December 22nd – the perfect Christmas

At least the tree is up!

At least the tree is up!

Have you ever seen monks creating a rice mandala or an african village preparing a pattern in the dust? Intense concentration and effort, everyone at work. Then, when it is finished the mandala is swept away and the village dances in the middle of the dirt.  The result of days of work disappears with the wind. The quality of the art is not determined by the product, but by the process.

Then try this; next time you wait in line at the grocery store, read the headlines on all the holiday magazines. Quick fix this, super easy that, ten minute this and instant heirloom that. We live in a culture that accepts to be fooled by lookalike products as long as the long, tiresome and costly process can be skipped. We even expect something handmade to be a little lopsided and whimsical, which of course neither Faberge or Michelangelo would have considered an option.

Why do we think we have to hurry?

What if preparing for Christmas was not about products, looks and things, but all about the process of preparing ourselves for Christmas? How would it feel to make a wreath to remind your nostrils about the smell of evergreens and your soul about eternity instead of hanging something to decorate? What if the time leading up to Christmas was not about doing things to get them done, but doing them because doing it was meaningful?

My preparations have changed that way. I used to have lots of things I had to do. Actually too many things. All to making it look, feel and smell like Christmas in every nook and cranny. As I never was able to do all I had planned,  as people are just as ( well, more) tired, different, happy or angry at Christmas as they usually are, Christmas never got to perfect.

Then I turned it around. Christmas is perfect, Christmas just is, we do not have to do anything to make it happen. What I have to do is to do things that helps me be there, amazed and in wonder when it happens.

I still do things. Most take time and effort, while the end product will not always last. My process of receiving, savoring, enjoying, listening, smelling, tasting, the wonder of Christmas stays with me forever, perfect.

Not necessarily perfect...

Not necessarily perfect…

Believe me, I know better than most how frantic and exhausting it is possible to make the season of peace and goodwill. The main story on Indexyourlife in December will be my way to a Christmas free of tangles.

All pictures at Indexyourlife are mine, if not otherwise stated.

December 21st- facing the light

IMG_2691 turning pointIn Norway tonight is the longest night of the year, which of course means that the days will be getting longer. An old norse saying is ” face the sun, and the shadows will stay behind you.” I am an optimist, and tend to do that always. Except when I get too tired. Except when I loose focus. Except when I do too much. Except when I forget the “why” and just concentrate on the “how.” Which, I guess, is when I need it most. So, even if I do not celebrate winter solstice, but Christmas, I do celebrate light.

Perhaps the most untangling tool of them all. Just to remember, to prepare for Christmas is just that, facing the light, making room for light. Today there even is a promise of spring.

IMG_2792 spring 2

Believe me, I know better than most how frantic and exhausting it is possible to make the season of peace and goodwill. The main story on Indexyourlife in December will be my way to a Christmas free of tangles.

In December my brother and I write an advent calendar blog together in norwegian.You may visit at  JULEFRYD or Christmas Joy. This year we will be writing or sharing thoughts and joys of gifts, giving and sharing. We will post there every day, and I will share some of that blog here on indexyourlife too.

All pictures at Indexyourlife are mine, if not otherwise stated.

December 20ieth – peace I give you

IMG_2507 Christmas colors

Did you ever hear about the year the Mummitrolls woke form their winter sleep just before Christmas? Tove Jansson tells us how they are frightened to see how everybody is running about, obviously to pacify the coming, angry, monster called Christmas that demands gifts, trees, ornaments, food. What is it all about? Sometimes, I think, that is how our Christmas preparations could be viewed from the outside. Not even for outsiders, but for my closest and dearest who really do not get what all the fuss is about. I know that this and that has to be done. Even if I am totally relaxed there are extras to be done to have the extraordinary happen.

Perhaps it looks like the activity outside my window just now? For weeks these eager workers with festive colored vehicles have been busy making a big hill of dirt and sand. Then for the next weeks they have been leveling the very same hill.

