Simple Advent, Part I: Pre-Advent Cleaning Out (Making Space When Your Space isn’t Perfect)

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So yeah, it’s been forever. Life has just been well, so much. Too much for doing much (any) writing. And here and there I remember this poor, sad blog, and I become mortified that it’s on the internet for anyone to just see, and I desperately want to delete it, and, well, that might happen sometime soon. But before I do!

A few weeks ago, I realized that it was almost Advent.  Now, I love Advent. I love the entire season. I love Christmas lights and frosty nights and lighting candles and the thought of sitting serenely on the couch on late December evenings reading Advent devotions while listening to Handel’s Messiah and drinking cup after cup of peppermint tea. But the reality of December (especially now with two little ones) ends up being a lot of chaos and stress about what to buy for whom, late night present-wrapping, and frantically mailing packages on December 22nd, plus all the pressure of trying to make Christmas cookies, do meaningful Advent crafts with the kids, and generally feeling overwhelmed by stuff to do and too much stuff piled up everywhere.

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So I had the brilliant idea to use November to clean as much Stuff as possible out of our house. And to finish Christmas shopping, wrapping, and mailing. Even stockings.* So that the season of Advent isn’t dominated by frantic Amazon shopping and feeling paralyzed by decisions in over-crowded Target aisles.  And so that I’m not feeling crushed by the stress of having way too much Stuff in a really small space. And having to make all the decisions about what to buy for people. All of that. (*I fully realize that there are a LOT of really organized people out there who already do this every year and get everything done early. I did not invent the idea of Christmas shopping early. I am just not naturally the most organized, planning ahead type of person, so for me this feels like a personal victory. So I’m writing this for those of you who haven’t been ready for Christmas since October! And for any of you who have, I would love to know your secrets!)

But my disorganized self– over the past two or three weeks I’ve tried simply to get as much stuff out of our house as possible: I’ve returned library books, lent out things we aren’t using right now to people who wanted them, returned borrowed things to the sweet friends who lent them: a tiny dress sewn by a friend that Margaret wore for Halloween, tupperwares, books. I’ve taken loads to Goodwill, two different consignment stores (I made $40! No big deal!) And I’ve been deep cleaning random parts of the house, going through closets and drawers and ruthlessly purging. I even mopped. But, by gum, this house is going to be clean by December!!!! (Also, because everyone cares, the word “clean” comes from the Proto-Indo-European root, “gel”, which means Bright! and Gleaming!)

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I also packed up most of the kids’ toys and put them in some out of the way tupperware bins.  Will just has a set of wooden blocks out, and some trucks. And he has played with them with intense focus for over a week. So we have spaces on shelves, open floors. Nothing is perfect at all, but I feel like we have a little breathing room.

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I know that November is already half gone, but I have been so inspired by this that I wanted to share it nevertheless. I don’t have a 5 point plan for you to follow, but the basic idea is: get rid of stuff. Maybe make some lists of what you need to do, and do those things. Get rid of some more stuff. My dad’s idea for Christmas is, instead of everyone buying gifts for everyone else, have a huge bonfire and burn a bunch of things that you don’t need! In the process of getting rid of so many things these past few weeks it’s made me realize, truly, that the less we have the happier we are. (I’m optimistically calling this post Simple Advent, Part 1, because I have lots of thoughts about simplifying this season. But whether I actually am able to ever write the subsequent posts remains to be seen.)

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(And. Of course pre-advent cleaning doesn’t mean things will be perfect. Taking some loads to Goodwill won’t magically make all of life well. The whole of Advent leads up to a story of a birth in a stable. It was Jesus in the midst of imperfection and mess.  Jesus in the midst of what otherwise looked like failure and shame and not-the-way-it-was-supposed-to-be. We can’t perfect life by cleaning. That was Martha’s plan, and it didn’t work out the best for her, right?)

