23 December 2010

22 December 2010

The Darndest Things: Five is Funny

Our five-year-old was in rare form today. You already know that she toys with vegetarianism, and that it confuses her sometimes. Well, today took the cake. Literally.

I was innocently cutting gingerbread cake, when A. came up and eyed the pan.

"What's that?"

"Gingerbread cake."

I could see the wheels start spinning. She went from happy and interested, to sad and worried.

"Mommy?" she whimpered. "Did they have to kill the gingerbread man to make that cake?"

She was totally serious!

Later, she was sitting on a step stool in the kitchen.

She sighs. And then: "I wish I had a lot a lot of money."

Me: "Why?"

She: "I can't tell you or you will discipline me."

Me (trying not to laugh at her): "What do you want the money for? Do you want to buy something?"

She: "Yes."

Me: "Well, what do you want to buy?"

She (squirming in her seat now): "Mom! You are going to be mad at me!"

Me: "Well, you said you want a lot of money. Do you want to buy something for yourself, or for someone else?"

She: "I want to buy something for you."

Me (thinking she is so sweet for a couple seconds, before realizing this is probably bad): "What do you want to buy me?"

She: "I can't tell you."

Silence.

She: "I just wish you could always, always take a shower in my shower."

Me: "Why? Hey! Did you break my shower??"

Under the Tree

Our children receive three gifts every Christmas. One of those three is a book. Or books, as the case may be. Sometimes I buy a book, and then get a PBS wishlist match later, and so a child ends up with multiple books, but in an unplanned sort of way. I also gives books to family and friends, as long as I think they will appreciate them.

I love give books.

Here is what the children are receiving from us this year.

Castle
Castle
by David Macaulay

The Children's Homer: The Adventures of Odysseus and the Tale of Troy
The Children's Homer
by Padraic Colum

I scored The Children's Homer on PBS, on my first try, no less. It is a hardback from the early 1900s and it is in great condition. I bet the owner didn't know the resale price for good condition antiques of this volume can run around $70!


The Lightlings
The Lightlings
by R. C. Sproul

Jan Brett's Little Library
Jan Brett's Little Library
includes Gingerbread Baby,
The Hat, and The Mitten
by Jan Brett

We already own Gingerbread Baby, but I've taped it back together often enough to know the children need a backup copy.



The Kitchen Knight: A Tale of King Arthur
The Kitchen Knight
by Margaret Hodges

I also got a couple books for my niecees, but these are not under my tree. Hopefully they are sitting safely under a tree in Florida!

The Dragon and the Garden (Old Stories)
The Dragon and the Garden
by N. D. Wilson

In the Time of Noah (Old Stories)
In the Time of Noah
by N. D. Wilson

I can't mention any of the other books I'm giving out, for fear that certain family members occasionally read my blog.

What are your favorite books you are giving out this year?

20 December 2010

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday: Flood Edition

Okay, so it's not a real flood. But we did stay home from church yesterday so that my husband could dig a ditch in order to rescue our garage from drowning! Our house is on a hill, which means that we expected all the water to just roll down the hill. Apparently, there is a low spot right by our garage (which is also where our air conditioning unit sits). The foundation of the house sits about four inches up from the stoop of the door, but it was almost full to overflowing by the time he started to work on it! Thankfully, it is now draining fine.

In other news...
  • Our ducks were created for this weather. They are having the time of their lives. Our backyard is one big puddle. Strawberry patch? Underwater. Orchard? Full of deep puddles. Barren garden beds? Also full of deep puddles. The ladies are having a perpetual party, and it doesn't look like the rain will be stopping anytime soon. It's been going strong for about 72 hours now, which is highly unusual for our area.
  • Nourished Kitchen is at it again! This time, she is tempting me with her Christmas recipes. For starters, there is her traditional sugar plums recipe. If that isn't enough, she posted a recipe for Bûche de Noël that is seriously tempting me, even though it'd mean changing my original plans.
  • We are really getting to Christmas now! I was thinking about how many of our traditions have already happened for the year. Drive around looking at Christmas lights? Check. Make gingerbread houses with friends? Check. Sing Christmas carols with friends? Check. Catch a cold? Double check. This is supposed to be my baking day, but we are going to wait until I can be sure that children are not coughing all over the food.
  • Will the Internet remain free? Just a little non-Christmassy thought bouncing around in my head. Do you know what National Socialism really was? It was an alternative to direct socialism. Instead of the government owning everything, it decided to just order everyone around, making rules on how they could conduct their businesses and use their stuff. Sort of like how Congress tells us what sort of light bulbs we're "allowed" to use in the privacy of our privately-owned homes. I'm just saying.
  • I am having difficulty with our annual family letter. I started sending these out via email a few years ago when I couldn't afford the stamps. It was either email or nothing. After doing that for a few years, it became habit. Last year, I did a SmileBox, which was sort of fun. Great grandparents love things with lots of photos. This year, I downloaded a free digital scrapbooking kit and went crazy in Word. It turned out great. The only problem is that the file is huge. The question now is, If I hit send, will it crash the computers of friends and loved ones? Will they hate me for this? All because I wanted it to be beautiful...
I hope you all have a wonderful, wonderful week. I'm closing up shop sometime soon until after the New Year. Not sure exactly when...

17 December 2010

Temptation

Remember how I said I was only reading fiction literature during Advent? Well. Um. Ahem. I seem to have sumbled a bit. And it was my own fault! I preordered a certain book a couple months ago, without knowing that I'd have sworn off nonfiction for the season. Said book was delivered yesterday upon my doorstep.
TEN WAYS TO DESTROY THE IMAGINATION OF YOUR CHILD
Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child
by Anthony Esolen

Naturally, I read the introduction aloud to my husband, who tolerates things like that.

It's like a drug. It calls to me, and it is all I can do to avoid it.

Even now, it beckons.

Did any of you get yours in the mail as well?

And, more importantly, have you talked Cindy into hosting a book club?

15 December 2010

Christmas Bonus

This here is the best Christmas music video I've seen, amateurish or not.




Rerun: Dickens' A Christmas Carol

This post first appeared in December of 2009. You can read the original here. I remembered this post when I was reading A Christmas Carol aloud to my children yesterday...

