2016 Theme and Goals

I love the start of a new year!  I’ve written about my love of fresh starts many times on this blog.  I look for lots of reasons for a personal “new year” (birthdays, new seasons, the start of school, etc.), but I especially love the traditional new year because I’m setting goals and dreaming about the future along with many other people.  I enjoy blog posts and YouTube videos about resolutions and goal-setting.  Last year, I posted a detailed list for myself, and I also did a mid-year update.  Writing about my annual expectations here helped keep me accountable, and I’m eager to get started again.

This year, I decided to choose a theme.  My theme for 2016 is SIMPLIFY.  This is a continuation of last year’s goal to “get organized” and my later posts concerning simple living.  I will apply this theme to a few specific area of life.

  1.  In the practice of my faith, I wish to embrace the simplicity of the gospel and avoid the perfectionism that often keeps me from digging deeper.  I want to begin each day with time in prayer and reading, but too often, I decide not to do it because I don’t have enough time to do it “right.”  What a ridiculous excuse!  No more of that. A couple of minutes in focused prayer is certainly better than none, and every minute has as much potential for blessing as an extended period would have.  God shows up everyday, so I should, too!
  2. I’ve been simplifying my belongings since the summer, but we have a terribly long way to go!  Instead of getting discouraged, I’m creating a monthly plan to address the different areas of my home.  I’ll save that for a different post, but I will say that January is devoted to Clothing & Laundry!  I am working on building capsule wardrobes for my kids (I’ve been using one myself since the fall), and I want to finally find a laundry routine that works for me.
  3. I’m simplifying my exercise expectations.  I always make tons of plans that never pan out.  I need to recognize that I am in a season of life where my time isn’t really my own.  My children are small, and they won’t always be!  So instead of bemoaning the gym membership that I do not have or the 5Ks I have not run, I am going to take joy in daily walks with my dog.  When I do walk faithfully, I can quickly tell that it is good for my body and my spirit.  It is also very good for my dog!  Please remind of of this when it’s below freezing!
  4. Finally, I want to establish morning and evening routines that help us to transition into and out of our days.  This isn’t a new concept.  I was quite the devoted “FlyBaby” (www.flylady.net) at one time, but we’ve fallen out of our routines.  I know that my whole family benefits from this loose but meaningful structure.  When I’ve been disciplined in my routines, everything feels simple, and I desperately need that feeling.

Beyond my themed goals, I have one other resolution.  In 2016, I will grow in my “culinary self.”  I’ve been in a cooking rut lately, so this year, I resolve to experiment with food.  I want to try more meatless meals and rely less heavily on grains to simply fill up.  Due to some medical needs for one of our children, we’ve already made great strides to limit grains and sugars, but instead of seeing this as a limitation, I want to use the opportunity to explore alternative ingredients, new flavors and textures, and even cuisines from different cultures.  It’s exciting!

Well, that’s it, gang!  Wishing you and yours a wonderful 2016.

~*~Erica G.~*~

Two, Five, Eight

Summer in our family means birthdays!  We start with me in mid-June, Charlotte at the end of the month, and J in July, and we end the stretch with F in late August.  Whew!

Charlotte turned two this year!  Amazing, funny, wonderful two.  Forget the so-called “terrible twos.”  I absolutely adore this incredible period of language development and emergence of her sweet, hilarious personality.  We began Charlotte’s day with Grandma Renee’s pancakes, and we wrapped it all up with blueberry banana cake from Soulemama.  (Click it!  It’s a great recipe!)  Aunt Kristy and Uncle Jake were able to celebrate with us.

J turned five this year!  Five feels like a very important milestone.  He becomes more articulate and ever-practical with each passing day.  We spent his actual birth enjoying a nearby park and getting totally soaked in the stream.  Then late in July, we had a combined party (Knights and Ladies theme) for our new two year old and five year old.  It was a lot of fun!

And finally, our big boy turned eight.  Eight?  Too big, simply too big.  We celebrated with a “planet party” of his own invention.  On his real birthday, we made a much anticipated trip to Red Lobster for his favorite food: shrimp!  My eight year old is growing in so many ways.  He seems taller and smarter and more inquisitive every day.  I can’t wait to see what this third grade year has in store for him.

