Lavendilly Storytime: Why the Swamp Hen Has a Red Beak

Autumn Leaf Fairy3We spend a lot of time hanging together down by the creek. We play and we explore there, never really with much of a plan. Our story times often unfold while we sit together doing nothing much more than just watching and listening. We call to the river to tell us a story, and then we look around, and listen carefully to find it. The story then appears in a natural and collaborative way between myself, the children and the place we are in.

A few weeks ago, after a morning of delightful unstructured play and wandering down by the creek with my 4 year old daughter, we sung our Story-calling Song to the river, and then it answered in a most delightful way. One of those rushes of wind came hurtling up the river from a distance and when it blew by us, little leaves swirled all around us. There was a story there, but what was it? It sure wanted to be told. My daughter listened for a moment before saying that it wanted to tell us the story of the swamp hen. We didn’t know what the story was yet, and so we watched the swamp hens nearby so that we could find out.

The swamp hens were stepping carefully with their long toes on the lawn near the bank, and digging with their red beaks in the grass. Stepping and digging, stepping and digging. Their purply and deep blue feathers shone in the sun. Unhurried, peaceful, purposeful. Other hens were paddling in the water, and one dived right under and disappeared for a moment before shooting out of the water again like a rocket. We found this most interesting! And so we started talking about what we saw, and why we thought the swamp hens were doing these things.

My daughter had a lot of theories about what these waterbirds were doing. We wondered why they were pecking the grass – she thought they were eating the “moisture” (moys-cha), which, it turns out, she thought was lovely dark dirt. I wondered, if maybe they might be nibbling at some roots or grubs that live in the “moisture”. We wondered how they could swim when they were birds – she thought they must kick with their long toes. We wondered why the swamp hen whooshed out of the water so quickly – she thought the eels might have bitten it on the nose because it had been rude.

AH! That explains why it has a red beak!

And there we found the story. It just came, and we told it while we tried to copy the swamp hen’s movements. Have you stepped like waterbird? Stepping slowly while lifting knees and pointing toes at the same time takes balance! When we got home we looked up swamp hens in our bird book and on the computer and discovered that they DO eat the grasses and soft roots of plants near the river, and they DO sometimes attack eels (known as jurun in Yugambeh Language) – but no one knows why.

Well, we do! Here’s why:

WHY THE SWAMP HEN HAS A RED BEAK

Lavendilly Swamp Hen

Purple Swamp Hen was swimming in the shallow water of the river, looking for some food. It dived down under the water and swam about for a moment, before popping back up for a breath.

It was a beautiful bird with shiny, purply and dark blue feathers, and long, long toes that it could use to pick up food, or to swim for short distances under water. It was a neat bird, a tidy one, and it liked the way its  sleek feathers glimmered in the sunlight. Swamp Hen stepped carefully so that it would never get dirty.

Eel saw Swamp Hen swimming underwater one day. “What are you doing, swimming in my river, bird?”

Swamp Hen replied, “I’m just looking for a little food. There are some delicious delicacies here in this river. Have you tried the snail? What about these little fish? Those are delightful, but you have to be quick to catch them.”

Eel said “Only I am fast enough! This is my river and you cannot fish here! I am Jurun! I am king here.”

Swamp Hen looked Eel up and down, then rudely said, “What are you? You are too slimy to be a fish and too fat to be a snake. You couldn’t possibly be king of the river! Not like I, with my shiny feathers and graceful toes. Perhaps I should be king.”

This boasting from Swamp Hen made Eel so cross, it rushed forward and bit Swamp Hen on the beak. Swamp Hen got such a fright it whooshed straight out of the water like a rocket! Its poor beak was bright red and sore!

And that is why Swamp Hen now much prefers to spend its time stepping carefully and only using its beak to dig in the softer parts of the grasses and plants that grow by the water. Sometimes when its beak is feeling really red and sore, it uses its toes to lift up soft plants and shoots, rather than to bend down and dig. And it never spends long underwater, in case it meets Eel again.

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Surrounded by Green

Surrounded by green

feeling the peace

in a space where I can

Be.

Inside and Outside

encompassed by Love.

And when the lonely place reminds me

of the other side of Life

the separation and retreat can be a place of

Reflection and Healing

and a space to Breathe.

