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.


Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Busy day today.  This morning, our son’s school held a Pastors’ Breakfast to honor the pastors in our community.  I agreed to bring a breakfast casserole.  Hot.  At 8 am.  I’m happy to help, and I love that they are having this event.  I’m even happier because our beloved pastor agreed to come.  We’re all excited.  But…having a hot casserole, myself, and a five-year-old ready to be at school by 8 o’clock in the morning was not easy.  Mission Accomplished.

The next stop was my place of employment.  I teach a Tuesday/Thursday section of a writing course at a nearby university.  I’m there now–looking over drafts, planning for class, and blogging.  Don’t tell! 

After I take off my academic hat, I will return home where my mom is visiting the kiddos.  We’re planning a much needed trip to the park with a possible icy treat.  Yum.  I am not-so-patiently anticipating that part of my day.

Finally, we will lug our weary selves (maybe I’m the only one who will be tired) to our church where we will be celebrating the final day of Youth Club with a Parents Night dinner.  The kids will perform songs and a poem (that’s my class!), and we will enjoy a pot luck meal.  Oh, that’s right…I’m responsible for taking a “veggie” to the dinner.  I opted for a broccoli and rice dish that I love.  Thank goodness much of it can be made ahead.

So that’s what St. Patrick’s Day looks like for me.  And you know what…I’m pleased.  I’m content.  Each step of the day puts me in contact with people I love, activities I enjoy, and a sense of accomplishment that I can never achieve on a lazy day at home.  Today is filled with blessings.

This is one of the "centerpieces" that I designed for the Parents Night dinner. Last week, each child made one, but I whipped up a few extras yesterday...just in case.

Spring Break: Ash Wednesday

Last night, we marked the start of Lent with a little home devotional time.  We usually attend a church service on Ash Wednesday, but quite honestly, at ages 5 and 2, evening services are hard on the kiddos and hard on Mama!  Everyone is tired and wiggly; plus the solemnity of this particular service leaves me feeling on edge in a way that regular Sunday morning worship does not.  The dim lights, the element of confession, the whole atmosphere leaves me feeling extra sensitive to every half-whisper, every dropped toy, and rolling crayon.  So I declared a night of “church at home.” 

I’ve always heard that one learns most through teaching, and I’m growing to believe that more and more.  Teaching our kids about our faith is a joy and a delightful challenge.  The process of turning long-held beliefs and practices into words and images that are meaningful to little ones helps me to keep old ways fresh and to really examine the “just because” feeling that slips into a life-long faith.

I snitched a baggie filled with ashes from my parents’ coal stove, and we let the boys touch the ashes (although they preferred to just squish the baggie).  We read the first entry in the devotional My ABC Journey through Lent by Peter Mead (provided by our church).  The evening’s entry used Genesis 3:19, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  We talked about how our bodies go back to the earth, but our spirits are special.  Our spirits get to go to Heaven.  Our five-year-old wanted to argue about people being made out of dust.  His teacher had explained that God made people out of nothing, and you know, teacher knows best.  So we explored the relationship between God’s calling creation out of nothing and his final act of forming Adam out of the earth.  Ultimately, we talked about how the death of Jesus on the cross allows us to be more than the dust of the ground. The exciting chain of conversation helped me to remember that Jesus is the thread that pulls together the entire narrative of time.

This is just the beginning of a journey of learning beside our children as we walk toward Easter.

Groundhog’s Day and Candlemas

I don’t know why I love Groundhog’s Day so much.  I guess it’s just the silly fun of it.  Maybe it is the midwinter longing for a little spring weather.  My love might also have something to do with a rotund critter who visited our  backyard for many summers of my childhood.  We named him “Chubbs.”  Whatever the reason, I was excited to celebrate with my boys on February 2nd.

I borrowed the idea for these cupcakes from Gourmet Mom on-the-Go, but I decided to go with cupcakes instead of cookies.  I love cupcakes.  They just seem more festive.  That being said, if you visit the link above, you must look at the groundhog hot chocolate.  Too cute!  We enjoyed our cupcakes when Daddy got home from teaching around 3pm.  We had a little tea time celebration with cupcakes and decaf tea.  Earlier in the day, we worked on our new winter playscape.  More about that in a future blog post!

