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This Advent, stop the clock and savor the season

Don’t let the frenzy of the season rob you of the chance to wait in wonder this Advent. Here’s my OSV Newsweekly story from last Advent to get you in the spirit:

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

The color before the storm

A lone red leaf amid the more dominant yellows and browns.

It’s been a weekend of leaves fading and falling fast — like giant snowflakes, covering the ground quicker than I can rake them away. We seem to have more leaves this year. Impossible, I know, but that’s how it feels. Perhaps it’s that they’re falling earlier than usual. Here are a few last shots of the beautiful colors.

A long shot of the mighty oaks, maples, and poplars that drop more leaves than you can imagine (especially if you don’t live in upstate New York).

Still plenty more to fall.

I loved this color combo in the late afternoon sun. Now those leaves are mostly gone.

Neighbor’s maple and our Korean dogwood.

 My favorite. I planted this Japanese maple soon after we moved here, just about 13 years ago.

Beautiful in every season.

 We don’t just have pretty leaves. We have fantastic fungi.

Hidden mushroom.
Lovely layers.

Here’s our autumn decor. It doesn’t look quite as picturesque now because the squirrels have eaten about one quarter of the pumpkin and a good chunk of the white gourd. No acorns this year. Not a one. So I guess the little critters are hungry.

Our house is a very, very, very fine house. With two cats, but not in the yard.

Home office, Part II: The circus side of sacred

I’m way back there in the corner to the left.

So when Dennis saw those photos of my home office virtual tour yesterday, he asked the Million Dollar Question: “Where’s the cat condo?”
Truth be told, I did get the cat condo in a few photos, but when I was posting, I had way too many photos. So, of course, the cat condo was among the first things to go.

Here, then, is the less flattering view of my office with all the flotsam and jetsam that is part of the deal. I still love it, even with the less-than-Zen nonsense that goes with it.

The photo above gives you the long view of the basement. My office is at the far end, just past the futon and video game section. But before you get there, you have to run the toy gauntlet.

This is where Barbie lives. She has a much better office.

How many cars does one Barbie need?

To the right of the overflowing toy bin, through that dark door is where the centipede lives.

Oh, that’s right. We have 73 Barbies. Lots of cars needed.

At least I can pick up breakfast on my way into work. This looks only slightly messier than our real kitchen.

Drive thru.

This (below) is where you leave the toy mayhem behind and enter my office. The Chinese characters spell out tranquility, home, and peace (or so I’ve been told). See that nifty board-game room divider I created? It’s supposed to be filled with office files and sacred objects. For now I have to go with Scrabble and Battleship. At the very least I guess I should put dried flowers in the empty vase.

Enter the tranquility.

Here’s what our cats are doing to the recliner near my office. Good thing they’re cute.

And still I refuse to de-claw them.

Behind my desk and right next to my sacred space is the cat condo. It’s not pretty, but it keeps them from trying to vault over the big-screen TV to get to the only other window. That sad little casement window is my only source of natural light.

When you’re in my office looking out, this is what you see…games…hermit crab tank…light saber…mini-fridge stocked only with 100 percent juice, fruit cups, seltzer, and the occasional pudding.

Can we at least get some macadamia nuts in that mini-fridge?

Someone yesterday asked if my office section always looks this neat. NO! That’s why I had to document it. Here’s what it usually looks like, and even this isn’t that bad for me.

Taken during a book-writing project, no doubt.

And finally, one last not-so-crazy look at my main office. See why I love it? If you click on it, you can see all my beautiful book posters up close. (My publishers are awesome.)

Take a virtual tour of my office

Main work desk, book posters, assorted goodies

I’m always talking about working from home — my incense, my candles, my stuff. So I thought today I’d invite you all in for a virtual visit. Now you’ll know where I’m coming from. Read more

Why has NSS gone AWOL?

More than three weeks. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve shown my face around these parts. If any of you are still left out there, still coming back to see if I’m around, well, all I can say is, God bless you. You have the patience of a saint.

Things have been more off the wall than usual around here. It could be the fact that I’m writing back-to-back books. I turned one manuscript in on a Wednesday and started the next on a Thursday. That’s insane — even for me, and I’m the queen of insane.

