LinkedIn password change confirmation

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The LinkedIn Team

This email was intended for Andy Losik. Learn why we included this. © 2012, LinkedIn Corporation. 2029 Stierlin Ct. Mountain View, CA 94043, USA
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Reset Your LinkedIn Password

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Changing your password is simple. Please use the link below within 24 hours.

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This email was intended for Andy Losik. Learn why we included this. © 2012, LinkedIn Corporation. 2029 Stierlin Ct. Mountain View, CA 94043, USA
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On to Bigger and Better things!!

Friends and Faithful Readers!!

I write this with a sliver of sadness… but an overwhelming sense of purpose and hope. After two years of calling this place home, I’ve started a NEW BLOG called “Girl Meets Paper” which I hope will better capture my writing in a professional arena. Today’s post can be found HERE.

You should also know that from now on, all my family ideas will be separated out and posted on my second blog, “The Unofficial Homeschooler.

I hope you’ll visit both and that they would be an encouragement to you in your busy life. Whether it’s a quiet, thoughtful moment at www.girlmeetspaper.com or a burst of creativity at www.unofficialhomeschooler.com, my prayer is that you would find something relevant and helpful that ultimately gives glory to God and makes you want to share it with a friend!

Hope to see you at both of my new homes! Your readership is an encouragement to me!

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A NEW PLACE TO SHARE!

Friends, it is going to be an exciting week around here! 

Today I’d like to invite you to visit my new blog, The Unofficial HomeschoolerThis is the place where, from now on, I’ll be sharing creative ideas to try at home with your kids, parenting perspectives, and thoughts on life as your child’s first teacher.

Please click over and take a look at it! BELIEVE ME…it has been a royal pain in the buttocks real labor of love 🙂

Additionally, I’ll be announcing another new project later this week! Can’t wait to open “door #2” and share it!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

O Sacred Head Now Wounded

Not many songs bring me closer to the cross than this ancient hymn penned by a shrouded, unknown figure and set to music sometime in around 1600. Bach himself composed the harmony, but the text is what tears at my heart. Thought to have been based somewhat on a poem by Bernard of Clairvaux, the intensely personal nature of the words calls each of us to examine the cross and its implications for our faith, our life.

The final verse begs, “What language shall I borrow, to thank thee dearest friend…Lord let me never, never…outlive my love to Thee.”  If I’m honest I wonder:

  • Is Christ truly my dearest friend?
  • Do I feel a loss for words–that language is inept or even incapable of expressing my gratitude?
  • Is my first and foremost desire to never outlive my love for Jesus?
Fernando Ortega’s version of this song has long been one of my favorites; I’m including it today to speak into the quiet somber of Saturday. The Saturday that has to come before the joy of Sunday. O Sacred Head Now Wounded, by Fernando Ortega
        O sacred Head, now wounded,
	with grief and shame weighed down,
	now scornfully surrounded
	with thorns, thine only crown:
	how pale thou art with anguish,
	with sore abuse and scorn!
	How does that visage languish
	which once was bright as morn! 

	What thou, my Lord, has suffered
	was all for sinners' gain;
	mine, mine was the transgression,
	but thine the deadly pain.
	Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
	'Tis I deserve thy place;
	look on me with thy favor,
	vouchsafe to me thy grace. 

	What language shall I borrow
	to thank thee, dearest friend,
	for this thy dying sorrow,
	thy pity without end?
	O make me thine forever;
	and should I fainting be,
	Lord, let me never, never
	outlive my love for thee.
Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Pro Kadima Invasion

Well, the game that was meant to be played while shuffling through powdery sand slathered in Panama Jack sunscreen has hit our living room.

Pro Kadima is a ping-pongy game played with large wooden paddles and a hard foam ball. We don’t actually boast any knowledge of the official rules, so when we play we just set some volley goals and cross our fingers.

Today my youngest son, “M” begged pathetically for me to disregard dinner preparation and flee to the carpet for some “hitting.” Carefully positioning our two ottomans as a dividing line–or net, I supose–we went to work, counting aloud with each hit.

Not that it was that difficult to count to 2. 

Or 3.

In case you don’t know, maintaining a volley with a five-year-old is a bit of an undertaking. His forehand swings tend to land on the fireplace mantle or smack into one of our new lamps. I especially love those.  The backhand attempts generally sail off the tip of the paddle and land…in another room.

But all in good fun, right? [insert shoulder shrug and tedious smile]

Of course it’s all ratcheted up several notches when my husband gets home. Brandon imagines that a match-up with me carries the weight of winning the gold medal or preventing the sky from falling.

He loosened the collar on his dress shirt and sank into position, swaying back and forth like Agassi in pinstriped pants. At this point I’m already laughing.

