Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Patchwork Post for the Second Day of Christmas

So it turns out that if you want your kitchen to smell good on the day after Christmas, when you're just having leftovers, the key is to make another batch of stuffing. Onions and melted butter seem to provide just the right aroma...

I was so pleased with the way Christmas dinner turned out yesterday. We were given a big turkey this year, one that weighed about thirteen pounds. We're not huge meat eaters and most recent years, when we've been home and cooking on the holidays at all, we've simply done a small turkey breast in the crockpot. So it had been a long (very long!) time since I'd cooked a bird this big, and I was worried that I'd goof it up.

I had visions in my head of a rather disastrous cooking experience we had just a few years into our marriage. We attempted a biggish turkey then too (how hard could it be? I thought with the confidence of youth) and apparently did not thaw it enough. We cooked it and cooked it and cooked it...and it just wouldn't finish. Parts of it stayed pretty cold and parts started to brown too much and wasn't all that appetizing.

So this year, when I delivered a moist, juicy, perfectly cooked turkey to my husband for carving, I grinned at him and said "we've come a long way, baby." It really turned out to be quite easy. I confess I looked up some tips on the internet (something I couldn't do all those years ago) which provided a handy guide. I taught the sweet girl how to baste, and she enjoyed it so much we probably did it a little more than we needed to, which if anything made it even tastier. I kept things simple and just used butter and some freeze-dried poultry spices on the skin, and I added a couple of cups of our favorite veggie broth to the roasting pan. Yummy -- and lots of leftovers. I think I need to find some good turkey leftover recipes!

We had a lovely, quiet day. We're still not quite used to Christmas Day with just the three of us and no travel. I think it's hardest on D, who is used to seeing his family that day and to lots of hustle and bustle on Christmas in general. But the beginning of new traditions can also be enjoyable, and having a quiet day yesterday seemed to suit us all pretty well, especially at the end of a busy, tiring year.

We also seemed to strike a good balance with presents this year. The sweet girl got a few "oh, I really wanted this!" type of gifts, but also some sweet surprises, and D and I, though we don't get one another much, always do a good job of knowing something that will make the other's day.  The sweet girl also has some traditions of picking out some small things for us which are very cute because they don't vary much -- she loves to get us each a new mug, and often some candy, and she and her Daddy go together to pick out a small, inexpensive piece of department store jewelry for me (usually something from the 1928 collection, which I love).

D. did most of the wrapping this year, while I was doing other things, so one of the funniest moments came when the sweet girl opened a book I didn't know she was getting. I was confused because it was a book I'd picked up on clearance a couple of months ago and stashed away for family read-aloud. I hadn't intended to give it as a gift. I thought he must have picked up another copy as a gift for her. Later I mentioned that and he said, "um, gave it to me with the other stuff to wrap." So it *was* the copy I bought, though how it got in with the Christmas presents, I have no idea! Oh well! One can never go wrong with a book as a gift!

Speaking of book gifts, the sweet girl was thrilled out of her socks to get her very own copies of her two favorite books this year -- the ones she has checked out over and over from the library, and read over and over -- The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall, and the graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time, adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson. She also got a new Calvin and Hobbes.

D. gave me a copy of P.D. James' Talking About Detective Fiction, another cute thing because he had no idea that I'd read it already, but assumed I would love it. I did love it, back when I read it, and am very happy to own a copy. Book-wise, I gave D. a copy of Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander. We've seen the movie but neither of us has read the book. He's been so into sailing ships, pirates, and all things related to the high seas of late that it seemed like a good pick.

While cooking most of yesterday afternoon, I listened to Emmy Lou Harris' Christmas album and got in some good reading time...nearly finished the new Leonard Marcus biography of Madeleine L'Engle (not a Christmas present, just picked up from the library hold shelf). I am finding this an intriguing read and will likely blog more about it soon.

I missed my family, as always, but had a wonderful talk with my parents by phone. They were sharing their 60th Christmas together! My family is celebrating so much this year...the birth of three new babies in the next generation (I have two new great nieces and another great nephew this year), a marriage (which also includes a new stepchild for that niece), and the news of two more babies on the way in 2013. My parents can hardly believe they now have fourteen great-grandchildren with two more on the way.

