Out with the old, in with the new (not years)

Who still has hanging flower baskets blooming in December here in the Pacific Northwest? Even the local nursery has abandoned attempts to keep theirs presentable so I’m not sure why mine are still growing. Admittedly, the blooms are few and small, but geraniums are geraniums, regardless of size, right?

My hubby had taken all the other tubs of anemic annuals off the deck in mid-October after Thanksgiving, and carried the patio furniture down to the basement where it will wait out the winter months. But the baskets still provided a minimal bit of cheerful colour as they dangled outside our family room windows.

At least, they did until this weekend’s frost. Despite the protection of the overhanging eaves, sometime during Friday night they shivered themselves out of attractive into bedraggled. Without its tiny white blossoms the bacopa maybe didn’t look too bad, but everything else…? Meh!

Yesterday we ventured out to a tree farm and cut our Christmas tree, and as my hubby was setting it into its stand this afternoon, he decided it was finally time to remove the waning greenery.

I kind of hate to see the baskets go. They’ve hung there since early May and survived through blustery late spring winds, summer holiday neglect and torrents of fall rain. I feel like I owe them something in exchange for their persistence.

Then again, it IS Advent now and the outside Christmas lights twinkling above them seem a bit incongruous.

So, “out with the old and in with the new”…greenery, that is. The sickly lantana and geranium leaves have gone to compost heaven and from the other side of the window pane I’m now enjoying the fragrance of fresh fir adorned with cheery baubles, not blossoms.

I’m sure I could find a writing analogy in this if I tried hard enough, but at the moment I’d rather just sit here squinting at the tree lights and pondering Advent thoughts. Taken totally out of context I am reminded of an applicable scripture verse:

“…the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” 🙂  [2 Corinthians 5:17b]

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Wishing you abundant Hope on this
first Sunday in Advent.

 

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After the decorations come down…

I started this post a few days ago, and then decided my first priority was a post for my church’s website. Its title ended up being the same as the one I’ve used here, although the content is totally different. It’s prompted here by the current mess that surrounds me.

This is just one small area — just the loveseat in our family room. You have to imagine beyond the green storage bin on the coffee table to the other seven bins and assorted cardboard boxes also waiting to be filled.

Decorations aren’t what Christmas is all about, of course, but I still enjoy the cheer and sparkle of the seasonal decorations. Even more than how they look, I like the nostalgia and the memories they evoke.

If you had peeked in my windows on a December evening (but I’m glad you didn’t; that would be creepy), you’d likely have found me in the semi-darkness, sitting by the fireplace and squinting at the tree lights to exaggerate their sparkle. It’s pure magic! It takes me back to the awe and wonder of my childhood Christmasses.

We begin decorating the house at the start of Advent and reluctantly begin un-decorating after Epiphany…the Twelfth Night of Christmas. Unfortunately, since our preference is for natural rather than artificial greenery, the life of our tree is limited. After a month indoors, even with regular watering, the needles begin parting company with branches. It’s time.

So the tree is down (it will be chipped and recycled), the decorations are being packed away and the New Year is under way. What now? First is always the replacing of furniture and a thorough vacuuming. (It doesn’t matter how thorough, we’ll still find fir needles in odd places next summer!)

This is the point when melancholia at the bare decor conflicts with joy at the lack of clutter. Everything looks so clean, but I find myself rearranging furniture, switching artwork, maybe adding a new plant — whatever it takes to compensate for the perceived sterility.

Sometimes … sometimes, that means picking new paint colours. I often wondered why we always seemed to tackle renovations in the winter months. Now that’s beginning to make sense. I’m not sure what this year’s project is going to be, but stay tuned. Now that the decorations are down and packed away, I’m taking a good look around.

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And so it begins…

December 1st. It’s not even 4:30 p.m. and already it’s pitch black outside. At least, it is until the outside Christmas lights, recently strung along the roofline around our back deck, suddenly blink on and shine through the windows to illuminate the family room.

Advent arrives this weekend and we’ve begun some of the annual decorating. We have a friend who mocks our early start because, for her, Christmas doesn’t begin until December 24th.

But the season passes faster with each successive year and now we no sooner put out our favourite items when it seems time to pack them away again. I like to savour the season for as long as possible so I begin when Advent starts.

We often refer to it as the Season of Waiting, or of Preparation and Anticipation, but Ann Voskamp‘s comment strikes home:

Advent is a whole lot more than waiting for Christmas, Advent is a whole lot more than preparing for Christmas — Advent is ultimately about preparing the way for the Light of Christ in a world dying for light. Advent is a whole lot more than passively waiting for the King — it’s about participating in the work of the Kingdom of God.

