This blog has permanently moved to a new blogging address. Come on over to
The Potter's Shed!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A limping celebration

The Twelve days of Christmas are here - in fact today is the 6th day, if you are keeping track - and my hopes for a full celebration are lying sick in bed coughing and sputtering like the rest of the family, yours truly included.  Yeah, this year, it's not happening.

A couple of weeks before Christmas I heard an announcer on a local Christian radio station proclaim about Christmas, "Well, in two weeks it is all over."  What?!?!  The driver in the car behind me must have worried as my van made a sudden veer toward and correction away from the roadside ditch.  Can you you hear me muttering, "It isn't all over - it has JUST BEGUN!"

What's the big deal you ask?  Am I just being a liturgical snob?  Well, maybe, but I sure hope not.  I really do think it matters.

When we celebrate the church year, we learn through story, image, and repetition not only the stories of our heritage, but the truths of our faith.  Take Advent, for example.  We keep Advent and we are reminded of preparing our hearts for the arrival of the King, Jesus.  Not only the remembrance of his first arrival, but the reminder of his future arrival - the Second Coming.  We are reminded to prepare our hearts like the wise virgins prepared their lamps.

But when He comes that second time, is that it?  Is it "all over" like the radio announcer thinks?  Of course has just begun!  Keeping a full Christmas reminds us of this truth.  It won't end with the return of Christ, it will BEGIN.

Perhaps you've heard of the Advent Conspiracy campaign?   An even more important and counter-cultural campaign would be a Christmas Conspiracy.  Instead of celebrating for one day, we'd blow the world away by celebrating a full 12-Day Christmas season!  Can you imagine it:  Keeping a real preparatory Advent and then letting Christmas burst forth on the 25th...and burn bright for 12 whole days of delight and merriment!  Sharing our tables and homes with all those we can.  Give gifts from the heart to those we love and those we don't even know.  Serving our families and communities.   A celebration conspiracy!

Oh, I could get really carried away in the romance of that idea.

But this year our little Christmas is limping along.  The tree is still up.  And we are burning the Christmas lights all over the house each night.  It is still Christmas in our hearts at least.

And maybe that the most important thing of all.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The First Day of Christmas - 2010

On the first day of Christmas, we awoke to the soft, closeness of a snow-blanketed forest.  A delightful little Christmas gift, no? 

It is now nearly 3 in the afternoon and the snow has mostly stopped.  The road is visible and some snow is melting, but it is still so lovely and bright outside.  I'm tucked under a cozy comforter sipping chocolate-cherry hot cocoa (I'll share the recipe!) and nursing a flu.  Yes, the same one the boys had earlier.  Our dear little "E" (8 year old daughter) is also ill.  So, we will enjoy just looking at the snow.  The boys have been out, but only for a bit.

Not quite the way we expected the day after Christmas to be spent, but a quiet, lazy snowed-in day is nice.

How are my other east-coaster friends doing?  I think there are some of you who have quite a bit of snow on the ground.   White Christmas blessings to you all!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Have a very merry Christmas today!  

Before the paling of the stars,
Before the winter morn,
Before the earliest cockcrow
Jesus Christ was born:
Born in a stable,
Cradled in a manger,
In the world His Hands had made
Born a Stranger.

Priest and King lay fast asleep
In Jerusalem,
Young and old lay fast asleep
In crowded Bethlehem:
Saint and Angel, Ox and Ass,
Kept a watch together,
Before the Christmas daybreak
In the winter weather.

Jesus on His Mother's breast
In the stable cold,
Spotless Lamb of God was He,
Shepherd of the Fold:
Let us kneel with Mary Maid,
With Joseph bent and hoary,
With Saint and Angel, Ox and Ass,
To hail the King of Glory.

C. Rosetti
26 August 1859

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve 2010

May your Christmas Eve be filled with lovely delights and the warmth of family and friends. 

CHRISTMAS hath darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Earth, strike up your music,
Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven hath answering music
For all Angels soon to sing:
Earth, put on your whitest
Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

C. Rosetti

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent pictures

Our artist.  Not a day goes by without a painting, a drawing, a sculpture or creation of some kind.

He got this silly hat (it sings and the bell shakes back and forth) from a friend at church.  Check out the YouTube video!  (you can see some of his other goofy videos - yes, we homeschool.)

E and I found this wasp next in the woods a couple of weeks ago.

Saint Nicholas Day (Dec 6th ) goodies!   My goodness, don't those two look sleepy?

And L discovering her St Nick goodies.  I think she is amazed we gave her candy before breakfast!