On top of that, I’ve been dealing with some health stuff lately. It’s minor, but enough to slow me down, make me wonder, and cramp my style. Things seem like they’re moving in the right direction, although I’ve got a couple of issues going on that will keep me from doing my beloved yoga — or any exercises involving core strength — for the foreseeable future. Maybe forever. That has not been sitting well with me. I’m spoiled when it comes to health stuff. I expect to be able to do anything and everything with nary a pain or problem. So this is new, and I’m trying to find the lessons in all of it. I’m skirting around a couple of possibilities I hate even to acknowledge, things I think I probably need to learn from this. It’s still too early to say for sure. Maybe they’ll show up in a future post.

To give you some idea just how out of it I’ve been, here’s how Tuesday went: I almost took Chiara to dance class instead of faith formation. The only thing that prevented me from packing up the ballet and tap shoes and heading in the completely wrong direction was Olivia, who said, quite gingerly, “Isn’t today religion?” Yes, and an hour earlier than dance. Lucky we didn’t miss it completely.

After that brain spasm, I decided I needed a cup of tea to calm my nerves. It would have been delicious had I used a tea bag. Sigh.

Then about an hour later I rolled out some pizza dough and made our Valentine’s Day dinner. Dennis and I had a special pizza, loaded with peppers and onions and olives and mushrooms. It looked fabulous. I popped it in the oven, stood up to dust the flour off my apron, and stopped. Wait a minute. I don’t remember putting cheese on that, I thought to myself. Bingo. I made a pizza without cheese. Good for the heart, I guess, but not nearly as delicious. Fortunately, there was time to throw some on top and salvage the dinner. So, that’s how things are going here. I’m not sure I should be allowed to operate any heavy machinery, or even the dishwasher.

I’ll try to be back soon to post my latest Life Lines column and to share some thoughts on those lessons I’m supposed to be learning from this slow down of mine. Stay tuned…

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.

My Dinner With Chiara

Chiara and I ended up home alone this evening, sort of unexpectedly. Dennis and Noah are in New York City for a class trip (eating at Carmine’s as I write this), and Olivia was invited to dinner and a sleepover at a friend’s house. Although she was a little disappointed not to have anywhere special to go, Chiara was happy to have me to herself for a little while.

And so over a quiet, candlelight dinner of soup and salad (her choice), we had a chance to talk. She raised a couple of pretty insightful questions over the course of 30 minutes or so, things that make me sure she’ll go far in this life, or at least in the world of entertainment.

Question #1: If Goofy is a dog, and Goofy can talk, why can’t Pluto talk? Ah, this is an age old question, one that has confounded Disney fans for generations. It is, as we say in Catholic lingo, a mystery.

Question #2: If the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz knows she can be melted by water, why would she keep a big bucket of water out where anyone can grab it? And her follow-up question: I wonder if she can drink the water? Excellent question. I wonder…

Now it’s time to play a board game. Then it’s popcorn and a movie. I believe her pick is Peter Pan. It’s certainly not how I intended tonight to work out, but in the end it turned out to be exactly what I wanted.

Our Lady of Guadalupe did not see her shadow

Looks like Our Lady of Guadalupe will not disappear under the snow, as previously expected, due to a winter storm that turned out to be more of a dud than a monster, at least here. The kids so could have gone to school today. Snow and sleet stopped a while ago. Now it’s quite lovely out. Looks like it will be an early spring based on Our Lady’s predictions.

Here’s what Our Lady of Guadalupe looks like right now:

Here’s where she was yesterday around this time:

So there’s been some significant snow build-up but nothing to make us upstate New Yorkers slow down. Plus I think her snow totals are benefiting from some drifting, or possibly the intervention of a Higher Power.

In other news at the Poust house. Here’s the teenager getting a lesson in how to use the snow thrower:

Here are the girls making the requisite snow angels and going down the slide:

Here’s a view of our sun porch, which is heating up right now so I can enjoy the snow from the warmth of the cozy house.

Weather not fit for squirrels nor statues

I don’t know what Our Lady of Guadalupe did to deserve such treatment. Normally she winters inside with St. Francis of Assisi. But this year, while St. Francis is snug and dry and relatively warm in our garage, Our Lady has been left to fend for herself in the backyard. And she’s not used to this kind of weather where she comes from.

It is snowing like crazy here, but the kids are at school and Dennis is on the way to work. Things promise to get worse by tomorrow. I thought we could use Our Lady of Guadalupe as a barometer of the storm here. We’ll check back in tomorrow to see if she’s up to her ears yet.

Here’s the long view of her location:

Here’s one of her backyard partners, digging out acorns from a snowbank on our deck:

Here are the pines behind our house. Let’s hope the storm doesn’t break their branches, which hang precariously over our power lines.