Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Ten: The Memory Palace

Dad and Lydia sledding
Christmas break almost always involves a marathon reading of at least one book, a can't-put-it-down, block-out-the-family, full on obsessive read.  I started and finished The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok in about 36 hours with breaks for skating, sledding, eating, and sleeping.

The Memory Palace is a beautifully composed memoir about the relationship between the author and her schizophrenic mother, complete with the complex range of emotions you would expect from a difficult family relationship-- fear, anger, guilt, hope, and love.  Bartok writes without an agenda.  She tells it like it is and lets the readers decide how they should feel about mental health care, homelessness, and her mom, along with the various family relationships.

In addition to the story line, Bartok interweaves her own artistry and uses the building of a "memory palace"-- the construction of artistic images that trigger powerful memories otherwise lost by brain trauma or plain old forgetfulness -- in order to structure her memoir and explore vivid and important events on the timeline of her mother's disease and her own growth and relationship with her mom.  It is both heartbreaking and redemptive.  A beautiful book.

I also received Wild by Cheryl Strayed for Christmas from my dad-in-law, and with any luck, I'll read that over the next few days as well.  I think this completes my goal to read ten books for 2012, especially if I count a few poetry books I didn't review here.  I ended up not reading a couple of the books on my to-read list but read others instead, which I suppose is to be expected.  I liked having this list in the back of my mind for the year, though.  It was good to have some goals and expectations for myself for the year, even if I didn't meet them all.  Maybe on a quiet evening in the next few weeks I'll set another goal list for 2013.

Lyd in her Disney dress-up gown
Christmas was such a blast this year, with many lovely gifts given and received.  The kids are particularly enjoying a wooden train table, an American Girl doll (I bet you can't guess who got that), and Star Wars figurines and spaceships.  Brandon has been playing his new guitar whenever he can, and I've been sporting a new pair of cowboy boots, something I've wanted for years.  It was particularly fun to see how excited the kids were about giving the gifts they picked out for people this year.

Our Florida family arrives today in Akron, and we're all excited to be with them for the next week or so.  I took Lyd ice skating for the first time yesterday, and we hope to get Granny, Kelly, and Macy out on the ice rink this week if we are able to make it happen.  It was a magical hour and a half with her, laughing and falling and spinning and falling, and falling.  And falling.  :)  I was worried she would get discouraged right away because it was hard for her to even stay up let alone make forward progress, but she is so determined and pushed through, and by the time we were ready to leave, she was skating without holding on to me or the rail, even trying to do a few spins herself.

We've also gone down the big sledding hill a few times now.  I'm grateful that we got a good dumping of snow.

One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is linking up with old friends, and last night we went out with the Stalters and Newmans for pizza at Luigi's.  As Nikki said, it was as if we picked up our last conversation right where we left off years ago.  Today, I met up with friends from high school for lunch, and it was just like old times... except for all of the mortgage/job/kids talk ;)  I guess we're adults now.  I'm glad we were able to get together.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent Days 17-21: Run, Run, Rudolph

The last week of advent before Christmas got a little scrambled up, but there were plenty of highlights. 

Elvis's Christmas program was on the 18th.  Lydia finished off an antibiotic for strep on Monday and by Tuesday morning, she had it again, so the rest of the Wells family stayed home while I took E to his program.  Unfortunately, my kids seem to have gotten my stage presence instead of Brandon's.  Elvis spent the entire Christmas program in the front row of the risers pouting and mouthing "mama," which looked so sad.  I thought if he could see me, he'd be okay, but nope.  I don't think he sung any of the songs, and sadly, he also didn't say his line in the play, just like last year.  He knew it, too.  Poor guy.  I hope both Lydia and Elvis are able to conquer whatever fears they have about being in front of an audience. 

We took the kids to the Buckeye Express Diner in Bellville on Wednesday this week, taking the longer way home to see Christmas lights, thereby killing the hypothetical two birds with one stone.  If you haven't been to the Buckeye Express Diner, you should make a point of it the next time you're driving on I-71 between Cleveland and Columbus.  Great burgers, good french fries, homemade applesauce, and you get to eat in a TRAIN!  That was clearly a highlight for us.

