Christmas Morning Blessings!

This post should arrive on Christmas morning! (assuming you are reading somewhere close by!) So, for today, no great insights to share with you… just a simple message to say “thank you” for following along with me and my adventures! Enjoy the beauty of the season, and may you truly sense God’s presence today as we celebrate His gift to us !

Christmas Angels

   The days are getting colder here in Canada.  Soon the fluffy, white snowflakes will begin to swirl in the skies above and it’ll be time to cozy up indoors with a good book and my coveted cup of coffee. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season has come way too soon for me… we just pulled out all the Christmas decorations this past weekend!  I have a few favourite ones in my stash.  All of them are angels.  One is a teeny wooden one, given to me by a dear friend in memory of a special little baby. I safely tuck it away every year and cry a new batch of tears when I pull it out again as the memories flood over me.  Another is a primitive little crafted thing,with a toilet paper roll for a body and some lace tucked in for a skirt.  It was supposed to be “faceless” … but my kids secretly drew a magic-markered-happy-face smile on it because they didn’t think it looked right without features. The final favourite is a beautiful figurine, decked out in eyelet lace with feathery wings and a delicate, china face. I bought it when we were first married at a country fair.  There were rumours the vendor was a witch, and perhaps I shouldn’t buy from her, but I didn’t care… it was (and still is!) so pretty.  If I had an unlimited budget and didn’t have to dust, my house would be filled with Victorian angels decked out in fine royal purples and regal reds.  They are one of my favourite things at Christmas.

Yet, I wonder if my concept of angels is wrong.  Have I some how twisted my view of these very special messengers of God?  Created to serve Him faithfully forever?  Recent polls suggest that a large percentage of North Americans, no matter what their religious backgrounds, have a belief in angels or heavenly beings.  Are they truly the chubby, naked little cherubs we imagine all decked out with harps and bows and arrows?  Or the Christmas tree toppers adorned with gold ribbons and flowing gowns of crimson?  Perhaps we are too casual with our angelic references: “Thanks so much…you’re such an angel for bringing me that… Oh, what a darling, little angel she is…”  When the Bible refers to angels, humans tended to bow down in absolute fear (Gen.19:1, Luke 1).  Even the Christmas angels who brought the good news to the shepherds caused them to be “terrified”.  These heavenly hosts were definitely not the adorable 5-year-olds with make shift tinsel halos hailing “Fear not” in the Children’s Christmas pageant. 

That being said, I am thankful that these messengers of God are still so very present in our lives.  I have heard countless stories of missionaries narrowly escaping death because “strange groups of men” seemed to be protecting them.  I am confident that my children have been protected from harm on more than one occasion because of the prayers of believers around them.  Those prayers have sent angels to fight the spiritual battles we all face every day in this fallen world.  I am comforted that God still sends His heralds to remind me, like Mary and the shepherds, “not to be afraid”.  He has messengers of the good news all around us.  We just have to search them out.

I don’t think the true heavenly creatures are as cute and gentle as we imagine.

The angelic creatures described in the book of Revelation should be an indication to me that God Almighty is in control of all, and that one day the battle will be won.  The flaming, sword bearing protectors will vanquish evil on Christ’s behalf and we will enter His gates with thanksgiving and joy. 

Can you imagine what it will be like to join voices with the heavenly choir of seraphims and cherubims and cry “Holy, Holy, Holy to the Lord God Almighty”?!  Oh, my friend, it is no wonder we admire these creatures who were made for the infinite purpose of praising the One who saves us.

This season, as I pullout my tissue wrapped treasures, and top my tree with the guardians of Heaven, I will be encouraged that “… we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28,29 NIV)

And when the swirling flakes arrive, and the busyness of the season preoccupies my time, and I am flustered with all the preparations that need to be done, I pray that I will be able to look at that magic marker smile of the “toilet paper roll angel” sitting on the shelf, and be reminded to “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing, some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:1,2 NIV)

Christmas Markets

Wowza!  I can’t believe Christmas is right around the corner!  I am so unprepared this year.  Our decorations are not even out of the basement yet, and it is already the middle of the month!  We’ve just been very busy.  I’ve been thinking, lately, about all the opportunities we have to celebrate here in Canada — parties, special treats, traditions, gift giving.  Seems like the entire country takes on a whole new look at Christmastime,  with lots of places getting all dolled up for the occasion.  I thought I would share a few of the places I would love to visit (or have already!) and share how they decorate for the season.

