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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Christmas Tree & a Heap of Babies!

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Christmas tree farm (from a few weeks ago). Will reading, snuggled up on the couch. me and a pile of babies on my lap!!!! Will loves climbing up on my lap when I’m holding Margaret. He’ll say, “Have two babies?” And I’ll say oh yes, I have two babies. And he climbs on up and we all snuggle. (And yes, those are snowman pajamas, and yes, Will isn’t wearing pants.) Just finished all the gift-wrapping. About to make tea and curl up for a little bit with a book! INFP bliss!!! Happy Christmas Eve Eve to all!

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!

 

Easy Way to Save Money! (And a few pictures of life around here)

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So probably everybody already uses Ebates, or there’s some really dreadful thing about it that I just don’t know yet, but I just heard about it and signed up for it and even just used it to buy some insoles for my LL Bean slippers (the shearling is totally worn out in my right heel, not sure why). SO for anyone doing last-minute Christmas shopping this is a super easy and awesome resource for saving some money! (Well, making some money back on stuff you would be buying anyway).

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So anyway, for people who might not know: Ebates is a website where you can sign up, and when you use their website to shop online you get a certain percentage back in cash. They just mail you a check. Or put money in your PayPal account! You don’t give them your social security number, your bank account numbers, or anything scary like that.

You can shop at just about any website at all: Amazon, Gap, Nordstrom, J. Crew, Groupon, Snapsfish, Sephora, Target,  Amazon, Walmart, Ebay, and on and on. Even Etsy!!! And did I say Amazon?! And travel booking websites! You just go to the ebates website, and search for the store or item you’re looking for, click that link to go straight to whatever website you want, and get cash back for stuff you would have bought anyway.

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Today a lot of the cash back deals are doubled, so for a lot of stores you can get 10% cash back. And when you sign up and spend $25 in purchases within the first few months, you get a $10 credit. And you still get each individual store’s discounts! So for example, everything at Lands End is 40% off today, and if you shop through Ebates, you get that 40% off plus 8% cash back through ebates.

And if you refer 3 friends you get a $100 credit. So that’s awesome.  (If you sign up using this link you will count as one of my 3 people, ahem, mom, dad, etc, cough, cough.)

Ok, that’s all for now!

Christmas Around Here

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Christmas Books for Free

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Starting in November I got a longing to buy Christmas books for Will.  We would go to Barnes and Noble sometimes on cold days to play with the little train table they have in their children’s section, and the display of Christmas books would beckon to me.  I would dream of spending lots of money because, well, it’s Christmas, and that’s what you’re supposed to do at Christmas, right?

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But then I stumbled across the holiday section of children’s books in our library.  They have two whole rows of shelves full of Christmas books. And I realized, why spend tons of money on books when you can get them for free? So today, even though everything was covered in snow I bundled the two of us up and we set out for the library.

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I picked up a copy of The Polar Express and 7 or 8 other lovely books, including several books about the nativity, one of Christmas carols illustrated by Tomie dePaola and one illustrated version of “Good King Wenceslas.”

Will LOVES reading these days.  We snuggled up to read The Polar Express right before his nap, and I was a little dismayed by how many words there were on each page (I doubted Will would have the patience to sit through such a long story), but he sat with rapt attention while I read though the whole book twice. He’s asleep now, but I know when he wakes up we will have a long afternoon of Christmas book reading & playing in the snow.

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20 Ideas for A Sustainable and Frugal Christmas

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1.  Buy a potted tree and plant it after Christmas.

2.  Or if you buy a tree that’s been cut down, donate $1 to the Arbor Day Foundation to plant a new tree.  Trees make clean air.

3.  Save brown paper bags from the grocery and use them for wrapping paper.  Tie with wide bands of cream or red colored ribbon for beautiful gift-giving.

4.  Or crumple up brown paper bags up and use them instead of bubble wrap and packing peanuts when shipping gifts.

5. Give gorgeous, fair trade gifts from Ten Thousand Villages

6.  With all the festive dinners and parties and potlucks, save some money by eating simple meals at home.  Try More with Less or An Everlasting Meal for ideas.

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7.  Save citrus rinds and use them to make your house smell amazing

8.  Make beautiful handmade gifts for under $5

9.  Save tissue paper, ribbons, boxes, and bows from gifts you unwrap and use them for next year

10.  Send holiday emails or e-cards instead of paper ones (“The amount of cards sold in the US during the holiday season would fill a football field 10 stories high, and requires the harvesting of nearly 300,000 trees.” from here)

11. For gifts buy locally made jewelry, pottery, etc. or locally crafted chocolates, beer, etc.  If you live in Austin, shop here.

12. Use LED lights for decorating.  (They use up to 95% less energy than traditional lights)

13.  Use some of these alternatives to wrapping paper.  Or buy these dish towels from IKEA for $0.79 each and wrap gifts in them.

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14.  Focus on spending quality time with people rather than spending money on more and more things.  Here’s a list of 50 frugal Christmas activities.  Most towns have amazing (and often free) concerts, pageants, and even Christmas movie festivals (if you live in Charlotte, NC).

15. Take reusable grocery bags with you to Target and other stores for Christmas shopping– I usually forget to do this and end up with a ton of plastic bags despite the many reusable bags we own.

16.  Start using Dr. Bronner’s peppermint castile soap all around the house– in hand soap dispensers, in the shower, for cleaning.  The peppermint smell is wonderful, and it’s  better for the environment once it goes down the drain and into the rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans.

17.  Give gifts to those in need, through Angel Tree or Heifer or another charity, rather than focusing on your own wish list (all the Christmas shopping inevitably puts me in the path of things I want to buy for myself, and it’s so easy to become discontent this time of year– remembering that there are actually a lot of people without food to eat puts the cashmere sweater and leather boots I think I need into perspective)

18.  Snuggle under a down comforter and turn the thermostat way down at night.  Remember to turn off lights in rooms that aren’t being used.  Open the oven after you’ve done some baking to let the air warm your house (unless you have small children– we don’t want a Hansel and Gretel situation to happen here)

19.  If possible, buy your tree and wreath from a small, local company, or from a school or church sale

20.  Turn off TVs and computers once a week and spend a night by the fireplace with a good book as a reminder to slow down and appreciate the simple things.

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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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