The kids and I also wrapped the gifts we bought last weekend.  Aside from a couple of special gifts for the boys, all of the wrapping is done, and I think all of the gift-buying is done, too.  I can hardly wait for Christmas giving to begin, there are so many things I'm excited about.  It's going to be a sweet Christmas for the Wells family.  Brandon's gift arrived in the mail yesterday, and I can hardly wait for him to unwrap it.  He's going to love the lifelong supply of Hanes underwear.

Thursday evening was our almost annual White Elephant Christmas party.  We had about 22 people or so (I'm not real sure because I put two 18's into the gift number bag), and "Das Boot" made a return, along with a pinata, a Russian hat, and a pocket chair.

Brandon and our friend, Bill, finished the microwave installation on Friday, the kids played in the first snow of the season, and I had coffee with one of my best friends, made some truffles and presents for family gifts, then hung out with some girlfriends down the street afterhours.

It's been a good week, albeit with its usual random interruptions of whininess and complaining from the peanut gallery.  My threats to return Christmas gifts just aren't meaningful enough to demand good behavior.

I can't promise a post between now and Christmas, and we've actually done all of the advent activities on the calendar already (today was supposed to be make and wrap presents, but that's done, so I think we might make some paper snowflakes instead).  So, if I don't post again before Christmas, please have a jolly one!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Advent - The Third Candle: Joy, Mary's Candle (Poem)

“But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” – Luke 2:19

You wouldn’t stop
moving, pushed against
my ribs, and I pushed
back. We exchanged
our first conversation,
just my skin between
your hand and mine.
We spoke our first
nursery rhyme, sang
our first hymn. I breathe
every memory—not
of visitors or gifts but
what happened before,

after, in between. You
were hungry. I moved you
to my breast. You slept
on my chest, your head
beneath my chin,
every part of you new.
I never knew you better,
touched your toes and eyes
like you were ever mine,
your breath milk-sour,
hovering like incense
in the air.

Advent Day 15 & 16: Gifts

The kids went Christmas shopping for their family members on Saturday, and what fun it was to see what they picked out for each person and the thought they put into gifts they thought each person would like!  I was impressed at their ability to focus on others, especially in the toy aisle, where there are so many temptations to shop for themselves.  They were so excited to go shopping in the first place but initially talked about getting toys for themselves, so we discussed how Christmas isn't about getting presents, it is about remembering and celebrating Jesus's birth, and one way we do that is by giving gifts to each other as a way to demonstrate our love for one another.  It's amazing how often I forget this and get "wrapped" up in the buying and exchanging of gifts as an obligation because that's what we do, instead of an opportunity to show love to someone.

Sunday morning, I helped with tech stuff and read part of the Advent program with two of my friends.  The third candle of advent is joy, and in light of recent events, it was strangely appropriate for us to talk about joy.  The Holy Spirit moved in miraculous and mysterious ways, in the advance selection of music chosen by the worship leader, in the third candle narrative, and in the pastor's sermon.  If you want to hear John Shultz talk about joy in the midst of this dark season, listen here.

Sunday's advent activity was a "mystery," at least it was when I put the calendar together, but it turned out perfect; we celebrated Christmas with my mom's side of the family.  Our gift exchange and gathering was a great time filled with laughter, and I got some really fun(ny) stuff.  The kids had fun chasing my uncle and aunt's cats and dog around the house, and I'm thankful for my family's generosity to us and our kids-- they certainly don't have to buy gifts for our kids but they do, and of course they loved opening up their presents!

And Brandon is home.  Ah.  Yes.  Finally.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Advent Day 14: Pajama Movie Night, Waiting out the Darkness

Tonight I made a big bowl of kettle corn and two mugs of hot chocolate with two big marshmallows each, started the first fire of the year in the fireplace, and piled onto the couch with my three beautiful, marvelous, remarkable children who know nothing of senseless rage unloaded onto the spirits of their peers, to watch The Lorax, who speaks for the trees.  The kids got up off the couch to dance when music came on, and then the trees, well, they grew from their tiny seeds into truffula saplings, hundreds of them with soft, pink tufts, blossoming happily ever afters to the tune of "Let It Grow."

Earlier in the movie, though, the Onesler cut down the trees, at first with an ax and then his brothers zoomed through the forest with their cutting-down machine, and one by one the truffula trees fell until the hills were dark and empty.  The Lorax could only speak for the trees and grieve.  And grieve.  And grieve. 

So helpless. 

