Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Broccoli Cheese Soup - The Perfect Meal For Candlemas!

It is hard to believe that February will be upon us on Saturday! We live in Central Virginia where the temperatures thus far have been unseasonably warm. We've only turned our heater on twice and then only for a few hours to chase the chill out of the apartment. Most days I have the screen door cracked to let in a little fresh air. I'm beginning to wonder if we're going to pass winter up this year altogether and move straight on to spring. And speaking of spring . . .

This coming Sunday is Candlemas, one of my favorite days in The Year of the Lord, and I've got the perfect recipe for you to try! Even little ones who turn their nose up at anything green love this recipe primarily because the vegetables are hidden away in that wonderful creamy, cheesy soup!

In many cultures this day is observed as a celebration of the return of the light (have you noticed that the days are ever so slow getting longer?), and with that, the hope of spring. The lovely golden color of the soup reminds me of the sun, flecked with tiny bright bits of carrots, and the broccoli itself serves as a reminder of how beautiful and green everything is in the spring, which makes this recipe, in my opinion, the perfect way to celebrate!

If you are a fan of Panera's broccoli cheese soup, I just have to tell you, this one beats it, at least in my book, and may make it into your regular menu rotation!


1 tablespoon + 4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 small/medium sweet yellow onion, diced small
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (you can substitute vegetable stock if you prefer)
2 cups half-and-half heavy cream
3 cups broccoli florets, diced into small pieces
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder (optional)
A pinch cayenne pepper, optional and to taste (does not make soup spicy, just adds flavor!)
8 ounces grated high quality extra-sharp cheddar cheese, plus a small amount for garnishing. (I use 1/2 sharp white cheddar and 1/2 sharp yellow cheddar)

In a large pot add 1 tablespoon butter, the diced onion, and sauté over medium heat until the onion is translucent and barely browned, about 4 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn. Remove from heat and set pan aside. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Once onions and garlic are removed, in the same pot add 4 tablespoons butter, flour, and cook over medium heat for about 3 to 5 minutes, whisking constantly, until flour is thickened. This will make a roux and you want it to be thick so that the soup will thicken in the cooking process.

Slowly add the chicken stock, stirring constantly.

Slowly add the heavy cream, stirring constantly.

Allow mixture to simmer over low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until it has reduced and thickened. You will notice a "skin" form on the top, which is normal. Just stir it occasionally and blend it back in.

While mixture is simmering, chop the broccoli and carrots. After simmering 15 to 20 minutes, add the broccoli, carrots, and the onion and garlic you previously set aside.

Add the salt, pepper, paprika, dry mustard (optional), and cayenne (optional).  Stir to combine.

Allow soup to simmer over low heat for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until it has reduced and thickened some. Stir occasionally to blend in the ‘skin’.

While soup simmers, grate the cheese. For this recipe it is better to use a high-quality cheese, because the flavor of the soup depends on it. Do not use pre-grated cheese, as it is treated to help preserve it and thus resistant to melting. After simmering for 20 to 25 minutes, add the 8 oz of cheese, stirring until melted.

Transfer soup to bowls and garnish with additional cheese, and serve immediately.

This soup will keep for 5 to 7 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It is best to re-heat it slowly in the microwave, 30 seconds to 1 minute increments stirring after each rotation.

And with that, I hope you'll give this recipe a try, and if you do let me know how you like it! The Super Bowl is also this coming Sunday, which I personally could care less about but as my husband loves football, I'm sure I'll join in. Hopefully somewhere in the midst of all the hoopla, I'll be able to set aside a little time for some quiet reflection and observation of the lovely significance of this day.

Until then,


Friday, January 24, 2020

Candlemas: Celebrating The Return Of The Light

February 2 marks one of my favorite liturgical observances and celebrations, Candlemas. Also known as The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and likewise,The Feast of the Presentation of Christ, Candlemas symbolizes the day when Mary went to the temple to be purified with her newborn son.

You might be more familiar with Groundhog's Day being observed on this day, but as with so many of our Americanized holidays and observances, its roots have a much deeper and symbolic meaning, which I'll outline in this post.

Depending on what part of the world you grew up in, Candlemas symbolizes a number of different events, or, in our home, a combination of them all.

The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Under Mosaic law, a woman was viewed as unclean for 7 + 33 days  40 days) after child birth, and as such, could not go into the temple. From the 25th of December, February 2 marks forty days.
See Leviticus 12:2-8, Luke 2:22-24

The Feast of the Presentation of Christ
But long before the Church in Rome began observing the day of purification, other branches of Christianity, such as the Greeks and the Armenians centered their observance around Christ first coming to the Temple, and was known as "the redeeming of the firstborn," or in Hebrew, pidyon ha-ben and is why this day is also known as The Feast of the Presentation of Christ.
See Exodus 13:2, 12-13, Numbers 18:15-16

It wasn't until some time in the 600's that the Roman Church began referring to the day as The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So while the Eastern Church focus was more upon Jesus, in the Western Church the emphasis was upon Mary. Today is primarily observed by the Anglican, Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

