Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A little bit more

This Advent season calmness is getting a little out of control. I may be flirting dangerously with complacency here. I got out of the shower and thought, " is the twenty-what now? I think there are things to be done..."

It is, in fact, the 22nd of December and Christmas is in three, yes three, days. Shouldn't I be frantic by now? Shouldn't I be feeling ill and dosing myself with steady rounds of ibuprofen, Tums and perhaps even an occasional brandy? Well, I'm not.

And don't confuse my lack of hysteria with organization or preparedness. I am simply not that woman. It's just that I've been doing this long enough now to know that it will get done. And if it doesn't it just won't matter. Someone, somewhere must be praying for an extra measure of supernatural peace for me because I've looked at these past few weeks calmly and logically and came to the following conclusion:

In all the Christmas memories I have, of all of the 34 Christmasses I can remember, is there a single ruined one in the bunch? No. Is there one year I can pull out and go, "Oh, yes, how terrible, that was the year Christmas was ruined"? Nope, can't think of one.

Does this mean all of my Christmasses have been perfect, easy, flawless holidays? Of course not! Some pretty terrible things have gone on right around Christmastime from the irritating to the tragic and yet, somehow, Christmas has never been ruined...

What about the year the tree fell over twice and wasn't finished being decorated until 4:00 Christmas morning? That didn't happen to me, but it did to my sisters and it is still the stuff of legend. It's a favorite do-you-remember story in our family. What about the year we spent Christmas Eve in the ER because an 18-month-old Redheaded Snippet had gotten into Gram's melatonin and ate an undetermined amount of it and needed to be held for observation (FYI, she was fine and it seemed to have the opposite affect on her and she tore around the ER like a squirrel on speed for hours on end)? Another very funny story to share.

What about the year my grandfather died the week before Christmas and his funeral was held mere days before? The year The Viking was out of work and we were depending on the kindness and support of family to keep us off the streets? The years (two of them) I was in the hospital on Christmas Day because of complicated pregnancies? The year our first son had died only two months before Christmas? The year my sister lost her twin daughters just one month before and several of us nearly had nervous breakdowns because of the stress and trauma?

I can tell you, those Christmasses were difficult ones, especially that last one. They were not the visions of Holiday Cheer that you see splashed all over greeting cards and Christmas TV Specials. They were not how we would have wanted them. But when I look back, I don't see them as ruined. I can find precious memories embedded in each of them. When we were homeless, my parents took us in and we had Christmas with those who were giving sacrificially for us. When my grandfather died, the sting of his death was removed by the celebration of the birth of the One who conquered death for all. One year I was in the hospital, I was discharged on Christmas morning and what a wonderful gift that was! The other year, The Viking and Redheaded Snippet brought Christmas to my hospital room and it was probably the calmest, most peaceful, least stressful Christmas ever! The years after my son and then my nieces died, the family rallied once more and it was in those times that our bonds were strengthened.

See? Not a ruined Christmas among them! Despite the circumstances there has always been joy, peace and, most of all, hope on Christmas Day. And those are things you cannot buy or fabricate. They are bestowed on us by God Himself and are what Christmas, through the remembrance of the ultimate gift of salvation sent in a tiny, baby package, is all about. And if I can survive and remember with joy all those Christmasses that should have been heinous, I can certainly survive a few late-arriving gifts, a dried-out turkey, a less-than clean bathroom and a complaining relative or two!

"And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. 'What if Christmas', he thought, 'doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?'"--Dr. Seuss

May you find more in less this Christmas!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices

This year, instead of feeling the panic of being in a runaway train careening down a mountainside toward an abyss below, I'm feeling the anticipation and mounting excitement of the final week of Advent!

The air feels thick with expectation: It is coming! HE is coming! Come, thou long expected Jesus!

This is our second year marking Advent in our imperfect, faltering way. And it does make a difference. Things are calmer, more peaceful. There are moments of stress, but mere moments, not an entire MONTH'S-worth of it! The tree is up, the lights are up, the house is clean (for now). There are still a few gifts to buy, many more to wrap (haven't wrapped anything yet), and a spectacular feast to prepare and shop for. But I'm not worried. We are getting ready to CELEBRATE!

We went with dear friends to a local church that has one of the most fantastic living nativity displays I've ever seen. Calling it a nativity is quite misleading as the "show" begins with the creation of the universe and ends with Christ's ascension into Heaven after his resurrection. It takes over thirty minutes to view all the "scenes" which include the prophecies of Christ's birth, the angel's visits to Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, a stroll through the center of Bethlehem where there was no room in the inn, the manger scene, the wise men's visit to Herod and their subsequent visit to Jesus Himself, Jesus calming the stormy seas and raising Lazarus from the dead, and His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.

I had our friends' youngest daughter, a precocious (and, as I appropriately mistyped, precious) four-year-old, by the hand and was steering her through all the scenes and answering her many questions, some hilarious, some profound and some hilariously profound. Just after the crucifixion scene which was simply a tableau of the three crosses of Calvary and a voice-over describing what happened there, she said to me, "Why did Jesus die for all of us for our sins?" I looked desperately for her mother, thinking it would be best for her to field such a question but as she couldn't be found, I took a deep breath and faltered, "He didn't want us to have to die--...He knew we couldn't pay the price and so--...He wanted us to be in Heaven with Him--..."

