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Aw, Advent candles and pockets. Ignore the ash on the table.

Advent is soon! I’m considering Celtic Advent this year, because the four-ish weeks never seem long enough.

Cozy is the main reason I like Advent and Christmas. The lights, presence, pleasure (coffee, tea, wine, cake, etc.), communal/equality, gratitude, comfort, togetherness, shelter/home of it. I get why this season is hard for a lot of people, especially those who live here and don’t celebrate Christmas, especially if they work or have worked in retail where they play the most annoying Christmas songs ad nauseum for months on end. And in some ways, it’s hard for me, too. But a spot of melancholy hardly ever keeps me from enjoying something.

I do feel compelled to keep a lot of my joy about the season under the radar (except here and now on the internet, of course) so that I don’t become part of the intense way that others try to shove the holiday down everyone’s throat (looking at you, Starbucks cup zealots). Luckily, I’m usually so caught up in preparing for services at church and other fun things I enjoy this time of year that I miss a lot of that, especially during Advent. Because of the way it falls around work schedules and family gatherings, the twelve days of Christmas partly become a transitional time of letting go and tucking in to prepare for the new year. It’s the time of the year that I’m most likely to enjoy getting by on as little as possible and appreciating what I have.

I don’t know if it’s the start of the church year or (some of) the seasonal music or the (mythical) sweater weather, but the season is very cozy to me. Some of my traditions include going to the farm, reading night the night before I leave (I often buy new pajamas and book specifically for the evening), and coming home to rest. Then there’s the best week of the year (Christmas to New Year’s Day) with goal-setting and shopping and catching up with friends but not really planning anything. I used to plan a lot before the week but I’ve found that it’s even more relaxing if the weeks leading up to it are calm, too.

I tend to celebrate seasons more than holidays, so I don’t know that I have specific traditions for certain days. What are some of yours?

I’ve been talking about living a lush life all month.

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When I think of the things I like about spring and summer, it’s a short list, and it’s mostly food. The fresh produce in Texas during summer, y’all? Amazing. I mean, it’s good all year, really, because we don’t have proper seasons. But that first bite of ripe peach in late June/early July almost makes me forgive it for being 14,000 degrees outside.

During childhood, summer meant swimming lessons and the occasional church camp. Mostly it meant more time to read and being locked outside to “enjoy the sunlight, dammit.” We have a big backyard at the farm, so there were often games set up for the family or whoever else moseyed on by to play. I still have a scar from running into the horseshoe post while playing frisbee. My favorite game we played was croquet. Spoiler alert for my 50th birthday coming up in a few years – I may have a Wonderland party, complete with an ongoing game of croquet. That seems like a fitting way to end half a century and kick off the spring.

Summertime is synonymous with play to me. I never quite shook the summer vacation vibe, even though I no longer work in a job where I have summers off (or at least with a lighter workload). I’m more spontaneous during the summer. I’m more likely to say yes when people say, “Hey, if you’re not doing anything tonight, join us for ___!” Unless it’s outside. Because WHY. What about Texas outside in the summer is fun at all?

For the last few years, I’ve posted a summer bucket list that is often full of fun things that I want to remember to enjoy, like farmers’ markets, swimming, fresh flowers, and snow cones. My food staples are typically fruit, salad, and sandwiches because it’s too hot to cook. I make several batches of sun tea, and I usually have a signature potion or two that I particularly like that season (this past summer was a toss-up between hibiscus and fresh mint).

I’m also more likely to adopt a signature cocktail over the summer. Some of my summer favorites include:

Summer hygge is capturing that perfect lazy afternoon by the pool with a good book and an umbrella drink. Days like that almost trick me into forgetting the weather.

Every season has its lush moments.

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“If hygge was a person, I think it would be Alice Waters.”
Meik Wiking – The Little Book of Hygge

From the moment I heard about Alice Waters and her connection to the Slow Food movement, I’ve been hooked. Maybe it’s because I grew up on a farm where we grew our own peaches and pecans and enjoyed the bounty of MeMaw’s robust garden. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always harbored secret fantasies of building my own version of Chez Panisse. It could just be the simple fact that good food, especially food grown or produced within driving distance and/or cooked with love, gives me a solid sense of place like nothing else can.