Alone in my Space

Surrounded by Green.

Knowing I can step out

At any Time.

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Places in our garden

We have been in our house about three months now. When we began renting here our normal suburban backyard was grass and mulch just a few shrubs. After six weeks of rain our backyard was grass and lots of weeds. Our playgroup began pulling the weeds out and little spaces began forming in my imagination. Our garden has been so much fun to develop and my children have been involved every step of the way. We now have a herb and flower garden, a veggie patch, a pea tipi, outdoor weaving loom, a place to relax in the shade … oh and lots more. Our garden is still growing new spaces and I’ll show you more as it grows. Here are some of the ones that have popped up in the last month:

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Celebrating Seasons: Our Autumn Table

It has been a while since I’ve had a seasonal table. We set one up for Advent, Christmas and the Summer Solstice but then we moved house and just didn’t make a place for it. It has felt a little like something has been missing in our house – a reverent space to honour transitions. So I took care of that today!!IMG_3393 (2)

Mother Earth has come out to watch over our home. This month I have been working a lot with the impulse of Hestia, and I find her in Mother Earth this season, standing there reassuringly with her broom, ready to welcome people into our home, keep good energy flowing in and out of our front door, and to sweep away the cobwebs, keeping our home fresh and clean.

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Autumn is a subtle seasonal shift in Queensland. We don’t get blazing red and gold leaves on our trees, only some in the colder parts of the hinterland. In fact some of our native trees produce new leaves this time of year, but they are baby soft and red before they mature so we still get colour. We have grevilleas flowering, golden cassia creeping through the gardens and roadsides, and golden panda flowers exploding from their branches. Leopard trees have the last of their big bright orange flowers, and birds of paradise parade their golden and purple plumage too. We have colour in Autumn, but it is the colour of life, not the colours of transition to winter.

I like my seasonal tables to reflect this energy too. Apart from some traditional autumnal decorations made by my daughter, this seasonal table is still very green, very floral and flowing in abundance. A bowl of seasonal fruit is present as an offering (although some of it is felted, so choose your fruit with care!). Flowers and foliage from our garden, and nature spirits – we have mushrooms popping up everywhere, but these are a lot brighter than the brown and grey stems in our moist garden. IMG_3400

And our tree is adorned by a string of colourful leaves. I will change this mini leave garland with the seasons. I think we may hang some little fruit from it too – a magical tree that produces all seasonal fruit at once! Pears, apples, limes, persimmons … wish I had a tree like that in my yard!!

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Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: Summer Solstice

rosella and linden on beach1WMIt is Midsummer. For me this time of year will always mean hot steamy days, afternoon storms, grabbing swims in pools, creeks and beaches, spraying each other with the garden hose or spray bottles, feeling sticky from layers of sun cream, sweaty from hats, sleeping with legs hanging out of the sheets, battling mozzies in the bedroom at night, lawn mowers going every weekend, listening to the sometimes deafening chorus of summer insects, cricket on the radio, sunburn, homemade ice blocks, tinkling of ice cubes in glasses, ginger beer, vowing never to eat that much on Christmas day ever again …

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How do you relate to the power of the sun at this time of year? I am awed by the power of the sun. I don’t mind the heat but being so fair skinned I am afraid to spend too long outside. The sun bites me and I like to keep a respectful distance between us. I have to cover up just to hang out the washing. My son, after running about for two weeks on holidays, now has three times as many freckles on his face, my daughter’s hair is shining golden and my little one hardly ever wears clothes at all unless she goes outside and then I do my best to cover her up.

This weather has dictated a new rhythm for us: we are up early (5am!) because it is so hot and the sun gets up early.  We eat less and drink more. Our drink bottles are our constant companions and we embrace salads and raw foods for our meals. We go out and about, play and visit and do anything we have to outside before 10am, and then come inside or play in the shade and have some creative quiet time until the afternoon when we burst outside again with renewed energy. It is an interesting stop/start kind of season for us … a mixture of almost frenzied activity followed by complete stillness. Quite different to midwinter when I tend to plod along slowly and steadily. As hard as I do find the heat and humidity I do embrace this obvious seasonal shift.

