Sunday, November 29, 2009

An Advent Wish

On this first day of Advent, there are many things I could write about. I could write about our morning trip to get a Christmas tree-- the excitement of a certain wee family member to decorate it, the delicious smell of pine in our home, the cheer of garlands in our window boxes. Or I could talk about some of the special things we have lined up for Advent: our traditional Sunday Advent celebration, complete with singing, cookies, and the lighting of Advent candles; a beautiful wooden Advent Calendar that was a gift from Ben's mother, which has magnets for each day of the month; a beautiful little nativity that is currently on its way from Israel; or my rediscovery of pregnancy artwork as symbols of Christ's coming. Our little attempts at materializing this great hope that we have. Our best efforts at making the coming of a baby from a distant time and place feel intimate and real. Feel exciting and joyful and even uncertain in that way that any real birth feels uncertain.

But no, not today. Because all these little preparations are just sweet little attempts at capturing something that is so much bigger than all of this. And my own scurrying to make a home for a God who became incarnated are really just cute. So today, I share the words of my own favorite spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, whose words about the Christ I will be meditating on and savoring in these coming weeks.
I keep expecting loud and impressive events to convince me and others of God's saving power....Our temptation is to be distracted by them....When I have no eyes for the small signs of God's presence--the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends-- I will always remain tempted to despair.

The small child of bethlehem, the unknown man of Nazareth, the rejected preacher, the naked man on the cross, he asks for my full attention.
May you all have eyes for the small signs of God's presence in these coming days; eyes for the subtle beacons that tell us that yes, God is among us... all of creation is full of anticipation because The Holy One is coming.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Blessings



Happy Thanksgiving. And there's such abundance to be thankful for: morning fog, a fire warming our home all morning, a husband that looks good in an apron, and an afternoon with family and friends.

Wishing you all a beautiful weekend, some yummy treats, and a blessed beginning of Advent.

(photo credit to Ben for the spooky fog picture!)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Natural Beauty


We started a journey towards natural toys a while ago-- striving to find natural, touchable, beautiful things for our children to learn with. We have never been super strict or legalistic about it-- if there is a non-natural toy that they are bonded with, we allow them to keep it. If there is a special non-natural gift given, again, they can keep it. I have viewed it less as a journey away from something as a journey towards something--towards creativity and simplicity and beauty-- and I think that both my children and I have found it to be rewarding and fun.

We have slowly been moving noisy electronic toys into bags and boxes as we have discovered simple natural toys-- picked up at thrift stores, found in nature, found in our closets. I have been committed to making this transition inexpensive and doable-- there's simply no need to spend big money on expensive "natural" toys when the Creator has surrounded us with them already.

My sister and I laughed in amusement when Zosia spent near and hour playing with a bowl of buttons (which we only take out when Lily is sleeping or otherwise safely away)-- sorting them, putting them into muffin tins while naming to whom each tin would be allotted, pouring them from bowl to bowl. Previously, if I needed Zosia to be 100% occupied by something I would pop in a video-- now I know I can just pull out the buttons.

We have played with rice (just as fun, although a little more messy--which we don't mind), river stones, yarn, flower bulbs, acorns and pine cones. Pots and pans, scarves, jars. And, yes, wooden toys, too. Although, to be honest, these don't hold nearly as much wonder as the things we've scavenged from nature. I like that now when we go for a walk, Zosia's eyes are scanning the ground, looking closely at trees, trying to imagine ways to interact with her surroundings. We never pass a certain pine tree without Zosia trying to find a "mama" and "baby" pine cone to take as an accompaniment to her walk. Because she now knows that nature is a beautiful playground, filled with an assortment of magical toys. And I've started to remember that, too.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christmas Shopping Update and Ideas


I've done it! Despite repeated efforts, this is the first successful year that I have completed my Christmas shopping prior to Advent. I am filled with relief about the fact that I will not have to brave the Christmas crowds, spend my Christmas eve wrapping presents, or start buying random items just to complete my Christmas list. And now I am hoping that since I have cleared my "to do list," I will be able to create a space in my home for watchful waiting, anticipation, searching. That I will be able to pray, listen, carve out a space for the Christ child in my home.

There are still things that I have to do, items left to sew, vests left to knit. And I actually hope that I will do some shopping during Advent-- but not out of a sense of panic, but rather out of love and intentionality. Because there are few greater joys than slowly, thoughtfully, picking out something beautiful for a person that you love.