“C’mon now. This is serious!” he exhorts. “Let’s get to 20!”

With the kids enjoying the hand-to-hand combat, we began, their heads bobbing left-to-right and back again.

“13, 14, 15…D’OH!!”  Nuts. “We” missed. [a-hem…]

“Let’s try again. SERIOUSLY Jane! Be for real! We’ve got to get this!” [read: the fate of the world rests in this pseudo-Pro Kadima match that he’s playing in dress clothes and without rules].

“15, 16, 17, 18…” Missed again. Rats.

“Jane! What time is it?! We have to get this before I leave!” he pleaded. “Ahh!” He lets out an exasperated scream–the kind that you’d allow yourself after shopping online for an hour, only to find your cart wiped clean just as you’re ready to buy everything.

I, of course, start laughing at his genuine effort and the pain he’s enduring over the fact that we can’t quite seem to pile up enough hits to make the 20 mark. After the next miss Brandon screams again. Literally screamskind of like this.

At this point my stomach nearly hurts and I’m laughing so hard I can’t imagine doing anything 20 times in a row except maybe tinkling in my pants or rolling on the floor like a rabid critter trying to scratch its back.

Well, you’ll be relieved to know that we made the 20-hit mark, as evidenced by the sky not falling and us sporting genuine imaginary gold medals. And everybody knows that when a Pro Kadima invasion hits the living room, those are the best kind.

What do you do for comic relief in your home? What are ideas for quick family fun?

[full crack-up chicken story here] 

[beach photo credit]

Posted in Contest, CRAZY kids, Family Activities, Home, Kids, Play, Random Fun | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pippi Longstocking and Praise Dancing

I saw him twirling out of the corner of my eye.

On the table, in socks, arms raised like a praise dancer. 

I opened my mouth to tell him to get off, but the words got stuck. Why not let him spin? I thought. It’s not like he could break the table!  

Instead, I watched in silence.

Soon enough the praise dancing stopped and he sat down with a pile of baseball cards. Diligently arranging them and sliding from right to left, he worked to line up his favorites.

I’m not sure if I did the right thing by allowing him to stay there, but for today I decided to enjoy his whimsy and smallness instead of examining rules.

Pippi Longstocking would certainly approve.

What?!

Do you ever overlook the rules when it comes to moments of innocent play? Share an example by leaving a comment below:

Posted in CRAZY kids, Family, Home, Kids, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Play | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Lure Of What I Don’t Have: A Confession

It’s been twenty months…twenty monthssince I’ve really let myself trip, stumble, and generally get all out of sorts over stupid things.

Well, let’s be honest: it’s been twenty months since I’ve decided to tell you about it.

This Lent I gave up shopping at three of my favorite places: Costco [where each item deposited in your cart is about $10], Target [where you want to spend about $10 but easily dole out $210], and the mall [where you skip the math and get out the plastic].

Five weeks later, I think all this non-shopping has started to catch up with me. I fear I may have developed a few ticks and eye twitches during this off-season, something that has only worsened as I peruse the latest Crate & Barrel catalog and faithfully dog ear every-0ther-page [as if I really could buy all these things if I wanted, but it’s just a matter of locating my purse that’s stopping me].

Sheez.

I’ll admit it: I look around and still love this house, but I’m starting to see the flaws more than the smile lines. I’m wishing for new countertops…and an ice maker in a fridge with a little more consistency than the slacker we have now. I can imagine a new backsplash with glossy subway tiles like you see on Dear Genevieve. I can effortlessly imagine away our stained carpet and replace it with the gleam of wall-to-wall hickory floors.

I know this discontent is shallow and worthless and completely without perspective. I know that the “Finley Pendant Lamp” I’d like above our dining room table isn’t going to make me happy, give me a flat stomach, make me funnier, or help me be a better friend. [Although I would like to argue that it would make our dinners a lot more stylish].

So why this lure? Why so many dog-eared pages?

I think I’m fooled into believing that if I own the Stoneware Potluck Bakers in “Paprika, Turquoise, and Yellow” that I’ll actually bake tasty dinners. And possibly be invited to potlucks.

I’m fooled into thinking that if I have the vases on page 18, I really will make more of an effort to arrange cut flowers weekly. Maybe even start a garden.

I’m drawn into this world of order, cleanliness, and new possibilities–as though an office desk equals a book contract or a chaise lounge equals the freedom to…lounge.

I’m drawn into thinking that these things would give me what I want and what I think I need.

And so this cycle of mental wrestling and pseudo-shopping bring me back to Lent–back to the reason I’m not shopping and back to the reason why I shouldn’t even be looking at catalogs: because during this season of preparation, I need to work on my heart.  Work on desires that aren’t evil or sinful in themselves, but that give birth to so much more than I want floating around in my brain.

