Decorating the Tree

After a week of having our tree up with lights but no ornaments, we finally took the time to decorate it. As is probably common, it always takes me back to the trees of my youth. tree04.jpgWe had gorgeous trees at home – full of silver balls with red bows, silver garlands, and an ornate, glass-blown tree-topper. Everything matched and sparkled, and neighbors commented on its beauty and elegance. I loved it.

So imagine my consternation when my dear MrH proposed hanging his handmade, felt, cookiemonster ornament front and center our first Christmas! He shouldn’t even be on the tree, let alone front and center!! But over the past few years I’ve gained new appreciation for the unique memories attached to each ornament and have even added a few of my own. Our tree-decorating experience is now filled with stories (with plenty of room for more, as the tree is a bit sparse!). “Oh, that’s the one I made with my Little Sister – it was so crowded with little girls, thankfully we found a corner and just hung out to make these!” “Remember how A gave you that ornament one year? So thoughtful.” “Aww your cousin’s kid made that one didn’t she? She’d worked so hard on her ornaments.” “You gave me that one last year, it was my first ornament!” And the ornate, glass-blown topper from childhood? My parents gave it to me when they moved into their RV!

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We plan to add some more ornaments to our tree this year – maybe as gifts to one another, maybe we’ll pick something up during our big trip to Phoenix. Time will tell, but there is plenty of space.

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Rhythms of the Year

Winter is drawing me into its blanket. My favorite spot now is nearest the radiator, cup of steaming cocoa in hand. In summer, I sit in front of my open window, peeking through the leafy green foliage as it becomes thicker and greener. But in winter, the shades might as well stay drawn since the harsh, gray light just makes it feel colder. I dress in layers now not because it’s cute, but because it’s warm. And I limit my trips outdoors, blasting the heat in the car until my face feels dry. Soap gets replaced with body wash, and extra bottles of body lotion get stashed around the house.

New England. The seasons change here, our habits change, our rhythms are cyclical. I don’t know how I’d live in a place where this doesn’t happen. These subtle, grounding changes remind me of priorities; remind me of today’s preciousness; keep me attuned to the divine. Age-old traditions point to these same rhythms, imposing structure on an otherwise meaningless passing of time. This year, I feel drawn to the idea of advent, the idea that there is a season for expectant waiting and yearning. The idea that as a church body, we delve into these experiences together, and that over the course of the year, we “are presented in an organized way with the opportunity to talk about, reflect upon, and respond to the entire range of faith confessions that lie at the heart of the Christian Faith” (see here).

And so, as I do every year, I stock up on wool socks, dust off my sweaters, re-learn how the 4-wheel drive works, and plan warm evenings at home. I replace the bonfire with a crackling one in the fireplace (or a WoodWick candle for those of us who don’t have a fireplace!); the bike with the car; the baseball cap with a wool hat; and my iced coffee with a hot one. I all but hibernate, loving every second of it, knowing that soon my snowdrops will peek up through the snow and I’ll be readying my garden, still attuned to the presence of the divine.

The Warm Fuzzies

It’s officially December and we bought ourselves a Christmas tree! It’s taller than either of us, beautifully straight, and a little skinny so it actually fits into the spot we have for it. It’s symmetrical, full of fresh needles, and when I came downstairs this morning, the scent of fresh pine was unmistakable. It’s not yet decorated, just sitting in our living room – the first of (hopefully) many trees over many years. A center for cozy memories yet to be created, and warm memories to be re-lived.

Usually I wouldn’t dream of getting it yet, buying into the idea that it’s “too early.” But hey, we’re leaving for warmer weather for the week of Christmas, so might as well get some good-old Christmas tree-in-a-drafty-house feelings in first, right? Today is the coldest day of the year, so we got it just in time to hole up inside with mugs of hot chocolate, strands of lights to untangle, and our favorite ornaments to unwrap. And if that weren’t enough, I’m teaching two friends how to make Christmas stockings today! Pictures to follow! (with no promise of “tomorrow,” since last week’s purse still hasn’t made it on here). Keep warm!

A Whole New World

My mom is a pretty crafty lady. When her sister was little, she sewed Barbie clothes; before we were born, she knitted, crocheted, and cross-stitched; then when we were little, she sewed all our clothes (until they peer insecurities set in and things had to have a store label to be “cool”); throughout high school, she made quilts and taught at the local quilt shop; she’s on a beading/jewelry-making kick these days. And in between, I have seen more handiwork come from her hands than I can even recall.

Now some of this craftiness has certainly rubbed off on me, though I’m famous for not finishing projects. I vividly remember when my mom made me start paying for my own craft supplies, with the deal that she’d pay me back when I finished the projects. Even that didn’t motivate.

Imagine my exhilaration, then, at the fact that I have learned how to sew a clutch! Not just any clutch, but the cutest one I’ve ever dreamed of owning. I finished it in only a couple of hours while MrH stayed home late at work. Check her out: my-new-clutch-2.jpgmy-new-clutch-3-open.jpgmy-new-clutch-4-w-shirt.jpg

The other fun part about this is that as I was searching for some instructions on how to complete this project, I discovered the wonderful world of craft blogs! Now there is inspiration for you, let me tell you! Next up is this bag for which I just took an hour-long trip to a local fabric store. I’m always overwhelmed, but somehow my eye settles on something and I know that’s what it’s going to be. Curious? Check back tomorrow!

