The Advent Wreath

The woman who was 'hosting' the late-August yardsale must have been fond of candles, at some point.
She had an entire table full of the decorative sort that sell for big bucks at the 
tourist shops in vacation towns, priced for pennies. Maybe she finally got tired of dusting them? 
Perhaps she needed space on the holiday decor shelf?
Maybe her husband is a closet candle hoarder, and selling them was her sweet revenge.
Who knows - I bought a bunch of them with this in mind - 
a cheap and lovely advent wreath.
I've never done an advent wreath, neither formal or informal like this one, but have always wanted to.
While lighting one candle each Sunday of December, attention is focused on the 
coming of the Christ child and the anticipation of His second coming. 
More on the history of the advent tradition here.*
In my imagination, my family would have a deep spiritual experience while lighting and 
pondering the two advents. We might talk about our hopes and fears, 
sing "Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel", and take turns reading scriptures aloud. 
Of course, that is NOT the way it went.
There was a minor skirmish over who would light the candles, 
confusion around how to use the unfamiliar lighter which required 
pressing two switches in perfect coordination, and intense dinnertime hunger 
which completely blocked any soul-scraping discussions.  
I should know better than to spin expectations by now - I'm no rookie, after all.  
So it was what it was, and I pondered my own advent 
thoughts while passing the ranch dressing and dishing the potatoes.

I was reminded again of the wisdom of this little girl.  


Chat With Mary

What if you could have a cup of tea and a chat with Mary?
Roll some cookie dough or wrap a few gifts  together?
What kind of a neighbor do you think was; what sort of friend? 
Did she bubble over with the joy of youth, the first to make a joke, the instigator of pranks?
Or maybe she was a young woman of wisdom, with the gravity of 'knowing' to mark her demeanor. 
Did she parent with infinite calm, or did she occasionally lose it? 
I wonder if she was 'an excellent wife, who can find'  to Joseph. 

This cheap plastic figure of her sits on my mantle, reminding me to ponder and treasure up.
I make myself stop running Christmas-crazy and consider again her response to the angel who brought 
news that would turn her world upside down and inside out. 
"I am the Lord's servant ... may it happen to me as you've said."
And I ask the Lord to give me the same beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit
what a special Christmas gift that would be!

* a great sermon on Mary here


Christmas Music Without Hippos

We delay listening to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving, 
just so we don't get sick of the same old tunes repeating overandoverandover...

This season, we've been playing some actual albums found at a summer yardsale.
Henry Mancini is rocking our house, big band style, with his 1966 album, a Merry Mancini Christmas
It's been fun to hear holiday favorites accompanied by the subtle scratch of an old-school record player.

And by the way, the wonder of hearing the GOSPEL via Christmas music 
in the public marketplace, blaring through loudspeakers and store sound systems - 
that never gets old!
"... cast out our sin and enter in..."
"Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.."
" ... and with His blood mankind has bought..."
"His law is love, and His gospel is peace."
"Let every heart prepare Him room..."

We discovered Songza a couple years ago and now it plays almost daily during December. It's a free website offering multiple Christmas playlists. These lists are extensive - you've got to browse when you get a minute. Don't miss "Christmas at the Castle".
* Classical Christmas playlist - not a single mention of hippopotamuses or front teeth.
** Acoustic Guitar Christmas playlist - hard candy and washing in snow completely excluded.

      Songza Christmas playlists here.


Specializing in N&R

Holiday Nonsense and Ramblings
with links. 
Don't miss the links for extra fun and educational opportunities.

- 'Iced Berries'  While ice on the roads is awfully dangerous, ice on berries and winter vegetation is beautiful. This photo is from last year, the famed Polar Vortex Winter.

- Why doesn't Blogger add Jellyka King's Hat font?  It would be like wearing the most elegantly black six-inch stiletto heels with every outfit. It would make your writing look outstanding, even if it wasn't in actual fact. 
If only I could address my Christmas cards like this. 

- If you lived in the top .001% of the world's wealthy, would you get one of these for Christmas? Thank goodness the rest of us in the everyday throng are not going to be getting this 'under the tree'! I ask you who would, who could ever get up from there? Lord, preserve me from ever having enough to purchase a Dream Wave! 
(advertised on WLW during this morning's school drive. 
hello - know your audience!)