Here are some images of our summer of birthdays.

Charlottepancake blueberrycakeDSC_0060Jfive

hatsandshoes swingstreamknightladycastlecake DSC_0201DSC_0206DSC_0225 DSC_0236DSC_0226

Advent: Week One

Advent1Oh, how I love Advent!  I always have.  When I was a little girl, I felt immediate excitement when we walked into the church to find the Advent wreath standing next to the Communion Table to start the season.  The shiny, brass stand and candleholders caught the glow of the santuary lights, but the candles were still dark, waiting for the counting to Christmas to begin.  Even if I understood very little of the theological meaning of Advent at the time, I knew that the candles meant Christmas and anticipation and joy.  The congregation joined together in song as one family climbed the steps to the wreath, bearing a tiny flame on the end of a long, elegant brass candlelighter*.  A member of the family read a short litany while the others lit the candle.  Sometimes the family was mine.  Sometimes it was a family that I knew.

Advent is a wonderful way to bring the tangible practice of our faith from the church to our home. It is a chance to tell the beautiful story of Christ’s birth again and again. Advent presents the opportunity to make the story visual and tactile. With four weeks to deliberately revisit the details and themes of the coming child, repetition becomes a powerful teaching tool.

This year, in addition to the Advent wreath, we are going through Truth in the Tinsel.  It’s a delightful e-book with short, simple devotions and an ornament craft for each day–December 1 through Christmas.  We are working through the materials at home, and on Tuesday mornings, we are gathering with our homeschool co-op to do that day’s ornament and reading.  I usually get off track on similar one-per-day activities, but so far, we are keeping up fairly well.  We’ve only had to double up twice.  I highly recommend this book.  I can see how it would be easy to adapt for various age groups, and I think it’s perfect for the ages of my boys, 4 and 7.

Sunday marked the start of the second week of Advent, so our wreath is now aglow with two bright lights.  I am grateful for less squabbling over who gets to light the candle each night.  How appropriate that the second candle is the Candle of Peace!  😀

 

*In case you’re wondering, that “thingy” that people use to light candles in church is actually called a candlelighter.  I looked it up.

A Different Kind of Advent

Advent is the beautiful season of getting ready.  Every year at this time the preparations begin. Lists and trips and evening obligations fill the days leading up to Christmas.  Growing up in a Christian home, I’ve always known that Chistmas means more than the stuff of the secular celebration, but I still hurry around checking off a to-do list like the rest of the world.  I know that when we “get ready” during Advent we are preparing in a way that is far more significant than finding the right gift, the perfect poinsettia, or an unforgettable dessert recipe for the big day, but I get caught up in the hunt!  The Advent, this waiting, is even bigger than the best Advent calendar, the most stirring devotional booklet, and the sweetest rendition of “Silent Night.”  These are good things, meaningful things, but I often see Advent and Christmas pass without the encounter that I want and need.

This year is different.  Yes, we’re getting ready in practical ways for the upcoming celebrations.  Gifts are being planned and purchased, eventually wrapped.  Travel plans are being made, maps selected, reservations obtained.  Our celebration of Advent–a season that I love for its opportunity to tell and retell the most glorious story of all–is necessarily pared down.  We are just starting to unearth cookie sheets, special ornaments, and other pieces of our Christmas stash from dusty boxes.  There won’t be much time for baking and gift-making as we stumble through new routines in a brand-new-to-us house.

But this sense of difference is more than the fact that so many of our belongings will stay in boxes until well into the winter months.  This year, more than ever before, I have a sense of expectancy, a readiness to encounter the living Christ in a profound, yet quiet way.  My soul is in need of the deep Peace that He represents.  My insides have been tossed like a little ship on a stormy sea, and I am so longing to return to familiar waters where I can settle my heart and mind in the assurance of God’s love and His promises.  Aside from the fact that we have to drive about 1000 miles to celebrate with our families, this Christmas season is going to be exactly what I need it to be: simple.  I don’t have time to be engrossed in many of the traditional activities, and this year, that’s just fine.

