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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Repost: The Advent that Almost Wasn't

In November of 2008 we were at the tail-end of our adoption.   Each day brought new forms to complete and our to-do list was growing exponentially.  We expected to get the call to travel on any day.  It was a very busy and hectic season and it was also almost Christmas.  I'm sure many of you have found yourselves in a busy season and wonder how to add "Advent" to it.  I sure did...

Advent almost got put by the wayside this year for my family. Me, a die-hard devotee of all things liturgical, almost said, "Advent is just too much for me this year."

I almost let it slip away....

Yesterday we pulled out the Advent box and spent
some time deciding what we'll do this year.
It has been a very wild year for our family - but especially so this Fall. The thought of pulling out all the Advent items, thoughtfully planning our Advent activities, and keeping up with our various Advent celebrations...well, it all just seemed too much. We needed low-key, we needed normalcy, we needed quiet. Advent was too much work - or so I thought.

What our December would look like - would it be devoid of all things Christmas, sort of a non-Advent Advent? Or would it, as so often happens when something is removed, just fill up with what our pop-culture considers an appropriate pre-Christams hysteria? That doesn't sound too low-key, or normal, or quiet.

Then, it hit me...Advent is low-key, it is normal, and it is quiet. It is exactly what we need.

That is one thing I adore about the Liturgical year - when it becomes a part of your family culture, it can have a stabilizing affect. As life swirls around us, we have the familiarity of the same activities, traditions, smells, sounds, words to keep us anchored. And what better to be anchored to than the Church - the Bride of Christ and, as the Bride of Christ, Christ himself?

My eldest daughter delivering
St. Lucia buns early in the morning.
We will have a beautiful, low-key, normal and quiet Advent this year - with it's bright spots of St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia Day, Gaudete Sunday, and other pre-Christmas planning. It will probably be a little less planned out than previous Advents in our family, but that is one of the joys of the liturgical year in the home - the more you do it, the less pre-planning it takes!

I encourage you - if you think Advent is just too much, reconsider! If you've never celebrated or kept Advent before, start simply. If you've done it for many years, scale down if you must. But don't miss it. It is a season of quiet joy and expectation. You'll find that it properly places Christmas at the pinnacle of the season, rather than on a precipice.

Need some ideas for keeping a simple Advent (whether it is your first or fortieth?) Read on.

How do you plan a simple Advent? What are the essentials? Well, there are as many different traditions of Christian worship as there are "essentials" of Advent. But, since you are here, I'll share my family's essentials.

:-: Using an Advent Wreath - Some families are diligent to use their Advent Wreath every day, we are not so diligent...and to be honest, even some Sundays we find ourselves a bit worn out from a full day with our Church family. But pick a night of the week, Wednesdays or Fridays might be logical, to do your Advent Wreath lighting and devotional. There are many suggested devotionals online.

:-: Celebrating St. Nicholas Day - If you have children, I highly encourage you to celebrate St. Nicholas Day. Even if you still have "Santa" on Christmas Eve, you can have a celebration on his feast day and let St. Nick come fill up stockings or shoes with some little treats.

This was an easy but very pretty Advent
:-: Limiting Christmas decorations - There are many schools of thought about decorating for Christmas, but if you are going to truly put Christmas at the absolute pinnacle of the season rather than the precipice, I recommend finding some way to limit your decorations. The goal being to save the most flamboyant decorations for Christmas Eve, Day, and the Twelve Days. Some people hold off on any decorations until Christmas Eve, while others bring out certain items on certain days slowly decorating the home over the Advent Season. (We bring out St. Nick decorations, the Scandinavian ones on St. Lucia Day, we light the tree on St. Lucia Day - but no ornaments, and then on Christmas Eve we decorate the tree and put out the rest of our fun decorations.)

My messy kitchen in the middle of making yummy
Christmas treats.
:-: Special Advent Family Reading - Find a lovely story or devotional that you might read together as a family during Advent. There are some nice devotional stories that you might use...or even something classic like "A Christmas Carol", "The Gift of the Magi", or books with wonderful Christmas scenes in them like "Little House on the Prairie", "Wind in the Willows", "The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew", or "Little Women". What I love about these types of books is that the story can be timed to reach the Christmas scene just before Christmas arrives - or just after. Here are some other book suggestions for Advent reading.

However you choose to celebrate or keep Advent, I pray it will be a truly blessed one for you and your family! 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Poem for Advent 1

Sunday before Advent
by Christina Rossetti

The end of all things is at hand.  We all
Stand in the balance trembling as we stand;
Of if not trembling, tottering to a fall.
The end of all things is at hand.

O hearts of men, covet the unending land!
O hearts of men, covet the musical,
Sweet, never-ending waters of that strand!

While Earth shows poor, a slippery rolling ball,
And Hell looms vast, a gulf unplumbed, unspanned
And Heaven flings wide its gates to great and small,
The end of all things is at hand.

Behind on Advent already

A very late arrival home from Thanksgiving travels (midnight last night) has me catching up on Advent preparations today.  Sweet hubby dug out the Advent box this afternoon just before he hustled a car-load of children out the door (all ours, minus the baby, and two neighbors) to a church dinner and bonfire at a friend's farm near by.  So, Baby L (who slept for nearly 15 hours!) is enjoying, I'm not exaggerating, a very late breakfast (yes, it is 4pm)/early dinner (what do you call that, brinner?), while I dig through the Advent box.

