Two-Faced

In our post-Advent worship sermon, the preacher told us we were “two-faced.” Now before you think him to be mean-spirited, let me explain!

Normally that characterization would be offensive, but the speaker was describing what happens to us in the week between Advent and New Year’s Day. He likened it to the practice of the ancient Roman god, Janus (which may or may not have been the etymology of January). Roman myth teaches that Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions, has two faces since he simultaneously looks to the future and to the past. So the preacher wasn’t insulting us. He was making an observation of the practices we follow during these in-between times preceding January 1st.

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Janus, ancient Roman god of two faces

Hence the two-faced characterization of God’s people. Now that Advent is neatly wrapped up, we’ve shifted into a recount of 2014 (thank you, Facebook) as we scribble a bucket list of hopes and dreams for the next 365 days. While these are positive things I relish doing every year, I’ve found myself wanting to gaze a little longer into the Christ candle flame, sink more deeply into my Advent devotions, and celebrate more the birth of Jesus.

Can we just turn aside our two-faced profile for a moment and rewind to the song of Emmanuel?

stay in the present moment . . . Emmanuel, God with us . . .

right now, a little lingering with Jesus . . .

I grew up learning how to linger. Sitting idly with adults over coffee and cake when friends came for an afternoon visit was a weekly norm. Lounging at the dining table following a multiple course meal, listening in on big people conversations ending with (you guessed it) coffee and cake was part of our lifestyle. Lingering was an expectation for young and old alike.

Because I value these family times so much, I actually built in lingering for our family Thanksgiving meal this year. Realistically, there can only be so much lolling around at a traditional feast with four grandsons ages five and under. So I designed a simple centerpiece that didn’t take up too much space and lined the perimeter of the table with butcher block paper. At each table setting I placed a small jar of crayons. Adults and kids drew pumpkins, turkeys and whatever inspired them. Everyone happily lingered, especially the older boys!

Soon I will be making a list of goals for 2015. Jim and I have already spent many hours discussing our plans for change in the new year. It’s exciting to look forward!

But before the ball drops and we ring in the new, I’m going to linger.

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Our 4 year old grandson, Owen
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The Joy Candle

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In the seclusion of  a Jesuit 18th century retreat house,  Jean-Pierre de Caussade mentored a group of nuns in the ways of seeing God in every day moments. The notes of his teachings from ages past were preserved and compiled into what would become a devotional classic, The Sacrament of the Present Moment.

“The present moment,” de Caussaude instructed, “is like a desert in which simple souls see and rejoice only in God.”

Fitting words for this gaudate week, the week Advent observers behold the joy candle. I’m thankful for those quiet times of candle lighting coupled with one word reminders of the Christ child to come.

Joy.

Hmmm…. Somehow the image of a desert, barren with the fullness of only God doesn’t quite match up with 20th century Advent activities. Is there even time for joy? Do we strain to hear God’s people rejoicing?

Not that activity is bad, but it’s so easy to lose balance.  It wasn’t that long ago that we lit the peace candle, the light of shalom, the flame of well-being. I’m still working on that. But ready or not, the joy candle is here.

Rejoice!  God’s imperative shouts. And again, I say, rejoice!

Almost three hundred years after the spiritual guidance of de Cassaude,  a teacher from the same Jesuit stream describes joy as a time of a deep inner work. I appreciate the simplicity in his guidance.

“Each morning this week, in that brief moment we are becoming accustomed to, we want to light a third inner candle. Three candles, going from expectation, to longing, to joy. They represent our inner preparation, or inner perspective. In this world of “conflict and division,” “greed and lust for power,” we begin each day this week with a sense of liberating joy. Perhaps we can pause, breathe deeply and say, ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.'”

For the Jesuits, joy is a present moment experience as we anticipate the birth of Jesus.  Light the joy candle, pause in the activity of the season, and rejoice in the gift God is bringing.

Ah, can it be that simple?

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Blessings,

Donna

 

(The Jesuit quote on the third inner candle is from Creighton University Online Ministries.)

 

A Different Read for Advent

I just wanted something to slow down my thoughts about “doing” Christmas. A contemplative read that didn’t teach me more about Advent, but placed me in the center of Advent.

So I went to my book closet (yes, I have a whole closet devoted to books) and this one caught my eye.

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Last night, this sunset caught my husband’s eye. God’s beauty from our front deck is magnified in the present moment.  Here Jim captured a visual that compels one to put everything else on hold and stay in the present.

