coming

The word "advent" comes from the Latin adventus, meaning "coming". Each year, we find ourselves settling with more ease into the ways we observe this season. We seem to add something new every couple of years, and frequently take something away, too, always coming more into a place that suits us just where we are as a family.

Every year, we get out fewer decorations right at the start of the season. This year, we have actually only taken out things directly related to our advent observance (except the nativity, which we can never wait for!), leaving all of the other Christmas things for another day. This weekend, we got out our advent stocking calendar, advent wreath, Jesse Tree ornaments (on the miniature tree—waiting until our customary mid-December date for bringing the big tree in this year), our winter and Christmas books, our favorite advent music, and the nativity with empty manger.

We also made some chaplets for the St. Andrew Christmas Novena, thanks to a gift certificate to a craft store. This is our first year praying the Christmas novena, although I've wanted to for a couple of years. One thing I've realized about myself is that I usually need a long time to think about something before diving in on it. (For example, when we moved into this house, I had recently started liking white painted walls quite a bit, but wasn't ready to commit to them. Now, a few years later, I am very much ready for that commitment. Perhaps if things become a bit more stable for us, we will go ahead and paint the walls white in the next year!) Anyway, after hearing about the St. Andrew Christmas Novena for several years, I decided a while back that this year we'd do it. We had a great time making the chaplets (sort of using this tutorial, but simplified without the extending section leading to the medal), with my three older children choosing from among the purple beads (we had amethyst, dyed agate, and purple glass) and stringing their own, while I did the finishing and hardware at the end. Last night we all prayed it together for the first time, and already I can see that it promises to bear a lot of fruit of contemplation and slowing down for this busy bunch of mine.

This prayer, combined with the candlelight from the advent wreath (by the way, we've been using this booklet of advent wreath reflections for the last two years, and it's really nice), and the scripture reading and soft singing of Lo, How a Rose with the Jesse Tree, gives me the feeling we have half a chance of actually being prepared for Christmas this year, no matter what material gifts show up under the tree on Christmas morning.

No matter what your season looks like, I wish you peace, rest, quiet, and joy during this time of waiting.

on "suffering well"

We have all heard the stories. The cancer patient with a smile on her face. The family who makes up for their lack of money with abundant love. The parents who survive an illness or death of a child with grace. The stories of people who suffer well.

I have not felt I have been suffering well. I have told my mom and my sisters and my friends, in jagged, desperate text messages and emails, that poverty is not making me holier. Reality has often consisted of my numbly scrolling through pages of social media sites with tangled hair, barking at my children, ignoring the state of my house. I have not felt holy. I have not felt like a saint of poverty.

Because, of course, we have examples of saints. Mother Teresa gave up everything not just to serve the poor, but to be one of them. I am not Mother Teresa. I have been fighting my circumstances, not graciously accepting them, and especially not embracing them. I have been envious. I have been ugly.

I have not been suffering well.

Or so I thought.

Christmas is coming, and suddenly we have had offers of help with gifts. People have gone out of their way to tell me that I have inspired them or helped them through their own hard times—not just in the past, but right now. Right now, while I think I am failing.

I sat down today to read Soul Gardening Journal (which, as an aside, you should subscribe to! It's free! And amazing!), and opened it right away to a beautiful piece called "Your Children Are Your Prayer" by Caitlyn Bootsma. Reading it, I realized that "suffering well" doesn't mean what I think it means, just as "praying well" doesn't always mean what we think it does. I have something to offer. An occasional word here, or photo on Instagram. An occasional glimpse through my eyes of good life, being lived, even when things are so hard and so depressing and so desperate. Those things may be a strange juxtaposition, but it's real. Some days I don't feel like getting out of bed, and on the same day, snow is falling and my daughter is playing "Let It Snow" on the piano and I'm reading to my little ones and drinking tea, and on the same day I'm wildly texting my mom that things can't get any worse (and they can't, they truly can't), and at the same time, they can't get any better. Does that make sense? The worst day can also be the best day. 

You guys, it is Love that is holding me up. Love of this little family, love of our broader family and community, love of strangers. Their love for me. My love for them. It's the Love of our Good God.

It should not be such a surprise that suffering is so hard. Because, oh my goodness, it is really, really hard. And I realized that, even in the moments that I do not think I am up to the challenge, that I cannot put one foot in front of the other even one more time, that I am doing it. 

I am not failing as much as I thought.

an explanation of sorts.

I have heard from a few people over the last months about my prolonged absence here. Some have been kind and genuinely concerned, and some, honestly, have been rude, implying that I "owe" my writing here to "someone", which of course, I do not. Anyone who writes, or does art, or really just about anything else, has to do it for themselves first. There may be other factors that influence a person's decision to write or create, but no one is doing any of that if their heart is not in it, if they aren't motivated, if it doesn't feed or inspire them in some way. 

The truth is, I haven't wanted to write.

There are all kinds of reasons:

  • I've been very sad for a long time. My husband lost his teaching job nearly 18 months ago and is currently working for minimum wage. He's applied for so many jobs that I've lost count. It's in the hundreds, maybe thousands. He's had a handful of interviews, with feedback that amounted to "We really liked you, but..." I started working in February but my hours have all but dried up now. We are really struggling. Every day is a difficult and complicated balancing act of trying to maintain some level of "normal" for our children (not just materially, but in terms of holding a healthy, normal emotional place for them), and profound sadness. 
  • My children are older, and there are more of them than there were two or six or nine years ago (obviously). My energy and time are spent on them; there isn't very much left for writing, or knitting, or photography. 
  • Blogging is not the same as it once was. People don't read as many blogs with regularity, and they don't interact as much with the ones they do read. Even my blogging friends don't leave comments here for me, and I must admit that I seldom leave any for them, either. The interaction from my readers was, at one time, a huge motivation for me to continue my blogging presence, but I think those days have long since passed. 

