Oh, my, I intended to be much more organized with Advent preparations and traditions this year, especially because my son is now four and is more aware of the impending holiday on December 25. But a variety of illnesses conspired against us and made me modify my plans. Although everything didn’t work out, I’m happy with what we’ve fit in and think it has given us a good foundation for future years.
Fortunately, we were able to celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6, and St. Herman of Alaska on December 13. Their celebrations tie in well with the season, St. Nicholas for obvious reasons and St. Herman because of the chance to use evergreen cuttings and talk about stars (he was called the North Star) and woodland animals. I overheard him singing his own song about St. Herman, improvising on liturgical melodies. It was quite sweet. (I will likely use the same basic idea for St. Seraphim of Sarov on January 2, given some of the similarities in setting and theme between the two men.) He asked about the reason for St. Nicholas giving gold coins to the girls, so hopefully the idea of charity is beginning to form.
I put up the Advent calendar at least a week late, but he didn’t notice. We made it last year out of a birch stick I’d carried around the country for a decade. The bags were simply sewn and contain figures from small wooden Nativity sets (found at Target) and Christmas ornaments. Mary, Joseph, and the infant Christ are in the last bags. I love how all the Nativity figures are lined up in a row with an angel waiting to greet them – one of those signs your kid is Orthodox!
He has greatly enjoyed having a simple paper chain to use to count down the days, perhaps because he gets to use an adult scissor to cut them off.
We also made ornaments together for an Orthodox children’s ornament swap. Despite his (sometimes) long attention span, I knew I couldn’t get him to make 12 ornaments entirely by hand, so he helped me pick out paper color and shape (oval, not square) for the Nativity silhouette cuts and then placed the stars on them. We’ve received our first one in the mail. He immediately hung it on the tree and asked the names of the children who sent it. What a sweet tradition!
And now we wait for just a few more days!
After making the little snowy tree mason jar doodads that are everywhere, I decided to make something similar using the plastic ornaments that are available at Michael’s. They pop open for a person to put all kinds of fun things inside of them and will be safer to mail across the country than glass jars! I started with forest scenes for my Black Hills family, and pine trees with a small bird perched inside of them in memory of my mom who passed this summer, and the natural progression from that was to do a little scene from the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov, of course. I used floral moss to create a base, glued in the little trees (also in the ornaments section at Michaels and JoAnns), created an icon stand from red cardstock and images taken from an old catalog, and added a small toy bear, as well as fake snow. I carefully glued the items into each half (with small dabs of hot glue) before putting the halves together and adding ribbon and birch bark stars. Taking a photo of the reflective round surface proved to be the biggest challenge. I hope to do another one of the life of St. Herman of Alaska and perhaps a few others. Now if only I could acquire his spirit of peace…so much more difficult than whipping up crafts with my glue gun!
Are you like us, thousands of miles from your family during the holidays? Even if you’re not, it’s hard to resist doing a few Thanksgiving crafts: turkey cards (cut on the Silhouette – I finally figured out how to use it, only a year after purchasing it on cyber Monday!) with a note inside telling our loved ones how thankful we are for them, and a collaborative mother-son hand tracing fall tree for the grandparents. And we do have so very many things to be thankful for: the basics (which so many around the world don’t have) of clean water, a safe place to live, enough food, relative health, stable employment, good friends, visits with family, and so, so many more that my heart nearly fills to bursting when I stop to think about it. Happy Thanksgiving!
Earlier this summer I was a little saddened to see my son’s reaction to being in the unfamiliar forest (see this) – my beloved forest! He hated it. He cried to go back. Meanwhile, his local cousins happily romped through the ferns and pine needles. Oh, my beautiful, beloved, wonderful Black Hills forest that I’d explored since my earliest days! But during our three weeks there, he began to reach out more, to touch things, to not feel so out of place. This cheered me. One day we followed a path in town lined with purple dame’s rocket and other wild flowers (and invasive weeds, if we’re being honest), and he reached out to touch things and notice them. I was so proud of him, so very happy to see him becoming acclimated to a place (the Black Hills) where being outdoors is basically a part of everyday life. We have the misfortune to not be able to live there currently, but my hope is to claw more and more time each year out for us to spend there, in the place that I love and consider home, and that hopefully he will come to love as well. Baby steps. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
Even now, only November, I’m counting the weeks until we can return in early summer.
