These Days of Christmas

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Dusk is falling on this second day of Christmas. Yesterday and last night, an Arctic chill blew strong and settled in, seeping through the cracks of this old house. Christmas Day was a quiet delight of waking up late, savoring coffee, opening gifts and talking. At noon, my kids joined us, opening all their gifts and giving us theirs.

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My library never felt so full of cheer and purpose as the kids tore through the presents and littered the floor with wrapping paper, sipped egg nog, and laughed and joked as they tried on new sneakers or tried out drum sticks, in Judah’s case.

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Our homemade meal of pasta with fresh marinara sauce, sautéed ginger-garlic broccoli, flounder, garlic bread and pomegranate margaritas (and sparkling grape juice for the kids) provided a simple means of celebration of the day.

Though the wind continued to whip wildly through the trees and blow snow around, the sun shone and gave a sparkly sense of magic to our White Christmas.

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I sit at my desk and feel the frosty nip on nose and fingers. Evening will most likely be quiet, as none of our kids are here. Alan and I will work in separate rooms, he sketching for a massive order of cards, me writing and planning products to make for my business. Today, my certificate of authority to collect sales tax arrived from New York State; I feel even more officially a business owner than when I obtained my DBA.

I ask the questions every purveyor of goods and maker of anything wish they had the answer to: what do people really want? At the few craft shows where I was a vendor this past fall, people wanted flax and lavender pillows and liked lotions, balms and creams. An occasional sale was for a decorative item, but most were for body care items.

So that is what I’ll focus on this next quarter; however, I want a few beautiful and cute things to draw folks to my displays. I want to branch into paper art cards and aromatherapy bracelets as well as beeswax wraps, garlands and hopefully some watercolor cards or small paintings.

I need to brainstorm, make lists, make a schedule and get going. My bullet journal for 2018 should arrive on Friday, but in the meantime I will make use of the extra pages in my 2017 journal. I will be reading a few new-to-me books on creativity, marketing and entrepreneurialism:

The Strategic Storyteller: Content Marketing in the Age of the Educated Consumer by Alexander Jutkowitz

Entrepreneurial You: Monetize Your Expertise, Create Multiple Income Streams, and Thrive by Dorie Clark, and

Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon.


I’ll also be revisiting one of my favorite books on creativity: Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice. Here are some excerpts from this perennial favorite of mine: In regards to the fear of failure, he says, “A lifetime of mediocrity is a high price to pay for safety. Paranoia undoes greatness. You need to push through those places where it’s easier to gravitate toward comfort instead of aggressively pursuing your best work.” (p. 56) His chapter on energy management opened my eyes to how it affects creativity. “Creative work requires that we stay ahead of our work,” says Henry.

Tomorrow’s ideas are the result of today’s intentions. When you rely on a ‘just-in-time’ workflow, you will quickly find it difficult to do quality work–and you’ll also find yourself lacking the drive to do anything about it…energy management will require the most discipline if we want to change our habits and restructure our life in a healthy way. Striking the right balance when instilling practices around energy management will feel a little uncomfortable, perhaps even painful, at first. But experiencing the results of effective energy management makes these practices worth all the temporary discomfort.” (p.117) Chapter 9 has a weekly, monthly and quarterly checkpoint, which has questions to ask oneself in order to help redirect, focus and challenge growth. Just riffling through this book reminds me how much I need to reread it!

As this year slowly winds to an end, I hope you’ll find the time to recast your vision for your life, to redirect and focus your energy and creativity, and to challenge yourself in new ways. Stay tuned this week as I will be announcing the first in a series of book giveaways!

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Gifts for the Bookworm

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Oh, this post will be fun! If you’ve got a book lover on your Christmas shopping list, here are a few ideas:

Book darts, like these from Modern Mrs Darcy.

Or handmade bookmarks like these.

A Book Light would really come in handy.

