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Skip the mall this year. Trust me, it can be done.

A lot of  my friends  and family members are already wrapping Christmas gifts, which I find truly astounding because I haven’t even started shopping. Haven’t bought a single gift. Haven’t even thought about buying a single gift. But I can tell you this, when I finally do start shopping it will not be at either of the local malls. I’m not a mall person, especially during the holiday season, and I like to support local businesses. So my goal every Christmas is to avoid the mall at all costs, to buy only within the confines of my own town, or, when absolutely necessary, online. I still have young kids, so some things have to come from the big guns and not from local artisans. Read more

The Advent Games: Catching Fire

If any of you were around these parts last year, you may remember that we started our Advent season not with a prayer but with a coin toss. Because that’s how we roll here at the Poust House. We can take four weeks of peace, joy, and love and turn it into an epic battle of wits, willpower, and outright manipulation. Katniss has got nothing on these kids. All they’re lacking is the bow and arrow. And so it begins again. Who knows what this Advent will bring, but nothing would surprise me. Read more

Slow down and savor the Advent season

Advent is less than one week away. How will you make it special? Here’s a little something to get you in the spirit, my Advent In Focus story, which is running in the current issue of OSV Newsweekly:

By Mary DeTurris Poust

By the time Advent officially begins, most of us have been bombarded by so much Christmas music and Christmas advertising and Christmas everything that we’re already sick of the season. In a world where the Christmas countdown begins sometime before Halloween, it’s easy to lose sight of the beauty of Advent, and to get so caught up in the material trappings that we can’t see the spiritual forest for the tinsel-covered trees. Read more

Creating calm amid the Christmas chaos

Need a little less crazy in your Christmas season? Today I’ll be talking about restoring some sanity to your life — over at Huffington Post. I’ll start you here and link you there:

Chances are that right about now the Christmas season is getting the best of you. At least that’s how it’s going at my house. Just last night I suggested to my husband and kids — amid the fighting over who opens which door on the Advent calendar and who hangs which ornament on the Christmas tree — that maybe we should just pack it in and pretend there’s no Christmas this year, which is kind of missing the whole “reason for the season” in a pretty glaring way. So we tried to regroup and declare a do-over on the lead-up to Christmas. Read more

The perfect time to take a spiritual inventory

My most recent Life Lines column, running in Catholic New York and The Catholic Spirit this month: 

I don’t know about you, but I tend to approach my prayer life – my spiritual habits or “skills” – from an unrealistic place. While I easily recognize the need to practice or work out in order to keep up my basic guitar skills or my jogging endurance, I expect to settle down to prayer and reap immediate rewards with little or no effort. Or I allow myself to fall into a prayer rut that ends up leaving me on autopilot, until the words I say have about as much meaning and feeling behind them as reading a recipe out loud. Read more

Covert Advent operations: Can we sink any lower?

You may recall that last week’s kick-off to the Advent festivities at our house deteriorated into fighting, screaming, a coin toss, and, eventually, a declaration (by me) that all fun Advent activities would cease at once and until further notice. (We did keep up our Advent wreath practice before dinner each night, however.)

So this morning I asked Chiara if maybe she’d like to retrieve the wooden Advent calendar from the basement, along with the Playmobil Nativity set, and the little Advent Christmas tree. Her immediate reaction was a panicked, “NO!” That seemed curious, so I persisted. In a teary voice, she said that she didn’t want to take out the Advent activities because she was afraid there would be more fighting.

Hmmmm…Things were getting curiouser and curiouser. Read more

Doesn’t everyone start Advent with a coin toss?

I wish I could begin this post with some inspiring story about how we returned from Saturday evening Mass and a lovely dinner out last night to gather around the Advent wreath and begin this season of hopeful anticipation with joy and love and peace. And I guess I could tell you that if I just wanted to sound good in print, but (as I mentioned yesterday in my welcome-to-the-new-blog post) this place is about honesty on the spiritual journey, and so I have to tell you what really happened. Read more

Picking up scattered fragments of peace

When I returned from my wonderful weekend retreat almost three weeks ago, the sense of peace surrounding my heart and penetrating my soul was almost palpable…

unflappable…

Kids did dopey things. I didn’t yell. Work deadlines went from bad to worse. I didn’t melt. The car bumper was bashed in by a hit-and-run meanie. I didn’t explode.

It was clear evidence, at least in my mind, of the power of deep and intense prayer practiced over days, rather than short bursts of desperate cries shouted heavenward while sitting at stoplights or wiping the counter.