Advent is the beginning of the church year, for those who follow the church calendar, and it does feel nice to be approaching this Beginning by preparing a bit. Getting the hard things out of the way, sweeping the cobwebs out of corners, simplifying as much as possible. So that when Advent begins I’ll have space to breathe. And I’ll be ready and waiting with a good stack of books and my cup of peppermint tea.

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Free Jesuit Retreat for Lent

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Have I written about Pray As You Go at all here?  It’s basically one of the true joys of my life right now. Produced by some Jesuits out of England, it’s a podcast that walks prayerfully through one of the day’s lectionary readings and offers some questions for guided prayer. Along with the most beautiful music.  There is also an app and a website by the same name that contain some longer meditations and guided scripture readings/prayers. I just opened it up, looking for something to listen to as I try to slowly bring a bit of order to the chaos of our kitchen while the two imps are sleeping. And oh what a gift, there is a Lent Retreat, based on the last words of Christ. I’m out of fancy candles, but I’m going to light some tea lights and make a cup of tea and start listening. (Calling it a retreat is a bit generous, but there is something that feels good and luxurious about calling it that, something nurturing and sustaining.  I’ve taken to having in-home retreats when John has to travel for work, which is often, but maybe more about that later. Anyway, here’s to creating little spaces to breathe right in the middle of dreary March days when everything is messy and things aren’t going quite as brightly as they maybe could, bringing some calmness and joy into the work of dishes and laundry, and for tending to one’s soul in the midst of the “howling waste of the wilderness,” to quote Anne of Green Gables and the book of Deuteronomy.)

Charity Suffereth Long & Other Unpopular Ideas about Love.

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Valentine’s Day this year found us in right in the middle of what we might not call our finest days. Nothing catastrophic or excessively horrible, and probably most of it is just due to dark, cloudy, slushy, freezing winter weather (much easier to think the weather is at fault, than that I am). But regardless of the cause, these have been days that have called me to deep meditation on what really might be meant by “love is patient, love is kind.” Charity suffereth long, as the King James so beautifully puts it. The word in Greek is makrothymeo, long-suffering, or what we now call patience.

And I am realizing that I grew up thinking of patience as a weak, insipid sort of thing, like a girl dressed in a pink frilly dress wearing white gloves sitting primly waiting silently for…. something.

And now, as real patience is being required of me, I am coming to know patience as she really is, as a fierce kind of virtue (the word virtue itself comes from a Latin root meaning strong.)  A virtue of blood and sweat and tears and rolling up ones sleeves to do very, very hard work.

Patience is actually, I realized, most closely related to the Classical virtue of Courage (or Fortitude, as it is also called). And Courage means: forbearance, strength, endurance. To persist (with dignity and grace) in the most adverse of circumstances. (My first draft of this included a long, long, long digression about the four cardinal virtues, and Plato and Aristotle and Augustine and Jonathan Edwards. I was supposed to be a theologian, and here’s one of the Edwards texts if you’re interested, because it’s lovely, and some day in another life or in twenty years when my babies are grown, I might write a book on the subject.)

At any rate, the Christian word for patience, or long-suffering, as I prefer to call it, comes from a root that means suffering, from a further root, thyo, which means TO KILL OR TO SLAY or TO SACRIFICE. 1 Corinthians 5:7 uses this verb: Christ, the paschal lamb, is thyo for us.

So yes, patience is not a pink frilly thing, or a calm and quiet thing. Patience, at its root, real patience, is (Chesterton was right) a kind of duel to the death. The Christian notion of long-suffering means (from here):

  1. to persevere patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes and troubles

  2. to be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others
  3. to be mild and slow in avenging
  4. to be longsuffering, slow to anger, slow to punish

So. Charity suffereth long. It sounds much better than “love is patient,” which sounds like love is supposed to be daffodils and posies and frolicking through fields on a sunny day.

But also, the kind of long-suffering that charity does is not the kind that is secretly bitter and angry and full of hate. Real long-suffering is also a kind of joy. A hard kind of joy (again, not the frilly lace and rosebuds kind of joy). Charity suffereth long, and is also kind.