- A dear friend gave me a leather journal as a gift because she knows I have a love affair with blank paper. So I used it this morning. Who knows,  maybe this will be the first journal ever in which I write on more than fifteen pages. I'm a journal starter, not a journal continuer. That being confessed, I must contradict myself to say that I do have a journal in progress that I've added to for at least ten years. It's an old journal from 1963 that I found at a yardsale and snapped up for it's mid-century good looks. I record scriptures in this one - the game changers that demand to be written down and remembered. Occasionally, I'll add something that was said in a sermon or a conversation that proved to be rhema. But absolutely no pressure for a daily/weekly/monthly update - maybe that's the secret to persevering in journal-keeping.

- On recent grocery visits, I have collected the ingredients for buckeyes at least twice, only to put it all back and rush over to the plasticware department - or any department where chocolate is not sold. These cannot live in my house until Christmas week. It's our dysfunctional holiday tradition that I make a huge batch in early December, hide them for Christmas, and the male-type people around here sniff them out and devour them. But these fun and games will have to wait, or I the only thing I will get for Christmas is new pants.

- And it's not too late, and no one is too old to enjoy an Advent Calendar by Jacquie LawsonI buy myself one every year, and everyone ends up browsing it for themselves, no matter that they are burley men. 


Make Space for Joy

Imagine you're about to cross into the city to get your hands on an item sale priced for one day only 
when an angel shatters the atmosphere above the bridge, churning air and water with powerful wing beats. 

What if you're doing an ordinary grocery run when, just as you are pondering the actual
value of celery, a fiery, celestial being lights the entire store overhead?

Can you fathom cleaning the tub, washing the dishes, or taking out the trash 
when reality, as you know it, tears in half to make room for a new one? 

What about those Luke 2 shepherds?
NO ONE had visited from heaven in 400 years, so NO ONE could have been expecting what 
happened that night in the fields just outside Bethlehem. It would be as shocking for us as it was for those shepherds! After all, angels in Old Testament most often carried out God's wrath and were  greatly feared. 
Check this amazing example in 2 Samuel when David actually sees 
an angel who's busy killing disobedient Israelites.

So the first words from the mouth of that specially chosen angel make sense, right?
Fear Not!

The opening phrase of God's message graciously took away the need for fear 
and made space for the wonder of the next part of the message.
... Good news of great joy! ... a Savior!

It's still the same for us today, isn't it? 
We sit in traffic and feel the racing heartbeat of an anxiety attack working its way to full force;
ponder celery and worry about the grocery bill in light of lengthy unemployment;
clean the tub with Soft Scrub wet by tears, fearing for the wayward child.

I think we often don't experience wonder and joy (they go together) because it's too often crowded out 
by fear. Fear boxes out and holds the places in my heart meant for real JOY.

But we can set aside fear and follow the example of the shepherds. 
They heard the message, shook off fear and dread, and chased down the Good News.
This golden angel has kept watch at our Christmases for about ten years. I like his serene face and poised, not clasped, hands. In this photo, he stood high on a shelf in our living room, sometimes lit with candlelight.
This year, he faces toward the road from a side window.


Not Overcome

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
I'm memorizing John 1:1-18. 
I've done it before, but it always seeps away. 
Not ALL of it; some bits are always left behind.

Christmas lights are my constant reminder in December.

... the darkness has NOT overcome it...


Meek Souls

For me, the old Christmas hymns are part of pressing closer this Christmas . . . 
and stopping long enough to hear.
Lord give me ears to hear what your Spirit would say!
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is giv'n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heav'n.
No ear my hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in.

For many believers who came before us, a hymnal was the second most 
important book in their journey of faith. Find one and read the Christmas hymns 
this season and don't stop with the first verse! 
Who needs an online devotional after all?


Be Present

I made my Christmas prayer this past Sunday in church. 
Call it a goal, a wish, a sought for miracle ... whatever you like. 
It's an important part of my spiritual life during the Christmas season.

This Christmas, I'm going to try to edge closer to the manger, if you can picture it.
I want to breathe in the smells of the stable and be present in the wonder of Emmanuel, 
God coming to live among us, as one of us.
I want to peek over the edge of the feeding trough and behold 
instead of just looking on from a distance, my arms and head full of holiday tasks.

What are you hoping for this month? 
Do you have the boldness to ask Him for an extra gift, something for yourself?


