Advent Bread Bags

There are several dimensions to this giving thing.

  1. First you have to be inspired.
  2. Then you have to carve out some time.
  3. Next you have to actually do the work–you mix, and mold, and patiently wait, then bake.
  4. And then you consider the recipient.
  5. Next to last you wrap up your goodies.
  6. And finally you walk, or drive or hop over to do the giving.

Phew. It’s a wonder what the human being can do in a single day! By far, I struggle most with the whole “wrap up your goodies” part. My beautiful bread usually ends up in a paper bag, sometimes an already used one that I saved from before.

Well, this season I am spending some extra effort on phase five! I do love fabric, and though I’m a horrible seamstress, I’m also a gutsy happenmaker, so mistakes don’t really deter me. Here’s my Advent bread giving bag, folks. What do you think? (I know, it looks like there’s a lump of coal in there, but really, in person it’s kind of cute!)

IMG_1423

I first thought of this idea after studying a fabric knapsack-style lunch sack I bought in Japantown a few years ago. Japanese are known for their amazing wrappings, and this simple fabric lunch sack was something that one could use again and again. And wash! Here’s a webpage that gives lots of information on different styles and ideas of furoshiki

I sort of thought about trying to take photos and help you sew one yourself. But!!! I am certain I would forget a step, or steer you wrong in some way. I once sewed the sweetest skirt for my daughter and the fabric on the back was upside down. And I left it that way. That explains a lot, I think.

In words, this is what I did. I cut a piece of rectangular fabric–about 11×33 inches. Hemmed all the edges with the machine. Did a bit of fancy folding, and just the right-side sewing, and then there are there these triangles to sew in the corners. Flip things around a bit and do it again, then it’s done! See, I’d be a bad pattern maker. Here is a pattern site that has a bag just like mine…

Anyway, what I love most about these Advent giving bags are the little cards I had made at Tiny Prints. I used one of my bread photos, and included a Celtic blessing on the back.

IMG_1404

So let the giving begin! I’ve sent out three wrapped loaves already–two molasses (one to a mama with a sad heart, one as a thank you, and one to someone under the weather). Here are my supplies:

IMG_1409

IMG_1413

And here is the end result, in the hands of a little one, ready to go out the door.

IMG_1428

Advertisements

Advent Alms

IMG_1435

The weather has turned and all of my plants have been drinking in the moisture of the clouds. Rain is always a blessing here in Santa Barbara.

This weather makes me look inward–toward books and tea, toward the oven and the warmth. It’s a good season to plan, to prepare, and to give, isn’t it?

Recent Giving–Story Number One

Right before Thanksgiving I spent the afternoon baking and doing laundry, and working in the wet yard. My husband had taken the whole week off of work, so there were two extra hands on deck. With bread baked by noon, we had lots of time to give before dinnertime rolled around; that’s when we call it a day and sink into being together and try to ward off all thoughts (and happenings!) of carpooling and the such.

Anyway, off my husband walked to gather something from the grocers. Green beans, maybe, or pearl onions. I can’t remember. And with him went a lovely loaf of sourdough–a gift.

But the man standing on the corner–someone we had seen with a sign earlier that day–wasn’t there. He had moved on, so my husband went on a search. And he found a man next to the post office, hanging around, wanting to chat. So they chatted, and the bread was given, and my husband came home with a small and simple, yet significant story to tell. A story of a man by the post office, who was happy to receive a warm loaf of bread.

Story Number Two

Our church serves food to the homeless on a regular basis. This year we have made teams, and I am the Baker (!!!) for Team San Roque. Awesome. It was Monday, and it was cold, and the yeast was moving at its own, it’s-pretty-chilly-so-don’t-rush-me pace. I was patient, but with dinner across town at 4:15 and the final two loaves coming out of the oven at 4pm…. Well, there were folks lined up and ready to eat when I arrived. We quickly sliced up the molasses bread (the best bread ever for these types of events because of it’s full of taste and nutrition), and the hungry ate.

When I tried to take a photo of the event from a far off vantage point a homeless man chastised me and told me that I should get permission from anyone I might capture in the picture. I asked his forgiveness, but then told him that I only had the intention of taking a photo of people’s backs–that I understood that everyone was entitled to their privacy. He still eyed me with suspicion. And I agree. Having a camera at an event like that doesn’t promote an environment of one person connecting to another–it creates distance between people and can even invite harsh or frightened reactions. Next time the camera stays home.

Story Number Three

It was raining–again!!!–we love the rain here– and I went a bit nutty, mixing up double the fun with four loaves of bread rising, waiting, baking. At around dinnertime, with the pain de campagne cooling, I sent my daughter and her boyfriend off to deliver bread to some school acquaintances under an enormous golf umbrella. They walked three blocks there and three blocks back and came home to Asparagus soup.

Advent

We are in the midst of an Advent quest of preparing our hearts for the wonderful coming of Christ.  We are giving lots of bread this season, so I hope you don’t tire of me. Yesterday I finally spent some time gathering greens for our Advent wreath. A bit late, but never too late, is it? I raided my parent’s garden, clipping Acacia and pyracantha, and purchased a new wooden candlestick as a centerpiece.

