almost here

DSC01618DSC01625All is nearly ready in this little house.

The tree is up, collected today from the local feed store by Lucien and Papa.  After the usual puzzling and trimming and “to the left,” and “no, too far!” it stands in the living room as an item of pure wonder for small eyes and hands.  The surest sign that Advent is over, Christmas has begun.  There are no twinkly lights this year, only candles.  For three years, or was it two? we had both.  Perhaps it was a little difficult to let go of the warm memories of childhood, or simply that twinkly lights really are beautiful.  But, no amount of twinkly lights can equal the power of a tiny flame shining through the darkness.  So, in honor of this real bilder, we decided no electric tree lights this year.

DSC01493DSC01528DSC01525DSC01529DSC01578Lucien’s Christmas sweater is blocked and wrapped.  I left off the elbow patches in the end.  I suppose they are what give the sweater much of its character.  But, I was satisfied with it and weary of all of those tiny stitches.  I knew I was done–that I had poured all of the love I could into it, and that was that.  It will be well worn, with plenty of room to grow.  Knit in sock yarn, it’s not too heavy.  Lucien runs pretty warm, he doesn’t need Aran weight bulk insulating him. (Mattheus once burst in the door from school, and before saying anything else, announced that “Lucien was the only one at school that didn’t have to wear a coat today, and I was so grumpy about that!”  Whether or not this is accurate, it is an honest picture of Lucien’s ever-burning internal furnace.)

DSC01543DSC01596DSC01595John is finishing the last minute wrapping, tidying up and starting some food prep for tomorrow as I type.  The first round of Christmastide baking is done, taste tested and approved.  All the little things that happen while the children are sleeping are still left, but I like to do them very last before bed: the images of the Annunciation replaced with the Holy Family, fresh red and white roses, the presents on the top of the piano, the table setting.

But before that, this post.  It’s the last typing I’ll be doing for a couple of weeks.  After giving much thought to how the blog might change my annual Holy Nights media fast, I’ve decided to hold it as usual: no screens and no mechanized sounds aside from music.  In the end I could not imagine forgoing this tradition of turning my gaze from the day to day, to the lifetime that keeps it all in perspective.  At this turning point in the year, from dark to light, we are offered the gift to remember who we’ve been and what we can still become, and how it all fits into the grand picture of all that is around us.  What is lost in taking a break from the day to day is regained manifold when new understanding is cultivated and ultimately allowed to enliven it.  Worth it, if you ask me.

As for the rest of the preparations, the house, laundry, dishes, bathroom, well–much has gone undone while we’ve been busy merry making.  But that’s okay.  While it calls for our attention, Mattheus reminds Opal not to eat the apple slices off of the tree.  Lucien wraps two small presents for me and insists that John labels them, “Merry Mama, this is a rock for you.”  The second is a ribbon turned into a necklace.  He checks in with me several times a day to make sure I am still wearing it.  I hold up the tree while John attempts to screw it in for several minutes, only to realize he needs to cut off a few more branches.  Mattheus jumps up to our aid, running out the door, “I’ll get the tree saw.  I know just which branches need to be trimmed!”  Once it is up, Opal stands at the base of the tiny miracle in our living room, summing it all up in one word, repeated over and over again, “tee! tee!”

The mess is not going anywhere, but these moments happening amongst spilled flour, not cleaned up quickly enough and tracked all over the house, they fly by so quickly it is even hard to create a memory.  Through the fuzziness, there is a feeling.  This is what I will remember, if I am lucky enough to reach the ripe old age of spending my days in an electric easy chair: the love that streams out of the the heart of a small child, so connected to and filled up by the unseen things of this world, that they can do nothing other than be the impulse of love and compassion that is Christmas.

And so it is.  The joyful storm is upon us.  After weeks of gathering energy in the heavens, it is full to bursting.  While we sleep, in the deepest moment of night, the skies will open, bringing cathartic rain, wind, force.  Not with fury, but magnanimously, offering us the new that only comes from transformation.

But, it has not arrived.  We find ourselves here again on the most magical day of the year, Christmas Eve.  Now, in this moment, soon to become fuzzy memory, we stand within the anticipation and the revelation at the same time.  The slight uneasiness of all our doubt falls away into peace–it is coming.  Tomorrow.  But, not just yet.  Tonight, we are allowed to live in the perfect beauty of the-just-before, where the ideal still lives untarnished by the earthly.

*     *     *

It is in this moment that I thank you all for sharing this blog with me. I could never have imagined what it would become and look forward to the coming year with excitement.  I wish for you all the many gifts of the powerful days ahead.  Merry Christmas!

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change of heart?

There’s been a lot of discussion and pondering around these parts since my St. Nicholas post, in regards to the lack of Santa in our home.  Many of the arguments on the pro-Santa side are not new to me, but the conversation has me revisiting this custom (or lack of) in our house.  I am beginning to wonder if a change of heart is gestating.