"We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." (Rom 8:26)

We are seven days away from the turning of the solstice, seven days left of this gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of light.  And then four days later we remember and celebrate the birth of the Light of the world, the Shepherd, the Prince of Peace, the Mighty One, the Lamb of God.  Right now, we wait and wait and wait. 

Words feel so weak and weightless in the presence of darkness, and yet the same Light, Shepherd, Prince, Lord, Lamb, God also called himself the Word.  Truth.  Good news.  He delivered to us his word, gifted us his spirit, and the fruit of his spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  These are not the fruits of the enemy (and darkness and evil are the enemy) who robs us of joy and pours out terror and grief, who lacks all control, who is violent, who takes matters into his own hands, wields his power over the helpless and tries to evade justice.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Come, O come, Immanuel.  Be with us.  Come, God of Light and Life and Truth, and speak.

Reposting -- because I so badly want the darkness to pass away.

"Advent: The First Candle"

In November, our lips trembled
with the breath of winter etched
in frost across the windows.
We gazed at dawn’s arrival
casting bands of icy glitter
on brass and copper oak leaves
holding tight to frozen branches,
as if they could stop the turn
of seasons, suspend the spin
of Earth around the sun, but
nothing can slow this orbit
toward the solstice. Oh, Christ,

the prophets spoke about a day
when darkness would pass away.

Shadows broaden, days shorten.
We’ve waited the way I watched
my garden for the reddening
of tomatoes, the fleshing out
of vegetables, how I’ve held
my swollen abdomen, the fullness
of time a season, a month a week
a day an hour away. Now,

we unravel pine swag garland
and drape it on the mantle, melt
a candle, send a signal in a flaming
flicker, hope hot enough to kill
the darkness
. Here comes the turning
of the solstice, here comes the night,
the star, and then the etching
of a few more minutes to stand
in the slow burn of frost,
the gradual stretching of the light.

A Year of Wells 2012 Photo Book

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Advent Day 13: A Special Treat

Public Service Announcement: Tonight's post is written with chocolate and merlot, preceded by a chocolate chip cookie, potentially followed by more chocolate. And more merlot.

I'm not sure why tonight beat the snot out of me. Maybe several weeks of whizzing about has finally provoked the over-tired toddler in me to throw a tantrum.  After I picked up the kids from their respective child care locales, we grabbed a hot-and-ready pizza from Little Caesars and darted home to eat in a hurry before Lydia's basketball practice.  After last time, there was no way in heaven or on Earth I was going to wrestle Henry into captivity for an entire hour in the gym, so while Lydia practiced, the boys and I went to Hawkins to pick up some groceries (yay, no grocery shopping tomorrow!) and to cash in the advent activity for today-- pick out a special treat.  We visited the delicious Hawkins bakery and bought two iced sugar cookies for Lydia and Elvis, a spritz snowman for Henry, and a chocolate chip cookie for mama.

Let. Me. Go!
Lyd had pictures tonight, too, so there was no avoiding bringing the boys back into the gym for the remainder of practice.  I should've gotten Henry a bigger cookie, ("Stillwell, angel, have another chocolate bar!") because he gobbled up the spritz snowman before I could say, Frosty the Snowman had to hurry on his way... which is what I wanted to do, hurry on our way.  Henry tried to escape but I was too fast for him and found some Thomas the Tank Engine video through the YouTube app on my phone, which pacified him long enough for practice to end.  Then, it was standing about with a 30-pound squirming worm in my arms and a 5-year-old clinging to my pantleg like I asked him not to five THOUSAND times while we waited for every girl on the team to get her picture taken.  On the way to the car, Henry kept squawking, "AWK! AWK!" so I let him walk but forced him to hold my hand, which he hated and did the wet-noodle-collapse-on-the-asphalt trick.  I picked his arched self up, which he hated even more, and tried to put him in his carseat, but it's hard to bend a U-shaped body back to a sitting position.  "Sit DOWN!  Mama's gonna lose it in a minute, Henry!" I squeaked.  All three kids laughed at me.

God, I love parenting.

Then it was home to take the fastest bath on the planet-- in fact, I'm not sure the boys got wet at all-- and then to bed to bed to bed!  Yay!  The older two were out before I headed back down the stairs, but I don't think Henry stopped singing and talking to himself until almost 9 p.m. He'll be buckets of fun tomorrow. 

