Simple Advent, Part 2: Some Favorite Things

 

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Advent begins tomorrow,  so I wanted to do a post with a few favorite books, etc. I have listed 6 Advent books below, and I actually own 2 or 3 more. It’s a problem, guys.  Anyway, for this Advent I’m going to pick two of them and put the rest away for another year, for the sake of simplicity.

The past few weeks have seen most of the Christmas shopping done, all the little stocking things wrapped for the children (thanks, Mom!), and the house cleaned out of many bagsfull of objects we no longer need. I even hand-washed all our wool sweaters. And made fig jam. Things aren’t perfectly clean or organized (right now as I type the floor is strewn with clutter, there’s a pile of dishes in the sink, and heap of laundry on the bed). But it’s a bit better than it was a month ago.

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This morning we went and chopped down a tree at the sweet farm where we’ve gone the past 6 years now. The farmer gave us a hay ride around his property, to the kids’ great delight, and we got to watch him feeding his horses, so Margaret was in heaven.  We drank cider in the barn. And the tree, a good 6 footer, cost us $20. I’m mortified past belief to admit that we also bought a wreath for the same amount of money. Wreaths seem like a sort of unparalleled extravagance to me, but we just did it anyway.

For Reading, Advent devotions:

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Hallelujah: A Journey Through Advent with Handel’s Messiah, ed. Cindy Rollins. I got a real, printed copy of this from here, though they’re sadly out of stock for the year, and I love it. This slim volume walks you through selections from Handel’s Messiah and has little essays, poems, hymns, reflections, recipes, and family traditions from a number of contributors.

WinterSong. Christmas Readings by Madeline L’Engle and Luci Shaw. Poems and reflections. A dear friend sent this to me unexpectedly a few years ago, and it’s been one of my favorites. It has chapters starting with Early Winter and moving through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany and then readings for the New Year and Late Winter. In case you’re like me and really want Advent to last from early November through the End of January. This book can make it happen.

Watch for the Light. Advent readings selected from the works of the likes of Kathleen Norris, Bernard of Clairvaux, Luter, Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Madeline L’Engle, T. S. Eliot, and Karl Barth. This is a favorite.

Light Upon Light, by Sarah Arthur. “A literary guide for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.” Written by a lady who went to Duke Divinity at the same time as I did. Poems and selections from novels, etc. George MacDonald, Hopkins, Chesterton, Donne. Just all the wonderful people, plus some newer voices. And scripture readings. I haven’t read this one cover to cover yet, but it looks promising.

God With Us, ed. Pennoyer & Wolfe. Another one I haven’t read, but I’m looking forward to it. It includes some pages of artwork, Giotto’s Nativity fresco, and a few others.

Waiting on the Word, Malcolm Guite. A poem a day (with reflections) for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. So yes. I also haven’t read all of this one (I might have bought 4 different Advent books last year). But I’ve heard it highly recommended!

For reading, other:

This little essay: “Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke” (On buying less junk.)

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For Listening:

Handel’s Messiah

Tsh Oxenreider’s Simple Advent playlist on Spotify. Especially if you’re of the super-Advent-purist camp and don’t listen to any actual Christmas hymns until Christmas Eve (or Christmas Day). I’m not personally of that persuasion, despite the  earnest entreaties and exhortations of our Anglican pastor. I’m too much of a Scottish Presbyterian at heart to hold too tightly to any extra-biblical notions of the liturgical calendar. If it were up to me, we’d sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy to the World” every week in church.

My acoustic/folksy Christmas playlist on Spotify. (I made this from a compilation of music I like and recommendations from some people in a facebook group, and I haven’t listened all the way through to see if everything is 100% perfect, but so far I really like this list!)

Light of the Stable. Emmylou Harris’s 1979 Christmas album. I do not even know where r how to begin describing how much I love this album. Dolly Parton sings on it. This is the Christmas of my childhood, the music I remember along with the smell of the Murphy Oil Soap my mom scrubbed our floors with and the cinnamon oil she dripped onto little rings around the lightbulbs.

Waiting Songs  An absolutely perfect Advent album put out by Sandra McCracken and co. For children, but it’s one of my favorites to listen to whether the children are around or not. Some tracks are simple piano, some a little more folksy.

