Why is it Bland if it Doesn’t Burn?

I enjoy cooking when I’m not under some deadline, have insufficient ingredients for the meal I want to make (and so must use brain cells to be creative), or when it’s just for myself.  I think it’s one of my love languages, to cook something tasty for someone I love.  It’s a huge blessing when they like it, and compliment it.

So, as I have been reading the hashtag about how white cooks serve only bland food, I admit I giggled first (thinking of all the bland cooks I know), and then I got a bit riled.

It was funny at first, because I have met some wives who married men who won’t eat anything but the blandest of foods.  So that’s what they’ve been forced to prepare and serve.  I also remember when there weren’t so many options for frozen meals that were tasty or affordable.  You usually went to a restaurant or cafe to eat when you didn’t eat at home.  Or you could order take out (pizza, asian food, etc).  So there were a lot of lazy cooks or inexperienced cooks who didn’t use more than vinegar, sugar, butter, salt and pepper for their flavorings.  When things got tight, the butter and sugar might not be so freely used.  So, sometimes it was economy that made the difference.

What riled me is when so many of the comments under that hashtag talked about how only Caucasian cooks would have such flavorless food, and I saw a lot of references to “adding some heat” to improve the food that was served.  How does making your mouth burn turn into adding flavor?

I am very plainly a “foodie” and my size shows it.  I have a spice cabinet that made my sister’s eyes pop when she saw it, and my friend laugh as they unpacked it for me during a move a few years ago.  I believe in seasoning food to add flavor and am not shy about using paprika, lavender, garlic or even cumin to different foods to see what it does to make the natural flavors pop.  At no time does anyone need to gasp and grab a glass of water to make me smile and think I’ve delivered a good dish to serve.  I want them to really taste their food, and the seasonings or spices that I add.  If I used too much, I like to hear that, too.  I’ll go easier next time, and nudge the recipe back a bit.

But my ire changed to giggles as I remembered what my foster father taught us so many years ago.  He was a life long history student, and had a passion for the arcane facts of each social group he could find information about.  When we kids happened to ask, “why do hot climates serve hot spicy food?”  He was forced to wait (by Mom) until after dinner to tell us.

While she removed the debris of dinner, he explained with a grin, “It’s because in the hot climates, meat spoils faster.  So they use spice to both hide the flavor of spoiled meat, and to make it more possible to eat without getting severely ill.  The English began using a lot of curry when they were in India for just that reason.  There’s a letter between English officers in a book upstairs where they were telling each other to have the cooks learn from the natives how to use it for the meat that would spoil when it was shipped from England if it wasn’t salted or in a brine.”

So- I had to laugh at the thought that those who complain about people who allow the flavor of meat to be lightly seasoned so only the meat flavors are savored, are generally touting the cooking habits of those who had to serve spoiled meats.

Well – I’m glad that they can enjoy it.  I’m also going to take a pass on that food – with a private grin.


Life Resumes

Last winter was a challenging time for me, with no stability, poor health, and always on the brink of a crisis that could have had me homeless in every way.

I had to leave a nice home in a gated community, which was a heartbreak all its own, though I was merely a rentor.  That move required me to purge many beloved possessions as I prepared to live in a smallish bedroom with my unmarried youngest son, in a town in another state about 35 miles away from other family members.  I had been out of work from May (when my birth mother died), to November, having my unemployment benefits denied through an error on my part.  I had been using my siblings’ inheritance to pay rent, hoping to win appeals, but I lost them all.  It was time to leave.

Having to toss 2 things to keep one, or sometimes 5:1, was emotionally distressing.  I had been forced to restart my life several times since my marriage died in 2000; and now I was having to part with many things I’d been using to express myself with.  It was hard to be firm in letting go of some things, though I am not a hoarder or a “thing keeper” like you may think.  However, getting rid of china, silverware and stemware meant that I was also surrendering my right to be a hostess to my family.  That now there would be no more private gathers for my children and their beloveds and myself.  I would never be able to rebuild that part of living again.  It hurt, and I was devastated in having to give up those hopes and dreams along with the things that would enable them.

The same was true of the furniture.  I was facing the reality that I’d never be able to afford a home that I’d be able to use a Queen sized bed in.  Nor would I have room for the furniture that I had using to make it personal.  Decorations for the holidays and seasons were winnowed down to three plastic bins and a Christmas tree.  Pictures on the wall had to go to Goodwill, or happily passed along to family members who found value with them.

Someday, I hoped I would have a better job and could begin life again – but only with whatever I could afford to buy.  I had no money for storage fees, and I had to face the reality that I might never find a really good job again.  I was just too close to my 60th birthday.  At the time that I was packing things up, I had only found a retail job near my son’s home.  I thank God for it, but it paid me only a minimum wage, and that wasn’t enough.  I was facing the reality of having to move into a homeless shelter by March of 2014 (my son had lost his job just before I’d come to stay with him), unless my son or I found something significant by the middle of the month.

