Advent: it’s not too late to make room

It’s been a few years since I wrote a post on how I love the church year and how it loves me back. I used to post every year on our Advent traditions, and what I loved about Lent and Ordinary Time. But then some of my posts had the opposite effect of what I’d wanted. I shared a practice that was life-giving for me, and it was making other people feel bad.  That had to stop.

But, as a perpetual optimist, I’m back this year to try again.  I want to share a few things I love about the Advent, which began yesterday. Happy New (Church) Year.


Advent is about waiting and making room. It is a season for contemplation. I need more of all three of those in my life, so it’s no wonder Advent is my favorite season.


There are a million and one resources out there to enrich your Advent, but I’m not here to talk about those today.  I don’t want to add anything to your burden, because Advent is about waiting to receive.  Making room. Advent isn’t asking you to do more, or be more.

“Mom, that Prepare sign is really freaking me out.” — child

Advent is asking us to rest in a place of waiting.  Waiting on God to fix what’s broken. (Not my strength. I’m more of a Sarah kind of gal.)

Anyway, I’m here to tell you that it’s not too late. Even if you don’t have any candles, or can’t find your Advent wreath (or don’t have one), or if the broken light is the second one in the string and none of them will light, or you are too overwhelmed to dig any of your decorations out of the basement, or they all went down with your house in a fire, and your kids refuse to snuggle on the couch to listen to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever even though we do it every year but now they think they’re too old for it…

Even if all of that is true, it’s not too late. You don’t need to do anything. Because Advent is about the promise that God is going to show up in the flesh to take care of everything. It’s not going to look like what we expected, and that’s all right, too. Our job is just to make room to see what the Incarnation really looks like.


Grateful: Thanksgiving, 2018

Lots of blessings to count this year. Here are just a few from my list, not in any order other than ease of pulling the photos.  I am grateful:

+ to live in a place that recognizes the importance of open space


+ for the days I remember to make getting outside a priority, and the friends who encourage me to do so


+ for artists and their work, especially work that tells truth and shows me kindness and beauty that is stronger than the evil around us

Members of the original Broadway cast of 'Come From Away.' Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Members of the original Broadway cast of ‘Come From Away.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

+ friends from far away, and poetry


+ having this nutty crew all together for a week:


I am grateful for you, friend.  May you have time to count your blessings this week.

Charlotte Mason and Mother Culture

Charlotte Mason talks about Mother Culture. It’s a funny play on words. Is the culture supposed to be my mother? Is she talking about socialization for mothers?

The Domain of Arnheim, Rene Magritte

I like to think of it in a Julia Cameron Artist’s Way kind of way: in order to keep feeding my children a rich diet of art and music and thought, I need to be feeding myself. Like an oxygen mask for a home educator.

The Happy Donor, Rene Magritte

Or, like the yogurt starter (aka culture) I use every week to make my yogurt. While the recipe books tell me I can use keep using last week’s yogurt to start this weeks, I find the yogurt tastes better if every 2-3 batches I use some fresh starter.

Mason encourages home educators to keep reading books for themselves, not just with their children. She says we should have 3 books going at all times:

Besides my Bible, I always keep three books going that are just for me – a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel or one of poetry. I always take up the one I feel fit for. That is the secret: always have something ‘going’ to grow by.”…

While I don’t strictly adhere to this recommendation, slipping into a book for a few minutes each day helps me immensely. But sometimes I need more than that.

Paris Street; Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte

This month I had a chance to slip away (twice!) to an art museum without my kids. At the beginning of the month, my friend Amy and I hit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for their Magritte exhibit. It was a great collection of works. (I also listened to audio tour through their free app and was able to show my kids a few of the pictures that way. I think it’s freely available even if you can’t make it to the museum in person.) The day was delightful on so many levels: reconnecting with an old friend, amazing art, time away…

Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare by Claude Monet

Then for my birthday, we happened to be in Chicago. I met my friend Gina at the Art Institute of Chicago. My kids had expressed interest in going, but I said no, not without a twinge of guilt. We had just a few hours, but we hit a whole bunch of my favorites: the Chagall windows, A Rainy Day in Paris, Van Gogh’s bedroom, Cezanne’s Apple and Oranges. While her conversation was the biggest blessing of that day, the art itself filled me up in ways I’d forgotten I needed.

Still Life with Basket of Apples, Paul Cezanne

My kids have recently put up some resistance against Picture Study, but the joy I felt at seeing the originals of pictures we’ve studied reminded me it’s worth it. Their disappointment in not going told me it’s worth it. I have renewed motivation to keep up with the daily work.

What’s your oxygen mask/yogurt starter right now?

Daybook, late October

Out my window: darkness. But there’s color out there, and soon I’ll be able to see it.

This is not a maple tree.

We had an early snow and hard freeze right at the beginning of the month, but our maple tree somehow wasn’t affected and we came home to a blaze of red that makes my heart sing.

In the kitchen: I have a butternut squash in the oven. Butternut is one of my favorite foods.  I put it with pasta in this sage butternut penne. I use it in place of pumpkin in this Pumpkin Ribbon Bread (minus the pecans). The trick, of course, is to make your squash ahead, either diced and roasted (for the pasta or any yummy autumn salad) or baked and scooped out of the shell (for breads and desserts), because once you decide you need pumpkin ribbon bread (or pumpkin cream cheese muffins) you can’t wait the extra hour for the squash to bake and cool.

In the school room: We just got back from a 9-day road trip. Somehow all the bags are unpacked and all the laundry is clean, but I still feel like the car is still moving. I’m in the kitchen, inside a giant minivan full of irritated humans and fast food trash, and we can’t. stop. moving.


