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Advent Season: 11 Ideas for Your Relaxed Advent

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Advent Season: 11 Ideas for Your Relaxed Advent

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You would think I would know how to organize a full-on advent season in the midst of a busy fall and winter by now.  But I haven't.  The pressure is still there, lurking and omnipresent, to make a magical four weeks of Christmas anticipation for my children.  And for us, I think our Advent will take a looser form, more flexible and fluid.  That's what I tell myself as I haven't gotten everything together for a day by day calendar.  And actually, our Advent approach is intentional as this season already feels full with busy obligations and with less time left for contemplation, or a quieter approach.  By not having an activity planned for every, single, day leaves time and space open for spontaneity, for an organic feel to this season of waiting.

I thought I might share some things we've done in past years and a few we hope to incorporate in the next few days.   Hopefully these ideas will help you if you are feeling a bit stuck or lacking enthusiasm for the Christmas season. 

1. We have a pile of Christmas themed books we bring out on December 1st.  Every year, our children ask throughout the month of November for stories like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Mole Family's Christmas and Bella's Tree (my most favourite Christmas book).  And when the books are finally brought out, usually closer to bedtime, we can read stories together, curled up and cozy, ready for bed.

2. Going through our drawers and closets, looking for items that are too small or are maybe too young for our children.  We then give away these items.  It's a reminder to us that for us to be ready to receive something, often room needs to be made to truly embrace a gift or change.

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3. We get creative with peanut butter and bird seed as little gifts for the birds, and yes, likely squirrels too.  Cardboard is cut into tree or circle shapes with a loop of jute twine is tied on.  We liberally smear peanut butter on them, sprinkle and press in the bird seed and hang these little decorations outside on smaller trees that the cats can't easily climb.     

4.  Walk around your neighborhood to look at Christmas lights as a family.  We normally do our drive around on Christmas Eve after Christmas Eve service before we head back home.

5. Looking back at older traditions works well as option too.  Christmas pudding is a constant for nearly every one of my Christmas memories.  And because it takes a long time to cure, for the flavours to mellow, we try to make ours well in advance of Christmas Day itself.  Our recipe is based on one of Nigella Lawson's and includes grated apples, mission figs, coffee, dried blueberries and Kahlua, which means there are ingredients for everyone to help prepare.  

6. Going sledding or skating on a warmer day. 

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7. Having packets of homemade hot chocolate mix ready for when the children come home from school.   Cocoa powder, some sugar and a tiny bit of cinnamon powder in a little paper envelope has been a great opportunity of us to sit together after a school day, to chat about who played with who at recess, disgusting stories told in the lunchroom, and how Christmas concert practice is progressing.  We pour the packet into a cup, fill with hot water until about half or three-quarters full and then top up with cream or milk.  A little bowl of marshmallows or whipping cream, the nutmeg grater and a candy cane or two to dip in are simple ways to make the hot chocolate more of an event.  

8. Making a Christmas garland from paper rings linked together.  This is one straight from my childhood.  On November 30, we would cut 24 strips of paper and, by glueing or taping them, link them together into a chain.  The chain would at first be swagged across a doorway, or cabinet, with a link being removed everyday.  For some reason, this simple act would be anticipated as I sat with my sisters at the kitchen table, drinking our cups of milk before bed.  

9. Getting together to watch a Christmas movie.  In our house, Home Alone is a favourite so long as we edit out the part where one of the would-be robbers gets an iron in the head.  That part is, according to our littlest, uncalled for and far too violent.  

10.  Helping to get some of the Christmas time treats ready.  I think you might be the same.  There are foods that we purposely try to keep just for Christmas, or maybe other holidays.  But this list is a strictly Christmas combination and in that way, becomes exciting!  Our list includes: tourtiere, cranberry sauce with oranges and maple syrup, cheese rolls (crepes rolled and stuffed with onions and dry cottage cheese, placed in a baking pan, drowned in whipping cream, dill and garlic), tapenade, smoked salmon and the aforementioned Christmas Figgy Pudding.  Some of these keep fairly well in our cold room or the fridge or can be frozen for a few weeks.

11.  Searching your community for opportunities to volunteer.  Sometimes, I'm a little hesitant to do this type of thing at Christmas because it strikes me as a little insincere.  A crude attempt perhaps to balance our overabundance with others' lack.  As parents, we try to keep these activities in mind year-round so it becomes one facet of our regular lives rather than just a seasonal thing.  We want our children to live a life of service rather than keeping their volunteering to the month before Christmas.  However, helping serve at the food counter of a community fundraiser, singing carols in care homes, are all possibilities.  To be honest, I am uncomfortable saying we've done this or that as a family because I don't want in any way to come across as bragging or using our actions to promote ourselves.  I think that you will know your community and will have an idea of places and times where you might be needed or can lighten someone else's load.  This whole paragraph is probably completely unnecessary!  