The Feast of Light (Return of the Light) or The Feast of Candles
Though candles didn't really play much of a factor in the observance, some time in the 11th century the day came to be  commemorated as "The Feast of Light" ("Lichtmess" in German) or "Feast of the Candles" ("Candelaria" in Spanish, and "La Fête de la Chandeleur" in French)  based upon the prophecy of Holy Simeon -- the "just and devout" man of Jerusalem who was inspired by the Holy Ghost to know that he would live to see the "consolation of Jerusalem" -- and the encounter with the aged widow, Anna the Prophetess, who lived in the Temple and confessed Christ upon meeting Him.  In Luke 2:32 Simeon referred to Jesus as "the light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of people Israel."

In keeping with the reference to "the light", the tradition of blessing the annual supply of the Church's candles was established. Beeswax candles were blessed by being sprinkled with water and having incense swung around them, and were then distributed among the members.  Today, parishioners bring their own beeswax candles to be blessed. In some churches, the blessing is the followed by a procession in which people carry lighted candles while the choir sings. The procession represents the entry of Jesus as light of the world into the temple. Afterwards, church members take their candles home and place them in their windows as a symbol of light during the darkest days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

There are a few of the symbols and traditions associated with Candlemas, as well;

Doves are a symbol of Candlemas, as they were offered by Joseph and Mary as a sacrifice at the presentation. Their symbolism is significant, as they were poor and unable to afford a lamb for sacrifice. Traditionally, those who were unable to do so were allowed to offer a pair of doves instead.

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are also known as "Candlemas Bells" because, being the earliest to bloom in the depths of winter, and often shortly before Candlemas, though some varieties bloom all winter long in some places. Legend says that they sprang up by the hand of an angel, who then pointed them out as a sign of hope to Eve, who was weeping in repentance and in despair over the cold and death that entered into the world after she and her husband sinned. Because our Hope is Christ, the Light as referred to by Simeon ,it is providential that the snowdrop should bloom so close to this feast day. If possible, gather some Candlemas Bells to bring inside. Legend tells that bringing them indoors before this date is bad luck, and bringing them indoors on this day "purifies" one's house. These flowers, along with carnations, are also the "birth flower" for those born in January.

And while most of us have taken all of our Christmas decorations down by now, some people do hold on to them until February.

Taking Down the Final Remnants of Christmastide
The eve of this Feast is the absolutely last (and best) day for taking down the Christmas tree, putting away the creche, etc. In some Latin countries, the creche isn't just put away, but is replaced with a figure of the Child Jesus sitting on a chair, acting as a sign that it is time for the devotion to the Divine Childhood to give way to a focus on the grown-up Savior and the public ministry, forty days of fasting, and Passion to come.

In any case, when Candlemas is finished, all feelings of Christmas give way to the penitential feelings of Septuagesima and then Lent. The English poet, Robert Herrick (A.D. 1591-1674), sums it up in his poem "Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve" -- and reveals a folktale in the process:

Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve

Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall:
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind:
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected, there (maids, trust to me)
So many goblins you shall see.

The very ancient carol, below, also speaks of the departure of Christmas on this day. It is called "I Am Christmas," and was written by James Ryman, a Franciscan Friar, ca. 1492. The reference to Hallowtide (the days of the dead centering around All Saints Day) here refers to the fact that it was during Hallowtide that monarchs used to announce where they would be spending Christmas.

I Am Christmas

Here have I dwelled with more or lass
From Hallowtide till Candelmas,
And now must I from you hens pass;
Now have good day.

I take my leve of king and knight,
And erl, baron, and lady bright;
To wilderness I must me dight;
Now have good day!

And at the good lord of this hall
I take my leve, and of gestes all;
Me think I here Lent doth call;
Now have good day!

And at every worthy officere,
Marshall, panter, and butlere
I take my leve as for this yere;
Now have good day!

Another yere I trust I shall
Make mery in this hall,
If rest and peace in England fall;
Now have good day!

But oftentimes I have herd say
That he is loth to part away
That often biddeth 'Have good day!";
Now have good day!

Now fare ye well, all in fere,
Now fare ye well for all this yere;
Yet for my sake make ye good chere;
Now have good day!

Some likewise view this day as the first official day to symbolize the return of spring, but because our biggest snowfalls in my neck of the woods are often in March and even as late as April, mentally, I'm just not there yet. However, I do keep a phenology wheel and because of that, I am very aware of how the days are lengthening and the light truly is returning.

Groundhog's Day
As I mentioned earlier, Candlemas Day is also known as "Groundhog's Day" in America, the day when, if the groundhog sees his shadow, there'll be 6 more weeks of winter. There is a similar belief in Europe about how Candlemas weather foretells the length of winter. The English have a saying, "If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year." The Germans also have a few sayings about how the weather at Candlemas bodes ill or well for the nearness of Spring:

When the bear sees
his shadow at Candlemas,
he will crawl back into his
hole for another six weeks.

or this one;

If Candlemas is mild and pure,
Winter will be long for sure.