Yum - the goody jars!  So tempting...and almost gone now.  

A quiet late fall afternoon.  H and E spent the afternoon drawing and listening to some old Christmas radio shows.

S - still has some Christmas humor in him despite being a high schooler. 

Farmor arrived last night.  The girls enjoyed a snuggly Christmas book.

Advent in our home - weeks 3 and 4

Busyness kept me from posting this last week.  Not that I am not busy now, but I've got a little time in the early morning...

Gum drop and toothpick structures - a favorite crafty activity

Our eldest, 14, enjoying a little Christmas humor.

A Saint Nicholas waits quietly on the mantle.

Handmade replicas of family landmarks (Aland, Finland).  Front: a typical Swedish cottage (Aland is owned by Finland, but is Swedish in heritage.  Both languages are spoken. Middle: Christiansund the family home (c. 1932 ) where my M-i-L was born.  Back: Eckero church the family church. (c. early 1200s ).

One of our favorite play nativity sets.  (I know, I know, shoot me - the baby Jesus is already in the manger. )

Baking, baking, baking.  I'm discovering that despite the larger kitchen, I seem to have less working space.  Hmmm....

Farmor, E, and L enjoy a Christmas story.

We wait all year for this delight: Svenska Glogg (Swedish Glogg).  It is sort of like mulled wine, but the only wine in it is port (the rest is more port, brandy and vodka).  A warmed mug is the perfect nightcap on a cold winter's evening.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Daybook - Monday, December 20th

outside my window . . .  watching our little Louie stalking something - a blowing leaf, probably.  The trees have mostly shed their leaves and now we look out to a forest of gray bark which is beautiful in its own way.  

in the kitchen . . .  today we are making St. Lucia breads and Peppermint Mocha syrup for our friends.  Tomorrow we make bread for our Christmas company.

around the house . . . cleaning and sorting and decorating.  All of our storage closets are now  sorted and organized: broom closet, coat/storage closet, linen closet, and I'm setting up one storage closet as a little prayer retreat.   The house is all decorated for Christmas, except for the tree - lights only.  We'll decorate it Thursday evening with our family.

listening to. . .  hubby wrestle the breadmaker off the top shelf of the pantry. 

thankful for. . .  a successful youth Christmas party last night.  There was a good devotional,  wonderful conversation, lots of laughter, and delicious food.  The highlight was the  hysterically funny human Christmas tree decorating contest.

one of my favorite things . . .  toasted St Lucia bread with orange marmalade on Christmas morning.  Can't wait!

milestones in the past week . . .  
:-: Little L's speech has taken a wonderful turn for the better.   She's begun putting lots of words together and trying new ones regularly.

a few plans for the upcoming week . . .  
:-:  Baking, Cleaning, and getting the house ready for guests that arrive on Wednesday.
:-:  Visit to a Gingerbread House exposition on Thursday, decorate the tree.
:-:  Visit to Biltmore House on Friday
:-:  And of course, Christmas Day on Saturday!

If you think of us, pray for my eldest son who has come down with the flu in the past 24 hours.  Pray for his quick recovery and that we'd keep it from passing to the rest of us (and our guests).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Links for Advent - Dec 10th

I'm currently snuggled in a warm fluffy bed watching my favorite of the old 70s "clay-mation" Christmas specials: A Year Without a Santa with my daughter is who is feeling achy all over and very tired.  Most likely she is just worn out after a sleepover and a very busy errand day, but we are taking it easy (and missing a dear friend's Nutcracker show) this evening to make sure.

Tomorrow is Gaudete Sunday (wow - how'd we get here so quickly?!) and I'd hoped to get the tree up and some lights today...but it will just have to wait.  How was your Saturday?  Are you settling in for a quiet home evening, too?  How about some reading?

:-: from one of the best resources for those concerned about education, CiRCE Institute, a list of 5 great books for gifting this Christmas.  And while you are there, consider making a donation of ANY amount and you will have access to a some of the best downloadable audios available today!

:-: This was a great article: Make Better Choices by Asking Two Simple Questions.

:-: Amy, a dear bloggy friend, from Splendor in the Ordinary has a really wonderful series about the Church Year.  Even if you are an "old hand" at the liturgical year, you'll find these posts edifying.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent in our home this week - week 2

Baby L enjoys Saint Nicholas morning treats: candy cane and pencils.  Do you see her sly little smile?  She's thinking, "They gave me candy before breakfast?  YES!"

E and I discovered this while taking a walk in our woods.  It had fallen out of a tree sometime in the last few weeks.  We found it on the "fort" the kids have been working on.