Today is a pull-it-back-together day. I wish I had thought of that when I scheduled a doctor’s appointment and a weekend working at the hospital. Hopefully we will be able to find some of our books and read for a few minutes today.

In my shoes: There has been no running since October 3, when I broke my toe. Usually I can buddy tape it and after a few days I can grit my teeth and move on. Not this time. My goal today is to try a running mile and see what happens. If I can’t get back to running, I’ll have to look into the gym schedule (ugh).

This is not my living room.

Grateful: for a good trip. We packed those nine days full of good (and old, like us!) friends, birthday celebrations, opportunities to meet Jonah’s college friends whom we keep hearing about, wedding celebrations, and ancient history.  We were the recipients of endless hospitality and delicious meals. After 3250 miles, we’re still speaking to each other. Not bad. Alas, I couldn’t get blackout on the license plate game (though I’m close!)


Praying for: Mandy. Judy. My kids, in all their various states of process and dilemma and angst. The gift of remembering that God isn’t finished with me yet.

Seeing the details…

We are fully in the throes of autumn here. Red leaves, frost on the grass in the morning, cold noses and toes.


With a new school year comes new patterns. With Jonah’s departure for college, we have had a major shuffling of responsibilities at home.

I have written before about chores and teaching them to my children. At different times, I organized chores by capacity. Then, once the kids reached a certain age, I assigned the same chores in rotation to all the kids and gritted my teeth when their capacity was vastly different.


Today’s version of “clean.”

What I want now is to teach my children to see what needs to be done without being told.  This is completely different than what we have previously done.


I want my kids to be able to look at the kitchen and see that not only do the dishes need to go in the dishwasher, but the counter needs to be wiped and the questionable organic matter growing inside last week’s lunch bag should go in the compost (and the bag in the washing machine.)

I think this ability to see what is front of us is necessary for all kinds of work, both at home and in the wider world. This skill translates into:

  • a landscaper who makes sure the sidewalk is clear after the job is finished
  • a chef who prevents a diner’s anaphylaxis by keeping ingredients separate in the kitchen
  • the CEO who can balance the needs of the workers with the company profits
  • a host who can see not only who is the life of the party, but also who is on the fringes

I have the vision for what I want, but we’re not anywhere near that yet. My theory is that it starts with the area of one’s passion (which, ahem, is not cleaning the kitchen) but then practiced by extension in other areas.


For one child, the means to this end will be through music. For another, it’s going to be through following all the details of a complicated recipe.  For another, it will be the small adjustments needed to make no splash when she dives. But I don’t know how to make that attention to detail spread to other areas.

Any ideas?

7 things I’m loving this month

October is my favorite month, even if I hate all the death-themed lawn decorations. Here are a few of my favorite things right now:

One: game night (and game afternoon and game morning.)

Recent favorites have been Pictionary, Rhyme Out! (thanks, Aunt Mandy!), and Phase 10.


Two: Oatmeal bread.  It’s finally cool enough to be grateful for the oven’s heat.


Three: knowing that the word is finally getting out about AFM and the need for more surveillance of enteroviruses.


Four: Autumn light.


Five: Autumn color.



Six: Phoebe and Jonah playing phone games.


Seven: music in the living room.



What are you loving right now?

SQT: The pears are ripe (it’s a metaphor)


One: It’s Friday, and a week from now my oldest son will move to Ohio for college. Jonah has packed boxes and boxes of books and bird statues.  It makes me worry his legs are going to be cold.

I have a mountain of things to do, but I don’t handle change well, even good change, and I’ve been dissolving at weird times into a little puddle of tears. To cope, I have been binge-reading Robert Crais books. I’m sure it’s helping.


Two: Summer is almost over. We made it to the pool a lot, and while I never managed a hike in the mountains (rotten children didn’t want to hike), I did take a few runs in the cool mountain air. (By “air”, I mean “without air.”)


Three: I didn’t set any sort of school schedule for the kids because of their work schedules, and it has meant they have degenerated into going online whenever they are not working or (for the youngers) being actively entertained. I am looking forward to reestablishing a healthier routine fall, although I know the detox is going to be a pain. The age gap between 10 and 18 (or even 15) feels a lot bigger than it did when they were 2 and 10 (or 2 and 6), and it doesn’t work anymore to have the same standards for them all. I’m sure you can imagine how the 10 year old feels about this.


Four: It has been a weird year for the garden and our CSA.  Early heat and hail killed the corn and green beans. I did manage to make pesto with our basil and some spicy garlic from the farm.

Five:  We stunk at pruning the peach tree, so it auto-amputated its top half during a wind storm two weeks ago. We still have lots of peaches, but I feel bad for the tree. I kept watching its branches sink lower and lower, and–remembering the agony of the third trimester—knew just how she felt.

The pear tree seems to be better designed to manage the weight of her own fruit.


Six: We have had all sorts of health scares and complicated parenting dilemmas this summer. (e.g., Which chemicals should a 10 year-old have in her chemistry lab? Why are we the mean parents who are anti-sleepover?) Jonah took a job that was disrespectful of his time, and he ended up missing our family vacation in the mountains. Owen has been a loyal worker at his job, and every time I turn around, they give him an extra shift.  He never says no. I am full of self-doubt, wondering when I should push and when I should let the kids learn the consequences of their decisions.


Seven: We are heading into the mountains for the weekend. I still harbor fantasies of hiking, but I will be happy if we just get our feet into the lake. We should have a good view of the Perseids meteor shower. Then Sam heads to Guatemala for 3 days while I try to finish packing Jonah for school. For the sake of everyone at his college, I am going to insist he take some pants.

Don’t miss more (and better! there’s cake!) Quick Takes over at Kelly’s!