Thursday, November 28, 2013

A tree full of thanks

There was a tree visible under there at one point.
As part of our gratitude practice this season, we have been adding leaves to a Thankful Tree. Every evening at dinner time, we each choose a leaf and write on it something for which we are grateful. After dinner, we share the leaves and add them to our tree.

Today, our tree is nearly invisible under all of the bright-colored leaves that represent our blessings. It has been a great gift to take that moment each day to talk with each other about the things that make us feel blessed...and I love how my children now ask each other, "What are you thankful for?" and "Is it time to do our leaves?"

Some of my favorites from our list this year:

Our friends (especially Katie Beth, Mark and Andrew, who are on our tree many, many times!)

A job, even when it is frustrating


Sneakers (Nora's favorites)

Ice Skating (none of my kids have ever been ice skating, but just the idea of it apparently inspires gratitude)

My family


Schlag (which is so much better than whipped cream!)

Our church


George, the best husband and dad (and we can add "best schlag maker" to that list)


Jesus and God (Sam again)


Myself (that one's from Lucy)

Our car and the fact it has heat in it (that's Sam's)

Glue sticks (Nora)

All the things (Lucy again)

My children are onto something. It is finding little, everyday things for which we are grateful and expressing thanks for them that produces a thankful heart. Our Thankful Tree has been an opportunity to practice gratitude as a family...and I'm grateful for that.

I'm planning to write down everyone's answers in a notebook and repeat this activity next year. It was easy to incorporate into our life and really set the tone for a season of grateful thinking.

I am also grateful for each of you who comes here to read my words and to share yours with me.

Happy Thanksgiving. 

And don't forget to enter the giveaway for a copy of Feast! by Daniel and Haley Stewart or a copy of The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi. Either one would be a wonderful addition to your library, whether you are new to celebrating the Christian year at home or have been doing it for years already. Just leave a comment on the Surviving Our Blessings Facebook page telling us about your favorite Advent tradition (or one you'd like to start).

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Defiant gratitude

I'm sharing at CatholicMom today about sitting in the dark and waiting for the light to show up. Sometimes, being grateful is not easy. Especially this time of year, when everything is all bright and color-splashed and merry-filled and holly jolly, it can be tough to coax gratitude from a heart that is burdened with sorrow.

Sometimes, sitting in the dark is our act of thanksgiving. Sometimes, sitting in the dark and confessing Jesus as Lord of all of it, even the worst parts, is revolutionary. In the dark, surrounded by our fears and worries, we are waiting for the One who can make us whole again.

If this is a tough time for you or someone you know (and chances are, you know someone who is struggling with a heavy load right now), this is the post for you.

Blessed day-before-Thanksgiving to you.

Good news for everyone (especially the liturgically-minded)

If you have been thinking about being more intentional about Advent this year...
...if you're curious about the church calendar and how it works...
...if you might want to celebrate a feast day here and there...
...if you have a sneaking suspicion that there's more to celebrate than just Christmas and Easter...

I have great news for you!

Part The First:

My friend Sarah over at Two O's Plus More has put together a lovely post with some ideas about how to begin observing the church year in your home. If you have been thinking about starting to do this, Sarah can help. She has helpful suggestions about how to move gradually into following the church calendar.

Also, Sarah is giving away a copy of A Continual Feast: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family and Faith Throughout the Christian Year, by Evelyn Birge Vitz. (This post contains Amazon affiliate links, fyi. You'll know them because of the big old Amazon logos at the bottom, ok?)

This book is a good introduction to help you ease into celebrating bits and pieces of the church year without feeling like you are drowning in saints, martyrs and candle wax.

Part The Second: 

I'm doing a double book giveaway this week!

I have one copy of Feast! - a wonderful new e-book by my friend Haley of Carrots for Michaelmas- to give away. Haley and her husband, Daniel, have put together a collection of recipes and reflections for celebrating the liturgical year at home, complete with pictures, quotes, prayers and ideas. It doesn't end there, though. They've written a thoughtful and non-threatening introduction to the church year, inspired partly by their first encounters with it at their Baptist college in East Texas when neither of them was Catholic. The book is practical, realistic for busy families with little kids (since Haley and Daniel have three kids under 5), and down to earth. As a bonus, all the recipes can be prepared gluten-free. It is amazing work, y'all. (And you don't have to be Catholic to appreciate it.)

The book is 40% off this week (until Thanksgiving)- you can get your own copy for $4.99. The price will go up after that (as it should- this is a really fantastic book!). The food pictures alone are worth the price. (They say they aren't photographers, but the photos make my stomach growl.) Plus, there's an adorable picture of their son with kohlrabi. What's not to love?

Haley has generously offered a copy of her book for one of you, because she's fantastic. Like her book.