Less is More

Somehow all the Christmas decor is in place, and it's only December 1st.
More seems to be less this season, and not ALL the usual items found their way out of 
the holiday totes. 

How sad for the ringing-bell-snowman who has taken his place in our living room every year for ... 15 years? 

*** Are we on the downhill decline to that  hazy spot where the entire holiday decor consists of one candelabra of colored lights in the front window? When the most exciting holiday treat is a box of chocolate covered cherries from the dime store? Is this how it happens? 
SOMEone had the idea to pile all the Christmas lights in a heap in the front yard, run an extension cord and plug it all in. 
Voila! A mountain of colored lights! Outdoor Christmas - CHECK!
Is anybody with me on this?

It didn't happen this year, but maybe someday ...
 just before we plug in the candelabra of colored lights 
and toast one another with the last two chocolate covered cherries.


Sunflower Feeders

A successful season of growing these giants is way over.
The stalks are gone from the beds and are now bulking up the burn pile. 
My favorite super hero, Garden Guy*, composted and, AND! put the flower beds to 
sleep under a thick layer of leaf mulch. Ahhhh!  I love you Garden Guy!

*Formerly known in an earlier career as Diaper Man, this superhero visited our home
 every weekend and took on the nighttime diaper 'dooties' so I could get some sleep.  
The work of a superhero is never, ever done!

I harvested* the heads, and they relaxed on the picnic table for a few days, then 
went on to dry in the greenhouse.  It didn't take long for the tufted titmice to find them - 
those birds must buckle on their smartie pants every day.

* Flower gardeners like me take any opportunity to use the word harvest to get a 
temporary leg-up to the Vegetable Gardener League. 

So I moved them out for all the fall birds.  
A super cheap and all-natural birdfeeder, the thick stalk makes it easy to ram it between 
tree branches or in metal plant hanging hardware (below).
You could lay one right outside on a window ledge for a front-row, birdwatching seat.
Sparrows can't seem to hog a hanging seed head for their tribe - big bonus!


November Closings

The gardens are almost 'put to bed' for the season.  
The perennials are trimmed to the ground, and the annuals have been yanked.
We've added umpteen bags of compost and all that has to be done is a thick blanket of leaf mulch.
This seems like a bigger job every year, and for the first time, I'm thinking 
maybe I'm to old to keep this up with all of this.
The gardens were my distraction during the intense years of childrearing.
The boys wanted to be outside and were happy to follow me around, 
digging in the dirt, swatting leaves with sticks and occasionally tasting a worm.
Yes ... it happened.

* I am completely in love (gushgush) with these photos of the morning sun on fall leaves. All I had to do was juggle the dials a bit and set the camera on the patio. Press the button and check the result - each photo a great surprise. Photography is so much easier now than the film days when each shot mattered since it cost dollars to develop. 

But now my occupations are mostly indoors and no one is coaxing me outside 
to play. And so the gardens are not as well tended as in years past.
We actually took one out last week; moved the plants we wanted to keep 
and threw the rest on the reject pile.  It was a relief to see bare space where 
a garden had been - isn't that sad?! 

** Is it sick that I'm happy to know that all spiders have frozen?  This guy lived, rent free, in the Lily of the Valley patch for at least a month.  Pretty generous of me... I think I've earned some grim glee at their passing.

*** I was sitting outside looking up into this HUGE sweet gum tree with My Youngest. "Remember how we used to sit out here and read Lord of the Rings, Mom? Those were great days!"  The words of a teenaged son can be brutal or blessing, and they seem unaware of either effect. I'm savoring these as a special blessing.


One Man's Trash ...

SO I walked away from a yardsale with a huge box of old gourds. 
Is it odd that I felt like I had just struck gold???
You know I have a love affair with gourds. Maybe better described as 
a secret longing, since my efforts are always foiled by evil mildew

A brown and barefooted old fella said he just throws out the seeds and the vines take over  some 
small trees in his backyard. In the winter, he said he just  yanks the gourds down and 
throws them in the shed. He acted like he'd never heard of powdery mildew and
 let the box of gourds go for $2. I danced my way to the car.

I've fiddled away lots of happy hours with those gourds these last couple of months. 
They have to be soaked, then scrubbed with furniture stripping pads to remove the 
outer 'skin'. Beautiful designs emerge - it's the coolest thing. Every one 
has different patterns, various tones and hues created by the temperatures and 
growing conditions they endured.
And that would preach if we wanted to travel a rabbit trail ...

