The Advent Table

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Felted nativity figures by Boridolls.

This is a re-post from last year’s Holiday Blog Hop. Know that I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. See you back here for the first Sunday of Advent. xoS

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Our family began celebrating Advent in an intentional way a few years ago. We mark each week of this anticipatory season by creating a table that progresses through the four kingdoms as seen in the Waldorf tradition: the mineral kingdom, the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom and finally, the kingdom of the human being. At dinner on Sunday night, we add specific items to our Advent table, light a candle and recite a verse or a poem that corresponds with the upcoming week’s theme. I keep these rituals short, reverent and interactive.

Advent has become an established part of our yearly rhythm. When we first came to Waldorf, however, Advent fell right on top of Thanksgiving (like it does this year) and I remember being overwhelmed, but just wanting to do something. That first year, we gathered around a flat paper wreath and four tea light candles. I read the traditional Waldorf Advent verses (that I hastily printed right about the time everyone was around the table and hungry!) and we lit one of the candles. It was a beginning but honestly, no less meaningful than what we do now. The symbols that decorate the Advent table are lovely and evocative, but for me, it is more about taking time to pause, reflect and honor this holy season of anticipation.

First Week of Advent, November 30 – December 6: Rocks and Minerals

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I begin preparing for Advent the Saturday before, which this year is November 30 – the Saturday after Thanksgiving! I clear off a long marble shelf we have in the kitchen and leave it absolutely empty for 24 hours. For some reason, Advent is the only time this shelf is free of clutter, and I see this as a bit of a Christmas miracle. That first Sunday night, we celebrate the minerals of the earth by sprinkling the shelf with seashells, river rocks, sea glass, and gemstones. We light one of the four new candles that will grace the center of our kitchen table for the next month.

Second Week of Advent, December 7 – December 13: Plants

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The second Sunday of Advent brings in the greenery. Usually, we go for a walk as a family and collect a variety of evergreens from around our property. Last year I attached some evergreens to a wire hanger and made a wreath for our candles. This stayed pretty until Christmas, and it was free! I always think it would be meaningful to set up the Christmas tree during this week – especially if it stayed bare. We have two birthdays in December and never find the time to buy our tree until later in the month. Decorating with poinsettias, holly, stringing popcorn and cranberries and/or forcing amaryllis, paperwhites or narcissus bulbs are other ways to celebrate plants this week.

Third Week of Advent, December 14 – December 20: Animals

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The third Sunday of Advent finds the animals from our many nativity collections making their way to the shelf. Donkeys, sheep and cows are traditional and we also add any animals we may have created during our main lesson time. This year there will be a knitted sheep and also a menagerie of beeswax animals. Making gifts for the birds and squirrels, making homemade dog treats or a cat toy would be a fun way to celebrate the animals in and around your house. Many people hold Advent/Solstice spirals during this week. We have never done this, but I think it would be wonderful to lay out a spiral with evergreen boughs and carry candles in hollowed out apples. A simple yet rich example of holding our own inner light as the earth darkens.

Fourth Week of Advent, December 21 – December 25: Human Beings

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The fourth week of Advent brings Christmas and a celebration of the human family. We bring out all the figures at once: shepherds, kings and Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. At this point in the season, there are a lot of things on the Advent table. In order to keep everything neat and uncluttered, I put the rocks, glass and seashells in glass jars to display in the background, move the greenery to the periphery and have the animals surround the Holy Family which graces the center of the table.

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Links and Resources:

  • Carrie at The Parenting Passageway has many posts about celebrating Advent.
  • Borbala created the felted nativity figures featured in this post, and honestly my photos don’t do her work justice.
  • These are my favorite candles. I buy them by the dozen and use them year round.
  • Dionne has a great evergreen wreath tutorial.
  • Here are my reflections from 2 years ago: stonesplants.
  • Click to read my poetry selections from last year: stonesplantsanimals.
  • The Festival of Stones by Reg Down is a wonderful book that will take you from Michaelmas and Martinmas through Advent and Christmas. I am planning on reading it to my boys on Mondays during Advent.

Waldorf/Steiner Verses for Advent:

The first light of Advent is the light of stones.
Stones that live in crystals, seashells, and bones.

The second light of Advent is the light of plants.
Roots, stem, leaf, flower, and fruit by whom we live and grow.

The third light of Advent is the light of beasts.
Animals of farm, field, forest, air, and seas.
All await the birth in greatest and in least.

The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind.
The light of love, the light of thought, to give and to understand.

Sunday Selections

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Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

- Naomi Shahib Nye, “Kindness”

Guest Post and Giveaway: Sing Your Brave

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I met Andrea Osborne more than 20 years ago. I distinctly remember hearing her sing for the first time and being riveted in place. She has a voice that is alchemical: transforming both her and everyone around her lucky enough to hear it. It wells up from a deep place where there is no distinction between sound and truth. She is in the midst of recording her second cd and agreed to share some words about the process of singing her brave.

PS. There’s a giveaway at the end.

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I’ve been singing all my life. When I was four years old I was infamous in our neighborhood for belting ‘Delta Dawn’ at the top of my lungs on my swing set. In fact, our former neighbor who’s now in her 80s will still bring that up every time I see her.

Our church choir director got me up singing solos at age 9. I spent my life in school and church choirs, endless hours at a piano hacking out notes just good enough for me to sing along to. I sang at my first wedding, and first funeral, while in college. Music became my language. The way I dealt with happiness, with sadness, with anger, with things too complicated for words.

My love for singing also meant a lot of quitting. I didn’t like the competition, the snarking from other girls. In both high school and college I quit choir my senior year – the year I would’ve automatically gotten the best parts, the nicest songs. I’d done all the work to get there. And then I’d stop. It was too much.