But even considering these reasons, the truth is, I haven't wanted to write. Not in a public space, and not privately in a journal, either. Writing is not the thing I have wanted to spend my time on. 

I don't know if I will suddenly come back to it or not. If I do, it'll be because I have something I want to say. It'll be because I want to write. 

winding down

On Saturday I floated on my back in a pool of cool blue water and watched clouds slowly drift across the dome of blue above, and thought and thought, about everything—and nothing. 

It was our last day at the pool for the summer. This was a summer of immense growth for all of our children, watching swimming "click" for the middle two, witnessing our baby's first words ("doggy" was the first!), and the sudden transformation of our eldest into a very mature and grown-up young lady.

I usually hate the month of August, but this has been a surprisingly good one so far. We are still struggling financially, but it hasn't been too hot and my usual August blues haven't paid a visit. In fact, the winding-down of summer, as many of our friends have returned to school this week, is a little bit bittersweet. We will not start our "homeschool year" (in quotes because I use the term "school" loosely) until sometime in September. We usually like to start around the 8th or so, but I think we may be just a bit later this year depending on several factors. 

I'm reminding myself not to wish away any time, as the time here with these children passes too quickly, as things are always changing, and just as soon as we thought we had something figured out and settled, that time, too, moves forward. 

So even when I'm feeling tired and a bit uninspired in general, here is my baby, ever closer to his first steps, his little words bubbling up with such joy. It is a reminder that even as summer seems to be passing away, here and now there is something fresh and so beautiful.

just my baby and me

My husband took this crazy crew camping and left John and me home for a few days. 

Last year, he took the three of them camping just a few days after John and I came home from the hospital, and I spent the whole time on the couch, nursing my new baby, avoiding going up and down stairs, watching the entire first season of House of Cards, eating Chicken Divan that I'd frozen a few months before, visiting with my midwife, and resting. 

This year I opted to stay home again because my back doesn't do well with laying on the ground, and while our time at home has been a little bit less "glamorous", it has been so nice, too. I've done a good bit of housework, but I also managed a couple of naps with baby John, read just a bit, spent some time praying and journaling, took some silly quizzes on Facebook, killed a really creepy fly-spider hybrid, and played a ton of peekaboo.

It was nice to have this time, and I really needed it. But I've missed them, too, and the house has been dreadfully quiet. So I'm really looking forward to seeing them this afternoon!

cherry picking and pie making (and a recipe for you!)

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We have enjoyed not one, but two delicious homemade cherry pies in the last four days. We have two dwarf Montmorency cherry trees in our back yard, and since cherry pie is my favorite thing, well, it's obvious that this would be an exciting season. We actually didn't have any cherries last year due to a frost that ruined the blossoms, and the previous year we were up to our ears in house renovations, so the birds got to them before we did. So this is the first year to enjoy the fruit of our trees in pies! These pies were especially fun and exciting for me as a mama, because Elisabeth made both of them. The first one with my oversight, and the second on her own. 

Some of our backyard cherry spoils, plus our family's favorite cherry-themed book, Cherries and Cherry Pits

Some of our backyard cherry spoils, plus our family's favorite cherry-themed book, Cherries and Cherry Pits

I have normally closely guarded our family cherry pie recipe—which is a combination of my mom's pie filling and my grandma's pastry—but I've decided to share it here so it won't be lost to time!

Note: This is not healthy. It is dessert, after all. We don't eat cherry pie all that often, so I don't mind one bit throwing all my usual healthy eating policies out the window. The crust is unusual as it uses shortening instead of butter (I know, terrible—but so reliable) and milk instead of ice water (maybe this is the secret?), but it's so reliably tender and flaky that I just keep going back to it. I have not had any luck so far with gluten-free pie pastry, and I've tried a lot of different recipes, so this is with "glutenful" flour. Fortunately my gluten-free child doesn't really care for pie.

The Best Cherry Pie 

Preheat oven to 425°F.

For the pastry:

-1 cup chilled vegetable shortening (an organic version, like this, works just as well as the gross trans-fat variety)

-2 cups all-purpose flour

-1 tsp salt

-1/2 cup cold milk

Cut the flour and salt into the shortening using a pastry blender, two knives, or a food processor, until rough pea-sized crumbs form. It's good to have different sizes of crumb. (I do this by hand with a pastry blender.) Add the milk, a little at a time until you can pull a dough together. (Mix with your hands.) Knead just once or twice. Divide in half, pat each half into a disk, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

For the filling:

-6 cups pitted tart cherries (or 3 cans tart cherries, rinsed and drained)—DO NOT USE SWEET CHERRIES.

-1 2/3 cups sugar (that's one and two-thirds, if the formatting makes it hard to read)

-1/2 cup all-purpose flour (do not substitute corn starch or another starch—trust me on this)

-a generous 1 tsp almond extract (I really add up to another quarter teaspoon or so)

Combine all the ingredients and let stand while the dough is chilling. 

Assemble and bake pie:

Roll the first disk of dough out, and fit to a 9" pie plate. Pour the filling in, and dot with butter. (I use a few tablespoons, cut up.) Roll out the second disk of dough, cut slits, and place over filling. Crimp edges. Generously sprinkle top with cinnamon sugar.

Place pie on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes. Reduce temperature to 375°, and bake an additional 20-30 minutes, until crust is browned and filling is bubbly. Allow to cool at least 30 minutes before cutting. 

Enjoy!