(A Very Belated) Advent Calendar

Confession: I just put away the last of my Christmas decorations. But I had a very good reason. I refused to put away my Advent ornaments until I finished the Advent calendar I’d been working on for weeks. (Years, if you count INTENDING to make said Advent calendar – I talked about it here in 2104, and here in 2012 – YIKES!)

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Several years ago (maybe when The Boy was just a year or two old – we were still living at the old house), our lovely neighbors gave us an Advent calendar.

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It was a box with little doors that you opened each day to reveal a tiny wooden ornament. They had two sets when their daughter (now in college) was small, and they wanted us to have one. We were thrilled with the gift, and over the years, both kids have LOVED getting to open the doors every day in December and place the little ornament on a miniature tree we bought just for that purpose.

Over the years (The Boy is almost 7 and the Girl just turned 4), the little doors have started falling off. There were always a couple of missing ornaments, which I’ve replaced with larger ornaments that just don’t quite fit into the windows. I decided a few years ago that I wanted to make an Advent calendar with pockets so I could move the ornaments out of the box and into a display that could hang on the wall during the season of Advent.

I had good intentions every year, but it just never happened.

Then back in early fall, my friend Molly invited people over for a Craft/Pinterest Night – a night to get together at her mom’s studio, drink wine, and make stuff. PERFECT!

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I was inspired by several felt Advent calendars I had seen online. I decided to do a combination of my two favorites – little, colorful applique images of the season along with hand-stitched numbers for the Advent date.

I still had weeks to go until December, so if I started that night, I could make one pocket a day and be finished in plenty of time for the start of Advent.

Yes, well, um, that didn’t quite happen.

applique snowflake

So when Husband’s family came for Thanksgiving, and my mother-in-law and I found ourselves working on a jigsaw puzzle during one afternoon nap, I recruited her to help me.

By the time she left, we had all the felt pieces cut out, ready to sew. Surely I could just stitch them down quickly that last week of November and be ready to go December 1st.

Um. Have you seen the holiday season? What was I thinking? I stitched a little here and there and quickly realized this was a MASSIVE undertaking, and definitely not something I could get finished even by Christmas Day!

applique nativity

Epiphany! I’ll finish by Epiphany, I thought to myself. That’s “Old Christmas” anyway.

Side story: Have you ever heard it called “Old Christmas”? I didn’t really grow up celebrating the liturgical calendar – we didn’t even do anything for Advent until Husband and I moved to California, and only then because I went to a craft party and made an Advent wreath with candles. I’m all about candles and decor. But, when I was growing up, every year on Epiphany, my Appalachian Mammaw (my dad’s mom) would call my mom to remind her that it was “Old Christmas” and not to do any laundry because the owner of the clothing you washed would die within the year. What on earth?? I remember hearing it for the first time and being terrified. I wrote it down in my journal in hopes of remembering this date every year for the rest of my life so I wouldn’t make this fatal mistake. It didn’t stick into adulthood, and I’m certain I have washed clothes on EVERY Epiphany, especially since having children and doing laundry every. single. day. (I googled “no laundry on Old Christmas” and found this post about other Appalachian “Old Christmas” folklore – some of those are familiar but a couple are new to me.)

Epiphany was a great goal. I could spend my free time during winter break working on little bits at a time. When I wasn’t busy running the kids to and from school, when they spent hours playing together, I could finally finish.

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You know what takes a really long time? Hand-stitching numbers. Wow. My mom taught me to cross-stitch when I was really young, and I loved doing it, so I figured I could finish all 25 numbers (41 digits, actually) in a day. Nope. It took 3 full nights of stitching on the couch (hygge-style) after the kids went to bed plus many other one-off stitch sessions to get it complete.

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Then it was time to attach. I sewed a little hem along the top and bottom of the black felt for hanging. I spaced out the pockets before I did the numbers because I wanted to make sure the colors worked well together.

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Doing all the maths here!

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I attached the pockets color-by-color (all blue pocket first, then all yellow) to save time. This still took a few hours longer than I anticipated. Clearly all my years of sewing have taught me nothing about time planning.

