Here’s my keeping it real Advent goings on. When you are seven months pregnant and have three kids under five, you take things easy. At least if you’re me. I’m sharing a play-by-play of what we’re actually doing to encourage other moms to be realistic, to manage ballooning expectations, and do what works for their own families.
Today after Mass I bought this beautiful wreath from the kids at church. I was very excited to see that this year they had some wreaths with purple bows. The last two years it was only silver, gold, and red. I kept the gold ribbon from last year’s wreath which I will switch out on Christmas Eve.
Last Sunday I didn’t have any cash to buy a wreath; but when I unpacked the Advent wreath, I found this little wooden Nativity that my sister-in-law gave us last year or the year before. I’ve never been able to figure out where to hang it. I had a sudden inspiration and hung it up on the front door where I usually put the wreath. I figured once I bought the wreath, I’d find some way to attach it. I didn’t even have to do that, I just hung it up on top from the same hook (after moving the bow to the bottom of the wreath) and it looked perfect just where it was. I just love the effect.
So backtracking a bit, on Monday I cleaned up the living room and then we set up the Nativity set. I pulled the baskets of books and blankets out of our (defunct) fireplace and then Bella scrubbed the bricks with soap and water, getting off all the soot that accumulated from the chimney over the past year. When it was gleaming white, I pulled down the cardboard box and the Bible story book and called the children to sit nearby.
As I read the chapter about the nativity, I pulled out one piece after another and acted it out a bit. First Joseph and then Mary and then the angel. Then the stable and all the animals. Then the baby Jesus. Then the shepherd and his sheep. I made the enactment dramatic, pretending to knock on all sorts of doors to ask if there was room for pregnant Mary to sleep.
Then when I was done telling the story, I set the three kings on a far shelf at the other side of the living room, I put Baby Jesus away in a safe place (an empty votive holder on our prayer shelf.) And then I told the children they might play with the pieces so long as they stayed in the fireplace and didn’t wander about the house. “If I find them anywhere else, I’ll put the Nativity up on a shelf where you can’t touch it.” So far I’ve only had to issue a few reminders. Even Ben has been pretty good about not wandering off with them and we’ve only once had to snatch the angel away to keep him from dashing it against the floor in a temper.
The other morning the angel from the nativity was doing double duty as a guardian angel over the baby doll in the bassinet. The sheep have been fed many times. And I’ve overheard snippets of many beautiful interactive tellings of the Christmas story.
The Advent wreath went up Monday night. It still doesn’t have any greenery. It’s just the plain brass circle with candles sitting on an aluminum foil-covered platter. (So I haven’t been inspired to take a photo.) But you know I think I’m the only one who notices. The children all love lighting the candles and singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” at dinner time. And I’ve answered the question about why we are only lighting one candle at least four dozen times. I think that’s becoming part of the ritual.
So far I’ve only left the matches on the table a couple of times and no small children have got into them. The candles have only been pulled out of the wreath once. No one has been burned.
I gave myself a week and I still haven’t wrapped them. I guess that’s an activity for next year. Much as I love the idea, it just didn’t work for me this year. Maybe next year I’ll implement Charlotte’s suggestion and just wrap each book in tissue paper rather than trying to do a neat wrap. One task I’d like to do this Advent to prepare for next year is to type up a current list of all the books so that I can put them in some kind of rough order when I wrap them. (Mainly mixing them up so that the books I like reading a bit less come later in the season so I won’t have to read them quite so often while the books I love get opened early and can be enjoyed more frequently.)
Feast of St Nicholas
Tomorrow is the feast of St. Nicholas. My plan was to buy a new St Nicholas book and wrap it this year so that we could start a collection, adding one new book a year until we had all the ones I wanted. But I kept putting it off and woke up yesterday morning realizing it was too late to order from Amazon and have it here in time for them to unwrap it. So we’ll just re-read last year’s book and have some chocolate gold coins in the kid’s shoes. That will be fun enough. Maybe next year they can get another book.
I was very happy to find the chocolate coins at Target. I had to practice some serious sleight of hand and redirection to slip them into the cart and then to get them onto the checkout conveyor belt without Bella noticing. I bought each of the kids a little $1 squishy ball as part of the redirection tactic. It worked.
I love this idea for putting St Nicholas images on the coins. I seriously doubt I’m going to have time and energy to do it tonight, however. We’re going to the La Salette Shrine to look at Christmas lights and celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday with all the cousins. It should be fun (if cold) but I anticipate having no energy for a cutting and pasting project when we return.
I probably will print out some of these St Nicholas coloring pages for the kids to do, however.
I actually started doing some shopping this week! I bought a dozen of these scarves in the 21.5×21.5 size for the girls. We’ll have a fun project dying them different colors and then each girl will have a set of six to play with. I think they’ll be a huge hit.