So many blessings to count this Christmas, and the biggest blessing of all is the precious gift of Jesus. So thankful for the celebration of his birth, and so thankful for his continued presence in our lives each and every day.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Prayer for Christmas Morning (Henry Van Dyke)

"The day of joy returns, Father in Heaven, and crowns another year with peace and good will.

Help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wisemen.

Close the doors of hate and open the doors of love all over the world...

Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil, by the blessing that Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts.

May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our bed with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake. Amen."

(~Henry Van Dyke)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve (Christina Rossetti)

Christmas has a darkness
  Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas has a chillness
  Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas has a beauty
  Lovelier than the world can show;
For Christmas brings us Jesus,
  Brought for us so low.

Earth strike up your music,
  Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven has answering music
  For all angels soon to sing:
Earth put on your whitest
  Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas brings us Jesus,
  Brought for us so low.

~Christina Rossetti

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Literary Christmas Moments

We're still meandering our way through the sweet girl's first read-through of Little Women. The timing is rather perfect, because we'll hit the second Christmas scene (Mr. March's homecoming) right on Christmas Day.

Thinking about that lovely scene, and my even more favorite LW Christmas scene from the year before, when the girls share their Christmas breakfast, got me thinking about other literary Christmas moments. Do you remember...

When Betsy Ray goes to the magical city of Milwaukee to spend Christmas with Tib and all her German-American relatives?

When Laura Ingalls holds her new rag doll Charlotte in her arms and just stares and stares at her in wonder?

Or the Christmas when Mr. Edwards meets Santa Claus and Mary and Laura get their new tin cups, their candy sticks, AND a shiny penny apiece? 

When the Austins' new baby brother is born late one Christmas Eve?

When Harry Potter opens yet one more jumper handmade by Mrs. Weasley?

When Lucy, Susan, Peter and the Beavers receive their gifts from Father Christmas, whose coming is a sure sign that Aslan is on the move and the witch's reign in Narnia is coming to an end?

When Matthew Cuthbert goes dress shopping for just the right dress (with puffed sleeves) for Anne of Green Gables?

When awful old Imogene Herdman sits there, dressed as Mary in her crookedy veil, and just cries? 

When Ramona isn't sure she wants to be a sheep in the pageant when her mother doesn't have time to finish her costume? 

When Buddy and his cousin dance in the kitchen while they make fruitcakes?

When Ebenezer Scrooge exclaims "The spirits have done it all in one night!"

These are just a few of my favorite Christmas literary moments. I'd love to hear some of your's!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Some second week of Advent ruminations

This odd sick week, brought to us courtesy of the flu, has been interestingly timed. Usually this is one of the busiest times of the year, but when flu slams you and then your child, you don't have much choice but to radically slow down.

Given that it's Advent, it means I've had time to do more quiet reading...and real listening...than usual. A side benefit and gift.

One book I picked up yesterday was Karen Edmisten's Through the Year With Mary. This is a little but very lovely book, filled with daily reflections on Mary, the mother of Jesus. I keep it tucked in a corner of my desk with some other special books I like to revisit, but it had been a while since I'd done so. Again, given the season, it just seemed like a timely book to open.

I was pulled up short by yesterday's reflection by Bl. Titus Brandsma. Reflecting on the holy family's flight into Egypt, he talks about Mary's obedience. Two small things stopped me in my tracks, one right after the other. The first was the line "Jesus was her strength." When I think of the flight into Egypt, I picture so many ancient icons and old paintings of the family on the move, young Jesus cradled protectively in his mother's arms. I think of them fleeing to keep him safe. But how often have I paused to consider that it is Jesus who gives Mary -- and Joseph -- the strength to do what needs to be done? That as the Son of God, even as a little child in need of their shelter and protection, he is still the sustaining love and strength of their world -- and of the *whole* world?

While still pondering that, I ran smack into this line:

 "In our bitter hours let us recall the flight of Jesus into Egypt. Let us picture Mary and Joseph who suffer because they were specially beloved of Jesus."