Well, I do know their goal is to eventually build some houses and a park. I just do not understand how this will lead to that, yet. Next summer it will all be done. Till then I take advice form the most important part of this picture. You see the orange sign one is carrying?

SLOW down, it is all about peace, isn’t it?
IMG_2504 slow downBelieve me, I know better than most how frantic and exhausting it is possible to make the season of peace and goodwill. The main story on Indexyourlife in December will be my way to a Christmas free of tangles.

In December my brother and I write an advent calendar blog together in norwegian.You may visit at  JULEFRYD or Christmas Joy. This year we will be writing or sharing thoughts and joys of gifts, giving and sharing. We will post there every day, and I will share some of that blog here on indexyourlife too.

All pictures at Indexyourlife are mine, if not otherwise stated.

December 19th – the no-list Christmas

early giftI probably made my first list before I could write. There have always been too many ideas, things to do and things to remember.  I was making lists of what I had to do, so that I could start doing what I longed to do. I used to plan my homework as soon as I got my books in the beginning of the year. Not to do well, just to do what I had to every night, and then enjoy as much time off as possible. For someone watching me there would be no difference. I could be doing my history lesson, cross off my list, and keep reading history. I would be doing my english homework, cross it off, and start reading an english novel.

I had to have lists though, to keep me on track. It used to be like that for Christmas. Long lists and detailed planning, crossing it off and then enjoying what never made it to the list. Making ornaments, quilting, painting, baking cookies, festooning garlands, buying gifts, listening to music.

Only I would know the difference, and knowing me everyone would think I had a Christmas to do list, still. I do not. There is absolutely nothing you have to do for Christmas to come. There are countless opportunities of things we may do to help us remember why we like to invite the season into our homes.

Now, I do as Scrooge learned to do. I keep Christmas all year round. It is not a time of the year, but a place in my heart. All year I will be finding gifts and decorations, all year I will have fun planning and visualizing. Through fall items will find their way into my shopping basket that have to wait in the larder for Christmas. And then, in the first weeks of december I will take stock. Most of the gifts will be ready, there will be surprises planned.

IMG_0091 hvit juleroseThen I will do something Christmas related every day for december. Not to get it done, but to make both body and soul remember to celebrate peace, forgiveness and new beginnings.

Then, finally, I will make a list. The gifts I have not bought, the food everyone would love to have, the concert I just plain forgot all about. You see, I am old enough to play first and do homework last now, and you know, everybody will feel the difference. Christmas celebrations made with duty are simply not the same as festivities that spring forth from joy.

IMG_2050 surprise 2

Believe me, I know better than most how frantic and exhausting it is possible to make the season of peace and goodwill. The main story on Indexyourlife in December will be my way to a Christmas free of tangles.

In December my brother and I write an advent calendar blog together in norwegian.You may visit at  JULEFRYD or Christmas Joy. This year we will be writing or sharing thoughts and joys of gifts, giving and sharing. We will post there every day, and I will share some of that blog here on indexyourlife too.

All pictures at Indexyourlife are mine, if not otherwise stated.

December 18th – Christmas logics and logistics

IMG_2442 17.des julelys1It does not add up, my mother used to say. Or she would mutter, it’s just not logical. We knew then, that if we could not convince her of the logic necessity of having to go there or having to do that it would not happen.  Me, on the other hand was slow on understanding the true meaning of those sentiments. I kept believing that the hours were longer and the time management  magic was stronger around Christmastime. It had to, if not somebody would be disappointed.

There is almost no limit to what I would do if someone need ME to do it. What I learned was not to accept all the unaddressed questions and invitations fluttering like snowflakes in the advent air. Leaving work, church, family and friends out of the equity does not help. One year I realized that with four children and their activities we were supposed to bring coffee, cookies and ourselves to 24 different “oh how fun” activities. It just does not add up. Even with Christmas magic. The advent afternoons I wanted, with peace, creativity, family and friends were far between.

When Christmas finally came I had time to think. The root of this problem was not connected to Christmas, but first to not thinking and planning as a family through the year. Second we were running in every direction, not in the one direction each of us and us together needed.