And this word for kind (which is related to the word Jesus uses when he says, “My yoke is easy.”) means to act kindly, to be useful, to be mild and gentle. Love suffers long, and acts with kindness.

And I know everyone knows this so I hesitate to repeat it, but all the above means that LOVE IS NOT HAPPY MUSHY FEELINGS TOWARDS SOMEONE. Inherent in the definition of love, according to 1 Corinthians 13, at least (also see 1 John 4:10), is experiencing suffering and pain and still acting with kindness and love towards someone. Real love is behaving in a loving way. When you perhaps might not feel like acting in a loving way because of what the other person has done. That’s why patience is courage. Because acting in kindness, sometimes, feels more like climbing Mount Everest in a blizzard or being on a medieval battlefield being trampled by horses or running a long, long marathon when every bone in your body is weary past belief. Patience is not for the faint of heart.

(VERY IMPORTANT NOTE, WHICH I HOPE IS QUITE OBVIOUS: Long-suffering does not mean staying in an abusive relationship. It ALSO does not mean letting someone do whatever they want with no consequences. It does not mean that ways that you have been hurt do not matter, or have not left very deep and real wounds. If you are in any way wrestling with this, and the related issue of what does forgiveness really mean and look like in cases where you have been hurt, or are being hurt, please, please read Dan Allender’s and Tremper Longman’s excellent book Bold Love. Sometimes real love means packing it up and high-tailing it out until someone gets their act together.

But probably for the majority of cases, our situation is not that requires the fierceness of leaving (as Allender and Tremper explain, out of Love), but the fierceness of staying. And this we can only learn from the truly Patient One. The one who suffered the most out of love, for love. The one who had the most patience with us (because we needed it the most). The one who was kindest. Real patience is learned from him. From the supper he prepared for the ones who would betray him, deny him, fail him, and flee him when he needed it the most. From the dirty feet he washed (with how much tenderness) of those same men. From the quietness and gentleness with which he walked the path to his death amid abandonment, being utterly misunderstood, and being wounded in every imaginable way.

And where is he who more and more distils
Delicious kindness?—He is patient. Patience fills
His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.” (see below)

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Further Reading & Listening on Long-Suffering. (If anyone other than my own self is in  a relationship and in need of growing in Patience. Or if anyone is single and also in need of Patience of a somewhat different kind.)

HAS EVERYONE ALREADY HEARD THIS ON BEING EPISODE?!?!?! (Ok, caveat, I have only listened to the first 3 minutes. But I think this man is saying everything I wanted to say, only in a British accent, and much more intelligibly, and with fewer etymological digressions, so he wins.) (Ok, I have listened to half of it AND I WANT TO QUOTE THE ENTIRE THING HERE. But I won’t, so just trust me and listen to it.)

THE BEST POEMS FOR BROKEN HEARTS, FOR LEARNING PATIENCE. True story.

This is what Augustine said about the cardinal virtues: “For these four virtues (would that all felt their influence in their minds as they have their names in their mouths!), I should have no hesitation in defining them: that temperance is love giving itself entirely to that which is loved; fortitude is love readily bearing all things for the sake of the loved object; justice is love serving only the loved object, and therefore ruling rightly; prudence is love distinguishing with sagacity between what hinders it and what helps it.” (De moribus eccl., Chap. xv)

A gloriously beautiful poem on patience, by possibly the second greatest poet in the English language, G. M. Hopkins. Who was a Jesuit.:

“Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray,
But bid for, Patience is! Patience who asks
Wants war, wants wounds; weary his times, his tasks;
To do without, take tosses, and obey.
Rare patience roots in these, and, these away,
Nowhere. Natural heart’s ivy, Patience masks
Our ruins of wrecked past purpose. There she basks
Purple eyes and seas of liquid leaves all day.

We hear our hearts grate on themselves: it kills
To bruise them dearer. Yet the rebellious wills
Of us we do bid God bend to him even so.
And where is he who more and more distils
Delicious kindness?—He is patient. Patience fills
His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.”

