The Mailman, the Advent Wreath and the Ugly Bread

Two loaves of no-knead sourdough

Mixed: 9:30 pm

Molded: 11 am next day

Baked: 12:30 pm

The bread was warm and it was only a little after midday. I love giving away bread right out of the oven–it’s like an extra gift–handing over something warm, something that speaks of right now, the heat making one conscious of that very moment.

I galloped down the walk, thinking I’d find Hector at the mail truck. Hector was one of my first fans–I gave him a copy of Hands Across the Moon right after its release in 2003 and he left me the sweetest handwritten thank you card in my mailbox (the book was for his daughter :)).  But Hector wasn’t at the mail truck, it was a new postman, PJ. I introduced myself and he took the bag, dipping his nose to smell the bread. “I worked in a bakery in Germany for 12 years!” he exclaimed. “You like to bake?” he asked, looking a bit perplexed. I nodded. “This looks like real bread.”

I smiled, pleased that that particular batch of bread came out well…

We chatted for quite a long time, my husband coming to the curb to join us, and John Ronan hurling greetings and exclamations from afar into the conversation. This was a good giving day for me…

And I needed a good giving day, because… just a few days ago I made the ugliest batch of bread ever. So ugly that I refused to pack it up and send it along, even to neighbors who love me. Just look…

Don’t EVEN try to respond and say that it doesn’t look that bad. Please. The photo doesn’t even do the ugliness justice. These three pale loaves looked sickly and forlorn. We ate two–but the third loaf still sits sadly in a bowl near the sink. I thought of cutting it up and making croutons, but truthfully, I don’t even want to bother…

All is well though. I redeemed my baking skills and even got crafty to prove that I’m capable of a wee bit of beauty. I’ve been wanting to make an Advent wreath for the house, to help mark the time as we approach Christmas. Typically, an Advent wreath in an Orthodox home should be ready to light on November 15th, but I was running–hardly breathing–when the first day of Advent hit back in November. I decided not to feel guilty, but to shoot for getting one ready as most Westerners do–on December 1st.

I also decided I would not run around town trying to find supplies. That I’d build the wreath as much as possible from the greens and such in our yard. Here’s how it went:

First, I plucked bay leaves from our potted tree out back. The tree is quite big now, about six feet tall, so it won’t miss a few leaves. I don’t know much about being crafty, so I winged this whole project. I pulled out my needle and thread, and individually sewed each leaf to an extra metal wreath frame I had in the garage. The sewing took quite a while, maybe a half hour, but it was relaxing, especially as I pierced each leaf and that sweet bay scent floated around me…

Then, I gathered pine needles from the ground out back, and sewed those in bundles to the frame as well.

We have three billion extra pine needles in our yard, so if you EVER need any, please come by. In fact, here’s a bonus photo of just one small pile back in September…

Next, I added pinecones (yes, plenty of those, too!) and some nandina berries from one of our shrubs out front. I placed the whole thing on a plate and smiled. The hard work was done–I just needed some candles to finish it off…

So, the following day I picked up several votives in just the right colors to sit inside the wreath, along with a raised votive to hold the center, white candle. (And… I popped into our neighborhood florist and bought from them one sprig of baby’s breath.)  I like the way it turned out. Here it is in the natural light of our backyard.

So, since we’re a bit behind, we lit the first three candles to catch up. Here’s the symbolism for the lighting of each candle. (I’ve seen variations on the colors and even the themes of the candles, but this is what we’re going with this year.)

Week One–green. Faith. For God’s promise to send the Messiah

Week Two–blue. Hope. Christ, born of a virgin, came in the form of a man and brings us hope

Week Three–gold. Love. For God so loved the world that He gave us His only son

Week Four–white. Peace. For the angels said to the shepherds, “peace on earth, good will toward men.”

Week Five–purple. Repentance. Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand

Week Six–red. Holy communion. For Christ comes to us through his body and blood

Week Seven–white. Christ. For unto us a child is born, pure and wonderful and who brings us light.

And here’s our home, dark, except for the three Advent candles, glowing.


14 thoughts on “The Mailman, the Advent Wreath and the Ugly Bread

  1. I love the wreath! So beautiful and I like the idea of using different colored votives. I’ve been SO uninspired this Advent.

    And, as a breadmaker and world class ugly bread maker I’ll say it: Those loaves don’t look so bad. 🙂

    • Ahhhh! You said it. I told you not to say it!!! Really, the photo of the bread does look better than the real thing. Those three loaves, as they might say in France “etaient vraiment laids!”

      And the sad thing is, I’m not sure what I did to make that batch of bread that ugly.

      So glad you’re inspired this Advent. Me, too. Though I’ve been busier than usual, I’ve fought the notion to just throw in the towel, and wouldn’t you know–now things have calmed down and I’m really able to enter into the beauty of the season. God is good…

  2. Nice. Use it for salads! a dash of thankfulness and all will be okay!

    Beautiful wreath; I would love to do this someday but I don’t have extra room in my cute but a bit small apartment! But my Christmas tree on my coffee table is up! 🙂

    Blessed Nativity Fast to you.

  3. How do you make sourdough no-knead bread? Are you using that no-knead recipe mentioned as one of the major events of the last year? I tried that and it’s AMAZING! It actually makes it possible for me to bake bread every day! Thanks for that.

    • Selena, so glad the no-knead bread has worked for you, too. To make the recipe into a sourdough one, I simply add about a 1/3 cup of my sourdough starter into the initial mix. I keep my starter in my fridge, and add water and flour to it each time I use it (or, if I’m not using it, about once a week.) Making a starter is not that hard–there are instructions all over the web… I plan on posting about making and keeping a starter soon…

  4. Love it. Mine is fake and that’s ok. I will be using branches from my holly bushes to make a wreath for my door. I’ll wait another week so that they’ll last past Christmas. The holly make a great wreath last year.

    I know how you feel when the bread comes out pale and undeveloped. What we don’t eat ends up outside for the squirrels.

  5. Love your Advent Wreath and colored candles. You’re full of such amazing creativity, Jane. What a joy and blessing your life and friendship are. Wish we spent more time together.


  6. I really like your Advent Wreath. Would I be able to use the photo of it in the dark room for a project I am working on for my church? I am creating a Advent presentation and I would love to use that photo for the opening. Thanks!

    • Feel free to use the photo! And thanks for asking–blessed Advent to you, Wilson…
      (If you can’t capture it from the blog, contact me again, tell me exactly what photo, and I’ll email it to you.)

  7. Just made a beautiful bay leaf wreath of wired together branches, with a gold bow, because of your inspiration. Thank you! I needed this– may your holiday be blessed with the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ! Merry Christmas!

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