* * * * *

The children and I (E., Neighbor M., A. and Q.) finished up reading Dickens' Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol, again this year. It is always remarkable to me that children love this story. Because I perceive it as a ghost story, I expected the children to be fearful, but instead they accept it as a unique way that Scrooge "learned his lesson" and they rejoice to find Scrooge a changed man in the morning.

I know there are many portrayals of this work. I remember seeing a lively melodramatic stage version when I was a child. There are also cartoon versions and movie versions and so on and so forth. But reading the actual work is a thing apart. There are so many little lessons ready to change the reader's heart, if the reader allows. I think, for instance, of this conversation early in the story:
"Nephew!" returned the uncle, sternly, "keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine."

"Keep it!" repeated Scrooge's nephew. "But you don't keep it."

"Let me leave it alone, then," said Scrooge. "Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!"

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew. "Christmas among the rest."
Scrooge's nephew knows a secret our modern world does not: there is a type of profit which is not financial.

This is built upon when the first ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Past, reveals the delightful Christmas celebrations of the Fezziwig family (Scrooge having been apprenticed to Mr. Fezziwig in his youth):
"A small matter," said the Ghost, "to make these silly folks so full of gratitude."

"Small!" echoed Scrooge.

The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said:

"Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?"

"It isn't that," said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. "It isn't that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count 'em up: what then? The happiness he gives is quites as great as if it cost a fortune."
Do you see? The theme is continued: there are intangible delights in this world which cannot be quantified. And yet there is more here. One could think for a week on this passage. Why, herein lies the power of the mother, of the husband, of the corporate boss, of the business owner. Those in authority have the power, lying in a million small details, to render happiness to those beneath them.

That is a powerful thought. Surely our service to Christ demands consideration of this fact.

We see again, the profit of the intangible, when the Ghost of Christmas present reveals to us the nature of the celebration of Christmas in the home of the impoverished Cratchit family:
There was nothing of high mark in this. They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside of a pawnbroker's. But they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time...
Underlying all of this is the ironic state of the soul of Scrooge. There is a constant acknowledgment that brute logic would have us believe that riches make a happy Christmas. Scrooge should be the happiest of all, and yet he is the one whose heart is completely untouched by Christmas.

Of course, Dickens is here only affirming the words of Christ:
Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 19:23
Keeping Christmas, as Dickens said so long ago, is nothing less than the joy of a rich soul (not a rich pocketbook) overflowing.

14 December 2010

Tweaking Christmas Cookies

I first started playing around with recipes for my baked goods when we had the food allergy issue in our family. One child was so allergic to dairy that he couldn't even eat butter without a reaction! Later, I started reading about healthful alternatives, and I figured I'd try them and see what happened. The result was fewer sugar highs, and contentment with smaller servings of sweets. That isn't so bad, especially since it all tasted great. I was thinking today that it'd be good to list out my substitutions somewhere.

Might as well do it here, hm?

Refined white flour
  • If you read the links in the assigned reading widget, you'll know that perhaps the merits of whole wheat have been overemphasized. If you are interested in that, check here and also here for food for thought. In most of my recipes, I just use white flour, with no guilt.
  • If I'm feeling motivated, I grind my own wheat flour, and sift out the bran. I feed it to our garbage disposals duck flock, where it magically becomes eggs.
  • If you are using wheat berries for your baked goods, know that soft is better than hard for baked goods like cookies and pies, and white is better than red if you want that white-flour look. With that said, I just ordered 50 lbs. of hard white wheat, which I plan to use for everything because I think it is practical to just use one favorite and stick with it, and I want hard flour for my sourdough endeavors.
Refined white sugar
  • The vast majority of time, I substitute white sugar with sucanat and call it a day. Sucanat is simply cane juice that has had the liquid evaporated out of it. It is completely unrefined, still containing measurable trace minerals.
  • Lots of times, the other liquids in the recipe can be tinkered with so that other whole-food sweeteners like maple syrup or honey can be used. Many folks tout the benefits of raw honey, but I tend to save my raw honey for uncooked items, like sweetening hot tea or a frosting. Why spend the extra money, only to cook the enzymes to death anyhow? Raw honey cooked in a baked good is no longer raw.
  • I am trying to learn to use dates and figs as a substitute. I read a story about how an old homesteader actually cooked pears down into a homemade sugar syrup that she used in a whole host of kitchen goods.
  • A substitute I haven't tried, but is supposedly great, is coconut sugar. This is a traditional sugar made from the sap from the flower of a coconut palm tree, not from a coconut fruit. It comes in paste; dry lumps are another option. Unlike sugars from sugar cane or beets, this sugar is slow-burning, low glycemic-index, and mostly sucrose. In its unrefined form (which both the paste and lump typically are) it actually has...vitamins and minerals. Whoa! My problem is the price tag. Watch your labels, though. Sugar coming from the fruit of the tree, though tasty, will not have the same low-GI quality.
Vegetable shortening (aka "Crisco") and other fats and oils
  • My number-one substitution for vegetable shortening is my beloved Spectrum shortening. This is a 100% palm product, and palm oil is a much better option when compared to vegetable shortenings. It is non-hydrogenated, and much higher in saturated fat, while containing no trans fats at all (because saturated fat is shelf-stable on its own). I use Spectrum in all of my frostings, measuring it exactly like regular shortening.
  • In pie crusts, a saturated animal fat works as the best substitute. If you read really old recipes, you see they use lard. A lot of lard on the shelves at your grocer's are processed, though. I use grass-finished beef tallow (I buy the 5-gallon drum from US Wellness and it lasts forever).
  • For vegetable oils, I use olive oil. Olive oil is heat sensitive, so make sure you watch your cookies and don't burn it!
  • If you are trying to avoid the dairy in butter, try refined coconut oil (this highly stable oil can handle the slight refining used to remove the strong coconut flavor). I use Wilderness Family Naturals brand. Another, usually pricier option is to use ghee from Pure Indian Foods. Ghee is a super blessing from God, full of fat-soluble vitamins. It is essentially butter that is slow-heated in a traditional manner that results in separation and eventual removal of the dairy proteins. The end result is a butter oil commonly known as ghee. This is a great way for children to attain the health benefits of butter without the complications from a dairy (casein or lactose, to name a couple) allergy.
Baking powder
  • I used to buy aluminum-free baking powder, and I got tired of it. Then, my then-allergic children began reacting to it and I realized that there was cornstarch in my baking powder! Corn is highly allergenic! Anyhow, I know use either equal parts or a 1:2 ratio of baking soda and cream of tartar. I know there are other options out there, but I happen to be quite fond of cream of tartar. I no longer need to do this, but it is a habit.