The fastest way to my affection is to cook for me. One of my favorite birthdays was one of the years I was vegan. I was having a hard time coming up with a restaurant that all my friends would enjoy and where I also could get food I loved and would eat. I was about to give up when my sister offered her house to host a potluck. My friends brought over such a feast of all my favorite vegan things. It was so kind and generous and the best gift I could have asked for. Another favorite birthday was the year I invited everyone over to my apartment and served three kinds of lasagne.

I don’t always love cooking, but I love sharing food. I doubt I’ll ever actually own a restaurant, but I love feeding people. For me, there’s no such thing as a lush life without shared meals.

I go through phases of different favorite things to make. Bread. Pie. Cookies. Risotto. A couple of times, Maggie and I put aside a whole weekend to bake and invite people over to enjoy what we made. Cookie weekend was epic. Pie weekend was pretty good, too. Maybe July wasn’t the best time to bake pies all weekend, but it was delicious.

I’m on a real soup kick right now. Yesterday, I did not want to go to the grocery store, so I did a pantry sweep to see what I could make for the week without running that particular errand. Imagine my delight at finding a goldmine of yellow split peas. With some onions and bell peppers and a few herbs, I now have a vat of one of my favorite soups to indulge in all week. Bliss.

Saturday, our church is hosting its annual Empty Bowls luncheon, and I’m looking forward to sampling soups from several restaurants in the area. Maybe I’ll even host a soup party of my own someday.

I am writing about all the things that make life lush this month.

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So satisfying!

It’s all well and good to create a home environment that is lush and cozy. For me, what makes decor even better is to have pieces made by beloved friends or things I’ve crafted with my own two hands. I use coloring pages to recover plain journals or as a backdrop to poetry written on scraps of paper in my art journals. All the blankets I have are either quilts made by MeMaw or Aunt Edna, throws I’ve knitted, or the large fleece blankets with knotted edges that my mom helped me make when I was sick enough to need to stay still but just well enough to be bored.

As an added bonus, a lot of the DIY craft work I do is mentally soothing.

As a writer and a musician, I am used to pouring my creativity into things you can hear. I have my favorite words, and I love exquisite phrases. I spend at least an hour a week sight-reading new pieces on the piano and practicing old favorites to keep my fingers limber. My friend Sarah has introduced me to the wonderful world of experimental sound, and the skills I continue to hone after decades of playing help me be more playful and spontaneous during improv.

One thing I have discovered in the last few years, though, is that I love being surrounded by things I’ve created that I can see or touch. I adore making my home a place that tells my unique story to anyone who walks in. Both the process and the outcome of crafting are therapeutic. It quiets my soul, and that is a very lush feeling.

I’m writing about the lush life this month.

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I was about to type “I didn’t read as much in March as I usually do…” but then I looked at how long some of the books I finished in March are, and turns out I did read quite a bit. These were my favorite five, in no particular order.

  1. A Match to the Heart by Gretel Ehrlich – The telltale way to know I really enjoyed a book is that I immediately seek out other books the author has written. This was a memoir about getting struck by lightning, and it was fascinating. I’m super excited to read The Solace of Open Spaces.
  2. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – Ok, I lied. There is somewhat of an order. This was my absolute favorite of the month. Laini Taylor is a world-building rockstar. I’m about halfway through the second book in this duology (Muse of Nightmares), and it’s just as good.
  3. Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust – This was my second time reading this one, and it was just as lovely this time around. If you like fairytale retellings, check it out.
  4. Microscripts by Robert Walser – A collection of essays compiled from notes the author scribbled on scraps of paper. I picked it up because Maira Kalman is the illustrator, and I love her. I’m so glad I did.
  5. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll – Technically two books but my copy has both of them in the same volume, so I counted it as one. I don’t remember how many times I have read this and I love it just the same every time.

What is the best thing you’ve read recently (books, articles, bumper stickers – whatever)?

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I’ve always been an enthusiastic reader. When I think about my favorite children’s books, though, I don’t necessarily think of ones that I read when I was an actual child. My favorites in this category are often divided between then and now.