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I was introduced to God in the present moment and Caussaude’s book during a spiritual formation seminary class in 2004. The Sacrament of the Present Moment wasn’t written for Advent devotional selections, but it’s been a good challenge for me this season.

Jean-Pierre de Caussaude urges us to find God in the present moment and surrender to His will of the moment. That’s the hard part.

I wonder about adjusting my focus and my will as I await the birth of the Christ child.

In the doing of decorating,  scheduling events, cooking and cleaning, can I bypass busyness and be God’s child . . .

. . . and set aside my own will for His?

Lord, help me remember what is central to Advent and relinquish what is not.

Blessings,

Donna

Jean-Pierre de Caussade was a spiritual guide and ordained priest in the 1700’s. He was appointed spiritual director of the Jesuit retreat house in Nancy, France. There he undertook the spiritual direction of a group of nuns. The Sacrament of the Present Moment is a collection of his notes from his addresses to the women. 

 

 

Five Gift Giving Guidelines for Grandparents

When my first grandson was born, my husband and I made a few decisions about selecting his (and future grandkids’) gifts. We didn’t want to load our grandkids up with a lot of stuff they didn’t need, or get in the habit of spending a lot of money on toys every time we got together. That’s not to say I don’t love to give gifts! I enjoy the whole process of giving presents: selection, wrapping, and giving. Christmas at home was always one “splurge” gift and a lot of little practical items like socks, gloves, and books for the members of my family.

Actually, creating fun with grandkids at birthdays and holidays sans all the “stuff” has become a challenge I welcome. If I’m patient enough, inspiration eventually comes!  Also, it’s been helpful to have my daughter and son-in-law share their expectations with us.

Sometimes I hit a home run in the gift department, other times I just make it to first base. I think it would benefit a lot of grandparents if we shared winning ideas amongst us. (Hint, hint, please post a comment at then end of this blog.)

By the way, I’m leaving off the obvious choices: Legos, Play-doh, Thomas the Train. Chances are, your grandkids already have these classics!

These ideas are for kids about 3-5 years old. Also, I unabashedly  include pictures of my grandsons playing with many of these toys.

Five Gift Giving Guidelines I Try to Follow

1. Give gifts made of out natural, eco-friendly materials. 

Contigo Stainless Steel Water Bottles

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Stainless steel, press-to-release button flip top straw

Contigo offers a variety of colors, styles, and sizes. We chose the 20 ounce so the bottles would accommodate my grandchildren as they get older. Besides being eco-friendly, these bottles keep their water cold for several hours. Plus, our two year old can push the button himself. Fun and practical!

Wild Mint offers a variety of toys and other products that are chemical free for the environmentally conscious family. For a quick read on non-toxic products for kids, check out Hannah’s post, CEO of Wild Mint.

Melissa and Doug toys are made of toxic free materials like those from Wild Mint. This is the brand I’ve found at our local consignment shops and garage sales, so I’m more familiar with Melissa and Doug  toys than other “green” products for kids.

2. Buy toys that develop cognitive skills and eye-hand coordination. 

Kapla Blocks~ Jim and I found these at a children’s shop dedicated to all things Kapla while vacationing in Myrtle Beach. My 4 & 5 year old grandsons spent hours with these at our home Thanksgiving week. I’m still in awe of their designs.

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Owen, age four, Kapla tower

 

Melissa and Doug Puzzles~ Check out this link for a variety of puzzles for pre-schoolers at different skill levels.

Make ‘n Break~ This pick is from my friend, Cindy. She says, “It is super easy to learn. Our grandsons have been playing it without the time since they were four. This game, we have found, crosses language barriers. The international students, who our daughter and son-in-law are mentoring, love it.”

Busy Board~ My son-in-law made this busy boy board for Silas’s birthday. He hung it at my grandson’s eye level in the dining room. The boys love it.

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3. Choose items that nurture creative play.

Hats~ cowboy hats, engineer/conductor hats, Indian headdresses, sombreros, construction worker hats, fire chief hats etc., etc.! Our pre-school grandsons love wearing hats of all kinds.

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Sand and Water Table~ my friend, Jeff, actually built his daughters their own sand and water play station; an ambitious yet inexpensive endeavor! If that’s not your cup of tea, Step Two offers an excellent set-up complete with an umbrella to keep the sun out.

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Dress-up Clothes of All Kinds~ Check out Goodwill for these.

4. Provide avenues for artistic expression.

Do a Dot Markers~ My daughter introduced me to these. Besides the markers, you can purchase coloring pages plus a whole lot more Do a Dot items to spur on creative minds.