Today is actually the Summer Solstice – the day when the sun gives us the longest day and the shortest night. It’s the pause before the sun begins its dance away from the Earth, bringing us the cooler weather.  Solstice hasn’t previously been a big part of my family celebrations until recently, and this year I’ll be celebrating both Solstice and Christmas – as well as Advent! Quite different celebrations each of them … but somehow this year it all fits.faerie ring1WM

I’ve been talking to my children about Solstice, and the cycle of the sun for the last week or so, and inspired by my friend Oakwillow this year we invited the Solstice Faeries to come and dance in our garden tonight. We had such a delightful time creating a ring for the faeries to come and dance in. So much thought went in to thinking of what sort of things would invite the faeries in – and where they might like to dance. In the end the spot we decided on was the bean tepee – and then the Christmas Tree was stripped of all golden and yellow ornaments, which then decorated the tepee. Rainbows were added in case the Rainbow Faeries wanted to come and dance with the Fire Faeries and Sun Faeries, although actually I think the only ones who have turned up are the Rain Faeries. I am sure that each of the two beans that have grown on this bean tepee are feeling pretty special at the moment.

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 … fire fairies come to us …

… and the fire fairies come …

…bringing golden light from the sun …

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A ring made, a chant sung, and a lengthy call to the Fire Faeries by my daughter (including an eloquent request to let us see them), candles lit and then we crept away to keep watch and see when they might arrive. A vigil was kept from the cubby house, the verandah and through the kitchen window and the kids are SURE they’ve seen some flashing movement in and around the poles of the tepee!! Then when darkness finally fell and the littlest one was asleep (yes, it WAS a longer day today!) we snuggled on the couch and I told the story of Gramma Sun and the Summer Solstice – then one more peek though the kitchen window at the faerie ring (yes! I saw one!) and off to bed.

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Tonight it is hoped that the Solstice Faeries will leave a gift to say thanks for making a special place for them to dance and celebrate the height of summer. I am feeling pretty certain that wish is going to come true ;). I’m looking forward to seeing what tomorrow will bring!

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Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: Resources for Celebrations

linden garland 3I believe that our celebrations should be given thought – there should be an understanding of what we are celebrating – and why – and then we should consider how to celebrate it according to where we live. It has always felt strange to me to celebrate winter festivities at Christmas time when it is summer in Australia … and Australia is a country with great variety in landscapes so each celebration for each family would be strengthened with an inclusion of local foods, plants, animals, landscapes and people.

The following posts are my journey into understanding Christmas and Advent, and making it real for us according to where we live. I hope you enjoy them, and I would love to hear your ideas too.

ADVENT POSTS

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: Advent

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: The Four Kingdoms

Advent Week One: The Mineral Kingdom

Advent Week Two: The Plant Kingdom

Advent Week Two: The Plant Kingdom Story

Advent Week Three: The Animal Kingdom

Advent Week Three: The Animal Kingdom Story

Advent Week Four: The Human Kingdom

The Twelfth Day of Christmas: Epiphany

CHRISTMAS IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE POSTS

Finding Meaning In the Festive Season

What to Do About Santa Claus?

The Christmas Tree

The Jesse Tree

The Summer Solstice

CHRISTMAS RECIPES

Raw Gingerbread

Christmas Spice Muesli

Raw Chocolate Cherry Christmas Stars

CHRISTMAS CRAFT

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OTHER CHRISTMAS ARTICLES AND RESOURCES

Christmas in the Middle Ages Part 1

Advent Week 3: The Animal Kingdom

This series of Advent posts has presented a different way of appreciating and celebrating Advent – as not only a gift from Heaven and the promise of good things to come, but also as a gift from the Earth and delight in the good things we have right now. I am really loving this full and balanced celebration of our diversity and our possibilities. As we’ve been going along in the weeks and following the journey of Mary and Joseph I’ve been journeying with my family too. Mostly just really appreciating the time we have together at the moment, and the blessings we have that allow us to enjoy our health, our happiness and our home.

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This week coming is Week 3 of Advent, and it is a celebration of the Animal Kingdom. Animals have physical bodies and form, with thanks to the Mineral Kingdom, and thanks to the Plant Kingdom they have life force, diversity, beauty, colour and the ability to adapt, change and reproduce. Animals also have instinct and feelings, they interact socially with one another in a way that plants do not. Animals have evolved their consciousness so that they can interact with each other and their environment in order to meet their complex needs as individuals, and as members of a social group. Animals also have unique skills they have developed to keep their species alive, but also to aid other animals.