IMG_1445

Two years ago I spent a bit more time, and created a wreath from our bay tree, pine needles from our Canary Island Pine, and used the berries from our nandina. You can see the post of that Advent wreath here.

But I’d love to hear what you are doing to prepare, and how you’ve been inspired to give. Please share. Please 🙂

And in leaving I give you this–a hymn from the Orthodox nativity service that tumbled across my work desk the other day. It’s even more beautiful when you say it aloud…

What shall we offer You, O Christ,
Who for our sake has appeared on earth as a man?
Every creature which You have made offers You thanks.
The angels offer you a song.
The heavens, their star.
The wise men, their gifts.
The shepherds, their wonder.
The earth, its cave.
The wilderness, the manger.
And we offer You a Virgin Mother.
O Pre-eternal God, have mercy on us!

Baking for Babies

Within our church community, we’ve had a litany of little baby girls enter the world these last two weeks. Two Xenias, one Farley Clementine, and one Sophia.

Four sweet little things, all come to join us witness the rain, and the sunshine, and to be enfolded in the love and hope that abounds in these families, in this place.

It’s Advent, which means it’s time to prepare our homes, but more importantly, our hearts, for the birth of Christ. It’s not necessarily the time to hang out at the malls and buy ourselves new things, it’s more the time to hang out in front of the altar, and pray, and then go out into this world and do a whole lot of giving.

I’m recovering from maybe the hardest string of five/six weeks ever. Emotionally strained, spiritually attacked, physically drained, psychologically unstable (!!!), I feel that I’ve tipped back onto the brighter path now, back to the healing side where the light is shining at the end of that proverbial tunnel. How beautiful is that light. Prayer is what brought me here. Deep and silent–I made some needed space in my life for a necessary dialogue, and God met me, and was merciful.

Last Lent I pushed my giving and tried to clean out some of those cobwebs in my heart with what I called Forgiveness Giving. This Advent, I’m not ready to tackle anything more than what I already have on my plate, which is why I’m simply going to rejoice in these new babies. I’m going to bake loaves and loaves of Struan, because there’s so much goodness in a harvest loaf of bread packed with nutrients, and I’m going to sit by these new mamas and talk about sweet hands and sweet feet, and revel in the sight of a brand new creation here on earth.

Speaking of which, Christmas is coming. And here are a few of the preparations already underway in our home.

  • I’m reading The Climb, the story of the Tree of Jesse, written by dear Katherine.
  • I’m gathering the necessities for another homemade Advent wreath, which I’ll make and have ready for the table on December 1st.
  • And I’m hoping to make a new Christmas bread–something from somewhere else, in addition to the traditional scones we always make for Christmas breakfast. I’d love suggestions! Please send suggestions 🙂

And thank you for your prayers. I know many have been rooting me on through heartfelt words offered on my behalf. After another week (since my husband is now home after being away for almost a month straight on business!), and a few more hot cups of tea, and a wee bit of baking for babies, I just might return to my spunky old self.

I love this inspiring message that my priest recently sent out to folks in our parish:

The last words of our Lord in the Book of Revelation are, “Surely I am coming quickly,” and St. John’s response is, “Amen.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

Advent reminds us of Christ’s first coming to us, the Son of God becoming the Son of Man for our salvation.  So, might this be our Advent meditation: “Come, Lord Jesus?”

We ask this not only in anticipation of celebrating His Nativity, but in preparing our hearts that He would come to us afresh.  We can make this season an opportunity to make our cave and our manger (our bodies and souls) a fit dwelling for the Lord Almighty.

Perhaps this simple phrase “Come Lord Jesus” can help cut through the extra activities and busyness of this season and help us to heed the prophets’ warning and “prepare the way of the Lord.”

Christmas is Coming

Being an Orthodox Christian family, we fast and feast and celebrate various events all throughout the year. Right now we are nearing the end of Advent, a period of fasting and preparation before Christmas when we celebrate with fervor the coming of Christ to our world. Fasting in the midst of a season which is known for buttery cookies and holiday hams is a little bit tricky, but we manage. We manage by eating sourdough bread and vegetable soups. We manage by spending more time reading, and praying, and being at home. This season of busyness can be paired with introspection and abstention, and the fasting helps create a very real sense of anticipation, and wow does the feasting come with added force when the actual day of Christmas arrives!

And don’t think we won’t be enjoying all those holiday wonders. The Twelve Days of Christmas is not a myth, it’s a very real tradition, and here are just a few things I’m looking forward to baking between December 25th and January 5th:

Up until now it’s been bread without butter. The sourdough and French and molasses loaves are year-round favorites and very fast-friendly, and so satisfying when it’s winter and you’re hungry… but soon the milk and butter will be back on the menu! I’m looking forward to trying a few new breads–

  • a Maine Pumpkin Bread,
  • loaves of Finnish Pulla,
  • and maybe even trying my hands at Stollen in the form of a braided wreath.
  • Oh… and some Russian Tea Cakes made with butter and walnuts!

But in the meantime, there’s plenty to do (including lots of baking and giving away of bread) with Christmas just days away! Here’s some of how we’ve been spending our time.

Enjoy these last days of Advent my friends!