Well friends, we made it. Christmas has been accomplished. The LORD has come! I can only hope you’re basking in the love and joy and peace and hope of the season. I am pleased to report that after an atypical Christmas season (Ev got sick AGAIN, and happily shared his germs with me), my heart is full and my eyes are watery (in a good way, not a sickness way, but I can see where you’d get confused).
I love getting our tree down immediately, but it’s still up. There are still presents to put away. Our recycling container is completely full and can take no more until garbage pickup comes in two days.
And do you know what?
I’m okay with it. All of it.
I have spent so much of my life ready, waiting for the next thing. Preparing and planning and forgetting to savor the moment. The Christmas decorations are down before the egg nog is finished. The new toys are safely tucked into new storage containers and feel old and part of the scenery before they are played with once. All the stress of Christmas has barely dissolved before the stress of January arrives, with new year expectations and responsibility and, if you live in Michigan or a similar climate, snow.
I am not suggesting you stop all of your plans and preparations. If I were, this whole blog would be a huge waste. I’m learning that being premeditated means allowing for balance — times of heavy scheduling and times of rest. Rest doesn’t feel deserved without work before it, and work without rest leads to breakdowns (plural).
I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. Welcome, 2016, and all you’ll bring with you — but I don’t get into you with any concrete expectations beyond love, peace, joy, hope, and Christ — the pillars of Advent, to carry me through the year.
Wishing you all blessings and balance now and as the new year begins.
This is the third post in my Advent series. The first post is here, and the second post is here.
Ah, the Christmas season. That special time of year when you gather the family around a kitchen island in a bright, immaculate kitchen. Little ones sit on stools, while the adults pore over cookbooks, or better yet, hand-written index cards from generations past. All it takes is a well-
raised eyebrow from dad to get his normally withdrawn teenager to part with his beloved phone for the evening. He grins sheepishly, and then starts to get out flour and cookie cutters. It’s Christmas baking night! Everything goes smoothly until someone accidentally knocks over the carton of eggs. Oh no! It’s a mess! Everyone looks at mom, unsure how to proceed. But she just shrugs, smiles, and grabs her trusty paper towel.
Here’s what I want to know — after the commercial for paper towel or pine-scented candles or good, ol’ fashioned sugar has ended (DID YOU THINK I WAS POSSIBLY DESCRIBING REAL LIFE?!), how long before the baby eats all of the frosting? How long until the teenager bails, or the kindergartener tries to use the food coloring to dye his hands blue? How many ingredients have to fall to the ground before the mom starts scream-crying and the dad ushers everyone to bed?
Oh by the way, today’s post is about JOY.
I love cooking, as you probably know. I do not love baking. Baking is exact, it is measuring and
remembering and technique. I know that I do not love baking, so I don’t bake often. I will occasionally throw together a crumble or cobbler with summer fruits, and I have recently created a decent (not great) whole wheat pie crust. The truth of it is, I don’t love baked goods, so I don’t care that much about creating them.
And yet, every December the something-th, I start collecting brightly-dyed sprinkles and cookie cutters and frosting bags and think, “this is my year.” I hype up “cookie making day” to the point where John asks for it repeatedly. Finally the day arrives…
and I hate everything.
Have you really looked at how long “cookie making day” is? If you are doing the classic sugar cookie cut out (which of course you are), you’re making dough, chilling dough, rolling dough, cutting dough (repeat rolling and cutting times five million), baking cookies, cooling cookies, making (or opening) frosting, frosting cookies, and decorating cookies.
(And if you are me, there’s also: spill sprinkles, drink wine, break the stupid snowman cookie that you keep trying to get out clean from the cookie cutter, make eye contact with your child while he puts the frosting knife in his mouth, drink more wine, burn yourself repeatedly.)
BUT! At the end of all of those sweat and tears, there’s success. Sweet, beautiful cookie…
…that at best looks like something a five year old made.
And you will tell everyone the five year old made it.
But you made it.
I know you made it.
Was it worth it? Worth your time? Your burned fingers? The mess in your kitchen? The fact that now you don’t have any wine in the house anymore?
Maybe your experience is different than mine. Maybe you’re the beautiful inspiration for a Christmas product commercial. I am not. I used to feel really bad about this. Won’t my children grow up with sweet memories of Christmas baking day with mom?
No, they won’t. They’ll grow up with sweet memories of mom hiding tiny plastic wise men, who spend December “searching” all over the house for the rest of the fisher price nativity set and baby Jesus. They’ll remember when I taught them how to cut tomatoes in half and salt them just a little bit for a tasty, fun treat (it’s squishy AND you get you use a knife!). We find our family joy in our own way, not in the way the commercials or movies display.
Joy, then, is not what you do, but how you do it.
