Advent is a time of preparing for Jesus’s birthday. People are encouraged to use this time to pray and to become more Christ like in our thinking and our behavior. A candle is lit each of the four Sundays before Christmas and they each have a different meaning.
The first Sunday’s candle is known as the Prophecy Candle. The prophet Isiah told the people a young woman would bear a son and call his name Immanuel. (Isiah 7:14) It is also known as the Candle of Hope. That is a word that we need right now. Hope that 2021 will allow us to return to what we use to call normal.
When my kids were little, the five of us put our names in a bowl and then drew a name each Sunday in Advent. We were to do acts of kindness for that person throughout the week. We weren’t to let them know what we were doing, but do it quietly as to not bring attention to ourselves. You can imagine this brought joy and frustration when the act wasn’t even noticed. For example, my daughter hung up her brother’s coat every day for a week and he didn’t even notice it was in the closet and not on the railing or the floor where he left it.
I have an easier suggestion and my daughter is doing it with her girls this year. Whoever opens the door of the advent calendar gets the treat and also the responsibility to do an act of kindness. The act of kindness is not limited to someone in the household. After doing the act, the person writes it on a piece of paper and puts it in a jar. On Christmas Eve, the 24 acts of kindness will be read. This is a gift to Jesus in that he said what we do for others, we do for him.
We are beginning December with snow, and I love it. It’s enough to make everything beautiful and not enough to cause a sore back from shoveling. It feels like Christmas and makes me happy and hopeful for better days to come soon. I have hope and faith. Which is good because next Sunday’s candle is the Candle of Faith.
Once again people seem to be gathering toilet paper rolls from the stores’ shelves. I guess it’s part of the fall harvest! I found very few rolls last week at my local Kroger.
When traveling in Europe, I saw the communal latrines the ancient Greeks and Romans used. The wealthy had toilets in their homes, but when in need they used the public latrines and were frequently treated to music as they relieved themselves. Good times, right? Sponges attached to sticks were used to clean one’s bottom and then the sponge was cleaned in salt water. These cleaning sticks were shared.
It is widely known that the Sears catalogue was used in outhouses throughout America as toilet tissue. I know my relatives did. Toilet paper was invented in 1857 by Joseph Gayetty but was expensive. It was made from hemp and treated with aloe. It cost 50 cents for 500 sheets. That would be $10 today. Gayetty was so proud of his invention he put his name on each sheet. The ancient Romans put their enemy’s name on pieces of pottery and then wiped themselves. People do interesting things, don’t they? I just love history!
Leaves, moss, and soft plants were also used to clean one’s bum and there is a list of the most desirable plants to use when in the woods. Lambs ear is a popular plant and the cowboy’s favorite was mullein. It has many other names such as flannel leaf, velvet dock and bunny’s ear. If you find yourself in the woods and need a tissue, just look for a soft plant! They have been used for centuries.
At Thanksgiving, I doubt if anyone mentions toilet paper as something he or she is thankful for, but I know people are. There are so many little things that we take for granted that have now been noticed. Toilet paper comes to the forefront. I’m glad I found some last week!
One my favorite books is a Berenstain Bear book called The Spooky Old Tree. The bears have an adventure through the tree and encounter the Great Sleeping Bear. I asked myself what adventure I’d create if I went inside a tree. I’d choose having a conversation with the tree. Hearing about what the tree had experienced would be quite an adventure!
I’d have to select the tree’s location before I asked my questions. There are endless ones to choose from. Trees saw battles, weddings, funerals and religious figures. Remember Zacchaeus from the Bible who climbed a tree to see Jesus?
We all appreciate the beauty of trees and what they provide. Food and shade are easily thought of, but they also provide inspiration for writers. I’m sure all of you can think of a poem that honored a tree. I know several of you are thinking of Shel Silverstein’s book The Giving Tree.
A walk through the woods for many is a spiritual experience. It surrounds us with silent beauty and offers stories waiting to be written. Trees are one of God’s most precious gifts, and I am grateful. Just a note of interest. California is the home to Methuselah a bristlecone pine tree that is believed to be 5,000 years old. Now, that tree would have stories to tell!