Sketch Pads

Beads to String~ My pre-school grandsons LOVE making colorful bracelets and necklaces for their Mommy.

Musical Instruments ( Wild Mint has a fun selection of wooden instruments for pre-schoolers.)

4. Find Games to develop cognitive skills

(Suggestions and commentary below from my friend Jessie, who has a four year old nephew.)

Spot It Junior~  a colorful matching game.

Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Airport Game ~ an imaginative/adventure game. “It’s a busy day at the airport and you’re the pilot.”

Animal Upon Animal Game a wooden stacking game helping with fine motor skills/hand-eye coordination

Hoot Owl Hoot Board Game~  a cooperative matching board game

Blokus simple strategy/logic game using pieces on a game board. Jessie notes, “The recommended age is 5 and up, but my 4-year-old step-nephew LOVES it!”

(Thanks, Jessie, for these great ideas.)

5. Give Gifts that are Just for Fun! (imagine that)

Train Whistle and Kerchief~ to go with the engineer hats

Slinky~ Get the plastic ones and play on carpeted stairs. For some reason unknown to me, watching a slinky make it all the way from the top of the stairs to the bottom elicits tons of giggles from our little ones.

Hullabaloo~ Cindy says, “This is a great kids game, even as early as 1 1/2 or 2. It is a little sound box with voice commands and about 20 small pads of different sizes, shapes, colors, images for kids to step on as directed. Very easy. I like playing it with my grands!”

Knee Hockey~ Apparently, younger children play hockey while on their knees. This is news to me! Cindy explained, “Our grands are 6&7 this year and we got them a knee hockey game, complete with goals and little sticks. Before, I was cutting and duct taping paper tubes to use as hockey sticks. We use small nerf balls the size of golf balls. But I got some small foam pucks for this year.

If you’re like me, you might be thinking, “what about books for Christmas?” I think that’s a great topic for another post!

Hope to hear some of your good ideas for grandkids.

Blessings,

Donna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So How Was Your Thanksgiving? Grandparents Keep it Simple, Special, and (almost) Stress-Free

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When I was in elementary school, my favorite Thanksgiving holiday song was Over the River and Through the Woods. Since I grew up in the snow belt on the east side of Cleveland, I easily connected with the song’s images of the “white and drifting snow-oh” and cold that “stings your toes and bites your nose!” Just thinking about that song brings back great memories: feeling all grown up at the adult table with good china, Grandma Rose’s best ever stuffing roasted inside the turkey making it moist and flavorful, a few but classic toys to play with on the living room carpet, Grandpa’s big arms to envelope us in bear hugs.

Fast forward fifty plus years.  Now I’m that grandma with little ones  making their way “through the woods” to our home.

When grandkids come our way for holidays, my goal is to keep the day simple, special, and (almost) stress-free.

Here are a few ways that worked for us. I hope you chime in and share some of yours!

For the Grandkids:

1. Two weeks before, visit the public library. Scout out age appropriate books about Thanksgiving history, family traditions, and other quality children’s literature. I like to bring home about 4-6 so the kids have a selection. (You never know what will they’ll be drawn to.) Reading library books with grandkids is free entertainment, good for their minds, and provides special moments of bonding.

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bedtime stories with Grandpa

 

So many books, so little time! For families with pre-schoolers,

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a beautiful wordless picture book
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a sweet story about nap time

My three year old grandson really likes Thanksgiving is Here! by Diane Goode.

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(Note: all book images from amazon.com)

2. Purchase inexpensive (or make your own) pilgrims’ hats and Indian headdresses. I found Indian feathers for the kids to wear from The Party Store.  We enjoyed having “little Indians” at the dinner table! (I was going to make pilgrim hats for the adults but ran out of energy.) I’ve supplied hats for other holiday occasions, as well.  Children love to dress up and play “make believe.” Hats are a simple way to tap into their imagination.

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Happy little Indian boy!

 

3. Make the dinner table kid-friendly. In the past, I’ve spent a lot of time designing the centerpiece for the Thanksgiving table. I do enjoy decorating, but this year I promised myself to keep it simple. So with kids in mind, I covered the table with a cloth, lined the perimeter with white butcher block paper, and placed a small jar of crayons at everyone’s place setting. The centerpiece was just a lantern with a pillar candle (that I pulled down from my mantel) surrounded by a few mini pumpkins. Both grown-ups and kids had fun tracing their hands for turkeys, drawing pumpkins, adding stickers, and doodling while we lingered over dinner. I figured if crayons and paper work well for families at a restaurant, they’d help the same at home.