Happy are those who endure hard things with patience, who are steadfast under trial, for theirs is the crown.

It is not all beauty that is called virtue.

Also by him, Charity and Its Fruits.

A poem: the Country of Marriage. (“the forest is mostly dark, its ways to be made anew day after day, the dark richer than the light, provided we stay brave enough to keep on going in,” italics mine)

A song for the brokenhearted.

Glimmers of Light on Dark Days (Candlemas)

Today is Candlemas. A mass for the blessing of candles. The day we remember the presentation of Jesus in the temple. It is a feast day in the church, a day of white vestments and (if one is fasting) a break from the fast. In France they eat crepes & in Mexico there is a tradition of hot chocolate and tamales. And while most of us are probably not going to bring homemade candles to a priest to be blessed (do they still even do that?) it is a day to remember, I think, that all the ordinary things are blessed. The pillows and brooms and dishes and the toys strewn on the floor. The ordinary parts of our day shine with the glory and beauty that radiates from the countenance of the Lord as he bends towards us. The rest of this post is copied and pasted from what I wrote last year. (I can do that, right?)

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(Last year I wrote this the day after actual Candlemas.)

Yesterday was Candlemas. I wanted to write all about how people used to take their candles to churches to have them blessed for the coming year, wanting the very light in their homes to be flickers of holy church-light. How in France they celebrate with crepes. How it’s the Holy Day that commemorates Jesus being brought to the temple when he was a baby and placed into the waiting arms of old Simeon, and how Anna the ancient widow beheld the face of her Redeemer. How Candlemas is probably rooted in wild pagan festivals to celebrate the ending of winter and the lightening of days, but how maybe we need all the wild festivals we can get our hands on when the world is so dark and so, so cold.

And I wanted to write about how this small, unnoticed holiday is maybe a holiday for the people who are waiting. Huddling under blankets, crying eyes out in the dark or in the car on the way to work. Waiting for things to change, waiting the long days of every month for a baby to get conceived, or for a husband, or to get healed, or for something to make this cold world feel not quite so broken.

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And then by the time I realized I wanted to write all of this, the day was waning and it was warm (40 degrees! In February!) so we all went outside and I played baseball with Will while Margaret sat in her carseat draped with a blanket, and then it was dinner time and the house was a mess and I was trying to cut up cabbage to sauté and dropping most of it on the floor because I was so hungry that my hands were shaking and then all the crying and screaming and bedtime drama, and then after the children were in bed I pretty much huddled under a fleece blanket in a state of shock or something. Drinking tea and reading My Mother’s Sabbath Dayscoughing piteously, like the rose in The Little Prince.

So I didn’t write what I wanted to write, which is this:

That we don’t sing songs about Anna and Simeon in Sunday school. We learn about the ark-builders, the giant-slayers, the ones swallowed by fish or walking through parted seas. We hear about the women who get babies: Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth. And all the miracles and angel choruses, and they are grand and we need every story of the dead being raised and the oil lasting and the bread being multiplied and the angels singing over fields of sheep.

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We don’t sing songs about the quiet old folks who sat in the temple and waited all those long, aching days.  But maybe we should. Maybe we need the unremarkable story of this old priest who served in the temple, doing ordinary things every single day, just “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”

And the old prophetess Anna who was at least 84 years old and had lived most of her years as a widow. She was single. “She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day.” (Luke 2:37). Her entire life was a prayer. She prayed; that’s who she was.

Anna and Simeon, they lived quiet days. Days of longing and ache and somehow of trusting and worshipping God in the midst of the longing and ache.

And then Mary and Joseph bring this tiny baby in and lay him in Simeon’s hopeful arms. And Simeon took the baby up in his arms and blessed God. Took the Consolation of Israel into his empty arms and thanked God. And Anna after all her unremarkable years or prayer, of inhabiting God’s house with no husband, no miracles, no displays of glory. Just being faithful in ordinary days. I like to think that when she saw the baby she knew instantly Who he was, picked up the folds of her dress, and ran over to him with the abandon and glee of a little girl. I picture her and Simeon passing the tiny baby back and forth, just laughing and dancing with joy.