Balancing these things and staying twitch-free is something I’ll probably never master. For some it’s food and others it’s cigarettes and still others, alcohol. For me, this year, it’s Crate & Barrel.

But always, there’s the promise of grace. And this Lent, I’m realizing just how much I need it.

~

What are you learning about yourself this Lent? How are you being stretched or changed?

Posted in Decor/Organizing, Deep Thoughts, Discipline Issues, Faith, Following Jesus, God, Growing Pains, Matters of the Heart, Seasons of Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Scrambled States of America

If you want to teach your gang geography, encourage them to value travel and well…possess the general knowledge that a reference to “Washington” does not necessarily denote a conversation about our first president…then you’ll appreciate The Scrambled States of America, by Laurie Keller.

I first stumbled upon this gem in one of my many self-indulgent rendezvous to Hallmark. Drawn in by the fantastic illustrations and novel storyline, it became plain that I would actually be doing my kids a disservice by foregoing a purchase.

I mean, it’s educational, right?

In Keller’s imaginative world of changing geography, Kansas decides he’s tired of being surrounding by the same dull states, without water, and stuck in a wide expanse of flatness. So, he proposes swapping spots with another state and eventually extends the invitation to the entire nation at an evening potluck. [Wisconsin contributed cheese…can you guess what Idaho brought?]

After the states flee their old friends and neighbors in the name of newness and adventure, they quickly find that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the Mason Dixon Line. Minnesota gets sunburned when he flip-flops with Florida, and Kansas ends up bobbing in the Pacific when Hawaii signs up for a switcheroo. Should they stay? Should they go?

The Scrambled States of America is a silly page-turner that will keep you captivated until it’s all settled. Humorous comic-like captions let you in on the private thoughts of the states, and Uncle Sam serves as narrator.

If you’re wondering how you can introduce basic geography to your kids, pick up a copy! It will remind them that there’s more to “Washington” than cherry trees or wooden dentures.

What’s your latest and greatest children’s picture book? Why do you like it?

{photo credits: Thank you, Photography by Kamarah!}


Posted in Art/Beautiful Things, Book Review, Education, Family, Kids, Literature/Books, Things I Love!, writing/work | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ten Reasons I’ve Been MIA

It’s been awhile since I’ve gone ten days without a blog post! For you hangers-on, here are ten reasons for my absence:

1. We went to Florida for Spring Break, and in some comically-timed [or divinely ordained] sequence of events, I was completely without internet! Don’t worry, the shaking stopped after a detoxing a few days here:

 

Spring Break 2011

2. I was quite busy pretending to know how to fish:

3. Shell hunting with my daughter was a delightful priority:

4.  …and of course our shells weren’t going to organize themselves!

5. I was with the people I love most at one of our most-loved places:

6.  We were preoccupied with frozen confections and broad smiles:

7. My feet were intoxicated by the luxuriously warm water for hours on end:

8.  I had a nightly cheerleading gig at low tide for my skim-boarding boys:

9.  Watching wildlife is nearly a full-time job on the island:

 

3 wild manatees close enough for my son to touch! Right off our beach…

10. And really…who can think of computers with God on display like this??  Our nightly walk on the beach:

So what have you been up to? What small moments are you treasuring?

Posted in Art/Beautiful Things, Family, Family Activities, Food, God, gratitude, Kids, Marriage, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Nature/Outdoors, Play, Vacation | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Family Friday: Supporting Adoptive Families

Thanks to "Photography by Kamarah!'

Ever since my husband and I went to Zambia, Africa in 2004, my heart has remained softened to the hearts and faces of countless orphans awaiting families to call their own. And while the Lord first imprinted my heart on that faraway continent, adoption touches me regardless of the child’s birthplace. Little can compare so perfectly to the love of God adopting us as heirs, as the love of earthly parents expanding the boundaries of their families.

When I first heard that my daughter’s teacher and her husband were working on her own adoption dream, I stood amazed at her resolve to extend unconditional love and acceptance to a child–or children–whom she had never met. What trust in God’s sovereign plan!

Last month she and another adoptive family were the prayer focus of our home. This month we stepped out a bit further to support their adoption fund by purchasing these super-cute T-shirts! You can’t see mine [navy] in the photo, but my daughter’s [black] has quickly become one of her favorites!

If you’d like to help bring this good work to completion, hop over to her blog and check them out!

If you’re a family who has walked this path, what creative ways did you use to help fund the process? Did anyone step forward to assist you?

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A New Kind Of Chore Chart [and a Freebie for you!]

Moms, if you’re anything like me you’re always trying to figure out new ways to motivate your kids to help, hold them accountable, and land on an appropriate reward or compensation.