Old Montreal/Quebec City, Quebec

  We’ve been to “La Belle Province” numerous times and the architecture is fabulous in any season — but nothing compares to when it gets all dressed up for Christmas.  The cobblestone walks and quaint shoppes step right out of Currier and Ives.  Twinkling lights and the snow amidst the sound of french accents… ooh, la, la!  It’s as romantic as Paris without the plane ticket!  The stone and stained glass of the candle lit basilicas demand silent reflection. For the more adventurous, Quebec has some great skiing (or so I hear.).  Quebec should definitely be on a Canadian traveler’s Christmas bucket list!   

Craftadian Market in Hamilton, Ontario

I haven’t been to this one yet, but was exposed to it via the Hamiltonhippie.  It sounds like a super duper craft market featuring local artisans!  I love seeing what other people are making from scratch!  Celebrating their God given talents and sharing them!  And what a better excuse than Christmas to share?  This one is on my list for next year!  Perhaps my cousin’s son, Jonathan, from an edible therapy will be there next year displaying his wares.  He (with help from his wife Chelsea) has turned a challenging experience into a beautiful testament to His Saviour, through his beautiful wood pieces.  I am hoping to get him to share his story someday here on mittonmusings.com!

Brickworks/Evergreen Toronto, Ontario

This is our go-to, Sunday afternoon date destination! I especially love it at Christmas time when their Winter Village is alive!  They have a tiny, little (free) public skating rink surrounded by evergreen boughs that smell super Christmas-y!  We get hot cocoa or cider and tour around the pond before stopping at the big Muskoka chairs for a snuggle by the fire.  The food is phenomenal and I love the diversity of the artisans who display their wares at Brickworks!  Fresh and usually straight from the farm, the market is a unique blend of farmers market and craft fair… I love to scoop up unique treasures here for gifts!  

Christmas Market in the Distillery District Toronto, Ontario

For a more adult date night, the distillery is a must see.  Definitely instagrammable (yes, that is a real word!) it is the millennial hang out at Christmastime.  It makes me feel young and hip. (A statement that just made me old again). The first time we visited, we sipped free mulled wine at the fires.  Now, the marketers have discovered it’s popularity and commercialized it up a bit with tourist-y samplers, but it is still the best decorated spot for that classic, European Christmas market experience in Canada.  Book early if you want a reservation for dinner, though!

Vintelier Boutique in Abbotsford, BC

Okay, so I thought this was just a fleeting Christmas pop-up shoppe when I first saw it on Facebook, but apparently it is a quaint boutique that sells all kinds of adorable little things!  Shout out to my fabulous sister-in-law, who has been graciously employed there recently, for getting my boutique senses all a-tingle! If they have a stationary section, the first born daughter and I are going to drool. Literally.  Oh, how I would love to see inside this gem in person — and especially see what trinkets it has for the holiday season!  I am expecting a cute gift sent to me, O, darling sister-in-law!  

Your local Thrift Shop!

A bonus locale for all things Christmas.  It’s funny how second hand stores get an eclectic gathering of Christmas goodies piled up from days gone past.  Being a big thrifty shopper, I seek out these shops often… not so much to purchase, but to browse the holiday aisle to see how quickly the holidays are discarded.  Those oh-so special objects become outdated, worn and donated away, all too quickly.  I am taken back to my childhood when I see some chipped china plate or tacky, tinsel lined, flashing star tree topper à la 1970, shoved onto the discount shelf at my local Sally Ann.  Occasionally,  you can still find a singing fish or a Macarena dancing Santa.  Oh, the memories.