But, at least this year, there will be no running around, no last minute mall trips (or mall trips at all, if I've played my cards right). And I'm feeling joyful and excited about some of the presents that I'm giving (FAMILY SPOILER ALERT!). Here are a few of the things that I'm excited about:

  • A homemade Waldorf doll for my eldest-- and, while I'm so glad that I used a doll making kit the first time around, I think this would be a very manageable project to do without a kit.
  • A knitted wool vest for my wee baby-- and actually, my big girl too, since I seem to have gotten my sizing off and am mostly done with a vest that is too big for Lily.
  • Tastebooks for all the women in my husband's family. I am so tickled by this idea-- a professional looking cookbook that you can make on your own and order to your house. I can't wait to get mine in the mail-- and I'll be sure to give you a peak inside of it!
  • Tickets to a wonderful outdoor concert venue in our area.
  • Some things that are neither here nor there-- lotions for some of the teenage girls, a survival tool for the pre-teen boy.
And then one hope for Advent is that we will have the inspiration and energy to give each person a little handmade gift in addition to their "main gift." I'll let you know how it goes!

How about you? What gifts have inspired you? How are you preparing for the holidays?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Some Structure for Thrifting


I am just getting into the hang of regular thrifting-- a true pleasure, since there is a large and inexpensive thrift store up the street. However, as with all shopping, it has been important for me to follow some rules-- going to a thrift store can easily devolve from a way to save money into meaningless consumerism.

I will admit that one thing I like about going to a thrift store is that I can splurge a bit and not break the bank. It's not too bad to come home with a few extra treats when those treats cost a total of 5 bucks. However, it's easy to walk into a thrift store and forget entirely what you need. So, over the last couple of weeks, I have come up with a few rules that I follow when going to a thrift store:

1. Go with a list. This is a no-brainer with regular shopping, but somehow took me a long time to recognize as necessary with thrifting. It's especially helpful for keeping items that may be difficult to find at the front of your mind.

For example, my current list is:

wooden toys (not blocks!)
dresser
a basket for holding mail
a nativity set

2. Only buy an item if you're sure that you would buy such an item for more money at a real store. I often pick things up just because I feel like they're a great deal, only to take them home and never use them. The key is to get things that you truly love, need, and will value, but at a bargain.

3. When you come home, immediately clean up items (wash cloth items, scrub down wood or hard surfaces), and integrate them into your household. I've found that the longer items linger, the less likely I am to put them to good use.

Having followed these rules this morning, I came home feeling accomplished, clear-headed and thrifty. And I knocked out a couple of Christmas presents (don't tell Zosia about this wooden car I found!), a set of curtains we've been needing for quite a while (currently in the dryer) and a lovely Christmas decoration.

Any tips for thrifting from the more experienced shoppers out there?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Birthday Crown


Historically I have not been crafty, so I am always pleasantly surprised when there is a craft project that I can actually do--especially with ease. When Zosia found out we were going to a birthday party, she was adamant that we make a birthday crown: you might remember hers (worn before her actual birthday, of course) from this summer, a gift from her dear Auntie Em.

And this project only required felt, embroidery thread, buttons, and ribbon. It took all of 15 minutes, and is definitely something that can be worn from year to year-- a sweet present for only a couple of dollars. If you really want to get fancy, you could even secure the crown with an elastic.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Raking Leaves


My favorite chore of all time growing up was raking leaves. It's so beautiful and fun, and it happens when the weather is crisp. Well, I'm glad to say that this chore preference appears to have been passed on. In this home of ours, there sure is a lot of raking to be done, but who's to say that's a bad thing? It just means we have more opportunities to build a "nest."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How did it go?

Us Collins girls were on our own last night-- with Papa Bear taking a quick business trip up north, we held down the fort, a first since Lily joined our family. And we did our best to make it a special evening, although there's no denying the home felt empty without our most beloved member arriving home for dinner. We had some friends over, had a real dinner with the table set, had a little forbidden candy for desert, took a long bath, and spent twice our usual allocated time having a "family snuggle" in Ben and my bed. But the truth is, all my efforts didn't fool our big girl, who had no doubt in her mind that something wasn't quite right. An hour later, after Lily was asleep, I was still in bed with Zosia, reading just about every poem in my own childhood copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends, which, I must admit, I still find amusing and wonderful twenty plus years later. Hoping that the words would make Zosia's eyelids heavy. And between nonsensical poems about mice and rain and pretending that all seemed to run together, I came upon this one, and paused. It gave me a moment of clarity.
Forgotten Language

Once I spoke the language of the flowers
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly
in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow.
Once I spoke the language of the flowers...
How did it go?
How did it go?
And I got goosebumps! Because sometimes something as simple as children's literature has the capacity to communicate deep unspoken truths. Here I am, straining to hear those forgotten languages, while I am surrounded by little babies that still speak them fluently: the languages of flowers and pinecones, and acorns, and sticks, and mice and bananas, and houseflies.