I love this simple display of candy in mason jars.  I'm going to move them from the window sill to a mantle with lovely twinkle lights around them.  But for now they look pretty glittering in the morning light.

Finally got my advent calendar filled!  Each day has a note with a "treat": Christmas movie, hot cocoa for elevensies, open a family gift, getting a treat from the treat jars, etc.

Our Saint Nicholas display.  I can't seem to find my Saint Nicholas icon (just a little pasted on wood one).  Maybe it will turn up as we unpack more Christmas boxes.  Next year, I'll make SURE it goes in the Advent box

H working on a perler bead kit: a Santa ornament.  We turned on a Christmas story CD (old radio shows) and had a lovely afternoon crafting.

Another fruit photo.  Hubby found this three tier plate rack and I just think it looks lovely with the fruit on it.  It also helps camouflage the dirty dishes in my sink.

It has been positively frigid here!  We have been in the teens at night, which is rare before late January around here.  The days have dawned so clear and cold.  Does this photo capture the chill?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Fall of 2010

I'm slow in posting! Here is a quick look at our fall activities . . .

My cousin's wedding at Peace College in Raleigh, NC.  In the middle is my 93 year old grandmother posing with the founder of Peace College, William Peace.  Beside her is my cousin's great-Aunt.

My girls in matching colors (I also wore lavendar) - right down to their lack of shoes!

Lots of unpacking!  The girls had a great system: big sis stuffed newspaper in the box and little sis smashed it down.

I went on a retreat weekend with the ladies from my church.  We visited Montreat, NC, which is very near Asheville.  Beautiful autumn weather and leaves!

Louie, found in a dumpster feasting on scraps, became a member of our family.

Our Halloween (All Hallows Eve) was a bit different this year.  We attended a GREAT All Hallows church party and had so much fun, we skipped trick-or-treating.  We didn't carve a pumpkin, but we did decorate a few.

General goofiness ensues on a daily basis.

Explored the woods and began creating a scrap-wood fort (or something).

The Christmas Craft Box

The days leading up to Christmas can be full of excited, overly rambunctious, and nosey children.  I don't know about you, but I find it hard to get much done in those last few days unless I have a good way of keeping them happily and productively occupied.  They are great helps with wrapping, cleaning, and baking, but some things a mama needs to do unaccompanied by little hands.

Of course plopping them down in front of a Christmas movie is an option, and sometimes that is a nice quiet thing for them to enjoy, but I'd rather keep the movies for special family snuggle time.  This calls for something that is on-hand and ready to be used anytime it is needed.  One Advent season a few years ago, I began collecting easy, fairly non-messy craft supplies.  I don't mind a little mess as long as it is easy to clean up.  I organized all the crafts into a large box, "The Christmas Craft Box".  We all love to pull it out when the need arises!

Here are some of the sorts of things I've used:

:-: perler bead sets - save the pattern instructions that come with any kits and these can be made again and again.  These would make cute gifts, just add a hanger so they can be hung on the tree.  The only worry here is that careless hand will knock them over before they can be ironed and all that hard work is lost.  You could let the kids work on these while you are ironing Christmas tablecloths and napkins and clothes near by then you could quickly iron them as they make them.

:-: foam sticker sets - The gingerbread sets are particularly fun.  Watch Michael's for super sales on these - don't pay full price!  The small "drums" come with hundreds of stickers and seem to last forever.  We are still using stickers from drums we bought a couple of years ago.  These can be used to make cards, decorate gifts, or just to make fun pictures with.

:-: glittery and Christmas colored pipe cleaners - These can be used for so many fun things.  One year my kids used these to make a huge glittery garland to decorate our tree.  We still use it!   (Take a pipe cleaner, bend the ends together, then gently shape into and oval, do the same with the next pipe cleaner, but loop it through the first "link" before bending the ends together - keep going!)

:-: gum drops and toothpicks - My kids have had more fun making crazy creations with these. Use them like you would tinker toys (gum drops are the round "joints" and the toothpicks are the long sticks).

:-: brown paper bags - lunch size and grocery size.  The kids can make puppets, vests, masks, or decorate and use for gift bags.

:-: pom-poms - all sizes!  Add some googly-eyes and they can make little puff-ball creatures.  Pom-poms are fun to ad to anything: gifts, cards, or just a Christmas drawing.

:-: styrofoam balls - again, all sizes!  Paint, glue together, or just play with.  With some adult supervision, you could hot glue little things to these and make fun decorations.

:-: Christmas stamps - You'll have to decide how independent your kids can be with paint.  My older kids are fine using these on there own (with me keeping an ear and an occasional eye on them), but of course the 2 year-old needs me right with her. 

