an imperfect, happy Christmas

DSC_0190DSC_0193DSC_0195DSC_0196DSC_0197DSC_0202DSC_0215DSC_0219DSC_0223DSC_0228DSC_0232DSC_0236DSC_0245DSC_0251DSC_0253DSC_0256DSC_0258DSC_0261DSC_0270DSC_0276DSC_0282DSC_0295DSC_0302DSC_0304DSC_0309DSC_0311DSC_0312DSC_0327DSC_0329DSC_0330DSC_0333DSC_03380DSC_0342DSC_0350DSC_0353DSC_0360DSC_0369DSC_0370DSC_0372DSC_0377DSC_0378DSC_0385DSC_0387DSC_0391DSC_0402DSC_0406DSC_0410DSC_0417DSC_0418

“My discomfort with the gifts was a result of the circumstances that rendered me impotent to deal with buying them.  By the very nature of things, there was a limit to the time that could be expended in acquiring them and an even greater limit to the money that could be spent.  While the season’s moralizers will always claim that the amount spent is not important (“It’s the thought that counts”), intelligence and simple observation militate strongly against that position.  The thought behind a standard boy’s bike and the feel of a ten-speed racer under that same boy are very, very unequal to a fourteen year old.  In 1984, they were also very unequal to my checkbook.

That year, the inequalities and loss of time were multiplied by children, children-in-law, grandchildren, grandmothers, and godparents.  The real issue, however, was that children need to experience the security and the largess of having those this-world things that help them fit easily into the patterns and flow of their own lives, both social and domestic, private and public.  For fourteen year olds in a farming village, that meant ten-speed racers…

Gifting is a way to demonstrate love.  It requires that we study another so intensely as to perceive his or her unspoken desires and meet them.  It means to startle with the unexpected, the perfectly chosen.  For our children we had always seen it as a way to form a thankful and satisfied adult, to create a readiness for generosity, the early habits of appreciation, and a sense of blessedness.”

I read these words by Phyllis Tickle in her short book of stories from her farm called What the Land Already Knows early in the month of December.  A small little book, yet multiple times in the dark night while I would be reading it, tears would prick my eyes.  Yes, to feel overwhelmed with the December things–the gift buying, the desire to bless our children and hope to provide them with hearts that understand what it feels like to both receive and give generously.  The desire to spend our affections richly on the One to whom the seasons is all about, Jesus, the babe in the manger.  The tug and pull of gatherings, pageants, birthdays, meals, Advent readings, the gift buying and wrapping (which largely falls on me and it can bring such weariness even though it is a joy).  The questioning of ourselves–are we spending ourselves (both our time and money) well in this season?  Are we giving our children too much?  Too little?

Her words brought freedom and the reminder of what it’s like to be a child–to hope for an item and to receive it.  To anticipate the good gifts of Christmas morning, to work through the ungratefulness and dissatisfaction in our hearts that can sometimes follow.  Her words helped me as a mother to wrestle my own guilt and frustrations with myself down–we are finite, limited.  We have so many pressures in these years with little ones and so few resources.  We cannot hope to dance through this season perfectly, we will mostly limp through it held up by the gracious and loving arms of the babe who came to save us.

This Christmas morning began with a child who wet the bed and then a screaming baby woken up too early.  I had slept quite poorly and had a hard time being in a good mood until well into the afternoon, unfortunately.  I apologized multiple times to everyone and was mostly very grateful that Brandon was unusually chipper and unaffected by my grouchiness.  Three different loved ones gave me products intended to help puffy, tired eyes this year and I do so hope these products do the job! 🙂