To celebrate my post at the Mops Hello, Darling blog today (An Introvert’s Guide to Hosting), I’m sharing a free download of one of my favorite personal heart photos, hopefully a small bit of encouragement for you or a friend when you need it. Just click here to request it and I will email it to you! I’m also holding a giveaway for one of my alphabet posters and some other surprise goodies from my etsy shop – just leave a comment below to be entered! Comments open until midnight Pacific time on November 20. If you’re here from Mops, welcome! I’m so glad you stopped by.
I’m also excited to share that I am re-opening my etsy shop – ALL profits will be donated to charity. I am especially fond of World Vision’s Child Friendly Spaces program, which offers comfort for kids in disaster areas and refugee camps. As you can tell from my blog, I love to do fun, hands-on thing with my son, and I yearn to provide a small way to help children in difficult situations find a bit of a respite from the stresses of their life (hence the Child Friendly Spaces program.) You’ll find images of hearts, a darling alphabet poster, cupcakes, flowers, and more. I am also passionate about feeding the hungry, so I support my local food banks as well as international charities.
Again, thank you! And remember, you are loved.
rip·ple (ˈripəl), v.t. [RIPPLED (-id), RIPPLING], [Early Mod. Eng.; orig. of stormy, dangerous water; hence prob. < rip, v. + -le, freq. suffix], 1. to form of have little waves or undulating movements on the surface, as water or grass stirred by a breeze. 2. to flow with such waves or movements on the surface. 3. a) to make a sound like that of rippling water. b) to proceed with an effect like that of rippling water: said of sound. v.t. 1. to cause to ripple. 2. to give a wavy or undulating form or appearance to. n. 1. a small wave or undulation, as on the surface of water. 2. a movement, appearance, or formation resembling or suggesting this. 3. a sound like that of rippling water. 4. a small rapid. –SYN. see wave.
That summer, I attend aqua aerobics classes with a handful of elderly women, where I can float and swim with no crowds. Their soft, saggy upper arms wiggle as we raise plastic dumbbells overhead. I find childlike delight in the water. I wonder if you feel as buoyant in your amniotic fluid as I do in the pool. Sometimes I have to stop moving and stand still because the intermittent waves of morning sickness don’t combine well with the splashes and slaps of the water as we bounce up and down with our foam noodles.
My doctors are ultrasound crazy. I see you on the screen many times and imagine waves of sound moving around your body. At thirteen weeks, your tiny arms curl and uncurl on the screen, and I see that your vertebrae have unfurled down your spine with precision.
You travel to many places that summer. We circle the continent in our comings and goings, making loops back and forth between Houston and more beautiful places. Your father and I trace our history and at the same time turn outward to imagine our future, turning to places we’ve already been, and some we haven’t, wondering what travel and life will be like once you arrive.
In New Mexico, I sit on the edge of the hotel bathtub and run mountain-cold water over my dusty feet. The sand from my toes is carried down the tub drain by small ripples. I buy tiny, sweet strawberries at the Santa Fe farmer’s market. Miniscule seeds speckle their red flesh, beginning in a tight whorl at the tip of each berry and spiraling out into wider rings toward the stem. On the way to Taos, we stop at a state park. I stand and watch a small, clear stream running over its rocky bottom while your dad hikes up to a raging waterfall. He shows me a picture of it later, water pounding in a steady rage over a cliff.