Around the Table

My small group just had the most lovely dinner together.  Now, it must be said that I am the “leader” and it was all my idea – so this post is purely my not at all unbiased opinion.  But really, we just had a simple bowl of hearty chili from Low-Fat Soul by Janell Nash.  My old chili recipe has definitely been replaced by this one!  Hearty, steamy, filling, and chock full of vegetables and beans. The only thing I’d change would be to add a second kind of bean in addition to the kidney beans.

A funny thing happens when people sit around a table together to share a meal.  I think it’s a well-known phenomenon, but one that never ceases to give me pause.  We were just four women, chatting and laughing.  On the surface our conversation appeared to lack depth, but the reality is that each of us shared something significant about ourselves and found a sense of affirmation that is often withheld during the daily bustle of life.  Sitting together and sharing a meal enables us to reclaim this particular bond of womanhood, and indeed, of personhood, in a way that warrants a moment of reflection.

At dinner we laugh more; we listen better; we agree more; we care more; and since our mouths of full of food, we give less advice and more empathy.  The more low-key the setting and the food, the more likely we are to experience this moment of togetherness.  When is the last time you encountered that?

Heroes

When disaster strikes, the wheat gets separated from the chafe. Is that how the expression goes? It does bring out the best or the worst in people. Two folks whom I deeply admire for their incredible response to Katrina are Dr. Irene McIntosh and Dr. Ed Cake. They are the ones who founded the D’Iberville Volunteer Foundation and have maintained it for the past 26 months. They have managed, together with their mayor, to make greater progress than any other town along the Gulf Coast. Check out a brief newscast about them here (at this point, they are the first newscast: 11/13 – and if you know how to embed this or link directly to it, please let me know!).

And I leave you with this question: when disaster hits you, will you be the wheat, or the chafe?

The Kindness of Strangers

I’m still thinking of how to talk about our last trip down to D’Iberville.  I’m SO glad that we went, though it was differently amazing this time than the first.  We did different kind of work, traveled with a different kind of group, and overall, had a different stay.  We were equally needed though, and we were in a good place.  I hope to go back soon.

What was also different, is that we were being filmed for a documentary!  A new friend, Ella, is creating an amazing documentary filled with stories of Gulf Coast residents and volunteers.  As I’m mulling over my experiences this trip, and until I have some photos to put up, please check out these two fantastic excerpts that Ella has so far.  And the more people watch these two brief videos, the greater the likelihood of it getting produced quickly.

Moving Towards Courage

My eyes are teary and there’s a little twist in my belly.  I just re-read my blog entries from our last D’Iberville trip and I’m reminded.  Having been happy-go-lucky about this second trip, someone thanked me today for having the courage to go back and do the hard work of rebuilding.

Wait a second.  Hard work?  Rebuilding?  Eek!  This is scary!  And now I’m reminded, too, of the emotional work; the spiritual growth.  How did I overlook those aspects?  What other aspects were there??

“Courage is just faith in action.”  I read that tonight and was struck by it.   Do I have enough faith that God will, again, provide for us?  That God will make this trip, too, fruitful for us and those we serve?  That our time together will bring us closer, and that we will be strong enough for the physical labor, sprinkled (or maybe even flooded) by the hard emotional work of listening?  Enough faith that I will walk away renewed, more faith-filled and faithful, and better knowing God?  If so, then I will have shown courage.

“Don’t be afraid, because I am with you. Don’t be intimidated; I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will support you with my victorious hand.” Isaiah 41:10

The Verdict

Remember our romantic getaway? Well, it was every bit as fabulous as imagined. Though we did settle on tacos (in a hard shell – no pitas for us!), they were quite tasty and a healthy base for the many beers enjoyed while watching the Sox beat the Indians at the local dive bar.

Sadly, that meant that my pumpkin risotto was neither made nor enjoyed! Last week I ventured to our local grocery store with the sketchy name, and left a cart full of risotto ingredients after I angrily ascertained that they did not, in fact, carry canned pumpkin. After some culinary escapades (and a new grocery store!), though, the risotto slid silky smooth from my wooden spoon into the bowl tonight. It’s a good thing I waited so long: MrH didn’t like the texture. Or the taste. Or the color. To me, it was fabulous. The first risotto I ever made. The first savory pumpkin dish I ever cooked. There were leeks, and vegetable broth. And pumpkin. The verdict? I will surely make this dish again – when my hubby’s not in town.

The leftovers may show up on my plate tomorrow night, as risotto cakes!

Phenomenal Woman

One of my favorite poems in college was Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman. There was something strengthening and upbuilding about it. Recently, some of my friends reintroduced me to it, and it’s interesting how different it feels to me now. Amy Sky did a great job putting the poem to music:

This poem speaks to the uniqueness of being woman.  Not man or girl or boy, but woman.  What is it saying to you?

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