As I wrote previously, the number one factor that has kept us from inviting Santa on Christmas Day, is our own personal lack of connection with him.  However, I’ve been looking back as of late at my own childhood Christmases and remember the magic of the special day.  We were not a religious family, but somehow, as children often are, I was unconsciously in tune with the arrival of something big on this one day of the year.  Santa was a symbol of the culmination and manifestation of all of our December anticipation.  He was selfless in his year long preparations and joyful in his giving.  In these memories I found the connection I had forgotten long ago.

As an adult, I have begun to experience the hope that is Advent, and the revelation that is Christmas.  No matter what we believe–Christmas, Hannukah, Solstice–we look toward the arrival of the coming light.  The darkness of the natural world weaves together with the darkened, imperfect places of our hearts, and we are left only with a trust in the promise that the light will come and allow for the transformation of both earth and soul.  If we are conscious in our Advent preparations we may find a great gift of wisdom and understanding arrive over the 12 Holy Nights.  And yet, the light will come, whether we prepare for it or not, are conscious of it or not, it’s simply a fact: the days will get longer again.  It will change us, regardless of our attention.

So here’s what I wonder: does Santa offer the children an experience of the fulfillment of Advent hopes that they cannot get elsewhere?

Is it enough that the tree doesn’t go up until Christmas Eve and doesn’t come down until Epiphany?  The family gifts, special breakfast, church celebrations?  The first glimpse of the Christ Child in the nativity?  The falling away of Advent songs and the arrival of Christmas songs?  The candles on the tree and nature table?  The baking cookies and sharing with friends?  The slow revealing off presents?  And most of all, the holding that John and I do in our consciousness of the big pictures that come during these season.  I know they flow from us into the children in a very real way that imbues all of these activities with the love and light and selfless commitment to caring for the earth and all peoples that characterizes this time. But, even this, is it enough?

Does it all add up to that moment when you wake up on Christmas Morning, knowing that Santa has passed in the night, bringing the long awaited light with him?

I’m still living in the questions for now.  We haven’t done any talking about him, so it seems too late to incorporate into our celebrations this year.  Perhaps next year I’ll have found my answers.  In the meantime, there is still magic and time to get to know Santa in the years to come, if we do have a change of heart.

his job

About a week ago I went out to put the animals away and noticed the Peeper had hunkered down in the corner of the barn yard, instead of in the barn.  We had installed a ramp for him, but I think perhaps the angle was a bit steep and the wood a bit slippery, and we hadn’t yet gotten around to putting crosspieces on the ramp to function as steps.  So the duck, who by the way, surpassed the hens in size weeks ago, had set up a little nest for himself out under the stars of a clear, below freezing winter night.  I scooped him up and put him in the barn, before shutting everyone in.

The next morning I told the children the story.  They love to hear about these little things that Mama and Papa do.  That night, Mattheus took it upon himself to go out and put the birds away.  It was actually late afternoon, so no one was roosting.  That’s okay, he easily found a big stick to “herd” the chickens into the barn.  Afterwards, he collected Peeper, “gave him some snuggles” and tucked him into bed in a “new pen” of his own design: two milk crates stacked on top of each other.  I had been inside for all of this, preparing supper, so when Mattheus burst through the door and started tearing off his outside clothes, he speedily chattered on about all of the work that he had done.  Then he announced that taking care of the animals was “his job.”  He was the only one that knew how to take care of Peeper at night and tell the chickens how to go to bed.

In the morning, after a hurried breakfast, he got dressed and ran outside to his work.  He let all the animals out, gave Peeper his morning snuggle and broke the ice on the water buckets.  He even figured out how to get the goats out of the barn yard and into the garden to the manger, while leaving the chickens in the barn yard to feed them.  (Goats get sick when eating too much grain, so they are separated for feeding time.)  Goats are a bit like cats when it comes to telling them what to do: “oh, are you talking to me?  Well, maybe I’ll notice in a few minutes when I feel like it.”   You can imagine this little maneuver requires a fair level of sophisticated thinking and coordination.  Mattheus returned inside to proudly announce, “Papa, I think you will find that I have done most of the work out there already.  All you will have to do is feed them and fill the chicken water and rake the barn.”  P.S. as you might guess this is the bulk of the morning animal chores.  But this didn’t matter to Mattheus.  He had found a new job and it was purposeful and all his.

In a way all of this is not new.  Mattheus came to Earth with a plan in his head and quickly set about executing it.  He is happiest when his hands are engaged in work.  Last week I went through pictures from the year to put together a book for his birthday on the 19th.  Over half of the pictures show Mattheus sawing, mowing, raking, building, gardening, sewing–all action photos, all with that recognizable look of concentration on his face.  Still, there was something a little different about this new job of his.  Quite honestly, I recognized it first in my own excitement.  We find joy in work around here, but the balance is tipped at the moment as there are five people living a life and two people doing most of the practical work to maintain that life.  At times we have to work to find joy.  You can understand why the thought of having hands that can share in this work makes me want to do a little dance routine (in the privacy of my own kitchen.)