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And maybe Isaiah was right when he wrote that the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married (54:1). Maybe the ones who wait the longest with the least will one day be blessed just a bit more? And maybe Saint John was praying the best prayer of all when he wrote the last prayer of the Bible: Even so, Come Lord Jesus. A prayer of longing for Jesus to return.

So until He does & until our desperate prayers are answered, we light candles against the darkness and eat crepes to makes us happy and read poems by Gerard Manly Hopkins and sing hymns and keep telling each other the good stories from the Good Book. We keep sweeping the floor and washing dishes and driving to work, doing ordinary things over and over again in the midst of our ordinary days. With broken hearts or broken bodies.  Waiting maybe for angels or manna or honey from a rock, but maybe it will only be the Messiah.

Valentine’s Day & Good poems for Lonely Hearts

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John was out of town for work all of last week. My mom came monday night, just in time for Ithaca to get cold again. The temperature was in the negatives this morning. She brought heart-shaped cookie cutters and we’ve made cookies and heart pancakes and oh lots of things.

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John came back & he and will made this heart garland (above) for me. (Based on this little Valentine’s Day book we’ve checked out from the library to read with Will. Kind of a deep book about how a little mouse makes a huge valentine and wants to find someone to give it to, but it’s too big for anyone else so he and the little girl mouse cut it up into smaller valentine’s to give to lots of people. I mean, that’s really deep for a children’s Valentine’s Day book, right?)

On these cold days we need all the strung up hearts and little honey-spice cookies and treats we can get. My toes refuse to warm up, even in thick wool socks and shearling-lined slippers. I vowed last year that I would never do another winter here, and well, here we are.

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(Above: Will and my mom doing one of many baking projects together; Will eating raw batter. Below: Keeping things classy with orange paper plates.)

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And maybe it’s just me and my enneagram type or my idealism or having read too many Jane Austen and L. M. Montgomery novels at an impressionable age, but even with all these babies and this really, really good man (and the sweetest parents ever and friends far beyond what I ever deserved) my heart still feels so lonely and so sad sometimes. And I wanted to write a whole thing about this, about Simone Weil and Augustine and the void and our hearts being empty and restless and all that, but I just am so exhausted from babies and toddlers not sleeping that I can’t.

But just very briefly. I wanted to say, especially on this particular day, that our hearts are made with this infinite empty space and this space aches so much sometimes. Even when you’re married. Even when you have little darling babies who are latched onto you 24 hours a day.

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And I wish I knew how to make it stop, but pretty much everything from Jesus to Anne Lamott seems to suggest that we just have to sit with the emptiness and let it be a little empty, without trying to stuff it down with all the chocolate in the world, cough, cough. not me, other people, I mean. Other people do that.

But Jesus, annoyingly, showed us that sometimes we have to sit in a garden and cry. Sometimes we have to pray, “God, why have you left me completely forsaken and alone?” And that is a hard prayer to pray. There is nothing fun or easy or cute about that prayer.  But maybe one of the main reasons I believe the Bible to be true is that the longest book in the whole thing is a book of poems.Poems for empty hearts. Poems for the betrayed, poems for the angry, poems for the soul-starved. Ok, so they are poem-prayers. And ok, the first and second ones are a little austere, if you’re starting from the beginning. You can skip around. 3, 4, 13, 16, 18, 22, 23, 27, 30, 31, 32, 40, 42, 46, 56, 62, 63, 69, 73, 84, 90, 91, 121, 130, and 143 are some particularly good ones.

And the beautiful thing about these particular poems is that they don’t leave us in our misery. There is plenty of room for wallowing and languishing and angst in these poems. They say that every single one of our tears is counted. Matters. But these poems carry us through the ache and into the holy, shining radiant love of God. They gently teach us that our own empty heart is not the center of all things but that the beautiful Home of God is the center of all things. And that that dwelling place, that lovely home, is what our hearts long for (Psalm 84).

