advent

COOKIE DAY + THE CHRISTMAS TREE CHOP

 
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There are a few days every year that I look forward to most, Cookie Day and the Christmas Tree Chop among them. Saint Lucia Day is joining the ranks—I can feel it. This blog is becoming a little chronicle of the aforementioned traditions, and like a creature of habit I look forward to documenting and writing about this year's. Annual days like these mark the passage of time yet maintain the patina of well-worn tradition, and I for one need that dichotomy. In a whirling, swirling season (and year!) surely it's essential that we keep a few things constant, slow, and sacred.

Cookie Day has happened every year for 21 years! Certain years there are special guests who throw aprons on and lean into the spirit of frosting and sprinkles (you will walk away with a blue tongue and a stomachache; it's just a fact, people.). Other years there are just 3 or 4 of us. Ever constant are Fran and Cindy, lifelong best friends and Cookie Day Foundresses. We are trending upwards in numbers as a whole gaggle of children join the Cookie Force. All the little ones present this year are Montessori-educated, which showed in their deliberate care in rolling dough and cutting shapes. (It should be noted that they also deliberately snuck so many bites of cookie dough that I was sure they themselves would morph into cut-out cookies. Self-control is tough when there are 200 cookies on the table.) I would be remiss to not mention my grandma's absence. We missed her palpably. Her dear sister, my Great Aunt Posie, joined us and filled the air with the gentle joy the Engle sisters were decidedly known for.
// [Peek 2015 + whoops, I guess I never posted the photos from 2016]

And the Christmas Tree Chop! It's only our fourth year—practically infancy—and I suspect the cost of trees increased at our local tree farm, but it is no less a favorite tradition. Hot chocolate and coffee must accompany, and ten to twenty trees need be deliberated over before settling on The One. Brother Zach always cuts it down, and generally one child cries. It's a little bit chaos, a lotta bit festive. 
// [Peek 2015 + 2016]

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—S

CELEBRATING SAINT LUCIA | LUSSEKATTER

 
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Removing the tea towel to find the bowl of smooth, risen dough, not without little bits plucked and nibbled by hands that Just Couldn't Help Themselves. Those same little hands doing the good work of shaping dough. Tactile, deliberate, imperfect. Rolling, stretching, creating shapes that weren't there before. The lyre, the baby, the Christmas horse, the priest's hair — shapes that recall a tradition that long preceded us. Under the tea towel once more, allowing the buns to rise; impatiently waiting. Cuddle and read stories by the light of the tree. Oven hot, egg wash the buns. In they go. 8 minutes, maybe 9. Let them cool until the little hands cannot bear it any longer. Pull apart, savor the scent of saffron, share and eat with abandon. Smile at the magic of it all. Lucia, patron saint of light, a life worthy of celebration and a recipe befitting of her giving spirit. Lussekatter. An Advent tradition we will abide for as many years as there are hands to shape dough. 
—An Advent journal entry of sorts, regarding December 13th, the feast day of Saint Lucia. 

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—S

THAT WHICH IS UN-PROTECTABLE

 
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While on the phone with a utility company yesterday, a well-meaning woman transferred me to a home security company to discuss "how to protect your investment." . . . Full transparency here: I hung up. I admit that I felt a twinge of guilt, but to her credit those words have echoed in my mind long after I disconnected. Protect your investment. 

Earlier in the day I had stopped into the hardware (one of those magnificently creaky, family-run ones) to pick up a $4 bag of bird seed. For many months, my 2 1/2 year old nephew and I have been doing this together—pick up the bird seed, walk it home, fill the feeder, marvel at the sparrows and chickadees who come by, repeat.

When we ambled to the register, the owner handed me my assumed-to-be-lost credit card. "I came to your house a few times and knocked, but you must not have been home," she said. Ok . . . the owner of the shop where I had left my credit card came to our house to deliver it. Bless her. It was an unbelievable moment for me, captured in my mind's eye with perfect clarity. I am not so naive to believe my loved ones are exempt from indiscriminate danger and misfortune. Devastating events happen in small towns all the time, regardless the perceived safety that accompany interactions like the one I had at the hardware. But the interaction did absolutely reaffirm why Mark and I moved here, why we choose to live rurally. What I wanted to say to the woman from the utility company was that the investments I want to protect are of much greater worth than the Stuff in the House. 