I’ve bought three new (used) Christmas books via Amazon. And via BooksPrice I found an amazingly awesome deal on Melissa Wiley’s Christmas book Hannah’s Christmas at the absolutely fabulous online bookstore Better World Books. I adore BooksPrice and so will sing it’s praises once more. They compare prices from just about every online source for books so you can find the very best price (shipping rates are included in the comparison.) You can also tell it to send you an email alert when a book you want drops below a certain price. That is really the amazingly awesome feature! And Better World Books offers free shipping and I’ve found some great deals on hard to find books. Plus the funniest confirmation emails written from the book’s point of view:
Holy canasta! It’s me… it’s me! I can’t believe it is actually me! You could have picked any of over 2 million books but you picked me! I’ve got to get packed! How is the weather where you live? Will I need a dust jacket? I can’t believe I’m leaving Mishawaka, Indiana already – the friendly people, the Hummer plant, the Linebacker Lounge – so many memories. I don’t have much time to say goodbye to everyone, but it’s time to see the world!
and so on. Very cute.
I still have to decide what to get Ben and maybe buy one small toy for each of the girls in addition to the scarves. We don’t buy many gifts for the kids. A book each, a couple of toys. That’s pretty much it. They don’t need much and they usually also get presents from extended family.
So I think that’s it so far. It may be more, it may be less than what you are doing. I hope this to be encouragement and inspiration, not to make anyone feel guilty. Just like me, you’ll do what works for you as we all prepare our hearts and our homes to welcome the king.
To Be Read
I’ll leave this with a few links to some of my favorite Adventish posts from some of my favorite bloggers because I wouldn’t want you to miss them.
First, Pat Gohn’s meditation on today’s readings. She pulls it all together beautifully with thoughts on baptism and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This morning before Mass Bella was throwing a baptism party for her doll, Lisa. There was her quilt spread on the coffee table with place setting with bread fruit and meat for everyone to eat and and bowls of vegetables to look at. And Bella was singing “Happy Baptism Day to you.” When we got to the Gospel during Mass I had a little shiver as Dom leaned over and reminded me of her party.
Next, check out Elizabeth Scalia handing on some insights from Pope Benedict: King, Bridegroom, Self-Immolating Lover:
In thumbing through some Advent musings from the pen of our good pope, Benedict XVI, I came across one excerpt that nearly took off the top of my head.
It’s not that Pope Benedict is saying anything that—on some level—we don’t already know. It’s that he fleshes out these truths in a way that heightens the sense of revelation
. I’ll let you go on over to read all of what she found, it will take the top off your head too.
Next, at evlogia Katherine shares a beautiful meditation on “The Waiting Room” illustrated with absolutely fabulous photos of the icons in the narthex of St Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral in Dallas:
Baby on hip and a young boy tugging at my skirt. I stand, just taking in familiar words. Words intoned, the sound echoing off the walls of the dome, words resonating in the vault of my heart.
And still that child tugging at my hem. I hear a whisper voice, all quiet and awe.
He traces a little finger from creation through the patriarchs.
�It�s on the walls.�
He takes in each image, flipping the pages of the narthex walls.
Then there’s Betty Duffy on Advent: “No More Waiting Around”:
When I think about the times of preparation, and the rush of consumption that follows, I become sort of confused about Advent and Christmas. I�ve had it in my head that Advent is a time of waiting for the big moment when Jesus is born�that moment that I am also conditioned, like Pavlov�s dog, to think arrives with chocolate, pine-scented candles and an inordinate longing for diamonds.
And when I think about preparing for Jesus�s birth, making room in my heart for the little baby, I assume it means sacrificing until I feel bereft of God�s presence in my life�trying to make an empty hole that will be filled on the 25th. And yet somehow that filling up always happens by way of my gluttony rather than by my faith.
So I�m trying something different this year: not waiting. I�m not going to dig that little hole in my heart that somehow always gets filled with material things; I�m going to concentrate, instead, on the presence of God that is already there.
And finally, Amy Welborn’s thoughts inspired by Pope Benedict and Titian’s Virgin and Child with St. John the Baptist and Unidentified Male Saint
How can you prepare for that?
The only way we can – the way that we�ve been given, the way that we live in a finite world aching for the infinite.
So prepare to hold a baby.
Not too tightly, clutching at him aoll for yourself thinking he only has eyes for you, but let him reach out even further. To someone else. And keep your eyes on the Lamb and remember that stark tree trunk looming.
Prepare to hold a baby.
Not in a closed room but in one with the windows and doors flung wide open so the mystery of God and His rising collapsing binding loosening transformed and transforming creation courses through and becomes the place you live with the One who made it all and made you to live there.
Prepare to respond to grace when it comes because grace is God�s life and it�s all that stands between you sitting in a closed-off room gazing at a mirror and you out there on the other side of the door the window where it�s light. Prepare for that grace because it does come, and in small ways. An invitation to say yes here and a challenge to say no there. Every day. All the time. But you have to prepare for it because it all happens so fast and seems so common but really is not. It�s like a baby born in a small town no one ever heard of. It�s the kind of thing that happens every day,after all. If you don�t prepare, you just might � no, you probably will � miss it.