And finally;

If it storms and snows on Candlemas day
Spring will not be far away.
If Candlemas is bright and clear,
Spring is not yet near.

In our home we've used a variation on these poems;

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain
Winter is gone and will not come again.

But I also came across this lovely little poem just this week, which is so much like the poems we've traditionally used during Advent that I wish I'd found it when the girls were young.  At any rate, if you followed along with my Advent plans last year, perhaps you'll enjoy it.

Candle, candle burning bright,
Winter's halfway done tonight.
With a glowing, we are knowing,
Spring will come again!

While Punxsutawny Phil is fun, personally I much prefer the loveliness of Candlemas.

Ideas For Observing Candlemas
If you want to conduct an actual Candlemas Ceremony, you'll find an outline here.

- Let children roll and make their own beeswax candles, or if you want to get really adventurous, perhaps make some by dipping them a few days ahead.  Here's a kit for making your own rolled candles, or you and also purchase them ready made. I also love these orange peel candles, so beautiful how so many of the same elements are used in decorations from Advent through to the days before Lent. If you do make your own candles, here's another lovely poem to share with the littles in your life.

“A candle’s but a simple thing, it starts with just a bit of string. But dipped and dipped with patient hand, it gathers wax upon the strand. Until complete and snowy white, it gives at last a lovely light. Life seems so like that bit of string, each deed we do a simple thing. Yet day by day on life’s strand, we work with patient heart and hand. It gathers joy, makes dark days bright and gives at last a lovely light.”

- Light candles and set them in the windows. You can use the electric or battery operated ones that are popular at Christmas for safety.

- Go on a nature walk and try to locate some snowdrops. If possible, bring a few in and put them in a vase.

- This candle ring is particularly pretty, especially with the sun in the middle symbolizing the return of the light and lengthening days.  You could easily make one out of bread dough, even just a small one using birthday candles. There are twelve candles around the outer ring, one of each month in the year and then the sun candle in the middle.  If you want to make it a little bigger, you could use emergency candles which I usually purchase from the dollar store. It might make a pretty centerpiece for your table to share a special meal.

Traditional Food
Traditionally foods associated with Candlemas are crepes and pancakes because of their round and golden texture, symbolic of the sun (light).  I've never made crepe's, but I do love pancakes, especially buttermilk pancakes!

But this year, I've actually got my eye on these Bacon and Corn Griddle Cakes.

But if breakfast food isn't what you're looking for, in Mexico, tamales are the candlemas tradition! But then again, tamales can be a LOT of work, so instead, you could try out one of these.

My personal favorite, Chicken Tamale Casserole, a dish I've made MANY times! So easy, and so good! But if you'd prefer beef, this recipe looks good, too, Tamale Pie.

You could make these Mexican Cookie Rings with the littles in your life and let them decorate them with bright, festive sprinkles and serve them with Mexican Hot Chocolate.  You could also make simple cut out sugar cookies in the shape of a dove, perhaps sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

I also love the idea of this Cardamom Coffee Bread Wreath, it would be lovely topped with some small candles and perfectly fitting!

Well, I hope by now I've given you enough history and plenty of ideas for celebrating! Candlemas is such a lovely celebration, and as with so many other aspects of The Year of the Lord, filled with deep meaning and symbolism.  I hope you will try out a few of these ideas and savor in the beauty of this lovely day with your family.

"No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow!"

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Friday, January 17, 2020

Weeding Through and Dreaming Big

Walking through the kitchen a few days ago, I was struck by the beauty of the light that fell across the towels I have hanging on the front of the stove. I bought these on clearance at Hobby Lobby just after Christmas and I love them. This may not be their permanent resting place, however, as I've already noticed a tiny splatter of spaghetti sauce that we made earlier this week, and since my plan for these towels is more decorative than functional, I'll have to see.

I don't really have a lot to share today. It's been a busy week of freshening up spaces post-Christmas and I've started the process of downsizing a bit and selling things on the various Facebook yard sale groups that we belong to. January is usually a slow month for sales, so I wasn't expecting much, but I sold five items the first day. What's left for now are some higher ticket items which are usually slower to sell. I really hate the constant maintenance and having to go in and refresh the posts to bring items back to the forefront, but it beats setting everything up on tables and working in the elements, plus in an apartment there's really no way to do that. I still have other items to post, but to keep things manageable I'm posting five items at a time and adding new items as others sell, and so far that pace seems doable.