  • Do we pay an allowance?
  • Do kids work on commission?
  • What is/is not the expected contribution merely as a member of this family?
  • When must chores be completed and to whose standards?
  • When is it worth a battle…and when is it not?

We’ve gone round and round with these questions, trying several approaches. To be honest, most of the failing is due to our own inconsistency in enforcing the rules. There have been times I’ve “owed” our kids money, but I don’t have cash in the house…so the reward of being paid for work completed is a bit diminished when they have to wait for payday.

Other times we’ve failed out of sheer busyness. We used to be absolutely firm in starting Saturday mornings with chores [and I had an entire system for that], however with sports and church activities and a crazy husband, Saturday mornings have proven tricky. Maybe once school’s out we’ll give it another go.

Until then, I have a new kind of chore chart which will hopefully prove helpful even with little ones who don’t read. If you’re a Mac user, you should be able to click, drag, and print. If that doesn’t work or if you’re a PC user, feel free to email me and I’ll be happy to send you the PDF.

ALLOW ME TO POINT OUT A FEW FEATURES:

  1. There is a place on this chore chart for the name of the child assigned these particular chores and place for your child to state a weekly goal [i.e: to complete 3 days in a row, 4 days total, all chores, etc.]
  2. Write down when chores should be completed by in order to earn the corresponding money [i.e: completed before school, by dinner, before bedtime]
  3. $ Earned is where you write down the grand total earned for that week by that particular child
  4. Assign each chore a value–but be creative! We’ll be paying our children cash, but perhaps yours are more motivated by a special dessert after supper, a night at the library, a date with grandma, or a video rental. You get to decide!
  5. Checkboxes to indicate completion and approval by mom and dad: yes if they pass, no if they don’t…just like that note you passed to your boyfriend in junior high 🙂
  6. LASTLY, use the empty boxes to either DRAW the chore [for young workers] or write the words [for older workers]. For an even greater brain-based learning experience, have your child draw the chore!

I would love to journey through this with you! Please leave a comment and let me know if this chart has been at all helpful…or if you have suggestions for how to improve it, I’d love to hear them!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

5 Easy Ways To Use Notes With Your Kids

I’ve told you before that I love paper in all forms. In fact, next month I’m looking forward to a blog makeover, and my name will change to Girl Meets Paper to reflect my love of writing–and because I use so many printed charts, calendars, flash cards and report cards while I “unofficially homeschool” my kids [more on this later].

Paper is my friend in any form: card, canvas, notes, or napkins–anything that will sacrifice itself to be a carrier of sentiment and feeling. I would also argue that because few people take the time to handwrite letters anymore, when someone does take a few moments to express love, gratitude, and affection, it is special.

Which brings me today: 5 Easy Ways to Use Notes With Your Kids.

1. The United States Postal Service: Last fall my husband and I went on vacation without the kids, and I knew that by day 3 our children would be missing us. So before we left I bought some Hallmark Kids’s cards and wrote a little note in each one, and then asked my neighbor to mail them for me so they would arrive at Grandma’s house during our absence. Even if you’re not separated from your family, imagine their joy to go to the mailbox and see something from YOU…instead of another American Girl catalog.

2. Lunch Notes: Of course any scrap of paper will work here, but I recommend THESE for a cute burst of love in your little one’s lunch pail. They’re adorable, they’re easy, they’re small, and even if your third grader acts too old to receive them, he secretly loves knowing his mama is thinking about him. I guarantee it.

Thanks to "Photography By Kamarah"!

3. Notepads: I think my obsession with paper is a genetic trait that’s been passed down to my daughter. So imagine my delight when I found this cool stack of color at Staples for just $2! I bought them and used it as an opportunity to leave her a note after school. Maybe you could do the same?

4. Stickies on the Mirror: Why not let your kids discover something special from you while they brush their teeth in the morning? Some ideas:

  • an encouraging Bible verse for the day
  • “I was so proud of you when…”
  • “Have I ever told you that…”
  • “You make me laugh when you…”

5. Mail Monday! Last year as part of our family Valentine’s day fiesta I gave each of the kids a mini mailbox with their name on it–the kind from the ‘dollar spot at Target. They are red and cute and have an actual working flag to indicate new mail. Our tradition here is “Mail Monday.” Though I’ve fallen off the wagon recently, generally speaking our kids receive a card or note from me every Monday morning. It’s nothing extravagant or fancy, but in it I express something I appreciate, love, cherish, treasure about them; a simple way to start the week together!

So how do you communicate with your little ones? Do you have a great idea to share?

…and if this post was helpful to you, would you please pass it along to another mom who might enjoy it?