Whoa. And wow. Again, how often do I stop to consider suffering -- not as consequence, not as just-part-of-this-sad-and-suffering-world, not as something to be borne or something to pray my way out of, not even (on my better days) as something I know the Lord can use to shape and reshape me -- but as part of my life *because* I am beloved of Jesus? What does this mean when I stop to consider my own small sufferings, or when I ponder the far more significant sufferings of brothers and sisters in Jesus around the world?

Still pondering this. Still chewing.

And thankful for Karen's prayer at the end of the reflection, which reads: "Help me, Jesus, to remember that I can unite all my suffering to your suffering, thus giving my pain meaning. You renew my hope in my most difficult hours."  


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Little Women at 44...and 5:00 in the Morning

The sweet girl came down with the terrible flu bug in the middle of the night. This is the same one I've been slowly recovering from since Sunday, and I was so sorry she got hit with it too -- knowing that when it hits, it hits like a freight train. Which it did, leaving me to hold her hair, rub her back, speak murmuring words of encouragement, and generally just be present to her in the wee small hours as she got sick again and again.

Somewhere in there, as she battled ongoing waves of nausea (and isn't that the worst feeling?) she asked if I could read to her. I read Light at Tern Rock, one of our favorite Christmas reads, from start to finish, with only a few breaks for sick-tending. If one must be sick in the middle of the night, I have to say it's one of the most soothing, calming reads possible...and I tried to provide via my voice every ounce of quietness the text and the situation both seemed to call for.

Tern Rock isn't a very long story though, and by about 5 in the morning, with the waves still coming, the sweet girl asked me if we could keep going with Little Women. It's our current evening read-aloud, and we were only a few chapters in. I gladly picked up with "Being Neighborly" -- the lovely scene where mischievous Jo tosses a handful of soft snow up at Laurie and he smiles down at her and you just know that they are going to be friends for life.

I've written here and elsewhere quite a bit about my love for Little Women, and about how Alcott's classic tale of four sisters nourished my growing up years in so many ways. As I often say, I didn't just read the book when I was a child, I inhabited it. The shabby brown house with Marmee's smiling face at the window feels almost as much my childhood home as the wonderful home I actually grew up in. But unlike my actual home, where my parents still thankfully live, I don't visit it much. I read the book so many times in my childhood and young adulthood that it became a part of my inner much so that I haven't really returned to it very often in the past quarter century, except to occasionally read a favorite scene.

Several things dawned on me as I read it aloud in the wee small hours, watching my ten year old daughter's eyelids drift open and closed. They probably won't sound as significant as they felt to me when I realized them with the dawn's light breaking through our lace curtain and the Christmas tree lights shining softly next to the bright red geranium on the windowsill. But here they are, in no real order...

* I have never read this book aloud. A scene or two over the years, yes. In fact, I have the first few paragraphs of the book memorized and will sometimes say them aloud just for the comfort of hearing the words. But I have never read the book aloud start to finish. It amazes me how much I still know its rhythms and phrasing; it also amazes me how I know the girls' voices. I'm not doing a lot with the voices, but I do hear myself altering certain rhythms and intonations as I move from girl to girl, and it's odd because it's not something I am conscious of doing until I do it.

*I have never read this book through glasses.

*Reading this book with my reading glasses on, and while nursing a sick daughter, suddenly made me realize...

*I am Marmee. Of course I am still Jo. There is a part of me that will always be Jo. But really now, as I read it this time? I am Marmee...the mama cub, the protector, the teacher, the homeschooler (oh yes, she is), the one who tries to lead and guide and light the way, the one who admits her own faults to help her girls mend their's.

*I still have a lot to learn from Marmee. Has it ever occurred to you just how human and faulty the March girls are? There's not a "typical" one in the lot of them. Shy Beth's fears are standing out to me in a big way this time. Not that my sweet girl is shy (far from it) but oh, she battles many fears of a different sort, and in a big way.  What came home as I read through Marmee's calm, gentle patience, her ability to let go and let her girls be who they are (quirks and all) while she gently tries to help shape their characters in small but real ways...was my own lack of patience sometimes with my daughter's anxieties, my own stress about wanting her to overcome them, my worry that her quirks and our creative but challenging family and ministry life can lead to things that are sometimes just hard in her little life. But you know what? God can use all that in her. Marmee knew that about her girls too, even when they lived through real hardship and poverty. She was a wise woman.