My parents and grandparents read me a lot of Little Golden Books. The Tawny, Scrawny Lion is the one I remember reading over and over again once I could read on my own. I would “teach” my granddad how to read using the well-worn copy at their house. Once I graduated to chapter books, I tore through several series – Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew, and The Boxcar Children. I loved Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books, but honestly? I identified more with the big sister, who is obviously not the hero of the story and a person merely tolerated rather than celebrated. I preferred her Ralph S. Mouse series. I tried The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit, but I was a more serious child and didn’t have a lot of patience with fantasy elements.

Until Alice.

I was enthralled with Alice in Wonderland, and I don’t think I’ve ever recovered. To this day, I will read anything remotely related to Alice. My favorite episode from the first season of Once Upon a Time is the one that features the Mad Hatter. I played the Dormouse in our high school one-act play production (I, of course, was brilliant and adorable). This story fed my young imagination in so many ways and instilled in me a lifelong sense of curiosity about possibilities and wonder.

Looking back on stories I read and was told, I feel nostalgic fondness for things like Winnie the Pooh and fairy tales, but I am pretty sure these memories have more to do with television and Disney movies than the actual books. I’m still drawn to the stories, though (and Christopher Robin still made me cry).

I have especially grown to love fairy tales. I will read any fairy tale retelling. I guess most of them are presumed more appropriate for adults (as are the original fairy tales), but as a child, I might have liked them better than the saccharine, musical versions presented to me. Don’t get me wrong – I like a lot of Disney movies. But I would have found the comeuppance Cinderella’s stepsisters received in the original much more satisfying, even as a young child.

Working daycare during undergrad introduced me to other children’s books, but so many have come out since then I’m not sure I can narrow it down. One of the authors that always reminds me of my daycare kids (who are grown folk who can rent a car and probably have kids of their own by now) is Sarah Boynton. But Not the Hippopotamus is my favorite, and there are a slew of other board books that are perfect for toddlers and two-year-olds.

There are so many great children’s books out there. Which ones are your favorites?

I’m writing about books all month!

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Friday Five 4

Hello! This weekend, I am embarking on a 24in48 marathon of luxurious reading. After the 70- and 80-hour work weeks I’ve been having, I am very excited about adding extra money to my Aspiration account, but I am also really looking forward to this much needed break. Here are some things I’m into.

  1. First, lists of books and book shops. I love fantasy novels .  I also find this list intriguing – a particular book to read at each age. Someday, when I have time off, I may do a few days of just rambling through bookstores in the area.
  2. I have a confession. I’ve always loved Cats. Some people sang 80s songs into their hairbrushes. Me? McCavity: The Mystery Cat. [I mean, I totally sang 80s pop. And punk. And…I like to sing.] It’s strange and confusing and of course it is because that’s what you get when Andrew Lloyd Webber adapts T. S. Eliot poetry into a musical. I cannot wait for this movie to come out. If you go see it with me, prepare yourself for the moment when Jennifer Hudson sings Memory on the big screen, because I will cry. Already teared up just during the trailer. It’s just gonna happen.
  3. I joined a cookbook club, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made this year. We meet once a month, each bringing a dish and the cookbook we found it in to share with others. One big decadent potluck. There are daily posts on the group page about things like classic pasta dishes and the best lemonade ever.
  4. I’ve already signed up for next year’s writer’s retreat to be held at Maplehurst. If you’ve read any of Christie Purifoy’s books (I’m currently soaking in Placemaker. Highly recommend.), you are probably familiar with Maplehurst’s story. You should join us.
  5. I’m officially moving my yearly Hemingway party to the fall. I had it later last year, and that was nice. It makes sense. Work is less busy in September or October, and it’s cooled off enough that I can actually bake without it taking 14 years for my apartment to cool off. As I’m planning, I hope to keep this advice in mind.

What are you into these days?

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photo (22)

Coffee? Check. Delicious rye for sandwiches? Check.

Large stack of books that I absolutely will not get through and – let’s be real – will probably forsake for audiobooks while I knit or jog (indoors, because Texas is stupid hot in summer) or one of the four ebooks I am about halfway through? Check.

This is one of my favorite ways to spend a weekend. Reading. Sleeping. Eating. More reading.

It’s not too late to join. You can sign up at the 24in48 website.

Or you can just read with reckless abandon, and not just this weekend. That’s an anytime thing. You don’t have to sign up to do that.