In the evening, we celebrated Candlemas for the first time.  What fun to embrace a new tradition.  For weeks, I’ve been reading about Candlemas, researching its history, customs, and potential for creating a meaningful teaching moment for our family.  The internet is full of sources about this rather obscure little holiday, but here is the quickie version.  Candlemas marks the end of the 40 day period after the birth of Jesus.  According to Jewish custom, Mary would have gone to the Temple for purification (40 days postpartum for a boy baby, 80 days for a girl).  This would have been the day of Christ’s first visit to the Temple, His Father’s house.  The event is recorded in Luke 2:22-40.  While I consider myself pretty familiar with the Bible, I didn’t remember so many of the wonderful little moments in this story.  A figure named Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Christ.  Upon seeing young Jesus in the Temple, Simeon acknowledges that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah.  He gives thanks to God that he may now rest in peace.  Also, an elderly prophetess named Anna acknowledges and blesses the baby.  Such a beautiful moment in the early life of Jesus!

I drew and laminated some simple figures for the boys to use in acting out the story.  We even enjoyed a spirited rendition of the story by Daddy at the dinner table!

From my quick research I learned about several interesting Candlemas traditions.  Because the date also marks the center point between with first day of winter and the first day of spring, people eat round foods to remember the sun.  When the holiday is given its Christian identity, the acknowledgement of the sun also becomes the acknowledgement of the Son of God, the light of the world.  And while some people might be uncomfortable with the potential pagan roots of Candlemas (the Gaelic festival Imbolc), I find the parallel to be a wonderful statement about the way God shows up in creation and how He designed the world to reflect the presence of Jesus in all things.  We ate our round foods (cheeseburgers; sliced potatoes baked with olive oil, salt & pepper; carrots in “coin” shape; and orange slices) with candles on the table and talked about Jesus as the Light.  Other traditions include bringing candles to church for a priest to bless them and watching the weather for a prediction of spring’s arrival (“If Candlemas Day is clear and bright, / winter will have another bite. / If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, / winter is gone and will not come again.“).  Not hard to see the Groundhog’s Day connection!

It was a special evening, and I hope our family embraces this new-to-us holiday for many years.  It proved to be a great teaching tool and a sacred moment in the middle of a regular old week.

Handmade Holiday #5 (I think!)

As I said several posts ago, I wanted to give handmade gifts this Christmas even if I didn’t do the making.  Well, I am so excited that dear Ol’ St. Nick held up his end of the bargain.  Santa enlisted the talent and imagination of a fine knitter from The Paws Button.  Two of the sweetest little friends came to join our family on Christmas morning.  The pup’s name is Winston, and the bear is Francisco.

Francisco arrived wearing a wonderful blue cape–a delight to our often cape-wearing 5 year old.  Of course, little brother wanted a cape for his puppy, so on Christmas morning I cut a puppy-sized cape from wool felt.  Now, Winston is better known as “Super Puppy” in our home.  Our 2 year old especially loves these fellows.

I love to support artists and crafters.  It makes me feel great to know that people really can devote themselves to making beautiful things and be rewarded financially and personally, whether or not they are “professionals.”  I’ve become a frequent visitor to Art Asana.  Eliza, the blog’s author, is really living her dreams in both art and yoga, and I admire her talent and dedication SO much.  I don’t do yoga, but I love Eliza’s reflections on the body and living without fear.  She is a real find!  So when I was trying to think of a Christmas gift for my niece Stephanie, the Art Asana shop came to mind.  I wish I had taken a snapshot of the print before wrapping it for Stephanie, but the piece that I chose is a brightly colored mixed-media creation featuring a beautiful tree and the word “Trust.”  The print seemed perfect for a young woman’s apartment as she bravely works her way toward finding her own path in the world.  “Trust” is a confidence word.  Trust is about having faith and leaning into it.  How different would our daily lives be if–filled with faith and trust–we just let go and waited for God to come in and meet us right we surrender?  Would we take greater risks?  Be willing to give our dreams a real test run instead of just daydreaming about them?  Hey…maybe I need to get the picture back from Stephanie!  Haha…I know I need that message myself 🙂

So…thank you to Eliza and “The Paws Button” for bringing the magic of handmade goodness to my family.