The tantrum-throwing, over-tired toddler in me could've crawled underneath a crocheted blanket and watched a romantic comedy, but tomorrow is trash day, and thank God I saw the Hawkins plastic bag on the table because I would've forgotten all about the bags of eggs, sausage, bacon, and yogurt just waiting to spoil in the back of the kid hauler.  Trash can on the curb, groceries in the refrigerator, sticky spot on the floor grabbing my sock every time I walk past the silverware drawer.  Oh. Well.

I unloaded the dishwasher but turned off the light in the kitchen before I could notice the sink still full of dishes from this morning. But I had to flick the switch back on to find the wine and chocolate.  Don't worry, I was careful to shield my eyes and then dashed away again.  I'm safe now in the living room away from those oatmeal-crusted bowls and those lipstick-stained coffee mugs.

I thought about the laundry briefly, but blogging about advent seemed like a much better use of my time, even though I don't think Henry is going to be wearing any pants tomorrow. 

All of this to say tonight was one of those nights that makes me want to quit. All things. Am I absolutely insane to think I can do this AND take classes toward a master's degree?  I can't keep all of *this* (waving arms frantically, the universal symbol for utter chaos and disorder) together as it is.  Yeah, I see you --  o.O  -- stop looking at me like that.  We serve crazy here every night.

My advent calendar could've ended December 19-- all I'm anticipating right this minute is the end of work for 2012 and the beginning of agenda-free Christmas vacation.  That whole waiting-to-celebrate-the-birth-of-baby-Jesus-God-with-us-prince-of-peace thing is totally overrated.  Okay, not really.  I just want to see my husband for more than a couple of hours before he takes a plane to another state, to disengage my alarm for two whole weeks, to shift into a slower pace of life instead of this frantic running all the time.

And all I really want for Christmas is to think only about family, friends, love, joy, and peace... and to indulge in tasty food and good wine.  Bring it, Advent.  Bring. It. On. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advent Day 12: Deliver Cookies to Neighbors

When I got home from work today, Brandon was busy with our friend Bill installing an electric outlet and hanging a couple of cabinets in the kitchen, in preparation for an over-the-range microwave Christmas present from my in-laws (yeeeeeee hawwwwww!).  Never did I imagine in my pre-married life that I would be so excited about kitchen upgrades, but time and time again I prove that you really can find bliss in new appliances. 

The kids and I took another crisp walk around the neighborhood, this time to deliver our gingerbread cookies to neighbors, along with our homemade cards.  Henry loves to walk by himself and now yells, "ALK! ALK!" if I even attempt to carry him anywhere.  I wouldn't mind this one bit since he weighs nearly 30 pounds now except that he fights holding my hand and thinks it's really funny to try to run into traffic.  This is especially exciting at night wearing non-reflective clothing.  Praise God, nobody died running into traffic on Morgan Avenue tonight, and no one had to swerve off of the road to avoid a marching toddler.  And, our neighbors got their cookies.

Look what a nice job my husband and Bill did on the cabinets!  Someday, we'll take out all of the old ones in the rest of the kitchen and put in new ones like these.  Someday.

I finished one Christmas project tonight, although I keep thinking of others that it would be fun to make something for, but sorry nameless ones, you'll have to wait til next year, or your birthdays, or another occasion.  It is onward to the other other homemade Christmas gifts.

Tomorrow night is basketball practice.  Dread.  At least this time, I know I don't have to be there for the full practice and can take Elvis and Hank somewhere else.  The bad news is that it is also picture night, which means I'm sure to forget some key component of the uniform, or forget to pull Lydia's hair back into a ponytail, or forget about practice entirely and get a frantic call from the coach about it fifteen minutes before I put the kids to bed.  Egads, I better make sure the reminder on my phone is operating.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent Days Ten and Eleven

Package Christmas Cookies, and Open a Christmas Book

We made an unplanned trip up to Great Mom-O's house last night, so we took care of yesterday's advent activity when Lydia got home from school today.  We prepared our cookies from Saturday for delivering to neighbors and designed a few cards to go with them.  The plan is (spoiler alert!) to deliver the cookies tomorrow for our 12/12/12 advent activity.


