Thursday, December 30, 2010

On the fifth day of Christmas (sing a little song with me)

How about a snap of the church across the road with a dusting of Christmastime snow to put us in the mood for a singalong? These are a few of my favorite things.

Speaking of favorites, here's Sarah snuggling with Bonnie Belle on the couch. I love that dog more than is reasonable.


Sort of makes me want to cozy up with some hot chocolate and the piano for a few rounds of I'll be home for Christmas.

I think maybe I like taking pictures of the chicken yard in the snow because, well, it looks a lot cleaner that way. But there aren't any Christmas carols about chickens. I don't think. Hmm... Away in a manger? Alas, a roosting box is not the same as a manger. But I'm dreaming of a white Christmas anyway.

And God decorates for the season with or without snow. There's a song on the radio called Christmas in the Northwest. Its lyrics include "a gift God wrapped in green" and it's uber sappy. Just how I like 'em.

But dashing through the snow is more fun than contemplating inedible berries.

Ever since finding my Christmas I find it everywhere. To the tune of all I want for Christmas are my two front teeth.

I discover I'm singing carols in my head all the time. But it's not so much you better watch out.

It's a Silent Night, a miracle in the everyday that fills my head and heart and makes me a little dizzy.
I can't seem to take a decent photograph these days. Nor to string a coherent sentence together with another. I read recently -- can't remember where (search "mommy mush brain") -- a theory of the impending demise of the English language (presumably other languages also?) due to the prevalence of quick-type Twitter- and text-centric lifestyles.

I was prepared to freak out, because, let's be honest, I'm always prepared to freak out. And? I was a double major in journalism and English lit so somehow feel it's my duty to stand for all things Jane Eyre, King James, and, er, Chaucer. Wait. If those examples of the English language can all be, oh, exemplary, and yet so different.... Wait. Gotta think.

Huh. In a barely related vein I've read some alarming studies about the endangered family unit. About the rarity of the family dinner table and the paucity of surviving nuclear families (ooh... sounds dire indeed). These same articles, even books devoted to the subject, don't so much give a guideline or roadmap "back" to family unity but rather stop short at bemoaning our cultural abandonment of "traditional" family values.

While I can follow the logic of each of those arguments (barely -- let's remember I have five children who've stolen most of my brainpower for the foreseeable future) I don't personally find them to be all that scary.

I don't think the written word is dying. I think it's changing. The purist in me is mildly concerned but the realist says, meh, it's an evolving language. Change is inevitable. The proliferation of texting at least means most of this new generation is communicating with one another, possibly even with their parents. Do my kids use "text spelling" in their writing? Nope. (But they don't have electronic communication devices.) Will I be worried when the first of my children writes "ROFLOL" instead of something more articulate? For goodness sakes, no.

Nor do I think the family is an endangered species. Does my family look different than your family? Probably a lot different. Does my family look different than the Ingalls of Little House? Or The Marches of Little Women? Certainly. But I think the love my family shares looks exactly the same. (Every good and perfect gift has the same source.) I think my generation was raised with a keen understanding of the pain of a broken family and an equally sharp focus on building family, fostering love, and creating an unshakable sense of stability for the next generation.

So in the midst of my hymn singing and carol babbling I find some more Christmas, some more sacred in the everyday.

I may not be taking great photos. I may not be writing, or often even reading, great works of literature. I may not be raising the next president of the United Nations. However, I am taking a lot of snapshot pictures, hugging my and other people's babies, eating more than my share of fudge and singing a lot of goofy songs in my head while counting the dishes as a meditation.
That has to stand for something.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Found my Christmas

For some reason I had a hard time articulating the way this Christmas has felt to me.
I read a little story over at a lovely writer's site and then I understood something new about myself. Isn't that the best kind of reading, after all? I was missing my Christmas.
Not for the hustle and bustle of it all. I haven't been near the mall this year... nor even the specialty shops. Not a single online "doorbuster" has busted thanks to me.
We've loved the handmade, homegrown Christmas of our own little family's creation.

And we've not forgotten, of course, the reason for the season: Jesus Christ come to Earth for love's sake.

But the joy? The joy was somehow muted until yesterday, when a box full of dress-up clothes, some superfun friends, and the Bible story read aloud brought it all out in me.

I was missing my Christmas. But I found it.
Merry Christmas, dear friends. May God bless your season abundantly.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Really? Or: The bedazzled dog

Just a little peak into why we might put the glass ornaments on a twig tree rather than the real one. Laura, the intrepid table/tree climber.

Also treating you today to a mortifying but oh-so-real glimpse of my farmhouse floor on a recent day.