We had filled the children’s stockings with dried fruits from nuts.com, chocolates, a stainless steel cup, pencils, a couple of small toys, as well as a pair of knitting needles.  Yes, everyone got needles because all three older children are asking now for knitting needles and yarn. 🙂  Phoebe wanted her first pair of circular needles, which I had told her she would receive if she stuck with a knitted project and finished it.  (She has mostly done that).  Wren received some new rubber bath toys, her first glass sippy cup, new spoons, a rainbow stacker and a ball.  Each child got a book, one smaller item they wanted, and then one larger item.  Grandparents had sent along new pajamas, dried mangoes, books and such, plus one larger gift: a trampoline!  Both Brandon and I had gifts from secret santas (my family drew names for Christmas) and we both got each other a few things when in previous years we haven’t simply because of inability.  He bought me a beautiful pendant necklace (theres just something so romantic and lovely about a man giving jewelry to his girl).  He treated me to way too many bath salts, lotions, candles, as well as a new ball winder which feels heavenly to use.  I treated him to some new tools and carhartt overalls, a new belt and hat.  He spent the remainder of the day putting together Phoebes bike and the trampoline and we had a simple dinner of veggies/hummus, cheese and sandwich meat with a little bit of sushi (my favorite!) from our favorite local spot.

After baths and reading together the children treated us to a surprise performance of the nativity while they requested I play “Silent Night” on the piano.  It was so precious and sweet and it blessed me so — yes, when it’s all said and done and they’ve been inundated with far more than they really need by way of material items, they do understand what this season is all about.  We’ve been remembering the waiting for the Savior and what it’s like to hang in the long dark waiting for His coming and then to celebrate His arrival, Immanuel, God with us.  How we need Him!  What a miracle it is, God wrapped in such small, frail human flesh–given to us.

It was a Merry Christmas filled with the usual interruptions, bad attitudes, apologies, forgiveness, snuggles, joy and laughter that typically fill a family’s day.  All this holy wrapped up and tucked into all this ordinary.  I hope it was a Merry Christmas for you too, dear reader.  May these days leading up to the New Year be filled with sweet reflections, peace, and joy!

ps. I’ll pop back in here soon with photos from both Noah’s and Phoebe’s birthdays. ❤

snow for a week

DSC_0001DSC_0003 (1)DSC_0009DSC_0013DSC_0017DSC_0020DSC_0025DSC_0027DSC_0036DSC_0037DSC_0038DSC_0040DSC_0041DSC_0044DSC_0046DSC_0047DSC_0049DSC_0050DSC_0053DSC_0063DSC_0068DSC_0001 (1)DSC_0003 (2)DSC_0006DSC_0007DSC_0008DSC_0010DSC_0011DSC_0003 (3)DSC_0005DSC_0009 (2)DSC_0011 (1)DSC_0010 (1)DSC_0015DSC_0016DSC_0008 (1)DSC_0017 (1)

Last week we had the biggest snow we’ve potentially had in many years here in North Carolina, and we personally had close to 16 inches.  It stayed on the ground for most of last week and today is the first day we’ve really seen the sun and the ground since then.  Everyone enjoyed it so much and somehow we managed to have electricity throughout the entire storm, while many of our neighbors went for days without power.  It was neat seeing the neighborhood pull together to help one another, checking in on the elderly and those without power and offering to help where needed.  We enjoyed a lot of time out in the snow and also keeping our hands busy inside with a few crafts like stringing up dried oranges for garlands both inside and out (for the birds), paper snowflakes, cookie making, painting, christmas movies, etc.  It’s been good to take a break from our usual school work to make time for these activities and just being together, but of course it isn’t perfect.  We still have a lot of bickering and momma getting frustrated with the soggy layers all over the floor and the messes everywhere I turn, but it has been good just the same.  I’m such a work in progress when it comes to patience and grace with my children, and I’m making a concerted effort to do things together this holiday season that are fun for them even if they’re a bit stressful for me.

We went to the Christmas pageant at our church, and we went to our small local mall to send off a package and walk around (i.e.: let the children run and blow off some pent up energy) and happened to visit with Santa while we were there.  I think it’s the first time any of my kids have sat on Santa’s lap and given their Christmas requests.  It was pretty cute and we had some good conversation afterwards, and I remembered so many visits to the mall with my family during Christmas time when I was growing up.

Yesterday we went into downtown Asheville for a Christmas brunch with my family that’s local, since we all help with my dad’s remodeling business in one way or another.  We usually eat out (when we do eat out together) at Posana’s restaurant because it has an entirely gluten-free kitchen and it’s one place we feel safe letting Phoebe eat.  It is a huge treat, thank you mom and dad!  It was windy and cold, but still fun to walk all around and see the Christmas decorations.  Phoebe wanted to take a picture of me (I’m wearing my Timber cardigan and Campside shawl!) and I’m thankful she did, even if I don’t love being in front of the camera.