I was on the edge of great failure, and it wouldn’t take much to fall in.  I had a car that was in scary condition that I depended on for job interviews and as a means to get to a job.  Where I live, there is no mass transportation for even shopping excursions, let alone for getting to a job.  My son was in the same position, having had his vehicle repossessed, and then having to use his tax refund to get a car that was barely working.

I really dislike having to say that God seems to wait until we have prepared for failure before He brings success; but it’s true more often than not in my life.  I got a job in April, that has me driving an hour one way, but pays three times what I was earning in retail.  It’s easier on my health, and it uses the skills I love to use in a job situation (word processing, spreadsheets, document creation, and graphic editing).  Since it is a contractor position (paid through a staffing agency), I have no paid vacations or benefits.  I use the Affordable Care Act to find insurance that is not really affordable, but is honestly only good for crisis management should I get seriously ill.  I can’t afford to buy my meds, because they all apply to the $5500.00 deductible.  I am trusting God about this more than I will complain.

My car died in May, and I found a dealership that was able to sell me a car at dizzingly high interest rates; but I got a vehicle and I could keep my job!  I have been in a “recovery process” through all of this time, and life has had some wonderful moments in this past year.  I have had some challenging setbacks, too.

First – the rewarding joys: The son I was staying with found several temp jobs, with one still using him as a zip line tour guide.  It’s not good for a man to be idle, and he’s been very busy building his life in a different direction than he’d thought of before.  He’s now also a father, and I love seeing how that has changed his world view as well as his decisions on what he should do next.

My other son is the eldest.  He and his wife have been doing well, I’m grateful to say, and they were hugely helpful as the winter went by.  Mostly, they gave us money gifts that didn’t need to be paid back – and that meant so much that I can’t explain it fully enough in the heartfelt terms that would be sufficient.  They blessed us when we were feeling worthless.  My firstborn lost time with his work, while he went through important knee surgery, too.  Since he works with concrete construction, this was a critical incident, and we prayed him through it.

In November, I found I was to be “furloughed” for six weeks.  When you have bills all planned in a recovery budget – this was horrific news.  When you toss in a gifting holiday for extra stress – it’s pretty bad.  I feel like a whiner, since God was faithful to help me through this time – but always just as I was prepared to give up, since I’d gone as far as I could go with what little He had provided.  I am ever mindful of the reality that others have suffered much more anguished trials than I have this past year.  However, I also know that I have a lot to learn about trusting God when I live on the edge of a recovery process.

I don’t have smooth words, or what I call “bumper sticker” theology phrases that will mean anything helpful for anyone on the brink of failure.  I despise those who think that they have them for me.  My life won’t fit into YOUR box.  Stop forcing it, or insisting that it does when we talk.  Don’t be surprised if I begin avoiding you if that’s all you have to offer.  I have learned what you have is destructive to my sense of health.  I only feel like God doesn’t care when your words are so empty and unhelpful; especially if that’s all you have to offer.  I am not angry at you – but I am in survival mode, and I can’t use any energy on you.  I have so little left after meeting the day’s demands.

I have moved into a nice one bedroom apartment in this town so far from family and friends.  It is the best place to be to get to the job AND the family and friends, though – so here I stay.  I am still feeling traumatized and frightened about my job, my health and my home – but it’s getting better.

I need to be in a secure place in my life before I can blog.  So, I haven’t been able to write much here this past year.  I pray that I’ll have more time for it as we move into 2015.  We’ll have to wait and see.

Bless you!!

Verse of the Year: For I, the LORD your God will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’ Isaiah 41.:13

Does Money Help the Poor?

I’ve had some questions ever since I read this article: What Happens When the Poor Receive a Stipend?   What the author seemed to learn, was that when an unearned stipend was given to poverty level families, they benefited and changed their previously predictably negative futures for the better.  The younger the children, the better the futures, since the children had less negative history to rework or unlearn.

We’ve all heard variations of the saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”  I don’t think that this article is in defiance of that idea.  I think it just points out that poverty has to be overcome in order for someone to find success, even in a “free” country with good human ethics, laws and traditions.  If you show someone how to fish, but don’t provide a way to get the fishing lures, hooks, line, nets, or other materials needed to do the job, it seems to be that the lessons are in vain.  Let enough time go by, and the student even forgets how to use the items should they stumble on some.  For example: I have learned some software skills (Access, to be exact) three times with expert levels of accomplishment during the classes – only to forget it because I haven’t used it later on.  We flippantly and accurately note: “If you don’t use it – you lose it.”

So, I guess I see that we have to make an impact on the poverty before we can see the resident of poverty find their ways out of that state of being.  That’s what the author of the article seems to have found out.