When we celebrate the Animal Kingdom we honour the ability to connect with others, we honour the realm of Feeling, and the joy of our senses. We celebrate community and family and friendship. Animals are loyal and brave and funny and interesting. Our relationship with animals has always been closely linked in love and friendship and service, and even nutrition, although this last one is a very personal choice.

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ACTIVITIES

This week we are all on holidays … so we have the opportunity to go out and about again. I’d like to:

– visit the Currumbin Community Farm, or if we can’t make it there, our local cafe (The River Mill Cafe) has some very happy farm animals you can visit, and turtles too (although I am not sure I agree that feeding the turtles is a great idea. Please don’t feed them bread!) There is also Harmony Hooves, which is worth a visit because they love animals and love children and love helping … and the three go together so well.

– go to the beach with our binoculars and write down how many different types of wildlife we can see in and out of the water and the sand – go ponding: with a net, a white bucket, a magnifying glass and note-book … see how many tiny creatures live in the waters of our creeks.

– we have a pass to Seaworld this year – that is always a great opportunity to wonder at the animals who live in our oceans. On the Gold Coast Currumbin Sanctuary, David Fleay Wildlife Park and Paradise Country are all great places to see local wildlife if you haven’t been lucky enough to spot any on a bushwalk.

– take some extra care with our own chickens who provide us with eggs every morning: its time to really give their coop a great clean!

– bird watching in the bush. We’ve got a bird guide that we always forget to take with us, and binoculars we always leave at home, and yet we always see birds we want to identify.

– go to the museum! There you will not be able to marvel at live animals, but can certainly appreciated the diversity of species all over the world for the last few million years! Our planet is just amazing. My favourite bit is always to look at the insects, but of course my kids prefer the dinosaurs 🙂

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CAROLS

Little Donkey – a really lovely carol about the hard work of Donkey as he carried Mary to Bethlehem

The Friendly Beasts – About the gifts each animals gave the Holy Family. Love the illustrations here by Tomie dePaola

Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer – just for fun 🙂

STORY

The Week Three Advent story tells how Mary and Joseph recognise and receive the blessings of the Animal Kingdom on their journey to Bethlehem. You can read it here

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Advent Week Two: The Plant Kingdom Story

This story continues from Advent Week One – when Mary and Joseph begin their journey with their donkey. In the first week they found reason to be grateful for the gifts of the Mineral Kingdom, and this week they continue to travel:

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Advent Week Two Story: The Plant Kingdom

written by Jennifer McCormack

And so the journey continues, with weary travelers three:
Joseph walking slowly, leading Mary and Donkey.
Mary was pregnant with a baby, a gift from God above.
She walked a bit, but Donkey mostly carried her with love.
Back to Bethlehem they walked, Joseph’s town of birth.
Across the rugged landscape, over the rocks and earth.
The path was rocky, the rivers deep, the hills and land were wild
But with love upon the travelers three, our Mother Earth smiled.
She smoothed the ground, sent crystal light, and rolled the rocks away,
So Joseph, Mary and Donkey could travel far each day.
When their food ran out, Mary cried for poor Donkey
“He has so far to go, and I am getting so heavy!
I hope that we can find some food to keep our Donkey strong,
and you dear Joseph need strength too, as you walk along”
That night they gave their thanks to God and Mother Earth so wise,
And when they woke upon the morn, they could not believe their eyes.
For overnight there had grown a pasture like a bright green sea,
and feasting upon its healthy goodness was Donkey, so happy.
Upon the trees they found their breakfast: nuts, seeds, berries and fruit,
And from the ground, for other meals, they found vegetables and roots.
Mary searched for fresh herbs, collected healing bark from wood.
They filled their tummies, filled their baskets, harvested all they could.
Now feeling nourished, feeling fresh, they rested in the shade.
Mary picked some flowers to celebrate this day.
That evening as they made their camp underneath the stars,
Mary and Joseph said “How fortunate we are,
To have the blessings of abundance from the plants around
Nourishment, shelter healing and beauty growing in the ground.
Thank you to the trees and bushes, for the shelter you provide.
For the beauty of the many flowers, growing alongside
Thank you to the fruits and berries ripening on the trees
Thank you for the gift of herbs and healing energy,
Thanks for vegetables, nuts and roots, for everything we need.
And best of all, the gift of life deep within your seeds.