I was happy to discover a bit of unremembered organization: Somehow last year I made an Advent/Christmas/Epiphany binder.  How do I not remember doing such a wise thing?  And then I even remembered to put it in the Advent box so I'd find it first thing this year?  My, my!  I was an organized thing last year.  And to top it off, I still have perfectly good candles for my advent wreath.  Which is good, because I suspect that there will be a scarcity of pink and purple candles at Michael's and Hobby Lobby this week.  And if I don't start something on time, I'm unlikely to try to catch up.  Which is silly, because "better late than never" is not always true, but in the case of Advent I believe it is!

So, if you are a bit behind, like me, it really isn't too late!  

Here are some ideas and links to get you started:

Leila, at Like Mother, Like Daughter, has begun blogging about her Advent, but I found this delightful introduction to decorating for Advent in her archives.  I really love her suggestion to decorate with bits of nature that seem to express an expectancy!

Ann Voskamp has created a lovely devotional for use with a Jesse Tree.  We've not done a Jesse Tree before, but I think this might be the year we do.  The devotional is free and it is a treasure!  And you don't need to search for the Jesse Tree ornaments, just print and cut out the ones included with the ebook.

Do you need "baby steps" for celebrating Advent?  Check out Jennifer Fulwiler's post on just that.

Blessings to you tonight!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Autumn in our new home

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).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Christ the King Sunday - November 22, 2010

Much like our desire to ring out the old (calendar year), Christ the King Sunday is a great way to celebrate out the old liturgical year and look forward to the new one beginning on the first Sunday of Advent: November 28th.

We've yet to pull off a celebration of Christ the King Sunday, and this year will most likely not be different,   but it isn't too late if you've got a mind to do it!

Here are some links:

:-: It might be a little late to plan a full parish celebration (but what a great idea to tuck away for next year), but you could take some of the craft and activity ideas and scale them down for a family celebration.

:-: And updated coloring page from the new Catholic Mom website.

:-: Proclaiming Faith has readings and activity suggestions - a wealth of information.

This Sunday would also be a great Sunday to talk as a family about your Advent plans and start your own Advent countdown!   Before Thanksgiving, I'll post some links and ideas to get your Advent appetite whet.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Countdown to Advent

11 days to Advent!  
(said in a slightly enthusiastic and slightly overwhelmed tone) 

I am so unprepared.  Can I even find the Advent box?  I remember seeing it somewhere at some point in this move, but where it has ended up is not so fresh in my mind.  Perhaps hubby knows.  I sure hope so.

So, anyway - a countdown to Advent, or rather, MY countdown to Advent.

1. Find the Advent box (makes a good number one, wouldn't you say?).

2. Determine if my candles are in good shape for this year's wreath or if we need fresh ones.

3. Decide if I want to use the pewter wreath or one with greenery this year...I do have a lovely holly bush this year.

4. Think about other ways to decorate the house for Advent (less, more, or the same as previous years?).

5. Consider other celebrations for this year's Advent...or just keep to the ones we know and love.  Also, I hope to focus on the penitential nature of the season by keeping a modest fast, so I'll consider what that will look like, too. (personal only or with the family and how will we fast?)

6. Gather my St. Nick and St. Lucia books, recipes, etc and organize our plans for those celebrations.

7. Make a shopping list for supplies needed (candles, baking needs, wreath needs, decorations).  Shop for those we need before the start of Advent.

8. Make the advent wreath, or at least just dig it out of the box. Then decide where to place the wreath: dining room table, kitchen table, buffet (in kitchen), or somewhere else.

9. Torture myself by downloading someone's "get ready for Christmas" calendar that starts in September, in a
fit trash it and make my own.  Surely, 27 days is plenty, right?

10. Plan Advent season meals (we will try a modest fast for Advent).

11. Breathe deeply and remind myself that a little is better than nothing, then: Celebrate our first evening of Advent! 

What are you doing to get ready for Advent...something I've missed?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Will she be a famous herpetologist?

You know she always has surprised us with her lack of squeamishness concerning creepy-crawlies.  (Just ask me about the giant bin of massive plastic bugs she got as a two year old.)  She loves bugs and spiders and, apparently, lizards.  I mean green anoles are pretty harmless lizards, but still I won't touch them!  

Just so you know, this is now the image on  my computer desktop!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I'd like to introduce you to a new member of the family...

This is King Louie (we think Louie is a "him" otherwise we'll call the cat Louise, I guess) .  H found him  in a dumpster at a nearby home site a week ago.  He was feasting on all the scraps left by the builders, I guess, because he was not a scrawny cat.  Slightly thin, but pretty darn healthy. 

We took him on a temporary basis, but darn if he isn't a sweet cat!  His purr is Mack Truck loud and he's a pretty decent cuddle-buddy.  Not only that he's already used to doing "his business" outside - half the battle of a new pet!

Anyway - it was up to Erik if we kept him permanently or not as he had the most objections (well-founded ones, seriously - do we need one more creature in this house?).  I guess Louie worked his kitty-magic, cause Erik decided last night that he could stay!

Now he's got to make peace with the dogs.  Really, they just like him a little too much for his comfort.

This week while we've been enjoying getting to know him a bit, H found this funny video.  The cat looks quite a bit like Louie:

I'll just let you know - Louie is NOT a mean kitty.  :)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What a face!

Two years ago she was a little one on the other side of the Atlantic who needed a family.  The agency called to tell us they had a referral and would we like a photo?  (Um, YEA!)  When the photo came through, we all crowded around the computer to see her precious face - our soon-to-be daughter and sister.  
At the first glimpse, we giggled and danced with joy - and we still do!
We give thanks for you, Baby L!