Project 52 #50: Christmas Present

If you had told me as little as three years ago that this Christmas we’d have an electric train that puffs real smoke running around our tree, be going on family outings to pick up seashells along an Alaska beach, or learning to make baklava—I would have been surprised (delightfully so).

Interspersed with the unexpected things, are the old familiar traditions we carry with us to a new place, teaching the next generation of my family how to successfully roll out lefse without it sticking to the board or hanging up the favorite ornaments we’ve collected over the years while remembering the beloved people and places they represent for us.

Then there are the old mixed with new, like going caroling, as we have many times over the years, but with new people in new places. Little kids acting out the same old story with brand new energy. Listening to the favorite old carols and festive songs on repeat, but also learning a new one or two. A new Christmas sweater for a growing little boy; favorite hand-me-down Christmas dresses pulled out of totes to pass down to the next girl in line.

I have not yet spoken about the “wished for”, but there is always a little of that, too, like wishing that family was coming to visit, or that eggnog would go down in price.

This is the Christmas of the present (not to be confused with the Christmas of the presents), full of an assortment of new experiences and old traditions, hopes filled and wishes ungranted. The old, the new, the not-yet—every year it is thus. Sometimes, we miss the present living too longingly in the future; sometimes, we miss the present by living too wistfully in the past. Hopefully, though, more often we are living fully in the present, fully embracing the imperfect yet unique gift of NOW, that will never come again.

Thankfully, there is One thing about Christmas that is never old, new or yet-to-come, but always present—and His constancy is the real reason we celebrate the same thing every year, our perfectly enacted cherished traditions, our humble and fumbled attempts at festivity, even our highest and frequently dashed expectations of the season, all mere and (if we’re being honest) unworthy gestures of awe at the wonder that the great I AM wittingly entered time and space and flesh—for us.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come forth for Me One to be ruler over Israel—One whose origins are of old, from the days of eternity.” (Micah 5:2)

“In the beginning, O Lord, You laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed; but You remain the same, and Your years will never end.” (Hebrews 1:10-12)

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Project 52 #48: December Outings

Hands-on learning is, hands down, my favorite part of home education. Experiencing something is the icing on the cake for learning anything. You don’t usually forget things you actually experience in a meaningful way like you might a list of names and dates in a book. My goal for school is to provide as many of these as possible for my kids.

This week, I happened to see that the forecast for the aurora borealis was favorable, coinciding with a string of cold, clear nights in southeast Alaska. This is when we’re glad for the long nights, because it was dark early enough that we headed out at 6 PM to what I hoped would be an ideal unobstructed aurora viewing spot (it was), sat out there for about an hour and a half, and I still had everyone home and headed to bed by 8:30. Admittedly, the aurora were not as good as I was hoping for. There was not a lot of movement and a bright half moon provided some competition in the west. Nevertheless, the northern lights were distinctly visible, it was the first time my younger daughters had seen them, and they were thrilled.

We also got in some good stargazing. We spotted a couple meteorites, and I showed the girls how the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper are actually part of Ursa Major (Big Bear—pictured above) and Ursa Minor (Little Bear), and how to find Orion. When we needed to take a break to warm up in the car, we’d peek at our Stargazer’s Guide to the Night Sky for more inspiration and sip from the thermos of the special-occasion-only hot chocolate (not to be confused with hot cocoa) I’d brought along. It was such a simple, yet satisfying outing!

Our next excursion of the week involved searching for that perfect Christmas tree. I had to chuckle when I saw a wanted ad on one of our local online buy-sell-trade groups, someone new to the island asking where they might find an inexpensive tree, and reading the comments from locals chiming in to say, “They’re free along every road; grab a saw and take your pick!” That’s exactly what we did…or at least what we set out to do. If you want the full story, you can ask Zach. I’m just here to say the snow and the mountains were looking extra lovely while we searched!

And as the countdown to Christmas has begun, I’ve been taking the time as much as I can in the midst of the swell of feasting, fun and activity to think about this:

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:14, 10-12)

Project 52 #47: Hygge

With winter solstice approaching fast, I am truly enjoying the quiet, restful beauty of this season…

when candlelight is as lovely for breakfast as it is for supper,

when the night frosts restore beauty to every dying leaf,

when we can read a book to the cozy crackle of the woodstove warming the house,

and I can watch the sunset while I’m making supper.

Some of my ancestors came from Norway, a place very similar in latitude to where I live now. Over there, they have a word for what I’m trying to describe, a word that’s gotten a bit trendy in the United States in recent years. But trendy or not, I do think those words in other languages that we don’t have an exact equivalent to in English are so interesting and rather delightful. If you’ve lived anywhere where the winter nights are long, or the winter is harsh, you should appreciate the word “hygge”, a single word coined by fellow people of the north to describe the way we not only cope with but find true pleasure in this dark, cold season.

One article I read described it this way: “Hygge has been called everything from “the art of creating intimacy”, “coziness of the soul”, and “the absence of annoyance”, to “taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things”, “cozy togetherness” and “cocoa by candlelight”.”

I hope that, not matter where you are, you are enjoying your own version of hygge as we enter this winter season—or that you will take this as inspiration to make the time to cultivate some in the months ahead!

“God has given riches and wealth to every man, and He has enabled him to enjoy them, to accept his lot, and to rejoice in his labor. This is a gift from God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:19)

Project 52 #46: Teamwork

My kids are so used to me always bringing the camera wherever I go and looking for potential photographs, sometimes they beat me to it. “Mom! You should pull over and take a picture of that spot back there. I see a good place up ahead to turn around!” That first photo up above was Talitha’s original idea, and a collaboration on everyone’s part, since there was no good pullout at the most advantageous spot, and it was a long ways to walk. They watched both ways and told me if/when a car was coming while I snapped my photo out the window. Just wanted you all to know that some of my photography is the result of some real teamwork over here—and I’m grateful for my team!