13 December 2010

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Are you all starting to feel the holiday crunch? My goal this year is to not freak out. No meltdowns. No getting overwhelmed. Etcetera. As long as I don't look at my to-do list, I'll be fine. Right? Maybe I should just encourage myself by reading my did-done-do-it list.

Not that I actually keep one of those.

In other news...
  • Does your family like eggnog? Mine might. I mean, my husband likes it, but I've never tried it on the kiddos before. I meant to make homemade eggnog using Wardeh's awesome recipe (seeing as we have the backyard eggs and all), but I ran out of time last week. I'm putting in on the list for this week, knowing that really if I make it once before New Year's Day, I'll consider myself accomplished.
  • Since we're talking about food, I think it turns out that potato cheese soup really can teach children to eat a new texture. I used this recipe and it was yummy.
  • Some friends sent us this YouTube video using the tune to 12 Days of Christmas to talk about having a large family. Before we even pressed play, I just knew that day five had to be "ARE THEY ALL YOURS?" Our family isn't large (unless we're in a big city, then anything over one is large), but we've been asked if we're Mormon more than once (I finally got my husband to stop wearing his BYU T-shirt in public just to allay the confusion), so we had a good laugh.
  • I'm reading about vaccination again. Mainly, I'm trying to decide if and when to expose our children to wild chicken pox. It doesn't go around the way it used to, but I know that it is easier on the body if it hasn't reached puberty yet. I can't remember the name of the book I'm reading right now, but a nurse someone in our family knows suggests Vaccination is not Immunization. I've read it, and I thought it was contained too many logical fallacies. But I don't think I read the 12th edition. Maybe after twelve tries, he got it right. Friend L. sent me a link to articles on Hannah Poling, who was awarded $1.5 million dollars for the first year alone due to vaccine damage. Interesting stuff.
  • Last week's Audio Weekly at CiRCE is not to be missed! I plan to blog (someday) this lecture by Paula Flint from Flint Academy. She runs what sounds like an incredible school. The full title of her lecture on the conference CDs is And Liberty for All: Including Students with Learning Disabilities in the Classical Classroom and you can listen to it here. There is so much I want to say about this talk, but for now, just go and listen. Or save it and listen after Christmas, if you are on a Sabbatical right now.
  • The post An external act of religion that actually means something is, I think, good follow-up reading to my religion post from last week. I got a couple interesting responses privately that I may or may not deal with here. I haven't yet decided.
  • Last, in case you are still building your Christmas library, Cindy has posted a list of five Christmas stories for family read-aloud time. I own two of them, and two more are already on my PBS wishlist. Now to add the other one...
Happy Monday, everybody!

10 December 2010

John Piper's Future Grace: Introduction

Last night was our first small group meeting to discuss John Piper's Future Grace. Can I just say it? I am totally in love with this book. I remember reading Desiring God when I was in college; it was assigned reading for one of my classes. And it was life-changing. That year I bought a couple copies and gave them to people I loved because I wanted to share all of Piper's beautiful thoughts with them.

I find myself wondering if Future Grace is going to be like that for my thirties. I remember that I borrowed it from a pastor at our church back when E. was an only child. I read the preface, and I thought the story about his mother was endearing, and the poem for his wife was amazing.

But then I read the introduction, and it just felt like I was reading gibberish.

To put it simply, I just wasn't ready for it.

Fast-forward to last night, and I'd say not only are we all ready to try and tackle this tome, but doing it together helps a lot, too.

We'll probably be reading this for over a year. There are 31 chapters, and we only meet every-other-week. This means 64 weeks, if I include last night's meeting to discuss the two introductions (which I do).

Today, I thought I'd share some of my notes. I might as well start, because I know I won't be able to resist writing about a great book for long.

The Purpose of the Book
Piper tells of the primary purpose: His secondary purpose is:

to emancipate human hearts from servitude to the fleeting pleasures of sin.
Well, now, who doesn't need that?

The second introduction (written for theologians) couches it all in these terms:
to explore how the faith that justifies also sanctifies.
Initial Assertions
The main idea introduced in the first introduction is that
behind most wrong living is wrong thinking.
Here, he is talking about believers. Obviously, when we were children of wrath, no amount of education would sanctify us. But, to the Christian, the Bible says:
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2
And also:
in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

Ephesians 4:22-24
To the disciple of Christ--the one who has been born again, granted new life, and made a new creation in Christ--the renewing of the mind is very important. Right thinking becomes our very powerful ally.

Examples of Wrong Thinking
In the first introduction, Piper gives four examples of wrong thinking, and four corrections for said wrong thinking. We spent some time debating these, and in the end we decided to rest in the fact that the book is determined to help us flesh out these ideas.
  • Wrong Thinking 1: gratitude is a driving force for obedience.
    • Correction: faith in future grace was designed to be the driving force for obedience.
  • Wrong Thinking 2: all grace is unconditional.
    • Correction: there is such a thing as unmerited, conditional grace, which accounts for all of the if/then statements found in the New Testament.
Some popular notions of grace are so skewed and so pervasive that certain biblical teachings are almost impossible to communicate. For example, the biblical concept of unmerited, conditional grace is nearly unintelligible to many contemporary Christians who assume that unconditionality is the essence of all grace.

To be sure, there is unconditional grace. And it is the glorious foundation of all else in the Christian life. But there is also conditional grace. For most people who breathe the popular air of compassion today, conditional grace sounds like an oxymoron...So, for example, when people hear the promise of James 4:6, that God "gives grace to the humble," many have a hard time thinking about a grace that is conditional upon humility.

