Sunday, December 23, 2007


"O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God."

So this is the last of the O Antiphons. Everybody, probably, has heard the Advent carol O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. And this antiphon is its origin. It pretty much sums up what the antiphons have been leading us to pray for days -- You, who have all these characteristics, and merit all these titles, come! Because we are eagerly awaiting that awe-inspiring mystery God-with-us!

(This is probably my last post until Thursday or so, so to all of you --and you know who you are!-- have a blessed and happy Christmas day, full of love and joy!)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

King and Keystone

" O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart: O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust."

The O antiphons are coming to an end! Every year when they start, and it's clear that Christmas is soon, seven of them still sounds like a large number, that will take a while to get through. But this is number six. And I am "not ready". This means that the wrapping is not all done, and a few more things should be bought, to fill in holes in my list that I didn't realize I had.

But that's my Martha side coming out. The antiphon doesn't refer to "the day everything has to be done by." George came home last night, a day earlier than I expected him! (Apparently the whole rest of the family was in on it.) And even though he was early, and everything wasn't ready (like making Tommy clear his stuff off George's bed) I was overjoyed to see him. How much more should I welcome "the only joy of every human heart"!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Radiant Dawn

" O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death."

The references to "darkness and the shadow of death" in yesterday and today's antiphons are quotes, from the prayer of Zechariah after the birth of John the Baptist. (It's found in Luke 1:68-79.) In the translation I know best, the end of it goes:
In the tender compassion of our God
The dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.

In the last few days I've learned about a number of people who are literally living "in the shadow of death" -- the son of a friend who has melanoma on his liver (discovered through an X-ray for pneumonia!), an elderly friend who's been on oxygen for years but now can't keep his blood levels up, a woman whose elderly father (who lived with her) just died who has such an intense job that she has no time to grieve. All of these people know and love God, but that doesn't stop them from bearing the weight of the darkness. But God has tender compassion for all of them, and us, and the "dawn from on high" will break. No wonder we await His coming!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Key of David

"O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom."

I had never noticed before I started this posting on the O Antiphons just how much they refer to freedom. I think we all tend to forget, because our lives are so comfortable (especially compared to most people through most of history), how bound we are. I'm bound by customs that have become law in my head, and by my own pre-judgements of things and situations, and by choices I've made in the past, and many other things I'm rarely aware of. Just because there are no chains on my ankles doesn't mean I don't need the Lord to come and set me free!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Flower of Jesse

"O Flower of Jesse's stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid."

Wednesday is never my favorite day of the week. I do too many of my least-favorite chores on Wednesday. But if I get them all done, I get to go to the Barnes and Noble cafe, sip a decaf mocha, and read for a while. Fortunately, Christ's coming doesn't depend on my working hard. I just have to be ready to stand silent in his presence.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lord of Might

"O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free."

The title I gave this post is a phrase from O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Because I've known that longest, I tend to remember the antiphons in its phraseology. But it's really more about freedom. I could sure use some strength and freedom these next two days. I have all my regular chores, plus wrapping still to do and a few final decorating touches. And Maggie is even now in an airplane, winging home from her semester in Austria!

I am very excited to see her, but since her best/cheapest flight package was from Chicago -- a six hour drive -- Roger has already left to pick her up, and they won't be home until tomorrow. They'll be stopping to spend the night at Arwen's house, which is almost 2 hours closer to Chicago, and then swinging over in the morning so Maggie can see Rosie and Daniel. So tomorrow afternoon! And George flies in on Saturday. Christmas is coming!!

Monday, December 17, 2007


"O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, You govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation."

Today is something our family has been waiting for all year -- the first of the "O Antiphons". For our family evening prayers (and also some people's personal morning prayer) we use the Liturgy of the Hours, the official daily prayer of the Catholic church. (Bet you thought that was the Rosary! Nope, that's considered a "private devotion", --which is of course how we use the LotH ;-D ) Every day at evening prayer we recite the Magnificat, Mary's song of praise in response to the greeting of Elizabeth. Each day of the liturgical year has its own antiphon, a sentence or so which is traditionally recited between sections of the prayer. We just read them at the start of it.

Some of the antiphons are simply quotes, from Scripture or from the Magnificat itself. But starting on December 17 and running through the 23rd (because evening prayer of Christmas Eve is the start of Christmas), the antiphons are translations of very old (fifth century AD?) Latin ones. The Wikipedia article I linked to above has an excellent analysis. But you've certainly heard them; the verses of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and many other Advent hymns repeat them.