If you travel a lot or like the convenience of e-readers, the Kindle Paperwhite  is a great choice. (I prefer an actual paper book in my hands, but sometimes a Kindle is a good choice.)

Emily Bronte: Poems (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets). Have you ever read her poems? You should!

The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids would make a great gift for a bookworm mom of young kids.

The Secret Letters Project: A Journal for Reflection, Growth, and Transformation through the Art of Letter Writing is a fun book for readers as well as those who love to ponder, reflect and dream.

Anne Bogel’s book Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything is a must for readers as well as anyone who wishes to know themselves more.

Palomino Blackwing 602 Pencils are a delight to write with. Gently rounded yet triangular with erasers that can be refilled. They write smoothly without having to apply much pressure. This left-handed writer loves them!

 

Honestly, I could go on forever. What would you add to this list?

A Quiet Advent Evening

 

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Have you been on the go this December? Ours has looked like concerts and basketball games, shopping and our own performances, filling orders for Delicata House (my craft business), spending time with friends and family, and so on. These are all positive activities that I am thankful for! Except when days go by and I don’t write, read or reflect and then I feel bewildered and lost, like I’m floating and can’t quite get a grip on myself and where I’m going. That’s what rest is for.

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We performed at two local venues and attended a service for a friend’s husband this past weekend, and then my kids came for dinner after our show Sunday night. On Monday, after I drove my daughter to school, we shopped for Christmas presents and groceries. Today I woke up with a migraine and I am sure it was my body telling me “If you won’t take a break, I’ll force you to.” So I wasn’t productive–I was in bed most of the afternoon. Alan was kind and made me dinner and then he went to his son’s basketball game.

 

This was the opportunity I’d been waiting for all Advent: I slipped into the library, lit the first two of the Advent candles, grabbed the books I’m reading this Advent season, sat down and read. Afterward, I opened my brand new Sacred Ordinary Days Weekly Planner and reflected and planned and prioritized for a solid hour. I felt grounded, peaceful, and like I at least have an idea of a direction I want to live toward this week. And, mercifully, the migraine is gone!

I hope you can make time to be with yourself and with God, to read, write and reflect during this Advent season.

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The Quest for Health and Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

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I’m getting ready to celebrate five years of gluten-free living this January 1st. That’s something I wish I wasn’t celebrating because it’s a pain in the neck to live this way, except that I’m much healthier because of it.

My tale of digestion woes stretches back to early childhood when I developed a strong aversion to cheese. My mother thought I was just being picky, but it wasn’t only the smell of cheese I wanted to avoid, it was the way it made me feel: sick to my stomach.

Eventually, Mom just made me pasta and marinara sauce while the rest of the family had lasagna or manicotti. She left the parmigiana off my chicken on Christmas Eve and I picked most of it off my pizza.

As I got older, we figured out that butter caused my stomach to be upset too. On popcorn, in baked goods, etc. Then in my mid-teens, milk and ice cream started in. I was in denial. I hadn’t heard the term lactose intolerant at that time and the first doctor I went to asked if I could be pregnant and then mis-diagnosed me with IBS. What a joke! But after I switched to soy milk and found Lactaid at the grocery store, my symptoms eased a bit. I thought I’d be able to have the occasional ice cream treat, but I was wrong. I had to keep upping the dose of Lactaid and sometimes it still wouldn’t work. So I adopted a dairy free life for the most part. Every once in a while, I’d still cheat and have a bit of ice cream or a baked good with butter or cream and then I would pay for days afterward: nausea, gas, bloating, diarrhea. It was lovely. At twenty-seven I finally told myself dairy and I were not meant to be and enough was enough.

Dairy was the first component. The second was gluten. Since I was a kid, I noticed I’d get heartburn after I consumed baked goods and sometimes nausea as well. But what I never wanted to associate with my diet were my headaches. Often they were migraines, but not always, I had headaches between 2-5 times per week with some becoming so debilitating I would lie on the sofa with the curtains drawn just waiting for the day to end so my pain might lessen. When my kids were little, it was difficult to keep their noisiness to a minimum so I could rest. This was my life and I wished it were different.

