exquisite Christmas story The Candle in the Forest. It is what we have, beautiful and special, and we make it meaningful by sharing our delight in it together.

(If you haven’t read The Candle in the Forest, you should remedy that as soon as you can. It is one of my favorite Christmas stories of all times, for how well it captures the beauty of simple traditions and family love and doing the best with what one has; I have never read it without tears.)

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Even Limerick was sufficiently entranced by the lights and ornaments to cease his endless running (usually into the road) and examine the tree! And Rondel couldn’t get enough of it – he asked to see the tree everyday for at least two weeks after the city put it up.

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The specialness, the difference, of the Christmas season stood out to him for the first time this year – for some reason everyone was making everything more beautiful, and baking special treats more often, and lighting different candles, and secretly collecting gifts to give. We read the Christmas story to him over and over again, revealing more of the story as the day grew nearer, and he delighted with us in the coming Baby because of whom all the celebration was taking place.

Babies are very precious things in the minds of toddlers – they are just about the only people smaller than toddlers, and so I think they evoke feelings of responsibility, power, and protective love: essentially, they give the toddler a foretaste of being an adult and specifically a parent, and the toddler finds it quite an exciting experience. Not that they could bear that responsibility for long, of course, and they don’t try to – but when you’re always the small and the weak, who needs to be helped and taught and directed and cared for, it’s nice to find someone even smaller and weaker whom you can help teach and take care of. Babies bring that gift, the opportunity to serve and be a blessing to someone else, to even the smallest children – and in becoming a baby, God reminds us of the importance of that gift. For He did not come to be served, although as a human baby He was helpless and needy; rather He came to serve us, with His life, with His death, and with His intercession for us before the throne of the Father for all eternity.

(more pictures to come in a few days!)

Posted in musings

Christmas

I haven’t had much to say over the past week because I’ve been so busy being with people that I’ve hardly had time to think! It’s been very nice seeing so much of my family and my husband’s family, but it has been rather hectic.

After dealing with pretty intense PPD two years ago, and struggling with what was for me a lot of anxiety last year (probably partly because of the new baby!), it was incredibly nice to be mentally and emotionally myself this Advent and Christmas. It was nice to have that upswell of excitement when planning gifts for the people I love, rather than only a flood of discouragement and a sense of being overwhelmed. It was nice, too, that we’ve established more of a routine (as is necessary with two toddlers!), and that I was able to work a meaningful Advent celebration into that routine. Advent is my favorite time of year – something about the melancholy hope, the joyful sorrow, that it carries with it resonates with my heart – and being able to live it, sing it, talk about it, and teach it to my boys gave me so much happiness.

And now Christmas is here, and the first few crazy days of the brief festive season have passed, and the quiet enjoyment of each other is continuing, and a bag of presents for the boys (from neighbors, family, and the local thrift store) is waiting for Epiphany so we can share in their giving of gifts to the Christ child. Christmas is hard to live, because unfettered joy does not come naturally to me; I’m much more of an Advent person, painting even the fiercest of my joys with the shadows of sorrow and the remembrance of brokenness. How am I supposed to fully embrace happiness for the full twelve days of Christmas?

The boys help, of course – I am planning fun and different things for most of the days (small things, so they don’t get burnt out) to help continue the holiday spirit. We’re keeping the decorations up, and reading through the Christmas story each day, gradually moving the Wise Men closer to the Baby Jesus waiting in the stable. If I can maintain an atmosphere of peace and joy in the house, a feeling of delight at the birth of the Baby Jesus, I think that will help, even if the festivities themselves are smaller. It is like the birth of any new baby, I suppose – the feelings of happiness and wonder and joy persist even though the reality of sleepless nights and dirty diapers quickly manifests itself.

So Merry Christmas to all! May your Christmas season be filled with wonder at His coming, joy at His presence, and peace in His love, through all the difficulties and pressure the holidays seem to bring.

 

Posted in musings, poems

Peace coming

When will there be peace? When we look at one another and say,

“You are different from me, and I respect those differences. There is beauty in them.

“You are the same as me, and I rejoice in our sameness. There is beauty in it.

“Let us embrace each other, brother, because there is more that binds us together than divides us. You are human and I am human: you are my brother and my sister, my mother and my father, my daughter and my son.

“Let us sing in unison; let us sing in harmony; let even our dissonances be part of a greater beauty in our human song.

“Let there be peace, and let there be more than peace, between us, for this baby is come on Christmas Day for you and for me, in all of our individuality, to weave all the disparate threads of our stories into the great story of humanity, to lead us in the way of peace.”