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Oldest Indian boy, Levi!

 

4. Provide one “creative play” toy. This year we invested in Kapla blocks to keep at our home for grandkids’ visits. Kapla blocks are pricey.  Since we aren’t in the habit of purchasing a lot of toys, spending more than usual on one item doesn’t break our bank. Jim and I discovered these simple yet brilliant blocks at a specialty shop while vacationing. The manager of the store assured us our grandsons would spend hours with these. He was right on! Our five year old and four year old grandsons amazed us with their building skills.

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Owen, age four, Kapla tower

5. If you are looking for creative play at a lesser expense, make a tunnel fort out of free boxes! One Christmas season I frequented our local ACE hardware shop to collect appliance boxes. I learned what day and time to go; the key is to get them before the clerks break the boxes down for recycling. (Ignore the silly sponge painting.)

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Christmas 2011

 

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Christmas 2011

 

Hint: No need to buy anything with batteries that makes noise. Children come with their own built in sounds that are much more pleasant! The adults will thank you, I promise.

For the Meal:

6. As much as possible, make the side dishes one or two days ahead. This year I tried Ina Garten’s Make Ahead Gravy. True to most of Ina’s recipes (IMO) this gravy was delicious. I’ve spent too many Thanksgiving mornings in the kitchen, missing out on visiting with all my guests. Each year I try to get better at make aheads.

In the past, I’ve done Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes; heavenly, creamy, and decadent. (I adjust the recipe to taste. Omit the bouillon cubes.) Every year I make the stuffing the night before.

Don’t be shy about assigning side dishes for guests to bring. Ask the early arrivers to bring appetizers.

7. Set the Thanksgiving table the night before. As you do this, pull out platters, serving spoons, and hot plates. This year I forgot to look for my turkey platter, creating a little last minute frustration. (I never did find it. I think I gave it away!)

8. Ask guests beforehand to bring the desserts. I always make my traditional pumpkin roll, but am relieved when others can bring the pies and cakes. For me personally, making desserts is tiring. I need to save all the energy I can for the big day. This year my daughter’s dessert offering was quite creative. She made several different variety of cheesecakes, served in small canning jars. Guests had a lot of fun as they chose their individual cheesecake containers.

These are just a few random ideas. I hope you share a few of your own with us!

As we bowed our heads to give thanks to God for our meal and multiple blessings, I couldn’t help but think about the harvest feast of the first Thanksgiving. Indians and pilgrims came together, in unity to celebrate. What an amazing day!

Today we are painfully aware of the disunity amongst neighbors and nations, and yes, disunity amid Christ followers. Truly this must grieve Jesus, as his mission for us was unity, which always circled back to love. (John 17)

Love, blessings, and unity to you in this season and beyond,

Donna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Will Have Hope?

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Last Sunday we ushered in the season of Advent.  Deep breath. We barely said good-bye to Thanksgiving and all its food, family, and festivities!

Somehow, Thanksgiving is easier on the soul than Advent.

In this new season, we’re asked to ponder hope in a dark world, love in the hardness of humanity, joy in an unknown journey, and peace in a world of strife. Can we just please rewind a few days back to Grandma Rose’s turkey stuffing, pilgrims, and counting our blessings?

When our kids were growing up, we took our cue from church tradition during the four weeks of Advent. At Sunday supper, we lit a candle nestled in a wreath, the first one symbolizing hope. This past Sunday morning worship, I was encouraged to embrace hope once again as the purple taper glowed in the sanctuary shadows.

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Hope can just be . . . difficult.  As the service moved from lighting the hope candle through praise in song, I thought about the happy faces  of hope Christians expect from themselves and others.  I know from experience hope runs deeper than a positive outlook.

And then the pastor’s message nailed it for me. He proclaimed:

“Optimism claims everything will be all right despite facing reality. Hope accepts reality, the poverty of spirit that underlies all fear and instigates all tragedies…and looks to something larger – hope always tries to piece together meaning in a world searching for understanding.”

Lamentations three delivers that kind of hope in which the pastor spoke.

The thought of my suffering is bitter, I will never forget this time as I count my losses. Yet, I will have hope when I remember that the love of the Lord is endless. (my paraphrase, vs. 19-22)

The understanding we are searching for is the love of Jesus Christ, the author and giver of all hope.

Are you hopeless today? Feeling like hope is slipping through your fingers? You can hope in this: Jesus loves you. His love for you is never ending.