A Winter Reset (and Giveaway)

 

Winter came early, settled in to stay, and shows no signs of an early leave-taking.

By Friday, we will have counted forty days since Christmas. The strength of the sun has grown, but I do miss those cheerful days of twinkle-lights and candy canes.

Still, I would not unwind time. Onward and upward. Spring beckons, though it is only a light far down a very long tunnel.

Now, we mark the traditional halfway point of winter. Friday is Candlemas, the day when candles were blessed for the dark days of winter that remained, the day when we remember Christ presented at the Temple and sing Zechariah’s song:

… the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Peace is a way, a path, a choice.

I am sorry to say that peace often looks anything but peaceful when we begin to choose it. In order to seek peace, we must sometimes fix our eyes on the light we only barely see, far down a very long tunnel.

Peace is a wholeness, a completeness, and a rightness. We seek peace and we pursue it when we walk toward–not away–from those things in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our world that are broken, incomplete, and wrong.

We are peacemakers, not peacetakers out to grab whatever we can for ourselves.

The good news is that we seek that which we have already received.

Jesus said,

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.

We cultivate seeds planted in us long, long ago.

 

 

Halfway through this long, dark season, I desperately need to remember all that is special and good about winter. Things like long books, warm fires, garden dreams, geraniums on the windowsill, and so much more.

I need a winter reset.

If you feel the same, I think this gift will help.

The third installment is finally here: it’s a Winter Giveaway!

When I first imagined the book that eventually became Roots and Sky, I pictured an old-fashioned treasure, something like the books I seek out in thrift stores and used bookstores. I thought my stories would be interspersed with seasonal tips and recipes and nostalgic pen-and-ink illustrations.

Almost as soon as I began writing, I realized that the story I needed to tell was simpler and leaner. Those first four seasons at Maplehurst were more quiet and watchful than busy and industrious, and the book needed to reflect that.

But the idea of offering more–seasonal stories, tips, recipes, and beautiful illustrations–has never gone away.

Last summer we celebrated five years of cultivating home in this Victorian red brick farmhouse.

I can’t think of a better way to mark that anniversary than by finally giving you the more I imagined so long ago. In fact, I plan to give you more (and more, and more, and more). I have four gifts planned, each one arriving with a new season.

In collaboration with the talented designer and illustrator Jennifer Tucker of Little House Studio, I’ve created four winter-themed pages from that book of my dreams.

They are free for every one of my email subscribers to download and print.

One comes from my kitchen, two from the garden, and one from my bookshelves. Each page offers something practical and beautiful wrapped up in my own lyrical point of view.

I’m planning to print and frame mine, but they’ll do just as well tacked to a bulletin board or tucked into a garden journal or recipe box. Feel free to share this post with friends who might like to subscribe and print their own.

Simply click the subscribe box below, enter your email address, and a confirmation email will be sent straight to you. Confirm your address, and you’ll be taken to the link in order to claim your download.

If you are already a subscriber, check your inbox. Your link should be waiting for you.

Here are two things to remember:

One: TWO WEEKS from today, the offer expires, and the prints will no longer be available.

Two: Spring won’t keep us waiting forever. Look for my spring giveaway in April.

 

The Good News I Can’t Quite Believe

 

During Advent twelve years ago, I was newly pregnant and very afraid.

I should have remembered the angel’s proclamation to Mary, “Do not be afraid.” Instead, because I had waited so long and with so much agony for this second child to be conceived, the news of a growing baby felt too good to be true. I became convinced that my child would be born with serious health problems.

My prayers had been answered, but I dimly sensed there must be some price to pay.

I had suffered just enough to stop believing in good news and gifts freely offered.

//

The good news of this season is God’s nearness. A son has been born to us, and his name is God-with-us.

The good news is that the God who came near has promised to return. Advent is that season when we pinch ourselves awake, we rub the sleep from our eyes, and we remember to watch and wait.

“A light shines in the darkness,” and despite everything–everything— we’ve seen, we believe the “darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

//

My son Thaddeus was born at bright noon on my very own birthday. He was healthy and strong, and I held in my arms the answer God had been whispering to me for months: This son is a good gift. No strings attached.

That was the good news, and it was absolutely true. Yet my grip on it slipped as Thaddeus grew.

He had his first serious allergic reaction at six months old. It was Christmas Eve.

We used the epi-pen and drove him to the hospital for the first time when he was two.

We did the same when he was three.

When he was four, I took him out for a treat and forgot to bring his epi-pen. A stranger with an epi-pen in her purse saved my son’s life.

I remember once standing with an exhausted doctor in a hospital corridor. We were both watching Thaddeus, lying so swollen and so still in that enormous hospital bed, and I asked, “Will he grow out of it?”