I was home with Hank and Elvis today because Elvis has croup and an ear infection and Brandon worked in Cleveland.  It was nice to get a few household chores done while taking care of the kiddos.  I made a yummy vegetable soup, roast chicken legs, roasted carrots, and steamed broccoli.  The kids opted out of the soup-- I think they've grown tired of soup-- but oh, it was so good!  I am already looking forward to lunch tomorrow.

I got a little more work done on Christmas presents today too aaaaand I ordered my books for my first semester in the MFA program. That's right, folks, Sarah is jumping on the MFA train at Ashland, in nonfiction. I'm excited and nervous about whether I'll actually be able to keep up. We'll see how the spring goes.

Before putting Henry to bed, we opened up a new Christmas book, The Nutcracker, which we read together after I laid Henry down in his crib. Don't tell the kiddos, but I'm hoping to track down a Nutcracker to wrap up for Christmas morning, so if you know of a place near Ashland to get a nice one, I'm in the market!

That's all for tonight, friends.  Two weeks until Christmas!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent Day Nine: Go to the Festival of Lights

Tonight's Advent activity was yet another very good reason to have a daughter.  I intended for the whole family to go to the Festival of Lights on campus, but it ended up being just Miss Lydia and me, and it's a good thing -- that program is long!  Since Lydia is six and goes to bed around 7:30 on a school night or 8 if we're really pushing it, we had to abandon the concert about half-way through, but it was just lovely.  Girls were made to enjoy and celebrate pretty things, and to do that together, well, sheer delight.

Festival of Lights, Ashland University 2012

Me and my darling
I spent a good portion of the afternoon Christmas shopping, and I'm real close to being done. Just a couple more gift exchange presents to buy and I think I'll be set.  I did realize this evening that I have the Jacobs in Brandon's family confused, so I suppose it's a good thing I didn't buy something for the wrong Jake.  :-P  By the way, that whole bit about it being better to give than to receive?

Totally true.

I cannot WAIT for Christmas once again this year, to watch my loved ones open up their presents.  My little ol' heart just bubbles with joy, and who can get enough of that?

Advent Day Eight: Make Christmas Cookies

We spent yesterday morning and afternoon catching up on our Advent activities from earlier this week, including coloring Christmas pictures (see "Don't Color Christmas Pictures").  We drew some Christmas pictures and made a few Christmas presents in the process.  I'm dying to post pictures of these gifts, but I don't want to give away the surprise.  So I'll leave you in suspense until Christmas!

While Hank was taking his nap, Elvis, Lydia, and I worked on Christmas cookies.  It took me about 20 minutes to locate Granny's Christmas cookie cutters, but after digging past the twenty varieties of cooking oil and multiple bags of brown sugar, there they were, behind the ice box.  :)  I love spelunking in Granny's pantry.  You never know what you'll find, for instance, not one but TWO jars of imitation banana flavoring.

Anyway, the kids and I cutout gingerbread cookies for yesterday's advent activity.  Sorry for the delay posting, for those of you sitting on the edge of your seat day-by-day waiting for the next Wells family advent update. *Crickets*  Wait, no one is anxiously anticipating my daily updates?  What?!

Last night, I spent several hours with my mom and dad decorating their *new* Christmas tree that I got to pick out as a surprise for Mom.  We discovered as we were setting up the old one that half the lights were out, so I went out to get more lights and came back with a "life-like" tree.  Can we just call it what it is: a fake tree? 

We also watched I Don't Know How She Does It with Sarah Jessica Parker, which was like watching my life, without the high-paying investment job and trips to New York.  It was entertaining.  I really enjoyed the time with my parents. 

Tonight's advent activity should be fun.  I'll update later!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Advent Day Seven: Watch Polar Express

This evening's event was perfect for the kind of day we had.  Lydia and Elvis both stayed home from school, and Lydia tested positive for strep, so it was an ideal evening to watch one of our favorite Christmas movies.  We drove up to my mom- and dad-in-law's house this evening for the weekend.  Henry cried the entire four-hour one-hour car ride.  But we made it, and upon arriving Hank acted as if he had just spent an hour sitting quietly in the car, not screaming.  I have no idea what got into him, but it left me on edge most of the night.

I put in some prep work tonight for tomorrow's activity.  I just realized I left all of my cookie cutters at home.  Boo.  I'm sure Rhonda has some floating around here, though, not to worry.