When pumpkins on porches appear, everyone knows it’s the beginning of three months of celebrations. Pumpkins, gourds and cornstalks are the joys of fall. Halloween fans (like me) are happily placing witches, ghosts and grave yards in their yards. I hope my big smiling pumpkin will bring a smile to my neighbors.
Since it is the season for pumpkins, I thought I’d learn more about them. The most surprising thing I read were the recipes. Now, I love pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving staple, but pumpkin chili and pumpkin cocktails do not sound appetizing. The pumpkin cocktail called for vodka and pumpkin puree. I just thought, yuck!
Since a Hallmark movie features pumpkin as a facial cream, I was interested to read about that. I liked a recipe for Pumpkin Body Butter. It’s ingredients were simple, coconut oil, pumpkin puree and cinnamon. All the facial recipes touted the vitamins in pumpkins and how that would benefit the skin. There was even a hair conditioner recipe that called for honey and pumpkin that was sure to fix frizzy hair. Once again, I say yuck!
I must say I don’t have a desire to branch out in my uses of the pumpkin. My pumpkins are sitting on the porch now and some will be carved into jack-o-lanterns. For me, they represent fall and unlike most decorations, they are good for two holidays! I hope you all are enjoying these cooler temperatures and perhaps a trip to a pumpkin farm. Yes, they are open!
It is apple time, and I was eager to make chunky applesauce. My daughter had gone apple picking for Gala apples, but said they were not very flavorful. I found these beautiful Gala apples at the store, and thought they would be delicious because they looked so good. I cut and cored them and put them on the stove. When they had cooked, I carefully picked out all the peelings because I wanted the applesauce to be chunky. I added sugar and cinnamon and was sure this would be delicious. It was flavorless! I still have apples that I wanted to use for apple cake, but a flavorless apple is pretty worthless.
I have to think of poor Snow White. She just couldn’t resist that bright shiny apple. It has made me think of all the bright shiny things that are difficult to resist. A perceived good deal, another pair of shoes or boots because what we have is out of style, or that soft, warm sweater to add to the ten that are in the drawer are all shiny red apples and hard to resist.
Our local farmers market will have apples this week, and I will see what kind they have. Apple pie and apple crisp are a necessity this time of the year. The first apple pie recipe was written in 1381 in England and included figs, raisins and pears. No sugar was listed. Talk about a healthy dessert! Mine will be just apples, and I will go light on the sugar.
Ladders are used every day and have been for thousands of years!
A painting of men on a ladder was found in a Spanish cave that is believed to be 10,000 years old. The men were collecting honey from a bee’s nest. Ancient ladders were made from vines and later rope. As you can see, mine is an old wooden one, but it allows me to paint and decorate outside for Christmas. (It’s become a little wobbly and should be replaced.)
A smart young man named John Balsley decided to put hinges on a ladder so it would fold in 1862. He lived in Dayton, Ohio. (He was a Buckeye but not a nut!) Today people talk about climbing the corporate ladder which Balsley would not have understood, but he would have known the Bible story of Jacob’s Ladder.
I now know why walking under a ladder is believed to be bad luck. In medieval times, it was believed a person would upset the holy trinity (Father, Son, Holy Ghost) if he/she entered the triangle that had been created by the ladder leaning against a wall. This was the same belief the Egyptians had about the sacred symbol of the godly triangle. Another belief was since ladders were used to hang a person on the gallows, the triangle formed by the leaning ladder would trap the ghost of the person who had been hanged. No one wanted to encounter a ghost or offend God!
When students would say, “I don’t know what to write about,” I would suggest researching an ordinary object. Not many took me up on the suggestion, but see how interesting an ordinary ladder is?
Witches’ balls are objects of art and they are protectors.
I have five witches’ balls hanging in the corner of my family room. So, I guess it’s the safest place in the house, since they protect us from evil spirits. I think of them as beautiful pieces of art.
During the 1600’s and 1700’s they were very popular in England and in New England. Witches were well known to cast spells on people and this provided protection. But if witches were evil, why did people go to them for readings? The glass balls were used to tell fortunes too.
The more practical use of these balls was to hold fishing nets. Since the witches balls floated in the sea, it was decided that a woman who floated must be a witch. This was one of the tests given accused witches. She was then hanged or burned to death.
