Saturday, December 31, 2016

One Word 2017 - Unashamed

Some years, I struggle to find my word.  It can be a journey of listening and waiting and trying to figure out what word feels right.  That was not me this year!  Back in November, it popped into my mind one day when I was walking my dogs that I would need to start thinking about a word.  My brain started bouncing around, as it tends to do, and about four minutes later, the word "Unashamed" crashed into my head.  The second it came, I knew that was it.

I don't know whether you are familiar with The Enneagram but it is a personality typing system that several of my favourite writers/podcasters have embraced and it has made me curious.  I've done some reading and I am 99.999% sure that I am a type 3.  While I don't desire to be a leader, I have the overwhelming feeling much of the time that I am not good enough and I am always working VERY hard, not to be the best but because I am terrified of being judged to be a failure.  I hate having my photo taken because I can't standing seeing pictures of myself.  At work, unless I have gotten positive feedback in the last five minutes, I am trying harder because I feel like I am not doing a good enough job.  Now that the kids are getting older, every time someone boast to me about their children for any reason, I start to feel like we are the failures.  Pk has had some challenges in school over the last few years and we finally got testing done this fall and it turns out that she has a learning disability and is incredibly smart, so while she is as bright, if not brighter than most of the kids around her, she isn't doing terribly well in school because of a couple of things that hold her back and make it really challenging for her.  That has been something that has been really challenging for me because, as someone who wants to be thought of as nice and kind and supportive, having to fight back with the school to get her help has meant having to be "that parent" and it makes me sick to think that people are thinking badly of me.  Our house is small in a town of big houses, our cars are old and we don't go on fancy vacations.  The crazy thing is, I don't want the big house or the fancy car but I do want to learn how not to feel like we are second class because we don't have them.

The funny thing is, knowing that I am created as God made me and that these material things and opinions of other people don't matter, makes it all worse.  I feel guilty because I care about these shallow things and I let them hold me back and make be ashamed.  On top of it all, I feel guilty because it just proves that I am failure at accepting God's grace and love, as well.

So, onto 2017.  I am going to try (there, trying to avoid failure again, if I don't say it will happen for sure, I don't fail as badly if it doesn't) to accept the gift of God's grace.  I am going to try to stop the comparisons.  I am going to count my blessings, honour the gifts in my life and stop listening to the voices of approval (or disapproval).  I am going to work to be who I am regardless of whether that makes me "good enough."  I am going to work really, really, really hard to communicate to my children that they are good enough, not because I say so or that they are getting good marks but because as children of God, they already ARE good enough.  I am going to work to make choices to honour myself as the person I am and not to try to numb my feelings with food and caffeine and Facebook status "likes".  I am going to work to rediscover who I am and do something that affirms who I am and what I love each day.  It won't be easy but I can't wait to try.

I have a few specific goals:
1.  Pray every morning to start each day with a vision of myself as God's daughter.
2.  Make sound financial decisions and cut the impulse spending so that I don't need to feel guilty about the way I am using my money.
3.  Study a scripture passage each week that has some relevance to who I am and what I am.
4.  Keep a gratitude journal and savour being who God intended me to be.
5.  Make some time to do something each day that speaks to who I am and affirms me.
6.  Cut back on social media, especially Facebook.

There may be other things that I adopt as the year goes on but it's nice to feel as though I have a plan to get started.

I am looking forward to reading about other people's journeys with a word this year!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Word in Review 2016 - Present

I don't know whether you have heard or not about the movement to shift away from resolutions for a new year to moving to a word.  I heard about it several years ago and I loved the idea!  I gleefully chose a word (my first word was "rest" I believe) and I had all these great plans to do all kinds of things to use that word to create a more intentional life.  I think that by the end of January, I had totally forgotten my word (the same as I am with resolutions).

I've gradually gotten better with my word and this past year, I've had the first year during which I kept hold of my word all year and I can truly say that my word HAS made a change.  It helped that when I shared the "one word" idea with my Wednesday night study group, everyone loved the idea and everyone chose their own words.  We did a check in once a month or so to discuss our words and we all brought our words forward in our lives in a different way.

My word for 2016 was "Present".  Since I had Pk and Lb, I have felt like I was being dragged along by life.  Between my very busy job (as a kindergarten teacher), heavy church involvement and the kids many, many, many activities (skating, horseback riding, Awana, piano lessons, etc.)  I so rarely get a chance to feel like I am here - I'm thinking about what is coming next and how I will make it happen or I am brooding over something that upset me or that was stressful earlier in my day.  I felt exhausted and I felt discouraged and I had the strong sense that I was missing out on life's great gifts.  Most of all, it made me feel sad.

While I can't say that I have entirely conquered the feeling of being overwhelmed and rushed, I have incorporated some practices this year that have helped.  I'm feeling a bit lazy so I think I will summarize them in a list but I can truly say that these things have really helped AND will stay with me as I move into my new word in 2017.