Decorating & Other things:

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We don’t have much space for storing seasonal decorations; we have Christmas lights and ornaments, and a good stack of children’s Christmas books, and that’s about it. We just don’t have extra surfaces for decorative objects, and too many things on what little wall space we have make me feel claustrophobic. And this. So we don’t decorate too much. If anything, I’ll put some oranges or nuts or pinecones in a bowl on the table. Cranberries in a bowl are beautiful, too! I’ve also bought some fun Christmas things at thrift stores. A vintage tablecloth, a vintage and very faded Santa hand towel, etc. Will is really into making paper chains to count down for things (we have one to count down until winter (above), and another for Christmas), so we have those. I think Will might be old enough this year to make a popcorn chain that we’ll probably wind around the branches of a tree for some birds.  I want to really resist the idea that buying stuff is going to make a holiday of any kind, let alone this one, better. “Getting and spending we lay waste our powers/Little we see in nature that is ours” etc.).

(Also, please know that of course I intend no judgment at all if lots of Christmas decorations are your thing. I think the more twinkling lights and garlands and mistletoe and whatnot the merrier. These days are dark and I say hooray for any small ways we can bring cheer to our homes and the people who inhabit and visit them.)

My other thing is just one of my life favorites right now: Sniffle Stopper essential oil blend from Plant Therapy. This has been an amazing relief for my allergies, and it also smells like a spruce forest. I have a little candle diffuser like this one, only not as pretty, that I diffuse oils in pretty much all the time.  I also love their version of thieves, Germ Fighter, which has cinnamon and cloves and citrus and rosemary. And just plain grapefruit oil. To me, it smells just like Christmas morning. (And grapefruit essential oil can supposedly help a little with the winter blues.) So we have of those three burning almost at all times. (You can also simmer some orange or grapefruit slices or skins, rosemary, vanilla, cinnamon, etc. on the stove for a cozy dose of holiday spirit. I sometimes save orange peels for that very purpose.)

 

 

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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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Some Frivolous Books about France (for March in Ithaca, or If for Some Other Reason You Need a Little Extra Joie de Vivre, or How to Learn to Do Almost Anything Better)

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So, I made a goal last fall that I would EMBRACE this winter with JOY and VIVACITY, and to not complain one single time about the weather. And guys! I’ve sort of done it! (And for the record, it was 3 degrees two Sundays ago. Fahrenheit, not celsius. That’s -16.1111 degrees Celsius, if anyone cares.)

It’s been a discipline, but I’ve caught myself actually enjoying the winter so far, for the most part.  And yet now, in the middle of March, it is still really cold. Under 20 most of the time, and for at least the next 10 days. This is when winter in Ithaca starts to get real, and you remember that you will not feel anything close to warmth until May.

So for the past few years this has been the time of year when I start reading all the books about France I can get my hands on. Or blogs about French cooking, and I make lots of chocolate cakes…. Because at this point in the winter I need a little inspiration, a little extra help to find beauty and delight in the midst of these ordinary days in a tiny apartment in the frozen tundra.

And if anyone knows how to find joy & loveliness in daily life, it’s the French. In fact, they do almost everything, well, better. They dress better, they have better posture and overall poise, they are healthier, slimmer, consume less, eat (much, much, much) better, and generally are amazing at life. Ok, they’re not perfect, and I’m not saying I agree 100% with maybe all the hedonism or moral aspects of their culture, but if you’re on a quest for Joy in the midst of an everlasting winter I can assure you that lessons can be learned from the French.

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[My only caveat is that I read these deliberately in order to enjoy my own life here, which is decidedly not very Parisian or south of France or eating mussels on the coast of Brittany in August. And not to use these books to think thoughts along the lines of “My life would be so much better if I lived in Provence, etc.”  And I fully admit that many of these books are incredibly frivolous. Like, The French Beauty Solution and things like that, with chapters about grape cleanses and how to do your makeup. It’s a rather indulgent habit, but France is my one weakness (to paraphrase the oft-repeated quotation by Miss Lane from this delightful show).  BUT nearly every one of these books helps me to find small ways of savoring my actual life (rather than simply longing to live in Provence, which of course I do, but which doesn’t help me very much to thrive right here where I am). How to enjoy food a bit more, drink more water, how to move more slowly but with more grace, how to make everything from my wardrobe to my house neater and more beautiful, how to have elegant tea-drinking rituals, etc.]