Lenten Tree 2011

You may recall our Lenten Tree from last year.

The tree is back!  I’m loving it even more now that our older son is growing in his awareness of “talking to God” and what it means to get ready for Easter.

I don’t know the true origin of the Lenten Tree, but we borrowed the idea from our church’s tradition.  I placed a few twigs (Thanks, Dad!) in a pitcher, and this year, I set the pitcher on a swatch of purple fabric, the color of the Lenten season.  On Ash Wednesday, when the tree first graced the center of our table, the branches of our tree were bare.  They were colorless and lifeless.  As the season progresses, we will fill the branches with colored ribbons to represent different kinds of prayers.  For example, red is a prayer for forgiveness; orange is a prayer of thanksgiving.  Blue is a prayer for peace, and a pink ribbon means that you are praying for wisdom.  We are using nine different colors.  As we grow closer and closer to the celebration of Easter, the tree becomes full of color.  By the time Easter arrives, it is bursting with new life.

I love how the tree is a direct reflection of the changes in the natural world around us.  In early March, the ground is dormant.  The world is still brown and gray.  But each week, we see the plants awakening; we see more color and sunshine.  Especially with a late-April Easter this year, spring will truly have sprung when the time comes to celebrate.  The tree makes the link from natural life to spiritual life so evident and accessible for little ones.

A wonderful blog friend (and real-life friend), Emily, has been contemplating praying with children at her blog, Watkins Every Flavor Beans.  At this point in my young family’s development, the Lenten Tree is a great way to pray together.  I tie a ribbon as a kind of record of a prayer that I’ve just prayed or have been meditating upon all day.  For the boys, we consider the very act of tying the ribbon to be a little message to God, a way of saying “Today I’m thinking about courage” or praise or patience.

This post is listed as part of today’s “Nature Table.”  Take a moment to check out all of the great ideas listed there.

The Hunt

One of my favorite traditions is choosing a Christmas tree from the farm.  We’ve taken my little guys to hunt for a Christmas tree every year–even when they were tiny babes in our arms, wrapped and wrapped and wrapped against the winter chill.  After choosing just the right tree–not too tall, not too fat, just the right shade of green–we ride back to the barn for hot chocolate and a few minutes by the pot belly stove.  The “shop” isn’t fancy.  The hot chocolate is just a 50 cent Styrofoam cup with powder and blazing hot water, but we love every minute!

This year we selected a lovely blue spruce.  Maybe others are bothered by pine needles and sap in the house, but I adore waking up on the day after the tree goes up.  I love to come downstairs and take a big breath of piney, Christmas air.  The smell is fresh, clean, and almost spicey.  My “helpers” put on all the ornaments themselves.  In other words, all ornaments are on the lower three feet of the tree.  I love it!  (Though I confess that I did spread out the pretties later.)

A Time of Preparation

With two “college kids” in our family (by that I mean the hubby and myself), Christmas preparations usually don’t happen until after Finals Week ends, typically the week before Christmas.  We’re too busy writing papers, reading thick books that nobody has taken out of the library in decades, grading papers, and ultimately submitting grades for the college students under our care.  Therefore, except for Sunday church services, we basically miss Advent.  Well, this year, I decided things would be different.  I started Christmas prep in November (the music still didn’t come out until Thanksgiving evening).  I had an elaborate list of tasks and gifts.  I started early–and happily. 

We are less than a week away from the blessed day.  The lists are not complete, but Advent 2009 has been better than any in my married life.  We’ve made decorations.  We’ve kept up with the Sunday School’s Advent activity–more or less.  We’ve enjoyed time with friends and family.  We’ve gathered gifts for our loved ones in a slow, relaxed way that has allowed reflection and a sense of happy discovery when the right gift came along.  Most importantly, we’ve tried to keep our eyes on the manger. 

Today, we awoke to a wonderful blanket of snow.  And it hasn’t stopped snowing!  We spent a nice day together.  My guys went out to play in the winter wonderland.  I baked biscuits and tried a yummy vegetable-bean chowder recipe.  Perfect for a snow day.  I’m feeling cozy, relaxed, and oh so blessed.