The doctor sighed, his eyes never leaving my little boy. I waited.

“Normally, I would say yes. But I’ve never seen a reaction like his. How could a little processed-cheese dust cause this?”

//

Through a decade of constant vigilance and fear that was still, too often, not good enough, I prayed for my son.

Heal him. Please.

But every single time I prayed, the same few words would drop—like a stone—in my heart:

He is already healed.

I never knew what to do with that stone. Some days I believed the good news: already healed. But the good news couldn’t fully erase the fear that we would make another mistake, miss something, forget something.

And the good news seemed to offer little to a boy who ate his lunch alone at the “peanut-free table” and cried after every class party: I just want to eat what all the other kids eat.

//

I can’t remember when we first decided to let him try dairy. Two years ago? A year? I know he asked for a long, long while before we said yes. I can’t even remember what we fed him. Was it a muffin baked with a little bit of butter? Or was it a waffle made with a small amount of buttermilk?

I’ve forgotten how it began, but I remember the culmination: cheesy homemade pizza on a Friday night. We let him try one bite. We kept his epi-pen on the counter. We made him wait twenty minutes before another bite, and we peppered him with questions:

How do you feel? Is there any scratchiness in your throat? What about now? Does your mouth itch? What about now?

He ate one whole piece of pizza that night, but we still took it slow. The light of that good news announced for years to every one of my prayers was dawning, but Jonathan and I covered our eyes.

We were afraid, I think, to look directly at the thing we had always desired.

//

This year, our son has eaten cookies and cakes baked with butter. He has eaten cookies and cakes baked with milk. Twice, he ate a cupcake frosted with butter frosting. Once, he sprinkled parmesan cheese on his soup, and I didn’t stop him.

On Thanksgiving Day, we realized too late we’d forgotten to buy almond milk. We made the mashed potatoes, Thaddeus’s favorite food, with real milk, real cream, and real butter.

That night, having had no reaction to the potatoes, Thaddeus ate his first slice of apple pie with real whipped cream.

“I like it,” he said, in a quiet voice.

//

A week or so ago, I realized we were out of the almond milk Thaddeus has always used on his Cheerios and his oatmeal. Jonathan would be heading to the grocery store that day, but as I wrote up a list for him, I couldn’t decide whether to add almond milk.

The only thing we had not yet tried giving Thaddeus was pure milk. I knew in my mind he could have it. He ate whipped cream! I knew he had outgrown his milk allergy, but over all these years, I have grown accustomed to doubt and fear.

The last time Thaddeus took a sip of milk, he was three, and it was a glass meant for his sister, and the whole nightmare ended with a bloody mark on his pants from the epi-pen and a trip to the hospital.

My pen hesitated until, finally, I wrote: almond milk (do we need to buy more?).

//

Maybe Advent is the long, slow leaning in toward the good news we do believe. Maybe Advent is a gradual waking up.

The good news we have waited for has been announced in our lives. I have seen the evidence with my own eyes. My much-loved boy is no longer allergic to milk, and this year, for the first time, he and I will share a birthday cake made with real milk and real butter.

But when I think about pouring him a glass of milk, my hand starts shaking with old memories and old fears, and I can’t do it.

I haven’t yet done it.

When Jonathan brought the groceries home, I saw the familiar box of almond milk amidst the bananas and the avocados.

“You bought more almond milk,” I said to him.

It was a statement.

It was a question.

Jonathan looked at me. He didn’t say anything until he finally looked away.

“It feels good just to have it in the house,” I said, and he nodded.

//

We are waiting for Christmas. We are waiting for Christ’s return.

But maybe we’re also waiting on ourselves. Gently and with patience.

Because the good news is a bright light, and our eyes are weak. Our hearts still a little fearful. And maybe we need to hear, just one more time, what Mary heard not so long ago:

The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid.

 

A Terrible Beauty (Autumn Giveaway)

Elsa Spring at Maplehurst, two autumns ago

 

 

It’s like the difference between the blue of a puddle and the blue of the ocean, this difference between the autumn of memory and autumn itself.

All year long, I say with ease, “Autumn is my favorite season.” I say it for the color of the leaves and the apple-crispness of the air. I say it for planting bulbs and going for long drives on country roads in search of our favorite old sugar maple trees. I say it for back to school and the holidays nearing, but every year I forget that vast expanse between the idea of autumn and the encounter with it.

To borrow words from W. B. Yeats, I forget that every year, on or about the end of September, a terrible beauty is born.

I begin to remember when the yellow leaves of the walnut tree rattle down on the metal roof of the old red barn, and my delight is mingled with dread. The dread is bewildering. Isn’t this my favorite season?