[snip]

Some popular conceptions of grace cannot comprehend any role for conditionality other than legalism. But if God meant these teachings to help us live radical lives of Christian love, is it any wonder that we often fall short? As a culture and as a church we are often molded by popular notions, rather than permeated by biblical ones. And the church looks very much like the world.
  • Wrong Thinking 3: faith is belief in the past actions of Jesus Christ
    • Correction: the life of faith is primarily a future-oriented "assurance of things hoped for"
  • Wrong Thinking 4: saving faith is "believing in Jesus"
    • Correction: saving faith is "prizing the superior worth of all that God is for us in Jesus"
Three Theological Assumptions
In the second introduction, the one for theologians, Piper shares three assumptions.
  1. Justifying faith is persevering faith
  2. Justifying faith is not only trusting in the past grace of God, but trusting in the future grace of God, which was secured by the past grace of Christ's death and resurrection
  3. The essence of justifying faith is being satisfied with all God is and promises to be for us in Jesus.
Awesome?
I think so, and so I'll be sharing my notes as we go steadily along.
that God be prized above all things...and the praise of the glory of God's grace.

09 December 2010

Parting Thoughts on Faith of our Fathers

Our small group recently finished our first book: L. Charles Jackson's Faith of Our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed. It only took us nine months or so! This is not a long book, but our next book (John Piper's Future Grace) is, and I figure it'll take us two to three years.

Ahem.

So before I put Faith of Our Fathers up on the shelf to collect dust, I thought I'd give my final opinion(s) on the books.

  • Typos. Seriously, I do not understand why books from Canon Press have so many basic errors. Every single time I have read one of their books (with one exception), I have had this urge to email them and volunteer my editing services (for a reasonable fee, of course). And I'm not even that great of an editor! I am left to conclude that they just aren't spending the time to turn out a pristine product, and that annoys me.
  • Good on the necessity of creeds. In the beginning of the book, Jackson explains the danger of "no creed but Christ"--that it leaves everything undefined. But also, he explains that everyone has a creed, whether they like it or not. This is the nature of having a belief system. Therefore, the best thing is to make sure you have the right creed (i.e., that it accurately summarizes what Scripture says to be true).
  • Bad move, making history last. I wish the final chapter had been first. Only after we have spent weeks talking about the creed does Jackson offer us much of its history. As my Bible professors used to say, "a text without a context is merely a pretext." All that history enriches any study of the creed. My only context coming into this was based on children's books we've read. His last chapter was by far the best chapter in the book, and, to be honest, what I had expected the entire book to be like.
  • In the end, the book is an almost. It fell short of my expectations. There are a number of books out there on the Nicene creed, and lots of them say they are "meditations" on the creed. This book did not say that, so I was hoping that he was going to give us insight into the debates that took place about the creed--why were all of these things so important? what were the arguments among the Christians at the time? etc. For the most part, this was as much a meditation or reflection book as any of the other purported to be. There were moments of brilliance, for sure, but for the most part I had hoped that some of the passion that brought about the creed was going to make its way into the book, and I didn't really feel it.
Maybe it's just me.

Anyhow, it is an interesting primer on the creed, and it's not horrible, but I'm glad to move on, all the same. The nice thing about the book is that it was simple enough that we (the members of the small group) included all of our literate children in the study--they read the chapters and discussed with us. That was good. Now that we're moving on to Future Grace, the children will simply be getting a Bible story before they go get in trouble play. I am hoping that we will be able to share snippets here and there, but there is going to be too much "adult" conversation for this one. And I think that is okay.

There is a time for everything under the sun, is there not?

08 December 2010

The Official 2010 Christmas Goodies List

Someday, I want to have my Traditional Goodies List, where I do as my own mother did, and make the same goodies every single year. But I'm not quite there yet. More than anything, I'm not completely satisfied with my list. I'm getting close, but I've not arrived. I thought I'd share what we'll be baking (and delivering!) during the week before Christmas, as most of the recipes are available online.

First, the recipes that made the cut from previous years:
  • Chocolate-Peppermint Slices from Cookies. This cookbook is something I received as a wedding gift, and I have used it repeatedly. Even though I shy away from refined sugars and flours now, I find that these are great "base recipes" that I can easily modify with whole food ingredients. But this recipe? Well. I make it as-is every year. The only thing I do differently is leave out the red food coloring, leaving the cookie a brown and white stripe rather than brown and pink. They taste great.
  • Chocolate-Pecan Sandwich Cookies. Also from the Cookies cookbook! I missed making this one last year because I ran out of time. These are completely delicious cookies...and then you take two and sandwich them with chocolate frosting! The recipe calls for rolling them in pistachios before baking, but I prefer crispy pecans.
  • Old Fashioned Carmel Corn. This one is so easy to do, and it was a big hit last year...especially with me! Ha! It is one of the only things we make that I've never seen another family deliver on a plate of treats, so I think of it as our "trademark" item. Last year I filled up a big beautiful Christmas tin with the stuff, and my husband took it to work. It came home empty, so I'd consider that success.
  • Macadamia Truffles with Sea Salt. I'll have to explain this one. Last year, I made two recipes, Honey-Sweetened Dark Chocolate Macadamia Nuts and Chocolate Truffles with Sea Salt. After doing all of that work, it dawned on me that I could combine the two recipes and have one completely awesome truffle! So we're putting the macadamia nut from the former recipe inside of the truffle filling from the latter recipe. I haven't decided which outside coating I'll use, but we'll do what we did last year and top some with sea salt and some with red and green sprinkles and some with shredded coconut or even a bit of sparkling brown sugar. This, like some of the other recipes, can be done in advance of "baking day" which is always nice.
The new recipes for this year:
  • Cinnamon and Vanilla Walnuts. Last year, I did candied walnuts, which were very yummy, but I thought this sounded more unique and festive. When we hand out plates of cookies to the neighbors, we put the nuts in Christmas cupcake wrappers so that they don't roll off the plate.
  • Date-Nut Truffles. I always like to have one or two healthier options to indulge the children with. Something I can say "yes" to without worrying about Number Three ending up on a sugar high. This is one of my options. If they aren't too sticky, I'll probably put them into pretty bags and stuff them into stockings, along with a handful of the nuts and truffles.
  • Sourdough Gingerbread. Well, maybe. There is a recipe in the sourdough class I am taking, and I'm intrigued. But I will only do this if I'm feeling brave. It would be a nice addition to the delivery plates, I think.
  • Nourishing Fudge. This is something else on the "considering" portion of my list. My mom makes awesome fudge every year. This is a healthier version that I am thinking about trying, but then again I'm not sure I want to be in the market for coconut sugar. I'm torn. It might all come down to time in the end.
What was cut in the past...
Generally, I haven't cut much. The first few years that I baked at all, I only made a couple items because I was so exhausted from life. But everything I have cut has been because it doesn't deliver well. These are, more than anything else, gifts for people we don't buy gifts for, if that makes sense. Last year, for instance, I made some homemade peanut butter cups. They were fabulous, but they needed to be refrigerated at all times, and so only a couple people got them.