*And finally...maybe there were reasons I inhabited this particular book as a child, beyond the mysterious reasons of heart-connecting with a beloved story and author from the past as we all do sometimes. Maybe God gave me this book when I was nine because he knew what my life was going to look like when I was 44. And reading it by Christmas tree light at 5:00...or well, finally the morning, a precious ten year old girl finally, peacefully asleep at last. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

What He Said

I had planned to post a reflection for the second week of Advent, but a bout of flu interrupted. While I'm exhausted and recovering (this has been a doozy of an illness) I thought I'd post this tried and true thought from C.S. Lewis, whose thoughts on the importance of re-reading are just one of the many reasons I love him.

By the way, this is one of the memes making the round on Facebook right now, originally posted by Ignatius Press. They have a new and rather lovely looking blog up -- all about Lewis and Tolkien. You can find it here at the link

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Homer's Looking Pretty Good For His Age

We’re studying ancient Greeks as we head down the homestretch of this semester and totally enjoying Rosemary Sutclif’s Black Ships Before Troy, her rendering of The Iliad.

It had been a long, long time since I’d read Homer (or even a re-telling of Homer). I overdosed on Greek literature as a young adult. We read a lot of Greek drama and The Odyssey in my senior high literature class, and then I seemed to get both The Iliad and The Odyssey (not to mention Oedipus) over and over as a literature major in college. After a while, it just felt like…well, homework.

Encountering Homer again after all these years, and in a re-telling for younger readers, has been utterly delightful. I opted to turn Black Ships into a read-aloud because…well, it’s a telling of The Iliad, for goodness’ sake, based on an epic poem by a bard who himself knew the story from ancient oral traditions. Sutclif’s prose has a definite music to it.

(For those interested, I’m supplementing our reading time by having the sweet girl read up on the various gods and goddesses encountered in the story. After our read-aloud time, she reads assigned pages in D’Aulaire’s Greek Mythology and writes up what she learns about the given character. I’m having her keep a list of the major immortal players.)

The story really is thrilling, the characters so relatable. I’m reading it in my best style, sometimes just letting the prose carry us along with its high, galloping drama. Yesterday I read at lunch so D., home from work, could enjoy it too. When I paused for breath in the middle of a chapter, the sweet girl exclaimed into the sudden silence: “This is the most exciting story ever!”

Gotta love those learning moments when the past feels vivid enough to be stalking around your kitchen.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Reflections: First Week of Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of
darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of
this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit
us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come
again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the
dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and
for ever. Amen.

BCP, Collect for 1 Advent 

I woke up this morning thinking about where I live. Not where I live physically, but where I actually live no matter where I am – in the presence and love of God.

That doesn’t occur to me as often as it should: as a child of God, I live constantly in his presence and in his love. Nothing can separate me from it, though there are days when I may not feel worthy of living there or graceful in living there. It is still where I abide, because he abides in me. He has made me his own and called me out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his wonderful light!

There are days when we need to actively “cast away the works of darkness” as the collect for this first week of Advent reminds us. It may be that we do that through choosing to do the right thing rather than the wrong thing (or the hard thing rather than the easy, convenient thing) or it may be that we need to cast away the works of darkness that would tempt us or trip us up. Casting away the works of darkness involves dressing ourselves in the armor of light. That armor protects us when we battle the enemy, and helps us to move forward with courage.

Choosing to remember where I live is, for me, a big part of the casting away the works of darkness. I do not need to dwell in despair, restlessness, anxiety, lack of hope, apathy, or anger. I may feel all those things from time to time, but I do not live there. Remembering that I am a child and a follower of the One who “came to visit us in great humility” and who will return one day “in his glorious majesty” goes a long way toward keeping me dressed, each day, in light.

Choose to put on light today, and remember that if you are a follower of Jesus, that is the nature of the kingdom in which you truly dwell. He is the Light of the world. He is your heart’s home.