Now on to the books! I think I’ll start with Molly Wizenberg’s Delancey.

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This post has been edited from its original form to exclude extraneous, navel-gazey drivel and include commentary from Witty Guy, who actually became a fun online friend.

Let’s say that you have a lot of time on your hands, and the world wide web at your disposal.

Let’s say that, in your urge to entertain yourself, you weave through the labyrinth that is livejournal, through your interests and friends…and through people who share those interests and friends.

Let’s say that, in said weavings, you run across a witty friend of a friend of a coworker’s dog (or something like that).

Let’s say that this new-found witty guy (oh…didn’t I mention he was male? No? Huh. Must’ve slipped my mind) also happens to be fairly attractive. Scruffy, even. Right up your alley.

[WG: Aw, shucks. I’m blushing. I’m a little upset that I’ve never been told that you like my face, since that’s apparently your go-to move. But whatevs.]

Let’s say that he also posted his address. In a public post. And he’s local…ish.

[WG: Ah, back when I was young and stupid. Why…]

Let’s say that you comment on this wealth of information that is, quite literally, at your fingertips in your livejournal, say something like “rawr,” and then promptly forget about it (you do, after all, have a short attention span).

[WG: HA! I forgot about that. I don’t remember you flirting, though. You were like, “Dude. Your address is showing.” I thought you were bossy. I remember being offended. 
Me: That’s an accurate assessment. I do enjoy being bossy. You took it down, though, so apparently you like being bossed. I regret nothing. And I probably saved your life. So YOU’RE WELCOME.]

Fast forward one week or so.

Let’s say that you are engaged in a conversation with the coworker (whose friend is Witty Guy’s friend) about online communities, and you mention that you have a livejournal and tell him/her your screenname.

Let’s say that this same coworker, whilst actually reading your livejournal (which people seldom do even if they say they will, so this was surprising.) runs across the post wherein you mentioned the scruffy hotness that is Witty Guy.

[WG: Really? I always read people’s blogs when I say I’m going to.
Me: Me, too. I think we’re outliers, though.
WG: We would be.]

Let’s say that this very same coworker suddenly develops a need to meet with you for coffee.

Let’s say that you have a coffee fetish and, thus, readily agree.

Let’s say that you show up at the agreed-upon coffee shop and scan the room for Coworker.

Let’s say that you see him/her.

Let’s say that s/he is not alone.

[WG: Oo! Is it me?!]

Let’s say that there is someone scruffy and, judging by the way Coworker is laughing, witty sitting at the table with him/her.

[WG: It is! It’s me!]

Let’s say that you consider fleeing, but don’t. Because hey – you could really use a cup of coffee right about now.

Let’s say that you wave to your sneaky traitor of a coworker and nonverbally indicate that you’re going to order coffee and seek to regain feeling in your legs.

Let’s say that Coworker cheerfully waves back, and his/her companion turns around.

Let’s say that this moment is glorious but did nothing for your legs.

[WG: You like my face. 
Me: I did.
WG: It’s ok. You can say it.
Me:
WG: You don’t have to, though. We both know it’s true.
Me: ...literally just said…never mind.]

Let’s say that you stumble dart walk normally to the counter and order a bottomless cup of coffee.

Let’s say that, while waiting for your cup, you are simultaneously planning something witty to say to Witty Guy and plotting the demise of Coworker.

Let’s say that you get your coffee and walk to the table.

Let’s say that you manage to sit down without spilling anything on yourself or others.

Let’s say that Coworker claimed to have forgotten that s/he had plans with both of you, so s/he decided to just combine said plans.

Let’s say that Coworker is a horrible liar, and it’s clear that both you and Witty Guy understand this. *cue raised eyebrows and knowing glances*

[WG: Least sneaky person ever.]

Let’s say that Witty Guy’s online picture does not do him justice at all.

[WG: You like my…
Me: Stop being needy.]

Let’s say that you, on the other hand, didn’t even bother to comb your hair before arrival.

[WG: I don’t remember this. Your hair looked fine. Probably.]

Let’s say that Witty Guy, it turns out, is also Kind Guy, and doesn’t seem to mind.

[WG: Oblivious guy. Who possibly wasn’t looking at your hair.]

Let’s say that, lucky for Coworker, you all have a very, very good time drinking many, many cups of coffee.