My second giveaway book is for St. Nicholas Day, which is coming up next week (so soon, can you believe it?) on December 6. I have one copy of my very favorite St. Nicholas book, The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi to send to one of my lovely readers.


The art in this book is magnificent. Even if you don't celebrate St. Nicholas Day separately from Christmas, this book is one you will want to add to your collection. (Also, you should consider celebrating St. Nicholas on his own's so much fun! At least, it is if you don't do it like I did last year.)

To enter, please leave a comment on the Surviving Our Blessings Facebook page with your favorite Advent tradition (or one you'd like to start, if you haven't done so yet). If you are not on Facebook and still would like to enter, leave your comment here and I'll transfer it over for you. Two lucky winners will each receive one of the books. I wish I had enough copies for everyone.

Fine print: The winners will be randomly chosen on December 2 by one of my darling children from a basket of slips of paper. (We are fans of the old ways around here.) The e-book is a worldwide giveaway- anyone can win!- but the St. Nicholas book winner needs to be a US resident for postage reasons. 

I hope you win! :-)

Look for more posts in the coming days on Advent and what we're doing to get ready. In the meantime, tell are you feeling about December's quick approach? Are you charging ahead? Are you wishing you could put on the brakes? Are you somewhere in between?

Monday, November 25, 2013

on long silences and empty spaces

One of the most difficult things about being a mother-writer is that sometimes my callings get in each other's way. Anyone who mothers and writes about it knows that it's a delicate balance...the children who share my space and my life sometimes require me to leave this space empty for a time so that I can better meet their needs.

In the last month, that's exactly what I've done- left this as an empty space. I needed to clear my head a bit and focus on my children. It was a needed break for me, but I am sorry to have been silent for so long with no explanation to you all.

The thing about empty spaces is that they are never really empty, at least not for long. They fill with thoughts that trail off when we get interrupted. They collect sentence fragments and unfinished paragraphs and ideas that pile up high like the unending jumble of life's mundane bits and pieces that collect on my countertop in front of the stand mixer: bills and catalogs and requests for money and children's art and marker caps with no markers in them and a few crumbs and a healthy amount of dust to top it all off.

(It is healthy to have a little dust around. It builds up your immune system. I'm sure I read that somewhere.)

In the time since I last wrote here, a lot has happened.

  • We had a great visit with my sister from Alaska, immediately followed by a great visit with our friend Gerald (the children's godfather) from Minnesota. It was a blessing to have both of them in our home and to watch the children get reacquainted with them. 

Nora and Aunt Laura take on the slide
  • I ran the marathon in Richmond and set a personal best time (by 37 minutes!). It was a wonderful experience...and just over a week later, I'm back to running and feeling strong. No injuries to report. 
George and me, a little excited to see my best running friend at mile by best running friend

  • I sang The Star-Spangled Banner (by myself, in front of people, what's wrong with me?) for our local Turkey Trot 5K/10K race. I did a good job. It was in tune, I hit the high note and held it for an appropriate length of time, and I didn't embarrass myself. I'm glad I had the experience. All the same, next year I'll be recommending they get a "real" singer to do it. It was a bit of stretch for me, and I got anxious about it. 
  • We got a new oven...finally. I expect to be baking all the time for a little while. SuperSam was so excited, he made the oven a "welcome to our home" picture.

"It's Here" - complete with time of installation and portrait of the oven.
  • We found out that we would be adding a new baby to our family...and then, with barely enough time to adjust to the idea, we found out that we had lost the baby. This is really the main reason for my silence here. I've never been very good at pretending things are fine when they aren't fine at all. Feeling very raw, emotional and unprepared to talk about it, I just couldn't go on writing posts about homeschool projects we weren't doing and feast days we barely celebrated with take-out pizza and how our oven was still broken and how we were using disposable diapers because no one had the energy to wash the cloth ones. Grief is a strange, draining thing. It knocked me down and sucked all the life out of me, then left me to sort out the meals and the laundry and the three living children clamoring for my attention. There's definitely more to say about this journey in progress, but that is enough for now. Long silences happen when things feel too difficult to talk about, but leaving this space empty of words has given us a chance to ponder things in our hearts. I know more words will follow in due time.

As we try to move forward, I'm preparing for this Advent season and the new liturgical year with special anticipation. Advent is the darkest time of the year, where we all sit around and wait for the Light to show up in our midst, and no matter how dark it is, the Light always comes. I'll be sharing tomorrow at CatholicMom about this very thing. There will be a link posted here so you can go check it out.

Have you thought about starting to celebrate the seasons of the liturgical year but haven't known how or where to start? Do you think you might want to know more about St. Nicholas and Advent and all the other great feasts in December, but you get so involved in planning for Christmas that you never have time to think about it?

If so, I have great news for you. Tomorrow. So come back tomorrow and find out what it is.

(And if you're totally not into this liturgical year stuff, I hope you'll come back, anyway.)

It's good to be back with you.