Not that this bothered my husband, but I digress.

That is the sort of thing I'm talking about. To make the cut, a recipe can't be melting all over my car on delivery day.

If you post your baking list, link it in the comments!

07 December 2010

The Darndest Things: Overheard

Q-Age-Three was seen venturing into the dining room in an oversized purple rainbow sweatshirt handed down to her from Big Sister A. It wasn't really that big; it just needed the sleeves rolled. But Q. was quick in her complaint about the nature of the top.

This shirt is growing out of me! It's too big...

Training Children to Sit in Church: A Retrospective

Did you notice I said retrospective? That is significant, because it's past tense...and I cannot believe it. It almost feels accidental, like when some babies have their last nursing session, but Mommy doesn't realize it until it is time for the next nursing and Baby refuses. One Sunday, I was wrestling in the Cry Room with an unruly little boy, and the next he was sitting on my lap with only the occasional squirm.

And I have to admit I'm sort of sad.

Of course, part of that has to do with the fact that we cannot have more children, to which I am still trying to reconcile myself. But part of it is just that this is another page turning in our lives, fairly insignificant in the scheme of Important Events, and yet monumental in its own way. We're heading to a different part of the journey, and sometimes I don't know what to do with myself without a babe in arms.

Ahem.

As I was saying, our last baby, O.-Age-Two, is now trained to sit in church with the rest of the family. It's not that we don't have to remind him of his duty, but he is not so incorrigible that I have to take him out like I used to. It all started five weeks ago. He just sat there, and I didn't realize he was going to make it through until we reached the closing prayer and we were still in our places. He made it two weeks in a row, but on the third week, he tried to wrestle like he used to. I found myself heading to the Cry Room door, and then it dawned on me: we can't go back. It would be regression to do so, and even though I sometimes miss sitting in a peaceful rocking chair during the service, surrounded by other mommies, it wouldn't be doing this admittedly big boy any favors.

He had proven he could do it, so he was going to have to do it.

A few years ago, I wrote a post called Training in Churchgoing. In it I delineated three battles that children have to fight in this training process:
  1. Sitting Still and Staying in My Seat. I originally said that these children can be identified by their drawing materials, because they often doodle during the sermon. This is true, but experience has taught me that a child that is beginning the transition from the Cry Room (or having to be taken out of the sanctuary, if no Cry Room is available) needs to have no options available, other than sucking their thumb if they like. Every single one of our children has gone through a time where they needed to have to just sit, and if they thought they had options of some kind, they caused some sort of disturbance.
  2. Listening. Siah has the children narrate a part of the sermon on the way home. I was thinking last night that both of my girls are ready for the Sermon Tally Sheet. I'm going to suggest to my husband that we at least start A. at this task on Sunday. This is where we train the children to listen in church by giving them a list of words and teaching them to put a tally mark by the words each time they hear them. Q.-Age-Three can read the word God for instance, and A.-Age-Five is ready for a few harder words, like Lord or Jesus. As they improve in their reading, the variety of words will be greatly expanded. I read somewhere once that a family had their children draw the church service, but our children all struggle with drawing in the younger years and I think that would be extremely frustrating for them, so we'll stick to tally sheets.
  3. Understanding and Assimilation into the Soul. This begins to happen at the listening stage, no doubt, but what I mean here is that eventually it isn't all parent-led. Our oldest child is making this transition, and he will remember the teaching on Sunday, bring it up, and talk about how he is applying what he learned.
Little O. will be in Stage 1 for quite some time. So far, he seems more like A., who began reading much later than E. and Q. There might easily be another three years before we begin to conquer the listening battle. Of course, maybe he will surprise me and excel at drawing, offering us another venue for training in listening.

One Last Thought
I want to write this one out before I forget it. I have a very vivid memory of my most frustrating day in church ever. I was pregnant with Son O. and I was very, very nauseous (something that lasted through all the duration of all of my pregnancies). I was rocking Daughter Q., who was around 15 months at the time. Si was having so much trouble with A., who was about 2-and-a-half, that he sent her into the Cry Room, too. Where were my parents that day? They must have been out of town; I don't remember. What I do remember is rocking both girls and trying not to vomit, all the while questioning the sanity of this children-in-church idea.

Fast forward to when O. was a newborn, and I had a similar day. He was just tiny, and I was struggling to get him to nurse. Q. wasn't trained to sit in church yet, either, because she was only 19-months when O. was born. I was regularly bringing both of them into the Cry Room, usually alternating between who sat in the infant carrier and who I held, depending on need and circumstance. On the hardest of those days, I wondered why we were doing all of this.

But last week was just grand. O. even tried to sing some of the songs during worship. And each time we prayed, he put his tiny hand in mine.

All of a sudden, it hit me: this is why we did it.

In the end, our family gets to worship together in church.

And it is good.

It is just as I hoped it would be.

I know that there will be more battles. Our children are still young, and there will still be bad days. But for the most part, I am so very glad we persevered because the fruit from that tree tastes good and is sweet to my soul.

More importantly, it is sweet to their souls. This is something that communicates to them that no matter how little they are, they are welcome at God's table, that we want them there, that they are loved and a part of God's people.

When I was in the midst of the struggles, an older mother encouraged me. She said that having trained children is worth it, and that it is sweet to sit together in church in peace, and that the ability to sit still pays dividends elsewhere.

Everything she told me is true.

So if you are struggling through your Sundays, please know that all the hard work is worth it. It is sweet to sit together in church in peace, and the ability pays dividends elsewhere.

It's true.