I've also been muddling my way through all of the bookmarks on my computer, and there-are-so-many. I am so bad about coming across things and thinking I might want to look at them later, and before I know it, its out of control! So I'm being considerate about what I keep, and rather than keeping it as a bookmark, I'm putting things into documents and saving them in a somewhat manageable format. Most of the ideas are for celebrating and observing the seasons and the liturgical year, and there are TONS of recipes, of which I've actually eliminated about half. At some point my goal is for the seasonal and liturgical ideas and resources to find their way here, then I will have access to them in more than one place and they'll be organized in a way that makes sense, instead of all of those random book marks. Once I finish with the book marks then I'm going to begin the time consuming process of weeding through the files on my computer and keeping the things I truly want and deleting the rest. And then . . . there's Pinterest, which is daunting, especially in light of the fact that I apparently can-not-help-myself, and I just keep pinning!

But there's a bigger end goal for all of this weeding and organizing, and that is my long-time dream of a writing a book! In my mind it would be much like the seasonal day keeper's I've compiled, but on a larger scale. I haven't decided at this point if I will still break them up by season, or just write and compile them in one large volume, and that's not even a question I have to answer right now. But what I do know it that it will include ideas and resources for observing and celebrating the seasonal and liturgical year, including recipes and craft ideas. I also love quotes and book passages, as you might have gathered based on the number of times I post them here, so I want to include them, as well, for some added embellishment. My original goal was to complete it this year, but as I've been weeding through things I think perhaps a more realistic goal would be to have the autumn, or depending on how things progress, perhaps the winter edition ready to go by the end of the year. That is why I think it might be better to write and compile four small volumes rather than wait until I have all of them completed before I make it available. I also had the idea to write four smaller volumes, and then once I have them all done, I might compile them into one large volume and add a little bonus content to it. This is all very much in the beginning phase right now, so nothing is set in stone. I would most likely offer them for purchase as .pdf downloads so that I don't have to bother with actually publishing it, but I am still toying with that as well. Anyway, I'm rambling again, so let me wrap this up. As this is an ongoing process (I am committed to working on it daily!), I'm sure I'll share more in the days to come.

But before I go, I wanted to share this sweet little poem I came across earlier this week.  It reminds me so much of one of my favorite passages in scripture;

"And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice."

- 1 Kings 19:11-12

Small Things

It usually starts taking shape
from one word,
reveals itself in one smile,
sometimes in the blue glint of eyeglasses,
in a trampled daisy,
in a splash of light on a path,
in quivering carrot leaves,
in a bunch of parsley.
It comes from laundry hung on a balcony,
from hands thrust into dough.
It seeps through closed eyelids,
as through the prison wall of things, of objects,
of faces, of landscapes.
It’s when you slice bread,
when you pour out some tea.
It comes from a broom,
from a shopping bag,
from peeling new potatoes,
from a drop of blood from the prick of a needle,
when making a blanket for a child
or sewing a button on a husband’s burial shirt.
It comes out of toil, out of care,
out of immense fatigue in the evening,
our of a tear wiped away
out of a prayer broken off in mid-word by sleep.
It’s not from the grand,
but from every tiny thing
that it grows enormous,
as if someone was building eternity
as a swallow its nest,
out of clumps of moments.

by Anna Kamienska

Today I pray that in the pause you look for the little things, and in that, you will find Him there!

Until then,

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Dance of Time

Chapel at Randolph College.

I've posted this before, but in light of my all that I shared with you here yesterday, it seemed fitting and I was happy to come across it again.  If taking note of the seasons and building rhythm into the fabric of your days appeals to you, perhaps this will bless you, as well.

In ancient days, the world itself served as a vast clock. People closely watched the seasons change. Winter thawed into spring, which warmed into summer, summer surrendered to cool autumn, until the first freeze of winter descended and the cycle began again.

The heavens kept time with the earth, the sun dependably marked off the day's hours as it journeyed westward across the sky: one circuit of the sun from dawn to dawn is in fact, the very definition of a day. The sun also acted like any sensible person, retreating from winter's cold and returning with the warming days of spring.

After sunset, in any season, the lambent moon rose to guide travelers through the night. The moon also mysteriously, but conveniently, changed its shape, growing from thin crescent to full orb and shrinking back to crescent again in a cycle that took about twenty-nine days. The inconstant moon proved a reliable measure for longer stretches of time, from new moon to new moon. The ancient Germans called this period of about thirty days a monath, and but for a sliding vowel, so do we still.

From the ancient times, people recognized that the earthly and celestial turning points of the year were linked. The sun's travel delineated the seasons. The solstices, when the sun reached it farthest northern and southern position in the sky, inaugurated summer and winter, the equinoxes; when the sun and moon stood midway between the solstices and and the length of day and night were equal, marked the advent of spring and autumn.

The gauzy night sky held other signposts. Certain stars appeared annually, like heralds announcing the seasons. Throughout the Western world, the great hourglass shaped constellation of Orion warned of impending winter, while Leo the lion's right triangle marked a sure sign of spring. The Pleiades, so diaphanously lovely that to really see them one had to look the other way, led summer into fall.

All nature obeyed the dictates of cyclical time, not least human beings. Just as the sun waned from blazing summer strength to a feeble spark on the far horizon, so too, did the young eventually grow old. Just as the trees in the forests and the crops in the fields withered with the onset of fall, so did human beings age, sicken, and die. Nature yearly reiterated the life cycle of humankind, and each individuals fate reflected the dance of the cosmos.