Which brings me to the point.
Something about middle age intersecting with parenting toddlers and babies and pre-teens maybe? It appears I forgot my point sometime between sweeping and changing diapers. Luckily it's Christmas break, or so I say, so no school today to further clutter my feeblish thought process.
Oh yes! I was going to say something about, "Today I knew I'd lost my mind when I considered an embroidered or maybe beaded sweater for the dog." (Still 'with it' enough to be ashamed of that thought.)
And then I noticed that, in addition to looking very cute with a hair bow (!) said dog sleeps beneath the "breakable" tree, which I spray painted directly over the "thankful" tree (after preserving its inscribed, dated leaves in a scrapbook). Not that I craft much.
It's happening, dear reader. Next time you visit my couches will be covered in plastic slipcovers. I'll start with 101 bazaar (bizarre?) items that can be created from a Clorox bottle and move on to crocheted carseat covers.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

You're welcome

I know. I know. You've been holding your breath waiting until Salvador could wear little tiny Wranglers.

So... since y'all don't live close enough to snuggle him personally... a pre-Christmas gift to you.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ho ho homemade Christmas

Welcome to another in the continuing if sporadic series I like to call "Simplify? Did I say simplify?"

While I pour you a cup of virtual tea I'd really love if you noticed in the first photo our incredibly authentic, clearly historically significant, thoroughly researched nativity scene, in which elephants march with drums right behind the wise men and camel as all are apparently on their way past the main event (you know, the babe in the manger?) in search of a somewhat Victorian, differently scaled schoolhouse from the Village Otherwise Located Across the Room On the Bookcases.

Suite's the name, anachronism's the game. Imagination, improvisation, justification. Anyone?

In this most beautiful of all seasons, the time of celebration of God's gift to the world, we at the Suite place are careful to edit the busy-ness even more than usual.

We strive for a heavy emphasis on Advent, on the waiting of the world for God's son, on love, on blessing others. We craft. We clip evergreen boughs. We light candles. And we rarely mention that secondary icon of Christmas. Oh, sure, the kids think it's a fun story, the Mr. Claus legend. But this year we didn't even write him letters.

So JUST WHEN WE LEAST EXPECTED HIM, Santa showed up at the girls' Christmas concert.

Laura was out of Aunt Maureen's lap before the Good Saint Nick could be seated. I just noticed that her shoes were on the wrong feet. Classic.

And then? He gave away TREATS. Can you imagine?

Little Sal certainly couldn't. He was unsure of the situation. Stranger danger? Meh. (Behind that big white beard are the sparkling blue eyes of Randy, an elder at our church and a retired sheriff to boot.)

Random. Not Santa- nor Christmas-related. But Grace and her friend Julianne are treasures beyond compare. That's what I'm talking about.

And by the way, the girls played beautifully. Have I mentioned before how I live for this stuff? How blessed I am to live in a tiny rural village where music and friendship are part of our everyday lives? The fact that we didn't have to choose between homeschooling and participation in fantastic community events is one of the highlights of living here.

Here's another picture, for Grandma who couldn't make it, of the musicians looking cute despite the terrible gymnasium lighting.

Stay tuned for more from this supposedly simple homesteading life.

And may your Christmas season be more blessed with love, with friendship, with grace, than you or I can imagine. Because I have a pretty big imagination. It's even big enough to enjoy a visit from St. Nick.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My highly productive life


Today I started approximately twelve thousand projects and only finished one.

(That there spray-painted, twig-filled vase-o-breakable ornaments. Because I'm clearly late-onset ADHD, that's why.)

But hey. I blogged.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Gee. Where's that Miriamblogger been?
Watching snowflakes fall.

Baking a rustic pie (or a dozen).

Thinking about the gardening (quilting, gift-making, you-name-it) that didn't get done.

It is ever so much more edifying to think of what we have accomplished:

The big girls had a couple of music performances this month.
One with the whole band
and one just the two Suite musicians
at the Grange hall's Christmas banquet.
Oh? And also? We got a piano! More music to follow.

We've been sewing.
Madeleine and Sarah and I are participating in a hand-quilting class on Monday nights.
In addition I have some crazy amazing projects in my new secret sewing corner.
I thought briefly about being all together-like and blogging the various
cuter-than-cute projects but we'd hate to spoil Christmas surprises
for any readers who also happen to be friends in real life.

We've been partying with friends and family.
Madeleine turned 12 and invited 24 friends to her party. She goes big, that one.
We sang carols at some sweet friends' home after enjoying soup
and homemade French bread.
We hosted a lovely family of ten at our home for a celebration of our own making.
We were blessed with a visit from our former neighbors
I hosted some sweet girlfriends for a girls' night in of crafting and, of course, eating.

...which leads me back to...

I've been baking.
French bread, apple galettes galore, the odd Christmas goodie.

And I've been thinking. About all of you.
What have you been doing? How have you been?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A little of this, a little of that

Bonnie Bell. The newest couch kumquat chez Suite.

I'd love to say we were able to remove all those leaves before the snow fell.

But even with an extra "driver" in the family this year, we didn't keep up with the leaves.