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I usually start with re-reading French Women Don’t Get Fat. I’ve owned this delightful volume for over 10 years and I re-read it almost every year. Not as a manual for losing weight (though it would be incredibly helpful, if anyone needs help in that area), but as a manifesto for how to savor food, ritual, seasons, and life in general. The author explains that Frenchwomen simply know how to care for themselves well (without feeling guilty), how to derive great joy from simple pleasures, and how to feel indulged (rather than resentful and harried, which is probably my default) in the midst of daily life.  There’s a lovely passage toward the end where the she talks about the “little nothings of daily pleasure that are actually quite something to us… We have so many words for pampering– gater, dorloter, bichonner, se chouchouter— but we don’t equate it with decadence. It makes us enjoy life more, from moment to moment, and keeps us from seeking too much consolation from any one pleasure, such as food…”

And since having children I also re-read Bringing Up Bebe this time of year.  Not that I agree with every single aspect of French parenting, but it’s a delightful read and helps me remember to be calm, not to feel guilty for taking a bit of care of my own self, and to sometimes wear something other than yoga pants. (This book also has one of my favorite stories about a French woman ever: the author, an American, and her family went on a trip with a French family they knew, and the French husband went out one morning early and bought a baguette and brought it back, and when he did, his wife purred contentedly, “J’adore cette baguette.” (“I adore this baguette.”) Not jumping off the walls with excitement, but just a deep, calm sense of joy and delight– about a baguette. I think this thought now when I drink my morning coffee– I adore this coffee, etc. A slight shift towards joy. It works.)

I also requested from the library The Elegance of the Hedgeho, a French novel that was recommended to me a few years ago by a dear friend. It’s lovely. One of my favorite novels.  So I’m re-reading that (although I also somehow got myself in the middle of a potty training book— I’m gearing up to train little person #2, eek!– and a book about super-runners in a remote Mexican tribe that’s turning out to be surprisingly thrilling and one of my new favorite books of all time).

And then I was telling all of this to a friend of mine from church, and she said that she had a stack of French novels (these below, minus the Elegance of the Hedgehog) she would lend me! So my spirit is richly supplied with French literature of varying qualities.

Anyway, here’s to finding beauty & simple joys in the middle of winter, or in the middle of whatever dreary or hard season you might be going through. And to huge piles of books.

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Happy Cozy Friday (Fredagsmys)

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This is a re-post from last year, but it bears repeating on this 23 degree February day. Most of my friends and relations live in places like Nashville and Charlotte and Houston, where it’s in the 80s right now, so if you find yourself in a place where you are getting enough vitamin D for the day from 3 minutes of sunlight exposure and where you are wearing flip flops, please ignore this. But if you, like us, are still 3 months away from weather like that, here’s a good tradition to do on Fridays. (I suppose you could still do something similar even if you live in a more temperate climate, because it’s fun to have a Friday tradition. We’ve been doing this for over a year now, and it’s become one of our favorite parts of the week.)

Our Fredagsys is going to be (post kids in bed) a big bowl of popcorn & Victoria (because John is awesome and generously lets us watch the shows I want to watch, which tend to take place in England and involve more drinking of tea and fancy dresses than he would probably prefer. Thank you, sweetie.)  Hope you all stay cozy today & can treat yourselves and others with as much gentleness and generosity and warmth as possible in these cold days.

More about Cozy Friday from a post I wrote last year:

I read about the notion of Fredagsmys in this blog post from A Cup of Jo about parenting in Sweden.  The word basically means “Cozy Friday,” and it pretty much captures my feelings about Friday nights.  I just didn’t think there was a good word, let alone an entire cultural phenomenon, that celebrated it. So, as far as I can tell, in Sweden people curl up with lots of potato chips (ok, a little weird, but ok), huddle under blankets, watch movies, and just spend quality time with the fam. Amazing. We’re not at a movie-watching point in our kids’ lives quite yet, but we are all about getting cozy on Fridays. We sometimes make a pizza all together (Will is obsessed with cutting things with his little knife, plus I think there must have been a Daniel Tiger episode about making pizzas, because he knows ALL ABOUT IT), and sometimes pancakes or waffles. Or something else easy and cozy. Now that the days are getting shorter and the weather colder we are going to do it up for Fredagsmys. Some ideas for getting cozy on Fridays:

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DSC_03511. Do a super fast pick-up with the kids late in the afternoon to get ready

2. put Christmas music on (or this album). or whatever music makes you happy.