Although life was shorter, time was longer, moving with the steady but unhurried sun from one season to the next, changing in increments with the moon, wheeling with the great circle of the stars. Then around 1350, carefully stowed beneath the decks of trading ships, keeping company with gunpowder and the astrolabe, the first mechanical clocks arrived in Europe. Modern time made its debut, and forever changed its creators."

- Michael Judge The Dance of Time

Monday, January 13, 2020

Keeping Winter

"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it; the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show." 

 - Andrew Wyeth

Despite the fact that winter has been with us nearing a month now (January 21), in my neck of the woods it has yet to arrive. (The pictures in this post are from January 12, 2019). It feels more like early spring, and on Sunday with temperatures in the high 60's I could almost believe it was going to pass us by altogether. But according to the experts, after this week things should be cooling down a bit, and winter, hopefully, will begin behaving more like itself. This news makes me happy, as winter is my second favorite season! I'm not put off at all by the colder weather and dropping temperatures. I can always put on enough clothes and wrap up in enough blankets to be warm. And I am also admittedly blessed to be a home keeper, so when the cold days come, unless I choose to I don't have to get out in them.

With the predicted forecast in mind, I've been thinking about winter. Recently I read that back in the 18th century there was an old English expression of "keeping" a season, which referred to the traditional ways that people in the country restored their bodies and nurtured their souls by honoring in their daily routines, the rhythms of the natural world. Sowing, reaping, rest. In those days when the deep snows of winter came, there were no plows to come and dig people out, or trucks to salt the narrow roads. In the winter, in the country you "kept" yourself and your family at home.

In today's world the very idea of "keeping" any season, much less winter, is unheard of. For the most part, businesses remain open and employees are expected to brave the less than ideal conditions and report for duty. Both my husband and my daughter work retail jobs, and it is a rare thing for them to not have to show up for work because of the weather. It's made for a few nail biting moments for me as I anxiously awaited news that they had arrived to work and back home safely. But even those of us who are blessed with the luxury of staying at home don't really "keep the season", at least not in the sense that such a statement evokes for me. In this day and age, technology keeps us joined at the hip, rarely missing a beat. As long as we don't lose power, we march forward, undaunted.

But for me winter especially is an invitation to rest, or at the very least, to slow, and on the rare occasion that we are all able to stay home together as a family, I do my best to insure that those days are exactly that. An unexpected and welcomed reprieve. Sleep in. Stay in your pajamas all day.  Cuddle up under a blanket and dive into a good book. Play board games. Make hot chocolate, and with as little effort as possible, put a pot of hearty soup or stew either on the burner, or even better, the crock pot! Typically when they are calling for a possible storm of any significance, we have a few days warning and time to prepare. In those cases I plan our meals accordingly and make sure I already have everything I need on hand to make up something warm and filling. For me, this is "keeping winter".

In her book Romancing the Ordinary: A Year of Simple Splendor, Sarah Ban Breathnach writes;

"If you can't even remember the last time the very thought of snow brought a twinge of pleasure, take yourself to the children's section of the library (preferably without a child so that you can dawdle).  Ask the nice lady behind the desk to point you in the direction of the winter picture books. Take a few or as many as you can carry. Sit in a little chair and slowly peruse the pages as if you're discovering winter for the first time as an adult."

So the next time there's a winter storm in your forecast, why not plan ahead, maybe borrowing from a few of the ideas and resources I'm suggesting and linking below, truly "keep winter", at least for one day!
First, if you know at least a few days in advance, plan ahead.  Look through this selection of soups that can cook away all day in the crock pot. There's sure to be one you and your family will love.  Maybe add a simple salad and crusty loaf of garlic cheese bread, and you're good to go! And to keep lunch simple, kid's typically love grilled cheese sandwiches, and if you just happen to have a mitten or snowflake shaped cookie cutter around, you could press a cute pattern into one side of the bread for and added touch!  No kids?  Check out these recipes for those of you with a more "mature" taste!

For these games, it's simple, all you need is a deck of cards, all the instructions are here.  Snow days are also perfect for classic board games like Monopoly, Life and Scrabble!

FUN (Not just for kids, but for the kid in all of us!)
- Build a snowman.
- Have a snowball fight.
- Make snow angels.
- Go sledding.
- Make paper snowflakes.
- Make ice lanterns. (right)
- Make suet ornaments for the birds.
- Make snow ice cream!
- Build a blanket fort and fill it with comfy layers of pillows and more blankets!
- Have a read-a-thon.

And in the event you yourself have never truly enjoyed the pleasures of winter, here are a few of those picture books that Sarah mentioned. I would encourage you to not only read them, but to dive deep into the beautiful illustrations and learn to see winter with new eyes.