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: The Christmas Tree

Advent Tree WMI am so enjoying this process of meaning-making at Christmas time. I’ve never given it much thought in previous years … just sat each year with the unsettling question of “Why do we do this?” and it feels so good to finally address this. As a result all our usual icons at Christmas are now revealing their stories to me and I’m gaining a greater appreciation for tradition, a greater understanding of humanity and using it all to create my own meaning at Christmas time, and making some new family traditions too.

Why a Tree?

I haven’t really found out where the idea of the Christmas Tree came from. I have read some very interesting stories though! Like Santa, the Christmas Tree has evolved over the centuries, and I was right about it being an enduring pre-Christian, pagan symbol of Nature. I read one story about the fir tree becoming the symbol of Christmas because a monk used its triangular shape to describe the relationship of the Holy Trinity. I am sure it is probable that explanation happened at some point but the tree as a symbol of Christmas is more likely to be because fir trees are evergreen and were a symbol of strength, continuity and hope through the winter. The reverence of evergreen trees has been a Germanic tradition for thousands of years before Christianity and I was horrified to read the story of Donar’s Oak, an ancient tree that was miraculously felled by St Boniface (with a bit of Divine assistance, apparently) who then built a Catholic church upon the site to celebrate the town’s ‘conversion’ to Christianity. Can you imagine?

There are many stories associated with the tree at this time of year: the Yule log, the Solstice Tree, the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. Go and look them up, they are really interesting! It seems to me most festivals are in some way associated with birth and re-birth, with life and death and the mystery surrounding it that holds us all fascinated with how the world works. For me it comes back to the quality of the life I am living, the birthing of my own self as I move through this life journey on this Earth. We can make our own meanings in symbols, we can start new traditions, and I think it is important that we do.

The Tree Inside

Ever since I read the story “The Little Fir Tree” by Hans Christian Andersen I’ve been wondering about the reason we have trees inside our home at Christmas time. I often find Hans Christian Andersen’s stories more than a little melancholic … and this one is as sad as “The Little Match Girl” to me. This little tree was curious about the world, and had his wish for experience granted. He thought he would rejoice when it was his turn to go inside the houses in the winter like his fellow trees do each year. Instead he felt the pain and stinging cut of the axe, enjoyed a few brief moments of Christmas cheer and was then hacked to pieces for burning after Christmas. Hans! Must you?! I could never bear to use a real live tree branch after that – the whole story would shroud the tree in sadness rather than bright and cheery Christmas joy! The good news is, I have since re-written that story for myself and have also found another one about a fir tree, written so exquisitely, and called The Story of the Tree That Dreamt a Flower by Isabel Wyatt in “The Seven Year Old Wonder Book”, which also tells the story of how it came to be that we place stars on top of the tree. This book also has some really lovely stories about St Nicholas in it too. I recommend it as part of your Christmas reading to your children. We’ll be starting it tonight.

So one story heals the experience of another and, thanks to Isabel Wyatt, I’m recovered from yet another scarring Hans Christian Andersen experience (I am sure not all his fairy tales were intended for children). It still doesn’t sit right with me that we celebrate Nature in our living rooms each year by cutting trees down, and bringing them inside the house to die. I must still be missing something here. Christmas tree farms are big business now and they do provide habitat for animals year-round even though the trees are cut down or repotted to be used for one month of the year. The other side of this is that an artificial tree will last for a few years in your home but when you throw it away it will endure for centuries in a landfill. What to do? I’m not sure Christmas would be the same without the tree.

I grew up with a plastic tree. Part of our ritual each year was to take it out of its box from the garage, set it up in the garden and then spray it with the garden hose to wash off a year’s worth of dust. This was just as much fun as decorating it, I think. Christmas in summer in Queensland is hot and sweaty and any opportunity to play with water in the backyard is a delightful one. I also loved the sparkling water drops on the branches, like it was decorated already, and the contrast it made: a perfectly shaped plastic tree ‘growing’ out of the middle of our lawn.

