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.

Fall flower garden dance

Centratherum punctatum, Brazilian button flower given to me by Cindy from My Corner of Katy blog.

A week ago, when I started this post, it was cold, bitterly so, after a very long and warm fall. Any tropical I didn’t get moved into the greenhouse froze. Deciduous trees and shrubs started their leaf fall and began pulling in their sap to wait until spring to rise again. The asters, garden mums and other flowers are all finished too, but they had their moment of glory. Let’s look back at their reign.

Tagetes lucida, Mexican tarragon is truly a thug so plant it in an area where it has room to roam.
Tagetes lucida, Mexican tarragon is truly a thug so plant it in an area where it has room to roam. It does bloom school bus yellow, but the smaller pollinators love it so much, and it’s great for fall color. Plus, the leaves taste good, like tarragon.

Summer in Oklahoma is hot and usually dry. The sun bakes the sky until it’s only a soft and hazy blue. In fall, that same sky is the most glorious color. Fall reminds me that God loves us. Autumn color is astounding against the green grass and blue sky.

It's not just about the flowers. Fall color in the front border from a 'Viridis' Japanese maple and 'Cherokee Chief' dogwood behind.
It’s not just about the flowers. Fall color in the front border from a ‘Viridis’ Japanese maple and ‘Cherokee Chief’ dogwood behind.

I can’t get enough of fall. It’s when I enjoy the garden most of all. I don’t worry too much about garden chores or spend my time working. Instead, I take my time walking around and gazing at the flowers and foliage before everything dies back to become one with the ground once more.

Variegated plectranthus and coleus were two tropical plants I grew this summer on the east side of the house. The plectranthus lost much of its variegation by the end of summer. I don't know why.
Variegated plectranthus and coleus were two tropical plants I grew this summer on the east side of the house. The plectranthus lost much of its variegation by the end of summer. I don’t know why. I probably won’t plant it next year.

Fall is usually balm to my weary nerves. It’s been hot this year all the way into November. I’m ready for hot chocolate or tea, cookies and sitting around the fire. Instead, temperatures remained in the mid-80s, and I had the air conditioning on in the house as late as two weeks ago. When I heard it was going to be a hard freeze last week, I thought, finally!

'Jessica Louise' mum with another mum friend. I lost the tag to the other, but I'm trying to locate the name in my purchase orders. If I find it, I'll update it.
‘Jessica Louise’ mum with another mum friend. I lost the tag to the other, but I’m trying to locate the name in my purchase orders. If I find it, I’ll update it. I bought them at the same time, but I don’t remember where. I should keep better records.

I never wish for winter, but if I wanted summer temperatures for Christmas, I would head to Australia. Rather, my winter heart resides in Vermont. I’ve not been to Vermont. Never been to Australia either, but there are other places I would go first, like Italy. We plan to go there in March.

Mexican bush sage up close and personal reveals its velvety texture. I find that the solid purple variety is more cold hardy than the one with the purple calyces and white flowers.
Mexican bush sage up close and personal reveals its velvety texture. I find that the solid purple variety is more cold hardy than the one with the purple calyces and white flowers. This is a photo from 2015, but it’s representative of what’s blooming in my garden until the freeze.

Back to the fall floral display. All of my gardens are designed with fall flowers in mind. If we get a hot summer, there won’t be much blooming then so I choose tropical plants to fill in those empty spaces. Then, I plan and plant for fall.

Centratherum punctatum, Brazilian button flower given to me by Cindy from My Corner of Katy blog.
Centratherum punctatum, Brazilian button flower given to me by Cindy from My Corner of Katy blog.

When I spoke last spring in Sugar Land and Tomball, I spent time with my friend, Cindy From My Corner of Katy. Cindy and I have been friends for almost nine years, and she never lets me leave her home without giving me some wonderful plant. This year, it was Brazilian button flower, a/k/a Brazilian bachelor’s button. My plant grew to be about two feet tall and wide, and I have it planted in clay. It simply shrugged off the terrible dirt and began blooming in mid-summer. Then, in fall it really hit its stride. I love this tender perennial which isn’t hardy in Oklahoma, but I’m sure it will deposit plenty of seeds for next year. Cindy says it can be a bit of a thug.

“Bring it,” I say. Not many plants are thuggish in Oklahoma. Garlic chives and autumn clematis are two thugs I can think of off the top of my head, but not many others.

Symphyotrichum laeve 'Bluebird' with a small bee.
Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’ with a small bee. One of the best “asters” I have in the garden.

In past years, I’ve written several times about favorite fall flowers and trees. You can plant fall-blooming flowers for pollinators like the Mexican tarragon, above. Remember, simple flowers are always best. That way, small insects can really get their nectar fix. You can also plant fall eye candy for yourself. Mums and asters make good companions. And, while you’re going around admiring your gardens, don’t forget that planting bulbs is an act of faith. I’ll be outside on Friday planting the rest of mine, 200 or so. I planted some tulips, but I waited for a couple of cold snaps to let foliage die back and give me space to work. It also helps cool the ground off. We had a very warm fall, and we’ve had to wait. Wait no longer. Get your bulb on now so you’ll have a beautiful spring. Remember that good gardens take planning, and bulbs are part of that too.

'Emperor of China' mum in the border along the garage.
‘Emperor of China’ mum in the border along the garage.

Much love to all of you. Thank you for reading my blog in this, its ninth year. You don’t know how much I appreciate you still stopping by and leaving a comment. It makes the writing and photography worth it.