And the other beautiful thing is that Jesus prayed all of these poems for us. He became the loneliest and most forsaken for us. And there are no depths we feel that he has not felt. And he is just gathering us all up &  oh so soon will mend all the broken hearts & wipe all the tears from the saddest faces and bring us all home. (speaking of which, pleasepleaseplease listen to this song.) Anyway, happy valentine’s day, y’all.

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Stories and Light for The Ones Who Are Waiting (It was Candlemas)

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Yesterday was Candlemas. I wanted to write all about how people used to take their candles to churches to have them blessed for the coming year, wanting the very light in their homes to be flickers of holy church-light. How in France they celebrate with crepes. How it’s the Holy Day that commemorates Jesus being brought to the temple when he was a baby and placed into the waiting arms of old Simeon, and how Anna the ancient widow beheld the face of her Redeemer. How Candlemas is probably rooted in wild pagan festivals to celebrate the ending of winter and the lightening of days, but how maybe we need all the wild festivals we can get our hands on when the world is so dark and so, so cold.

And I wanted to write about how this small, unnoticed holiday is maybe a holiday for the people who are waiting. Huddling under blankets, crying eyes out in the dark or in the car on the way to work. Waiting for things to change, waiting the long days of every month for a baby to get conceived, or for a husband or for something to make this cold world feel not quite so broken.

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And then by the time I realized I wanted to write all of this, the day was waning and it was warm (40 degrees! In February!) so we all went outside and I played baseball with Will while Margaret sat in her carseat draped with a blanket, and then it was dinner time and the house was a mess and I was trying to cut up cabbage to sauté and dropping most of it on the floor because I was so hungry that my hands were shaking and then all the crying and screaming and bedtime drama, and then after the children were in bed I pretty much huddled under a fleece blanket in a state of shock or something. Drinking tea and reading My Mother’s Sabbath Days, coughing piteously, like the rose in The Little Prince.

So I didn’t write what I wanted to write, which is this:

That we don’t sing songs about Anna and Simeon in Sunday school. We learn about the ark-builders, the giant-slayers, the ones swallowed by fish or walking through parted seas. We hear about the women who get babies: Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth. And all the miracles and angel choruses, and they are grand and we need every story of the dead being raised and the oil lasting and the bread being multiplied and the angels singing over fields of sheep.

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We don’t sing songs about the quiet old folks who sat in the temple and waited all those long, aching days.  But maybe we should. Maybe we need the unremarkable story of this old priest who served in the temple, doing ordinary things every single day, just “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”

And the old prophetess Anna who was at least 84 years old and had lived most of her years as a widow. She was single. “She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day.” (Luke 2:37). Her entire life was a prayer. She prayed; that’s who she was.

Anna and Simeon, they lived quiet days. Days of longing and ache and somehow of trusting and worshipping God in the midst of the longing and ache.

And then Mary and Joseph bring this tiny baby in and lay him in Simeon’s hopeful arms. And Simeon took the baby up in his arms and blessed God. Took the Consolation of Israel into his empty arms and thanked God. And Anna after all her unremarkable years or prayer, of inhabiting God’s house with no husband, no miracles, no displays of glory. Just being faithful in ordinary days. I like to think that when she saw the baby she knew instantly Who he was, picked up the folds of her dress, and ran over to him with the abandon and glee of a little girl. I picture her and Simeon passing the tiny baby back and forth, just laughing and dancing with joy.

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And maybe Isaiah was right when he wrote that the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married (54:1). Maybe the ones who wait the longest with the least will one day be blessed just a bit more? And maybe Saint John was praying the best prayer of all when he wrote the last prayer of the Bible: Even so, Come Lord Jesus. A prayer of longing for Jesus to return.

So until He does & until our desperate prayers are answered, we light candles against the darkness and eat crepes to makes us happy and read poems by Gerard Manly Hopkins and sing hymns and keep telling each other the good stories from the Good Book. We keep sweeping the floor and washing dishes and driving to work, doing ordinary things over and over again in the midst of our ordinary days. With broken hearts or broken bodies.  Waiting maybe for angels or manna or honey from a rock, but maybe it will only be the Messiah.