06 December 2010

Miscellaneous Musing on Monday

Did anyone else try Christmas shopping this weekend? I went out with a list for stocking stuffers, and came back with...three items. Did I mention they are tiny? I often stuff stockings with simple necessities, plus homemade candied nuts in a bag. I couldn't even find the socks I wanted for my two-year-old! Crazy! I really don't want to buy the $7 package of socks, but then again it'll probably cost me two dollars to drive back there again, so maybe I should have just done it.

Sigh.

In other news...
  • I tried another new soup recipe: Spiced Butternut Squash Soup. Let's just say this one was not successfully introduced to the family. I liked it, and Si was okay with it, but the two older children made valiant attempts to be polite (if saying that you are trying not to vomit in your sweetest voice counts as polite). I think it was the combination of unfamiliar taste and texture all at once time. This week, I am going to try and find a potato cheese soup recipe because I think that might help them make the transition to eating creamy soups. (O.-Age-Two was digging through the soup looking for the pieces!)
  • This is the Potato Cheddar Soup I am considering. I will use heavy whipping cream rather than creme fraiche because that is what I have on hand. And my cheese is not raw. Have you seen the price of raw cheese? What I need is a cow. And some breeding rabbits. But I digress.
  • My New England Sourdough Starter Culture arrived in the mail this weekend. I've been going through the lessons for my sourdough class, but I haven't actually done anything because I was waiting on this starter. Today I begin the process of awakening the starter from its slumber.
  • Do any of you read Lanier's Books? I've been reading this blog for five years or so, but I appreciate it more and more as time go on, partly because the Lanier is older than I am, but still maintains a girlish daydreamy-ness (if that were a word, which is isn't, or if it is, I spelled it incorrectly). It is almost exactly the way I expect A.-Age-Five to turn out in the end. Anyhow, Lanier has written an introduction to some lesser-known (at least, they were to me) Christmas books. If you are like me, and working on building a Christmas section in your library, you might want to check it out.
  • I am still doing research and thinking about how to celebrate St. Nicolas Day next year. Today there was a little post over at A Ten O'Clock Scholar that I'm keeping for next year: Happy Feast of Saint Nicolas! Once I have a few ideas, I'm going to print them out and give them to my husband, and then we'll decide what we are actually going to do. Considering my stocking failure this weekend, I suppose it is a good thing we are not celebrating it this year.
  • My husband, who will admit he is not handy with wood, is building a new duck tractor for our flock. It looks great so far, and I am proud of him for making the picture in his head come out in real life. E.-Age-Eight is sure enjoying the added benefit of a father-son project.
  • Timberdoodle is sending me some goodies to review. I am not usually a workbook person, but we make a few exceptions here and there. (Don't we all?) Back when E. was a little younger, he became extremely frustrated with math. I am not a stickler on early math as I'm not convinced it makes a huge difference in the long run. With that said, we still do math. I just try not to let anyone get uptight about it. Anyhow, around the time of the "I hate math" stage, I read something about how logic puzzles and simple reasoning can improve math ability. I found a used copy of Building Thinking Skills 1 and had him do a page or two a day of that for a while. He loved it. It didn't seem very math-y, but when we went back to our regular math, he took off and the rest is history. So far so good on math, plus he loves the thinking skills book so much that I still give him a couple pages a week. He is a bit too old for that level now, but he likes it and I find that there are still a few things he can learn from it, so we keep up. The nice thing about the books is that they come with reproduction rights, so I copy the pages and keep the originals clean for future children. All of that to say: Timberdoodle is sending me Building Thinking Skills Beginning for A., Mathematical Reasoning Beginning 2 for Q., and Beginning Word Roots for E., and we plan to have some fun review them.
The end.

How was your weekend?

05 December 2010

The Darndest Things: Seeing Angels

Last night was the first of our oldest son's three performances with our church's children's choir. Near the end of the performance, there is a reenactment of Jesus' nativity--Mary, Joseph, Jesus, two angels, some shepherds, and even wise men.

Q.-Age-Three was enchanted by the whole thing--I mean, completely in awe. She kept asking when we could see the angels again, and was thrilled to hear we are going back tonight.

In the midst of all of this, I realized the sweetest thing ever.

She thought it was real.

Not the whole thing; just the nativity scene.

She talked about it enough that it finally dawned on me she completely thought she had seen real angels. No wonder she was so excited!

She took it well when I explained that those were children dressed up as angels and Joseph and Mary and the rest, and is still looking forward to this evening.

03 December 2010

Good Books: The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

There are some children's books that are so beautiful, they are almost painful for me to read. Gloria Houston's The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree is just such a book. If you don't own it, get yourself a copy and quick, before the season is over!

Houston's book is set during World War I. We learn about the year the Armistice was signed, when Ruthie's father had to go to war, and the village almost didn't have a Christmas tree that year.

At least, this is what most summaries will tell you.

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian StoryBut behind all of this is lies the power of motherhood. Father picks out the Christmas tree for the village {the families take turns providing the tree for the church} in the spring before he becomes a soldier, and, according to a letter the family receives, the Great War has ended and Father should be home for Christmas. This is good, as his absence means the family has no money; they have been living off of the land.

Christmas Eve arrives, and Father isn't home. The preacher offers a substitute tree, but Ruthie's mother says that Father is as good as his word. Father will provide the tree.

And because Father is providing the tree, Ruthie will be the angel in the village Christmas play. This is their tradition.

In the night, Ruthie and her mother go and get the tree--they climb high up in the mountains in the snow with their horse and sleigh. It is dawn when they deliver the tree. No one ever knows it was them--it is suspected that angels brought the tree.

Mother tucks Ruthie into bed, but she herself sleeps not. There is much work to be done. It is obvious that Mother had believed that Father would be home for Christmas Eve. She had hoped that he would bring with him money to buy the fabric needed for the angel costume. The school teacher had assured Ruthie that "if you wear a dress with great big sleeves, it will look like you have wings."

And so we see mother cutting up her own beautiful wedding dress to make Ruthie's angel costume.

Ruthie has been praying that Saint Nicolas will bring her "a doll with a beautiful dress, the color of cream, all trimmed with ribbons and lace." Mother cuts up the silk stockings that Father sent her from the War, stuffs them with wool, and smoothes it into the shape of an angel for the top of the tree. She cuts the scraps of her wedding dress into a smaller dress, one that matches Ruthie's, with which to dress the angel.