And so, I take a step back this Christmas season, and see the beauty in “things”.  Of places decorated so beautifully.  The outward appearance of places that represent a little bit of our inside lives.  Yet, I am reminded, again, to dig even deeper than the “things” I see around me.  These picture perfect places and lovely bits and baubles, although beautiful, are not the true meaning of Christmas.  They are precious, yes, but I have to think of Mary on that first Christmas night.  Oh… I am sure she wished she was in a beautifully lit inn off the cobble stone streets, and had warm flannel blankets to wrap her newborn in as she sipped mulled wine by the decorated fireplace.   But these are the romantic gestures we have come to associate with Christmas.  May you and I never lose sight of the cold, dark, dirty stable, as we are coerced by the “pretty things” of this world.  For the true joys lie there… in the warmth of a mother’s touch, the awe struck shepherd’s weathered features, and the piercing cry of the newborn who came to save the world.  

 

Is Homework Necessary?

 December first has come and gone.  We celebrated the first Sunday of Advent, and are anticipating the weeks of holiday bliss which are about to arrive.  But before the Mitton clan goes whole hog on Christmas, we have to get through the last few weeks of school.  Which, in our neck of the woods, means a whole whack of homework.  A topic that has led to a rather brooding debate amongst us… is homework really necessary?!  My first answer as mom, educator and lover of learning, says yes, yes, of course!  Homework is a must.  How can we continue learning if there is no homework, no testing, no study?  The rest of the clan disagrees.  It’s stressful, it’s useless, it’s too time consuming, it has no purpose.  These are the things I am hearing!  Even the hubby, who is thinking of branching out of his comfort zone and taking a course in the new year (to which I am very proud!) wants only to audit a course and not do the homework.  Awk!  No, no, no, I say!  How can you really learn if you have no concrete evidence… nothing to show at the end…no “mark” of your ability.  But — I am willing to be open minded — and so I muse:  Is homework really necessary?

  From what I have gathered, “homework” — the work sent home because either it is not completed in class, or is assigned to enhance the practice, preparation for, or extensions of, lessons done in class — is becoming a hot topic.  There seems to be a growing trend to eliminate it all together.  In Canada, “no homework policies” are being pushed by both parents and educators alike, labeling homework as stress inducing, and time-robbing.  A 2008 study done in Ontario, discovered that the dreaded homework hour can become the primary source of arguments in a household.  Not only in parent/child power struggles, but even among marriages as well.  (Which seems to be happening in my house, too…)  And so I muse again… Why?

Apparently the answer lies in the amount of time.  The “ideal” amount of homework, as laid out by the National Parent Teacher Association and the National Education Association in the US, suggests a standard of 10 minutes of homework per grade level.  Canadian educators pretty much follow this standard as well.  However, reports are coming in that students are doing much, much more than this.  On average, Ontario students are given 40 minutes of homework per night.  Add multiple subjects and this can get pretty stressful. Families argue that this cuts into family time, not to mention that if there is misunderstanding or learning struggles — that 40 minutes could drag on in to infinity….

So.  Let’s take a step back.  Let’s look at the big picture of why we educate in the first place.  If our Christian lifestyle impacts our understanding in this topic, then God should have something to say about it too.  The Bible tells us in Proverbs to “…get wisdom and understanding at all costs…” (Proverbs 4).  Could this mean giving up some favourite television show to study the multiplication table?  Or forcing our students off the devices to sit with pen and paper to make a “useless” title page?  Possibly.  Now, don’t get me wrong, we are not perfect scholars over here… we have had our fair share of homework struggles… pulling our hair out to get that perfect paper machéd, 3-D model of some obscure parallelogram.  Or setting the timer for exactly 21 minutes of reading because that is the bare minimum required.   I have seen my teens burn the midnight oil on more than one occasion to complete that assignment simply because they procrastinated the rest of the week.  Homework can certainly be stress inducing.  And as parents, I think it is our job to shape, encourage and instruct our children… that yes, education is important.  And yes, this teacher’s expectations may be out of the ball park… so let’s deal with learning to have difficult conversations, let’s deal with how to interact with people who do not see our points of view, let’s be present in our education systems and seek wisdom.  Let’s make homework part of the bigger idea of “gathering wisdom.”