Over the weekend we went to the annual open house at our favorite pottery place in Brevard, NC and then visited with our old neighbors there for a few hours which was such a treat.  (Elizabeth, if you’re reading, you know I’m talking about your grandparents!) 🙂

Evenings during Advent are spent gathered around our advent wreath, coloring ornaments for the Jesse tree as we read through Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.  Last night we lit the “joy” candle and it’s hard to believe we are just a few days away from Christmas.  Noah turns six on Thursday, Phoebe turns eight on Sunday and then Christmas is upon us.  It’s going to be a very full week ahead!

I hope you’re staying cozy and warm, enjoying these last few days of anticipation.

winter rose

DSC_0263DSC_0258DSC_0255DSC_0260DSC_0265DSC_0272DSC_0274DSC_0278DSC_0279DSC_0281DSC_0285DSC_0287DSC_0290DSC_0291DSC_0295DSC_0303DSC_0305DSC_0312DSC_0319DSC_0320DSC_0328DSC_0331DSC_0336DSC_0353DSC_0354DSC_0361DSC_0367DSC_0368DSC_0397DSC_0398DSC_0020DSC_0022DSC_0404 (1)DSC_0384 (1)DSC_0390DSC_0405DSC_0409DSC_0414DSC_0418DSC_0427DSC_0435DSC_044025659864_10155727648787605_5494365096809708878_nDSC_0005DSC_0007DSC_0012DSC_0005 (2)DSC_0004DSC_0012 (1)DSC_0015DSC_0016DSC_0026DSC_0034

Christmas morning dawned beautifully here.  The light did somehow seem different–rosy pink, fresh, full of new life.  The children were up not too early, mostly their usual time, while I was busy making coffee and grain-free cinnamon rolls.  I had saved a little frosting from Phoebe’s cake to put on top of the cinnamon rolls and they were heavenly.  We opened stockings first, giving them our usual things–socks, underwear, toothbrushes, candies and dried fruits, some purple sock yarn for phoebe, a toy car for noah, a bath toy turtle for philippa.  Just little items, over which they took such joy!  (As I’m typing this I just now remembered I forgot to tuck one little gift into Noah and Phoebe’s stocking!  Ahh!  My poor brain.  Lately I really feel worn down, brain tired.  It doesn’t bode well for starting school back up with phoebe next week.)  After stockings, we had breakfast and read the Christmas story from the scriptures, and then commenced opening gifts under the tree.

We told the children in the fall that the play gym we were working on for them would be their big christmas gift.  I had bought each of them a coloring book and a chalkboard slate (really actually need these for school), but otherwise we didn’t have presents for them to open Christmas morning.  They had a couple gifts from grandparents to open, and their Hape Mine Mountain train toy was a huge hit!  Brandon gifted me a Fringe Supply project bag which I love, and some sock yarn that I’ve been eyeing for awhile.  I bought him a warm Carhartt coat for work.  I did manage to finish knitting his beanie at midnight on Christmas Eve, just in the “nick” of time, as they say.  Brandon and I had been talking about getting a family gift of a kitty for the kids, but kept going back and forth about the timing and whether or not we really could afford to take on a pet right now.  It’s been years since we’ve had any pets and I admit, it’s been so nice!  I kept imagining a little white kitten in a box under the tree, and a few days before Christmas Brandon visited a local shelter and adopted one.  Some kind friends cat-sat her for us until Christmas Eve, and we kept her hidden in the sunroom while the kids slept.  We had them each open a part of the family gift–a set of bowls, a cat bed, a cat toy–and then they opened the box she was in.  Their reaction was quieter than we expected, I think they were shocked that there was a real live animal right in our living room.  Slowly the giggles and glee and squeals took over!  It’s been such a joy the last few days to see them interact with her, care for her, figure out how to pick her up carefully or get her to play with them.  We don’t know much of her backstory, but she is 3 months old and the shelter had named her Belmont, but the kids have decided to name her Winter Rose, and mostly are just calling her Rose. I am slowly warming up to her, too, kittens are just irresistible.  I am, however, holding to my position that she be an outside cat come spring.