Winter Solstice and Some Good Things This Week

It’s not as cold as it should be for December.  We had a little dusting of snow a few days ago, but mostly it’s been incredibly mild. I’m still emotionally scarred from last winter, so I’ve been glad for the warmth.

Today it’s raining, Will is still in his dinosaur skeleton pajamas, and the house is strewn with Toddler Things. An empty egg carton by the front door, a little football, a bin of trucks dumped on the floor, tiny plastic beads everywhere. Whose idea was it to let a 2 year old play with tiny plastic beads anyway?  The floors are filthy. The days have been getting darker and darker and finally, today, the tide turns. Light comes again. Sunset at 4:30 in the afternoon will soon be a shadowy memory. And until then we will keep our Christmas tree lights on and burn all the candles and sit by the fire and use the oven all we can and wrap gifts in bright paper and sing songs of joy in the midst of this darkness.

A few sparks of light in my little home this week:

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A package from a friend that held a perfect cream colored throw blanket, two little presents, and hand-me-downs! Including a gray and black flannel dress that is perfect for this breastfeeding mother who doesn’t like wearing pants but also doesn’t have many dresses to nurse in. I think if Jane Eyre were a stay at home mother with babies (and no servants) she might wear this dress.

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And speaking of flannel, this one (above) from LL Bean. Bought it with birthday money last month and I literally wear it night and day, at least 3 days a week. Even though it hasn’t been cold cold, it’s still been cold enough that I want to feel cozy.

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This book of winter and Advent reflections compiled of writings and poems by Madeline L’Engle and Luci Shaw, sent by a sweet friend as an unexpected Christmas gift. I cannot even tell you how beautiful and perfect this book is. It is my new one and only Advent book. Forever.

And this. True story. I had four errands to run last night (because I do not run errands with both children, for the sake of any small remaining shreds of sanity I might possess), including two different grocery stores plus Target because Christmas snuck up on me and why oh why didn’t I get all the gifts weeks ago? But I didn’t! And John, bless his angel heart, went over my list with me and went out. To all four places. At 8 something pm.  And came home with everything, plus a bottle of wine. Amen.

Our winter CSA. One box packed full, every other Saturday. Spinach, kale, potatoes, squashes, onions and garlic and brussels sprouts. Beets, radishes, broccoli, carrots. More than enough for each week, and every time we get a box Will helps us pull things out with extreme delight and puts the potatoes in their little wooden bin, the squashes on their shelf, etc. So thankful for these beautiful boxes of sustaining food.

Will walking around saying, “It’s Advent! Advent means waiting! Waiting for Christmas!” And literally just loving this baby sister like it’s his job. I know we will have some insane quarrels on our hands pretty soon once she starts taking his toys, but for now, this:

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And finally, a conversation with a precious 9 year old child at our church this past Sunday about the Chronicles of Narnia. Which he’s reading for the first time. He was literally brimming over with excitement and joy.  And I teared up a few times talking with him, just thinking about the glory of those stories. The Last Battle. Puddleglum! And about this child discovering oh all the things (he’s on the Horse and His Boy right now, which I told him was one of my top five favorites). He asked me which character I would want to be (out of the first two books), and why it had to be Lucy who found the door, and why Aslan would let Eustance come in if he knew what would happen. And as we were talking about the last question, and how maybe a story like Eustace’s is important and why it might be so, this boy’s twin sister came over and said, “Like Paul?” And I almost cried again. Yes, child, like Paul.  And like Peter. And like all of us. As a matter of fact, I am going to go re-read all of them starting right now.

Another post coming soon, I think, with pictures from our Christmas tree expedition! Anything rather than vacuuming these floors and wrapping gifts and packing for our impending trip! Merry Christmas & happy winter solstice, y’all!