Fast forward to middle age. Working in the corporate world, raising a headstrong daughter, married. Family members and friends would come to me for weddings, especially for funerals. It was like singing could help salve wounds, create healing. I never completely understood how much singing has been my way of coping and experiencing until it was taken away from me for a particularly painful event…but that’s another story for another day.

Then life dealt a crushing diagnosis. My wonderful, capable, happy, helpful mother – my rock – was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in the fall of 2010. My first, thought: record me singing for her. That seed turned into a plan and with the help of a few wonderful people from Capitol Broadcasting Company, where I work. I developed a plan to record a professional CD and sell it as a fundraiser for Alzheimers North Carolina.

Somehow doing that music for my Mom helped me do something I would’ve never dreamed, never had the courage to do ‘just because I wanted to’. I ended up recording 14 songs on an album that I’m extremely proud of. The whole process was incredibly healing for me and my parents. They were excited as I’d call after a day in the studio. A professional studio, one I never would’ve even toured without the encouragement of my husband. He challenged me to dream bigger, assured me I was worth the best. I didn’t need to sit in a ragged sound booth with a cheap cassette recorder.

Although I kept thinking ‘I cannot believe I’m doing this, I must be NUTS to think I’m good enough to record in a real studio’ I kept moving forward. It was unreal. Every note of music, every musician, every decision about graphics and photographs…all the decisions made themselves. I’ve never in my life on anything I’ve ever worked on ‘just known’ what I needed to do, felt so ‘in the zone’. Everything fell into place like it was meant to be, and I felt like I’d found home when I walked into that recording studio and put on the headset. I was singing with world class, professional musicians.  Too many magical occurrences to list here. But trust me. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

Of course I kept battling the requisite shame, but during the project it was like I was in a bubble. I released the album in the fall of 2011. It was amazing and baffling and embarrassing and wonderful. The best part?  My parents were over the moon. My Mom kept saying, “I can’t believe you did all this for me!” I’ll always be thankful I’ve had the chance to tell her everything I wanted to tell her with music. It’s quite fitting that she once again, through her Alzheimer’s, helped give me confidence to do something that I would’ve never thought possible.

I assumed that recording would be my first and last ever. But several years later, another opportunity fell into my lap – or more accurately, funding fell into my lap – to create a CD of standards. I hit the ground running. Again, I’m feeling so at home in the studio. The shame monster, the ‘you’re not good enough,’ the ‘you work a corporate job and are not a professional so who do you think you are’ loves to come visit me. But I’ve found when I’m in the music, I don’t even need to tell them to take a hike. They can’t reach me there.

Music is scary. It’s like putting your heart out on the floor for everybody to look at and possibly stomp on. You can’t predict. And so many times, I never know if the music hit the mark. But I’m coming to realize it’s only a small percentage about that. It’s more about me and the music. If no one ever listens, I still went through an incredible, life-changing process. And that’s enough.

Now back to reading my Brene Brown to try to combat all the shame these projects bring on! But as my Granny always told me, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

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I love that woman. I love her mother and loved her granny too. And now for the giveaway: Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Andrea’s first cd. It’s fabulous. And just in case you don’t want to take the chance of missing out on hearing her voice for yourself, you can purchase a cd at her website. They make great Christmas gifts! Comments will close Friday, November 21, 2014. Good luck.

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Sunday Selections

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photo by Andrea Osborne who can sing like an angel

Anyone can sing. You just open your mouth,
and give shape to a sound. Anyone can sing.
What is harder, is to proclaim the soul,
to initiate a wild and necessary deepening:
to give the voice broad, sonorous wings
of solitude, grief, and celebration,
to fill the body with the echoes of voices
lost long ago to bravery, and silence,
to prise the reluctant heart wide open,
to witness defeat, to suffer contempt,
to shrink, lose face, go down in ignominy,
to retreat to the last dark hiding-place
where the tattered remnants of your pride
still gather themselves around your nakedness,
to know these rags as your only protection
and yet still open—to face the possibility
that your innermost core may hold nothing at all,
and to sing from that—to fill the void
with every hurt, every harm, every hard-won joy
that staves off death yet honours its coming,
to sing both full and utterly empty,
alone and conjoined, exiled and at home,
to sing what people feel most keenly
yet never acknowledge until you sing it.
Anyone can sing. Yes. Anyone can sing.

- William Ayot, “Anyone Can Sing”

Cup of Kindness

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Is your year doing that crazy, frenetic, breakneck sprint to the finish? Mine is. After a day I would rather not repeat, I am slowing down, taking stock and trying to find my center. Again. A couple of things are making this easier. First is my journal. I’m officially hooked. I start most mornings writing while I wait for the coffee to brew and then grab a few moments here and there during the day. It is a practice that is taking hold and I am grateful.

Next is looking at my calendar and seeing what I can cross off. The next six weeks look full – lots of fun for sure, but a little too much for comfort. I’m taking Brene Brown’s advice and canceling what I can, opting for a moment of discomfort rather than a month of resentment. I really, really, really hate going back on word, but I also know my limits. I also know what happens when I continually stretch my limits. It’s not pretty for anyone.

Another little something that is making me happy is prepping my album for the December Daily project with Ali Edwards. I have never done this before, but I’m hoping to harness my journalling habit and write a little something every day. Add a few photos, a little bit of collage and maybe I’ll have a book by new year’s eve.

And now let me tell you the best of all things. I read this chai recipe on Wednesday – and hands down, it was the best thing that happened all day. Oh my. I have made it a dozen times since. Add a heaping spoonful of sweetener to black tea, fresh ginger, water and milk, and you will have found a bit kindness in your cup.

I’m trying to be kind (or at least kinder) to myself this holiday season. Will you join me?