a children's halloween

 decorating done by my children

decorating done by my children

 costumes sewn by elisabeth!

costumes sewn by elisabeth!

 elisabeth's pumpkin

elisabeth's pumpkin

As you can gather by the captions, my children really took charge of Halloween this year. I had a lot going on with work deadlines and bronchitis-that-may-or-may-not-have-been-pneumonia (according to my doctor, so we treated it like pneumonia just in case, I never got a chest x-ray to confirm), so we decided early in October that Elisabeth would sew the costumes (she wanted to, anyway). She is awesome at sewing and did an incredible job! My sewing machine broke on her mid-way through and needed to go into the shop (it was overdue for a service, anyway), so we had to borrow my sister-in-law's VERY different machine to finish up, and she did a great job adjusting to the unfamiliar equipment!

I was excited that my crew agreed on theme costumes again this year (last year was a Halloween-Christmas mashup that I never posted about here), and Peter Pan is an especially fun theme. Of course people are always confused about one member of the group, so this year, no one seemed to realize that Elisabeth was Wendy Darling. 

I took more photos but this is all I had the patience to edit online (still waiting to repair our iMac with all my actual photo software on it). I am so proud of Elisabeth's work on these costumes, and her patience both with the process and with hovering (and occasionally nagging) younger siblings. 

I was also excited that these costumes turned out to be very affordable! We used lots of coupons and sale fabrics, and we already had all the notions, thread, elastic, etc., that we needed on hand. 

Patterns used were McCall's 3051 for Wendy, Simplicity 7784 for Peter Pan, Simplicity 2872 for Tinker Bell (I really liked this pattern's take on the fairy costumes—rather than a literal translation of the Tinker Bell look, it loosely applies it to cute dresses, which really expresses my costuming "philosophy", if I have one, that costumes should give the impression of something more than look like a literal copy of it), and Simplicity 9844 for Captain Hook, which you can see looks about 1,000 times better when made than it does on the pattern envelope. It is so cute and John is my only extroverted child, so he was quite into the entire process of dressing up and parading around the neighborhood. He got tons of attention and soaked it up! We couldn't find the old pirate hook we had from Nova Natural many years ago, so we ended up having to pick up a plastic one at the last minute. 

Anyway, altogether we had a great Halloween with much merriment, and I was so happy that my children took a lead role in decorating, costuming, and pumpkin carving this year. As bittersweet as the whole growing up thing is, it is a joy to see the traditions we have set up really being owned by them as they get older. 

Happy Halloween!

on a winter's eve

Just a few more favorite photos from the last couple of days. I am really loving all this wintriness we're enjoying right now, even though right now it's about -6°F and falling. I was thinking today how much I love the crunchy sound of walking, or even driving, on really cold snow. 

Elisabeth has returned to swim team as usual this week, which in some ways really marks our return to "normal" after the holiday, although we'll leave our decorations up for another week or so and continue to listen to Christmas music and probably bake cookies one more time.

I think I'll leave that straw heart up indefinitely when the Christmas decorations get put away. About a month ago, I sort of envisioned it hanging in that spot by the window, and I thought it might be nice there year-round, or at least for a few more months. 

I know I almost never mention movies or shows here, but it's nice sometimes to have something to watch while doing handwork, and with the cold we're having, I realize I need to get some sweaters churned out quickly for several of my crew, and we really need that granny square blanket that I haven't picked up in months. So, I'm looking forward to binge-watching Friends in January when it comes onto Netflix, and my husband and I have been enjoying watching Endeavour lately. I love catching the many Shakespeare references! And of course, here in the US, Downton Abbey returns this coming Sunday. Do you have any favorite things to watch while doing handwork?

in which i realize i am george bailey

It's a Wonderful Life has been my favorite Christmas movie since I was nine years old. Always sensitive, always concerned with suffering and justice, this film has always revealed something very true to me. George Bailey doesn't "do his duty" and put others before himself with some giddy sense that it's fun to do it. He does it because it's the right thing, even though it's hard. He never wanted to run his father's business or stay in his small town or protect his alcoholic uncle or see his wife and children live in an old dumpy house. But he did those things anyway, because he loved people—his family, his community—and he couldn't walk away from them even when it would have been convenient to do so. And of course, in the end, the people in his life rallied around him when he needed them.

Now, I'm not saying that I've sacrificed myself in any way near to what George Bailey did. But I will say that my community has rallied around me in the most blessed of ways this month. There was a day a couple of weeks ago when we received in the mail several gift cards from friends far and near, including a very generous anonymous one. With tears, I sat down and looked at the abundance with which we have been showered by so many people, and I looked at my husband and just said, "I'm George Bailey—we're George Bailey."  

We have been so richly blessed, so cared for by so many people. We couldn't have provided a magical Christmas for our children this year, and others stepped forward and did it for us. My gratitude is almost inexpressible. So, if you are one of the many, many people who have helped us this year, thank you so very, very much. And if you are one of the many more people who have been cheering for us and holding us in prayer, thank you as well.

This Advent was amazingly blessed. We were able to keep it in the most prayerful and anticipatory way yet, and I was really excited about that. And Christmas is a blessing that just keeps giving. 

A few people have asked me about how we celebrated this year. It was pretty simple and quiet and I loved it. We attended Christmas Eve mass in the evening, forgoing the loud, hot, overstimulating "children's mass" and pageant, and were so glad we did. Quiet carols and candlelight were a more peaceful way to end the season of Advent that we'd just observed. There were a few handmade gifts for some of our extended family members. We hosted Christmas Day brunch for my family at our house, which was really wonderful and simple. It was only the second time in 15 years that we haven't dashed out on Christmas Day, and it made for a lovely change of pace, one I wouldn't mind repeating! I like to host things even though it's a lot of work and I'm rather high strung. Snow on Christmas Day and lots of board games and books in the days since have rounded out what has been one of my favorite Christmases ever. I have never felt so blessed. 

Christ is born!

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.

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.