1.  Sabbath - I realised early on that it was really important for me to be able to build in a gift of slower at some point in the week.  I have been wanted to embrace Sabbath more fully for a variety of reasons and this seemed to overlap beautifully.  I couldn't eliminate everything on Sundays (and I am aware that in Biblical times, Sabbath was Saturday but for me, it's about having the time, not the "when" of the time).  I worked hard to eliminate the busy jobs on a Sunday that would eat up my time and I tried very hard to avoid plans or obligations if at all possible.  I did all my weekly baking on Saturdays, often putting meals in the freezer for Monday sot hat I didn't have to do prep on Sunday.  We made sure that any homework for the kids was done on Saturday.  I did my tidying on Saturdays and made sure that there were no pressing errands on Sunday.  I won't lie, at times, I had a struggle with people around me who didn't want to hear "no" and even Dh didn't always understand when I refused to go to run an errand with him on a Sunday afternoon unless it was essential.  On the other hand, I found myself having a day to breathe - a day to colour in my colouring book, to read, to have a nap, to work on my bullet journal, to play games with the kids.  It was so refreshing to have one morning a week that didn't mean immediately that I had to jump out of bed and run somewhere or establish myself in the kitchen for hours.  It was glorious!  While I have to admit that it feel off in December with all of the holiday commitments, I plan to go back to Sabbath on Sundays in 2017 and to fight for it.

2.  Morning prayer - Another thing that I knew that I needed to do was to pray more often.  I have wonderful intentions and I go in cycles of being pretty good about getting things done.  Then, something happens to throw off my routine and I cease being good entirely.  I discovered that Common Prayer:  A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals was available as an app and I made it a ritual that every morning, I spent a few minutes in prayer.  I am not always perfect at it and I have to deal with the frustration of the fact that if I don't get my few minutes in on my own BEFORE the rest of the family gets up (it doesn't matter whether they are 6 or 45, seeing that Mom is praying doesn't seem to be enough of a clue that whatever is being brought to me can wait a few minutes), I will be interrupted.  It's amazing, though, how having that little bit of time, especially to pray for other people, helps me to remember what matters and where I need to make sure that my time and my energy goes.  I am guilty of getting bogged down in the jobs and missing out the people and I am trying harder to fight that.

3.  Bullet Journal - Sometime earlier this year, I think it may have been in the spring, I caught onto bullet journaling.  I am a person who adores notebooks and really enjoys lists and organizers and my Bo-jo has helped a lot.  It was interesting, I don't remember when I started, but first, I added my word to each week's heading and then, several months ago, I started looking at the Bible for verses that had some kind of connection to being present (e.g., listening, being still, resting, quiet, etc) and I added a verse or two to each week.  Throughout the week, I reflected on that verse, what it might be to me and to my quest to slow down and on Sunday, I would record in my journal Bible, what significance this had for me over the week.  I definitely plan to keep that up with my new word (yesterday, I sat down and chose my first four weeks of verses for my new word and I know it's the right word because I am really excited!)

There's my word in a nutshell.  I don't know whether I can say that it changed my life but it certainly had more stick to it than any resolutions that I have ever made and it's been a useful tool for self-discovery for me.  I can't wait to share my new word with you tomorrow and to read what other words my friends might have chosen.

Wishing you lots of moments that fill the last bit of 2016 with joy to overflowing!  Be "present" in the moments that we still have :-)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2017 Reading Challenge

I know, I know, I keep talking about how amazing the podcast What Should I Read Next actually is.  You are probably sick of me raving but seriously, in terms of little highlights of my week that make me happy, this is top of the list.  She posts on Tuesdays and every Tuesday, I sneak out of work at lunchtime (well, not exactly sneak but I am pretty vigilant about making sure I get out) and walk to the pond and savour the podcast.  As often as not, I rush back to try and get onto the show notes and mark books that I want to read before the bell rings and I have to bring the class back in.  It feels almost like a guilty pleasure and a bit of a reminder of who I am in the midst of the frenzy.

Today, Anne Bogel, the host behind the podcast and the fantastic Modern Mrs. Darcy website (if you are a reader and you haven't visited MMD, you need to NOW) was sharing about the 2017 reading challenge.  Of course, I couldn't resist and I signed up.  There are two different options, a lighter reading option and a more challenging reading option and, me being me, I signed up for both.  I have had a few books burning in my brain that I must read this year and I want to get to those and then, I want to do some exploring as well.  I have been buying books as thought they might be burned if I don't stockpile them (and, given the political climate these days, I'm not sure I should even joke about that) but I have a huge stack waiting to be read.  That's not enough to stop me, though.  I NEED to get through my challenge list.

Here are a few that I am considering for 2017:
A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle (a Newberry winner or nominee)  I LOVE M.L'E. but I haven't read any of these because in principle, I don't read sci-fi.  I just finished reading Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait in Many Voices and the book was referenced so much, I have decided that I must read it if I am going to claim to be her admirer.

The Emily series by L.M. Montgomery - I read these when I was young and I remember loving the first, having mixed feelings about the second and loathing the third.  Discovering that Emily was Montgomery's favourite and that so many of my favourite writers refer to these books as being on their favourites list, I must get through them.

The Ragamuffin Gospel - Brennan Manning - I keep hearing how amazing this is.

Louise Penny's Gamache series - I loved these and then, I just fell out of reading them.  I'm not sure how many I have missed but it's time to catch up.

Elena Ferante's Neopolitain Quartet - (a book in translation) - I have listened to one on Audible and LOVED it (I know these aren't for everyone) and I must finish the quartet this year.

Tana French - I keep hearing that these are marvelous and I love mysteries and since these are set in Ireland, how can I go wrong?