This seems to defy what I have heard from my church life teachings, though.  Most of the time, I have heard lessons about how to be thrifty so that there is ample money for any situation.  I’ve been taught that if you are careful to cultivate skills in both learning and skilled labor of some sort (artistic pursuits would count), then there is no reason to believe that you can’t provide a means of support for yourself, your family or your church/ministry.  Many of the teachers of these ideas came from a challenging economy themselves that we now call The Great Depression.  They still said that if you were willing to work, then you should be able to find an honest way to eat.

As I read many accounts of that time, there were plenty of folks who were honest and looking for some kind of work to help their families with.  But they went homeless, hungry and died as a result.

Don’t get me wrong – I trust God’s plan is better and mightier than any plan a human mind might devise.  I’m just wondering what my role should/could be in understanding what God’s point of view is concerning these things.  I am going to be thinking this through a lot, as I join the ranks of “the poor” once again in my life.  I don’t see that I’ll ever leave this rank or role either, since I am now older and not seeing anyone interested in employing me in any gainful wage situation.

I don’t always think it’s age that’s holding me back – since no one knows I’m “older” until they meet me.  Most of my resumes only get tossed into a pool of candidates and not even chosen for an interview for no reasons I can find out about.  I suspect it’s because I’ve worked as a temp/contractor for nearly 10 years, though that should prove that I’m trainable, and that my skills have been kept fresh.  The reality is that I am stuck with a minimum wage job, with part time hours; and that’s the best I can do in spite of having an Associate degree and years of Administrative Clerical experience.  I have no idea why I can’t find anything better.

I am not lazy, I work hard at the job, and then I work hard at home cleaning and keeping my home and car well maintained (where I can do it without cost).  I send out resumes wherever I find an opening that makes sense to try for (can’t work at a job 50 miles away for a wage that won’t support the gas or car repairs as well as a low rent).  I check several job sites out at least three times a week, and keep a record of all the jobs I’ve submitted resumes or filled applications out online for.  I am listed with several staffing agencies and am regularly contacted at least once a week for them to submit me as a candidate for a client (of course!).  I will get an interview about once every three weeks.  I never get the second interview, though it always seems to be a good interview.  Even the staffing rep says the feedback from the client about me was very good to excellent.  My test score percentages for all the software skills range from the mid 80’s to 100% (proofreading/spelling tests are my forte it seems).

The reality is that too many jobs have been eliminated, and where I might have competed against 20 or so applicants for a job posting in 2004 – I am now competing with more than 100 candidates for a position.  This means that my resume may never even be seen by the hiring manager.  They just get overwhelmed by the response, and just pick out the first few good possibilities and toss the rest in the trash.  This is not personal, and I have heard this from three different hiring managers, so I try to remind myself that it’s not because I’m not valuable or that I am discarded.  It’s just that I am anonymous in the crush for employment.

Because I believe that God is bigger than a fax machine, and that He can make my resume fall in just the right spot for someone to see – I will believe that my situation is just what God wants it to be – for now.  My job is to be humble and not object.  I am to be gracious and keep my words kind and patient for those who would ask me what I am doing that isn’t working.  They just don’t know, and it’s good that they have good work that keeps them clueless, as far as I am concerned.  I would rather they had the jobs that they do!  I just wonder if we understand who needs help and what is “help” when it comes to the poor?

Ideas?  Comments?  I’m interested – so please share!

Copyright © 2014 Churchmousie ~ all rights reserved.

Happy Hopes – I Have Them

As each new month begins I review a list of goals from the previous month that I call my Happy Hopes list.  I mark out the ones I was able to achieve with a date, and maybe a brief note or name of someone who helped me attain that goal.  Then I save it, save it again under the new month’s name and year, and then make any changes I want.  I might drop off an item, or add new ones.  I’ll include songs or books I want to buy, or even crochet patterns that I wish to make.

While some folks make lists of resolutions for the coming year, I work on goals that I want to focus on, in case I come into some extra ca$h or even see an opportunity that I might have missed if I hadn’t stayed aware of that goal.   Some of the goals are nothing money can buy, but are more prayer focuses – like what kind of job I want to find, better health for a chronically ill family member, or a goal for a friend who wants to sell her home noted so I can celebrate it with her.  At the end of the two column list, I have a place where “Unlisted Joys Happened Here.”  That’s where I put the things I either didn’t dare ask for (like a gently used living room set, that we got from a friend who was bored with them), or that I didn’t even know to watch for (like a trip to visit family in CO with other family members).

My husband and I began this list back in the 80’s when our children were small, because we often forgot what we were working so hard for.  We were also frustrated when we’d get our tax return money, and forget what we really wanted to use it for.  We’d decided to follow another family’s example, and stop using it for paying bills (“That’s what a budget is for,” the father stated).  Instead, they’d buy something they really wanted but often couldn’t manage to save up for, like a new bed, a down payment on a car, or even a special trip.  After two years of not remembering our best ideas, I offered to keep a list.