- Sleep Tight Farm: A Farm Prepares For Winter
- Over and Under The Snow
- The Mitten
- The Hat
- Owl Moon
- The Snowy Day
- Snowballs

I hope that you have been inspired and that several days in the coming season will find you "keeping winter".  To me it's such a lovely season, and I'd love to help and encourage everyone to find its beauty and come to truly appreciate it!

To close I want to share one of my favorite children's poems which I think is fitting for this post.

Picture Books In Winter 

 Summer fading, winter comes—
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs
Window robins, winter rooks,
And the picture story-books.

Water now is turned to stone
Nurse and I can walk upon;
Still we find the flowing brooks
In the picture story-books.

All the pretty things put by,
Wait upon the children’s eye,
Sheep and shepherds, trees and crooks,
In the picture story-books.

We may see how all things are,
Seas and cities, near and far,
And the flying fairies’ looks,
In the pictyure story-books.

How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days,
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture story-books?

- Robert Louis Stevenson

Until then,

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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

My Word for 2020 - Dwell

The plan was to pack away all of the Christmas decorations yesterday, but with snow in the forecast, the thought of twinkling lights and softly falling snowflakes was enough to cause me to bring that idea to a halt. In the end it lasted for a whopping total of about ten minutes and nothing stuck. But it was beautiful while it lasted and I take satisfaction, misconstrued though it may be, in knowing that it snowed while the Christmas decorations were up. Yep, I'm weird like that.

To be honest I've been struggling with the thought of taking them down at all. I struggle every year. There is just something about the days leading up to Christmas, the anticipation, that sense of having something wonderful to look forward to, that once it passes always leaves me with an aching emptiness. There is no other season filled with so much, and I love every-single-minute of it. Then January comes along, and believe me I stretch that season out as far as I can. But once Christmas day has passed, and especially after the turn of the year, the enchantment begins to fade, the lights dim and life-as-we-know-it resumes.

This year is especially hard because of all the impending changes in our lives. I have no idea where we will be when Christmas rolls around again at the end of the year, and if I'm honest, I'm struggling. I've been a homebody all of my life. I like to stake out a place and call it mine and live in it. I don't care much for change. And yet deep down I know, that where I am in these moments is exactly where I should be, and more importantly, that it is God's will for me.

Not surprisingly my word for 2020 is DWELL. As in years past I began intentionally praying for it to be revealed late last autumn, and in His faithfulness, it came. In songs, in my reading, it seemed wherever I looked was the constant refrain of dwell. At first it seemed too easy, my life psalm is Psalm 91, and in particular verses 1-2.

"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my strength."

And while I liked the idea of this being my focus for the year, in some ways it seemed too familiar.  But then this week, and especially today, it started to become a little clearer.

D W E L L 

What does "to dwell" mean to me? The first things that came to mind were scenes of home, of nesting, of home keeping, of not just occupying a space but truly living in it. It is me to my core, it rests in the very soul of me. But in light of it being my word for the year, how does that factor? What is the deeper meaning that He wants to communicate in speaking this word over my life for 2020? So this morning, I read Psalm 91 again, and that was when I saw it. Why, when I think of dwelling, especially in light of my claim that Psalm 91:1-2 is my life verse, is God not the first thing that comes to mind? Is He, have I TRULY made Him my resting place? Is my desire for Him greater than my desire for all of these things, this stuff? Where is my heart truly at home? In Him, or in the world?

As with so many other things in life. it was as if the blinders had suddenly been removed from my eyes and for the first time I could clearly see. This venture, this dream that I feel called to pursue with my husband,  is about so much more than minimizing our lives down to what will fit inside of a Ford F 350 passenger van. So much more than leaving "home" and seeking out adventure. This is about stripping me of anything that would bind my heart and hold me too tightly to this earth,  and calling me fully into the dwelling place of the Most High. This "stuff", these images that come to mind so easily when I think of dwelling and home, are but a shadow of all that awaits me. And please don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with filling our homes with pretty things, and making a comforting and inviting place for our families to rest. But for me personally this space that I occupy has become my safe place, my refuge, and in essence, I realize that all of this stuff that I've surrounded myself with, holds my heart too tightly.

I tried to convince myself that if the ceiling of my home were to open up and God were to reveal Himself to me in that expanse and ask me to choose that SURELY I would choose Him. But then I thought of the hundred little moments every day when I am faced, essentially, with that same choice and I choose other things over Him. All-this-stuff I surround myself with, that give me the illusion of safety, of refuge. All of these mortal things that fail in comparison to all that He has for me. I think of Matthew 19, and of the rich man. When he looked on his life he could check off all the boxes, he'd made all the right choices, but the one thing he lacked . . . his riches meant more to him than Christ himself. He missed heaven because His heart was bound too strongly to earth. OUCH! That one stings, because. . . . . I am he.