:-: Christmas stickers - I'm sure your kids can think of some fun uses for these.

:-: paper, coloring books, markers, crayons - It helps to keep it all handy in one place.

:-: Christmas-themed activity books - like madlibs, highlights, etc.  

:-: small, inexpensive craft kits - some require quite a bit of adult help, so consider how much you can help at a given time.  I only get the easiest ones.  There are so many to choose from: pom-pom creatures, felt ornaments, beaded ornaments, etc.  Watch for sales, because these can get pricey when you are buying for a few kids.  

Any other craft supply ideas you would like to share?  How do you keep your kids occupied when you need some work time during the Advent season?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Repost: Rethinking the Christmas Craze

 . . . a repost from 2008 . . .

Sometimes I get irritated with the mad push for Christmas.

The local Christian radio station started playing Christmas music last week. The stores have pulled out all the holiday merchandise and the city decorations have begun to appear. Why can’t we wait for the holiday to arrive before we celebrate it?

This is a bit of a cliché gripe, I know. Everyone loves complaining about how early the Christmas rush begins. I love complaining about it, too. It is an easy shot to take and does make us feel a bit "superior". But there is something truly symptomatic in it, isn't there?

All this craziness seems to me to reflect the spiritual state of our culture. Despite what we may hear and read, I believe the Christmas Craze is evidence of the desire for spiritual fulfillment for believer and non-believer alike: the coming of the Savior. We are anxious for the future: both near (Christmas) and distant (Second Coming). It is so tempting to begin the celebrations early! This is not an altogether bad desire – it reveals the Christian's hope. However, it does become a distraction when it overshadows the work that must be done before both those long-awaited days of the Savior's appearance. Both of these events require seasons of preparation – Advent. To skip these might leave us unready to fully welcome the Savior.

In the past, I’ve found myself trying so hard to avoid all Christmas celebrations until Christmas was really here. I was determined to observe a good Advent season. Our culture makes this almost impossible – and in fact it was for me. But, now I’m not sure this is really necessary or preferable. I still maintain that a thoughtful Advent observance heightens the celebration of Christmas; however, Advent can be enhanced by appreciating a taste of the joy awaiting us. It awakens our hearts a bit and makes them yearn even more for the end of Advent, both the seasonal and the eternal!

My family will continue our usual Advent traditions, maintaining our focus on this season of preparation. However, we’ll also enjoy those moments of festivity knowing that the full celebration is yet to come and allowing the yearning for that celebration to grow! And instead of griping about the premature and over-the-top Christmas celebrations, I’m going to focus on being thankful for this proof of the desires deep in the hearts of us all.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Happy Feast of Saint Nicholas!

This is an updated post from last year. . .

Do you celebrate St. Nicholas Day? Wonder how or why someone celebrates St. Nicholas Day? Would you like to? It's not too late to put together a nice celebration, you could really celebrate anytime this week! 

In many countries, St. Nicholas Day is the day on which children get their gifts, while Christmas is reserved for church services and family get-togethers. We've begun celebrating St. Nicholas instead of mingling Santa and Jesus on Christmas day. This allows us the fun of "Santa" without it getting confused with the Birth of Christ. Not that you can't enjoy "Santa" on Christmas, but for us it was getting hard to keep our kids focused on Christ on Christmas. And the whole Santa kneeling at the manger - bleh, no, not for me.

Here is how we've celebrated in years past:

On St. Nicholas Eve, the children excitedly and carefully lay out their shoes by the fireplace for St. Nick to fill. And they leave out a small plate of cookies and crackers, also. I've heard that in some countries they leave St Nick a nice beer (I think Belgium is where this is done) - doesn't that sound fun?

In the morning they found their shoes filled with a couple small gifts, sweet treats, and a chocolate santa (you can make these into Bishops with the directions from the Saint Nicholas Center). Even DH and I found our shoes had been laid out for us (by an elf, I presume) and filled with goodies and gifts!

Our favorite tradition is a true "feast" breakfast! We eat in the dining room with candles and special plates. The kids especially love the hot cocoa with a peppermint stick and whipped creme! Who wouldn't love that? This year we have one child who is attending school, so we will celebrate with a nice dinner at the dining room table.  If I can find the box with the Christmas china, I might even pull that out.  For dessert, we'll enjoy hot cocoa with a peppermint stick.

We have a small collection of Santa items that I put out as a display. This is the first of the real Christmas decorating we do. There are also some extra goodies from Mom and Dad waiting for the kids on the table, usually chocolate coins and fun Christmas pencils.