 Drilling a hole and removing the dried seeds and pulp take time, but are a satisfying 
(if messy) way to pass time while talking with boys, almost-watching  a football game 
or catching an episode of The Paradise.

Choosing a font for the saying and applying it is tedious, but nail polish remover 
can make a mistake simply vanish. I have to admit adapting the bird image from a 
Tasha Tudor illustration.

Sealing the finished gourd with polyurethane is the icing on the cake.
The patterns emerge and seem to glow- my favorite part of the entire process.
There are more of these, and some pretty striking long neck gourds that 
are actually correctly sized birdhouses.  I'll be selling them at a local craft show 
next weekend. Come take a peek!
Whatever's left will be appearing in my Etsy shop soon.



In remembrance of these fall flowers, so recently beautiful... as in three days ago.
All now frosted and blackened, in only one freezing night.
When the fall flowers are in their glory, it's about time for me
to return to the basement of UC's nuclear medicine department and bare a buttock (or two) for some injections.
These yearly labs are important in getting a heads-up in case the thyroid cancer recurs. 

*** Side Note:    'Injection style' is a definite thing. 
How hard the injection thrust   vs   how gentle.
How swift the injection   vs   how slooooww can you go... 
The alcohol swipe.
And the count "Here we go!"
"This is it!"
"Big stick now!"
(and the traditional, no-fail) "One, two, THREE!"
Everyone claims own unique technique - should there be a class on this???
I was truly sad to see these nasturtium go. The package that said RED must have really 
indicated ORANGE, but no matter - the charming round leaves carry the day anyway.
Then this surprise bloom!  Beautiful. I've got to go out this weekend and scrape around for seeds.

In the Grand Scheme, these tests are so very, very simple - 
merely one inconvenient week among the 52 weeks of 2014. 
Believe me, I'm thankful that all I have to complain about is some minor injection discomfort. 
I'm well aware that things can be infinitely worse than this.

And in light of that fact, here are two verses from this morning's 
reading that really stood out to me. These are cling-able:

He delivered us from such a deadly peril 
and He will deliver us. On Him 
we have set our hope that He will deliver us again.

The righteous ... he is not afraid of bad news; 
his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is steady; he will not be afraid...


Falling Leaves

The leaves are falling in a chilly, drizzly rain just outside the window where I sit. 
I always try to be ready for the finally bare trees, but I think I failed this year.
When I make time to stroll golden-carpeted grass, then I'm ready to let the leaves 
fall with no regrets. The maples trees in our front yard and the sweet gum in the back 
are among the last trees in the area to turn, so the show goes on here for a 
little bit longer than expected. 
There might be a few more days to appreciate the fall color after this rain clears away.
My own reflection in a honeysuckle berry.

Side Note - 
I want to leave you with a quote that is just too good to leave unmentioned. If you've been led through valleys of trial or spent any time in a vale of suffering, then these words from ol' Clive may be especially savory to you, as they were to me. 

"Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."


Stenciled Pumpkin Tutorial

There's a craft show coming up just before Thanksgiving. I got these mid-sized 
pumpkins at the local market for super cheap. I've given them 
an upgrade and plan sell them as table decorations for the big Feast Day.
I wonder what you think a good price would be...?
Here's a simple tutorial - you can make your own!

 1. Start with a clean, dry pumpkin and the supplies pictured above.
Print your word on lightweight copy paper. 
I used a font called 'Lightfoot Wide Expanded Regular' size 120.

 2. Cut out the word and snip the top and bottom as shown. 
This will make the paper lay flat against the pumpkin when you tape it in place.

 3.  Use painter's tape or masking tape to secure the paper tightly against the pumpkin. 
It's OK to have small folds as long as they don't extend into the lettering. 
Start with the short sides, then tape the snipped top and bottom. 

 4. Trace slowly around the outside of the each letter with a fine point sharpie marker. 
The ink will soak through the lightweight paper and leave an outline on the pumpkin. 
To make sure the ink is bleeding through properly, lift the template from one edge and take a peek
Don't take it off completely because you won't be able 
to reposition it in exactly the same place.

 5. Use the fine point marker again and trace along the outline left behind.
Then color in the sharp corners because the thicker marker will not neatly do the job.

6. Fill in the rest of the letter with a regular tip sharpie. 
Repeat for each letter.

I hope yours turns out well!