Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent Journal: Season's Greetings

The other day I heard a woman say that she decorates her house for Christmas on the Friday after Thanksgiving and then takes everything down on December 26th. While I think people should observe the season as best they see fit, I have to say this approach to the holidays strikes me as supremely wrong-headed.

I know, I know. If you've had a tree up since late November, it's a definite fire hazard by the day after and you need to get it down. I get that part.

And I also know that a lot of folks celebrating Christmas are not religious, and so they're free to say "Game over" whenever they want. I get that, too.

Still, the idea of Christmas skidding to a halt at midnight December 25th is depressing. To me, Christmas really, truly begins on Christmas Eve. Before then, you might have some Christmas moments--feelings of good will when someone lets you cut into traffic, small moments of peace, especially when you hear Nat King Cole sing "O Holy Night" while you're making Christmas cookies--but not that deep, holy feeling of Christmas.

Do you know the feeling I mean? I was not a particularly religious child, but I remember getting that holy feeling as my brothers and I delivered loaves of banana bread for my mother late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. The sky would be that glorious pink sinking into purple as we set out, and you could see the neighbors' trees in their windows. My brothers and I would sing Christmas carols and wonder outloud how we'd ever fall asleep that night. It would be dark by the time we got home. We'd turn out all the lights in the living room and sit in front of the tree until dinner, everything hushed and magical.

I don't think you have to have religious faith to get that holy feeling. I think it's there for everyone, free of charge, a gift from God. We may have given up on church, call ourselves "spiritual but not religious," call ourselves nothing at all, but we still seek out those moments where our souls feel at peace.

In my family, we begin decorating two weeks before Christmas, but the true desire to decorate doesn't hit me until the 22nd or 23rd. Yesterday I hung tinsel in living room. It felt like I was getting ready for a party. Which, I suppose, I was. The party will really begin Christmas Eve and will go on for days after Christmas, as we feast and celebrate, sing and play.

I will think of that woman in her naked living room, her life gone back to normal, her party already over.


Yesterday, I started thinking about the books I got for Christmas as a child. Little Women, A Little Princess, Mandy by Julie Andrews, Island of the Blue Dolphins. I think my father--it would have been my father who bought the books--went to the bookstore and said, "What are the best books for a girl to read?"

I still get lots of books for Christmas, and the days after Christmas are a reading fest for me. The food is cooked, the house is cleaned, I'm not doing laundry. I'll take breaks to play games with the boys and to grab some more Chex mix, but mostly what I'll do is read, read, read.



I expect this will be my last post before Christmas. I hope your Christmas is lovely, filled with light, joyous, holy, healing, and, of course, merry. Rejoice!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent Journal: The Purge Continues

I just finished making the boys' lunches for tomorrow. I fear I'm not a very good lunch maker. I tend to make the same thing over and over until the boys beg for something new. Except they rarely do. Like me, they are mostly monogamous lunchers, seemingly happy to eat the same thing everyday.

(I fear their teachers judge me harshly on the monotony of my children's lunches.)

Still, it seems like I should try harder to put a little more pizazz into their midday meals. Well, maybe next year. Right now I'm looking forward to Christmas break and its attendant cease-fire, lunch-wise. I'll wait til January to figure out how to fit a leg of lamb into a Star Wars lunch box.


Last week was my busy-busy holiday week. I made lasagna for Jack's advisory group at Our Fine Middle School and close to a hundred glittery blue and gold stars and moons for the Very Beary Breakfast for Lunch party at Our Fine Lower School. Somehow I managed to sign up for two things, at two separate schools, on the same day at the very same time. If you've wondered why I haven't been posting much, there you have it.


The purge continues, but I'm running out of steam. I wish I could in good conscience just throw everything out in the trash, but I can't. Too much good stuff, or at least useful stuff. The problem is, it's hard to find a place to donate gently used toys. Most places only take new toys these days. Apparently there's a spot by a nearby Catholic church where you can put out a box of toys and they'll disappear like magic.

Anyway, there's been a lot of going through stuff and making the Pirate Ship Ahoy game has all its parts and the Fast Trax race car tracks has all its tracks and Mouse Trap has all its traps. This will wear you down after awhile. This will get you drinking very early in the day. Or at least thinking about it. "A glass of Cabernet would hit the spot right now," you think around 9:45 a.m., stranded in the middle of ten million Hot Wheels.

So I've got my heart set on straightening out the closet in my study and our bedroom closet, and then calling it a purge. The attic is too cold. And too out of control. Just too dang much.

When will I admit it: The attic will never, ever be purged? I need to accept this and move on with my life.


Last week I stood in the middle of a music shop called High Strung Violins and Guitars and auditioned fiddles. I am not a person who happily plays fiddle in front of other people, especially not in a store filled with accomplished musicians, so you can imagine this was all I needed of Hell. My fiddle teacher, who looks almost exactly like Santa Claus and is very dear, came with me, so that helped. He's used to how badly I play.

