My hope for myself and all of you in 2010: new growth, new roots put down for nourishment, new leaves stretching toward the sun. I will be trying to do more seed gardening this year, so these things are on my mind. I plan to stay home this festive eve and take time to review 2009 and reflect on the year ahead - not to set resolutions so much as just to refocus and reevaluate. Will it be possible to thin out those parts of my life that are unhealthy or unproductive, making room for better things? Like the nasturtium seedlings above: I hated to pull them out of the ground, but I knew if I didn't that the ones left behind would not be able to grow as strong. I admired the way they sprouted so confidently out of the seeds, and then I left them in the garden to return to the soil. I'd love to hear about your goals for 2010.

For those of you I'm not linked with on facebook, I wanted to share that I have an essay out in the new issue of Relief: A Literary Christian Expression. (It's only in print, not online. And a disclaimer: their bloggers are an odd lot and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of this author! But I always enjoy the essays, poems, and short stories in Relief.)


Little Observations

~ I am thoroughly enjoying the manual milk frother that my sister sent me for Christmas, seen in the second photo. It turns milk into a foamy wonder that is better than that from a coffee shop!
~ Today I am attempting to bake bread from scratch for the first time. Results will be known within the hour.
~ I haven't seen as many birds in my yard lately and think I know why. I put out a feeder of black oil sunflower seeds to try to lure the cardinals back several days ago. Lured they were, but whenever they got close to the feeder, a very territorial mockingbird swoops in and chases them off. Said mockingbird doesn't seem to care about eating from the feeders, however - they are still full. It also chased off the bluejay. I hung out a second feeder and hope the cardinals and jays will keep trying, because I miss them.
~ We've lived here for 4 years, but only yesterday finally visited Brazos Bend State Park for a much-needed walk in nature. Compared to western mountains and pines it's far from pretty, but it will do!
~ A large gathering of Bradford pear leaves awaits me in the backyard. They were gorgeous while they lasted. And I actually love to rake.
~ I am finally reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and am quite inspired by it. I do think I will try making cheese and will put in a small spring veggie garden.
~ Likewise, I've just started Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition by Wendell Berry and am very grateful for his thoughtful words and clear vision.


Sweet Shiloh

They're sharing pet photos and stories over at Shutter Sisters today, and of course I just can't resist that! My sweet pup turned 2 on December 9; these photos were taken a week before Christmas, when he was enjoying the autumn leaves and sunshine out in the backyard. He continues to entertain us and win the hearts of visitors. He's extremely social and will go from person to person when we have gatherings, trying to figure out who will let him lick their feet or even sit on their lap while he tries to nibble their ears. He was in heaven this last week with houseguests, following them around constantly, prefering to cuddle with them over me, and trying to sneak up the stairs to their room. He sleeps a lot more than he did a year ago and we've even given in and let him sleep with us sometimes. He sits by the door waiting for me when I leave, watching out the window, and greets me with great enthusiasm when I come home. His silly antics and puppy love have wiggled their way deep into our hearts. We love you, Shiloh!


Christmas 2009

Christmas was special for us this year because we had family visiting to spend the holiday with us. We have not spent Christmas with family since 2003, when we last returned to South Dakota for the holiday. Given the blizzard they're still in today, I'm glad we didn't attempt it this year! When family and friends visit, we get out and do things we don't usually do. This time it included a trip to Galveston and a walk on the beach, attending a great performance of The Christmas Carol at a downtown Houston theater, visting Lakewood Church per the request of visting family (what a contrast to my last post! photos of the Osteens were the only iconic images around), perusing and sampling the huge cheese selection at a new H.E.B. in West University Place, a long walk in a new park, a carol service at a local Methodist church, and my very first 3D Imax experience - wow! Cooking a large meal and opening gifts were all the more fun for having family with us. I am grateful for the company of loved ones at the end of the year.
My thoughts are now turning to 2010 and the things I want to work on. Home projects are at the top of the list - installing a gutter, dealing with water problems, and lots, lots more. Removing clutter to make the home more pleasant is a part of that, although the challenge seems huge. Craft and sewing projects are there, and a more consistent prayer and devotional life, as is trying to exercise more and plant a small spring garden. I don't make resolutions, but I do form loose goals!
How was your Christmas? What are your thoughts for 2010?