At each place, there is also a nice little postcard with a vintage Santa image. These are our "secret santa" good deed cards. A good deed is done and the postcard left behind. The card recipient then does a good deed for someone else and leaves a card behind. You could use any card - homemade or otherwise. And, it wouldn't even have to be a Santa postcard - anything seasonal you like would do well! We continue these for a day or so.  I'm thinking of hanging these on a garland at the mantel - wouldn't that make a sweet decoration?

Later we snuggle up on the couch and read about Saint Nicholas. I especially love Ann Tompert's Saint Nicholas book. This year I've added a new book: Santa's Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki (found in on the shelf at Barnes and Noble). This would be especially appropriate for a family that wants to continue celebrating Santa Claus on Christmas. It is a sweetly illustrated book. Santa shares his favorite story - of the First Christmas - with the woodland animals who respond by saying, "How silly we have been,' said the fox, 'to think that Christmas was only about presents." Then all the animals go back to Santa's house to help him finish his Christmas work.

Do you celebrate St. Nicholas Day? I'd love to hear about it! If you blog it, let me know and I'll link to your post.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Poem for Advent 2

Another Rosetti Advent poem...

This Advent moon shines cold and clear,
These Advent nights are long;
Our lamps have burned year after year
And still their flame is strong.
'Watchman, what of the night?' we cry,
Heart-sick with hope deferred:
'No speaking signs are in the sky,'
Is still the watchman's word.

The Porter watches at the gate,
The servants watch within;
The watch is long betimes and late,
The prize is slow to win.
'Watchman, what of the night?' But still
His answer sounds the same:
'No daybreak tops the utmost hill,
Nor pale our lamps of flame.'

One to another hear them speak
The patient virgins wise:
'Surely He is not far to seek' –
'All night we watch and rise.'
'The days are evil looking back,
The coming days are dim;
Yet count we not His promise slack,
But watch and wait for Him.'

One with another, soul with soul,
They kindle fire from fire:
'Friends watch us who have touched the goal.'
'They urge us, come up higher.'
'With them shall rest our waysore feet,
With them is built our home,
With Christ.' – 'They sweet, but He most sweet,
Sweeter than honeycomb.'

There no more parting, no more pain,
The distant ones brought near,
The lost so long are found again,
Long lost but longer dear:
Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard,
Nor heart conceived that rest,
With them our good things long deferred,
With Jesus Christ our Best.

We weep because the night is long,
We laugh for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
And knock at Paradise.
Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept
For us, we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
He bless us first or last.

Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;
We will not let Him go
Till daybreak smite our wearied sight
And summer smite the snow:
Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove
Shall coo the livelong day;
Then He shall say, 'Arise, My love,
My fair one, come away.'

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Links for Advent - Dec 4th

Good Morning!  It is dawning a little gray and frigid around here, but I have the promise of some warm fellowship later this morning with the ladies of my church.  Need to get my pasta salad finished here shortly.

But before I do, I thought I'd share a couple of  links I've enjoyed this week:

:-: Grace at a lovely blog called Uncommon Grace has a series of posts about the Advent calendar (I've not read through the other 2).  Her list of things to be used in an Advent calendar is nearly exhaustive!  It is a great list you could use for an Advent calendar, craft ideas, stocking stuffers, mini-celebrations like St Nicholas Day, or just some ideas for fun during the Christmas and winter season.   HT: to someone, but I can't remember who!  if it was you that linked to this page recently, leave a comment!

:-: My Christmas Poet from Internet Monk (one of the blogs whose nearly every post I star in my google reader).  I'd been listening to a slightly kooky radio show about the healing power of poetry and it got me thinking that while I don't agree with *why* they think  poetry heals (even poor poetry), I do think they are on to something about good poetry being emotionally healing.  So, when this post popped up in my google reader, I was intrigued.  I'll be posting some of the poetry I've collected in the past couple of years for Advent and Christmas, in the hopes I'll remember to read it more.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Music for Advent

Oh, how I love Christmas music, and still I can't help but to turn on the jaunty, mostly-secular carols in the car on errands, but I'm trying really hard to focus on Advent music around the house.  Here's my updated Advent music playlist.  I hope you enjoy it...and if you make one, please share it with me!

Blessed Advent to you!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent in our home this week

 Enjoy some photos from our first week of Advent.

The first candle.

E enjoys and afternoon of painting the pale orange leaves
that remain clinging to the tree out the kitchen window.

Time to stock up on sugar for Christmas baking.

And to enjoy citrus fruits and the remaining apples.

The family altar dressed for Advent.

The Jesse Tree begun.