[WG: So much coffee.]

Let’s say that, although there was talk of “doing this again sometime,” there was no actual exchange of contact information.

Let’s say that, after Witty Guy leaves, Coworker huffs at you, “Why didn’t you ask for his phone number?”

Let’s say that sometimes you use sarcasm to avoid confrontation and that this is one of those times, so you quip, “Why do I need his phone number? I already have his address.”

[WG: OMG LOL]

Let’s say that Coworker thinks you’re serious and actually says, “You know, that’s a good point. You could just show up at his house. That would be cool!” Coworker might have then launched into a game plan for doing this mad, mad thing.

[WG: Um…]

Let’s say that you assure Crazy Coworker With Apparent Stalker Tendencies that you were joking and, just for the record, mention that such behavior would be wrong and bad. You might also have accidentally called Coworker “creepy and weird.”

[WG: You already knew that about this person, though, right?]

Let’s say that Coworker is now determined *cough*stubborn*cough* that showing up at Witty/Kind Guy’s house is the one and only way that you will ever see him again.

[WG: Thanks for not doing that. That would have been weird. Probably. I mean, maybe. You’re pretty nice. And I did put my address on the internet. Maybe I would have been okay with it.
Me: It would have been weird.
WG: Yeah. Probably.]

What would you say should be done next?

[WG: Was one of the answers “lecture me about internet safety?” If so…then check.
Me: No, my livejournal flist mostly just lol-ed and recommended that I wait for you to contact me. Also not my strong suit. Ergo the blog follow and slow, normal getting to know you on the internet. As a person does.
WG: I remember reading this post, having no idea it was about me.
Me: …you really are oblivious, aren’t you?
WG: Lol yeah. Well, thanks for not stalking me in person. Although that would have been a good story, too.
Me: I prefer good stories where I don’t wind up with a restraining order, thanks.]

I love internet friends.

 

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AdventWord

I’m gearing up for the first Sunday of Advent this weekend. Advent is one of my favorite seasons…in theory. I love it, but I want to do all the complicated things to make it Meaningful with a capital M. Which I recognize in my head is ridiculous. Especially for a season that is all about waiting and expectation and hoping, which frankly often means a whole lot of sitting around in stillness and quiet.

But last year, I endeavored to light the candles every day. Which in itself is not that much. But then after I lit the candle, I wanted to complete all the readings from the Book of Common Prayer for the day, which is not a bad goal but maybe not one to take on suddenly during one of the busiest months when I am not so great at doing that on a regular basis any other time of the year. Then after I read all the readings, I wanted to complete an art journal page reflecting the readings and also the word prompt from Advent Word (see image above) for the day that I had in my Advent calendar (which the previous year I had knitted and sewed together with my own two hands). This ritual was designed to play out against a playlist of seasonal hymns, perfectly timed to last the length that it took to finish all of the above.

This is not what waiting looks like. I’m exhausted just reading about it.

As you can imagine, there weren’t many days this actually happened. Specifically, looking back on my journal, I see that there were seven days out of the whole four weeks when I had time to do all of that, and I vividly remember doing two days’ pages at once on more than one occasion. Plans are only as good as their execution, so as plans go, this one was not awesome.

This year still has a plan, because otherwise Advent will pass on by without my giving it a thought other than on Sundays and Wednesdays. But it’s a slower plan that’s more conducive to hope and peace and joy and expectation. I still (will) have the candles (as soon as I buy them), because that part I did do every day last year, even if it was just during dinner. I will still use my cute calendar, but this year, as I have discovered that its little pockets are the perfect size for a tea bag or an Emergen-C packet or a single-serve bottle of hooch, I will simply be enjoying a daily beverage along with my candles/supper/staring at the Christmas tree lights.

There will likely be music in the background from my record player or a Spotify playlist. I will probably still read through some of the daily readings, as that is a habit I’d like to pick up this year, but I’m not going to make an issue of it or feel like I’m running behind if I don’t. I will also sporadically play along on Instagram with Advent Word or with Susannah Conway’s December Reflections prompts, because that’s fun.

But no extra stress or unreasonable to-do lists. Just waiting. And hope. And expecting. And joy. That’s what I hope to take from Advent this year.

 

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