I'm planning to spend some time with my mom tomorrow evening, decorating her tree and watching a movie or something like that, but I'm afraid I might still be coming down with some cold, or I haven't effectively warded it off with garlic and honey and it's just lingering, waiting for my defenses to really drop.  Garlic and honey, don't fail me now!

Advent Day Six: Don't Color Christmas Pictures

I intended for the kids to color Christmas pictures last night for Advent but, well, it didn't work out. 

Last night was Lydia's first basketball practice.  She had fun, and I'll refrain from going into all of the details about chasing Henry up and down the hallways, blockading him from trying to run onto the basketball court, laughing at him as he threw a mini tantrum on the floor, and restraining him while he screamed and cried in my arms because he was tired.  I also won't mention how the parent meeting was supposed to take place at 7 but the speaker didn't show up until 7:25, so I could have darted out with both boys until it was time for the parent meeting instead of trying to manage the over-tired infant in the peripheral vision of all of the other parents with their perfect younger children sitting so obediently by their sides, or the other parents who have one perfect child, and that perfect child is on the court practicing, or they left their crazy 19-month-old at home with someone else.

But never mind all of that.  The most important thing is that we did not color Christmas pictures, and we had to color Christmas pictures because we're supposed to do something every day if the calendar tells us to, every day, otherwise the whole Christmas experience will be ruined!  At least that was Lydia's take.  Unfortunately, Lydia is learning a lot about disappointment this Advent.  Our Christmas dancing didn't meet her expectations, our Christmas walk was cut short because Elvis needed to go to the bathroom, and now, oh, now there's no Christmas coloring! 

My daughter is just like her mother.  I can see exactly how she sets up high expectations for an experience and is almost inevitably let down because other people didn't quite cooperate with what she had in mind.  She is holding others responsible for her degree of contentment and happiness, and that's a dangerous pattern.  She's a pretty reasonable gal, so I've been putting her various disappointments into perspective-- she still danced and sang with daddy even though Elvis didn't want to, we still went on a winter walk and also ate at Pizza Hut (double plus bonus!), and the reason we did not have time to color pictures was so that she could go to basketball practice. 

Sometimes we have to choose between joys, and sometimes, even if the situation isn't quite what we had in mind, we need to choose to find joy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent Day Five: Take a Winter Walk

Today's advent activity is supposed to be "Take a winter walk."  It is at least cold enough today to call it winter, but I'm a little bummed that I put this on the calendar before looking at an extended forecast.  It would be much more fun to do this with snow.  I think it'll still be fun, since by the time we get home it'll be dark out.  I thought about taking them into the woods with flashlights for our winter walk, but maybe too scary?

I love to walk outside in the winter and don't do it nearly enough.  Get all bundled up in your coats and hats and mittens, and then breathe in the cold, crisp air.  Ahhhh.  Maybe we'll sing some Christmas carols as we walk, too.

I suppose I should figure out what we'll eat for dinner after our winter walk.  It might be a Paleo-cheat night at Pizza Hut.  Lydia has another Book-It gift certificate.

Here's a poem from Robert Frost about a winter wood, from the Poetry Foundation's site:
By Robert Frost 1874–1963 Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent Day Four: Write a Christmas Wish List

We all put together our Christmas wish lists tonight, and then sent our crew to bed at 7 p.m.  Everyone was quite tired and cranky this evening and should benefit from the early bedtime.

We made wish lists, too, but no need to post those.  Lydia's is so much more precious. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent Day Three: Dance to Christmas Music

Welp, not all advent activities can be as romantic or successful as the rest.  I woke up this morning with an ugly cold that landed me on the couch most of the day, and advent activity #3 was supposed to be "dance to Christmas music." This isn't so appealing when your head is pounding.

Lydia had her heart set on dancing to Christmas music tonight, though, so for a little while we played some music and she danced around with Henry.  It was shortlived.  The night turned into a movie night.  We watched Elf and one of the ABC Family Rudolph shows (the Happy New Year one) before Brandon brought out his guitar and strummed a few Christmas songs for Lydia to dance to.  She was by far the one most interested in dancing tonight and couldn't get Elvis off of the couch to dance with her.  The night ended in multiple-kid meltdowns and early bedtimes. 

Can't win 'em all. 