And at this point I am trying not to cry while reading the story to my children.

Ruthie wears her beautiful dress in the play. Saint Nicolas presents her with the angel from the top of the tree, to keep as her doll. {And there is one last surprise that you can only find out if you read the book.}

As I was reading this for the second time yesterday, I started wondering how many children's books out there actually encourage the mother reading it aloud to become a better mother. Surely this book is unique upon my shelf. This story of thankless sacrifice {not because Ruthie is ungrateful, but because she doesn't comprehend all that her mother has done} reminds me of the power of motherhood at each reading.

How many times do we think that because something goes unseen and unrecognized, that it is not great? Quiet heroism is what moves the earth, but we never realize it. This world tells us to do something that people can see, that we can point back to as having "changed the world"--that, in order to make a difference, we have to make a big difference.

We listen to these lies, and subsequently undervalue the gentle sacrifices that make living upon the earth bearable in the first place. When Ruthie's mother was simply being a good mother, she never suspected that the story would be told, generations later, inspiring other mothers to embrace their jobs, to do them well and with love.

02 December 2010

On Religion

There are things that Christian people say that sound like they might be true, and I think these sorts of things are said rather thoughtlessly. One such example is one I've heard a number of times over the years: "God hates religion." There are other variations such as, "Christianity is a relationship not a religion." Or, "God doesn't like religious people."

That second one on the list is probably the trickiest of the three, because it sounds so nice, like now we're really getting somewhere. But really, it's a false dilemma. Since when were religion and relationship at odds, anyhow?

Probably since the time we forgot what religion really was in the first place.

So, let's begin at the beginning.

In 1828, Mr. Webster listed a couple definitions for religion. But first, he offered a history lesson:
RELIGION, n. relij'on. [L. religio, from religo, to bind anew; re and ligo, to bind. This word seems originally to have signified an oath or vow to the gods, or the obligation of such an oath or vow, which was held very sacred by the Romans.]
Okay, so religion as an idea implies binding to the deity and the attendant obligations of such binding. Is Christianity a religion in this limited sense? I think we have to answer this affirmatively. Even if we think of Christianity as a relationship (and it is indeed that), we know instinctively that all relationships come with certain obligations. We are hard pressed to conceive of a relationship in which there is no obligation.

Marriage is a relationship I have with my husband and because of that relationship, I have certain obligations. Likewise, motherhood is the relationship I have with my children, friendship is the relationship I have with my friends, and both of these come with obligations as well. There are a number of words I might use to name the relationship I have with the Lord--among them are citizen of His kingdom, child in His family, and so on. What is easier to name are the obligations. My relationship with the Lord, like all other relationships, implies duties, and the name we give to duties to a deity is religion.
There is more to Mr. Webster's definition, however, I won't include all of it, as it is quite lengthy. Instead, I'll offer my bullet-point summary.
  • Religion includes theology (a set of beliefs about a deity) as well as piety (acting in accordance with what the deity requires).
  • Religion is godliness or piety in practice. It is the following of specific commands. In Christianity, this includes both our duties to God as well as to our fellow man.
  • Religion is performance of our duties owed directly to God, done in obedience to Him.
  • Any system of faith and worship.
My guess is that almost all Christians throughout all of Church history would be (1) shocked by the idea that God was displeased with religion and (2) confused as to why we'd try and separate our religion (our faith in and worship of God) from our relationship with God. This latter point is important. We were brought into right relationship with God that we might believe in Him and worship Him as He commands.

Origins of the Myth
Most folks who say something like "God hates religion" have a broad, nonspecific understanding of Jesus' interactions with the Pharisees. We know that the Pharisees were zealous for the Jewish law (including the "law" that had been invented by rabbinical tradition and was not part of the canon of Scripture). They engaged in ritualistic hand washing, they prayed on street corners in order to be seen by men, and they believed that their high level of adherence to the law made them superior to others and commended them to God.

The Pharisees were highly religious, and when Jesus rebukes them, the modern mind, which values vague spirituality over the idea of religion (with all its obligations), says, "Aha! See! God doesn't like religious people!"

Not. So. Fast.

If we are to condemn the Pharisees, we must say what Jesus says about them. For instance, in Matthew 23, we see that:
  • They burdened men with rules, but were unwilling to help carry that burden
  • All of their noticeable religion (details on their garments, for example) were in order to be praised by men
  • They love to sit in the seat of honor (and even seated themselves in the Moses' chair!)
  • They twisted the law, and thus led their followers astray
  • They allowed for technicalities to keep men from having to keep their promises
  • They tithed every last cent, but neglected the "weightier provisions of the law" such as love, justice, mercy, and faithfulness
  • Their religion was entirely external--inside, they were dead men and far from God
John Lord talks about this in his volume Jewish Heroes and Prophets from the Beacon Lights of History series. Around the time of Judas Maccabeus, the Jews realized that their neglect of God's law had resulted in their repeated punishment. Initially, they turned back to God, but over time their religion became a worship of the Law rather than a worship of God Himself. It wasn't that the Law was bad, but rather that they looked to the Law to save, rather than to God to save.

As far back as Isaiah this sort of thing was mentioned:
And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth

and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men..."
The issue was not their religion. The issue was their hearts.

Do you know how I know?

Because of an oft overlooked statement by Jesus. In Matthew 23, He says,
therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.
All Those Other Religious People
We really can't isolate the incidents with the Pharisees and conclude that God has a problem with religion (especially when Mr. Webster tells us that religion is essentially living out the obligations implied by our theological beliefs). We need to look at other instances of what might rightly be called religion (even according to the Pharisees), and see what God's word has to say about those instances.

For instance, in Luke 2, we learn that Jesus' parents had him circumcised on the appropriate day. They presented Him at the Temple, as was required by religious law, and they made the sacrifice required of the poor--two turtledoves. In addition to this, they traveled to Jerusalem every year in order to celebrate the Passover. Nowhere does God condemn this. If anything, we might deduce that He approves, as Jesus' parents are (1) obeying His law, and (2) He singled them out as the fit parents for His Messiah.