I’m not convinced there is an easy answer to the homework debate.  We are a full mix of people with many given gifts.  We have different goals and different learning styles.  Good grief… even within my own little clan, we cannot agree on this debate!  For now… I will encourage the completion of homework in our house, with the premise of gathering wisdom.  Skills like multiplication tables and correct spelling and grammar are necessary, yes, but so is good communication, and loving your neighbour, and standing up for what you believe.  Can homework achieve this?  Certainly not in 40 minutes a night.  It becomes a piece of a much, much broader idea, that I will continue to muse about often.

Let me know your thoughts… do you home school and avoid homework altogether?  Do you enforce homework time at your house?  Is it a struggle? Have helpful hints to share?  We’d love to hear from you!   Drop us a line!

Advent

I hate waiting.  I hate waiting in line, I hate waiting for my food to be cooked, I hate waiting for the kids to get out of school.  I just don’t like sitting around with nothing to do when something else should be happening.  I bring books or snacks or my phone or a crochet project on long car rides because my hands need to be doing something (or else I crash into a nap… which is a whole other story).

So, when I discovered that the real meaning of Advent was anticipatory waiting… I wasn’t too keen.  I don’t think many of us are good at waiting.  Have you noticed that radio stations are playing Christmas music already?!  The stores have been in Christmas mode since the day after Halloween!  The marketers out there certainly don’t like waiting!  They want us to be spending our dough faster and faster these days… no waiting!  Order now!  Direct ship!  Buy online!  Available 24 hours, seven days a week!  

Let’s step back for a minute. In case you are not familiar with the term “advent”… it is a traditional practice of the Christian church to anticipate the coming of Christ at Christmas, and then, in turn, His final return to earth.  Similar to the practice of Lent before Easter, it gives us a chance to slow down, to think and ponder, and to hope for the future.  It’s something I have to work on… this waiting.

My first exposure to advent was those cardboard chocolate calendars.

My first exposure to advent was those cardboard chocolate calendars.  The ones with the little doors you would open every day from December first until the 25th.  Back then, I didn’t understand what it meant… I simply enjoyed the treats everyday!  Later, we began to celebrate the four Sundays of advent at our church.  It was then, that I understood the symbolism, the tradition, and the true meaning of the practice.   It is something I have come to cherish as an adult.  It’s a discipline that that reminds me to slow down, to appreciate my family, to encourage my church family, and to rejoice in the season — and not to be so caught up in the rush of the “stuff”.  It forces me to focus each week on learning to wait.  To anticipate.  To revel in the beauty of hope.

Here’s what I have learned about the traditional advent symbolism:  it begins with an evergreen wreath… the symbol of a circle of eternity.  Our Christ is timeless.  He’s been around much longer than the babe in the manger.  Surrounding the wreath are four candles and one central candle.  Each candle is lit on the four Sundays of Advent, and culminate with the lighting of the white, central candle, which is lit on Christmas eve.  This central candle is sometimes referred to as the Christ candle… and represents His purity and the sacrifice He made for us on the cross.  

The first candle is purple.  It represents “hope” and the prophecies that Isaiah spoke about when He described the coming of our special Christmas baby.  The second purple candle represents love, and is sometimes referred to as the Bethlehem candle or the manger candle.  So much love happened in that lowly stable…. I imagine my own beloveds and how the whole world fell away the moment they were born and I saw them for the first time face to face.   Can you imagine Mary’s first glance at her special baby?  Yup, love for sure.  The next candle is pink… and represents joy.   It is the shepherd’s candle.  It embodies the joy and celebration the shepherds must have felt when they were given the good news that a Saviour had been born!  The last candle is also purple and reminds us to be peaceful.   This “angel” candle points us to worship, to reflection, and to remember that the season is not about gifts under a tree, but the ultimate gift given to us.  The One the angels were made for… simply to worship for eternity.  

