Advent, a quiet season of change

It’s been awhile since I’ve written, but I’ve been deep in thought this Advent. Many changes are coming to our family. Over the last nine years, you’ve watched as our children grew from tots and teens to adulthood. In May, Megan is marrying Robert. Brennan will graduate from college the same month, and Claire will graduate from high school. Our oldest daughter, Ashley, is working hard, but she doesn’t have any life changes to spring on me in May.–at least, I hope not.

The whole family at Thanksgiving!
The whole family at Thanksgiving! Sorry we cut off part of Bill’s head.

The whole family, including my mother and sister, were together for Thanksgiving, and I hope for a repeat Christmas Eve.

I know. It’s hard for me to believe too. With so many changes comes reflection, and I’ll be honest, I’m having a bit of a tough time. I’ve called my mother twice and cried.

Thank God for mothers everywhere.

scattered seeds, hoping they fell on good soil, but I was still surprised when my young saplings grew into mature flowers and trees. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but still….

A cold wind blows outside my window, where I watch Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal, and their friends, along with Mr. Squirrel, hog the bird feeder. In the center of my window next to the French doors is our Christmas tree. To stave off the winter blues, I also have a veritable garden in every window. Amaryllis and non-stinky paperwhites take top honors while the prettiest little white poinsettia also lights my way.

Today, I’ll get out the hyacinth vases, wash them and place the bulbs inside. I’ve had the hyacinth bulbs in the refrigerator since last August. I still have tulips to plant outside, but I’m not feeling any enthusiasm for my task. Fall temperatures just wouldn’t come, and I got behind. Friday is supposed to be a beautiful day so I’ll plant them then. I intend to run up to church and plunk several more into the beds there. It will be a nice surprise come Easter. However, I also have plenty to do here at home to prepare for Christmas.

A mother’s work is never done.

If I remember to step outside the mad rush to get it all done, I feel such a sense of anticipation in the quiet season of Advent. As I wrap each gift and place it lovingly beneath the tree, I say a little prayer for each recipient. I hope they find peace and joy not overshadowed by the mad rush to get everything done.

In my faith, we don’t really celebrate Christmas until the big day, on the 25th of December. Then, our Christmas season goes on until the Baptism of the Lord mid-January. Some of my friends from church don’t even put up their trees until Christmas Eve. While I love that tradition, it isn’t practical for our family so I take a partial approach. We usually put up the tree around December 8. This year, I put up the tree and hung the stockings by the fire, but I was more restrained than ever in my decorating. Partly because my children are mostly grown. Since I only have to please Bill and me, I did what I thought was beautiful, but not overwhelming. A lot of Christmas decorations stayed in the bedroom closet, and that’s okay.

My heart is also full of a quiet anticipation created by Advent’s gentle feasts. On December 8, we celebrated one of the most important, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. There’s a lot of confusion surrounding this holy day. People often think it’s about Jesus’ conception–the moment when the Angel Gabriel visited Mary–actually called the Annunciation–but December 8, is truly about Mary being conceived without sin. Our former pastor, Fr. Robert Wood, explained it in a way I, as a convert finally understood. He said–and I’m paraphrasing–that Mary, being the tabernacle for Christ, had to be without sin, or she couldn’t hold the glory of God within her womb. As a mother, I get chills every time I think about it. When he put it that way, I felt an indescribable joy in my heart, maybe a joy similar to what Elizabeth felt when John leaped in her womb at Mary’s visit. The entire season of Advent is all about journeys, fear and trepidation and finally, joy.

It’s a story that never gets old.

Mary, the Blessed Mother, and the Advent Wreath at St. Mary's Church in Guthrie, OK.
Mary, the Blessed Mother, and the Advent Wreath at St. Mary’s Church in Guthrie, OK.

As I journey through this quiet season, I keep thinking of Luke 2:19, “As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

I carry this thought with me as I shop, decorate, wrap, cook and bake. When I had young children, I raced through Advent trying to keep up with my schedule and theirs. Now, I have more time to reflect, and I’m focusing upon wonder, joy and gratitude. I need the season to be about more than gifts, parties and good cheer, although all of these are nice. I’m trying in the rush to take time to especially thank people working in the stores where I shop and in the restaurants where I eat.  Preparation for Christmas is a marathon for them that doesn’t end on the big day. When I wish others a Merry Christmas, it’s not a political statement. Instead, it’s a heartfelt expression of the happiness I feel even if tinged with a bit of melancholy too. Christmas and Advent foster big conflicting emotions for almost everyone I know.

Whatever your faith or worldview, I wish you the merriest of Christmases and the happiest of new years. If you’re celebrating a different holiday during this season, I wish you joy in that too.

Now, I’m off to help my mother decorate her home. Then, I’m going to sit back, have a cup of tea and ponder miracles great and small, like how four children became women and men in the span of a mother’s heartbeat.

I bet Jesus’ childhood went fast for Mary too.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day: Christmas Flowers

Yellow and pink poinsettia, probably 'Mars Marble.'

December Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is all about Christmas Flowers at RDR. While waiting for the big day, I’ve been decorating and using some of my favorite Christmas flowers like amaryllis in my color scheme. This year, I’ve focused upon pink, white, red and green. For other amaryllis colors, see last year’s Bloom Day post. Trust me, growing an amaryllis is easy.

Hippeastrum 'Magic Green' amaryllis is a tall drink of water in a sunny window.
Hippeastrum ‘Magic Green’ amaryllis is a tall drink of water in a sunny window.

Over a month ago, I planted several new white and green amaryllis (Hippeastrum) because my log house can be dark on winter days. White and green glow against log walls so, this year, I planted ‘Envy’ and ‘Magic Green.’ I wish I’d done a repeat of ‘White Nymph,’ a double.

Christmas flowers like 'White Nymph' hippeastrum/amaryllis Dee Nash
‘White Nymph’ amaryllis from last year was a show stopper.

These colors also transition well into January looking good even after the holidays. I grew a couple of red amaryllis, but they’ve been slow to start. Every year, I give my mom a potted hippeastrum, and it’s usually a red one because that color whispers Christmas to her.

Hippeastrum 'Luna' amaryllis. I planted three bulbs in a chicken wire container and filled it with moss.
Hippeastrum ‘Luna’ amaryllis. I planted three bulbs in a chicken wire container and filled it with moss.

I also started my hyacinths in forcing vases. They are already growing roots which is a very good sign. Soon, I’ll bring them out, and maybe we’ll have some blooms from them in January. While pinning on Pinterest the other day, I found a wonderful blog post about how important hyacinths are in Sweden. If you use Google Chrome, it will translate the page for you. The translation isn’t perfect, but you’ll get the gist.

Narcissus 'Ariel' paperwhite bloom. These are just starting to flower.
Narcissus ‘Ariel’ paperwhite bloom. These are just starting to flower.

I also started several different kinds of paperwhites and their cousins. I’m just starting to get blooms from these.

Christmas flowers like this yellow and pink poinsettia with a vintage Hellebore and holly plate and Shiny Brites in a silver bowl as shown in the mirror.
Yellow and pink poinsettia with a vintage Hellebore and holly plate and Shiny Brites in a silver bowl (mirror.)

I bought a beautiful pink and yellow poinsettia to grace the dining room for Christmas Eve supper. For now, it sits in a window soaking up what little sun is available. I took a photo of it in the dining room so you see my plan for Christmas Eve. The plate next to it is a vintage one with Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) and holly. It’s one of my favorite things. I wish I could find a pot of H. niger in the stores or my local florist. So far, I cannot. If you see one locally, would you let me know?

Red and pink poinsettia that sits on the sofa table near the front door.
Red and pink poinsettia that sits on the sofa table near the front door.

That brings me to a subject I’ve been pondering all season. I have no problem with poinsettias. As a child of the 60s and 70s, I love them, but…not so long ago, we had so many different Christmas flowers to grace our houses. Now we’re mostly limited to paperwhites, amaryllis, hyacinths and poinsettias–and, that’s if we work at it. I like all of these as much as the next gardener, but I also like variety. I think this change occurred when we quit buying flowers locally and began importing from countries nearer the equator. There was a time when people invested in their local nurseries, and I guess that time is past. However, if we all champion and plant other traditional Christmas flowers, I believe we can have an impact. Matt Mattus from Growing with Plants just wrote a post about romantic wedding flowers coming back into vogue, and it’s similar to what I’ve been thinking and pinning about Christmas flowers. He also wrote about vintage Christmas flowers a couple of years ago. If you’re serious about gardening and don’t read Matt’s blog, you really should. I learn something every time I read a post.

Lily of the valley from last year.
Lily of the valley from last year.

Lily of the valley is one of those vintage Christmas flowers, and mine came yesterday. Lily of the valley and violets both graced Christmas cards like this one in the Victorian era and after. Now, we can only get them pre-chilled from a few places like White Flower Farm. If you have the money during this tight time of the year, order some chilled pips for yourself. Their lovely fragrance is unmatched and those tiny bells make me smile even after the holidays. Thanks to Carol at May Dream Gardens for introducing me to this beautiful tradition. If you’re lucky enough to live in a colder climate, you can simply go out and dig up lily of the valley pips in the fall and force them inside. Lucky you. Even though I live in a hot climate, I’m going to try and grow these outdoors in my shadiest garden bed so I can have them every year. One of my local friends was successful. Maybe I will be too.

I hope all of you have plenty of blooms to keep you merry and bright. I know preparing for Christmas feels frantic, but try to take some time to enjoy the flowers. They’re only here for a short time. Thanks to Carol who makes Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day possible every month of the year. Happy Advent my friends.

Hippeastrum 'Luna' amaryllis in full view. We also have paperwhites and other flowers for Christmas.
Hippeastrum ‘Luna’ amaryllis in full view. We also have paperwhites and other flowers for Christmas.