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And finally – FINALLY – it’s done! I put all the ornaments in their pockets (doing some Type A coordinating – angel in the angel pocket, nativity in the nativity pocket), added a dowel and ribbon, and displayed it in its full glory for about 8 minutes. Then I wrapped it up and put in the Christmas box. Because, for me, by the end of January, “Old Christmas” traditions or not, it’s time to clear the Christmas decorations and get on with the New Year.

 

Five Things

January mantel

Happy Friday!

Thanks for all the comments on my One Little Word for 2016. I loved reading about your resolutions and words and ideas for the New Year.

I got to practice building right away – not strength or community, but immunity. BG and I both battled colds this week, but we made the most of it by cozying up under blankets, sipping hot lemonade with honey, and watching Paddington (cute movie). We are mostly recovered and are looking forward to a quiet, well weekend (fingers crossed we didn’t share our germs with the boys). Here are a few things on my mind:

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1.Hygge. Pronounced “hoo-ga”, this Danish word means much more than “coziness” – it evokes a feeling that I crave this time of year that comes with lighted candles, warm socks, cozy blankets, and spending time with family. In the fall, our family started a tradition of dimmed lights, snuggling on the couch, telling stories before bed. Sometimes they are true (the stories of when the kids were born or how Husband and I met), sometimes they are classics (The Three Little Pigs), sometimes they are children’s originals (The Three Turtles Who Went for a Walk). In November, it was by candlelight, in December, by Christmas tree lights, and now, by little twinkling lights on the mantel. I love the feeling, and I look forward to inviting more little “hygge” traditions into our lives.

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2.This quote, by writer and editor Joel Lovell, from his article about Stephen Colbert. (The entire GQ story on Colbert from August 2015 was great.)
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3.Ramona Otto. At the library recently, I stumbled on Mary Randolph Carter’s book Never Stop to Think…Do I Have a Place for This? Now, I love antiques, I admire a good collection,and it’s almost impossible for me to pass by a thrift store, but Marie Kondo’s book has rubbed off on me. I find it harder and harder to live with any amount of clutter in my home. Even so, I enjoyed looking through the images of the homes of the collectors featured in the book. I was particularly taken with the story of the artist, Ramona Otto. A former teacher (like me), Otto says, “Something that’s been used and loved is something that appeals to me.” (Me, too!) Her pieces are beautiful and intricate collections of found objects that tell their own story as well as the bigger story of the artwork. I want to dive into each piece, especially American Childhood (pictured above).

4.This quote is a good one for starting off the year.

5.Made me laugh. And want to sing along.

What are you up to this weekend? I’m feeling like it’s time for a Marie Kondo refresher – I never went through the full process when I read the book, even though I did pick up some good insights that changed my habits. It’s time to really dive in, so I’m hoping for a chunk of “tidying” time on Saturday. After a season of busy weekends, I’m looking forward to just puttering around. Oh, and hopefully finishing my advent calendar. I know, I’m a bit late, but I’ll be sure to post it when it’s finished. Even if that means Feburary. Wish me luck! Have a great weekend!

 

2016: One Little Word

 

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Well, hello there! Happy New Year! How were the holidays?

We stayed home for Christmas, carried out our own little traditions, and started new ones. It was a quiet week, but it was good. And then right after Christmas, we hit the road to Southern California to visit family. How great to visit family during that final week of the year when no one is rushing around to buy presents. We spent our days walking to the park and playing with toys and cooking family dinners and reading.

It was a good balance this year.

I haven’t been around the blog lately. Something happened in the fall – I’m not really even sure what it was – that made everything feel like it was on hold – a fog, a fall funk, if you will.

Zora Neale Hurston wrote in one of my favorite books, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” I believe this is also true for seasons. Fall felt like a season that asked lots of questions but provided no answers. I am hoping the new year ushers in a new season with, if not answers, at least a fog-lifting.

I love the new year. Starting over, starting fresh, making new. I love a makeover (it’s what most of my projects are, really), and January 1st is the best kind of makeover – new dreams, new goals, new habits, new ideas.

A clean slate.

Happy New Year Chalkboard

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Last winter, just before New Year’s, Husband and I got away to a lovely inn near my hometown. In the morning, over breakfast, we wrote out a whole bunch of goals for ourselves and our family for 2015. We were feeling very optimistic as we scribbled line after line of resolutions and ideas and aspirations.

As we were driving to Southern California last week, I reminded Husband of this and suggested we do something similar again this year.