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The investments worth protecting are our relationships. Mark and I choose rural living because of its slower pace — dull, at times — and because we can leave our doors unlocked. The relationships we establish take more work than when we lived in the city, they're harder to come by, and they tend to be with people much older than us, but they boast a richness. Let this not be a diatribe about Why the Country is Superior, Et Cetera. Instead, let it be a call to dig deep, discover within yourself the investments you most want to protect, and allow yourself to be guided by those principles. (And, hopefully, the things you most want to protect are not Things at all.) I write this for myself as much as anyone, especially as Advent dawns and Christmas approaches.

My mom and I spent a day festive-izing the house with my grandma's Christmas decorations. Of course her folk paintings, hand-sewn Santa dolls, and window wreaths are immense treasures. Each has a story. Still, it's just stuff. They are nil compared to the beauty of my nephew learning to be gentle when stirring honey into a mug of hot tea; nothing compared to our baby kicking fervently when Mark plays piano; nothing compared to the interaction I had with the hardware store owner. So that's it, I guess. Just a long post about cherishing people and moments that are, by nature, un-protectable. 

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—S

IN WHICH SHE SPUN A VERY SPECIAL RECORD

 
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For 24 hours the snow has not stopped falling. Each flake, another stitch to the immaculate blanket of snow on the ground, and on the part of my heart: mounting joy. Forever a devotee to winter, it is always in this season that I find renewal. In the quietest mornings, when only the call of the Downy Woodpecker and the Black-capped Chickadee at the feeder can be heard, the solace of winter reminds me to give thanks for this life. I was born in the middle of July and love few things as much as being within a body of water, yet I feel most myself in the throes of winter. No surprise, then, that the first snowfall of a fresh, soon-to-arrive winter is a cause for authentic celebration. And, ah, yes, 'twas.

I have been waiting weeks — months! — to spin the inaugural spin of Vince Guaraldi Trio's Charlie Brown Christmas. When my mama came to visit us in early October, she gifted me the record with two conditions attached: it must give me something to look forward to, and it must not be spun until it snowed in Vermont. Charlie Brown Christmas is my favorite, favorite, one-million-times favorite movie during the Advent season of festivity, joy, and anticipation. 

Mark and I milked the ladies and ran through chores, and by the time we were finished there was wet, wet snow accumulating on the ground, and fast. The perfect sort of snow for packing a snowball and hurling it at your husband with gusto. In a season characteristic of many things un-festive, un-joyful, and un-anticipatory, taking notice of those things that make us smile and call us to offer thanks are incredibly important. There are the tangibles, or the small and often tactile actions that send my heart outside of myself, like spinning a mint Charlie Brown Christmas vinyl five times; like cooking up potato hash in a huge amount of butter to be shared with my love; like watching the songbirds flit and flutter around the bird feeder; like hearing the tick tack of the cuckoo clock perched above our beloved icons. What about you? Which visions, scents, and comforts have you smiling a genuine smile? 

But oh, to speak of the intangibles . . . 

My faith in this life and in a life after this one are tied to the intangibles of this world. Without coming across too abstract, I believe that the intangible facets of this spinning, churning, messy, awe-some universe are glimpses into what comes next. I feel better able to sink into the intangible joys of my life knowing that they are not fleeting, even if they seem so, like the love that I feel wrapped in when a three-year-old's arms are hugging around my neck; like the tenderness I feel for animals, who provide and offer so very much; like a memory of hiking across Spain that is conjured by looking at a little blue bandana on my garment rack; like the gratitude I feel for the elderly woman in the grocery store who walks up to my husband and I in the grocery store to sweetly tell us about a new way to peel a pomegranate. These are not menial, most certainly not meaningless. Hopefully these beautiful, unremarkable encounters are speaking to a greater, remarkable truth about this life and the next—a truth that is festive, joyful, and anticipatory.

I often fail to appreciate or notice the goings on of day-to-day life. A human condition, no doubt. As I ready for the deepening darkness of winter and the brightness of the Advent season, I'll be spinning Vince Guaraldi Trio and working on remaining present for the tangibles and intangibles of Life.


A note on a few of our home fixtures that we often get asked about:

  • The oil lamp burns olive oil, a safer and cleaner alternative to kerosene. You can find the kit at Lehman's and read more about our love for this workhorse here.
  • The copper garment rack was assembled using inexpensive piping from the hardware. The tutorial is here.

—S