I'm also yearning for Scotland - I'm thinking it's time to go back to the Outlander series.  I think I've read 1 - 3, so it's time for another, I think.

What are your reading plans for 2017?  Do you have any suggestions?

Monday, December 26, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!  I hope that your day yesterday was, in fact, very merry!  I know that Christmas, while it is often our favourite time of year, can often be fraught with emotional baggage and the pain of toxic relationships.  A friend added me to a Facebook group with a more open orientation and people were posting Christmas messages there because they were lonely - many were same sex couples whose Christmas celebrations were tainted by rejection by family members.  I can't believe how painful that must be and it makes me want to open my table to EVERYONE,  it so pains my heart to think of anyone, regardless of life choices, identity or mistakes (and please note, I am not saying that being gay is a mistake, only that many people have made mistakes of various kinds!) that families are unable to forgive.  Christmas should not be a time of exclusion or loneliness.

Anyway, back from that tangent.  Our Christmas was lovely overall, a few bumps along the road but nothing that was entirely unexpected and nothing that I would say ruined Christmas for us.  Extended family always has its challenges, especially when said family doesn't have young children and forgets that Christmas is a time of joy and excitement (or when relatives related to our in-laws arrive unexpectedly and while we enjoy their company, clearly not everyone feels the same way that we do and things get TENSE).  Anyway, I thought I would share a few of my very favourite moments and reflections of Christmas.

If you've been around here much, you know that I have been frantically knitting blankets for each of my children's favourite stuffies (and we are most certainly a stuffy family).  Rabbity and Foxy are now cozily wrapped up in their blankets of love and everyone was very excited by these very simple gifts.  It really warms my heart.

Age seems to be irrelevant in our circle of friends and one of our dearest visits each Christmas morning, dressed as Father Christmas, and brings a sack full of the toys for the kidlets and then, we overeat bacon and eggs.  Her husband died five years ago and Christmas suddenly became very lonely for her.  She had extended family that would welcome her but she felt lost.  She decided that Christmas is for children and she was going to use mine as her "rent-a-grandkids."  We LOVE this tradition (other than that it became clear, through a very confusing conversation, that LB thinks that she is the real Santa and is very perplexed by it all - Dh says we are just giving him a strong need for therapy later in life).  Anyway, it is a beautiful way to start the day and a tradition that we all look forward to very much!

As you can see, bacon, egg and toast is Lb's favourite breakfast and was a perfect way to celebrate.

Church on Christmas morning was also something that we really enjoyed.  In the past, our church didn't do a service on Christmas and this is the first time that we have been at a church that did.  It seemed like a perfect way to honour the birth of Jesus and it worked out beautifully.  After our friend left, we got dressed and headed to church in jeans and cozy boots and bearing stuffies.  It was a "cinnamon bun and coffee" service and everyone was invited to bring their munchies and drinks right into the sanctuary and enjoy as we sang favourite carols, praised the birth of our Lord and listened to the importance of the "indescribable gift" (2 Cor 9:15) and how to be gifts ourselves.  It was absolutely lovely and I couldn't have asked for me.

LB is in a very large fox stage and as part of his gifts, "Foxy" gained several new friends (who have been named Toxy, Poxy and Soxy).  LB felt that they needed to visit the baby, too, and since it was a barn and there are animals there, they would be welcome.

Most of all, I have just been overcome by a feeling of gratitude.  Our Christmas is not the most elaborate and I have always been envious of big families and crazy but filled-with-love gatherings that some families have.  We don't have an overabundance of gifts (although we all do very well, thank you).  We don't do expensive trips and it's always a tight squeeze since none of us live in huge homes with professionally arranged decor.  All that being said, though, I am so blessed to have loving family, really, really, really kind and generous friends (and a few very, very thoughtful gifts that reflected that the giver knew me well meant a great deal to me) and cozy traditions the treasure made it a Christmas filled with joy and awe for me.  I am such a lucky woman and I hope that your celebration has reminded you of the many blessings in your life, as well!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve

I couldn't ask for more from Christmas Eve.  We had a wonderful early service at our church (and this is the non-traditional but beautiful Advent wreath for this year) and as always, our minister did a terrific job making it a family friendly service that was also meaningful for we grown ups.  They thought of everything, including battery candles and glow sticks for the kids rather than worrying about the kids setting each other or the church on fire!

We had a really lovely dinner with friends.  They have very little family and we make it a point of doing Christmas Eve together as a kind of friends/family tradition.  As always, I made a meat pie (and I have to say, I do make a FANTASTIC meat pie) and we exchanged gifts.  It was really touching because there was so much thought put into the gifts by everyone and it was clear that people were happy and touched.

We came home and did our usual Christmas jammies and photos with animals and kids (which is always good for a laugh - we are a bit concerned that the cat may seek revenge tonight, though).

 Now, the grown-ups are helping Santa put the finishing touches on the gifts and then, it's off to bed.  It's funny, by Christmas morning, I already feel like Christmas is done.  I think of everything as happening in the dark and the light of morning seems less magical.

For all who are celebrating, I wish you a day of love, laughter and gratitude, the kind that takes your breath away as your come to appreciate just how many blessings you enjoy.  I had that moment this morning, when I reflected on the generosity and kindness of a few friends over that last couple of days.  I may be an introvert but I have been gifted with some amazing people in my life.  I hope you are awed by your blessings today and always.