It might have had something to do with that little boy. He just turned five months old last week. He says, in this order, "Mama," "Dada," "hi" and "truck." I do like a child with priorities.

And consummate cuteness!
I may not be objective exactly, but he's pretty much the cutest five-month-old ever.
(Did I mention he's cute? And that he said "Mama" first?)

Even daddies in their work boots can be persuaded to take a break
when the baby toes are that delicious.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Keep on thanking

This little farm is wrapped in picket fences. Bicycles. Quilts. Babies.

A thin dusting of snow graced our Thanksgiving weekend. The ice and threat of ice kept schools closed -- except for our kitchen table school -- and made for a cozy week.

However. It also kept my computer in limbo at the tech guy's shop for an extra nine days. Let me tell you, if you want to simplify your life a lot, let the computer take an extended vacation. And then let the cell service in your area go down due to ice on the tower. If you're hoping for such a perfect storm of Ludditism (word? not a word?), be sure to lay in plenty of reading material and groceries and of course animal feed.


We have a new puppy!

Pictures to follow.

She's not technically a puppy. The animal shelter thinks she's possibly of advanced age. But we haven't had her in to our veterinarian just yet. (Ice on the roads and all.)

Mr. Suite surprised the girls with Bonnie Bell, our new Springer Spaniel, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. She's so cute that she inspires baby talk, even in those of us long determined that vocabulary is not built on such wee wittle woidy woids. She's even adorable enough to let me consider breaking the decades-held cardinal rule of no dogs on the furniture. What? She's smaller than a Golden Retriever. By a lot. Also easier to bathe. And if you're still partying with my justification festival you'll think it makes perfect sense that she's allowed on the couches, where no dog has snored before.

So between our lack of computer and related use of hardbound reference books for research papers (again with the WHAT?), between our somewhat self-extended cabin fever and our putting the garden to bed and the leaves to good use on the compost heaps, between turkey with loved ones and making the traditional thankful tree... between the cracks of all that beautiful life... we've been grateful.

Tell me about your thanksgiving. Go on. It's not too late. I for one believe it's in fashion year-round. Just like small(ish) dogs on the couch. And vintage bikes on the fence. For a certain type of girl, these are the little black dress, the classic cardigan, the new-old haute couture so blessedly ubiquitous as to be reported on rarely but enjoyed continuously by those in the know.

The thanks are the thing.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Long awaited (?) updates from the farm

Tallulah died. The first cold, cold, snappy cold night of the season found her huddled under the heat lamp in the henhouse. We knew she needed a little extra coddling... what with her age, her molting near-nekkedness and the chillier weather... so we had plugged in the red warming light and brought her a personal feeder and waterer.
Maybe it made her last night more comfortable.
Maybe it was just her time.
Just last autumn we were still raking leaves for the dog. He really loved to jump in the leaf piles with the kids. He especially loved to try to catch the leaves as they fell from the trees. It looked so very comical -- an 85-pound golden blur leaping and twisting to reach fluttery maple leaves.
We've had our share of loss this season.
The girls (and I) are campaigning already for a new dog, for a new batch of chicks, for a leaf blower (just kidding about that last one).
But if we look around, really looking, there's more to be thankful for than ever before.

It seems that simplify is, after all, an active verb. It takes a lot of thought and planning and frankly a lot of hard choices and a little loss to truly simplify one's life.

Running between chess and ballet class and band practice and horseback riding lessons, not to mention doctor appointments and, you know, delivering our fifth baby -- none of this was simple. None found us enacting that other cliche, either, of "living in the moment," which is a noble goal with a regrettably stupid catchphrase. Rather we stumbled from one event to the next. "Next" was the operative in my so-called stay-at-home, homeschooling, homesteading life.

I didn't know how to be still. I actually missed out on a lot of contemplative opportunities.
Did you know that kneading bread can be a chore to be rushed while the baby's asleep before homeschool co-op convenes? In those circumstances the yeast and flour and water combine to create a pressure-filled panic attack.
But with a little gumption and a clear decision a girl can say "no" to a few things, leaving room for the mundane to be even a bit beautiful.

"Be still and know that I am God." (Ps. 46:9) What I think this means to me, in this season, is that all my self-driven busyness is the opposite of stillness and, worse, puts me in the position of being god of my own circumstance. Which I gotta tell you I am so not qualified for.

In the midst of some gains and some losses and some difficult choices, in the direct aftermath of saying "no" several more times than is comfortable for a people-pleaser like myself, then did we feel some peace.

A little tranquility, at home in our little rural village.

And room for fun?

It's amazing how much more fun we have when we're dang I wish there was a better way to say this living in the moment.

When we're being still a lot more often.

Raking the leaves. Jumping in them. Reading some poetry and some fairy tales. Kneading some bread. Laughing more. Worrying less. Turning the light on for the chickens and remembering that God is in heaven.