IMG_2460 julehusThe solution when something does not add up, is easy. Either I do not know how to add, or a I am adding something which cannot be added. The solution is easier to understand than to do, and has two simple steps.

To quit and to take charge.

1. Quit
Our children were allowed to continue with every activity they really wanted. We just listened more closely to what they were trying to tell us when they were not motivated, when they were tired. Then we stopped pushing. We still supported, drove, baked, applauded and paid, wherever there was a spark of joy to nourish, nowhere else. It turned out many of their activities had just happened, friends were doing it, they thought they would love it and so on.

2. Take charge
Instead of being irritated on somebody else’s schedules I volunteered and got to make the ones that suited me. I have been the parents representative at the school board and joined the PTA. Most of all I have tried to think of what I would have loved to do together with the children, and then we did it. We did not wait to see if there was free time in between what everybody else wanted us to do. Instead we invited others to share what we did.

Of course it is not like this anymore. We have not been rushing out after dinner with tired kid, coffee thermos and gingerbread for years now. Which does not add up either, one should get together. It is just the question of knowing why and having a say at the when and contributing to the how.

Believe me, I know better than most how frantic and exhausting it is possible to make the season of peace and goodwill. The main story on Indexyourlife in December will be my way to a Christmas free of tangles.

In December my brother and I write an advent calendar blog together in norwegian.You may visit at  JULEFRYD or Christmas Joy. This year we will be writing or sharing thoughts and joys of gifts, giving and sharing. We will post there every day, and I will share some of that blog here on indexyourlife too.

All pictures at Indexyourlife are mine, if not otherwise stated.

December 17th – sleigh bells ringing

IMG_2599 triple Christmas

Yesterday I took pictures, as usual. We went for a long ride in the mountains, which is not usual. It is when we live here, but in Norway it seems like there is a lot of important stuff that has to be done these days, which makes it absolutely impossible to take a day off and go for a ride. It is not of course. Well, there is work, but a lot of the other stuff? I have learned that living in different settings, learning how other cultures celebrate, leaving the settings we are used to, will give everything a new take. What is important will be done, what’s not, will not. The real difference is always taking the time to really discover what is important, to us, and why.

When we lived in Indiana we decided on our four values of Christmas, peace,quiet, joy and fun. What makes that happen, what celebrates that will be done, what else is not. It is a real eyeopener,to stop and ask: will I contribute to a Christmas celebrating Peace if I do this? Will this bring Joy?  There is no given what will, there is a lot of “givens” that don’t.

IMG_2527 winter california

Believe me, I know better than most how frantic and exhausting it is possible to make the season of peace and goodwill. The main story on Indexyourlife in December will be my way to a Christmas free of tangles.

In December my brother and I write an advent calendar blog together in norwegian.You may visit at  JULEFRYD or Christmas Joy. This year we will be writing or sharing thoughts and joys of gifts, giving and sharing. We will post there every day, and I will share some of that blog here on indexyourlife too.

All pictures at Indexyourlife are mine, if not otherwise stated.

December 16th – too much is just too much

IMG_0793 vinterfjellFirst there was advent calendars with tiny pictures. Just the wonder of seeing a tiny angel or a deer in the woods, the joy of beauty, would make us jump out of bed in the mornings. Then there was some lucky children, that told us of calendars with chocolate every morning, they lied of course.

Then, while I was busy growing up, studying, working, having children, Christmas shifted into another gear without me really noticing. When it was time for my children to have advent calendars, chocolate was a thing of the past. There should be gifts, small gifts, but still things, that had to be bought, packed and numbered. It was fun to look for tiny treasures through the year, but also quite without meaning. So why not give them things they really needed? By then we had three children. The calendar gifts were tied to the garland on the banister and the whole staircase from the living room up to the second floor was jammed with 72 gifts. Not silly stuff, toys, garments, books, puzzles.