3. Put on pjs and a robe and slippers or thick wool socks

4. If you have a fireplace, make a fire!

5. Or if not light as many candles as possible

6. turn off and put away all the phones/ipods/ipads/computers/devices (for real)

7. Invite friends over and order cheap pizza

8. Or get some pizza dough from trader joes and cook your own

9. Or make a big pot of chili or soup earlier in the day to have ready for dinner

10. Use paper plates, bowls, etc.!

11. Make a big pile of all the pillows and blankets you can find and curl up with the kids and read

12. Make hot chocolate for everyone

13. Or cider and drink it through cinnamon sticks like straws

14. Or some good hot herbal tea in special mugs

15. Bake cinnamon rolls (from the can, obviously– Cozy Friday is all about No Dishes)

16. Play board games!

17. Family camp out in sleeping bags in the living room (or wherever)

18. Family read-aloud of whatever awesome book you’re reading

19. Watch a movie or show (we try to not watch much during the week so Friday is our night to binge on episodes of the West Wing or Chefs Table)

20. Pancakes for dinner (with sausage or eggs)

21. make popcorn on the stove. (it’s easy, I promise) or in the microwave. or over a fire pit. or whatever. sprinkle with salt, garlic powder, and nutritional yeast. or check out these 30 awesome toppings.

Happy Cozy Friday, y’all! (And if anyone has other good ideas for making Friday nights cozy and special I’d love to hear! read here for more about a similar concept in Denmark: Hygge)

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.

Winter Days

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The last day of January. The cold has settled in & we are settling into winter routines. Space heater in Margaret’s room, extra blanket on my side of the bed at night. A hot water bottle (ok, also for me), piles of down comforters on couches for story time, cup after cup of tea & roasting things in the oven. Well, lately we’ve mostly been roasting cheap econo-bags of tater tots, but whatever. Letting go of food perfection sometimes is healthier maybe for souls than clinging too tightly to All the Rules. Little chickadees and the brightness of cardinals flitting at the bird feeders.

I want to write much more, but on this rare morning with a three year old asleep from some kind of sickness, and the baby still taking a morning nap, I figured I’d at least post a few pictures and say I’m still here! And I’m sifting through whether I want to keep writing here (well, obviously I do, but finding time for this seems impossible these days), and if so about what and why and all those things.

I’ll try to write again soon, but until then, stay warm and cozy and take deep breaths and take good care of yourself and your people, whoever your people are, in these cold and strange days.

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.

The New Year and Just About the Best Thing I Ever Did

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Just a quick update. Life is beautiful and crazy. I just started a bullet journal yesterday (using this as a guide) and I love it more than life itself, pretty much.

I don’t have much in the way of New Year’s resolutions, but I do want to cook my way slowly and haphazardly through Jerusalem, a cookbook I’ve heard about over and over the past couple of years and then finally cooked no fewer than 6 recipes out of with my mother in law one afternoon over Christmas. The dinner we made was epic and insanely delicious as of course anything with that much garlic and cilantro and lemon juice and za’atar would be. It was exhausting, but glorious.

Which, by the way, pretty much sums up my entire year. Exhausting but (or maybe I should say and) glorious. A toddler, being pregnant, being a chaplain, living through last winter in Ithaca, giving birth in a bathtub in complete terror and ecstasy, and now two babies, another winter, and potty training the toddler. Heights of glory and depths of, well, something.

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I also want to listen to more music this year and read more novels. So those are my resolutions or hopes or intentions or whatever.

Next on the agenda. So obviously the best thing I ever did was to marry the most amazing man in the world. And then the next best few things I ever did were: go to Davidson College, birth two babies without pain medication, and sing in a gospel choir when I was in grad school. But maybe the next best thing I ever did is this:

Right before Christmas I had John take Safari off my iphone. I don’t have a facebook app, instragram app, or any other social media apps on there. I also have disabled the email on my phone. So now I can: text, make calls, take pictures, and use a map. Oh, and listen to podcasts. That’s all. At first I kept looking frantically for the safari icon, desperately wanting to check email or Facebook or read something to make me feel good. But now!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am free!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Y’all, I don’t even have words for how awesome this is. Now I have to use the actual computer if I want to check my email or facebook, so it happens maybe 3 times a day instead of 500.

Maybe you are not like me and you have self control and you don’t get sucked into all that crazy not-real stuff, but anyway, I just wanted to share. I am un-tethering myself from that blasted thing & just feeling better and happier and more present than I have in awhile. I know that’s not the answer for everyone, and I’m not trying to be all, “Look how awesome I am.” But it just feels good not to have access to those empty sink holes any more.

Anyway, now i must return to my bullet journal and some trashy tv! Love & joy to everyone and hope your 2016 is going beautifully so far!

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