At first, the list wasn’t really refreshed much, except twice a year.  Sometimes, the things listed were too high, and we weren’t noticing the small conquests, so that’s when the second part appeared.  Since we were really busy once the kids got into double digit ages, we only refreshed the list twice a year.  Once in January, and once in July.  I’d ask the kids for ideas of things to go on the list, and they offered a few things: a computer, fishing trips, bikes, etc.  It was a great place to look for gift ideas sometimes.

Finally, once the family left and it was just me, I began making them closer together until now I am creating one for each month on the computer.  I actually began the electronic ones in the late 90’s when we got our first computer.  So, these are all easy to look at and remember how things have changed, and how things came together at different times.

This is my best way of counting my blessings without comparing my life to anyone else’s.  It seems to me that comparison really is a trap for discontentment.  But to just see how God has worked or where I’ve been able to focus – that really has been a blessing to me.

Here’s a sample of one from long ago, so you can see how simple it is.

Happy Hopes Screenshot

If I want to lose weight, I say how much, though I’ve learned not to put the whole amount down.  Instead, I will put the amount I might lose in three months, or two.  Then I might note how close I am to that goal before making the next month’s list from the old one.

So, this is my way of making time count the best way that I can, but still allow myself some room for surprises and not to kick myself too hard if something doesn’t come to reality.  I have the rest of the list that might be turning into reality, and that’s a real joy when I want to review some time spent in my life :).  It’s not the same as a bucket list, because I think it’s more practical and more focused on immediate possibilities.

What do you think of my Happy Hopes list?  What is one thing you would put on the list if it were yours?

Copyright © 2014 Churchmousie ~ all rights reserved.

Hoping for Better – Like Many Others

Happy New Year!  May you enjoy the fun that winter can bring, and may it be with good friends and making warm memories with family members ♥.  A healthy life should be all about moving toward something positive and very little about moving away from something negative.  With that goal in mind, you usually have to discern what your starting point is, so this day is the day I take some time to reflect on where I am in life, and how to move forward with a healthy positive stride.  This will include seeing where my faith is centered, too.

As a child, New Year’s Day didn’t really mean so much.  I liked the idea of parents going to a party, and my siblings and I having a private one of our own.  We used to make party hats and put them on our stuffed animals, having a kind of contest to see who made the best hat.  They were each so different, that we simply couldn’t choose one as the best.  We were happy that we’d made them and that our parents seemed to like them the next day.

As I became a young adult, it mattered more how I celebrated the day.  I didn’t want to be snubbed from any party, and I didn’t want to just stay home and do nothing.  It was supposed to be merry and give me and my husband a reason to dress up and act our age with people we enjoyed.  Once the children came along, we either had parties for them or with them at church.  One particular memory was when we had my sister’s kids as well as our own for the night at home.  One game that was my husband’s idea: tossing balls of clean socks into a clean potty chair.  The lid acted as a backstop and of course the older kids had the better chances of winning.  John (my husband) even tossed socks at the kids to heighten the hilarity.  All of the kids had fun, and I’m talking kids from ages 5 to 2 years.

As the children grew up, they went to their own parties, and finally my marriage was over as well.  As a single person, the fun was harder to find at church or anywhere else unless you were dating someone.  I honestly didn’t have that intention for a long time, and once the intention was there I had no candidates.  For most of the last decade, I’ve simply stayed home and talked with people and friends in chat rooms, or just enjoyed the Christmas tree with some wine before praying the year in.  It was quiet and gave me some sense of closure for the year that was ending, along with the growing question of: “where has the time gone?”

See, I’m a Senior now and that surprises me in some ways.  I’m not surprised by my age at all, and I wouldn’t turn back the clock for one minute!  What surprises me is how different being a Senior is, from what I’d ever imagined it would be.  How oddly old memories court for attention, and how few options there are for making significant new ones.  I somehow thought that I would have more choices than I do, and that saddens me.  But on New Year’s Eve, I find myself looking back over the year that went by so quickly – and I count so many more painful losses than I have before.  I am realizing that this aging stuff takes a lot more courage than I thought it did.   I also thought that my faith would be in a different place, along with more satisfaction with my church relationships.

The hardest realization is that the welcomes are more and more diminished.  As I talk with a few of my friends of the same age, I see that they are groping through that realization as well.  Where we’d like to go, we’re not usually wanted or welcomed.  Some of the places our spirits want to go to, our bodies will fail us – so we can only hope that someone we know will go and we might live it out vicariously if they will only happily share the memory with us.  Our church experiences are suffering as well.  Fewer and fewer options are available because of our growing list of accommodations that seem to frustrate others in ways we’re trying not to get frustrated about (how’s that for a frustrating circle of woe?)!