IMG_1978 godteriIt was too much. And not for me. The gifts were disturbing the morning peace and made our advent into 24 Christmas mornings. I had never considered that receiving gifts can be stressful, but our children thought so, and my husband thought so. You are not always in the mood to be happy and grateful, sometimes you just want a peaceful breakfast. Kind children will try to, they will smile and say thank you, they will recognize the effort that went into the gift giving, but they will get tired of it.

Then one morning two were crying for not having got the color they wanted on their christmas tights and one was crying for not finding his gift. I sat down on the stairs to comfort them, when my husband said, is this really how you want advent mornings to be?

It was not. The next november we talked about what we were looking forward to in advent. Then I wrote 24 cards, each with one thing to do. Not what had to be done, but what we wanted to be done. Many where special books to be read at bed time or Christmas movies to be seen. Some where clearing our closets and giving to Goodwill. There were cards for making cookies and for polishing silver. When they were still small, I would adjust the card for the next day according to circumstances. If I was ill, there would be reading cards, if a surprise play or concert came up, I would add that.

Then there would still be gifts of surprise and fun, but only in the wooden shoes on Sinter Claas and in the stockings on the morning of Christmas eve.

As the years came by, I realized that the “to-do” calendar had not only saved the peace of several winter mornings. It had also taught us all that advent should not be a frenzy of activities. To do one thing each day that makes Christmas is enough. It has also taught my children the how and when of the things they cherish for Christmas. Some they will leave behind and some they will take with them. It is all for them to decide.

Believe me, I know better than most how frantic and exhausting it is possible to make the season of peace and goodwill. The main story on Indexyourlife in December will be my way to a Christmas free of tangles.

In December my brother and I write an advent calendar blog together in norwegian.You may visit at  JULEFRYD or Christmas Joy. This year we will be writing or sharing thoughts and joys of gifts, giving and sharing. We will post there every day, and I will share some of that blog here on indexyourlife too.

All pictures at Indexyourlife are mine, if not otherwise stated.

December15th – me first

IMG_1517laceThe day was lingering in the hour between dark and light. Some faint pink shimmer of sunshine could be seen. Even inside we could feel the frost that was covering every surface in unbelievable crystals. There was no snow.
I was clearing away the dishes after breakfast and our three children were playing quietly on the floor. I caught a glimpse of the rising sun between the big fir trees on the other side of the field.
Then I knew it had to be now, the woods were pulling me to share the morning magic.
For once I just left the dirty dishes and hurried to bundle the kids and me in warm clothes. As none of them was in school and I was at home, they were used to long and lazy mornings and had never been outside this early. It was an adventure. I knew it would be warming up later in the day, so what we had to do had to be done now.
We ventured in among the pines, along the paths which soon would be covered in snow, on the trails that were not normally passable with three small kids and a baby buggy.
IMG_0158 ladesteWe were looking for puddles covered in ice, transformed to jewels by the slanted rays.
We were crashing the ice, laughing at the spindly, glassy, smashing sound.
We were showing each other twigs made of diamonds and stone made of ice.
Then we went home, finished our work and had cocoa and buns for lunch.
It was all for me. I shared and enjoyed with my kids, but frankly, even if they jumped and laughed and had so much fun while it lasted, none of them remembers this day as anything special now.
To me it was what I had to do, and a morning that still glitters in my memory. 
To me the basic rule about having a true joyful Christmas free of tangles is not about forgetting oneself, but to remember to include oneself among the ones worthy of love. Even at Christmastime it is “love your neighbor as yourself” not instead of yourself.IMG_0195 strå
*************
Believe me, I know better than most how frantic and exhausting it is possible to make the season of peace and goodwill. The main story on Indexyourlife in December will be my way to a Christmas free of tangles.

*****************************************************************************

All pictures at Indexyourlife are mine, if not otherwise stated.

