Crown and Bough

Thursday, 29 December 2016


Looking at these photos is a tiny journey through the past year; a year that's spanned continents and seasons but that has eventually come full circle.

We moved to a different flat shortly after Christmas.  We'd hardly settled in before Roan and I were flying back to the States to apply for my immigration.  I picked up my crocheting again in those first months, but as time went on and we were still waiting on documents and signatures, I started to fret.  I went on a writing binge in July, completing 50,000 words for Camp NaNoWriMo.  Roan and I spent the summer-into-autumn days bumbling about a little "farm" where we rented a furnished ground-floor apartment.  Our hosts were gracious and welcoming.  I started a new medication that is a multitude of answered prayers!  My body can break down and use energy.  I cried in the doctor's office.  I felt I was at last being heard.  We finally got word that my visa was processed, and flew home the day after Halloween.

Being all together is an adjustment of titanic proportions.  Some days are all puffy clouds and sunshine.  Others feel like clinging to the face of a merciless mountain.  My two goals for this year were to read Kristin Lavransdatter and something by A.S. Byatt and to publish one piece.  I read both Sigrid Undset and The Children's Book, so am pleased with that.  As for publication, I did get a photo on Two Blooms blog, but no writing.

It's interesting to note how environment affect the style and evolution of my photography.  Starting out here in Wales last winter, my photos looked more film-y, and landscapes dominated.  When I came back to Florida, I got into more of a modern pop portraiture style, with clear, fresh colors and smooth complexions.  Back home in Wales, I'm putting out vintage vibes and de-saturation.  Photography goals for the new year: experiment more, take more action photos, and always, always, work toward a unified aesthetic.

I'd really like to make more art again in 2017, but I don't know how possible that will be with the rowdy boys two.  There's a Saturday morning writer's group here in Colwyn Bay which would cover my word-y aspirations in a practical way.  I want to learn Welsh once and for all.  I want to think about God more than once a day.  I want to (continue to) learn how to pray.  I want to devour more Undset and Muriel Spark (look at me, reading women authors! college-age me wouldn't have believed it!).  I want to stay in the house less and visit more.  I want to go to the gym and build my muscles and become stronger.  I want to clean and be cheerful about it and not despair when everything I just did is undone.  I want to live motherhood as the sacred thing it is and not fall into the delusion that just because it is sacred it is ever romantic.  I do not want to cook.  :P

2016 was a stretchy year.  It tested my resilience, and like the little boy in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I haven't just sprung back to my pre-2016 shape and stature.  But maybe that just means there's more room in here for love.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Communion of Saints

We had a melt-down today a quarter of a mile away from our front door.  John was up ahead with Roan and Afon just collapsed at the light for the crossroads.  I sat with him on pavement in the cold, with the traffic going by, while he screamed and scorned all attempts at comforting.  A little  old woman spoke kindly to him and when I explained the situation, she said, "My heart goes out to you." A Middle Eastern man brought over some sweets to offer Afon and said he would come back in fifteen minutes.  A hipster backpacker with hot pink highlighted hair and beard asked, "Can I do anything to help, love?"

We were meant to be meeting the social worker that very minute, and she came out down the road, sat with us, and spoke softly and kindly to Afon.  We attempted several times to pick him up and carry him between us, but A. struggled so and we didn't want to cross the road with him like that.  So we called John, who brought the stroller and we were able to make it home.  When we crossed the road, I passed the Middle Eastern man outside his shop and put my hand out to him, saying "Thank you."  He squeezed it back and placed his free hand over his heart.

I will never forget his, or the others', kindness.  It occurs to me that God allows these bad/sad/challenging things to take place in our lives because he wants us to rise to the challenge.  It would be too easy for us to cry out to Him, for our Father to rush in and rescue us and make it all better.  But then we would never have the chance to be greater than ourselves.  To be stretched out of our comfort zones and into the hearts and pain of others.  We would miss the beautiful opportunity to be Christ to one another.  That's only what we mean when we talk about the communion of saints.

Monday, 26 December 2016

The Sun and the Moon and the Stars

A Child in a foul stable, 
Where the beasts feed and foam; 
Only where He was homeless 
Are you and I at home; 
We have hands that fashion and heads that know, 
But our hearts we lost – how long ago! 
In a place no chart nor ship can show 
Under the sky’s dome. 

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale, 
And strange the plain things are, 
The earth is enough and the air is enough 
For our wonder and our war; 
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings 
And our peace is put in impossible things 
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings 
Round an incredible star.

-- "The House of Christmas" by G.K. Chesterton


“When we give each other our Christmas presents in his name, let us remember that he has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans and all that lives and moves upon them . . .  And to save us from our own foolishness and from all our sins, he came down to earth and gave himself.”  -- Sigrid Undset


"The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why." -- G.K. Chesterton


"A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2016."

Afon:  Christmas morning--can't be bothered with the paper crown in his Christmas cracker when there's chocolate to be eating.

Roan:  this "elf in training" helped Mama set up flowers in the Church before Christmas vigil.

Monday, 19 December 2016


"A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2016."