 

More with Less, Cookbook Review and Giveaway (Winner Announced)

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WINNER ANNOUNCED:

(Disclaimer– I used random.org to generate a random number for the drawing.)

And the winner is………. Julia C.!  Congratulations!  I’ll ship your new copy of More with Less later today!  Thanks to all for entering!!

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It was 70 degrees in Ithaca today.  It was miraculously beautiful.  We’ve already had snow (mostly just flurries, but still) several times.  We’re scraping our windshields pretty much every morning.  It’s cold.  So today was a wonderful gift in the midst of what is going to be a very long winter.

The beautiful weather inspired me to do a thorough house-cleaning and purging of excess objects.  I pulled out a grocery bag and just started filling it with things to take to Goodwill.  This is one of my favorite things to do.  And as often as I do it, there always seems to be another grocery bag’s worth of excess the next time I go through the house.

So in the process of paring down and thinking about how I want our home to be a simple place, I thought about the Mennonite cookbook More with Less and how I have an extra copy of it because two wonderful people who know me well have each given it to me as a gift.

So I’m going to give one of them away to one of you.

But first, a little about it.  More with Less, written/compiled by Doris Longacre, starts out with the premise that what and how we eat are ethical issues.  How we fill our bellies when there are so many empty ones– that matters.  So that’s a good place to start.

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The book contains a few introductory chapters about the author’s philosophy of eating simply.  The rest of the book holds recipes for hearty, economical meals.  Each chapter also has a little section called “Gather Up the Fragments,” which offers tips on how to stretch food just a little longer, use up some of the pieces that might normally get thrown away, etc.  At the end, there’s a chapter on gardening and pickling.

One of my favorite parts about this book is that it shares recipes from all over the world:  Carribean Rice and Beans, Brazilian Rice and Beans, Indian Chicken, West African Groundnut Stew.  Also, my favorite bread recipe of all time is in this book (the oatmeal bread on p. 60)

The downside to the cookbook is that there aren’t any pictures.  Also, a lot of recipes also call for margarine, but it’s easy to just use butter, olive oil, coconut oil, etc. instead. But this is a beautiful book, and a great resource for economical and mindful cooking.

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TO ENTER:  

Answer this question in the comments section: What is your favorite cookbook, and why? (Or alternately, what is your favorite economical recipe?)

One comment per reader, please. Winner will be selected through the highly technical process of having my husband pick a number between 1 and however many comments there are.  Or maybe I can find an online random number generator.  I’m sure that exists, which is sad.  Giveaway will be open until 9 am Thursday.  I’ll announce the winner sometime Thursday & send him or her an email!

O Christmas Tree

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We went to cut down our Christmas tree today at the Fir Farm.  (Anyone in the Ithaca area– this is a great place to cut down your own tree!)  They have candy canes and Christmas cookies and hot chocolate in the restored 1800s barn, and beautiful horses outside, and they give you a little saw and you just go pick your tree and saw it down.  (Photo of John sawing the tree down, above. I love getting to carry the camera around while he does all the hard work!  Though to be fair, I did carry the saw back to the barn.)

We set up the tree and decorated it, using our old shell ornaments that we made our first year of marriage, when we did not own one single ornament between the two of us.  That December, we went down to Atlantic Beach one windy afternoon and picked up a few dozen seashells, and then John meticulously drilled tiny holes in them and we hung them on our tree.  We love them.  Now we have more ornaments, all gifts from sweet friends, and it’s wonderful unwrapping them from the tissue paper and remembering.

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Also, this:

“The dark pit of human life, inwardly and outwardly barred, sinking ever more hopelessly and inescapably in the abyss, is torn open by main force, and the word of God breaks in… The labyrinth of the life he has so far led falls to ruin… The whole of the past is comprised in the word forgiveness. The whole of the future is in safe keeping in the faithfulness of God… Faith means being held captive by the sight of Jesus Christ, no longer seeing anything but Him, being wrested from my imprisonment in my own self… ” (Bonhoeffer, Ethics 120-121).

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