Since having my own family we’ve swayed between real trees and plastic trees. We’ve gave our plastic tree away 2 years ago and have since been using potted trees,  however we’ve never had much luck with real trees in pots at Christmas, even native pines. I might as well have cut the tree down in the first place because my good intentions to replant it usually end up with it instead dying a longer, more drawn-out death in the pot, because nurturing pot plants is not one of my skills, and besides since leaving home I have always lived in rentals so planting a potentially enormous pine tree in someone else’s backyard isn’t really an option either. This year I thought we would buy a fruit tree instead. I think I am more likely to plant a fruit tree in our garden, and our landlords are more likely to appreciate this gift, and I am also more likely to want to take care of it. I also thought that planting the tree in a prepared hole might be part of the ritual of taking the tree down after Christmas. Our son can dig the hole, our daughter can sing the ceremony story, our toddler can get dirty, the tree will have a home, our garden will be blessed and we’ll all be happy.

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I had no idea, before writing this, that I have more control issues surrounding the Christmas Tree than I did about Santa! Lucky I know how to laugh at myself and am getting better at letting things go! I love the idea of decorating a tree, and it is the part of Christmas I really gain a lot of enjoyment from – provided I can do the whole thing by myself with no input from ANYONE else!! Only I know where those ornaments have to be hung! Woe betide anyone who differs in opinion or who mucks around with my arrangement – that goes for toddlers too! In the past few years our Christmas Tree has been up on a shelf or a little table so little hands don’t disrupt it. I like to make it just so, and I think I don’t breathe properly around the tree until it is all packed away.

Well, we all have our little vices. I’ve tried letting go of it all and last year I think I did rather well, letting the children decorate it (and the house) and resisting the urge to make things symmetrical/evenly spaced/balanced in colour, form and shape. One thing I do hate with a passion (and which my husband loves) is tinsel. Can’t explain why … it makes me wonder what we are celebrating by covering a tree – a symbol of Nature in our homes – with a completely synthetic product that doesn’t even try to mimic anything in nature, and that also sheds little bits of tinsel that stick to my feet and blow all over the house. Man’s dominance over the natural forces? Perhaps I’m taking it a bit too far here! I won’t go on about it. Let’s just agree to maximise household happiness by minimising tinsel in my home. This year I would like to make our own garlands from my expansive scrap fabric stash, and I have some lovely gold fabric to use that may satisfy the family’s urge for shiny, sparkly things.

I may not love tinsel but I do love sparkly things. In all this reflection and thinking about Christmas, the most joyful memory from my childhood is that of lying underneath the Christmas Tree at night, with all other lights in the house turned off, everyone else in bed … just me and the tree and the colourful twinkling lights. I find lights on a tree so mesmering and I was always drawn to the tree lights at night time, totally lost in the peace and beauty of the whole thing. I would lie with my head next to the wrapped up gifts and wonder about their contents. I’d look up through the branches and see the tree from underneath – a whole new perspective of layers and colour and shadows. I even still remember the smell of the dust.

Today is the first day of December and for many families it is tree-putting-up day. I think I grew up with the tradition of putting the tree up two weeks before Christmas and taking it down two weeks after. Other families have their tree up in November. This year I have to say I am rather excited about putting up a tree and making decorations for it, but I don’t think we’ll do it until we can give it proper attention, which for us means waiting until school is over for the year, a whole morning with nothing else to do, carols, holidays. Embracing the light and joy of ceremony, tradition, expression and creativity!

Advent Week One: The Mineral Kingdom

The first week of our Advent honours the Mineral Kingdom: the earth, rocks, stones, variety of landscapes, the essential minerals and elements that make up our land and our bodies. It honours the hard journeys we experience in our lives, which can be made softer and easier by cultivating reverence, forgiveness, joy and gratitude. the following ideas are ones we will use in our family, for other ideas you can go to MamaMoontime and have a read: http://www.mamamoontime.com/2009/11/week-one-of-advent-mineral-kingdom.html

Week One Activities

As the days of the first week of Advent roll by we will spend some time in nature exploring our environment, particularly the minerals. I’m going to be realistic and say that with three little children home full-time on holidays just before Christmas I won’t have much time for lots of crafts, so our activities will be nature-based – and kitchen-based. We will do a little clay craft for our community celebration though.