So how does this play out, what does this look like? I'm not even sure I know. I don't feel the Lord calling me to sale all of my possessions. Our plan all along has been for our daughter to use much of it as she will be taking over the lease when we leave. Then at some point, when we feel it is time to end our traveling, and depending on where she is, we will settle somewhere and our things will be waiting for us. By then much of it may be in storage, as Kate will most likely want to purchase her own furnishings and decor to suit her personal taste. So much of how this is all going to play out is really unknown and will unfold over time, but this is the idea, anyway. I guess what I'm saying is, we don't feel it would be prudent to simply sell everything and then once we are finished traveling to have to buy it all over again. And since Kate doesn't have the financial means to furnish an apartment right now, it just makes sense for her to use what is already here until she either no longer wants it or we need it again. That being said, it's not so much that I feel a need to rid myself of my idols as much as I am being freed of their hold on me. Less of me (and all of my stuff that I hold so dear), and more of Him.

Another thing that has been revealed over the past few days, is that while "dwell" is my word, Psalm 91:1-2 is not my verse for the year. You see, in addition to making my physical home my refuge and needing to learn to dwell in Him, I likewise don't tarry well in the waiting. I don't like not knowing what is coming or how my life is going to play out. But honestly, do any of us? The not knowing is built into life I believe essentially to lead us to place our trust in Him. He is the only known, the one constant, the true assurance. By learning to dwell in Him, I likewise am entrusting myself to Him. I can control my surroundings, with carefully articulated choices and considered placement, I've created a beautiful illusion, not only of safety but of control. God wants to strip me of both, and in that this verse lept from the pages yesterday, and I knew in an instant.

"Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him."

- Psalm 37:7

In my dwelling, in making Him my refuge, in leaning into Him as "home" and being reminded that we were never meant to feel as "at home" on this earth as I'm afraid I've made myself, I likewise have to trust Him. I don't know where I'll be this time next year. . . how many times have those words crossed my mind over the days and weeks as I've essentially mourned the impending changes? But truthfully, I don't even know what is going to happen in the next hour! Oh how much control I've been fooled into believing I yield. I know nothing, save for His relentless faithfulness to me. I would have given up long ago.

And as for Christmas and essentially packing away all the joy to just "resume life as usual", you can bet that wasn't wasted, either. Why is it that I attach the joy of the anticipation of His coming to these earthly symbols? And again, please don't think for a moment that I am dissing Christmas and all-that-it-entails. I will FOREVER love this season. But honestly, every day of my life, of our lives could and should be lived in the joyful anticipation, not only of His birth, but of His second coming, of His glorious return. Every single day of our lives is lived in advent, in awaiting. As a Christian there is no such thing as "life as usual", there is only "life in Him".

I came across a book a few days back, The Practice of the Presence of God by Father Lawrence, and I feel the Holy Spirit leading me to read it. The title alone is at the heart of dwelling in Him, so that's a starting point. Likewise, I feel the urge to find a way to "keep Christmas" in the here and now, in every moment of these ordinary days, and from what I've read so far, Father Lawrence lived such a life. Christ was very much at the center of every task he undertook.

And now, if you've stuck with me this far, then I applaud you! Over the coming weeks I'll be sharing more, and I've no doubt that dwelling, and resting will be a common theme, so if anything in this now very long post has intrigued you, then I hope you'll follow along. Do you have a word for the year? And if so, what is it? I always love hearing about such things, and seeing how the Lord weaves them into the fabric of our days. Leave your thoughts in the comments, and let's catch up again soon!

Until then, dwell in Him,


Friday, January 3, 2020

A New Year

4 Seasons
12 Months
52 Weeks
365 Days
8,760 Hours
525, 600 Minutes
31, 536, 000 Seconds
Turn them into something beautiful!

Thursday, January 2, 2020

A Daybook For The New Year

First stitching of the new year.
※ Outside my window… 
The weather has been unseasonably warm for the past several weeks, and has really put a damper on some of my plans. It's hard to motivate yourself to heat up the kitchen to bake cookies when it's 60 degrees outside and you have the windows open. But now that things are beginning to slow down a bit, I'm rather enjoying it. However, I am reminding myself that change will come, and hopefully even at least one good round of snow. Winter has just begun!

※ I am thinking…
About how much I have to do to begin to prepare to transition to living on the road for a couple of years. (More on that later!).I need to start weeding out, working with Kate to decide what she wants to keep, and determining what I can take. I need a wardrobe in the van, like the one in Narnia, so that I can step into it to find a dozen more rooms to hold all my things. I'm excited to travel, but I like my home and all my things, too. This will be a bit of an adjustment, even if its one I'm looking forward to!

※ I am thankful…
That I was able to get into to see a doctor on Monday about my tooth. I cracked a tooth back in late September, and because we had a new dental policy that my regular dentist didn't accept, I had to find a new one, which made me a new patient, which meant the earliest they could see me was January! Ridiculous if you ask me! But thankfully after a couple of days the initial pain subsided and for the past few months I almost forgot it was there. But then at some point on Saturday it began to hurt, and the pain only got worse. I nursed it through the weekend with salt water and ibuprofen, but by Monday morning the pain was almost unbearable. I called and left two messages with the dentist office, and after a couple of hours of waiting gave up and went to urgent care. I really like the urgent care facility close to our home, they are so quick and professional, and they were very compassionate and took care of me promptly. And wouldn't you know? Right in the middle of speaking with the doctor the dentist office called. I just ignored them and called them back later in the afternoon to let them know I'd taken care of the problem myself. My appointment is on the 9th and I have an arsenal of medication to see me through until then.