12. Making willow wreaths.  Our home is next to a slough/pond that is surrounded by peachleaf and red willow.  Gathering arms full, or less even, of slender willow branches and bring them inside to make tiny wreaths for doorknobs and tree, and larger ones for doors and windows is a favourite pastime.  Helping each other is essential as there always seems to be one twig that wants to let go, unwind and spring right back to where it was.  And the thing I love about this idea is the willow grows back each year, with little impact to the slough around us.  

I hope these ideas help you if you're looking for Advent activity ideas.  I'd love to hear your ideas or traditions, as one of the beautiful things we can do for each other is encourage one another, and learn from one another. All the very best to you and yours during Advent! 

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One Simple Whole Food Addition to My Pantry That Made Life Easier

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One Simple Whole Food Addition to My Pantry That Made Life Easier

Lately, I've noticed life brings us choices.  And the choice becomes this pull between the easy and the hard.  The hard will very often require I settle in for what can be dogged persistence and commitment,  doing something because it is worth doing rather than doing something because it’s easy.  The end goal outshines the grit, commitment and determination required during the process.  What am I talking about??  A few things come to mind, bread making and playing around with starters is one, preserves are another and finally, the biggies, marriage and parenting.  

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Marriage is a huge.  Overlooking my own peculiar sensitivities, my emotions, what I happen to be wanting on a particular day for the betterment of another person, who may be continuing to leave his clothes behind the bathroom door despite all my encouragement to place them in the laundry and all other manner of irritants, is difficult.  Not saying anything when you feel a bit off, or wrapped up in a very unnice emotion, and you just want to snap off some smart remark, indulge yourself in witty sarcasm, can require everything I’ve got.  It requires discipline, a commitment to look beyond the process, as gritty and dirty as it can be in the day to day, to the final outcome.  I am fortunate to have a partner who does the same for me, choosing to help me even if he’s busy with his own thing because it makes my life easier a little bit easier in that moment.  

 

For me, staying at home with my children was another one of those choices.  There is nothing glamorous or easy in cleaning up crumbs after every meal, wiping faces and little hands that crave every possible tactile experience, or in helping little ones negotiate sibling conflicts. 

 

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If those first five years of childhood were only a month long, perhaps there would be someway I could have made it constantly and immediately obvious in its beauty.  But five years, per child, is five years.  And with the children we had, and their spacings, this time at home for me was ten years.  There was no way to create a shining, pure example of gleaming motherhood in action for every moment of ten years.

 

 Instead, our time together often looked harried, fraught with a thousand worries about what implications my daily actions were going to have on them in twenty years.   

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If I let them have the purple cup this time, even after the table has already been set, because it would cause the shrill screaming happening in a puddle on my kitchen floor to stop, would the trade off be I've raised an adult who lacks resilience, who needs every preference accommodated, who feels the need for a life that is constantly fair, fun and there to fulfill their immediate demands?   Too many tantrums over purple cups and I'd be re-evaluating our entire schedule, my approach, switching it up a bit, creating room for choices and control in safe places, letting the consequences of those choices fall as they may and helping the kids through those consequences.   

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I tried desparately to keep my eyes on the long game, to look up from the piles of laundry and wooden blocks to see what the gifts of discipline, love and security would be in fifteen years as those same children ventured out my door to continue their lives away from me.  It wasn’t easy, and it is still not easy.  But now, even here in the thick of it, at the midway point, we can see the progress, kids who, generally, are considerate, get their chores done, think deeply, and contribute to their communities.  

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This is not a discussion about stay at home mumming versus working mumming.  It's only a perspective from me and what our choices meant for me.  For me, to stay at home was never something I really wanted to do.  I love accomplishment, the feeling of getting a job done and moving on, all of those lovely things a career and job give you.  Coming back to the same job of feeding someone three times a day, tidying toys to have them all over the place again an hour later  or never getting to the end of the laundry pile, was not part of my strong skill set.  I found it wearing,  a lesson in learning perseverance and patience that I didn't think was possible.  

