Sunday, December 28, 2014

7 Quick Takes- Advent & Christmas Recap

Merry Christmas!  I can't believe we are here already, sitting on the flip side of another Advent gone by.   I didn't intend to stop blogging during most of Advent but it apparently turned out that way.   It certainly wasn't from any lack of excitement around here.   So, for good ole posterity's sake, here's a little recap of the month that was...

Gathering greenery for the windows.

Are any of you Couch to 5K folks out there still running?   I'm still beating the pavement three days a week with my trusty running partner, our dog Sage.  I actually think running in the winter is more enjoyable than in the summer, but then again, I live in the south.  I did run one morning when it was 26 degrees. Fahrenheit. In the freezing rain.  I don't think the dog was impressed.

Given the fact that I've been running/walking regularly since June, I decided to sign up for a 10K hike.   I enlisted Tom to join me.  I was a little concerned about Tom doing the hike considering he 1) never exercises 2) never exercises and 3) never exercises.   He does walk a lot though, and splits wood, and then there's the constant chasing of two little boys around the house, yard, etc.  So, it's not like he's in bad shape or anything.  But he's not exactly out there sucking wind every other day, running up and down the lane, like yours truly.    So, when the day of the hike came, I told him he should lead and set the pace.   Which he did.  You know those people who you hate because they never exercise and eat whatever they want and can still outrun you?  I'm married to one.   We finished the hike in under three hours.  Tom was fine.  I needed a hot bath and some ibuprofen.

Our boys really got into the whole "St. Nicholas' Day" thing this year.  Last year, we put the candy in the shoes but it didn't really make much of an impression on the boys.  This year, John was counting the days until December 6, mostly because he was battling a chronic candy addiction that was still lingering from Halloween.  The kid has a serious sweet tooth and when all candy in the house just "suddenly disappeared" one day in mid-November while they were in preschool, he started to get the DT's.    Watching a four-year old go through a candy detox is not a pretty sight and I think he felt like St. Nick was his only hope.
Enjoying the bounty left by St. Nick.

We have a large Hispanic community in our area now, and on December 12, our family decided to join with them in their celebration at a nearby church for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.   Many of the Catholic churches near us have Spanish Masses now, and as a matter of fact, the first Mass that Tom and I attended as a married couple was a Spanish Mass.   I don't speak Spanish well, and Tom speaks absolutely nada.  Yet, we really enjoy these Masses because they are usually filled with a lot of devotion.  This particular Mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe was like none I'd ever seen.  I suppose the closest comparison would be to a Midnight Mass at Christmas.   First, the house was packed!   Standing room only.  All Hispanics except for the few standouts (like us) scattered in the pews.  Second, the music!  Oh my, the music was loud and played by a Latino group standing near the front.  It reverberated off the stained-glass windows and seeped out of the church and into the street.  Third, the flowers!   Roses everywhere!  Dozens of families walked in carrying bouquets of roses and would place them around the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  There were hundreds of roses around her!  So beautiful.  And lastly, the children!  The church was packed with young families and hundreds of children.   Many of the little boys were dressed as Juan Diego and the little girls wore white cotton dresses embroidered with images of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The children would smile and sway to the lively music.  At the end of the Mass, something was said in Spanish and suddenly, all the children filed out of the pews and walked up to the priest, where he gave each one a blessing.    I couldn't help but think Our Lady would be pleased with all the love, affection, and enthusiasm that was being shown in her honor.
Our feast meal for St. Juan Diego's feast day.

Today is a special day around here, too.   Not only because it is the Feast of the Holy Family, but also because it is the Feast of the Holy Innocents.    It was on this day five years ago that I had my first ultrasound that told me I could expect this miracle to occur.  And on this day three years ago, I found out that I was pregnant with our third child, Karol Elizabeth, whose life on earth was not to be.
Tom and I have petitioned the Holy Innocents many times during our struggles with infertility to intercede for us and I do not believe that it is any coincidence that two times on their feast day, we have been blessed with new life.   So, it was with this in mind that we asked our priest to bless our new home and the graves of our lost babies today.   He graciously obliged and our home is now truly a domestic church from which I can look out upon the blessed graves of my other children.   We are now praying that the Holy Innocents intercede for us on behalf of our future son or daughter whom we hope to adopt someday.