Afon:  perfectly angelic.
Roan:  pure joy.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Light in a Time of Darkness

When the sun starts to set at 3:30 pm every day, it makes sense on a whole new level that Advent is a season of lights.  Those twinkling electric candelabras are like winks from God--letting us in on the secret that soon, very soon, the cosmos will shift, the light will gather, and the days will grow longer.  "The darkness is but a small and passing thing."  Christmas will come.


We don’t do Christmas.  Christmas comes to us, whether we’re ready or not.  Whether we bought a single gift, or have to work an overnight shift, or can’t imagine facing the day alone without the person whose absence is a gaping hole in our heart.  Whether our kids are getting 4 presents based on a rhyme we saw on Pinterest, or 42 because their grandparents all live out of state and have a Fisher Price addiction.  Or no presents at all, but maybe an extra nice dinner with enough for everyone to have seconds, because that’s what’s realistic this year, and thank God there’s enough. 

And maybe Christmas comes and there isn’t enough.  Maybe it doesn’t wrap up poetically like a Dicken’s novel or a Hallmark movie, and there are still broken hearts and empty cupboards, or a pile of wrapping paper mounted to the ceiling but cold, cheerless revelers dissatisfied with their loot. 

He comes to us at Christmas.  Whether we are ready to receive Him or not.  Whether we’re open or not.  Whether we’re tired or busy or angry or broken or deaf to His newborn cries.  He comes.  And for the next 3 and a half weeks, I can choose to focus on that imminent deadline and continually redirect my distractible nature to the reality of the season.  He is coming.  Gifts are great and giving is beautiful, but gifts are periphery to the bigger event at hand: He is coming.  I forgot to buy something for my son’s teacher and I need a Starbucks gift card.  He is coming.  We haven’t bought a tree yet.  He is coming.  I haven’t been to Confession in X months.  He is coming.  We can’t swing the plane tickets to visit X in X.  He is coming. 

There is still time to prepare.

-- "Silver Linings of a Small Budget Christmas," Mama Needs Coffee

Monday, 12 December 2016

It's Okay

From Instagram:

Yesterday afternoon, something just clicked, and I realized I had to let go of everything--even the good and worthwhile things, like order and beauty in my home--in order to make room for the Christ Child.  Without having Him first, nothing, no matter how inherently good, will be enough.  Letting go is so hard to do.  But we packed up the children and took them outside--in the dark!!--to just be present with them and be in the season.  We sang Christmas carols and John chased Afon, and Roan cried and fell down, but I felt more peace than I had in the last two weeks while I've been mourning over the sad state of affairs in this household: brothers who can't be in the same room without violence, chores falling to the wayside in the face of sickness and disability, and a languashing spiritual ilfe.  There's still so much of me clinging to the world, even the good things in the world.  #KristinLavransdattergets me.  But, like C.S. Lewis says, if we can--oh miracle of miracles!--somehow--let go of all those things, and embrace Him, and only Him, we'll get all the good things thrown in with Him.  ...  John and I salvaged the household this morning with minimal fighting and resentment.  There is an Advent calendar that has no cues or prayers or activities; the flameless glitter candles have been chewed and sampled by Afon; that pretty desk is smudged and dusty.  And you know what?  It's okay.  #Advent2016

Sunday, 11 December 2016


"A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2016."

Afon + Roan: in the mall, the automatic firetruck isn't taking pound coins.  But they're still going to sit in it and let Daddy shake it like it's working!

I've had a week.  A Niggle in the hospital kind of week.  Or two.  And if you know what that means, you know what that means.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016


The second week of Advent already!  I need this season of preparation before Christmas, and look forward to it probably more than I do Christmas itself.  The breathless expectation is somehow more poignant, like the two seconds before dawn breaks.  Or the moment right before you peek your head around the doorway to see the confetti-colors of Christmas presents left beneath the tree from Santa.

I need the order in my life that the liturgical year brings, and always feel better when I'm back into its rhythm.  It casts away sameness, and the mundane.  It makes each day different from the next, but in an expected way.  There are no surprises but plenty of variety.  Each year rolls around the same as the next.  Humans are ritualistic beings.  Knowing that things won't be the same day-in and day-out, while at the same time cultivating a calm expectation, settles the restlessness of my mind: the way small children cherish their schedules but also fear boredom.

My children don't really comprehend or appreciate the seasonal ritual yet.  They blank-facedly tuck into their chocolate coins and (very much later, after all chocolate has been consumed and exhausted) their tangerines), with nary a thought to good Saint Nick.  And that's okay--because even if I'm the only one who "gets it," it's good for me to go through the motions and keep the traditions.  Good to shake me out of complacency and stagnation.  A life constantly renewing itself.  A Catholic life of constant conversion, with as many chances for repentance and reconciliation and fulfillment as there are are saints in the heavens.

One of these years I will remember to start and continue the Saint Andrew Christmas Novena.  I look forward to the time when eager young hands and hearts will bear reminders, and grasp straws in secret to add to the Holy Child's manger when no one is looking.

Saint Nicholas, ora pro nobis.

(Excellent recipe for liturgically inappropriate "Saint Nicholas" cookies, here.)

Sunday, 4 December 2016

47/52 and 48/52

The past few weeks, closing up November.  All but a few scraggly leaves have been scraped away by the wind, and on a few mornings, we found the leafmeal tinged with hoarfrost.