Posted in Faith, Family, Family Activities, Home, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Random Fun, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Great Minds and Lost Souls

Photo credit: darleneanitascott.wordpress.com

Last month our family swam through years of history together, dodging slave traders and rabid dogs courtesy of the pages of a Harriet Tubman biography. We spent evenings imagining how cold and frightening it would have been to slink through southern swamps guided only by tree moss and the North Star. We talked about the courage possessed by Underground Railroad travelers, and marveled at the unflinching tenacity of Harriet, “the Moses of her people.”

Shortly after completing the book with our family, I happened upon that wonderful ancestry show, Who Do You Think You Are? The episode I caught featured Lionel Ritchie searching for his origins in the South. At one point he was led to an old cemetery, a scrap of land littered with leaves and stray roots, and not a respectable headstone to be found among the fauna. The guide with Lionel explained that one of his relatives had been buried here, in this slave cemetery, though no one could say exactly where the remains rested.

Breathing in and out slowly, clearly seeking to steady his own emotions, Mr. Ritchie was left alone to consider his heritage. As the camera panned out and away, leaving his black-cloaked figure nearly silhouetted against the autumn branches, I felt the heaviness of his journey. And in that moment it crystalized:

Imagine for a moment all the souls lost to the evil, greedy, heartless enterprise of slavery.

Attempt to fathom the great minds never used. Ignored. Wiped out.

Stop to ponder what would have been the fate of Lionel Ritchie…if born in another time, on another intersection of latitude and longitude.

Even those of you who aren’t signing up for an autographed copy of Dancing on the Ceiling can surely appreciate the mind and sprawling talent of a man whose career spans four decades–a man whose life would have been completely different under the tent of slavery.

And dear Harriet–savior and protector of so many souls–God surely placed her in that time and space for a divine purpose. Yet, I can’t help but re-imagine a life for her free from the oppression and injustice she endured. Free from dogs biting at her heels and the angry growl of an empty stomach in the night. Free from hiding in corn cribs and under piles of hay and carrying a revolver around her waist.

Free from prejudice and hatred.

Reflecting on these things reminds me of the great call we have to be light and love to those around us and to teach our children to look past the thin veil of skin.

And hair and height and weight, for that matter.

Paul writes these famous words in Galations, 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

We are all one in Christ Jesus.

We are all one.

Posted in Compassion, Deep Thoughts, Discoveries, Faith, Family Activities, God, Heartbreak, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart, Social Justice, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

OWL MOON Winner!

By Jane Yolen, Caldecott Winner

My, My! What astute readers have I!

Last week Friday I shared a fun family idea and opened a contest to those of you who could correctly identify the name of the audio book our family listened to.
All entrants guessed correctly, and the winner is: #3–

LYNDSEY DYKSTRA!!

Congrats, Lynds… and thanks for playing! Your new book will be in the mail shortly!
3
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Posted in Book Lists, Book Review, Contest, Discoveries, Education, Family, Family Activities, Family Friday, FREE BOOK, Giveaway!, Home, Kids, Kids in School, Literature/Books, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Play, Things I Love!, Uncategorized, writing/work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Family Friday: I Don’t Homeschool, BUT…

I don’t officially homeschool our kids.

Sadly, my patience is usually gone after the PB & J hits the counter at lunchtime, and keeping the kids focused on anything longer than an hour generally requires some form of sugar or technology.  Or Benedryl.

Ok, it’s not that bad, but you get the idea.

Still, I am passionate about infusing learning opportunities into everyday life and finding fun, meaningful things to do together.

So I guess you could say that I unofficially homeschool our kids.

One of the ways we’ve brought school into the everyday is to transform our kitchen wall into a learning center. We have four clocks representing the four time zones of the contiguous United States, labeled according to locations where friends live. Having these clocks in the midst of our busy traffic space allows us to see immediately what time it is in Washington or Chicago or Montana. It helps us judge the best time for phone calls and for figuring out if so-and-so is eating dinner.

We also took a cue from the beloved classic Sleepless in Seattle, and hung a US map below the clocks. This map is special in that it is laminated and came with red pins to indicate our family travels. It’s fun to return home from trips and get out the Vis-a-Vis marker to chart our paths together. Lord willing, I’m hoping this map will look like a spider web on steroids by the time our kids leave the nest!

We refer to our map every day when we read the news, hear of others’ vacations, or learn the attributes of other states. Our kids have a running list of places they’d like to visit, with our youngest declaring his goal to go to all fifty states!

My sister and friends who homeschool all tell me that it’s really “a way of life.” I get that. And you know what? Based on what God says in Deuteronomy 6, I actually think it’s his idea to weave teaching into your daily life.