After Christmas morning we had a small lunch and then headed out for a hike instead of putting kids down for naps.  It was absolutely freezing here, but I was especially craving some time out on the quiet parkway nearby, so we drove a short way up and hopped on the Mountain to Sea trail for a bit of a hike.  Despite my bad back pain (which has been the worst this pregnancy) it was still so nice to be out breathing fresh cold mountain air for a bit.  We came home and Brandon helped me make a simple Christmas dinner just for us–baked ham, scalloped potatoes, and a salad of mixed greens, citrus + pomegranate.  I had hoped to make a cherry pie for Brandon, but just didn’t have the energy to pull it off.  I will surprise him with one soon, he’s been waiting for one since Thanksgiving.  I’m feeling really weary after all the kid’s birthdays, holiday celebrations, and I’m looking forward to the next couple months which will hopefully be more quiet until baby comes in February.

It was a simple day spent together, and there was some quiet ache in the midst of all the beauty–the longing for things we can’t quite name that always seems to be stirred up on Christmas day.  The children were happy and we were tired and happy with them.  I think our Advent season this year was one of my favorites–as they get older, it is so rewarding to see them learn and understand and process.  It’s sad to let it go, and today I think I’ll begin packing away some of the decorations.  But our hearts are full from the time together and our minds are turning now to the new year and whatever hopeful things may be in store for us in it.

I hope you had a lovely Christmas and are enjoying these last few days of 2017, and that the year to come is full of hope and promise and joy for you!  I’ll be back to share pictures from Noah and Phoebe’s birthday soon.

first snow

DSC_0063DSC_0065DSC_0071DSC_0076DSC_0080DSC_0081DSC_0085DSC_0088DSC_0095DSC_0092DSC_0097DSC_0099DSC_0102DSC_0103DSC_0104DSC_0109DSC_0110DSC_0111DSC_0112DSC_0113DSC_0114DSC_0116DSC_0118DSC_0119DSC_0121DSC_0123DSC_0126DSC_0127DSC_0128DSC_0129DSC_0132DSC_0133DSC_0135DSC_0144DSC_0150DSC_0139DSC_0142DSC_0151DSC_0152DSC_0154DSC_0156DSC_0158DSC_0167DSC_0008DSC_0012DSC_0016DSC_0019DSC_0023DSC_0029DSC_0032DSC_0034 (1)DSC_0059DSC_0036DSC_0018 (3)DSC_0024

The “first” everything in this home is special, as we are still finding our way in these four walls.  Decorating the house for the Christmas season is new, finding new homes for old favorite decorations.

I’ve been looking forward to our first snow in this home for a long time, really since before we bought the home.  Last February we were out of our rental, living temporarily with my parents while waiting to close on this home, and we drove over one day to drive by the house on a snowy day.  The neighborhood was transformed, so quiet and pretty and white, and we couldn’t wait for the day when we’d be building snowmen in the yard and tracking footprints all over the yard in our own fresh snow.

The snow began early in the morning before the kids were up, and it just kept coming and coming, all day long.  We had a playdate at a friend’s house and had a blast playing in the snow together with them, stayed through lunch and then realized the roads were quite covered and we had better hurry home.  We slid around all the way, but made it safely.  I had the kids rest briefly but then we couldn’t bear to not be out playing in it all.  Daddy came home from work early with milk and a couple other provisions and we prepared to hunker down for the weekend.  We were prepared to lose power, as some other folks around us had, but miraculously we didn’t.  Church was canceled on Sunday but our roads were relatively clear by then, so we headed instead to our very favorite pottery place in a nearby town, where we have gone every Christmas season since before Phoebe was born.  They have an open house the second weekend of December usually, and you can get a free small pottery mug (per person) and they have hot cider, snacks and treats, live folksy music, and crafts for kids.  We often buy a little christmas ornament or something there to support them and it’s just one of the most Christmasy feeling things we look forward to doing during the season.  So festive and fun.  We try to get a picture every year in front of their cheery red door.