Our Saviour is born!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Advent Week 4 - Friday

Today was the last day of school before the break and it often becomes a day that is all about just surviving.  I wanted something fun to do and I had a fun idea.  I don't know whether you have seen the meme on Facebook about there being a Christmas Eve tradition that you give people books and chocolates and people spend the evening cozy and reading.  It's probably not even true (we aren't exactly concerned about facts on Facebook) but in this case, I don't really care.  It's my idea of heaven!

The idea that I came up with was this - I'd run to the amazing Mennonite thrift store in the town in which I work, which tends to have really good books.  I would pick up a book or two for two close local friends who I know have seen the meme.  I'd get each some chocolate and drop off a special Christmas Eve surprise.  It was more fun than I even thought!  Trying to pick out a book for someone is harder than it sounds and I ended up getting each four books in the hope that I would find at least one that hadn't bee read already and might also be interesting.  For my one friend, who loves What Should I Read Next (Anne Bogel's amazing podcast), I tried to find authors that I had heard mentioned on the podcast.  I tied them up in a ribbon and went for a little drive, tucked the pile into each friend's door and then, sent a text to say that something was there.  This was so much fun!  

Gift giving often stresses me out terribly - my Enneagram 3 heart worries about failing and not being great at giving gifts but this was one with no pressure - totally unexpected, with no obligation in return and just a way to tell two friends I love them.  THIS is the fun part of Christmas gift giving!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Yarn Along

If you are visiting via the Yarn Along hosted by Ginny at Small Things, you can be forgiven for thinking that you have seen this photo before.  In terms of the books, you have.  I've had great intentions in terms of reading but I've been so exhausted from my pace of life at the moment and staying up late writing Christmas cards, frantically knitting and starting to wrap gifts.  Every night, I fall into bed with plans to read and within minutes (VERY FEW), I am nodding off or my eyes are getting too heavy.  It is NOT a reflection on the books themselves.  Miss Read's Emily Davis is a lovely, comfort read that tells the story of the lives of various people who have been impacted by an elderly teacher in the village of Springbourne in England.  I've been hearing a great deal from podcasters I love about The Enneagram and The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, seems to the be starting point for a Christian exploration.  It's been good so far but my mind is struggling with the need to think.  Listening for Madeleine is wonderful - Madeleine L'Engle is one of my very favourite writers and hearing that she is who I thought she was from those who lived around her is such a gift.

In terms of knitting, I've been working away.  Last week, I finished "Foxy's" blanket and now, I'm working on "Rabbity's" blanket.  It's also time to block and I've got the shawl I made for the DECE I work with blocking on the dining room table.  The photos don't do it justice - I love the colours in this colourway of a hand-dyed yarn.  LOVE IT!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Advent Week 3 - Saturday

What an insane day!  We had the "Santa Skate" this morning and then, the first of our church Christmas performances tonight.  I can't believe how much we actually had to get done!

Pk has become very involved in skating at our local club.  I have somewhat mixed feelings about it - any of the performance activities for girls (e.g., dance, figure skating, cheerleading, etc) seem to be rather over the top and the hair and make-up and costumes make me feel a bit... like we are asking children to grow up before their time.  It's not really my comfort zone, that's for sure.  On the other hand, Pk skates with an amazing cohort of girls, the coaches are awesome at our club and it's a small club, so there isn't too much pressure to spend a fortune on extra coaching and hours and hours of practice.  She's there four days in the week but it's fairly close to home.  

I think, though, that for me, any of these performance events actually appeal to me because of my history in music.  I played my instrument in a variety of performing groups from the age of 11 until I finished university.  My life was bouts of hard work, the adrenelin of performing and the high of a job well done.  There was also a sense of closeness the developed with the people with whom I was performing and in those short bursts, we could build very close relationships.  It makes me so happy when I see my children getting to be a part of that, even if it is not exactly the form that I would have chosen.  Pk got to perform in three numbers today - the debut of the synchro skating group she has started being a part of this fall, the full "star skate" group and her "juniors" group and I think I had as much fun as she did.  The coach tried to convince me to join the adult skating class and I am actually considering it - I love being on the ice and the exercise would be super!

Our church performances also make me so very happy!  It's wonderful to get to see the kids working hard and building their confidence being part of a play and it's even more wonderful that we actually have enough children from families that are committed members of the church to put on a production.  My heart is full tonight!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Advent Week 3 - Thursday

This has definitely been a few days spent in 'plan b'.  Nothing like a week of school concerts (Dh conducting two at his school, me with one at mine and Pk singing in the choir at hers) to put us into an insane frenzy of activity that makes reflecting on the peace and stillness of the season nigh on impossible.

Then, along comes the storm of the century and we move from 'plan b' to 'plan q'!  The drive home from work was terrifying (when you are driving home and you don't recognize the forest on either side of you at all, despite the fact that you have driven this road five days a week for three years and often a whole lot before that, you know you are in trouble).  Then, we got the news that the school board had declared an "inclement weather" evening (no, really???) and all concerts and meetings were cancelled and then Lb's Beavers Christmas party was cancelled.  We went from an evening of my being a single parent and trying to get two kids to different places at the same time and juggling pick up to the entire family at home and the kids vaguely upset about what they were missing.