※ In the kitchen…
Since I was feeling better yesterday I made up our traditional New Year's Day feast of black eyed peas, collard greens, mashed potatoes and ham. I did forget to make cornbread, so I'm going to make that up today and we'll have it with leftovers this weekend.

※ I am wearing…
I got so many lovely new things for Christmas, I've been wearing a new outfit almost every day.  I am working on a capsule wardrobe to have for the van, coordinating pieces in similar colors so that I can mix and match them to create more. Like everything in my life, they are dark greens, deep reds, corals, creams and black. I've been having so much fun putting outfits together. Every day I think, "Ah, this one is my favorite!" And they all are!

※ I am creating…
I made the little tote (see top picture), or perhaps more of a pocket, on New Year's Eve. I actually started it the day before, and had just a little stitching to do to finish it and then I sewed it up while enjoying a few Christmas movies before I switched to a live stream and watched the ball drop. I saw this design on Pinterest , and thought it would be sweet to make up. I am going to be observing Tabula Rasa either late Friday night or Saturday, and my plan is to write out a prayer and a few goals and dreams for the year, roll them up into a little scroll and place them inside for safe keeping. Then towards the end of the year I'll take them out and look over them and see how the year played out. I'm not fond of resolutions this time of year, but I do like to live with intention.

※ I am going… 
I have several returns to take care of, which I despise. If I were to make a resolution it would be to become more certain in deciding on gifts. My problem is that I buy something, then go out the next day and see something I think would work better, which means my first choice must now be returned. I need to learn to be content with my first choice, but I'm afraid I'm not very good at that.
The labyrinth at Randolph College

※ I am reading…
I am going to begin my first book for 2020 this coming Saturday, and I still haven't decided what it will be. Most likely there will be more than one. I have a lovely book of wintry poems that I borrowed from the archives, and since I only have two weeks to complete it, that will be among them. But I haven't decided on the others. Maybe I'll make that a priority for today.

※ I am hoping…
That I like the dress I bought to wear to the wedding of my dear friend's daughter this weekend. I had a couple of dresses but they were both black, and you just don't wear black to a wedding, at least, I don't. So I found a dress on sale at Old Navy. It's a deep green and while I love the color, I wasn't sure about the style. But I tried it on yesterday and liked the way it looked, I just can't figure out what tights, shoes to wear with it? I considered green, but I don't want to be green head to toe, so now I'm thinking black with my black booties and then some pretty jewelry. I really don't want to buy anything else, and I'm kind of unofficially observing a "no-spend January" after a couple of months of excess. Writing this reminds me that I need to settle this today.

 I am looking forward to…
Attending the wedding I mentioned above. I've known the bride since she was four, and who doesn't love a wedding, especially in winter!

 I am hearing…
Lots of birds at the feeders recently, primarily because with the warm weather we've had the windows open. Yesterday I forgot to close the screen on the porch and a Carolina wren flew into the apartment. He was frightened, obviously, but with a little coaxing, I was able to direct him back out the door.

※ Around the house…
Now that I'm feeling better, I have a pile of laundry to do, but I've decided not to dive into my other projects (which are numerous), until next week. Aside from laundry and returns, I'm going to take a couple of more days to relish in Christmastide.

※ One of my favorite things…
Is the scarf I wore on my walk yesterday. It's really more of a shawl, and I love it so much. I feel like I'm cast in a period piece when I wear it. It's so soft and I love draping it around my shoulders on a chilly day, which we've had precious little of recently. But it was cool enough to need it when I went out for a New Year's walk early yesterday morning. I noticed a labyrinth on the grounds of the college that is just a short block away from our apartment. I've wanted to walk one for ages, and so I was very excited to find it. I'm not sure I was supposed to be there, but I figured early on New Year's Day I would probably go unnoticed and I took a chance. As I suspected, I enjoyed it without interruption, and had I been approached I obviously would have left without argument. The campus is quite old and lovely, and walking the labyrinth and praying and contemplating in that time was lovelier still, especially in light of it being the first day of the new year.

※ A few plans for the rest of the week… 
As I mentioned, I have a pile of laundry. But thankfully I won't have to cook much for the next few days.  Bill and I will be eating out tonight, and then we'll have enough leftovers from our New Year's dinner to carry us through Saturday. There's a meal after the wedding on Sunday that will most likely suffice for the day and we'll just snack in the evening. Other than that I have the returns on Friday, and Saturday is my sabbath and I am observing Tabula Rasa. So over all the rest of the week isn't too busy. But come Monday it will be time to return to the serious business of life, by then I'm sure I'll be ready.

Center of the labyrinth.