Otherwise, I’ve attempted to keep our December still and quiet.  Advent readings and Christmas hymns begin and end our days.  We’ve made yummy grain-free Christmas cookies (though I never got around to making icing for them) similar to these.  We decorated the tree one evening and remembered all our favorite ornaments.  I treasure the junky kid-made ornaments, especially the ones from last year that Phoebe made while in the hospital in Winston Salem waiting for her endoscopy procedure.  My, what can change in a year’s time.  Phoebe has been practicing for weeks at church to sing in the Christmas children’s choir, and she requested a solo.  They sang last Sunday and what a joy it was to see her do so well, and to see her making new friends at our new church home.

This week is busy with birthday celebrations and today will probably be our quietest day until after Christmas.  Phoebe turns 7 tomorrow and I still have a few things to do to prepare.  Mostly, I just can’t believe that teeny tiny baby girl has gotten so big, grown-up, sophisticated and smart.  Sob.  With little ones, our lives are filled with change even as we try to nail a few things down around us.

I hope your December has been cheerful and meaningful thus far, and that you are enjoying these last few days before Christmas.  If I don’t pop in here before then, Merry Christmas to you and yours!  May you find Jesus to be enough for you, the very fulness of joy, and every other good merely the overflow of His grace.

 

looking back

I feel sort of silly posting about Christmas, but a blogger friend reminded me recently that we blog in part to keep a little family scrapbook.  I sort of hate how quickly everything moves, everyone always looking ahead to the next thing.  We can’t help it.  In some ways it is our nature, our way of hurrying on ahead of the unpleasantness of the moment we’re currently in.  Casting our eyes onto the hazy future that looks so much more appealing than this dreary now.  Anyway.

So here are some snaps from our Christmas of 2016.  A sweet little Christmas it was.  Being that we have two kids’ birthdays that week, we try to keep things really slow and minimal in terms of festivities we are running around to.  Brandon’s sister came to stay with us for Christmas weekend, which was a real treat for us and the kids!  She surprised us with an awesome family gift of a telescope.  We are really excited to play around with it more, especially as we talk about constellations soon in our homeschool co-op.  We decided not to do any gift opening on Christmas Eve.  We had a quiet evening together instead, and did a little singing by the candlelight.  Christmas morning the kids slept in until maybe 8 am I think, until we finally went and woke them up.  We hadn’t put any gifts out around the tree until after they were in bed on Christmas Eve so that little hands wouldn’t be messing with presents, and we hoped it would be a delight to them to see how full the tree was with presents.  Brandon and I tried to buy each child only one main Christmas gift and then fill their stockings with little fun and practical things.  They were completely showered by grandparents and aunties and uncles.  Our parents absolutely spoiled Brandon and I, too.  I know gift-giving gets a bad rap in our day and age, and in some ways we wrestle with that as well.  How quickly our hearts make Christmas about someone giving us something!  Or about getting that “perfect gift” for our kids.  There may be some years ahead where we choose not to exchange gifts.  For now, it is really the only time of year that we wrap up gifts for one another and it is such a joy to give to do so.

I was surprised this year with how well Christmas morning went.  We had a Christmas a couple of years ago where everyone single one of us cried that morning at some point and it took us awhile to recover the day.  We were bracing ourselves for lots of squabbling and grumpiness and dissatisfaction, but our children really enjoyed themselves and watching each other open gifts.

When the kids woke up we let them open stockings.  Daddy read them the Christmas story from the bible.  Then we had breakfast, a yummy gluten-free coffee cake with eggs and bacon.

We filled their stockings with some gluten-free chocolates and candies, new wooden brushes for the girls (because they are always stealing mine), a wooden snake for noah, new water bottles, a knitting fork for phoebe, a small set of blocks for philippa, a lacing toy each for phoebe and noah, and bonnets for the girls.  Phoebe has loved hers, Philippa still won’t let me try hers on.  She’s not a big fan of hats or hair ties.  But I plan to use them a ton in the summer as they offer such great coverage!