Then, Dh came up with a plan.  Our tree had been up in the living room since Monday but we hadn't had time to decorate and we weren't sure when we would do it.  His idea was that we could make a special evening of it tonight.  It actually did work out rather well.  I put on the Chris Tomlin album Adore (which has become a staple around here this year, despite the fact that it is a couple of years old) and the decorating began.  Our tree does not end up being a fancy tree but a very simple tree with white lights, red wooden beads and the ornaments that tell the story of our families is what I want most.  I had a few minutes of rage (my family has their moments and what began as a frenzy of wanting to help and everyone getting in the way became me doing it all on my own while they made a mess around me) but we eventually settled into nostalgia and discussions about Christmases past that felt like a wonderful way to spend the time.  It was Pk's year to put the star on the tree, which she loved.  We were all very satisfied with the results and now, I plan to get into my warm bed, knit a few rows while I listen to a book and then, doze off.  Goodnight!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Yarn Along

What could be better than knitting and books, especially in the midst of this dark, cold and snowy weather?  Thanks to Ginny and her wonderful blog, Small Things, we can share both and they are just what I need right now to stay sane!

I'm sure that I am not alone in feeling the time crunch as Christmas approaches and gifts are needing to be completed to make it into stockings and gift wrap.  I was home with a sick child on Monday (which ended up being a precious gift, since I was exhausted myself and really needed the chance to catch my breath after a very busy weekend).  I used that time to finish up the fingerless gloves that I was making for Pk's horseback riding instructor.  They haven't been a great traveling project as once the thumb gets going, I have 7 needles and it would be much too easy to drop a stitch.  I love that they are made with sock yarn and while you can't really see it in the photos, there is a lovely cable that goes along the top of the hand.  I used this pattern and I will definitely be making more pairs for Pk after the Christmas rush is finished since I think they will also be great for her for skating (she is actively involved in figure skating these days).  I'm still working on Lb's blanket for his toy fox but I am hoping to have that finished in the next couple of days, as well.

In terms of reading, I haven't been getting very far.  Every night, I have the greatest intentions of doing some serious reading and within a few pages, I nod off.  I am still loving Listening to Madeleine: A Portrait in Many Voices.  Madeleine L'Engle is, I think, my favourite writer of all time.  As a teenager, I read several of her books, I think my favourite was A House like a Lotus and I found myself identifying with her slightly bookish, awkward heroines and the wonderful characters that she creates to help them to learn to be themselves.  In the last couple of years, I have fallen in love with her journals and several of her reflections on faith.  She does such a great job of blending a love of God and of mystery.  I was afraid that I wouldn't like this book as seeing someone through the eyes of those around her can be a great way to discover that one's heroine has lead feet but the more I read, the more I find that M.L. is exactly who I hoped that she would be.  I'm still working my way through The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, which is also good but not as easy going.  I am determined to finish Emily Davis by Miss Read this week, too.  It's wonderful in the perfect "cozy English village" kind of way.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Advent Week 3 - Tuesday

One of our favourite Advent traditions began here a few years ago.  I think it's something that I saw either on Facebook or on Pinterest and I immediately loved the idea.  At the beginning of Advent, you wrap up 24 Christmas books and each night, your children unwrap a book to read.  We have been doing this for four or five years now and we have more than 24 books, so it's fun for them to see both the old favourites that appear and the new books that I slip in.  We all have our favourites but the most wonderful thing of all is that each night, we cuddle up under a blanket together and share a story.  It's terrible for the earth, given all the wrapping paper that we waste but at the moment, I wouldn't change it.  What a nice way to end an exhausting and stressful day (and work HAS been stressful this week...)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent Week 3 - Sunday

This morning, poor Dh was recovering from his very late night at the MLS game (wouldn't it be the coldest MLS final ever played that went into not only extra time but penalty kicks?).  We tried to let him sleep in so I ruled that we would spend some time getting some things done at the dining room table to keep things quiet.  Pk did Christmas cards for her coaches and daycare teachers, Lb did his homework (who knew there would be so much in grade 1?) and I worked on Christmas cards.  It was a lovely way to begin the day.

Every year, I feel pressure to get the cards done.  I know that lots of people are moving away from cards entirely or doing things online.  Not me.  I have a love for paper and for getting things in the mail.  I don't know why, but there is something lovely about a personal note, a check in with a dear friend, an excitement with opening a card to see what's inside.  I wish I had more time for it but I am fairly happy this year - last year, our cards were mailed after Christmas (we were aiming to make it within the 12 days of Christmas) and this year, I have at least half already mailed and I plan to get the rest out this week.

Today was also the day of one of our favourite Christmas traditions.  We have a good friend who hosts an annual tree cutting party.  She and her husband used to invite all kinds of people to meet at a tree farm, cut a tree and then head back to their place for a very informal gather.  Her husband has passed on but the family still has the tree cutting every year.  It's funny how families go through stages - we were the only ones who actually cut a tree this year but everyone still came and went back to her place for a lovely chili lunch and the usual treats (Deb's turtle brownies are fantastic!!!)  I'm not a fan of formal parties that involve stress about dressing and I don't much like parties where there is a lot of drinking but something like this, at which I know everyone and it's very casual is exactly the kind of thing that I love.  The kids love it too.  We are also hard-core real tree people (I will never understand artificial trees, it's one of my few true snobberies) and there is just something about the smell of a real tree that means Christmas to me more than just about anything else.  It was a lovely day.

Now, we wait anxiously to see whether we get the 15 cm of snow that has been predicted.  That could make getting into work very tricky in the morning.  Say a little prayer for me!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Advent Week 2 Saturday

Today was a nice day.  It was a tiny bit slower than things have been of late, at least for me.  There was the usual Saturday morning skating lessons but after that, my official duties were done.  Dh was going down to the city to see the MLS finals (he is a HUGE soccer fan so this is a wonderful treat for him, despite the fact that it's -10 celsius down there tonight) so it was a good time to have some fun with the kidlets.  Pk was supposed to go to "Tween Scene" at church for a cookie decorating night but illness by the leader cancelled that so we had a nice evening at home.

Last year, we baked the pieces for our gingerbread house (my really good friend gave us this awesome gingerbread pan quite a few years ago) but we never actually put the pieces together.  I was determined that our house would get done and this year, it did.  The kitchen was covered in icing and I think that more candy got eaten than put onto the cake but they still had a lot of fun.  I also baked some gingerbread cookies, since they are Lb's favourite (and he's really picky so he gets spoiled when I find something that he does like).  Pk had fun using up the extra icing on those cookies!

We have another family tradition that I borrowed from dear friends - we give each child an ornament every year so that when they leave home, they have a collection of ornaments that all have Christmas memories to take with them.  We didn't want them to get absorbed into our more general collection of ornaments so we bought each child a little tree and they are very excited every year to decorate their trees.  While I watched the game (and relished the fact that I was at home in the warmth rather than down at the game in the freezing cold), the kids had a wonderful time traveling down memory lane and getting their trees together.  What a lovely snowy, Christmas-y day!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Advent Week 2 Friday

If I were to pick the "ideal" Advent week, in which I had my priorities straight and really lived the way I hoped, this would NOT be the week that represents that.  I broke my phone, I have had a student with special needs who has totally fallen off the rails this week and I've been going home with a headache and trying not to cry, Lb has been a right stinker and I have been staying up too late reading and then dragging myself through the day.  All that being said, the week wasn't entirely a write-off.

On Wednesday evenings, I get together with a small group of women for some faith and friendship time.  It's so funny, for years, I read about people having these amazing small group experiences and that these connections became so sustaining and brought such richness to people's faith.  I dreamed of that and tried several different small group settings and while I got things from each one, none of them was "home" the way I had hoped.  As usual, what I was looking for finally found me and in a place that I was totally not expecting.

In our town, there are four churches and three of the four are small.  Ours is the only show in town for more formal kids programmes and basically everyone in town who is Christian sends their kids to Awana at our church.  A few of the moms I know from different places, none of whom are members of our church, asked me if I wanted to join a book study group that they did while their kids were at Awana.  At first, I wasn't sure but finally, Dh told me to go and check it out.  After a few weeks, I was hooked.

We are a very strange group.  We all grew up in different denominations - two Evangelicals, one former atheist and several who grew up in mainline churches.  The wife of the pastor at one of the churches in town is truly a kindred spirit for me and we always joke that we are both members of "the tribe" - that weird group of Evangelical women who are a funny mix of faith and radicalness and passion for social justice.  We don't fit anywhere because we are too radical for our Evangelical friends, who probably all think that we are 'commies' and yet the more liberal churches are too liberal theologically for us.  She and I are constantly swapping books (I had a good laugh when she lent me some Rachel Held Evans and said that as a pastor's wife, she felt like she should wrap the books in brown paper, just in case...) and we give each other looks whenever James Dobson's name comes up.  It's funny, though, while we don't all agree and we come at things from different perspectives, it's the first group in which I really felt like "it's all o.k."  People can ask hard questions and people struggle but nobody gets upset and nobody calls the doctrine police.  One of the women has a son who has announced his sexual orientation and to put it mildly, for his mother, a conservative farm wife, this has been a terrible blow.  The night she told us, I truly felt like I was a part of something magical - she had been hiding this for a while and it was eating her from the inside.  She was obviously waiting to be rejected and/or told she needed to reject her son and you could see that for her, just to know that there was a safe place of mothers whose first priority and understanding was loving one's children, regardless of one's opinions of things that child is feeling or doing, was life changing for her.  It's funny, as I sit on the slightly faded floral couch in the incredibly comfortable living room drinking tea and chatting with these women, I feel a connection that I have rarely felt in my life and in the year or so we have been doing this, my life has changed and I feel like less of an outside in "church".

Wednesday evening, we had our last meeting before Christmas.  There was tea (always!!!), sweet treats (like K's fruit cake that featured almonds and chocolate brandy soaked cherries - I can't describe how amazingly good it was), goat cheese and pepper jelly, talk about our children, a few tears, many laughs and prayer.  I can't think of a better way to spend an evening in Advent.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Yarn Along

Wow!  Two Yarn Along posts in the last two weeks.  I can't remember when I last managed that.  The Yarn Along is the wonderful weekly blog get-to-gether in which Ginny at Small Things invites us all to share photos of what we are knitting and what we are reading.  I can't think of much that relaxes me more than stitching and reading and I love, so much, to see what everyone else is doing.