If you agree, then I officially declare you an “unofficial” homeschooler.

Start in the kitchen.  Benedryl optional.

~~~

What creative ways do you have for incorporating learning into your everyday life?

**Thank you to “Photography by Kamarah” for the lovely pictures! Look for her on Facebook.

Posted in Decor/Organizing, Discoveries, Education, Family, Family Activities, Family Friday, Home, Kids, Kids in School, Kitchen/Culinary Woes, Marriage, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Morning by Morning

This past week while I was stuffing my pie hole with a loaded baked potato at our BSF Fellowship, our leader posed a question:

“Looking back over this year’s study of Isaiah, what do you think the Lord’s been teaching you…or how have you most been convicted?”

I quickly stabbed a small pile of bacon and avoided eye contact, equally needing time to think and not wanting to be labeled as the girl who won’t shut up. No one likes an overambitious “humble” admission.

The women around me offered stories of hardship and trial and shared how God had used the truths of this ancient prophet to shore up their faith, reminding them of his goodness and promises.

I swirled a dollop of butter and sour cream into a tiny puddle; vanilla pudding in the cavern of my starchy volcano.

“What about you, Jane?”

Surveying the room, I sucked in a breath and let the truth spill out.

I need to be more dedicated to consistent Scripture reading. Not because as Christians we “should” or we’re “expected to” or in an effort to keep legalism alive and well. Not because we’re striving for extra points on some mythical God-scorecard or on a heavenly tally sheet–but because reading the Bible reveals the nature of our God and Savior.

How can I, in circumstances of confusion or questioning, find any solid footing if not in God’s Word? Should I depend on my emotions or personal opinions?

How can I, in times of trouble or doubting, find strength in His Promises if I don’t have them hidden in my heart?

After sharing this one of the women told a story of a friend who went to Asia. Upon seeing the face of an American, one of the nationals ran up to her–a complete stranger–and begged her to recite a chapter from the Bible.

The American woman stood on the side of the busy street, enveloped by exhaust fumes and utter disbelief.

“What did you say?” she asked.

“You Americans all have Bibles and we have none! Certainly you must know just one chapter that you can share with us to give us a piece of the Word of God.”

Back in our fellowship group the room fell silent. How many of us could have answered that plea?

Isaiah 50:4 says, “The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.”

My conviction is to live that out.

Morning by morning, day by day, getting up after I’ve fallen, trying again after I’ve failed, but striving always to listen like one being taught.

~~~

How do you make time for God’s Word in your life? Is it a struggle or have you found a way to stay disciplined?

 

Posted in Faith, Following Jesus, God, Growing Pains, Heartbreak, Matters of the Heart, Prayer, Seasons of Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Anatomy 101 with Zac Brown

It’s been interesting to watch my oldest child grow up. He’s slowly interjected his fashion sensibilities, voiced desires for new hair styles, and independently changed the radio station away from my channels to those he enjoys. Seeing a unique personality emerge ignites my imagination for his future and reminds me that part of parenting is making room for greater freedom and individuality.

Today he was home with the never-ending fever of 2011, but I had promised my mom that I’d run an errand for her, so he sluffed into the van in jammies and moccasins. When I remembered that I had to duck into the grocery store for a handful of items, I let him wait in the car to listen to the radio.

Enter Zac Brown and his hit song, Toes.

J is on a country kick. He’d probably buy his own pick-up truck right now if we let him.  Let’s pray he doesn’t ever consider chewing tobacco or obtaining a Confederate flag.

So I was surprised to return to the van and find the radio on but totally turned down. He looked at me and explained everything.

Mom, I don’t think this song is appropriate because there’s a swear word in it, so whenever it comes on I just turn it down.”

“Oh. Well good job showing that I can trust you! So what does the song say? What’s the letter that the swear word starts with?”

“A.”

“Is it a-s-s?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you know what that means?”

“Well, I had to kind of figure it out. The first time I heard the song he said, ..toes in the water, ass in the sand, not a worry in the world, cold beer in my hand… so I just thought to myself, “If his toes are in the water, then he had to be talking about his butt in the sand.”

We continued our conversation about these alternate anatomical references and how when I was growing up it would have been soap-in-the-mouth post haste for using that language. [ahhh…how times change, right?]

These days soap and shame are gone and colorful language has bubbled over into the mainstream, through the speakers of our radios and television sets. Now, if you know me well, you’ll know that I’m not beyond adding a little color to my vocabulary from time-to-time, and I certainly wouldn’t judge you for doing the same.

I’m just coming to terms with the fact that our world is a little different now. And if you’re in the car with your kid, chances are there will be opportunities for anatomy 101, courtesy of the Zac Brown Band.