Staying at home was the hard choice.  It meant losing myself at times, dealing with a loss of identity, surrendering with a certain amount of self-sacrifice, never feeling as though I were my own person for years.  After all, the kids needed to be fed and changed, floors swept, legos picked up, the chickens or cats or dog or cows or horses or pigs need to be fed or given bedding, apples needed to be picked, eggs picked, the lawn mowed, garden weeded, floors washed, laundry folded and put away, grocery shopping, bills paid, and on and on and on.  It all takes time, huge amounts of time, often sixteen hours as day, which has left very few moments to sit, think, write, or create.   Every moment was stacked with to-do lists from people and things other than myself.  And now, here I am, in the thick of adjustment.  As some of my time has been given back to me, I'm trying to figure out where I want to be, what I can do, where I should be putting my efforts. 

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Despite it all, I am thankful I chose the hard path.  I feel, even in the midst of not having a clear idea of what my future is, stronger, more resilient, able and immensely grateful I was there with my children in the day to day.  Strange, as they were anything but easy, but I wouldn't give up the those years for anything.

 

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Fortunately, there are easier choices to navigate without so many existential issues going on!   And this recipe is one, thank goodness!  It’s become a pantry staple.  I love it for its flexibility.  A convenience food that is a whole food.  It’s simply a mix of oats, coconut, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, buckwheat, chia, and cinnamon.  Depending on my pantry, it may have dried apples, raisins, cranberries or, if I'm not feeling the added sweetness, there might not be any fruit.

 

If morning calls from my youngest daughter require hot cereal, I cook it up in a ratio of 2:1 water to cereal.

 

If school lunches are needing snacks and the store is closed, I toast it in the oven, swirl together some honey, brown sugar and butter and make granola bars.  I like to adapt this recipe.

 

Looking to make a breakfast smoothie?  Done!  Shake some into your blueberries, ginger, greens and turmeric.  

 

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In a pinch, it is muesli.  With butter, brown sugar and some flour, it becomes crisp topping.  All there, always waiting on the shelf, sitting in between the flour and favourite cookbooks.

 

I’m a little hesitant to offer up a recipe as it’s one of those things that shifts depending on tastes and what’s in the pantry.  For me, having something flexible and nutritious,  ready on the shelf, makes it a keeper in my books.  

 

This is not so much about the recipe but the idea of having a quick go-to staple at the ready for whatever you might need.  But, here goes, just in case you want it.….

 

5 cups of quick oats

 

3/4 cup raw, shelled sunflower seeds

 

3/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds

 

1 cup toasted buckwheat

 

1/4 cup chia

 

1/4 cup hemp hearts

 

1/2 tsp cinnamon

 

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut

 

3/4 cup dried diced apples.

 

Scoop each ingredient into a container.  I really like the one gallon glass jars so I can see how much is left.  Give it a few, good, honest shakes to mix everything around and done.   Enjoy and use as you need.  

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2016- The year we lost our --- and then got it back, for a moment

2016 was a year.  That's for certain.  Of course, 2016 was a year if we are going by literal, ever-so useful descriptions of units of time.  But really, 2016 was a year in which we shed some burdens, things placed upon us that caused stress. 2016 was a year where we meandered a bit, looking for a clear direction, waiting, and waiting, feeling impatient for something to end or something to begin.  

And then 2016 was the year where we began to feel settled, to find comfort in the uncertainty.  I think 2016 was the space where we truly began to rely on each other in the only thing we could know, and that was, the moment.  That we needed to ensure that the moment was a kind, gentle space for all that whirled around us, the doubts, frustrations, stresses.  

I think of it as my brother-in-law speaks about training his horses.  Round pens are used to bring a sense of connection between horse and person.  So long as there is no connection, the horse is bent to the outside with its ear and eye looking at all there is beyond the pen, loping, calling, there is a bit of confusion and uncertainty.  

But as soon as that ear turns inward to the centre of the pen, its head cocks ever so slightly inline with the concave rail and the eye rests on the trainer, the pressure to keep moving stops.  The horse can stop, rest, turn to the inside and walk to the centre.  The centre is calm and rest.  

And that was us in 2016.  Blowing hard, tired and unrested.  Until we kind of just moved our eyes from what was all out "there", what we were dealing with for what seemed like years, to a single spot.  Each other, in the now.  And it all became beauty.

Don't be fooled though.  Our eyes and ears can easily drift to the outside again, and there we find ourselves, loping along the rail, using up our energy on all that is outside, out of reach, not really at all in our lives.  It's a constant reconnection.  It's a constant exercise to keep the focus.  We can't always have our collective you-know-what-together.  But that doesn't mean we've failed.  It just means we need to shift, find the ground we know provides comfort and peace.  

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