After breakfast we began opening gifts.  They received so many fun things from family members: new dresses and tights for the girls, a new sweater for noah, a toy plane and matchbox car semi truck for noah, lots of crafty things like a beginning knitters kit for phoebe and beeswax modeling sheets (since we can’t have play dough in the house).  A toy drum and tea set for philippa.  Some new books.  Our gift to Phoebe was an indian dress-up costume and a nice bow and arrow set.  She has been obsessed with playing “indians” (I’m sure that is not PC to say anymore) since reading Island of the Blue Dolphins and the Indian Captive earlier in the year.  We gave Noah a big truck that carries a yellow excavator on the back.  It was Brandon’s idea, I thought it was a bit redundant but he informed me that a boy can never have too many trucks.  We gave Philippa a wooden dollhouse.

Brandon really loved the hat I knitted for him, and I’m relieved that it fit and that he likes the color and fit of the hat, being I wasn’t able to try it on him.  My parents gave us a gorgeous pottery dish set made by a friend of theirs.  Eight new plates, mugs, and bowls!  It got me really excited about moving and hopefully buying our first home soon.  I’ve packed them away for now, to wait until that day when we can open them in our new home.

As the Lord would have it, I was reading to the kids in our bible study time this morning from Luke chapter 2.  We were reflecting back on the prophecy in Micah about a savior being born in the city of Bethlehem.  Caesar Augustus ordered a census, which caused Mary and Joseph to have to make the long trek to the city of their family’s heritage.  Bethlehem.  Virgin Mary, pregnant with the Son of God.  Making it to the city of Bethlehem just in time for that baby boy to be born.  Because of the order of the Roman governor.  According to the timeframe and perfect foreknowledge of our God.  In the fulness of time, at just the right time (Gal. 4:4) the Savior was born.  God’s time and way works within and through the circumstances of human history.  It bends and obeys Him, unbeknownst to it.

So even know, with January well under way and my mind full with what is ahead in the year 2017, Christmas still teaches.  In the fulness of time, at just the right time–God will work for you and for I in the very human circumstances of our lives.

merry + bright

dsc_0007-1dsc_0006dsc_0033dsc_0042dsc_0007dsc_0010dsc_0011dsc_0016dsc_0022dsc_0026dsc_0028dsc_0031dsc_0033-1dsc_0036-1dsc_0037dsc_0039-1dsc_0042-1dsc_0043dsc_0045dsc_0047dsc_0050dsc_0052dsc_0055dsc_0001dsc_0004dsc_0012-1dsc_0015dsc_0016-1dsc_0023dsc_0022-1dsc_0025-1dsc_0028-1dsc_0031-1dsc_0032dsc_0035dsc_0037dsc_0039-1dsc_0043dsc_0044dsc_0051dsc_0054dsc_0058dsc_0060dsc_0064dsc_0090dsc_0092dsc_0094dsc_0097dsc_0098dsc_0101dsc_0104

December rolls in and we hang stockings and hang Advent ornaments on our Jesse tree.  We bake Christmas cookies and go to holiday parades.  We snuggle up and read books and make holly wreaths.  We watch Christmas movies, and I keep busy with gift knitting.  We go to our favorite nearby pottery place for their holiday open house, pick out free pottery cups while listening to live music, and the kids play in the clay.  We squeeze in as much time with family as we can.  Brandon’s parents came up this past weekend after we got back from Phoebe’s procedure in Winston Salem.  They took Noah for the day on Friday to the Polar Express and then spent the day with us Saturday.  We pretended it was Christmas morning and the kids opened their birthday and Christmas gifts from the grandparents.  Such thoughtful and fun imaginative gifts.  Nain made dresses for the girls for their birthdays, and they together made Noah a remote-control Mater truck from a ‘build-a-truck’ store near where they live in SC.  They bought all of the kids puppets and a puppet stage for their Christmas gift.  Nain gave Phoebe a painting she made for her.  Her paintings are extra special because they are bathed in prayer.  She prays over colors and then begins to paint, then pulls out what she sees.  This one was for “princess braveheart Phoebe,” which is their nickname for her, and appropriate considering the day Phoebe had had on Friday.  I love it and I think it will always be a treasure for Phoebe, too.  I’m thankful Christmas is a bit spread out all over this month.  I’m thankful for our daily Advent readings that ground us and keep us feasting on God’s word, keeping our appetites hungry for Him more than all the material things and activities surrounding this season.

Now, I’m off because dinner must be made and things prepped for a little boy who is turning four tomorrow.  I hope your season is merry + bright all the way to the end.