I guess I should add a few diagrams to the glove box, just in case.

~~~

Have you ever been confronted with lyrics that you weren’t expecting your kids to notice? Or conversation on the news that caught you off guard? How did you handle it?

 

Posted in Discoveries, Education, Growing Pains, Home, Illness, Kids, Kids in School, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Random Fun, Seasons of Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Up on the Watershed

photo credit: untitledrecords.com

My head is cloudy. I’m realizing with sorrow and unwillingness that even the sweetest things in life evolve and change.

Of course we’ve been heading toward this fork for some time now, however the prongs of decision continue to force our hand. The tangible, visible forcing rose like cream to the surface this weekend when my husband found a long-forgotten allen wrench and went to work disassembling our kids’ bunk beds.

We had scrimped and saved and experienced a bittersweet turning that summer, too—the summer before the birth of our youngest. Emptying the crib meant moving toddlers to big beds and saying goodbye to two babies so we could welcome one more. That was nearly six years ago, that season of pregnancy and anticipation and construction.

But Friday, each turn of the wrench and every twist of the screwdriver became a metaphor for the deconstruction that seems to be happening all around me. World events that crash in on our security. Smaller storms brew in our own lives and communities, tossing hearts and rocking steady feet. Questions and challenges and new ideas send me reeling and reaching for something to quell the tide in my belly.

I feel the splintering acutely, like a vegetable peeler taking away one slice of my heart at a time. Slowly, as slight as velum, slivers fall to the floor and I am left in confusion and grief, without the energy to navigate the next fork in the road.

There’s an old song* that says “You can stand there an agonize, till your agony’s your heaviest load…” The pinprick of sorrow that started with an allen wrench has swelled to somber agony when thrown into the mixing bowl of emotions and decisions.

It’s never just about the thing. It’s never just about the bunk beds.

There are always layers to lift up, peek below, peel away, and come to terms with.

It’s just that sometimes those layers feel so…profoundly…heavy.

~ ~ ~

*song credit: Watershed, Indigo Girls

Posted in Faith, Family, Growing Pains, Heartbreak, Home, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Seasons of Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Second Chances

My CONTEST is begging for a second chance! I’d love for more people will have the opportunity to get involved, so the deadline is being extended. Please tell your friends that they may enter their comment until midnight on Thursday, March 24.  And help me spread the word–this is a great book to win; I’m certain you’ll agree that it’s an instant classic!

Posted in Contest, FREE BOOK | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Family Friday: Crayons and a CONTEST!

In the spirit of loving competition, my husband started “Super Fun Dad Nights” when our kids were little. On evenings I was out he’d plan something spectacular to do together, usually involving candy, balloons, and duct tape. It won the kids over and, of course, solidified dad as the favorite.

Until the next morning when I slathered their Eggo with the best syrup Michigan produces.

Now I’ve stolen the idea: I tell the kids that we’ll have “Super Fun Mom Night” when daddy’s off working hard at a meeting or function. As I’ve told you before, he is much more fun in the traditional sense of the word. I’m fun in the “let’s learn together creatively” sense of the word. Life’s a regular party with me, huh?

So last week I grabbed one of our library books on tape and slid it into my son’s portable boom box which we relocated to the living room. I passed out a hardcover book to each kid, along with a piece of computer paper and pencil, and put a community box of crayons in the center of the floor.

Then we sat in silence as the story rolled on, imagining the pictures, envisioning the scenery, and capturing tiny details. As the narrator progressed, we began to draw a scene as we pictured it in our mind’s eye. We added details and tried to incorporate as many components as possible.

After the story concluded we took a few extra minutes to wrap up and then we shared our work. The kids described the setting, characters, and which section of the plot their story represented.

This was a peaceful activity that promoted active listening, imagination, fine motor skills, and interpersonal skills during share time. They all felt they could do better next time, but for a first try, I thought they did great. Take a look and don’t miss the CONTEST at the end!

By J, my 8 year old son

 

By M, my 5 year old son

 

By A, my 7 year old daughter

 

By a Super Fun Mom

Based on these drawings, can you guess the title and author of the book? Your correct guess will enter you into a random drawing for your own copy! Here are the rules:

  • Leave a comment with your guess BEFORE MONDAY, MARCH 21
  • YOU MUST ALSO post this contest on your blog or facebook page, or tweet a link [sorry friends without social media, these are part of the rules!]
  • and…
  • You can earn an extra entry by also correctly identifying the award this book won.

Good luck!

    Posted in Art/Beautiful Things, Book Lists, Contest, crafts, Discoveries, Education, Family Activities, Family Friday, FREE BOOK, Giveaway!, Home, Kids, Kids in School, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Random Fun, Uncategorized, writing/work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