Since I read all the time, I tried to find information about headaches and what might lessen their frequency and intensity. After much research and deliberation, I decided to give up gluten at the beginning of 2013. That was such a hard decision! I LOVE bread. But I knew I at least needed to try to improve my quality of life. People thought I was crazy or just on some fad diet, but I assured them this wasn’t about weight loss or wanting to eat on trend.

The first few weeks were like any other new diet plan–super hard! I didn’t know how to substitute anything, so right away I began searching the web for gluten free blogs, magazines, cookbooks, etc. I tried prepared flour blends and made my own. I tried several brands of pasta and bread. And I baked and cooked and baked some more. So many recipes were flops, but some were great.

One of my favorite blogs then and now is Sarah Bakes Gluten Free. If you need a birthday cake, some cupcakes, a batch of cookies, pudding, popsicles, etc., Sarah has you covered. She has her own flour blend that is easy to mix up, but her recipes will work with other gluten free flour blends as well. It’s a solid bunch of recipes you can rely on and I highly recommend her.

I’ve also made recipes from the Gluten Free Goddess blog. There’s a chocolate gingerbread recipe that’s to die for, as well as a peanut butter chocolate chip ice cream recipe that has a coconut milk base. Yum!

One very American recipe that up till now I haven’t been able to find is a great gluten free chocolate chip cookie. Until this week! I purchased two of Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain cookbooks. She has a Real Deal Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe made with almond and coconut flours. I made them Sunday just to see what all the fuss was about. Oh my goodness. Deliciousness! No heartburn, no sugar crashes, no overpowering brown rice flour or sorghum flour aftertaste. Just a really good, actually healthy cookie that I am thrilled about. Here is the link to her Real Deal Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe. (The only thing I’ll do differently next time is use half the salt.) They’re still amazing though, just the way they are.

 

I’d love to hear about your own health journey!

 

Shortie Book Review

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I went out on a limb and read a book outside my comfort zone: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. The reason it’s not the type of fiction I would usually pick up is that the story starts with a child’s death. Although I haven’t yet taken Anne Bogel’s reader personality quiz, I have a feeling I read fiction to escape. And hopefully to escape into a world that differs from my own–adventure, danger, foreign countries, suspense, bravery, etc.

This book began with the worst thing any parent could imagine: experiencing the death of a child, so I expected if it started from an extremely low point, it had to get better. To her credit, Ng writes in a graceful, fluid style that is easy to read and soothing to a lover of words. The story is basically about one family’s dysfunction and the heart-heavy path each one takes as they find a way to keep on living after their daughter and sister’s death. I didn’t really relish being the observer of their grief process. I never enjoy sad books, especially if they’re fiction, because I become too emotionally involved in their fictional lives. It takes a toll on me and I feel like everyday life does that already.

Anyway, if you like sad stories with a glimmer of hope at the end, this one might be for you. If you aren’t great at handling dark and oppressive family dramas, then skip this one.

Just the Flax, Ma’am

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On Saturday, I was a vendor at a holiday craft bazaar at Ithaca First Assembly of God Church. Over forty vendors set up tables and displayed their handmade items in the sanctuary, the entryway, hallway, main fellowship hall and a smaller side room, which is where I was located.

This was my fifth craft fair since I began this tiny business in September and I’ve attended a couple of humdingers, let me tell you. I won’t mention names, but some were very far out in the country and all, except this one, were not advertised well.

Thankfully, First Assembly is on the ball. There was a Facebook event, an email went out to the participants to share the event with friends on their social media pages, and an email went out to local churches to advertise as well. The women in charge were super organized and knew what Square and Apple Pay were which meant we would definitely have WiFi. The place was clean, brightly lit, upbeat Christmas music played and the people came in droves to shop.