In terms of knitting, I am having a hard time containing myself to a project long enough to finish.  I set aside the fingerless gloves this past week and am continuing the cabled wrap for the DECE with whom I share a classroom.  On Friday, I was playing a bit on Pinterest and suddenly, I was overcome with the need to do some special knitting for my kids for Christmas.  I can't remember how the idea began but before I knew it, I had decided that LB needed a blanket for Foxy and Pk either needed hats for her Maplelea Dolls (similar to American Girl) or a blanket for Rabbity.  My kids are both huge stuffy kids and it's quite touching to see LB who is now a six year old boy and pretending to be ten years old much of the time, devoting such love and care to Foxy.  Foxy has a den made by LB, he participates in endless games and he is cuddled just about to death.  He gets tucked in each and every night but there has been some upset as to which blanket actually belongs to him.  I was volunteering at the local skating competition on Saturday for 8 hours and my time involved a lot of sitting around.  It was exciting to see the blanket working up so quickly!

In terms of books, I don't know that I have anything in the way of paper books that I wasn't reading last week.  I am meandering though several books at the moment and I keep moving back and forth, which means that I am not reading anything quickly.  I am LOVING Listening for Madeleine (interviews with people who knew Madeleine L'Engle in various ways throughout her life about their impressions of her - I am so relieved, I adore her writing and I am thrilled to learn that she is exactly the gracious, faithful and brilliant woman that I believed her to be).  I am enjoying Miss Read's Emily Davis (exactly the kind of cozy for this time of year) and I am also revisiting Ann Voskamp's The Greatest Gift as my Advent reflection book.

I really can't move away from books without a note about audiobooks. I somehow ended up with an Audible account that I was paying into monthly (don't ask) and I decided to give audiobooks a try.  I walk a LOT and I love to have sometime that I can listen to.  I am in love!  I have enjoyed several books and right now, I am totally hooked by My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.  I love the podcast What Should I Read Next (each new episode arrives in my podcast app on Tuesday morning and I can't wait for my Tuesday walk to listen!)  She kept discussing these set of four books and I decided to give them a try.  I don't know whether I would enjoy them as much if there wasn't a wonderful reader who is able to give an extra depth to the text and it would be hard to explain the plot in a way that would grab one the way that they have grabbed me.  I have 3 hours left and I suspect that I will have to buy the second book as soon as I finish the first!

Do you listen to audiobooks?  Do you have any suggestions for me?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Advent Week 2 Tuesday

Today was one of those days.  You know the ones.  The ones where you wake up in the morning with all of these great intentions and then, as the day goes on, you feel yourself slipping further and further behind.  Tuesdays are always my craziest days (with Thursday being a close second).  Pk has to be in a neighbouring town for her skating practice at 4:30.  Given that I work in a town 20 minutes from home, I don't get all my class dismissed until 3:25 or 3:30 and then I have to drive home, get the dogs, grab Pk from daycare and run to the arena and get her ready by 4:30, it's always tight.  It doesn't end there.  While she skates, I drive to the forest and run the dogs and then aim to be back at the arena for 5:50, at which point we rush home to eat dinner and have Lb at Beavers for 6:45.  I try to either do a slow cooker meal of make something that Dh can just throw in the oven but it tends to mean that on Tuesday, I do nothing but run.  I would have loved to do something special today but I don't know where I would fit it in.  Add in the fact that I drove in to work wondering whether I had blown out the candle after my prayers and had to drive home at recess (I had a prep period right after recess so I had time for the 40 minutes of driving), it was a less that restful day.

On days like today, it's so important that I find ways to embrace the little moments and to bring peace in somehow.  I was rather proud of myself today.  Driving in, I decided that instead of the radio or a podcast, I would listen to some Christmas music.  Currently, I have two things that I am listening to.  The most often has been Chris Tomlin's Christmas album Adore.  There are several tracks I love (or adore, groan) but some that aren't really my thing.  I am also listening to that one because I sing with the worship team at church and we do a lot of contemporary stuff.  I'll be honest, I am finding that as I am getting older, I like the worship songs less and less and long for the hymns that I grew up with.  I have actually pondering trying to find a more liturgical church in the area that has an evening service that I go could to once in a while, just to scratch that itch.  Anyway, this morning was not a Chris Tomlin morning and before I knew it, I had my favourite Christmas album of all time on and I was singing my heart out.

I love celtic music and I have been a Chieftains fan for years.  Their Christmas album, The Bells of Dublin, is my favourite.  The last three tracks, a medley that starts with Once in Royal David's City, moves into Ding, Dong Merrily on High and then ends with O Come, All Ye Faithful with a cathedral choir and the bells of the cathedral as the finale reduces me to a weeping mess of joy each and every time.  I love descants, I love clear voices, I love harmony and I love anything that sounds British.  You can't do better than this.  Dh always teases me that it's not Advent yet until I have listened a few times and bawled.  I am trying to find more time for music and less time for "busy" these days and it is making a difference.

Do you have a favourite Christmas album?  What puts you in the Christmas spirit?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Advent Week 2 Monday

Today was one of those days... To understand "one of those days", you need to have taught kindergarten and in an area that gets snow.  It was wet snow - the snow that looks so pretty but that means soggy snowpants, complaints about wet socks, cold and clammy boots and mittens that are so wet that they are dripping.  Add in children who cannot get themselves ready and parents (not all!) who don't read the notes that come home that say to send extra dry pants and socks...  There were moments that were funny (like when the tiny Chinese boy in my class came wandering out of the bathroom with no pants on because his were wet) and moments that made me want to run screaming from the room ("I can't find my shoes," "These aren't my mittens,"  "Help me, Mrs. G.N.," said by a chorus of whining children).  It was one of those days when all I wanted with all of my being was a pot of tea, a comfy chair, a good book and SILENCE.  A person can dream...