So that's my big Christmas present: A fiddle of my own. I've been playing for about a year now (I took a break last spring when I was traveling so much), and I'm better than I used to be, but still not much good.

My New Year's Resolution: To start going to the Tuesday night fiddle jam at High Strung. I've been saying I'm going to do this for over a year now, but now I really mean it. I'm gonna jam.


I've been good about keeping up with my Advent readings, but as with purging, I'm running out of Advent steam. This happens every year, though. I start out the Christmas season feeling spiritual as all get-out, and then by mid-month the craziness sets in. Santa Claus starts edging out Jesus.

I would spend more time ruminating on this, except I must go wrap presents. And bake banana bread. And run to the post office and the art supply store and get some stocking stuffers.

You get the picture. Sigh.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent Journal: The Purge

(The winter wheat survived its first winter storm.
Photo credit: The Man.)

I've done it. I've gone through the cupboard with all the orphaned tupperware lids and, yea, I have taken out the lids and verily I have put them in the recycling.

I have accepted that the mates to these lids are gone. They have run off to the wild rumpus, which is where wayward, wanton lids go.

I have kept the three or four containers that have lost their lids. They have some potential to be useful, and besides, there is something about a lidless container that makes you feel sorry for it. They're like men whose wives have left them for the milkmen. They've been duped, dumped, taken for granted. I am willing to give them a home until they decide to take a swim in the dishwasher and get melted into weird, unhelpful-for-food-storage shapes.

I have gone through the cabinet with the bowls and the 47 candlesticks we got for wedding gifts and the collection of candle stubs that I'm holding onto because ... because ... well, why am I holding onto those candle stubs? I finally forced myself to throw away the chipped cereal bowl that I've kept for years because one day I might make a mosaic table top. Really, I might.

I have been hating the clutter of these cabinets for well over a year, probably closer to two. Guess how long it took me to straighten them out? Fifteen minutes, tops.

(I believe the marigolds, a few days ago simply past their prime,
are now very much over. But didn't they go out pretty? Photo credit: The Man)

So, anyway, yes, I'm doing an Advent purge. We have too much stuff, and I'm tired of it. How can I prepare a straight path, as wildman John the B would have me do, if my pathways are stewn with candle stubs and chipped cereal bowls?

I spend most of my purge time today in Jack's room, going through his closets and taking out stuff he no longer plays with (or, in some cases, never played with--my kids have too much stuff!). Why, I ask you, why did he have one entire closet shelf piled with EMPTY Lego Starwars boxes? All the models have been built (and probably destroyed, their pieces dumped into the massive ocean of Lego flowing through our house), and yet, the boxes remain, gathering dust in some prime storage real estate.

Sometimes I do not understand my own life. Time to purge! Make straight the paths!


Jody asked what Advent book I was reading. It's a quite wonderful collection called God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas. It has readings for every day of Advent. Last week all entries were by Richard John Neuhaus; this week we hear from Scott Cairns. Other writers include Kathleen Norris and the poet Luci Shaw. There's a marvelous introduction by Eugene Peterson. It's a book I've thought about buying for years and am so glad I finally did.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent Journal

(The marigolds, almost done for, still delight me)

A storm blew through last night that swept the last of the leaves off the trees. Now the sky is bigger. Now the light pierces everything.

I'm trying to pay attention this Advent, which is something I try to do every Advent. Usually it's a lost cause by December 10th, when all the hurry and the stress sets in. But for these first four days at least, I've done the daily readings and written in my journal, and kept a candle lit as I've sat at the kitchen table and worked on a revision.

We'll see how long it lasts.

(Lettuce and greens in our messy garden)

"Forbid that we should stumble through this day oblivious to the wonder in the ordinary," pled one of my readings this morning. The same author informed me that finitum capax infiniti is the Latin for the finite is capable of the infinite.

This afternoon, driving to pick up Will from school, I glanced in my rear-view mirror to see the woman in the car behind me laughing and talking a mile a minute. A second glance revealed her audience, a chocolate brown Lab in the backseat. It was just the two of them in the car, and they both appeared to be having a grand time. It was absurdly cheering.

I am grieving today for my friend Jamie, whose father died yesterday. It's a strange thing, to feel grief on such a beautiful afternoon. And strange to laugh at the woman and the dog in my rear-view mirror while grieving. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, she said, and so I did both.

(There are carrots growing in this here pot; there are a couple right
around 3:00--look for very skinny green leaves)

Another excerpt from my reading: "Christmas forces us to deal with all the mess of our humanity in the context of God who has already entered that mess in the glorious birth of Jesus."

We expect so many wonderful things from this time of year, but year after year what we get is mess because what we are is a mess. Some of it's funny, but there's a lot of grief and sadness, addiction and depression, lack of love, lack of affection, just a lot of mess we'd rather not deal with, and feel somehow like we shouldn't have to deal with, not at Christmas.

But what better time? In the middle of our grief, in the middle of all our human messes, a reminder that the darkness doesn't win. The light wins. Watch for it.