In the initial days after my retreat, I kept up some semblance of deep prayer and deep peace. I cleared the decks and sat down in silent meditation in my sacred space. I did yoga followed by more prayer. I got up early and prayed the Liturgy of the Hours in the twinkling glow of the Christmas tree set against a backdrop of winter darkness. I was on a holy roll.

But then bit by bit, day by day, the peace started to fragment…

I could almost see it happening.

Sharp shards of silence breaking off and flying away from me in every direction.

I knew enough to realize it was an unhappy development but felt powerless to stop it. The tension of the season, coupled with the crush of work, compounded by the frenzy of family life made me — as it often does — feel as if I should just wave my spiritual white flag and give up my quest for inner peace. Add my voice to the din.

Then I remembered something our teacher said on retreat, something that really jumped out at me as I sat cross-legged on the floor of the yoga studio at Kripalu. So often, when we think of Jesus in prayer, we think of him in the desert, in the garden, in silent solitude. But the truth is, Father Tom reminded us, that Jesus was more often than not surrounded by chaos — people clamoring to get near him, touch his robe, lower a friend through a roof, climb a tree.

Follow, follow, follow. Ask, ask, ask.

And yet we see the way his peace and prayerfulness emerge amid the chaos. The quiet compassion given to the woman caught in adultery, the feeding of the 5,000, the healing of a soldier’s servant, the forgiveness of a thief from the cross. Jesus did not become unloving, harsh and impatient because the conditions around him went from good to bad to abominable. He stayed true to his center, his Truth, bringing his peace into the noise and glare of an often unkind world.

Rather than letting it happen the other way around…

So as we wait just two more days to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, as I look at the absolute insanity that is sure to ensue in the coming hours, I’m picking up the scattered fragments of peace and fashioning them into something usable, something new. I imagine my peace looks a bit like a kaleidoscope now.

Pieces of peace…artfully arranged into something that will cast a brilliant and warm light on everything its shooting and darting rays touch as I turn it gently in my hands.

Chaos into calm. Panic into peace. Fragments into fullness.

All through him, who was…and is…and is to come.

Manic Monday: Closing in on Christmas

We’re in the homestretch. My kids, especially my tween, are practically hyperventilating with excitement. Okay, not the teen. He’s keeping the excitement close to the vest. I’ve been too busy with work to even realize Christmas is so close, which could be bad news for those expecting presents.

That’s our Christmas tree, over there on the left. Fred the Cat is standing guard. I tried to remove him from the picture, but he jumped back in every time I got set up. So, clearly, he was meant to be in the shot. Oh, and that’s one of my Nativity sets — my main Nativity set — in the header at the top of the blog. I collect them. Nativity set, not blogs.

So, here’s our Manic Monday rundown for the week…

Bookshelf: I’m reading too many books to list here, most of them as research for the book I’m writing. What I’m reading for fun, inspiration, enjoyment when I have time is a magazine I discovered on the shelf at Sam’s Club: The Soul Body Connection, a special annual publication of the monthly Spirituality & Health. If you are into meditation, centering prayer, mindful eating, breathing exercises, prayer in general, check it out. It’s wall-to-wall articles, and what I really love is the fact that this Eastern-leaning publication includes lots of Christian information, including a Q&A with Trappist Father Thomas Keating, a leader of the centering prayer/contemplative living movement.

Soundtrack: Christmas music, of course. Here’s one of my favorites, a rocking version of Angels We Have Heard on High by Relient K, a very cool band.

Viewfinder: While other people were out shopping this weekend, or baking Christmas cookies, I was with the nine girls in our Daisy troop, along with four other moms, for an OUTDOOR winter discovery day. Who thought that was a good idea in upstate New York in mid-December? Actually, it was a really fun day. And a warm-up for our January winter camping trip.

Here’s Chiara working on an animal track rubbing:


The whole gang:


Olivia decided she really wanted pomegranate seeds for lunch. So there I was, working the seeds out of the pomegranate below at 7 a.m. Whatever happened to PB&J?

Since I had about three million seeds after I finished, I decided to throw a few on top of my usual bowl of oatmeal (below). Added a nice crunch. Doesn’t it look lovely? Yes, that’s a candle beside my oatmeal. Truth be told, the absolute best prayer time I have every day is when I sit down to my silent, mindful breakfast and pray before I dig in. It’s become an almost-daily prayer practice for me, one I really miss when I can’t find the time, or the silence. Which is often in this house.


So, onward, as we celebrate the fourth week of Advent and pray the O Antiphons each evening as we light the candles on our wreath. Enjoy these last days before the feast. Shop, bake, party, but remember to breathe deep and find a few minutes each day to sit in silence and contemplate the reason for this season.