So, that's about it for my Advent/December recap.   We had a mostly great Christmas Day, aside from the fact that the boys and I have been battling the "cough until you drop" germ that is spreading at epidemic levels in our corner of the world.   Bourbon balls are definitely serving a dual purpose around here this year!  I had to postpone Jesus' birthday party until last night (sorry about that, Jesus) but the boys didn't seem to mind too much.  We blew out the candles on the cake and sang Happy Birthday, and John got his sugar fix and is good for another day.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Hunt

The alarm went off and I fumbled for my glasses.   I stood up and slowly walked down the stairs, counting each step so as not to trip in the darkness of the still sleeping house.  Reaching into the coat closet, I pulled out my bundle of clothes and began putting on my assembly of layers, ending with my husband's over-sized insulated overalls and canvas jacket.  I carried my boots into the kitchen and set them by the back door.   I reached for a mug and poured it half-full of leftover cold coffee and added a spoonful of protein powder, stirring it all together with a fork. Drinking it quickly in big gulps, I looked at the clock on the microwave.  I didn't have much time before daylight. I put the empty mug down, laced up my boots, put on my gloves, pulled my knit cap snug over my head, and slipped out the back door.

The cold air slapped me awake.  It was frigid but calm with no wind.  A perfect morning.   I looked around, searching for movement, but saw and heard nothing.   Walking briskly in the twilight, I headed for the garden shed where I’d fashioned a blind behind the garden cages and tomato stakes.  I sank heavy into my chair, pulled up my collar, and placed my rifle on my lap.  I looked up at the dark sky, pierced with a single bright star above me, and waited for the sun to rise and reveal something that I was not sure would actually appear. 

Such has been my morning ritual during these past ten days of Advent.  And each evening, I have repeated a similar version.   I have hunted since I was a young girl:  squirrel, grouse, dove, but never deer.   Never, that is, until these past ten days.  

When I was younger, I never wanted to hunt deer for one very simple reason.   I hated to wait.   All the other animals I’d ever hunted didn’t require the kind of waiting and patience that deer hunting requires.   For years, the thought of sitting day after day in one spot, remaining nearly motionless, seemed torturous.   I didn’t have time for that.   I didn’t have the discipline for that. Let other people deer hunt, I thought.  Patiently sitting in the cold for hours at a time, waiting for something that might not happen, was definitely not for me.   So instead, I walked under trees to spook a squirrel, bashed through the brush to jump a grouse, and paced the corn rows to stir up flocks of dove.  Back then, movement defined my style of hunting.   It defined my style of life.  In those days, I took pride in making things happen, not waiting for things to happen, and that included how I hunted.

But today, I am content with sitting quietly in the darkness, waiting.   Perhaps it is because I am older.  Perhaps it is because I have learned that a lot of life happens while you are waiting for something else.   

During this past week, in those hours of stillness while I lay in wait for a deer to cross into my sight, I’ve had the privilege of watching another morning ritual unfold in the forest.   Spurred by the first rays of morning light, the crows would fly from their perch and circle above me with their raucous wake-up calls.  Back and forth they’d fly, circling just above the trees so than none would oversleep.   I watched as the bundle of dry leaves in the crook of the large oak tree next to me shimmied and shook just before a bushy-tailed gray squirrel popped his head out and scampered onto the closest limb to greet the day.   He would sit there for a moment, preening his fur, and then he would follow the limbs to another tree nearby, where he would roust his friend, and together the two of them would leap from tree to tree, playing tag until they reached the forest floor, where they searched for acorns and played keep-away under the hemlock boughs.   The Carolina wren would awake and take over where the crows left off, singing his incessant piercing rattling chorus of buzzes and trills as he bounced nervously from branch to branch in a nearby brush pile.  In the distance, I heard the haunting “whoo whoo whoo” of a great-horned owl, and I spotted the first brown creeper I’ve seen this season stealthily climbing up the trunk of a poplar tree, hoping to go unnoticed.  So much life around me, and yet, I would have noticed none of it were I not waiting for something else.

As I sat during those many hours, watching this forest scene unfold, I reflected too upon the many other Advents that I have spent waiting for something, not knowing if it would ever come.   The things I’ve always wanted most in life are the things I’ve had to wait for the longest.  Sometimes they came.  Sometimes, they didn’t.   One year, it was a visit two days after Christmas Day from the man I’d fallen in love with for which I waited.   I’d been waiting for ten years for him to come into my life, and that particular Advent before his visit was filled with anticipation.   And there have been many Advents during our years of marriage, during which we have waited for an answer to our ongoing prayers for children, including two Advents during which we waited to see if the life growing inside of me would live or die.   So much waiting.

As the sun went down tonight, deer hunting season here closed for another year.  Ten days, morning and evening, patiently waiting, and I had nothing to show for it.   There would be no venison tender loin for Christmas dinner this year.  No deer meat in the freezer to enjoy on the grill this summer.  

I stood up, folded my chair, and walked back toward the house.   The smell of wood smoke drifted in the air and I knew that it meant a warm fire was burning in our woodstove.   The night sky wrapped around me like a blanket and I could see the golden glow of the Christmas lights shining from the windows of my home, beckoning me.  I walked toward them, feeling defeated but finding comfort in knowing that what I once hunted for was inside.  Waiting for me.