So… as you prepare for your Christmas season, and you rush out here and there, be reminded of the advent tradition of waiting.  Take time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas… Christ’s coming.  Anticipate through hope, love, joy and peace, and the pure and holy sacrifice that Christ paid for you.  May you be blessed, my beloveds, as we journey towards the holidays together.   Take time to rejoice in waiting.  Oh… it shall be no easy task!  Especially if there are Christmas cookies in the oven! But we can practice it together, shall we?

Want to learn more about Advent?  Check out my Pinterest Boards for more ideas on DIY calendars, symbols, studies and more!

Legacies

a guest post from Abbie B.

Super excited to be sharing from a friend today!  Abbie is much (much!) younger than I, and yet, I am slightly jealous of her adventures.  I asked her to share a bit of her story after seeing a photo from her Jamaican trip.  Ya’ll know I love a good photo — and this one struck something within me — there is compassion and hope embodied in it, and yet sorrow and despair.  So I knew there must be a story behind it.  I have asked Abbie to share the story.  Enjoy!

Growing up knowing that both my Nana and my Grandma were overseas missionary nurses had always been an inspiration, and created a question of whether or not that might be God’s calling on my own life. When I began my nursing journey, I had many people ask me if I was going to follow in my Grandma and Nana’s footsteps. I always replied:  “If that’s what God wants.” I never wanted to say “I don’t know”.

So, when the opportunity of doing an International placement in Jamaica came up, I jumped at the opportunity.  Being a hands on person, I knew that I needed to experience being an international nurse to know if that was where God was leading me.

I didn’t know what I was going to be walking into when I landed in Jamaica, I didn’t know how I would feel! There was a part of me that was scared to walk into a new culture that I’d never experienced, the other part of me was excited for the challenge that was waiting.  My time was split between an orphanage and a small primary school.  Both places were completely different.  Walking into the orphanage, my heart felt heavy,  it was so hard knowing that some of these children didn’t have a permanent place to call home and to feel safe. We spent a majority of our time with the babies. Some who were premature, some toddlers, some who were not able to walk because of varying mobility impairments.  It was so hard to see the needs of the children, whether it was just to hold premature babies or to take a toddler out of their crib and help them walk.  It was even harder when a new baby would come in and try to settle.  My heart broke at their cries for comfort and security.  Working at the orphanage really affirmed in me that my heart is for people who are displaced and broken. Really breaking my heart for what breaks God’s. Our days there were spent doing Head to Toe Assessments (checking all the major body’s systems to make sure that there isn’t anything abnormal), bathing, changing clothes and diapers, playing games, reading, feeding, giving medications when needed to the babies and toddlers, as well as teaching the care givers at the orphanage about the misconceptions of asthma or hygiene.  Which at times was difficult for me because I never wanted to feel like a “know it all”,  or that I was stepping on toes.  I really learned how to be collaborative with those around me.

Working at the primary school was a good break from the emotional roller coaster (not that I didn’t love the orphanage) because I got to use a different side of my brain and skills while at the school.  It was more of “health teaching” with the children there. We brought down nurse and doctor costumes and I got to explain what the different instruments were and played games with them.  It wasn’t a large school by any means, but it felt like a family there — which was such a different feel than the orphanage.  I took the teachers’ blood pressures daily,  to see patterns of increase and decrease, answered their questions about what diabetes, heart failure, asthma etc. all are, and how some can be avoided, and that some is just up to genetics. So many amazing conversations about what health is and what it means to people either physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.  It amazes me how we can be from different parts of the world and find a common ground — and from there — relationships are built.

I loved my international placement,  and in a lot of ways I’m still decompressing and sorting through the lessons I learned.  The one thing that I will always hold with me is when I was leaving, the woman that we were staying with, said to me “You have a beautiful heart, don’t ever lose it.” God’s given me passions, He’s created a heart in me for people to feel safe and secure, to have a place where they feel like they belong.  By the end of my placement, I had a whole new appreciation for my grandma and Nana. Their faith, their consistency, and their commitment to serve God in the unknown. The whole time I was there I was asking God:  “Is this what you want me to do? Is this where you are leading me?” By the end I realized that being a long term missionary isn’t something that God is calling me to.   I think short term trips are still an open door that God isn’t going to be closing anytime soon.  I know that community is where God is calling me and I’ve really seen that in Toronto.  There are so many who are broken and displaced for varying reasons.  My heart breaks for them, and all I want to do is step beside them and walk with them through the hard times.  I’m excited to see where God leads me, as scary as that is,  I trust that He knows best and He will be faithful in giving me the strength to follow through.