In South Dakota, your dad and I walk deep into the woods behind Pactola Lake, following the course of Rapid Creek. He finds the biggest slate pieces he can lift and swings them into the moving water. They crash loudly on the stream’s surface before sinking to the bottom, the impact sending small circular waves toward the banks. I don’t know why he thinks this is so amusing. Ferns are unfurling themselves along the forest floor, tips tightly closed as they lean upward and unroll themselves toward the sun.
In Minnesota, I do the dishes when we visit my mom, your grandma. She’s only 56, but her dementia is moving quickly. Sometimes she will pick up the dishrag and dip it into and out of the soapy water, drops puddling back into the sink from the soaked rag. We visit the largest farmer’s market I’ve ever seen – stands of vegetables, fruit, flowers, and baked goods march onward in even rows.
In Oregon, we rise early, at low tide, and chase to the shore as I did fourteen years previous. The waves flatten on the wide beach. Each footstep in the shallow water makes a lovely splish-splash. I scan the beach for sand dollars, wanting to find them before the flat waves that brought them in carry them back out. Mesmerizing patterns cover the beach, ripples in the sand replicating the ripples of water that have disappeared. Rivulets begin to run into the tide pools as the morning moves toward noon.
In Pennsylvania, we baptize another godchild. She is dunked three times into the large metal font, water splashing up and beyond the lip, white towels already piled around the base. Their folds rise and fall along the floor. In less than a year, it will be your turn for this ancient immersion.
Your limbs move visibly across my stomach as you turn inside. Some women call their contractions waves. I suppose they do start slowly and then build in intensity as a wave does, and to me, they are as violent as the waves we saw pounding a rocky shore in Maine, water still pouring out of the clefts as each new wave came in. I wanted to use a tub for at least part of my labor, but medical interventions make that impossible. We watch the undulations of my contractions on the screen, another line below charting the valleys and peaks of your heartbeat. The two lines are not as synchronized as they should be. I wear a mask, oxygen flowing into my lungs, not for myself but to try to help you. They break my water, thinking it will speed labor. White towels are put out to catch the stream. A photo shows the doctor grasping you as you emerge, a circle of fluid radiating around your head.
You sleep next to me at home and little pools of milk spread out in circles on the sheets. You nurse and then rest, nurse and then rest, rhythmically swallowing. Blue-white milk streams down your chin and onto your neck.
Two weeks old, you relax visibly as the warm water I pour over your scalp trickles down your shoulders. Eighteen months later, you still want me pour water over you in the tub, protesting with a little grunt when I stop. You are mesmerized by the thin cascades of water running down your skin. You hold your hands under the hose as water sprays in a circle onto the perennials, wiggle your fingers in the dog’s water bowl. You pick up the bowl and dump it onto the floor into a huge spreading puddle if I don’t catch you in time.
Each month of your life expands my own, rings of experience and memory growing bigger with time, carrying the three of us forward just as the flattened waves in Oregon slide sand dollars out of the ocean depths and onto the level sand, into the wide open.
I wrote this essay a while back. It originally appeared here.
I’ve been trying to scrape back a little time these last few weeks from our overcommitted days, in disbelief that my son is almost four and with the yearning to be home purposefully spending time with him. I am at home with him, but I take on too many projects and end up spending too much time running in circles. I miss our lazy days of puttering on projects together. Since fall is finally beginning here, today we made time to gather leaves from our backyard with the intention of turning them into wreaths. He just liked gathering leaves, happily scooping up dirt-crusted ones and fallen lime leaves off the patio. He asked to pick some Meyer lemons from the well-laden branches. He glued three leaves into the middle of a paper plate and called it good, but I decided to complete a birch wreath as planned. I glued my leaves around the trimmed edge of a paper plate and will punch a small hole in it when dry to hang it. I feel so blessed to have had that short time in the yard together and, I’ll admit, blessed to have three lovely birch trees! When they turn, I can admire their yellow leaves on the green grass and pretend that I’m in the forest of the Black Hills again.