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My table had ornaments, small felt dolls, natural body care products, decorative pillows, and nine flax warming pillows. Honestly, I hoped to sell my ornaments and dolls and pillows along with the rest of my things. And I thought I would because they’re cute and seasonally appropriate. Alas, not an ornament or doll sold. My winter balm, made of coconut oil, shea butter, and lavender sold out. Lots of lip balm and several lotion bars sold as well. But my continual bestseller are these flax warming pillows. Some have lavender flowers added and some are flax alone, but they all come folded and tied with ribbon. I display them in a small treasure chest I found at Mimi’s Attic with a blackboard sign.

When I wracked my brain, I could not remember how I ever decided to make these pillows to begin with. Maybe someone mentioned them to me? Maybe I just bumped into the idea on Pinterest? Anyway, I made four pillows for the first craft sale back in September and I sold out. Every place since–even the very worst sales–I sold a few of these. Well, this Saturday, I sold out of all nine of them. It is interesting what people want. You really never know. Part of me thinks these flax pillows will continue to be a “bread-and-butter” item for my business. Part of me is worried I’ll make up a bunch of these and they’ll sit unwanted on the shelf and people will want something else. I’m going to go with the former leaning and purchase flax seed in bulk from the Amish tomorrow. If I’m wrong, all my friends and family will be getting these pillows as gifts for the next year.

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The greatest part of Saturday, though, even more encouraging than having very good sales, was all the friends and family who came. They hugged me, chatted about kids and work, asked me about myself, took photos, laughed and commented on my items for sale. Many of them purchased things as well. It felt wonderful to have made things for people I love to use or give as gifts. My mother came with my niece–she’s the one that bought my last two flax pillows. Alan was an angel and came twice: once to replenish my ones and fives and again to bring me lunch. When I packed up at 3, my heart was happy. If only every craft fair could be as full of success and a sense of community. Today, as I cut out fabrics for another dozen flax pillows, I felt carried along by the lightness and merry atmosphere of that event. If only I could package that feeling…it would be a bestseller too.

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Three Books I’ll Read This Advent

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A friend asked me for Advent recommendations today, so I thought I’d share them here. I learned about Advent when my children were little because I was looking for ways to make our Christmas traditions richer and not simply about getting gifts.

Because I wasn’t raised in a Catholic or a Protestant mainline church, I never knew about the tradition of Advent and how it could make the season longer, filled with greater anticipation and really, more meaningful. I entered into this willingly. I realize if one was dragged to church and didn’t connect the ritual with the symbolism and it didn’t mean anything significant, it would be a dull and empty tradition. I never wanted that for myself or my children. Most of the people I knew when I started this journey didn’t understand what Advent was or why it was important. I brought it up once a year as I built this tradition into our own family life. We used a few different wreaths to light candles, finally settling on this wooden one, handmade by Ann Voskamp’s son.

This year, I purchased four white pillar candles and a metallic charger that I lined with evergreens for my Advent wreath. On Sunday evening, I’ll light the first candle.

But, here are a few of my favorite Advent books to read or share with others:

My all-time top of the list is God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I have the Audible version of this and listen to it every year, but I also like to read it. The readings are short, but extremely deep and even more so when you realize Bonhoeffer was writing from his Nazi- guarded prison cell during World War II. If you purchase one book for Advent, this should be the one.

My next most-read Advent book is Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, a collection that includes the writings of various authors, including C.S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, Annie Dillard, and Kathleen Norris, among many others.

One I purchased several years ago as a Kindle version and will re-read this year is Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enumo Okoro. In the preface, the author says, “Advent is a season to ponder, to listen, to understand that prayer is as much about cultivating stillness and attentiveness as it is about offering our words to God.” It’s not easy to cultivate stillness amidst this busy time, is it? Counter-intuitive, but so nourishing for our souls. At least, for this soul.

Do you observe Advent? Do you have favorite resources?