Fear of witches and evil spirits were common, so witches balls were needed. Remember that people wore masks on All Hallows Eve to protect them from evil spirits. We are wearing masks today to protect us from the coronavirus. Maybe witches balls would work on that too?
I couldn’t find the number of churches that have been destroyed by fire or vandalized this year, but each week I read about another one. This past week a church in Mississippi was burned and a statute of Jesus was beheaded in Florida. Two weeks ago Bibles were burned in Portland. I never thought this would happen in America where we proudly claim to have freedom of religion. I admit I have seen signs of Christianity being dismissed over the years.
When I was teaching, it became popular for our Hispanic students to wear crucifixes. Someone had made them, and they were quite beautiful. One day I commented on one that my student was wearing. He told me he and others had been told they couldn’t wear them in Ms.__’s room. My response was, “That can’t be. It’s not in the dress code, and we do have freedom of religion.” At that point three others joined in and told me he was right. I knew this teacher was an atheist, because she had made it known, but I never thought she’d do this. I was wrong.
While teaching, I saw teachers tell students to leave their Bibles at home when they were found reading them at the lunch table. We had several Apostolic students and this was not uncommon. They stopped bringing them. When I told a group of teachers that I was amazed that an eighth grader asked why we celebrate Christmas, I was told by Ms.__ that I shouldn’t even be discussing Christmas. By the way, this was a student who celebrated Christmas but just didn’t know why.
I never heard of any of our Muslim students being denied or harassed for fasting or going to pray (we provided a quiet place) during Eid Al Adha. Most of my students celebrated the Christian holidays and believed in God, but didn’t go to church or know the Christian faith.
I believe we are one country under God and people of all faiths are welcome. Churches don’t have to be burned, statues destroyed or Bibles burned to have Christians be told not to express their faith.
These little mosquito eaters are welcome to my yard!
Every night at dusk two brown bats come to my back yard for dinner. Bats can eat 1200 insects an hour. My neighbor has a small pond, so I think that is why Bart and Bertha come to dine. Sometimes Sylvester joins them for dinner. Yes, I named the bats. Since they come every night, they deserved to be named.
I’ve learned a lot about bats. Their excrement is called guano and is a great fertilizer. Since it is high in potassium nitrate (salt peter) it was used for gun powder during the Civil War and was used up to WWI. One hundred pounds of guano was needed to make four pounds of salt peter.
Bats are important to over 500 plant species. They pollinate plants and bananas, mangoes, guava and agave depend on them. The tube-lipped bat that bananas rely on have extremely long tongues in order to reach the nectar. Their tongues are one and half times the length of the bat’s body. Amazing!
When Halloween arrives, I will hang my black bats with a lot more appreciation for them. I learned a lot about these furry, flying mammals. Perhaps Bertha and Bart should star in an educational story for children.
Lavender is a favorite is my garden and it has many uses. Some people use it in baking and make a lavender sugar. When I read about cooking with lavender, I learned that it is dangerous for cats and dogs to eat. My cats don’t seem interested in it, and I just enjoy the look and smell of it.
Lavender is grown throughout Spain and Portugal and is used in celebrating holidays by spreading it on the floors of churches and homes. It is believed to cleanse the area of evil spirits and negativity. Congress might consider spreading a little lavender in order to promote harmony.
Lavender is burned in bonfires on St. John’s Day in Europe which is also called Midsummer’s Day. It is celebrated on June 24 which is John the Baptist’s birthday. Today lavender is burned in homes to cleanse the air and like with the bonfire, it carries prayers to heaven. Smudging sticks can be made with lavender to purify homes. It is said to help bring peaceful sleep when burned in the bedroom.
According to lavender folklore, a woman in childbirth should hold it in order to gain courage and strength. Growing lavender in one’s garden will bring good luck, ward off evil, and attract fairies. Since I have lavender, I invite good fortune and fairies to my garden. I also encourage it to ward off mosquitoes like it is supposed to do! Marigolds are also said to keep mosquitoes away along with allium, lemon grass and lantana. I have three of these plants, and I have mosquitoes.