Still, the more I pondered the celebrating and grieving that were coexisting in my heart as I watched Mattheus out of the window, breaking the ice on the water buckets, I began to sense the passing of a profound milestone.  At the threshold of five, he was passing from toddlerhood to childhood right before our eyes, all in the moment that he took on this job.  Suddenly the product of his work, not just the gesture in his work, become valuable in the world beyond our fence.  It doesn’t matter to us, believers of not what but how a task is completed, but it matters to the rest of the world.  And just like that, he took one of those inevitable steps away from us and toward himself.  What more could we want for them really?

(Oh, and second P.S..  Apologies for the absence of photos.  I’ve been putting off posting because we cannot find the charger for our camera!  But, we really need it by Friday for Mattheus’ birthday, so it will not be long before I perform a concentrated search.  Till then, may my words fill your minds with your own beautiful images!)

more gifts of warmth

DSC01296DSC01292DSC01203DSC01204DSC01201This year St Nicholas’ helper has been working on these woolen hats and mitts for everyone.  The boys’ hats are based upon the simple striped beanie (without the stripes of course) in Knitting for Kids, by Paula Hammerskog and Eva Wincent.  I go to this book again and again for simple hats, mitts and socks.  There are also some beautiful patterns with a classic feel–right up my alley!  But, it is not a book for beginners; there is much “reading between the lines” here. The mitts are also from this book, although I added the I-cord strings in the hopes that they won’t get left behind in the snow and used for a gnome blanket.  (The boys were none too interested in a photo shoot, so no pics in action!)

Opal’s bonnet is from Joelle Hoverson’s More Last Minute Knitted Gifts.  I love the way she makes no-sew patterns looks so elegant.  This bonnet has no seams, just two strands to sew in at the beginning and end and a button to sew on!  My only adjustment is the strap–having made this pattern three times, I am officially of the opinion that it is two long, and have added an extra button to keep it firmly on Opal’s head.  Also, the sizing seems a bit off to be a “baby” bonnet–seems to fit a young toddler pretty well, though.

They were all knit in, you guessed it! Lamb’s Pride seconds from the Sheep Shed Studio.  (Although, that stash is slowly dwindling so you’ll be seeing some new yarns soon.)  The pink is Peony Pink, the light green Khaki, the green laced with just a bit of black is Kiwi and the Indigo is Ink Blue. 

I’ve yet to decide if I will line the mitts with some wool felt.  I gave them a good dose of lanolin to waterproof them, and they are nice and thick, but we’ll see if they need a little more warmth in the end.  Mattheus ceremoniously dipped them in the lake on his first wearing (hmm, guess those mitten strings are a bit long), and we all know, no amount of lining or lanolin will combat that!  Perhaps it would be a good idea to put in an order for back ups with Old St Nicholas.  Lucien will likely be amazed again at his accuracy in sizing.  “Mama, these are all just the right fit!?  You were right, St Nicholas knows a lot of things!”

All of these were knit in the wee hours of the night while unsuspecting children were off in dream land.  So, during the day I was carrying around this Honey Cowl,  for a friend in need of a little extra love at the moment.  I have been wanting to give her lots of hugs, but alas, she lives just a bit too far away for this.  So, this long distance hug is the best I could come up with.  This is second one of these I have made, (the first one for myself in lavender), and I am completely smitten and can see it becoming a go-to pattern.  I love texture and this simple stitch pattern creates a really beautiful one without any fuss.  Perfect for carrying around and picking up here and there, which as you can imagine, is how most of the knitting gets done around here.  The yarn is Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece, Slate Charcoal.  In 85% cotton and 15% merino it is perfect for year round use here in Colorado, and I love the way the slightly thinner yarn, still knit on 8’s, allows for a really lovely drape.

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For a little extra touch of love, I added in a few bags of our “Women’s Bedtime Blend” tea, grown mostly from our garden: mint, lemon balm, chamomile, catnip, raspberry leaf and sage.  It’s pretty tasty, but I have some exciting learning to do on the herb front.

And, lastly, Lucien’s Christmas sweater is about a sleeve and half from being finished. (I rigged the family gift exchange so that I would be sure to get him this year, since I’ve really been wanting to make this tender middle child something special)  I had to pause for a few days when Daffodil ate a needle and tore out several rounds of stitches in the process.  I should really know better.  Goats really will nibble anything.  Unless of course, as any goatherd will tell you, it’s feeding time and then only the finest hay in the manger will make it past the mouths of these discerning ruminants.  Thankfully, my endlessly resourceful husband filled the large teeth marks in with wood glue and sanded until that wounded needled was smooth enough to keep knitting.  Should just about do it to finish the project in time for Christmas Day.