I failed to report on the Ashland Poetry Workshop this weekend - it went very well!  The workshop was laid back and enjoyable, and I think the group appreciated the feedback and discourse.  I had a great group and a handy list of guiding questions to direct our review of each other's poetry, and that helped me quite a bit in leading the group discussion of work.  The experience was energizing instead of exhausting.  I look forward to running a workshop again sometime soon.  If you know anyone looking for a poetry workshop instructor, I know a gal.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent Day Two: Read a Christmas Book

Each year, opening the Christmas boxes releases magic in our house. The homemade ornaments, treasured angels and globes, snowmen mugs and dishes, candles, Christmas lights, stocking hangers, wreath, and so on cause eruptions of "Oh! Look at this!" from the kids, and honestly, from me, too.  I find myself picking up ornaments and carrying them in my open palms like birds, to nest in our artificial tree for another year.  Even the tree and its rusting hooks and plastic pine needles shed on the carpet brings a grin of nostalgia for my parents' house, illuminating Christmases past in my mind.

One of my favorite Christmas box delights though is our Christmas books.  We've collected many Christmas stories already, some inscribed and others given from preschool parties or Borders' going out of business sales.  Holly Hobbie's "Twas the Night Before Christmas," addressed to one Sarah Marie Fugman from my aunt and uncle Rich and Connie Hess on Christmas 1983, emerges as a family favorite every year. You can almost feel the heat of love radiating off the pages.

When we moved to Ashland in 2007, I began writing a Christmas book for our family, in a green velvet book with a jeweled cover.  At the start of December, after unpacking the Christmas decorations, I usually sit down and read through the previous years and then record the activities of this year.  After Christmas, I usually write a summary of the holidays before putting the decorations away again for another year.  It's my favorite Christmas book to read.

Our "day two" for Advent was "read a Christmas book."  Lydia read us "Let It Snow!" first, and then she read "Room for a Little One" to us, which was given to her on her first Christmas by my uncle and aunt Pat and Arlene and their family.  It's a beautiful picture book I could read over and over again.  We concluded with a read from an advent storybook that has a short tale each day about Benjamin Bear's magical journey.  And then it was off to bed!

Does your family have any Christmas books that have stayed with you for many years?

Advent: The First Candle (Poem)

In November, our lips trembled
with the breath of winter etched
in frost across the windows.
We gazed at dawn’s arrival
casting bands of icy glitter
on brass and copper oak leaves
holding tight to frozen branches,
as if they could stop the turn
of seasons, suspend the spin
of Earth around the sun, but
nothing can slow this orbit
toward the solstice. Oh, Christ,

the prophets spoke about a day
when darkness would pass away.
Shadows broaden, days shorten.
We’ve waited the way I watched
my garden for the reddening
of tomatoes, the fleshing out
of vegetables, how I’ve held
my swollen abdomen, the fullness
of time a season, a month a week
a day an hour away. Now,

we unravel pine swag garland
and drape it on the mantle, melt
a candle, send a signal in a flaming
flicker, hope hot enough to kill
the darkness. Here comes the turning
of the solstice, here comes the night,
the star, and then the etching
of a few more minutes to stand
in the slow burn of frost,
the gradual stretching of the light.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Advent Day One: Make Hot Cocoa

December 1: Make Hot Cocoa

I loooooove hot chocolate, but the mix stuff leaves a horrible corn syrup aftertaste in my mouth and frankly gives me the McGurgles.  It made me so sad the first time I tried some after our diet change.  So today, we're trying paleo hot chocolate.  I grabbed this recipe from Easy Paleo.  I thought about trying to make these paleo marshmallows, but egads.  Too much work for me.  I'll be whipping up some whipping cream instead.

Paleo Hot Chocolate
3 TBS Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/2 C Full-Fat Coconut Milk (we're using almond milk instead)
1 C Boiling Water
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 TBS Organic Honey
1 tsp Cinnamon

Directions: Add cocoa to boiling water and stir with a fork until completely dissolved (this step is important if you do not want chunky hot chocolate). Add cinnamon and honey to the hot mixture. Finally, stir in the coconut milk and vanilla. If necessary, heat for 30 seconds in the microwave.

I'll report tonight about how this recipe turns out. Today is day one of the Ashland Poetry Workshop, so I'll be sneaking the hot cocoa treat in sometime this afternoon, hopefully.

This recipe is AWESOME.  I would recommend a little less cinnamon next time, but overall a success.  Delicious!