I’m not whining here, nor am I damning anyone.  I’m just putting my surprise into words.  Somehow, I didn’t realize that I may have been just as guilty of letting my elders languish when they might have blossomed with inclusion.  I remember trying to include the ones I could relate to (not all people – young or old are compatible to our lives, remember).  I remember smiles and kind declines, and decided that it might be that I led a far too boisterous lifestyle for them to enjoy being around (That may still be true, lol).  I now see that there were times I might have been more willing to shift things into a mode that would help those elders enjoy the ride a bit more – had I cared a bit more to do it.

I had thought that not having grandchildren might be part of what is missing for me, but my friends with grandchildren say that “fun” part only lasts for a time – then they (the grandkids) are too busy with building their lives  to include someone of Senior years.  Some friends have had their children or grandchildren move away, and other friends have willingly moved away from their children and grandchildren to avoid contact (I find that the most sad of all).  The point is that some of these seniors with no grandkids to participate with are still able to find a good stride in life if they have an adequate income, good friends to enjoy, and most of their health is good.

There is much I need to find out about how to have a more enriching life as a older lady, and one of them is certainly avoiding becoming isolated.  Laughably, I have just done that to myself because I had to leave my old home and move in with my son – in a new state and town I’ve never lived in before.  I guess I’ll have to figure out some creative ways to get connected with a group in the new place asap!

More ruminations to come: Happy Hopes Lists!

Copyright © 2014 Churchmousie ~ all rights reserved.

Moving into Christmas Week – Whew!

I wish I had time to think of some witty post, but like many of you – I’m working hard to keep my stride.  I’ve had some job interviews that required gas money, and I’ve been thankful to work many hours on my feet as a cashier in a retail setting.  So, I’m mostly tired these days.

Thankfully, I’m getting some paychecks that are helping my son and I to eat more than cereal this week, and that’s something we’re both grateful for.  First big meal (you won’t believe it) was Shipwreck.  That’s what my brother-in-law calls it, though I grew up with it called Goulash.  I have found so many names for this ground beef in a tomato sauce with elbow macaroni pasta, that the name changes with the optional ingredients thrown in for fun.  It’s certainly as different as meatloaf might be from home to home, and just as much a comfort food that always tastes better as a leftover.  Surprised?  Well, truth be told, I think we were both looking for some comfort, and this might provide it at some level.

We have a Christmas tree up, and it’s pre-lit with multi colors.  I bought it with great joy last year :).  I have the box of ornaments out, and I have one ornament I got from a cookie exchange at my sister’s home last weekend.  It’s a pretty angel, and I know she’s a bit lonely.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll get her friends out of the box and deck the tree :).

As my son stood in line at a store, he heard someone behind him saying, “People that don’t have money think it will solve all their problems.”  My son let the guy know he was something of a fool for making that statement at the time, but as we were talking it over we finally got the gist of the offense figured out.  Poor people (people like me – with a minimum wage job and Unemployed folks with no income like my son) aren’t looking for money, really.  What we’re looking for is a means to provide for our physical needs like a home and healthy food, first.  Then we hope to find a way to get the things that will support those like a trustworthy car, one phone option (to get keep in touch with employers and family), and some way of providing for our futures.  All of these require an income, and a job is the best way to do it and feel really good about yourself.  So, it’s not really “all about money.”

We’re not looking for special vehicles, awesome homes, or even whipped up computers and television connections that can only be numbered in triple digits but never really used.  Money is the common specie used in trade and barter to acquire those necessities.  I do some work, I get paid money that will be used anywhere I want to use it – which is why I want money more than food, cars or other things that need to be sold for money before I can use them to get what I really need.  We both agreed there are some folks so poor they only have money.  We’re not that kind of poor, but – well, we’re frustrated.

We’re both able to be employed, and in my case I am skilled in clerical work and that pays better than minimum wage with my skill levels and experience – usually.  He’s done more skilled trade work in a variety of settings and very willing to work.  We’ve submitted resumes and filled out applications galore – with few results.  I had someone call this week and ask what we needed most, and I answered “encouraging and supportive comments” were very helpful.  We’re not looking for handouts, though we’ve had to swallow our pride when some have come our way.  This is a desperate time, no denying it.

My son got to help some friends out here and there with some brute strength or photography, and that helped him to feel a bit better about himself as far as having some value, too.  This is the hardest part of being idled – feeling as if we’ve no value, because we’re not being picked up as valuable when we apply for jobs.  It’s a tough market out there, and we’ve got so much competition for very few slots.  That’s just the truth of it.  Many jobs were closed down and will never return because of automation, too.  This makes it a true challenge for anyone looking for traditional work situations.

But – there is still joy.  When I got to go to the cookie exchange last weekend, I was anxious driving there (I was running late) but the drive back was wonderful!  I love to go for rides and drives and the route I took was mostly farmland, so it was peaceful and lovely.  Christmas carols playing on the radio kept me entertained for part of the journey and then I turned them off so I could talk more with my Creator, who sent His Son to rescue me from eternal death.  We had a lot to say, and it was all very good.

I still find anthems to keep me going, and here’s one that blesses me as we begin Christmas week.  I have worked on a church musical as a makeup artist (apprentice level only), and the story of Scrooge’s lesson on Christmas touches me in a special way.  I even have some cute mouse ornaments of the three Angels and Scrooge that I treasure.  Here’s a lovely song to help us stay focused on the things that matter most.  Bless us, Lord.  God bless us one and all…

Copyright © 2013 Churchmousie ~ all rights reserved.

Advent – What a Blessing!

Advent has saved Christmas for me in sooo many ways.  It helped me be calm when I had no money to give gifts.  It helped me not feel so unloved when I was given few gifts.  It always gave me a way out of the growing intensity of commercialism that has invaded the season.

How did that happen, you ask?  Well, it all began in 1982 – before stores were doing the special sales that people will line up for (or even camp out for) like they do today.


There’s something about candleglow in a child’s eyes that just blesses me.

When my children were very small (I only had 2, but I frequently cared for my sister’s two quite a lot at that time, so age ranges were 18 months to 6 years old), I found an article on family devotions using an Advent Wreath. I’d grown up Lutheran, so I knew what one was, but always had thought it was just something used in church. Using it at home was a novel idea to me.  With that in mind, I bought a plastic wreath, and searched all over for purple and pink candles. Couldn’t find any of those color, so I decided to use 3 green and one red with the center candle remaining white. Then I used Playdoh to form cups for the candles (seriously – that’s what I had, so that’s what I used). It was wobbly, but it would work I decided.

We had a high piano, and I decided that’s where the wreath would go during the days we weren’t using it. Safe from playing toddlers and childish super hero moments; but a quiet reminder of the season for me, and it blessed. On each Wednesday night (a night much easier to manage than a Sunday for me), we’d get the kids to put away toys and prepare for Advent devotions.

At first, it was protested and fussed at, but the smallest was tucked into a walker thing, the toddler crouched on the floor near the coffee table, looking at the wreath with all of the candles in it, wondering what would happen next. I had made some cinnamon toast, and cut it into strips for treats. We had Koolaid for the kids and hot coffee for us grown ups. Other times would be Christmas cookies and eggnog, but our very first was much simpler – cause I was tired, and my husband less willing to participate than the kids were (sigh).

While my husband worked second shift, we’d do this just after lunch and before nap time instead of the evening.  We frequently would have playmates of the kids’ join us (with parental permission, of course).  Drapes were drawn for darkness.

As I lit the first candle and laid down the rules, interest began to pick up.

Rules: NO ONE GETS TO TOUCH THE CANDLE during our family devotions. The wreath was shaky after all.
EVERYONE has to be seated and cooperate or no treats!

Q &A: Yes, we’ll have treats. (what are we doing?) We’ll be singing and hearing a story about Christmas and why we celebrate it. (Is this going to take a long time (husband)? Not more than 15 mins, since our kids are so small – but the more questions I answer and the more time it takes to get everyone settled – the longer the devotions will take, k?

Moving on – I turned off all the lights in our small apartment and the Presence seems to descend on us as I had hoped. Candlelight is such a blessing, even to a Pagan, lol.

I had a plan, and I followed it for years.  Open with a song: God’s Love is Like a Circle  (our version was sung to the Marine’s Hymn, but – you choose), have the kids clapping in a circle as they sing it.  This opens the lesson on why the wreath is round, and then teach why it’s made of evergreens (God – and His love never die).  Teach about tonight’s color and why it works (for green: it’s the color of life and God gives us new life when we ask for it: Explain.  Etc).

Give permission to enjoy treats (or serve them when the kids are too young and wouldn’t be able to wait), now.  Read something from the Children’s Bible (my favorite was The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes – but any good one will do) about the season we’re celebrating.  The treats help to keep the kids quiet, and helps the grown ups to feel blessed.  I have always found it to work well this way and it sets a nice tone to the event.  Always finger foods, and on pretty plates (I used good china, or those special cardboard decorative plates you see even in the dollar stores), with special cups/glasses.  I wanted to make a memory for even a visitor – no matter how squeaky tight our budget was.  I’d find a way to make even an everyday glass or plate special somehow.

At the end of the Bible story, and the Q &A after it, take a moment to pray.  Let each child take a turn (we’d have them say, “and now it’s [the next guy’s] turn” instead of Amen – with Dad or Mom closing and doing the Amen part.

Finish with a song they like that is a good closer for the lesson.  I liked This Little Light of Mine when there was only one or two candles lit.  As your kids grow and get more involved in church activities, you can figure out what songs they know that work for the evening – or sometimes even some children’s worship CD’s have some great songs for you all to learn.

Now it’s the end, and one of the older children gets to snuff the candle.  I usually have that child picked out by how well they behaved and got things done to prepare for the occasion, or who’s turn it was – or even allowing a visitor the honor.  Once I had to relight the single candle and let a second child snuff it, because they’d both been good, lol.   We talk about the season and try to help them with their questions and how they handle all the glitz and blitz of the season.  As they get more friends who do things differently, the discussions can include why we do what we do, etc.

We would invite friends – adult or children, we didn’t discriminate – to join us from time to time.  Especially when it was the night that the fourth candle was lit.  By then I had Christmas cookies to serve, too, lol.  The final candle in the middle is called the Christ Candle, and it quite often didn’t get lit until Twelfth Night.  I have 8 parents, and we would spend Christmas Day with at least two different Grandparent homes, the first one being an hour’s drive away.  Christmas Eve was spent at yet a third set of Grandparent’s home, so we were too tired to light it on Christmas Day most of the time.  Twelfth Night was best, and it helped us have something to look forward to, after all the holiday hype was gone.

I was never enslaved to the Advent Wreath devotions.  There were weeks as the kids grew older where we were running to school events, church events or even trying to get our own shopping done.  There were weeks we missed lighting a candle (gasp!).  We’d always work on getting them caught up by the fourth week of Advent, though the “ceremony” might be a bit abbreviated.  The important part was that it was always there – where we could see it.  It helped us to remember when we intentionally made a simple time to reflect and adore the idea of God’s love being an infant in our midst.  How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given…

This year, I am smooshed into one room, and all the children are grown and flown.  We lost one just weeks ago, and that hurts, too.  But I remember those evenings when the candlelight was reflected in their little eyes – and I know that it was a blessing that is hard to explain to others when they look at me so doubtfully.

Once the first Advent was gone, we had better wreaths to use.  The kids were more eager to straighten up things and fought for the honor of bringing the wreath down from the piano.  They would plead for the right to be a candle snuffer, or read the Bible story.  The older kids would explain the wreath and the occasion to smaller or visiting kids – and my heart would beat with gladness – they were listening!  The bossy first borns learned that we didn’t have to have the same colors all the time, and the contentious kids could be taught that Advent wasn’t in the Bible, but we need it for our sinful ways that make us wander.  They get it, sooner than any argument can persuade after the first minute of a darkened clean home with candlelight on the wreath.

I have memories for my Advent Wreath this year.  They’ll do just fine.

Copyright © 2013 Churchmousie ~ all rights reserved.

My Godson and Nephew – Anthony Samuel Bravi

Lord, I want Tony back.

His favorite color was pink, and he enjoyed wearing it whenever he could find something he liked in that color.

His favorite color was pink, and he enjoyed wearing it whenever he could find something he liked in that color.

I wasn’t done loving him.  I didn’t get to know enough about him as an individual, to feel that I gave him enough love.  I wanted to give him room to express himself.  I waited for him to volunteer who he was, and what he was about, even if it meant that I didn’t get to see him as much as I wished.  I figured he would outlive me.  I didn’t think I had to insist on knowing anything before he was ready to bring it to me.  We all thought we had time enough to unfold the curious things about him.  There was no reason to think we didn’t.

He was good about letting us know that he loved us, at least I am certain that he loved me as much as I hoped he would.  He wanted me to know that, and so I did.  I never felt criticized or seen as unimportant in his eyes.  And his eyes – how dark, lustrous and lovely they were!  He had those long thick lashes, too.  His eyes usually had a calm twinkle when he was relaxed and a merry shine when he was laughing.  When times were hard or we were hurt, his eyes were steady, encouraging, and courageous; telling us we could endure whatever was causing the pain.  But this isn’t all about me.  I wanted to know more about him.

He seemed satisfied with his life in more ways that I knew.  It’s a question I now realize I wanted to ask: Tony, were you satisfied with life?  Did you achieve all the goals that mattered most to you?  When you were hurt, did you find comfort enough to heal well?  Did you know how much you mattered?  Did we tell you enough?

I got to be there when you were born!  You were our family’s first baby, so you taught us that newborns needed structure with your fretful cries, and that babies could show us the world in a shockingly remarkable way.  You were adorable and we called you Munchkin, because the Italian DNA fated you to be in a smaller “fun size” body rather than some football brute.  Through you, we learned that we could be good parents, aunts and uncles – and you probably taught the grandparents as well.  You brought us all of the benchmark firsts: the first award for creative writing in Kindergarten, the first t-ball games, the first haircut crisis (when you cut your sister’s hair for reasons we never could figure out – but they were good ones I am sure), and the list goes on.  I choke with all the memories that crowd my mind, because everything you did led the way for those who came later to our family, and some things were just distinctive to who you were.  Sometimes being the first caused wounds for you, because you needed the room to make mistakes and not have them be so significant.  Did you feel celebrated enough?  Were we giving you enough of the praise that you needed to hear?

As time went by, you wore the mantle of involuntary leadership with grace, civility, and kindness.  Like most firstborns, you liked rules.  But you wanted to create the rules, not just simply obey anyone else’s.  You proved that boys can be cheerleaders and still be expressively masculine.  And if straight girls could wear blue, why couldn’t straight boys wear pink and still be respected and enjoyed as a straight male with his full load of testosterone?   After all, we say that when things are good, “they are in the pink.”  Right?

Anger was rarely a part of your character, and that impressed me.  You had some things happen in life that would have made a lot of the people angry and bitter, but you resisted that.  You made more friends than enemies everywhere you quietly went.  You were human, and had some irritating traits, too; but they weren’t enough to make me sigh or roll my eyes when I heard your voice.  It was always joy that bounded in with you.  I also noticed along the way, that you decided you didn’t need to control much, other than yourself – a priceless lesson in living.  I remember telling you that, and how you were a bit tongue-tied in responding.  I am so glad that I got to tell you that, and that you heard me.

I know that you were good about letting other people know that you valued them.  You could tell them what it was that made them valuable when they needed to know it, too.  You didn’t always have eloquent words, but you were rarely inarticulate if someone was honestly listening.  You didn’t have to be the “star” of every occasion, but you knew how to fill the supporting role to all of your beloved’s lives.

I specifically remember a day in April of 2000 where you had to get leave from military duties in Kentucky so you could come back to Illinois and collect your mother, your sister and a brand new niece home from two different hospitals about 50 miles apart.  You did it effectively, with all tender patients carefully and preciously transported to the place of healing – home.

As a man, you were intelligent, honest, hardworking, a little stubborn, but still respectful of others, as well as a happy spirit of gladness for life and living it well.  You responded to requests for help with a happy good-natured attitude – a priceless trait in a time of struggle that generated the request.   You liked being the dragon slayer, and it showed in your happy glow as you would leave: Challenge overcome!  I know that I got to tell you that I enjoyed you as a problem solver in my life; but – did you believe I meant it, or did you just think I was “being a good aunt?”

Having grown up with mostly females in your life, you weren’t like most men.  You didn’t always run from women in tears or any wounded child, man, or other hurting creature.  You were a comforter in times of sorrow.   That’s a big part of the loss I feel today.   We’ve lost a comforter who filled that role as completely as any human could.  You were a kind man in a world of Al Bundys, a respecter of persons in a time that seems to challenge us with biting sarcasm and jaded criticism.  We’ve lost an endearing and enduring spirit that taught us how to keep going in the quieter ways.

His friend John took this picture, and it's become our favorite.  This is the man we knew most and best.

His friend John took this picture, and it’s become our favorite. This is the man we knew most and best.

You were so very remarkable, my beloved Godson.  Did we tell you that enough?  I want to think so, because as I think of you, I always remember seeing a spontaneous smile on your face and in your dark eyes when you’d greet me.  Selfishly, I want to demand you back to our circle.  However, it occurs to me that – God could have given you to any other family instead of ours.  That it is entirely possible that I would never have met you, or been influenced by your life in mine.  That’s a sobering thought, and I have to admit – I don’t like it one bit.

Lord, I want to thank You for giving us the gift of Anthony Samuel Bravi.  I am so glad I never had to live it without him.  Help me to manage this loss with the same measure of courage that he used in times like this.  Help me to honor and celebrate his life, and care for his beloveds the way he’d want me to, though today I am shattered because he is no longer shared with me.

Please pray for Tony’s wife, Shannon.  She’s been a precious woman of intelligence, wit, and wonder for our family to enfold.  There was no warning, and this is a crushing heartbreak for her.

Shannon and Tony 2013

Shannon and Tony 2013

I would ask for more prayers for his mother (my sister) Diana, and his sister Jelina.  Their close family circle has been broken.  This hurts beyond the meaning of the word.

Tony and Jelina - July 2013

Tony and Jelina – July 2013
The Bravi Circle July 2013

The Bravi Circle July 2013

How GREAT is Our God

I could be avoiding getting the final things packed for the move, and feeling lazy.  I think I’ve missed having just restful time without any mental confusion – so I am fretfully seeking it like a demanding child.  I keep cleaning the same areas over and over, and avoiding the ones that really need attention.  Today, I can’t put any of that off.  Thankfully, my son is due to come over this afternoon so he can access the internet before it’s gone.  We’ll both be cruising the free WiFi spots until we can afford to get something connected at home.

Meanwhile, I needed to enjoy another anthem to keep me going.  This one works well for me since I have enjoyed many hours of Messianic worship in the past decade.  If you are a Messianic believer, or a Jewish observer: Shabbot Shalom!

Copyright © 2013 Churchmousie ~ all rights reserved.