Traveling toward Christmas

Advent is here!  Our home is buzzing with the excitement of anticipating our Christmas celebration.  We are excited to add two new ways of acknowledging and enjoying the days until the Big Birthday.  First, we were surprised and delighted to receive our very own advent wreath–complete with candles–from our dear friends, Alice and Lindsey.  It’s beautiful, and it will remind us of the growing light that leads us to the manger.  Secondly, I wanted to enforce the idea that we are preparing ourselves to be more like Jesus each day, so I came up with a sort of “good deeds” bag.  Every evening, we are drawing a “task” from the bag.  We do the task, and we talk about how the job helps us to be more like Jesus.  The first slip of paper read, “Tell the youngest member of the family one reason you love him.”  I wasn’t entirely sure how this would go, but our five-year-old truly rose to the occasion.  Without hesitation, he turned to his little brother and said, “I love you because you’re fun to play with, and you’re cute even when you’re grumpy.”  He was so sincere.  I’ll let you know how we learn and grow on the rest of our journey toward Christmas.

Giving Thanks…

For childhood memories,

For children making memories,

For waking up to the smell of onions, celery, and butter in an iron skillet,

For families–growing, learning, loving,

For the bright orange of sweet potatoes and the darker shade of pumpkin with just the right amount of cinnamon,

For pie filling that didn’t fit, baked in a little dish for nibbling,

For the land and its natural resources–May we never take them for granted–

For a God who is both provider and savior…

We give Thanks!

All Saints Day

For the first time, my family is celebrating All Saints Day at home.  In the past, we’ve had a small taste of this oft forgotten holiday when the choir sang a special hymn during the church service and names of departed loved ones were printed in the bulletin.  But this year, we are remembering the saints who have gone before us in our own little way.  My five-year-old loves to ask questions about our family and flip through our albums of photographs, so today we will be looking at the images that I treasure most.

These are my Dad’s parents at our wedding in 2001.  Grandma is still doing well.  In fact, we celebrated her 80th birthday this weekend.  We lost Papa a few years ago.  He was a faithful Christian.  He was a soft spoken barber who believed strongly in integrity and hard work.  He was a World War II navy veteran.

This is my Grandma Sunny, my Mom’s Mom.  Grandma Sunny…I don’t even know what to say.  So much of my memory of everything is wrapped up in her.  She went to Heaven just short of three months after this photograph was taken in August 2001.  She was an amazing cook, a fabulous knitter, a kind, feisty soul.  I miss her every single day. 

Here is Grandma Sunny and my Mom’s Dad, Papa.  They are the couple on the left.  They met in Belgium at the end of World War II.  Papa was an American soldier stationed there.  They are in their early twenties in this picture.

This is Papa again in an undated photo at the bowling alley, but I’m guessing that it’s from the early 1980s.  Papa passed away unexpectedly when I was a junior in college.  It was a terrible shock.  Papa was a very, very quiet man, and he was intelligent and gentle.  A sweet man.  He seemed to know something about everything.  He loved my Gram.  He loved her food!

I am in love with this picture.  My Mom found it not long ago, and we were both absolutely charmed by it.  Grandma Sunny is to the right, and my Great Aunt Phyllis is to the left.  We have no idea where the puppies came from, but aren’t they cute?

I do not have photographs of my husband’s loved ones who are gone.  Maybe I’ll ask his Mom for some pictures to have in our home as we teach our boys about the family who raised Mommy and Daddy.  I do, however, have this little yarn corsage that my hubby’s maternal grandmother made.  I never met her, but I know that she was a very special person in Cory’s life.  She always bought him the purple Swedish fish because they were his favorite.  She worked in the school cafeteria, and she made him a special pb & j on spaghetti days because she knew he didn’t like spaghetti.

Who will you remember today?