I snuggled up close to that little toddler of mine, realizing that for all the things I have to teach her, she holds some treasures that I could only dream of possessing. As she drifted to sleep (close to an hour after that, with me knitting in a rocking chair by her crib), I marveled to think of what her dreams would hold. Listening closely.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Prayer Flags


Whew, where has the week gone? We've been busy with a dear out of town guest, have gone to some museums, and have been enjoying a couple of spectacular fall days, but I have not been here in several days now. It's nice to be back!

For many years, Ben and I had Tibetan prayer flags hanging in our home-- a gift from a friend who spent time living in a region of India where many Tibetan refugees live. The prayer flags eventually frayed, got bleached in the sun from hanging on our porch, disappeared. But I always loved having cloths hanging in our home that had prayers written across them. It was a beautiful symbol-- a reminder to surround myself, my home, in prayer.

There are several pieces of fabric that I have been trying to find something to do with-- special pieces of fabric. An upholstery cover from a chair that we long had in our home, fabric from a dress that I wore on our honeymoon (I actually wore when leaving our wedding), little swaths of memories-- links to special times, friendships, places. So I finally decided to make my own little memory-prayer flags. Not with prayers written across them, but with memories and prayers embedded into them: the giddy excitement of beginning our marriage, the sweet comfort of our first home together, the memory of the easy company of friends as we looked for fabric in thrift stores. Prayers and hopes and memories strung up together and keeping our family company. Reminding us.

So I made my own prayer flags-- which I suppose I will eventually remove from our living room and take out only for special celebrations, but which have now been hanging in our home for a couple of months. Why not?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Little Bit of Magic

One of the joys of motherhood has been the discovery that I am only one of the many people who inspires, loves, cares for my children. As Zosia has grown up it has been scary, and then exciting, to give her the space to develop relationships with some of these people-- friends, family members, other children. And as I have released her to build these relationships, I have realized that there are gifts and contributions that these people make that are special, unique, different than what I could offer on my own.

My aunt was probably my favorite person in the world while I was growing up. She always had something magical-- a story about that creatures that live under the earth, a beautiful bead, a little secret to share. Seeing her with Zosia brings me so much joy, because I know that they are now the possessors of that magical relationship, and I am only on the outside looking in. Often when Zosia comes home from an outing with my aunt, there are some remnants of their time together: a stick with an acorn stuck on top, a fan of leaves, a basket full of rocks. I know that each of these items is part of the magic, representing creatures and torches, and who knows what else.

Sometimes after their morning together, my aunt will send along a few pictures, like this one. It's only another clue, something that lets me imagine, remember. And when I see a glimmer in my sweetheart's eye, when I see her trying to fly in the backyard, I smile knowing that I was once in her shoes.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fall Butterflies


It must be my rebel spirit acting up again. Rather than accepting the fact that it is autumn (my favorite season, none the less), I have started making butterflies. Butterflies that remind me of flowers, of warm weather, of another season. Colorful tissue paper butterflies on a mobile, strung up and hanging nonchalantly in our home. Not fall butterflies. Spring butterflies, summer butterflies.

But just as I was threading these tissue paper butterflies up onto the embroidery hoop that I repurposed for a mobile hanger, I looked outside and spotted some orange leaves sailing to the ground and realized that Virginia autumn has, in fact, enveloped me with butterflies-- sweet crimson, saffron, burnt orange butterflies. Butterflies that we can watch the kids at the bus stop racing to catch, that look so delicate and feel so deliciously crinkly. Like the monarchs, racing to their ancestral home in a flashy show of beauty and color, these butterflies inundate us with excess, beauty, fleeting color and show. This is the time of their lives, sailing against resistant air, gently fluttering to the ground.

Yes, butterflies are definitely in season.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Some Inspiration for Your Weekend

Photo courtesy of Country Living

I'm thinking about doing this. But only if I can find a super cheap dresser at a thrift store this weekend. I'm shooting for under $50.

I have loved following this meditation on beauty this week. I loved this quote: "As a Christ-follower, the pursuit of the beautiful is an act of redemption."

Some more thoughts on taking a family Sabbath.

Thinking about natural cold remedies. Any others you know of out there? One I absolutely and completely swear by is chicken soup. How can you forget about chicken soup?

What has inspired you?