Indeed He will, Abbie.  I wish you much joy in the adventure!  

Hosting a Fall Brunch

I love Chip and Joanna Gaines and all things Magnolia.  I wish my “fixer upper” house was as beautiful as theirs, but a little thing called my budget gets in the way far too often.  That, and hockey playing children.  Pooh.  But, a girl can dream, can’t she?!magnolia table's cookbook  Therefore, I was super excited when I found the Magnolia Table’s cookbook on sale!  I snapped it up and longingly poured through the pages.  Everything looked so yummy!  Down home, southern-Texas-hospitality yummy!  I needed an excuse to make some of these goodies!  Thus, the fall brunch was born!how to host brunch

I decided to have it on a Friday morning so that the kids were all occupied at school and since clean up day was Thursday, all would be neat and tidy for my guests!  I decided to go all out… handmade invitations, fancy china dishes, and little take home goodies.  If we were going southern hospitality in Canadian fall, by golly, we were gonna go big!  I got some tiny pumpkins and a matching orange Gerbera daisy.  This was my easy centerpiece with some strategically placed candles and fall leaves.  Easy and fall festive!  I wanted to make some cool gabled boxes as favours for my guests that I had seen on Pinterest, but I had to hand cut the template with my scissors — and they just weren’t turning out the way I wanted.  So, I scratched that idea, and went with these cute little boxes instead.  (see the tutorial here).  I decorated mine with some fall foliage and ribbon, filled them with either a teabag or a coffee pod, and we were good to go!  (As an aside, I am putting that gable box die cut on my Christmas list for the next time honey… hint hint…)fall brunch

My menu consisted of fresh fruits, yogurt, a coleslaw I made a few days before, bag o’kale salad,  a warmed up squash soup I had made earlier and frozen, and a few delightful recipes from the new cookbook:  a spinach and cheese quiche, roasted asparagus, baked brie and the star of the show: Joanna’s cinnamon squares!  A bunch of these were things my kids won’t eat, so I was happy to share… but the cinnamon squares were a hit with the whole household!  They are a labour of love… you have to let the dough rise and layer the filling by folding in layers of dough.  The book made it look easy and Ms. Gaines’ squares are beautifully symmetrical… mine were not quite as aesthetically pleasing… but did they ever taste yummy!  Coffee, juice and tea, and we were set for a delightful morning of meaningful conversation and fellowship!

I invited a variety of ladies… some neighbours, some from church, all of us at different stages of life, and we made introductions and chatted easily of education, our families, crafts, and how yummy the cinnamon squares were!  I hoped it was as delightful for my friends as it was for me!  I’m not always good at being social, (introvert that I am), so was stretched a bit to be the delightful hostess.  Yet, as I looked around the table, I was struck by how strong the women who gathered there were.  How each of them had significant influences on my life through their example, their mentor ship, their friendships, or a way they taught me personally through some action of theirs.  Unique ladies, and yet, here we were, gathered to enjoy a bond of good food and good conversation.  To celebrate nothing in particular, simply the joys of being invited to share at the table.friendship and coffee

Oh, my friends, it encouraged my heart to plan, and knead the dough, and bake, and tidy.  To laugh with friends and enjoy simple things like a warm cup of coffee.  We crave that time as moms, don’t we?  We were made for relationships.  Even introvert me.  Perhaps we have lost our old fashioned desire to connect the way women used to.  Before texts and meetings and running here and there.  Maybe the southern belles had it right.  Be a hostess.  Share a lemonade on the back porch.  Enjoy the company of a good friend.  Or get to know a new one.  And if ya’ll live way up in Canada, host a fall brunch with some warm soup and great cinnamon squares! It will make your heart glad.