Top photo by my husband


Glimpses of Heaven

I wanted to share a few photos of the absolutely lovely interior of All Saints OCA in Northeast PA. We worshipped there with our friends and godkids during our visit at Thanksgiving. Several years ago a fire destroyed the interior of the temple; they have slowly been restoring the iconography and are nearing completion. Unfortunately, our camera chose this moment to stop working, so we only got a few shots. But I think they are enough to show how beautiful it is. I love being surrounded by images of fellow Christians and biblical figures who have gone before me when I worship; it very much provides a sense of continuity and timelessness. I love how you know that you are standing in the presence of God in an Orthodox church; there is no question as to what the purpose of the building is. We also attended vespers at St. Tikhon's Monastery the evening before and the peacefulness and beauty of the service was much-needed spiritual refreshment. We hated to have to leave. But no matter which Orthodox church I am in, I always encounter a spirit of peacefulness and awe when I am there. I am thankful for those moments with God.


Life as a Christmas Elf

Today I mailed off my last packages. Here are a few things that I included as handmade gifts, some of which might be quick for you to make as last minute gifts if you need ideas! (If you're a family member and have secretly discovered my blog, I guess your surprises are ruined! ;-)

Desk calendars for those with office jobs (4x6 inches), using wallet-sized prints of my flower photos and free yearly calendars downloaded on the web.

Beaded earrings - copper, glass, minerals, sterling silver.
Guilty pleasure - pretzels in almond bark with sprinkles.
Typed, printed, and bound booklets of the favorite family recipes my MIL wrote out by hand for our wedding.
Herbal sachets (many of these are for my own closets, fabric stash, etc.) They do contain lavendar, but also whole cloves, thyme, mint, and rosemary. They smell wonderful! I tried out a few decorative stitches on my sewing machine for embellishment, and even broke into my vintage hankie collection for a few of them.

I also did some simple scrapbook pages, easy cookie cutter clay ornaments, pottery for one lucky person, and made a pile of photo notecards. I haven't been able to craft much this year with study and travel, so it has been rather fun to get back into it. The hardest part of Christmas prep remains: cleaning and straightening my house before visitors arrive! I hope your Advent season is going well.


Magical Surprises

Last Friday, the very unexpected happened: it snowed in Houston. All day long. The flakes here were fat and fluffy, and enough accumulated to turn the yard white. This is a rare gift that I very likely will not see again in my time here. It made me quite happy and very tickled - what a joyful treat!
Today, looking at these pictures, I can't help but think about the unexpected snow as a metaphor for other unexpected good things: the upcoming feast of the Nativity, when God took on human flesh and was born in a manger, for one. I'm also thinking of changes that I've seen in people's lives and how heartwarming it can be. And even some changes in my own life. Spiritually, if you would have told me eleven years ago that I would soon become an Orthodox Christian and spend afternoons like today listening to the Paraklesis service sung by Eikona, I would have not taken you seriously. But God and life can surprise us - just like the snow did a few days ago!
Are you enjoying any unexpected events lately?


Advent Calendar

We're back from yet another trip, this time to attend the wedding of my husband's sister in Ohio and then to celebrate Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania with our good friends and adorable godchildren. But more on that later! I've admired the envelope-type Advent calendars that I've seen on many craft blogs (the envelopes are often clipped clothespin style to twine along a wall, etc.) and so I decided to whip up a quick one to take to our godkids. It's pretty self-explanatory from the photos, and it was a lot of fun to make. Using a packet of 20 icon cards about the life of Christ as the envelope inserts (available from the Greek Archdiocese website) was a good way to keep the focus on the reason for Christmas. For the other 5 days, I inserted photos of my husband and me and included little notes to the kids. There are countless ways to vary this idea.
I'll be trying to whip up some more Christmas crafts for gifts in the next week or two. Will you be crafting?