And you?  What holiday gifts are your hands creating?

advent unfolding

“Thou mother earth
Has received the live seed
Into the dark
Good shelter of the soil.
The mantle of night
Thrown wide over us,
And the sun as it goes
Its swift and short journey,
Speak to our hearts
In warning and promise.
Thou Earth hast borne up
The footsteps of Mary
Journeying patiently
Southwards to Bethlehem;
And the Earth bears us
Today in our travail,
That we may bring forth
Christ in our spirit.
So we may await Him
Sent by the Father,
Healer and bringer
Into our being
Of the true gold.”

Adam Bittleston, Meditative Prayers for Today

DSC01216DSC01241DSC01259DSC01282DSC01283Advent is unfolding slowly around here, this year.  In the past all of our little symbols, art cards, and special things mysteriously appeared on the first Sunday of Advent.  But I am a little tired these days to push through the late evening hours that such a task requires.  The wreath and the calendar arrived that first morning, but of the rest I have been adding a few things each night: a new chalkboard drawing, the pictures in the children’s room, the Star Money candle ( a Grimm’s Fairy Tale that tells of a little girl who gives up all of her material possessions to those in greater need than herself, only to be awarded with gold coins from heaven).  Mattheus has been quite taken with this image this year, and keeps asking to hear the story.  It’s one of my favorites, so I almost gave in and told it, but I think it will suit him better next season when he is really truly five.

There is a surprising benefit to what started out feeling like a compromise. As each item emerges it occupies its own special place for a day or two and the children have the space to really live into the image. Our Advent anticipation increases with the arrival of each small thing.  It feels good.

The House Elves, the ever-present hidden Elemental members of our family, have been coming to visit almost nightly to bring us a small gift or task for the day to guide us in our preparations.  (I’ve thankfully adapted this idea from Kim and her family’s Advent Gnome.) I always get a little stressed trying to get everything ready for Christmas, and this tradition has really allowed me to let go of the outcome and live into the gesture.  In other words, we prepare ourselves as a family by doing the work.  Completing Mama’s long (mind you, unattainable) to do list falls away in importance when we’re sharing in the enjoyment of the activities together as a family.

Somehow this beautiful book, A Little Folk’s Winter’s Tale, by Carlo Pietzner, made its way into our home.  I honestly cannot remember where it came from, but I am very glad it did. (I happened to look it up on Amazon and really had no idea what a rare find it was.)  Each week offers a beautiful image of the four kingdoms, minerals, plants, animals and man, preparing for the coming of the Christ Child.  Mattheus is especially loving it as he is fascinated with Elves and Gnomes these days.  He has also fallen in love with the tales from Christmas Stories Together, by Estelle Bryer and Janni Nicol.  I’ve been searching for several years for simple stories geared toward younger children–under four–and this is a really good fit.

I am conscious for the first time this year of a tension I have long experienced in Advent: the strong juxtaposition of the need to prepare and the need to be quiet and the ways in which they are and are not actually the same thing.

As I child I remember the days leading up to Christmas as bordering on painful.  As Mattheus has put it, “Mama, don’t talk to me about Christmas, I am just too excited to wait for it to come so I am trying my best to forget about it.  If anyone talks to me about it I will just get grumpy!”  I always assumed that my discomfort this time of year was a result of being surrounded with this high-vibration anticipation, that I just “could not wait!”  But this phrase, “warning and promise” from Adam Bittleston points in a different direction.  It’s as if the earth is standing as it once did, thousands of years ago, waiting for this Individuality that would bring humanity the Great Gift of our time.  There is anticipation in awaiting the revelation of this promise, but there is also worry and doubt.  A wondering if the earth and all of its inhabitants have prepared themselves properly to receive the gift.  Will we get it all done in time?  If I am not ready, will It still arrive?  Am I prepared?

The world around us provides us with so many opportunities to get ready with baking, shopping, crafting, caroling, giving and receiving, sharing meals with family and friends, taking the perfect holiday photo.  They are all wonderful things!  But at times, I find myself swept up in these preparations and forgetting the quiet preparations of the heart that are needed during this time.

The children bring me back to the center of it all, as always, and quiet my anxieties a bit, reminding me to seek balance. In their cosmic innocence, they have little doubt that this great moment is upon us again, and that with each passing day, each new candle lit on the wreath, our preparations are doing their job.  “Look, Mama, I am beginning to see the big shining star on the Advent calendar!  Lucien, one day, when the calendar is all the way open, the shining star will be over Mama Mary and Papa Joseph and the Christ Child, lighting their way.  It always happens that way, every, every year.”

It will come and we’ll be ready.  Just as long as we don’t talk about it all too much.