For our family, the O Antiphons are many things. For the kids (especially when they were younger), they just mean Christmas will be here soon. But for someone like me, who is always struggling to balance the "Mary" and "Martha" parts of Advent, they give a "theme of the day", something to meditate on while running at full tilt. So I'm going to post them here each morning, and with an effort maybe I"ll be able to slow down and prepare my heart.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Shop 'til You Drop! (out of the blogosphere)

Most years I start my Christmas shopping in January. I did, in fact, buy a few items this year. This is all facilitated by two things.
1) Finances. We set aside money each month all year toward the following Christmas. If I see something perfect in August (or January!) money is available to buy it. And we NEVER have post-Christmas debt, because when the money is spent, that's it for this year.
2) Stratford! The Stratford Shakespeare Festival is a summer highlight of this little town in Ontario, about a two-hour drive from us. The town is geared toward tourists and more tourists, with lots of fascinating shops and intriguing restaurants. But the festival only runs from April to October, so many of the hotels have specials designed to attract winter visitors. For the last ten years Roger and I have taken a winter get-away, spending half-price for premium accommodations and doing a little shopping and a lot of nothing. (Double jacuzzi, bottle of bubble bath, two books and two beverages of choice -- bliss!) About one shop in four is closed for the part of winter we're there, but the rest love to see people carrying actual money. And I always get a Christmas present or two for the upcoming year.

Most years I try to do the bulk of my shopping in October and November. Peruse the internet deals, figure out what I'm going to grab at the local mall as soon as the markdowns hit, wait for the major retailers' "$10 off a $50 purchase" coupons. But somehow this year it just slid by.

My excuse is that I got out of the habit last year. George was in boot camp, I was waiting for him to get home for Thanksgiving and gearing toward that. And then he was "rephased" (for lack of ability to do enough pushups fast enough), and I wound up being able to go to New Jersey for the graduation, which set back my shopping another week.

As my children will tell you, I am not a big house-cleaning whiz. Tidiness, yes. I go around every morning and put things back in place, straighten the slipcovers, load the dishwasher. But dusting and vacuuming, not so much. The only time I really CLEAN is right before the Thanksgiving/Christmas season, so that I can decorate a clean house. Last year, I decided that something had to give , and cleaning was it. So the shopping got done, a little late. And we had a lovely Christmas in a dirty house.

This year, skipping the cleaning was not an option. The house was a year dirtier. As you read here, Rosie helped me with a couple of rooms while she and Daniel were visiting. We did the downstairs, the rooms we'd use for Thanksgiving. The upstairs rooms were left for me. And I finished the last one on Monday. Christmas cleaning was over!

But despite the Stratford purchases, and a few other things I picked up over the summer, my Christmas shopping was barely begun. I had ideas. (Some things, like new sleep pants all round, are practically set in stone!) But the getting of the stuff -- nope. I had missed the coupons. The markdowns--due to the economy here in Michigan--were still there, and deep.The internet sites were offering free shipping. But I had to DO it.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. I have put in 8 hour days. I have not posted here, I have not commented on your blogs, yesterday I didn't even read them! But I'm done. And today I'm hanging out on the computer. Tomorrow -- we get the Christmas tree!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tamale Update

We prepped and assembled about 10 dozen in four hours, not counting steaming time. (They need to steam for a couple of hours after assembly.) So I've got plenty for Christmas, AND a couple of bags for the freezer. Easy dinners, hurrah!

By the way, Andrea says she distinctly remembers that our first tamale day was in my not-yet-remodeled kitchen. Since the remodeling was done in the summer of 1993, that means this is at least our 15th year doing them. I'd say that definitely qualifies as a tradition!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Tamale Day

What do you have for Christmas dinner? In some families it's set in stone. In some families it changes every year. In our family, though the side dishes may vary, the main event is tamales.

Some of you may be thinking "I didn't know she was Hispanic!" Well, I'm a nice German-Scottish girl from Pennsylvania, and my husband is a British mixture from the Midwest. But we know good food when we taste it!

One of my good friends (also of British extraction) grew up in a small town in Arizona. Two doors down was a Mexican-American family with kids about the same ages. "Andrea" remembers watching tamale making from very early on, and by the time she was in middle school. she was helping. (For any of you who don't know, tamale-making is a somewhat tedious process of preparing seasoned meat, masa dough, and softened cornhusks. Then you smear some dough on a cornhusk, add meat, roll, wrap and repeat. It is much more fun when several people talk while they work -- kind of on the quilting-bee principle.)

About fifteen years ago Andrea, who had at that time been living in Michigan for a number of years, got homesick for tamales. She remembered enough to get a close approximation, and has been tweaking the recipe ever since. But she also remembered the camaraderie of tamale-making, and asked me if I'd like to help her make a batch. We were hooked!

So for the last 13 or 14 years, one day in December has been set aside as tamale day. (They freeze beautifully.) We've gotten better at pre-prep, so it's not as tiring as it used to be. And the smell of steaming tamales has no equal. And today's the day!

(For those of you who wonder -- yes, the tamales taste authentic. We knew that for sure eight or so years ago, when one of Andrea's cousins was hosting a Mexican exchange student who hated it here. Too cold, weird food, etc., etc. But when Andrea gave him a couple of tamales, he proclaimed them "Just like abuela's!" The ultimate compliment.)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Template Time

Now that I don't "have to" post every day, I'm having fun messing with the template. Eventually I'll get it the way I want, but you'll probably see lots of changes along the way. And so much cheaper than redecorating the house!