“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you.” Nor can the head say to the feet, “I do not need you”…

“But in fact, God has arranged the members of the body, every one of them, according to His design.” (1 Corinthians 12:15, 18)

Project 52 #45: Rhythms of Praise

Ocean tides, they rise and fall,

Rolling waves, they know their bounds,

As earth spins round,

In dance with moon,

At the voice of Creator God,

At the voice of our God.

And all the earth, it sings,

All the earth, lifts up its praise,

Glory,

Glory,

Glory to Creator God.

“Do you not fear me? declares the LORD. Do you not tremble before me? I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot pass over it.” (Jeremiah 5:22)

Project 52 #44: Twelve Mile Arm

We went on our second end-of-October “cabining” trip to Twelve Mile Arm this year, this time for two nights. Does that make it an annual tradition? That remains to be seen, but the fact that a pair of kayaks now come with the cabin is a pretty big draw. We enjoyed taking turns paddling around the estuary, followed by curious seals, and the two little girls were pretty excited when we let them paddle out to the nearby island (so shallow and close you can walk to it at low tide) by themselves.

There was snow on the mountains across the bay when we woke up one morning, but we did not get cold like we did the last time we came here. I guess that means we’ve learned a thing or two about 1) clothing and bedding choices, and 2) running a woodstove.

I read the cabin journal, in which guests talked about hearing wolves and being skunked at deer hunting (I think there’s a connection there), and feasting on crab. One guest left behind a game of Uno Flip on purpose, hoping others would enjoy it, too. (We did.) Another guest left a can opener, which I had forgotten. (I used it, gratefully.)

The utter stillness was achingly beautiful. Not even our phones could ding to spoil it.

“And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

Project 52 #43: Alder Trail

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

About the photos: Some weeks I don’t take many pictures, and our explorations don’t take us much further than the edge of town to this little trail. I think my favorite part of it might be this gentle, if somewhat deceiving, start through the alders, before it quickly switches to the steep ascent more worthy of it’s local nickname “Heart Attack Trail”.

Project 52 #42: Salal Berries

Found during a family hike along an unnamed road, this was my first sighting of salal berries. Oddly, on this day in late October, we found blossoms, too. I did not know what they were at the time (and Google doesn’t work in the wilderness), so I left them there, but later, my friend Juliet identified them for me and confirmed that they are, indeed, edible, with the flavor being described as somewhere between a blueberry and a grape.

The amount of pleasure I get out of discovering a new-to-me plant and learning about it is deep, especially when it’s as interesting as this one turned out to be. Did you know that salal berries have a long history as an important staple food of the Pacific coastal native Americans? Did you know that berries like these that stain your fingers purple when you pick them are high in phenolic flavonoid phytochemicals, aka compounds that fight against cancer, aging, inflammation, and neurological diseases? Did you know salal berries have three times the antioxidants of their much more widely touted “superfood” cousin blueberries? Did you know that salal leaves are astringent and anti-inflammatory, and poultices or teas of it can be used to treat a wide variety of ailments like wounds, coughs and stomach/digestive issues? Did you know the young leaves of this plant can be used as an appetite suppressant?

But for all this, the salal shrub classified as “Gaultheria shallon” is most widely known today merely for it’s beautiful evergreen leaves, prized in the florist industry!

“And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” (Genesis 1:29)

Project 52 #39: Forest Paths

John 13-17 contains the most detailed and beautiful account of Jesus’ last supper before His death. Best of all, it includes His last charge to His disciples and by extension, us. I treasured those words as I read them this week, each one perfectly expressed, sheer gold—not one word wasted.

“Do you know what I have done for you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, because I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example so that you should do as I have done for you. 

Truly, truly, I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (13:12-17)

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (13:34-35)

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe in Me as well. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am.” (14:1-3)

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” (14:15-17)

“Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.

I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who remains in Me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are gathered up, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 

This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, proving yourselves to be My disciples.” (15:4-8)

“You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will remain—so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. 

This is My command to you: Love one another.” (15:14-17)

“If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me first. If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” (15:18-19)

“I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world!” (16:33)

“I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by Your name, the name You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one…

I am not asking that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I have also sent them into the world. For them I sanctify Myself, so that they too may be sanctified by the truth.” (17:11, 15-19)

“I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (17:20-21)

“Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, that they may see the glory You gave Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (17:24)

What a wonderful Savior is Jesus our Lord!

(And didn’t He make the autumn forest a place of true beauty and delight?)

Project 52 #38: The Road to Luck Lake

This week we took a little school field trip up to Luck Lake where we did some hiking and had a picnic. It was a lovely fall day for some nature study out in the wild. I found and identified highbush cranberries, the leaves were fluttering down from the alders, and the pushki (cow parsnip) were making stunning dried floral arrangements wherever we looked.

The winding road between there and Thorne Bay is nothing but wilderness, and crosses multiple salmon streams. We paused on each bridge to observe the water below us teeming with fish intent on spawning, marveling at the spectacle. The life cycle of the salmon has fascinated me since I watched “The Wonders of God’s Creation” as a child, but what a gift it is to be able to observe part of that cycle in person.

Did you know salmon are anadromous? That means they hatch in freshwater, migrate to salt water, then return to the same fresh water they hatched from to spawn. It was a cool big word to teach my students this week.

“The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof, the world and all who dwell therein.” (Psalm 24:1)