1) We will make rock towers down by the creek,

2) Scrape rocks with water to make paint, then paint our faces and bodies with it

3) Decorate some special rocks to represent the things that make us joyful and place them in our garden,

4) We’ll collect beautiful shells from the beach

5) We’ll play at our local creek, shifting rocks to channel the water

6) Spend time making forms in our landscape: tracing figures in the dust, making mud castles

7) Create a specially arranged collection of crystals and shells for our Seasonal Table.

I think the important thing is to get outside and enjoy the gifts of our local community. We may take photos and transform it into a little book to read each first week of Advent, along with some of the things we are grateful for given to us by the mineral kingdom.

Week One Carols

I love singing Christmas carols – but I am also so tired of all the usual carols that are sung this time of year. A month of “Jingle Bells” is too much for me! I love the wistfulness and romance of the wintery, snowy carols but they don’t speak to our experience here in Australia. I don’t think that’s a reason not to sing them … just not to immerse myself in them. Christmas to me largely involves a good dose of Bing Crosby and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

I had a good look around and finding carols relating to the Mineral Kingdom was a challenge! So I’ve put together a list of carols that tell the story of shelter, home, belonging, and that celebrate Mary and her beautiful baby. Ave Maria is sooooooo beautiful. It is quite a complicated song though, however I’m determined to learn it this year. Here are some carols you can enjoy together in the first week:

O, Little Town of Bethlehem – this is Sarah McLachlan

Ave Maria – this is Sarah Brightman’s performance

Gabriel’s Message – this is an interesting percussion and marimba arrangement! Or you might prefer Sting’s version, where the lyrics are a bit clearer.

Silver Bells – this song is a bit wintery and not very Southern Hemisphere but it does echo the sense of anticipation and joy, and the homeliness and warm community feeling that we like to feel when we begin inviting Christmas into our homes – and it is sung by the Master of Christmas Carols himself, Bing Crosby

Week One Story

In previous years I have read the children stories from Collette Leenman’s “Advent Sunday Stories”, which tell the Nativity tale through the Four Kingdoms each week of Advent. This year I wanted to write my own stories.  We’ll begin the week’s celebrations with this story, and each night of the first week we’ll light our first Advent Candle. This little story I wrote for my family, and to share with my community because it incorporates the beginning of the Nativity (to be continued as the weeks to Christmas pass) and it also honours my personal path of earth-based spirituality, while also being respectful to the Christian roots of the original Nativity story.

I haven’t yet prepared props for this story. I usually go very simple and use nature items for my storytelling, rather than making puppets. I love children to use their imaginations and  bring a natural object to life in their own minds. Perhaps some simple images could be painted on the rocks to represent the main characters and honour the mineral kingdom both at once. This time, however, I would LOVE to tell this story at twilight with a sequence of transparencies made with cardboard and tissue paper, lit with a candle behind. Each one a different scene from the story. We’ll see how I go! For my Seasonal Table, the scene will be simple: set with green, brown and blue cloths fashioned into a landscape. We will place rocks , shells and crystals that we have found in our nearby area along the path that Mary, Joseph and their donkey are on. There will also be the Archangel Gabriel there in the sky.

Week One Advent Story: The Mineral Kingdom

Written by Jennifer McCormack

An Angel came from Heaven and told Mary she’d be a mummy

That a very special baby was now growing in her tummy.

The Angel said that very soon people all around the Earth,

Would smile with joy and lift with hope, and celebrate this birth.

Mary, Joseph and their special secret set off on a long track,

All the way to Bethlehem, Mary on their donkey’s back.

The way was long and difficult, back to Joseph’s home,

Donkey carried pregnant Mary over the sharp stones.

They walked up mountains, into valleys, through rivers, over streams,

And though the land looked rough the way was easier than it seemed,

For Mother Earth knew Mary’s baby was a very special child,

And she made the journey gentle, though the landscape was wild.

Joseph, Mary and their donkey each night lay down to rest,

Sheltered by a warm cave, knowing they were blessed.

To Father Sky and Mother Earth the travellers said a prayer,

Grateful for the gifts of earth, water, fire and of air.

“Thank you for the mountains, the valleys and the plains.

For the rivers, lakes and oceans who give their water up for rain.

Thank you to the rocks and stones, for the ground beneath our feet,

for deep inside this wondrous Earth a warm heart will always beat.”