At least the scenery was lovely.  There's nothing cozier than a warmly snowy day (except for a warmly snowy day in which one does not have to go out).  I'm trying to count my blessings.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advent Week 2 Sunday

This may sound funny but we honoured Advent Sunday 2 by not going to church.  I have a strong tendency to drive the family to do EVERYTHING and I am trying to learn that sometimes, we need to honour life with some quiet and some rest.  Yesterday was busy for all of us with LB in the parade and Pk in a skating competition and me volunteering at that for 8 hours.  We were all exhausted and we knew that the next couple of weeks are INSANE so it was time to take a break.  Instead of going to church, we lingered in bed, read Christmas stories and cuddled together in Mommy and Daddy's bed, made the walls for our gingerbread house (my friend gave me the most awesome gingerbread pan that lets you bake your own walls to make a gingerbread house and this has become a loved tradition).

While I was out yesterday, Dh took LB with him to see a friend and get his tires changed.  LB was playing with our friend's daughter and I gather the daddies weren't supervising very carefully because they discovered LB and his 6 year old friend playing darts (Dh said they both just about had a heart attack).  LB talked all day about the darts and asked if we could play at home.  I'm a bit of a "Why not?" mom and we had a very rousing game of darts (and our wall has several holes in it now - we have to work on our aim).  It was one of those little things but involving so much laughter that will become one of my fondest memories of connecting with each other this holiday.

We have an annual Christmas crafts tradition with friends of ours and we didn't want to miss it this year.  After a lovely afternoon nap, we went over there, the kids crafted, the adults chatted and we had a nice chili dinner.  It was very laid back and in the end, the moms had the most fun crafting (where has colouring been all my life?  Who knew I loved it so much???)

Finally, it was over to the church for adult choir practice.  One of the things that I love most about our church is that our kids LOVE it there.  Whenever we are going there for anything, we are demanded to take them with us and tonight was no exception.  Dh had been chatting with a friend at church and they needed a stable and a manger built and he agreed to help his friend and to set up the platform for our church play/concert in two weeks while we sang.  The kids ran around downstairs having a grand time with a few of their friends (and demanded that we stay longer).

Again, as I said with the parade yesterday, for reasons that I don't really understand, I grew up feeling like I didn't belong and these times of community and belonging mean a great deal to me.  I would like us, as the church, to be a place where we can figure out how to help everyone who wants to to have that feeling of welcome, of knowing that you are loved and accepted and that you are part of a family of God.  Every church has its issues, ours included, but at least for us, at this point in time, it's been a precious gift.  We are involved in so many ways (I am on the Compassion Committee and we are doing some really exciting things in terms of reaching out to our community and the world as we help to sponsor refugees to come to Canada and are supporting a minister in a small town in Honduras who is feeding 70 children at his church every week because they don't have enough to eat, I sing with our worship team twice a month, I teach Sunday school, Dh does the visuals for the service and is running the drama for our play, Pk goes to "Tween Scene", sings in the choir and is an actress in our play and Lb goes to Awana, sings in the choir and generally just loves his church friends).  The church year has become important to us (e.g., spring means Easter prep with some kind of concert, fall is the prep for the drama/music at Christmas, July is a week of VBS and we billet some of the sportscamp staff, etc).  I especially love having somewhere that really has something to offer each member of our family and a place that we can be involved together.

I'm going to bed tonight with a feeling of contentment that I spent the day exactly as I would like to sustain me through the week.

Advent Week 1 Saturday

While I know that small town living doesn't agree with everyone, for me, our life here is just about perfect.  I grew up in the city and I always felt a sense of disconnection.  The pace of city life moves so quickly and while there are people who find a sense of community in their neighbourhoods (my parents being two), that never worked for me.  The tightness of a small town that disagrees with some, agrees totally with me.  On days like the day of our town Santa Claus parade, I feel that very keenly.

I am a total sucker for hokiness and our town parade has that in spades.  There are no fancy floats - most floats are either groups of kids from one club or another, a church group sitting in the back of someone's pick up truck, a few animals, a few local politicians and of course, the Shriners always come with their train car.  For the little boys, the firetrucks are always there and we have some companies in town that have some pretty cool vehicles (like Pk's friend's dad who has an environmental assessment drilling company who draw the Cub Scouts in his machine that looks an awful lot like a tank.  The local pipe band with about 20 very old and decrepid looking pipers also comes along.  I love every second and most years, I end up in tears.  There's just something so beautiful about simple people getting together, doing their best and having fun.  LB was with the Beavers who rode on the back of a farm trailer covered in tree branches (and I thought that LB was trying to kill someone with a branch but he has assured me that he was "being a Christmas tree.")  We saw lots of friends, we got to wave and say hi to people in just about every float or group and mostly, it was just a lot of small town fun.  At the end of the parade, there was a table with hot chocolate for all of the participants and there were hot dogs and Santa at the community centre.  It was awful and lovely and reminded me of exactly why I chose to live here and that I have been planted in just the right place for me!