Why do I feel both glad and afraid?

 

I live in the pastoral paradise of southeastern Pennsylvania. Bridges are still covered and sized for horse-drawn buggies. Fieldstone walls meander in rhythm with the song of brooks and streams. Old stone farmhouses with leaded windows sit snug against hillsides, protected from winter winds for hundreds of years.

The beauty of this place is sweet and easy. It is a beauty resonant of home and safety, shelter and cultivation – at least, until the trees wake up and begin to blaze.

We say we want pumpkins on the porch and a gold shimmer on the trees, but we forget that this beauty won’t only warm us, it will burn us, as encounters with the deepest, truest things always do.

Every year, autumn beauty – that unbearable fire and glory – breaks my heart a little more completely.

Another Irish writer, Edmund Burke, gave us his treatise On the Sublime and Beautiful in 1756, just when colonists in these parts were busy building the “brave brick houses” spoken of by William Penn. According to Burke, beauty originated in love while the sublime had its roots in fear. It is the difference between a green pasture dotted with sheep and a snow-covered peak, terrible and tall.

It is the difference between my home in late summer and my home in fall.

 

I think I am afraid because in no other season does time seem so swift and so cruel.

No sooner have I spied the first color in the treetops and shuffled the first golden feathers beneath my feet, than the limbs are bare. The landscape bleak. As Robert Frost once wrote, “… leaf subsides to leaf. / So Eden sank to grief, / So dawn goes down to day. / Nothing gold can stay.”

Spring’s color may be just as lovely, but it goes easy on our hearts, tapering out slowly into summer greenness until one hot day we realize that the circle of the year has shifted, and we are somewhere new.

 

Autumn is simply one season of four, but it isn’t a safe season. Autumn reminds me of Aslan of Narnia, “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

We can avert our eyes, shield our hearts, and try to keep this beauty from breaking our hearts, but winter will come whether we do that or not.

Floodwaters will rise.

Hurricane winds will blow.

The earth will tremble, and we will suffer. If anything is certain in life it is that we will suffer. The only question is whether we will suffer well?

There will be terror and there will be beauty, and some days, the line between the two will blur completely, and all our certainties seem up for grabs.

It helps, I think, to enter the barren season with eyes still full of glory.

 

The poet T. S. Eliot famously wrote of “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”

What will I shore up against the coming ruin of winter?

So many fall delights.

The beauty of this coming season may be terrible, but fortified by small beauties, perhaps we can bear it with more ease. Delights like apple crisp flavored with chai spices, a melancholy old novel, a bouquet of dahlias on the table, and, yes, a pumpkin on the porch.

 

 

Just in time for this new season: an Autumn Giveaway!

 

 

When I first imagined the book that eventually became Roots and Sky, I pictured an old-fashioned treasure, something like the books I seek out in thrift stores and used bookstores. I thought my stories would be interspersed with seasonal tips and recipes and nostalgic pen-and-ink illustrations.

Almost as soon as I began writing, I realized that the story I needed to tell was simpler and leaner. Those first four seasons at Maplehurst were more quiet and watchful than busy and industrious, and the book needed to reflect that.

But the idea of offering more – seasonal stories, tips, recipes, and beautiful illustrations – has never gone away.

This summer we celebrated five years of cultivating home in this Victorian red brick farmhouse.

I can’t think of a better way to mark that anniversary than by finally giving you the more I imagined so long ago. In fact, I plan to give you more (and more, and more, and more). I have four gifts planned, each one arriving with a new season.

In collaboration with the talented designer and illustrator Jennifer Tucker of Little House Studio, I’ve created four autumn-themed pages from that book of my dreams.

They are free for every one of my email subscribers to download and print.

One comes from my kitchen, two from the garden, and one from my bookshelves. Each page offers something practical and beautiful wrapped up in my own lyrical point of view.

I’m planning to print and frame mine, but they’ll do just as well tacked to a bulletin board or tucked into a garden journal or recipe box. Feel free to share this post with friends who might like to print their own.

Simply click the subscribe box below, enter your email address, and a confirmation email will be sent straight to you. Confirm your address, and you’ll be taken to the link in order to claim your download.

If you are already a subscriber, check your inbox. Your link should be waiting for you.

 

Here are two things to remember:

One: Autumn is fleeting, and so is this gift. TWO WEEKS from today, the offer expires, and the prints will no longer be available.

Two: Winter follows fast on autumn’s heels, and my winter pages should appear some time in December.

to receive a seasonal gift, my thank you for being a part of this community.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

to receive a seasonal gift, my thank you for being a part of this community.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest