We seek the light in the darkness, the joy in the mundane, seek ways to make our work worship  — and on afternoons like this, may our simple tasks, our simple prayers be as incense, rising up [2, 3].
I’m in her bathroom, sighing at the wasted toothpaste carelessly squeezed from the sticky tube, the splashed water, the dozen unclipped plastic barrettes dropped near the container, the towel on the floor. I don’t see the shaft of light, the breakthrough, the miracle. I only see the stony ground.
But from the living room, I hear her singing the catechism. Her voice soars, light, innocent, and the winged notes swirl and pierce into my blindness, my preoccupation, my heart complaining though manna is raining all around.
I too often see only wilderness with my blinded eyes, but these rust-colored tiles and this lumpy berber — this can be hallowed ground.
The light does not require a perfect vessel in order to shine bright.
I fold the towel over the rack and wipe off the faucet and bend down closer to the earth and she sings, “Can anyone hide in secret places / so that I cannot see him? / Do not I fill heaven and earth / declares the Lord?”
Here, earth. He fills this place.
This can be hallowed ground.
I stoop to retrieve the dropped towel.
She is still singing, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place / He sees their every step / His eyes are on the way of man.”
And I lower my eyes. My heart takes it all in. He is already here. He is waiting, standing next to me always, just patiently waiting for me to turn my eyes to Him and sing His truth.
How often do we, in our self-centered, blind-mole ways, invite God into our presence, when the opposite should be true? Our lives would be transformed if we stopped repeating by rote — “Lord, be present here” — and turned around and looked up and stretched out hands to the waiting Savior and said, “Lord, open our eyes to your constant presence.” It’s not “Lord, lead us”, as much as it should be “Lord, open our eyes to your leading.”
Make us willing to be led, for You are always willing to lead.
I turn off the bathroom light, ignoring how sticky it is. I think of how we are to be like children if we are to enter His kingdom. (“Where is His kingdom?” she asked me yesterday. “Here and heaven, right, mumma?”) I walk past the last vestiges of Christmas — a strand of lights I’m not yet ready to put away — and I think of how poetess Luci Shaw is always reminding us that infancy was only the beginning of incarnation. We celebrate the infancy with pomp and circumstance, forgetting that it leads to Good Friday, and we mourn Good Friday forgetting that it leads us to the Resurrection.
Redemption does not end at the manger, thank God. The earth-rending story of redemption — begun long before — was brought into view there, set into motion, changing everything forever.
Epiphany reminds us of that. Epiphany, the dramatic appearance. The manifestation. The precursor to the second glorious appearing, which would be rendered powerless without the first. Yet like the travelers on the road to Emmaus, we miss it sometimes. He is in our midst, resurrected, incarnate, hands outstretched, and we look past Him.
Epiphany reminds us that God is flesh. God with us. God is among us. God appears as is His Son, born to be king, born to be pierced, born to die. The Man Jesus acquainted with grief, no stranger to sorrow, rejected by so many. Born to be Light Eternal not just for the Jewish people in that Middle Eastern town, but to be my Redeemer, my Light Eternal too.
And then Epiphany reminds me, too, that he grew. He stood in the river and spoke to John. He showed up at Cana, and how could they forget that? Those who walked shoulder to shoulder with Him, those whose sandals were streaked with the same dust and the same splashes from the River Jordan, they missed Him too. Even when God sent a dove, opened the heavens, and said “Look! Open your eyes. It’s HIM. You’ve been waiting. This one here. He’s the one. Don’t miss Him” — even then, some still missed Him.
And we miss Him, over and over and over and over again. Like the wanderers in the wilderness, like the once-rescued, twice-forgetful, like the disciples, we are stumped and we don’t know where He is and we ask Him —
“But Jesus! Did we ever see You?”
And He says, “When your world was rocking and you were sure you’d drown, I was asleep, right near you, in the very same boat on the very same sea.
And it was I, underneath that dove, in the river, when you were craning your neck elsewhere, searching for Messiah.
It’s Me every time you read, Word-made-Man.
It was Me at Emmaus.
It was Me in the other room, waiting to take your weary burdens, when you were making yourself sick with stress over preparations.
It is Me in the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the fatherless, the ones with no voice, and the ones with a voice to which you’ve turned a deaf ear.
It was Me, this morning, in your living room, when you were grumbling about the dirty bathroom and your daughter was singing, head tilted toward Me, face up against the veil, in my presence, kneeling on holy ground.
It was Me.
And I put away my cleaning rags, and lay down my pride, and walk into the living room, and ask that I, too, might see.
A few years ago, Scandinavian-American blogger Linnea wrote a lovely overview of the Swedish holiday known as St. Lucia Day, and she’s back today with a tutorial for the most darling little felt lussekatter (Swedish saffron bun) toys! When Aveline was the same age as Linnea’s adorable little, projects like this were very popular in our house. The supplies needed are so minimal — felt, needle and thread, polyfill — but just look at how captivated babies are with the final product! Beyond cute.
I’m so excited to have had a little girl of my own to be a Lucia in our home! I’ve always thought that felt play food is so darling and fun, so this year I made some felt Lucia buns for her to play with.
I got a few sheets of the golden felt at Michaels, it is a perfect color. Other things you need are thread, embroidery floss in a matching color, and some batting to stuff the insides. If your Lucia is older you could put some dark beads or buttons on to be raisins (they are a bit of a choking hazard for my little Lucia, though!)
Start with a piece 3″x9″. My felt sheets were 9″x12″, so I could get 4 buns from each sheet.
Fold the piece in half and pin. Sew along the long edge and one short edge, leaving a 3/8″ seam allowance.
Clip the corner – this make it easier to flip the corner right side out again.
Turn your tube right side out and stuff it. You want it to be stuffed firmly, but not overstuffed – it needs to have some give so we can roll up the edges.
Stitch the open end closed.
Now we are going to roll the felt much like we would the dough in real life. I found it easiest to roll down the edge just a little first, and anchor that with a few stitches. Here I used 3 strands of embroidery floss because it was a bit stronger and required less stitches.
After that is secured, roll it down a little further and anchor with a few more stitches.
Do the same to the other side, only roll it the opposite direction for a traditionally shaped Lucia bun.
Sew on any buttons or beads for raisins if you are adding them, and you’re done! If you’d like you can experiment and make other fancy shapes with your Lucia “dough.”
Linnea Farnsworth is a self-described Scandihoovian, a Washington DC-area photographer, and mom to the cutest little sweet pea. Linnea has also shared previously about her Swedish heritage on both the Scandinavian Christmas and Midsommar blog series — Sankta Lucia Day and Linnea’s Swedish Midsommar Celebration. (She really throws the best mid-summer parties, you guys.) Don’t forget to follow her on Instagram at @linneaanne!
Like GRANIT, the Swedish retailer I posted about earlier this season, this next retailer hails from Sverige, too. Lagerhaus has a lovely line of home goods — and their Jul collection is just so pretty! I’d leave out the gold-dipped mugs all year round — and the numbered tags make creating a set of your own weekly advent candles so, so easy.
Want more tidings of jul cheer? Browse the entire Scandinavian Christmas seriees on Oaxacaborn.com, or see more from Lagerhaus’ Christmas collection.
A little late to the game with this one, guys — sorry! Thankfully, a lot of you were able to peruse previous advent calendar roundups here, here and here, while I collected a few more. But there’s no reason why you can’t do, say, a ten-day countdown, right?
Paper lunch bags decorated with thread, stars, and charms, via Natuerlich Kreativ (also, great black and white paper printables from Natuerlich Kreativ)
A multitude of wee Advent houses — complete with a brilliant print-and-fold template to make your own, via Raum Dinge
A bright and bold adventskalender, via Living at Home
And finally, the coziest candlelit scene warming up all those dark afternoons, via Lyllos.
How you count down to Christmas in your home? With a delicious chocolate calendar, a schedule of Advent readings, or a crafty calendar like the ones above? Let me know in the comments — or take a photo and tag me, @oaxacaborn, on Instagram!
This #GivingTuesday, I’ve put together a list of my top twenty most favorite initiatives to support, from right here in America, to Ethiopia, China, Romania, Ukraine, Zambia and more. While I think we should embrace a generous lifestyle all year round, I love the idea of one day specifically dedicated to giving, don’t you?
And did you know you are rich? No, really. I mean it. You are wealthy. If you make $30,000 USD per year, you’re in the top 1.23% richest people in the world by income. (Go ahead, try out the Global Rich List calculator.)
I encourage you to consider giving one of the below gifts this year!
1. Love Without Boundaries | EDUCATION | Provide education and school access to at-risk children in China ($10+), including children who would not otherwise have the opportunity to attend. Love in Action card available to the gift recipient of your choosing.
2. Love Without Boundaries | FAMILY PRESERVATION (UNITY FUND) | Keep impoverished families together and prevent orphans by donating money for much-needed medical care. This initiative helps parents who would otherwise face the excruciating option of placing the child in a care center to receive medical attention. ($10+). Love in Action card available to the gift recipient of your choosing.
3. Love Without Boundaries | FOSTER FAMILIES | Throughout China, foster families have opened their hearts and homes to orphaned and at-risk children who would otherwise reside in an orphanage setting. This initiative helps these willing families provide a family environment ($10+),with the option to send a Love in Action card to the gift recipient of your choosing.
4. Love Without Boundaries | MEDICAL CARE | In conjunction with Family Preservation (the Unity Fund), this initiative provides medical care and surgeries to orphans and infants/children whose parents would not otherwise be able to provide care ($10+). Love in Action card available to the gift recipient of your choosing.
5. Love Without Boundaries | NUTRITION | Medical fragile children often have special dietary requirements. This initiative helps provide healing nourishment and provide proper nutrition ($10+). Love in Action card available to the gift recipient of your choosing.
6. Samaritan’s Purse | REFUGEE RELIEF | This organization actively works on the ground, providing immediate assistance to refugees where they are. Donate to provide desperately-needed tents, heaters, food and more to displaced people ($125+). Honor Cards may be selected at checkout and sent to the gift recipient of your choosing.
7. Samaritan’s Purse | WARM CLOTHING & FOOD | Winter is in full force, and disaster victims, refugees seeking shelter, and at-risk children all need to stay warm and dry. This initiative provides winter coats and warm shoes ($25+). Honor Cards may be selected at checkout and sent to the gift recipient of your choosing.
8. Samaritan’s Purse | CLEAN WATER | It’s something most of us take for granted, but without access to clean water, people die from preventable diseases. Donate to provide a water filtration system to give 3,500 people access to clean water ($20+). Honor Cards may be selected at checkout and sent to the gift recipient of your choosing.
9. Samaritan’s Purse | PROTECT VULNERABLE WOMEN | Provide literacy classes, maternal/child health education, protection and support for victims of gender-based violence, and more ($30+). Honor Cards may be selected at checkout and sent to the gift recipient of your choosing.
10. Samaritan’s Purse | OPERATION CHRISTMAS CHILD| For the last two decades, Operation Christmas Child has delivered shoeboxes full of gifts, hygiene items and school supplies to more than one hundred million children around the globe. National Collection Week is over, but you can still go online and pack a virtual shoebox ($25), pay for the cost of shipping an existing box ($7), or send an e-card to a gift recipient so he/she can build a box online ($25).
11. Anchor of Hope Romania | FOSTER CARE | This on-the-ground organization provides family-like environments and other vital care for orphans, abandoned children, and at-risk young people in Romania (any $ amount). To give directly to Christian & Marie Burtt, my friends who are full-time missionaries with Anchor of Hope, click here.
12. Taiwan Xi En | HOUSE OF HOPE NURSERY | The Taiwan Xi En organization provide crisis pregnancy services for expectant mothers and nurturing care for surrendered and at-risk infants ages 0-2y in Kaohsiung, Taiwan (any $ amount),
13. Taiwan Xi En | SPONSOR A BABY | Commit to the care of a surrendered or at-risk infant ages 0-2y at the Taiwan Xi En Orphanage in Kaohsiung, Taiwan by providing diapers, formula, clothes, shelter and caring nannies ($50/mo).
14. Show Hope | SURGERIES & MEDICAL CARE | Founded by Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife Mary beth, Show Hope runs several care centers in China dedicated to providing loving care — and medical help — to special needs orphans. The surgery initiative provides heart, cleft lip/palate, and other essential surgeries ($100-$10,000), while the medical care initiative ensures children receive special formula, wheelchairs, therapy, hospital care and more ($25-$1,980). On #GivingTuesday [1 December 2015] only, your gift to Show Hope will be doubled through a matching grant .
15. Show Hope | EVERYDAY NECESSITIES | Each day, caring for children at the Show Hope care centers requires simple items like diapers, food, and clean drinking water. While we may take these items for granted, you can help pay for these everyday necessities ($12-$546). On #GivingTuesday [1 December 2015] only, your gift to Show Hope will be doubled through a matching grant .
16. Show Hope | ADOPTION AID | Did you know more than one-third of all Americans have considered adoption, but only 2% have actually adopted? The overwhelming cost is often the biggest obstacle these families face. Show Hope’s Adoption Aid initiative assists adopting families, to overcome the financial hurdle and place children in permanent homes ($35-$5,000). On #GivingTuesday [1 December 2015] only, your gift to Show Hope will be doubled through a matching grant .
17. Adami Tulu + Ziway Project | SPONSOR EDUCATION & MEALS | I personally know some of the people in leadership at the Adami Tulu school in Ethiopia, and have supported this wonderful organization by sponsoring a child since 2011. Each child who attends the Adami Tulu school receives not only an education but also two meals per day ($19/mo). One of the best parts? 100% is spent in Ethiopia on education, and ZERO on US administration.
18. Adami Tulu + Ziway Project | WHERE MOST NEEDED | Provide the resources necessary to expand school buildings, provide hot meals, and continue to provide education ($30-$1,000). Tuition at the school is just $1.50/month, but only 30% of students’ families can afford the tuition.
19. Lifesong for Orphans | SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS | Lifesong for Orphans’s work with adults in Ukraine and Zambia isn’t a one-time handout, but instead creates income opportunities for adults. Help provide self-sustaining businesses, like the strawberry farm shown above, with your gift of any $ amount. Select “Sustainable Business” from the dropdown. On #GivingTuesday [1 December 2015] only, your gift to Lifesong will be doubled through a matching grant when you give using this link.
20. Lifesong for Orphans | THE FORGOTTEN INITIATIVE | In the United States, a quarter of a million children enter the foster care system each year. And each year, 20,000 foster children age out without ever finding permanent families or homes. These children don’t have to be forgotten. Get involved, or donate. You can even specify that your monetary gift go to a local community near you when you select your area from the “The Forgotten Initiative Gift Preference”/”TFI Project Specific” dropdown menu here. On #GivingTuesday [1 December 2015] only, your gift to Lifesong will be doubled through a matching grant when you give using this link.
Thanksgiving weekend and Advent Sunday were one this year, like sabbaths multiplied, rolling in with rest for our souls.
And in this low-flung latitude, we stayed together, worshipping in the multitude of Small Things, the blessings given, the blessings withheld until such time as our hearts might hold them, the clouds bunched up, tumbling over and over each other like eager children, walled up against nonexistent mountains, pausing before an abrupt change of mind, dashing away again before falling, like rambunctious children collapsing with laughter despite it all, because of it all, in glorious Light of it all.
And with Thanksgiving and Advent colliding, we give thanks for the gratitudes heaped upon gratitudes.
This unpredictable season, the familiar routines carried out, the sprinkling of anticipation in the air, the hope that fills our hearts against all hope — the Hope that staves off despair, the hope that fights, the hope that holds on, the hope that illuminates joy we otherwise would have passed by.
For this and much more, Father we thank Thee.
For the Hope that springs anew, we thank Thee.
For the incarnation miraculously birthed out of terrified solitude in a stranger’s land, Lord, we thank thee.
For all that we do not know, Lord, we thank Thee.
“Stability is greatly
over-rated,” sings the poet Luci Shaw,
and I listen intently, my knees pulled up to my chest.
“Why would he ever want to sit
still and smug as a rock,
confident, because of his great
weight, that he will not
Better to be soft as water,
easily troubled, with
at least three modes
of being, able to shape-
shift, to mirror, to cleanse,
to drift downstream,
To roar when he encounters
And I see now what she means.
I see that perhaps Advent, like the First Advent, is most deeply celebrated in seasons of uncertainty.
Disclosure of Material Relationship: I received a pair of shoes from Livie & Luca in exchange for publishing this post. All the photographs, opinions, and experiences shared here are in my own words and are my own honest evaluation. Please be assured, I only accept sponsorship opportunities for brands I personally use and/or would recommend to close friends and family, and I will always disclose any such relationships.
I wake up with a list in my head, sometimes, not seeing the light, not seeing the shadows shifting through the water-spotted windowpanes, because I’m seeing all the unchecked boxes. I wake up already feeling behind, sometimes, and tumble headlong into it all, very unlike a poet.
Sometimes, I get up and frantically do, forgetting to be, ignorant to the beauty all around, because the day isn’t going the way I planned.
Because I’m clawing at efficiency.
“We are attempting, all the time,” says Billy Collins, “to create a logical, rational path through the day. To the left and right, there are an amazing set of distractions that we usually can’t afford to follow. But the poet is willing to stop anywhere.”
My four-year-old stops anywhere. She’s nonstop, she’s scientific, her brain is a perpetual motion machine, and yet she’s a tiny little poet. Why? Because, even in her intensity, she knows how to pause.
She’s intent on the details.
She’s still captivated by all the tiny little pieces that together make up this “one wild and precious life” , as Mary Oliver says. At four, she hasn’t yet learned to ignore the shapes the sunrise scatters across the wall at dawn. She hasn’t learned to forget how fleeting they are, and hasn’t been trained to shrug over the fact the light fades in seconds. And so she giggles, chasing the shadows, running across the room to catch them, head thrown back, laughing loudly into the golden air.
And when the light shifts from yellow to white, she stops and pulls her knees up to her chest and lets the light illuminate the pages. It’s as though she’s already read Wendell Berry’s “How to be a Poet (to remind myself).”
“Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.”
[Okay, so she doesn’t know a thing about quietness, really.]
“You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensional life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.”
I knew we can’t all be silent (although sometimes, after answering 279,817 questions before ten, that sounds like the loveliest retreat.) We can’t all pine away at a desk, acting as writers and poets for a living (although that sounds marvelous too.)
We can’t all be children. It’s not only impractical, it’s impossible. We can’t abandon our responsibilities. We have schedules, work to do, and tasks we simply must complete. We can’t all recline like men and women of leisure, as though life were some still, calm, ancient painting.
But we can train our hearts to see the joy and the beauty, right? Even in the hectic chaos, can we see snippets of what the poets see? Can we choose to have hearts like children? (Jesus had a little something to say about grown people becoming as children, I think. )
My friend Marie reminds us that “life isn’t always clean and easy. Sometimes it’s messy and fuzzy.” But, she goes on, “There is still beauty and peace if you look hard enough. Find your beauty and share it. This world needs it.”
So can we do that? Can we leave room in our days for wonder? Can we leave margin for awe? And then when we switch off the alarm in the morning, we can say, like the poet,
“Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields…
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –
…good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness. ”
About Memoky // Founded in New York City in 2015, Memoky offers an intentional collection of furniture, decor and lighting for the home. Shop online at memoky.com, or follow @MemokyHome on Instagram or on Facebook.
Disclosure of Material Relationship: I received a lamp from Memokey in exchange for publishing this post. All the photographs, opinions, and experiences shared here are in my own words and are my own honest evaluation. Please be assured, I only accept sponsorship opportunities for brands I personally use and/or would recommend to close friends and family, and I will always disclose any such relationships.
First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Fika is essential. How else could you get through the daily slump, the brick wall, the sleepies, if not for elevensies, fika, coffee with sweets?
Fika London, that most…design-y…of all coffee houses, gets it right with this one. (Who wants to be a dull horse?)
And okay, they kinda nailed it with this one, too. Swedish kannelbullen, er, cinnamon buns, anyone?
Fika is never consumed on the run. It’s about stopping to breathe, and recharge. [image via the Kitchn]
Swedish coffee isn’t served strong, but light and thin, so you can keep on pouring refills all [long, dark] afternoon long. (image via DimeStoreVintage on Etsy)
Just don’t add egg to mine, thanks ;))
And it isn’t just coffee alone. It’s coffee + sweets. Maybe you’ll have some spiced coffee with tiny ginger stars? (Image by Herz Allerliebst, via Nadine on Flickr)
Or maybe coffee in the prettiest enamelware (via Lagerhaus.se), and more gingerbread stars.
More kannelbullen — and more enamelware, which to me is so quintessentially a part of the whole fika experience. (Image via What’s for Lunch, Honey?; Swedish kannelbullen recipe via Craft and Creativity.)
Even though it’s fast approaching the busiest time of the year, how did YOU pause for fika today?
[image via The Faux Martha; Salted Nutella Latte]
Sometimes, people wonder how I can get behind something so trite as a whole series about Christmas decorations, when I also talk about a cure for first-world problems and death and darkness and clinging to a thread of hope. How can I talk about pretty things when there’s all this brokenness everywhere we turn? Isn’t that incongruent? Doesn’t that make me a hypocrite? Don’t I know the world is dying?
I do know. And because I know, I refuse to give in to the darkness. I refuse to let the darkness chase us away from all the beauty.
Our God, the same God who demands justice and calls us to love mercy , also created beauty. The same God who calls us to defend the fatherless , also paints the billowing clouds with fiery indigo, told His ancient people to weave golden threads into gilded curtains and dot the tabernacle with precious stones , and turns snowy mountain peaks copper with every rising dawn. If we have the eyes to notice, our heart is lifted at a solitary bloom alive in a dry and cracked sidewalk, and something in our spirit leaps at the sight of a single lit tree in the darkness, glistening in snow-covered bursts of colored light. Our deep longing for aesthetic beauty echoes the whole, complete beauty that existed in God himself before the Fall of Man. Glimmers of it shine earthside still. Every single thing of beauty on this earth hints at the beauty that waits just beyond the veil .
And something else await beyond the veil, too — a celebration .
Somewhere along the way in our journey through the monotonous tasks of living, we’ve heard whispers that to be holy is to reject the nonsense of tinsel and lights, and to be an effective servant of God we have to squelch in us any inkling of desire for beauty. We’ve heard that to have a heart that really loves mercy, to have a heart that really broken over injustice, we should probably first deprive ourselves of enjoyment. But beauty and joy and celebrations are not at all antithesis to our identity as Christians. Rather the opposite; celebrations are at the very heart of our Father God. All throughout the Bible we see, over and over and over again, this idea of gathering together in the mutual enjoyment of this wild and beautiful life. And we crave it. We crave beauty, we crave togetherness, and we crave wholeness.
Maybe it doesn’t make sense to live this way. Maybe it’s all more complicated than this. But I think my God is big enough that I don’t have to choose between beauty and truth. I think my God is big enough that I don’t have to reject the beautiful things He’s created in order to love mercy. So instead of understanding it all, I just want to embrace this mystery. The mystery of God, the mystery of this life, the mystery of serving the One who lets all these disparate things — beauty, injustice, death, love — coexist, and even, somehow, weaves them all together with redemption in a tapestry altogether glorious.
So let yourself be freed from legalism this Christmas. Let yourself be free to savor the deep, beautiful goodness of God, and drink in the wonder of His Advent, even if everyone around you is cramming in commercialism until the season nearly bursts with misunderstanding, and even as the news broadcasts keep rolling, and even as there is still work to be done.
“Here is the world”, said Frederick Buechner. “Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.” 
When I was a little girl, I didn’t live on the prairie or in the suburbs or in wide-eyed city lit by neon signs. I didn’t know apple pie was supposed to be American. I never saw a baseball game. I didn’t have a picket fence, or a dog, or any of those things that are you supposed to make you American. But I didn’t live in America, either.
When I was a little girl, I lived in the middle of a brown and white house right smack on the edge of a street called Taborska right smack on the edge of a city called Ljubljana. Our front door didn’t have a doorknob. It had a door handle instead, which was long and narrow. It kind of looked like someone had taken a capital L, turned it sideways, and jammed the short side into the door. Our landlady lived downstairs, so we called her Grandma Downstairs. Petra and Alenka, her two granddaughters, lived up the stairs. We called them Petra and Alenka. Much later when I grew up into a lady and lived maybe a million or seven miles from there, I had a daughter too and I named her A. Alenka. It sounds like music. But that didn’t happen yet, because I was still a little girl.
I had one brown-haired mustached dad and one strawberry blonde mom, and a brother who got himself locked in the spare room once. The L-shaped door handles were very good at getting locked and very bad at opening up again, so while I cooked horseradish and dandelion soup in my cardboard kitchen, I prayed for a replacement brother. The original brother was unlocked before I’d finished praying, but God sent me a second brother a few years later anyway.
I didn’t have a dog. Once I had some tadpoles, which sounds nice, but really they looked more like their other name, pollywogs. Sometimes we had a goldfish. He was a very possibly magic goldfish. Sometimes he swam right out of the bowl and was missing for a long time before he popped back into the bowl. My dad was not a goldfish but he had blue eyes on the front of his head and an extra pair of eyes on the back of his head. The extra eyes were just as good at seeing as the forward-facing ones. He had a stack of heavy books next to his bed. Since it was dark when he woke up, I’m not sure which eyes he used to read.
I don’t think my mom and dad could see very far from the middle part of the house where we lived, but as I was still a child and hadn’t yet grown eyes in the back of my head, so I could see for miles. The red clay rooftops sparkled like tiny crests, like little ocean waves in a red sea. Of course, the Red Sea isn’t actually red. I know this because I am very nearly six years old, and I know almost everything there is to know, particularly important truths such as how one person cannot see one’s own face, no matter how tangled up one gets trying to turn one’s eyeballs toward it. I tasted the sea in Greece once, although I probably shouldn’t have because there was quite a lot of rubbish floating in it. It was a rather green sea. All the books I’d ever read said seawater was supposed to be blue, but I guess they hadn’t been to Greece.
Things don’t always end up the color they set out to be, anyway. There’s a man who sometimes who comes to visit the cats and chickens and sour cherry trees downstairs, and I think his hair started out brown but it’s beginning to have grey bits around the edges. I think to myself that it’s the same kind of grey as the sardines heaped up on the tables near the bridge in the city. The sardines started out with a silvery flash of green, I think, but mostly they end up grey, too. There are big cement columns stuck into the ground at each end of the bridge down by the sardine tables. They are grey, too, like most of the things in our city, but the dragons on the top are a kind of sad, flaky green that looks like it used to be happy. Mom says the dragons are made of copper but I don’t thinks she’s right about that. I saw a picture of a copper penny once, in an American book, but it wasn’t green at all. Our friend tried to each me about pennies. I didn’t listen. I just looked at her when she talked, and watched my head head bob up in down in the reflection of glasses she wore to cover up her glass eye.
I didn’t need to know about American pennies, anyway. I didn’t live in America. Maybe someday I would, and there would be plenty of time to learn about pennies then.
Oh, skandinavisk jul! (Yes, I have an obsession. But that’s okay, because that’s what this series is all about). So let’s get the fifth annual Scandinavian Christmas series rolling!
Every winter in October — yep, not autumn, winter — Swedish decor (and clothing, and gardening) chain GRANIT unveils their Christmas collection. And you can just feel that arctic afternoon darkness, folding over the cabin like a wool blanket, while the cardamom and anise wash over you.
Want more from GRANIT? I love their Pinterest board that’s chock full of Christmas-y images like the ones above. So, so gorgeous. (And this isn’t even a sponsored post! I did say I had an obsession, right? ;))
Want to be a part of the fifth annual Scandinavian Christmas series? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a URL, guest post, photo, Pinterest board, or anything else relating to Scandinavian and Nordic holiday traditions. Stay tuned for more Skandinavisk jul!
“Something I constantly notice is that unembarrassed joy has become rarer. Joy today is increasingly saddled with moral and ideological burdens, so to speak. When someone rejoices, he is afraid of offending against solidarity with the many people who suffer. I don’t have any right to rejoice, people think, in a world where there is so much misery, so much injustice.
I can understand that…But this attitude is nonetheless wrong. The loss of joy does not make the world better — and, conversely, refusing joy for the sake of suffering does not help those who suffer. The contrary is true. The world needs people who discover the good, who rejoice in it and thereby derive the impetus and courage to do good. Joy, then, does not break with solidarity. …This results, then, in the courage to rejoice.” -Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger
For the fifth straight year (wow!) I’ll be bringing you Scandi Christmas gorgeousness during the entire Advent season. According to the feedback you’ve shared with me over the years (and the number of times you’ve pinned the content on to Pinterest) this is your absolute favorite series. Together, we’ll be talking adventskalender, sharing interiors cozied up for the season, exploring different ways to decorate, celebrating Scandinavian and Nordic traditions, and more.
As in previous years, you’re invited to join the celebration. If you have a favorite post you’ve written, a link to a particularly Scandinavian store, a set of photos, a memory of Nordic holiday traditions, a Pinterest board full of Scandi images, or simply want to share the URL of your blog (point me to the category with the most Christmas-y content), email me! In previous years, contributors have been from the U.S., Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom — even far above the Arctic circle — but you’re of course welcome to participate no matter where you live. I can’t wait to hear from you!
P.S. The series will begin on 1 November and continue through 25 December. Hyvää Joulua! God Jul!
It’s quiet, at least as quiet as an afternoon can be on the second floor of an apartment building, perched at the edge, where the gully dips down into rain-soaked grass and back up again to meet the ragged blacktop edge just before the toll booth. This little corner of earth where residential and interstate meet is not a destination or a landmark, but I think Rich Mullins would have sung about it .
I think he’d have seen the gold in the way the sun fights for light here, like a farmer sees hope and life in the tiniest green shoot.
Maybe he’d have heard a melody in the rumble of the trucks which coast and pull their rattling brake just before the bend in the road, like he did when he sang “And the coal trucks come a-runnin’ / With their bellies full of coal / And their big wheels a-hummin’ / Down this road that lies open like the soul of a woman…” 
He saw beauty, somehow, where others only saw the tired corners, where others only saw the afternoon traffic jams and the faded street signs and the plodding of sojourners down the cracked and uneven sidewalks. When you know everything around you lies in shadow, waiting for the great awakening, when you know we’re all living just on the very cusp of seeing clearly and not through a glass dimly, well, then, there’s beauty in everything broken. Because as soon as that Star shown down into the stable and as soon as He was born, well, redemption was set in motion and that was “When the old world started dying / And the new world started coming on”. 
There have been sojourners as long as there has been time itself, mendicants wandering  yet wandering with purpose, through the dredges that are made holy with that same purpose. Sojourning is different than drudgery. Drudgery is repetition without hope on a horizontal plane. But sojourning! Ah, sojourning takes the repetition in which drudgery despairs, and views it with eyes opened by the God of Wonder Himself.
“If you think you are seeing the same show all over again seven times a week,” Frederick Buechner writes , “you’re crazy. Every morning you wake up to something that in all eternity never was before and never will be again. And the you that wakes up was never the same before and will never be the same again.”
And so, in the midst of the traffic chorus outside my window, and the unwashed laundry and the unanswered emails, in the midst of confronting evil and doubt, in the midst of working long into the night and consoling a child’s fever and answering unspoken fears, in between the lost moments of sleep and the sunrises awash with new mercies and endless grace, in the arms of everlasting love, “I’ll sing my song / and I’ll sing my song / in the land of my sojourn.”