It does make me wonder, though, why we wait until December to show compassion and generosity, as if the need exists only within the parameters of the Christmas season. Surely “the work of the Kingdom of God” is a 365-days-a-year thing.

Perhaps we need the Christmas season to remind us of this. To give us a nudge out of our complacency and into action. To focus on the One who came as a Child and changed all history. To remember that he said,

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. [Matthew 25:40]

Yes, the world is dying for light” and too often we feel there is little we can do to make a difference. But even as small blips of light can illuminate a room, so in this Advent season we can reflect God’s love, hope, joy and peace into the world and help brighten someone’s darkness.

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The Stillness of a Snowy Christmas

Wishing you a blessed and peace-filled Christmas!

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(You) could’ve swept in like a tidal wave
or an ocean to ravish our hearts
You could have come through like a roaring flood
to wipe away the things we’ve scarred
. 
But you came like a winter snow
quiet and soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night
to the earth below
. 
No, your voice wasn’t in a bush burning
No, your voice wasn’t in a rushing wind
It was still
It was small
It was hidden
Winter Snow
[Chris Tomlin/Audrey Assad]

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‘Tis Christmastime

The winter solstice happened this week. The shortest day of the year is now behind us.

We spent several hours on the road Monday, transitioning from the damp and balmy west coast into the brisk and snowy east Kootenays. There is no doubt we’ll be having a white Christmas.

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As the sun slowly appeared over the mountain beside our daughter’s home, we marvelled once again at the exceptional beauty of God’s creation.

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Outside the family room window there is a patio bordered by trees, and every day dozens of birds arrive, flitting from the branches to feast on what they obviously consider a gourmet granola meal that is always provided for them. On our first morning here I counted nine different species in less than an hour!

(Pine Grosbeak)

(Pine Grosbeak)

(Common Redpolls)

(Common Redpolls)

(Red-breasted Nuthatch & Common Redpoll)

(Red-breasted Nuthatch & Common Redpoll)

(Downy Woodpecker)

(Downy Woodpecker)

(Black-capped Chickadee)

(Black-capped Chickadee)

(Mountain Chickadee)

(Mountain Chickadee)

(Steller's Jay)

(Steller’s Jay)

(Pileated Woodpecker)

(Pileated Woodpecker)

(Grey Jay)

(Grey Jay)

God provides for all of his creatures … these birds, and us. It’s Christmastime — in fact, today is “Christmas Eve Day” — and we’re full of praise and thankfulness for Him who was born this night to provide for us and our salvation.

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The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

[Luke 1:35]

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(I’ll be taking a break from blogging next week. I wish each of you a joy-filled Christmas, and a New Year filled with good health and many blessings.)

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The Squint Test and Tolerating the Imperfect

Sharing some pre-Christmas thoughts in this reprise from 2009…

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Through the years my husband has wound umpteen dozen strings of lights around our Christmas trees … and unwound them … and rewound them. It’s hard to tell if they’re perfectly spaced even when the strings are lit up, so he does “the squint test”. Peering at the tree while squinting removes all the visual distractions except the small sparkles of illumination. He likes them to be exactly right.

Last year our tree looked lovely – the treasured family heirloom ornaments glistened among our collection of snowflakes, frosted pinecones, and a few red balls for a festive touch. And then the lights went out. Actually, just one string went out – the new, supposed-to-last-for-years LED’s faded away and left the top quarter of the tree dark. Drat!!

So we un-decorated that section, removed the string and replaced it with another, and then redecorated. There. Now it was lovely again … until the next evening when another set of the lights slowly faded away to nothing, this time mid-way down the tree. To replace that string would have required removal of a great number of the decorations as well as the beaded swags, so we did some minor tweaking, rearranged a few nearby lights and then resigned ourselves to ignoring the imperfection, but it’s hard to do. You know how it is. The lights form the backdrop for all the other ornaments. This errant string left a darkened gap right in the middle. But we didn’t have any family coming to visit that Christmas, so no one else saw it.  Later when we were putting everything back into storage we discarded that string so we wouldn’t forget and try to use it again the  next year.

It’s a little like my first novel. I wanted it to be perfect but it was written before I learned what writing was meant to be. Peering critically at it reveals weaknesses. There are gaps that no amount of rearranging is going to fix. I know; I’ve tried. The underlying plot is flawed. The story needs a total rewrite but that would be more work than I think it’s worth. So I’m resigned to its imperfection and have stashed it in the dusty depths of oblivion better known as the closet. No one is ever going to see it.

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What do you do with your less-than-perfect writing efforts? Are you able to discard them or do you keep trying to make them better? How do you decide if they’re worth the effort?

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