No Christmas baking day for us. Everyone is more joyful that way. I am very fortunate to have a mother in law who can take flour and sugar and make perfect sugar cookies every time. She has a trick to decorating so her cookies don’t look like they were done by five year olds in the dark. As I write this, John and Ev are having a Christmas baking day at her house. This brings me joy. They are creating sweet memories and I don’t have to drink all of my wine. Win-win!
So do I make Christmas cookies at all? Yes! And here are my three favorites for this year, with “recipes” (there is really no baking involved, so it’s less “recipe” and more “just look at the picture, you’ll get it.”)
1. GINGERBREAD COOKIES
2. CHRISTMAS TWIX COOKIES
3. REINDEER RICE KRISPIES
Whatever you do with your family this season, do it with joy. If it isn’t bringing you joy, and you can reasonably pare it down, do so. Allow the memories you make to be pure and sweet. Take it from another mother — these are what you’ll hold onto.
“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” -Luke 2:19
This is the first post in an Advent series I’m writing this year. Each week will loosely focus on the symbols of the candles of the Advent wreath and how they relate to parenting, and every post will end with a recipe.
This week is about hope.
We had a bit of a different Thanksgiving this year. The weekend prior to the holiday, Ev and I spent the night in the ER getting breathing treatments for his croup. We both spent the rest of the week catching up on sleep and being crabby (in my case) or vomiting and maintaining a high fever (in his case). So when Thursday rolled around, Jay took John to the family Thanksgiving while Ev and I kept our crabby, germy selves at home.
Ev is in that toddler stage of immunity-building where he catches everything. He is coughing, he is snotty, he is throwing up. The only silver lining here is that he is the sweetest and happiest sick kid you’ll ever meet. He smiles and loves on you. He wants to read books. He wants to play. So, on our solo Thanksgiving, that’s what we did. We read Dr. Suess’ There’s a Wocket in my Pocket so many times, that if I didn’t already have it memorized (thank you, baby John), I would now. We said “vroom” and made cars drive around the toy room. We giggled and made animal sounds.
In the quiet of the day that was supposed to be loud, I looked at Ev with wonder. He is so unlike his brother. What will he become? What will he do? Who will he impact? I have wondered the same about John. John has long idolized his daddy’s profession and has decided that he, too, will be a doctor when he grows up. This is a wonderful and beautiful and ultimately financially responsible goal. I wish I could hold five year old John to this. It feels safe, normal.
I think we wish a lot of things as parents. Wish for health, success, happiness, love. Wishing isn’t bad. But here’s why I believe this first candle, this first week of Advent, is hope — or expectation — instead of wish: wishing is just for you.
Hope is optimistic. Hope is altruistic. It is active. It is something we can do for ourselves or others, and something we can expect to bring about real change.
I wish Ev would stop getting sick so much of the time… but I hope he stays happy and builds the immunity he needs.
I wish John would be the doctor he wants to be at age five… but I hope he finds a career he’s passionate about.
I hope we don’t lose sight of the hope involved in the Christmas season. So often we only hear about the wishes, the wants, the lists. It isn’t bad to wish or to want, but wishing is passive. It is just waiting. It isn’t doing.
We are in a season of waiting — that’s what Advent is, after all — but we are waiting with hope. We know the end is salvation, light, peace. We don’t know what happens in the in-between, but we know the end is good. Trust the end is good.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28
I wish that you and yours stay healthy throughout this Advent season, but I hope that you can find beauty in staying home if you need to. If you find yourself needing some comfort and relief, I do implore you to make this soup — it is a healthy and comforting food superstar. Without further ado:
Turkey Noodle Soup
(Chicken works too, but you’ve got leftover turkey right now, don’t you?)
Note: Any time you roast a chicken or turkey, I hope (!) you make your own stock from the carcass. If you haven’t, do it next time! It is positively the easiest food to make, and homemade stock is only about a million times better than store-bought (one blogger’s opinion, anyway). I loosely follow the 100 Days of Real Food recipe here.
Second note: I’m guessing on almost all of my ingredient amounts, because I subscribe to a “make it up as you go along” cooking philosophy. So basically, don’t follow and measure TOO closely. We aren’t baking, after all.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic (may throw in some onion here too — I have a family of onion-avoiders)
8 cups turkey stock
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 ribs of celery, diced
2 cups shredded turkey homemade whole wheat egg noodles! (OK, or any egg noodles)
salt and pepper
Saute the garlic in the olive oil until soft. Add the stock and the turkey and vegetables. At this point, if you are adding homemade noodles, you’ll want to cook them in the soup for about twenty minutes, or until soft, or the consistency you like. If you are using store-bought noodles, follow the cooking instructions on the package. Season with salt and pepper. You can use other spices, but if you made your own stock, your soup will already be quite flavorful.
Quick note about homemade noodles: Y’all, they are so much easier than I ever thought they would be. I’m a bummer with a rolling pin, though, so I I use my manual pasta roller.