I could see by her face that my attempts had only raised a dozen more questions so I stopped and bent down close to her. "Because He loves us." And she smiled, nodded and understood. Later, as we were enjoying hot chocolate and cookies I asked her what her favorite part was, expecting her to mention the angels' choir flying over the tree tops, the cute sheep grazing in the shepherds' field or the drama of the boat rocking violently on the stormy sea before Jesus calmed it. She surprised me by saying, "The part when Jesus died for us."

And a child shall lead them.

Merry Christmas
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Advent Candles

I'm a little late, but I've gotten my Advent candles onto the dining room table!

First let's get a few things out of the way, shall we?

Mom is recovering beautifully. She had several days of significant pain in which she needed a lot of care, but Daria and I were able to manage with no problems at all. Man-Cub and I even took our school things over to her house for a few days (another great thing about homeschooling--it's so portable) so I could be in her room in a flash whenever she blew her whistle. But now she's out and about, feeling stronger each week and optimistic that the procedure was a success.

Thanksgiving was wonderful. Dharma & Co came and spent five days with us, everyone else arrived for Thanksgiving Day, and we had to bring a card table up from the basement and set it as an extension next to the dining room table and we were still crammed in there! But what a nice problem to have!

Many hands did indeed make light work, we sat down on time and everyone agreed that each dish was the best it's ever been! And cleanup was a breeze as I had decided to make things a little easier on myself and use plastic plates, cups, and "silverware". I managed to find nicer things so it didn't look quite so much like a silly picnic and, boy, was I glad when there weren't stacks and stacks of dishes to wash after preparing a feast like that!

I spent all of Black Friday sitting in our comfiest chair by the fire in my pajamas whiling time away with The Viking's laptop. Any time someone came in to ask me anything I simply replied, "I'm not here." It was the most relaxed I've been since August and it did me a world of good! The rest of the weekend we spent playing either Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit or Just Dance II. We'd wear ourselves out dancing in front of the TV and then collapse, huffing and puffing, and play a few rounds of Trivial Pursuit until we'd recovered enough to play another round of Just Dance. And every once in a while we'd take a pie or leftovers break. It was the best weekend ever.

But, as good things must, it all came to an end. The food was eaten and sisters had to go back home. And, lo! It was Advent! I made a few half-hearted attempts at being prepared for Advent before it actually started, but quickly realized I was going to have to allow myself to catch up. I simply needed a lot of recovery time and wasn't ready to switch gears that fast.

But it is now a new week, a new month and a new beginning of sorts. Mom is recovered, hockey season is over, Thanksgiving is gone and now we wait, expectantly, for Christmas. I'm not stressed about it. Two days before Thanksgiving I suddenly stopped caring so much. Not in a bad way, mind, just in a very sensible way. And I'm carrying that attitude into Advent and Christmas. Does it matter if I didn't light the first Advent candle until tonight, three days after the first Advent Sunday? Not really. Will it matter if I don't get the pantry cleaned out before Christmas dinner? Not at all. Will all the necessary tasks get done without me going insane? Yes they will.

So, I went to Michael's tonight to see if, by chance, they had anything I could use to hold Advent candles in a eye-catching manner of display. I'd been looking for wreaths and such for a few weeks and really liked this trinity knot one:

But I really wanted to be able to use five candles and incorporate some greenery so I kept looking.

In researching Advent customs in Sweden (The Viking's native land, albeit three generations ago) I came across several darling little items that I came very close to buying:

This one was the most dangerous.  I love it so much!
Apparently, in Sweden the Advent candles are white and the color red is very prominent.  I was enamored with the whole thing and rather mindful of how well any of these would fit into my red and white dining room.  But I waited, thinking I just might be able to make one of these on my own.

It was the Swedish candleholders that convinced me I wanted a more linear display than an actual wreath.  I also knew I wanted five candles instead of four.  I don't know why, I just do.  So off to Michael's I went with Daria in tow to see what I could see.

In the clearance aisle, I found this!  Can you see the crosses on it?  It's silvery metal, it has spaces for five candles and it was half price, marked down to $9 instead of $18!

It came with these votive cups, which Man-Cub so thoughtfully arranged for the photo shoot.

But I wasn't sure if I was going to use votives or tapers so I grabbed these taper holders as well, which at $1.99 each were the most expensive part of this project!

A thorough search of the sprays, picks, garlands and wreaths unearthed this garland with glittery berries and soft, velvety leaves, also half price at $3.50.

I just wrapped the garland around the thing in quite a haphazard kind of way.

And, despite looking in at least three different stores, I could not find the right color tapers anywhere so I dug out the votives I used last year and popped them into the votive cups.  I'm really not sure why the one on the end is shaped so strangely and differently from its neighbors...

And although it's a Wednesday night and the first Sunday in Advent was three days ago, I lit the first candle as well as the tapers at either end of the table.  And then I just sat there at the table, with my chin resting on my hands, gazing at the flame and being quiet.

I still intend to hit a few more places that may have candles (though I'm not sure I will revisit the one where the workers yelled, "We're CLOSED!" at me the moment I walked through the door they were too lazy to lock) to see if I can find appropriately-colored tapers but for now this is working very well (and for less than $25)!

It's beginning to look a lot like Advent!