December 14th – real life Christmas

IMG_0800 tur Oppdal 2How would you like to celebrate Christmas  on a 200-year-old farm in a norwegian mountain village? The big, white old farm-house is filled with lights and guests, frost and snow cover the woods and the fields, but inside everyone is warm, safe and filled with joy. The cows are resting in the big red barn and dusk is falling. Then at five everyone goes out on the doorstep to listen to the faint sound of church bells announcing that Christmas is here. The next morning everyone will bundle up and drive to the 800 year old small stone church. The trumpets will sound, the choir will sing and everyone will be wearing their national costumes. Then there is Christmas lunch with all the traditional foods, then there is parties and playing in the snow. This fairy-tale will last until well into the new year.

IMG_0765 et lys i verdenThis is how the best part of my childhood Christmases was spent, on an old vicarage in Norway. I have lived in the land of Christmas cards and Christmas stories, it is all true.

And then it is not.

This is what advertisements and movies want us to believe is the norm. This is what we can buy the plastic version of. I know that to try to be where I am not, will only bring disappointment and restlessness.

To me real life Christmas is to embrace and to enhance what is real, what is true and what is important to us.   What I really learned from my winter magic Christmases though, is still the best tool I have for making Christmas happen anywhere.

IMG_0808 nisse i fj;svinduYou see if you live in a fairytale, you still have to live. It is so easy to focus on all the extra things that needs to be done, bought, made and planned and forget that Christmas has to take place in real life. In my childhood that meant that chopping and storing firewood was an essential preparation. Which meant that as many chores as possible should be done before Christmas so that everyone could rest. To me now, it means that stocking up on toilet paper, detergent, coffee, juice, candles and cereals is the first thing I do for Christmas. The rest will happen, the rest will be magical, I know.

Believe me, I know better than most how frantic and exhausting it is possible to make the season of peace and goodwill. The main story on Indexyourlife in December will be my way to a Christmas free of tangles.

In December my brother and I write an advent calendar blog together in norwegian.You may visit at  JULEFRYD or Christmas Joy. This year we will be writing or sharing thoughts and joys of gifts, giving and sharing. We will post there every day, and I will share some of that blog here on indexyourlife too.

All pictures at Indexyourlife are mine, if not otherwise stated.to day they are from last years Christmas walks in Norway

December 13th – carrying light!

IMG_0739 morning 2We will be eating breakfast at a secret place tomorrow!

I whispered this to my two girls while I tucked them in. I knew it would make them excited, I knew they would not be able to sleep, I knew they would be whispering to each other and try to figure it all out as soon as I left the room. That was part of my plan, surprise, expectations and secrets are  important ingredients of happy memories, and I always tried to make the most of everything where no material gifts were involved.

The girls were only two and four years old and did not know of Santa Lucia, the Saint that walks through Scandinavia on the longest, darkest night and wakes the household with lights, coffee and saffron buns.

The next morning I dressed them in white night-dresses on top of their usual clothes. I had made baskets with saffron buns, and in the car I told them of my plan. We were going to surprise their great-grandmother with singing and breakfast! They loved it, in the car we practised the Lucia song, they had a bun each for starters, and then we were there.

IMG_1612 morningThe dawn was coloring the sky soft pink and the world was covered in snow when I lighted their candles and followed them to the door.

My grandmother was just as surprised as I had hoped. She was just as happy as I had dreamed of. The four of us were gathered in her living room, the girls sitting on the floor beside her, and we had the loveliest, most memorable breakfast together.

I would have loved to say we did that forever after. We did not, this was the only time. I would have loved to say we kept visiting someone for surprise breakfasts, we did not. I allowed plans and expectations, obligations and schedules take over our advents for many years. Deep inside I have this treasured memory though, and the assurance that magic can happen when I listen to my heart and follow it’s prompts.

Believe me, I know better than most how frantic and exhausting it is possible to make the season of peace and goodwill. The main story on Indexyourlife in December will be my way to a Christmas free of tangles.

In December my brother and I write an advent calendar blog together in norwegian.You may visit at  JULEFRYD or Christmas Joy. This year we will be writing or sharing thoughts and joys of gifts, giving and sharing. We will post there every day, and I will share some of that blog here on indexyourlife too.

All pictures at Indexyourlife are mine, if not otherwise stated.