There is also the odd behavior of John the Baptist. He seems absolutely ascetic as he lives in the wilderness, eats grasshoppers and honey, and wears camel skins for his clothing. He doesn't just keep to himself, rather, he preaches repentance and baptizes in repentance.

Or let's take the first Church. We see in Acts that they are highly religious. When they meet, they take communion, a religious ordinance established by Jesus before His death and resurrection. When someone converts, they are baptized, a religious ordinance commanded by our Lord in the Great Commission.

Come to think of it, maybe we could just stop at the phrase "take the Church." After all, Jesus established a Church, a religious body promoting the true religion.

True Religion, False Religion
This really is the crux of the matter. The Pharisees followed a version of Judaism so twisted that it was far from the heart of the Father. The problem was not that they were religious, but that they followed and promoted a false version of the true religion. When Christ instituted the New Covenant, he didn't destroy religion, but rather refined and revealed true religion.

Why do I say refined? Well, we have the Old Covenant fulfilled in the New Covenant. We have the ancient rite of circumcision replaced by baptism. We have the old annual feast meal of Passover superseded by the regular meal of the Church, communion. We have the old sacrificial system finalized in the ultimate once-for-all-time sacrifice of Christ's blood on the Cross.

This is a religion.

There is really no getting around it, and when we start to shy away from the word religion, we might want to ask ourselves why. Would it have anything to do with the way that the world characterizes religion--as backward, antiquated, narrow, restrictive, or just plain not cool?

It is also a relationship, but that is not the focus of this post.

It might be more apt to say that it is a relationship worthy of nothing less than religious devotion in every sense of the phrase.

What is Religion, Anyway?
Ultimately, Mr. Webster defined words according to their objective meaning, and at the time of his writing, it was understood that religion is theology in action. It was God's Word in action. So we not only observe the ordinances, but we also do our duties to our fellow man and practice personal holiness--this is pure religion.

To say that God "hates religion" or "dislikes religious people" is a failure to understand the nature of religion. It is absurd to think that God hates His people to follow Him as He has commanded them to do so, or hates that they become bound to Him in the way He designed for them to be bound to Him.

The Observation of Days--An Advent Warning
Part of the reason I've been thinking about this is due to the season of Advent. This is a religious observance of days that was instituted by men, later in the history of the Church. Galations 4:9-11
But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.
Now, obviously, in context this discussion is that Jewish Christians were turning back to the ordinances of the Old Covenant. This is not a total, complete condemnation of observing days or seasons.

But I cannot help but think that there is a temptation of the Pharisees that is common to man--to elevate the days, as if they might commend us to God or men, to take pride in religion and therefore empty it of all its meaning.

What is God's stance on the observation of days? Romans 14:4-8 tells us:
Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
We can learn a few wonderful, peacemaking truths from this passage. First, the observation of days is a personal matter based upon conviction. As long as it is done (or not done) in faith, it is not sin. These things ought not to divide us as believers. Second, if we observe, we must observe for the Lord. If we do not observe, we must not observe for the Lord. We must always keep in mind the temptation of the Pharisees--to do or not do certain things for the purpose of self-promotion, which is ultimately self-deification.

Finally, a warning to those who condemn religion in the name of Christ:
But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

Romans 14:10
God specifically commands us in Romans 14 to be tender with the weaker vegetarian brother. He tells us to "be convinced in our own minds" as regards the observation of days. His goal is peace in the Church--the religious body He Himself created and whom He loves as a groom ought to love His Bride. There is a sense in which attacking true religion is attacking the Bride, something which ought to be repented of.

For the rest of us, it bears keeping in mind that Advent is not about doing certain works in order to promote ourselves to God or man. It is a means of worshipping and preparing for worship. I will always have a special place in my heart for Advent, for that is the reason we first began regularly reading the Bible together as a family. It has strengthened our family as a tiny unit of the Body of Christ more than anything else I can think of, and I will forever respect the power of the season. But it must be remembered that we are to worship the God of the days, not the days themselves.
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

I Cor. 10:31
Properly ordered, our religion is simply the means of doing right by our relationship with God and with His Church.

01 December 2010

DecemberTerm, Day 3

So far, so good, other than some disciplinary issues. I think that what I planned for this year is much more manageable than last year. It felt a little chaotic and rushed last year, a little jumbled and thrown-together. So far, I feel like this year is going to be a good fit.

Today was our first Advent organ recital. It was pretty amazing! I don't think I've ever been to an organ concert, and I know the children haven't, so it was new for us. I never realized how much training my children to sit through church would come in handy in other arenas. Knowing that they regularly sit and stay quiet meant that I could (almost) trust that they'd do it in this environment.

It worked out okay, other than the leaky diaper issue.

I have a love/hate relationship with Target brand diapers, but I digress.

The first piece was a Bach work. There is a long portion of the piece that is played with the feet. Q,-Age-Three leaned over and quietly asked me how the organ was playing by itself. I didn't anticipate that she wouldn't know to look at the musician's whole body! When I pointed out his feet, she was pretty impressed.

Dawn shared a post from Dr. Grant today. Here is an excerpt:
Beginning with Advent, a time of preparation and repentance, proceeding to Christmas, a time of celebration and generosity, and concluding with Epiphany, a time of remembrance and thanksgiving, Yuletide traditions enable us to see out the old year with faith and love while ushering in the new year with hope and joy.
I've been thinking about this for a few days, actually ever since Mystie explained that she doesn't listen to lectures during the Advent season. I couldn't help but think that though I'm working hard to prepare my children for Christmas, I didn't think much about my own state during all of my planning sessions.

Last night, I shelved my nonfiction for the season. (Well, we'll see. This is a half-hearted resolution at best.) My husband was studying away at his books, and instead of studying myself, I began a Dickens work that I've always meant to get around to reading, but never have. I found myself trying to read it like a nonfiction book--trying to yank ideas out of it.

It can't be done.

I had to slow down. The story will only tell me its secrets if I am patient with it.

I closed the book, took a deep breath, and opened it again. I was reminded of one of my children, who always eats too fast. Chew your food! I reminded myself.

I began anew, and this time it was different.

Perhaps my own Advent tradition will be to read literature rather than philosophy, to soothe the mind with story rather than aggravate the heart with knowledge of shortcomings, to come by ideas in the old way, in a story told and chewed on over time.