Some Structure for Thrifting


I am just getting into the hang of regular thrifting-- a true pleasure, since there is a large and inexpensive thrift store up the street. However, as with all shopping, it has been important for me to follow some rules-- going to a thrift store can easily devolve from a way to save money into meaningless consumerism.

I will admit that one thing I like about going to a thrift store is that I can splurge a bit and not break the bank. It's not too bad to come home with a few extra treats when those treats cost a total of 5 bucks. However, it's easy to walk into a thrift store and forget entirely what you need. So, over the last couple of weeks, I have come up with a few rules that I follow when going to a thrift store:

1. Go with a list. This is a no-brainer with regular shopping, but somehow took me a long time to recognize as necessary with thrifting. It's especially helpful for keeping items that may be difficult to find at the front of your mind.

For example, my current list is:

wooden toys (not blocks!)
dresser
a basket for holding mail
a nativity set

2. Only buy an item if you're sure that you would buy such an item for more money at a real store. I often pick things up just because I feel like they're a great deal, only to take them home and never use them. The key is to get things that you truly love, need, and will value, but at a bargain.

3. When you come home, immediately clean up items (wash cloth items, scrub down wood or hard surfaces), and integrate them into your household. I've found that the longer items linger, the less likely I am to put them to good use.

Having followed these rules this morning, I came home feeling accomplished, clear-headed and thrifty. And I knocked out a couple of Christmas presents (don't tell Zosia about this wooden car I found!), a set of curtains we've been needing for quite a while (currently in the dryer) and a lovely Christmas decoration.

Any tips for thrifting from the more experienced shoppers out there?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Shopping Free Advent

Once again, we are in that season of the year that seems to slip away all too quickly-- the leaves are magnificent and bold one day, and the next they are carelessly scattered on our lawns. The weather is a pleasant crispness that calls for a light sweater, and soon the cold winds of winter have moved in. We are putting up Halloween decorations, and then just as that hay bale is starting to look like a fixture, Advent is around the corner.

I am excited about having a prayerful and intentional Advent this year. One in which we can whittle down our engagements and commitments to the point that we have time for sacred leisure-- baking some cookies, sitting by a fire-- not out of a sense of commitment, but out of a sense of joy. And knowing myself, this just can't quite be done while shopping, running around and trying to get presents and craft supplies and baking ingredients.

So, once again, I am committing to a shopping-free Advent. Our Advent last year wasn't shopping-free. There were items left to be purchased, errands left to be run. But I think that our foresight (and the fact that we took care of a lot of things early) made Advent more intentional, more holy. We also did not end up purchasing all of our Christmas presents from thrift stores-- but we did purchase several from used book sales and thrift stores-- and spending a little less money was an act that left me feeling good about the holiday.

This year, I'm not really out to purchase all of our gifts from thriftstores, nor am I out to make all of our Christmas gifts by hand (and at this, I imagine several family members will sigh in relief). But I am spending this month meditating on the spirit of generosity, simpleness, and kindness. Trying to imagine what will bring those I love a meaningful joy. Trying to find ways to use my own creative spirit to celebrate those that I love. And trying to make space in my own home, my own spirit, for the Christ child to find a room.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

An Art Project for Autumn

We've been relishing these beautiful days of autumn, and here's one way to bring the season indoors.

Start with a pile of your favorite leaves...

Proceed by carefully covering them with paint...


And then let the creative spirit move you!

(Above is a close up of some of Zosia's own painting)

It was a delightful way to spend the morning! How does the creative spirit of autumn move you?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sick Days

We're still here, albeit tired and sluggish versions of ourselves after a week of illness. I have discovered a few things, including that it's very hard to care for two sick babies when you are sick, that I am surrounded by some of the most loving and selfless people out there, and that good health is truly a blessing. And that sleep is a wonderful thing... oh, wait. I have not quite yet been able to experience that wonderful thing.

We did a little bit of groggy trick or treating in the rain, but have mainly been inside these days, doing things like taking naps, playing with blocks, and occasionally sneaking a look at the beautiful autumn leaves. And friends and relatives have been rotating through to help give us adults a break, and as Ben has gotten his strength back he has been taking care of all of us. But it has been slow and quiet, and I have come to realize that even after two quick and easy natural childbirths, I am a weak person who can be brought down by a cold. So much for invincibility.

And somehow these two little blessings have given me so many lessons on strength, focus, and just being joyful in the moment-- not my forte when I'm imagining days of slogging through a sickness. But I am happy to report that we have rounded a corner-- my being here to write a few words being testament to that fact. I'm enjoying the new eyes that such sickness give-- eyes that see the beauty in the tiny little details all around.