Me: Maybe we can take time while we’re gone to think about goals for the new year?

Husband: Yep. That’s a great idea.

Me: Ugh! I meant to make a copy of our list from last year to see how we did.

Husband: Nope.That’s a terrible idea.

He’s right. When you know you’ve failed, you don’t always want to see how terribly you’ve failed.

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As I started pondering my “One Little Word” a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do one this year. What would it be? What do I really need to do? I could stand to dive more into “practice” or “pursue” or even “refine” again. There are layers to these words that could play out every year for the rest of my life.

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When I thought about what I really wanted to “create” this year – what I wanted to change, what I wanted to have or be by December 31st, 2016, my ideas kept coming back to “build”.

Build. It’s a clunky word. Not intrinsically pretty or motivating like “refine” or “pursue” or even “slow”. It’s not glorious in hand lettering (see above). It won’t make for a lovely Instagram (but I’m going to do it anyway).

But it does seem to fit into the areas of growth I’m thinking about this year. I made a new list in my journal for 2016, but it’s much simpler and looks like this:

-strength

-community

-work

-margin

-build on positive

So much better than two pages of notes. Here’s a little more about what they each mean:

Strength. Yes, as in physical strength and flexibility. I’ve always been fairly strong, but I’ve lost some of that since BB and BG were born. I don’t want to be a body-builder, but I want to get stronger this year. BUILD seems like a natural word for this.

Community. Living hundreds or thousands of miles away from family requires you to create your own community. Over the 13+ years we have lived in California, we have experienced varying amounts of community – an ebb and flow of having a core group of people to do life with outside of our own house. For various reasons (see: Fall Funk), we are in a phase of being homebodies. I want to be intentional about BUILDING community in our daily lives.

Work. If I could just show up and do the work – to make SOMETHING on most days – I could BUILD a collection of work, whether that’s making jewelry or redesigning a dress or writing. To build brick-by-brick, bead-by-bead, stitch-by-stitch, word-by-word (or Bird by Bird) would surely show growth over the year. I am excited to see what could come from that kind of practice.

Margin.  Five Januarys ago, I bought my first Kindle book – Real Happiness. Then three Januarys ago, I picked the book up again as part of my journey to being more purposeful. This January, I’m going to pick the book up once again to help BUILD more margin in my life. More quiet, more mindfulness, more prayer, more space. (Santa also brought Sitting Still Like a Frog for BB’s stocking. We’ve done a couple of the guided exercises together, and I think they’re great. Hoping we can all work on this as a family this year.)

Build on the Positive. I’ve always been a glass-half-full, rose-colored-glasses, Pollyanna kind of gal. But lately (see: Fall Funk), pessimism has been seeping into my thoughts, and I more easily focus on what is going WRONG. I want to change that. I want to return to my more optimistic self, and I think the key to this is to BUILD on what is going RIGHT.

See? Not overwhelming. I imagine it playing out in very simple ways. When I wake up in the morning, how can I build? I can work out instead of wandering aimlessly online. At night, after the kids are in bed, how can I build? I can carve out some quiet time. When I’m having a hard day, how can I build? By thinking about what is going WELL and building on that.

I see my One Little Word as a reminder that I have a choice. I can decide what I do with the circumstances, time, constraints, and situations I’m in every day. I can choose to wallow in a funk or I can choose to BUILD.

brick by brick

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After we got home from Southern California, I pulled out my journal from last winter to look up something, and I stumbled on our goal sheets. I tried to quickly turn the page to avoid seeing all of our failures, but something caught my eye, and as I dove in, I realized we did much more than I’ve been giving us credit for.

Successes:

-drink more water

-exercise more (We quit the gym, got an elliptical, and I exercise more than I did before!)

-re-evaluate work/life balance (Husband – I think he’s done really well in this area this year)

-camping (There have been several living room camp nights – it’s a start!)

-BG learn letters (Well, thank you, preschool!)

-family movie night

-date nights

-use a budget app (a few months counts, right?)

-get an iPad for me (Ha! I don’t even remember adding this one. Good job, me!)

-paint living room/dining room/hall (done, done, and done)

Hey! Maybe it’s not everything, but for a glass-half-full kind of woman, I think that’s pretty great!

I mean, it’s definitely something to “build” on.

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