    Leaving Breakfast at Tiffany’s

    Cropped screenshot of Audrey Hepburn from the ...

    Image via Wikipedia

    I’ve never been a big “shopper”…if by shopper you’re picturing a classy, well-manicured Breakfast at Tiffany’s 30-something clicking through the mall with a bouquet of bags bursting from the nook in her elbow.

    I prefer flip-flops and I’m not all that classy.

    Despite my efforts to be cute and semi-fashion-informed, the truth is that I’m just average. I’ve been in jeans for the better part of my life, and until the loving intervention of my friend a few years ago, those jeans were famously paired with turtlenecks on a daily basis. What can I say? I like to be warm and I like to be comfortable.

    What I’ve been learning, however, is that shopping doesn’t have to happen at Banana Republic or Kohl’s for it to start cutting into your budget. Your handbag obsession is my Costco bill–and my Target splurge is your pair of designer jeans. It’s all the same to the bank.

    I remember a couple of months ago my parents stopped over and I excitedly said to them, “Guess what I got today?!” My mom said something like, “I don’t know Jane, you’re always getting something.” Now, this comment was flippant and lighthearted, [don’t worry mom–you didn’t hurt my feelings]—- but it DID make me think. Am I really turning into that girl? That “shopper”?

    How many times have I gone to the store for deodorant and toothpaste and left spending $100? And don’t even get me started on Costco! You can safely bet that each item you deposit in your cart is going to cost you $10. Their food testers lure and their kids’ clothes are cheap and their books such a bargain! It’s a regular merry-go-round of delight and I sign up for a ride way too often.

    Generally these “extras” are justified by pointing out that they’re not for me, they’re for our kids.  For instance, I found a couple of $5 videos which I reasoned would be perfect for our upcoming vacation. Since we’re driving, we’d better have entertainment after all! Then I stumbled upon some squirt guns and water balloons. What a fun mom I am, I told myself. Of course all the Easter goodies are out, so I had to scoop up a few of those items–for the kids, you know. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

    So where does it end?

    For me, it’s ending this Lent. I’ve given up the holy trinity of shopping: Target, Costco, AND the mall. Now, I wouldn’t stand in the way of my husband popping in for a mega-box of granola bars at the Warehouse, but I’m not going to go in. It’s too easy for me to see the variety of sparkly, fun things and try to justify why we need them.

    Like I did with our snorkeling equipment. [see? fun mom in Florida, right?]

    The truth of the matter is that even though we can pay our bills and God has blessed us with some rainy day money, there’s no need for me to aimlessly wander the aisles grabbing things at whim. There’s no need to store up treasures here when so many people are scraping along with less than basic essentials. And what does it teach my children about instant gratification or patience if I’m piling up purchases myself?

    So this Lent is bigger than shopping. It’s really all about contentment. It’s about praying the words of Paul and really striving to walk in the direction of the peace he talks about:

    “If we have food and covering, with these we will be content.”

    I Tim 6:8

    What are you working on this Lenten Season? Have you felt convicted to make some changes in your life?

    Posted in Discipline Issues, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, God, Growing Pains, Home, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Prayer, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    Michigan Maple Syrup!

    The dormant, hibernating teacher in me is creeping to the surface once again. I may not be clawing to get back into the classroom, but I do love to turn our living room, kitchen, and the nearby woods into places where we can learn and explore together.

    So this past Saturday I planned a “Family Challenge” for us: a outing or activity with a purpose. We surprised the kids and went to a local maple syrup farm to learn how trees are tapped and syrup is made!

    I quickly typed up a handout to help direct our time, made copies, paper clipped them to hardcover books, and then passed them out to the kids [who needs clipboards?!]. The first section had them make a hypothesis and record some road names and location information. The rest of the questions dealt with the process of making syrup, what natural resources are involved, what benefits there are to buying local products, etc.

    The folks at the “Sugar Shack” were warm and gracious. Without an appointment they swung wide their doors and invited us into the history of the farm. With unhurried care they explained how sappy goodness is boiled down into something wonderful for your morning waffles, and they explained how Native Americans and Settlers each had their own ways of making syrup [clever people!]

    After we asked questions and wandered around a bit, our children got a spoonful of the real thing, ladled out of a stainless steel drum before our very eyes! [I quickly channeled Buddy the Elf and thought of him pouring syrup on his spaghetti and naming it as one of the four food groups].

    After making a few purchases we plodded down the adjacent dirt road which led to the farm’s harvesting area. Zig-zagged with blue tubes scurrying from 1,000 tree taps, the nearby forest was a maze delivering sap to a 250 gallon drum, which when full is only enough for about FIVE gallons of syrup!!  [if you are cynical about the cost of pure maple syrup, that’s why!]

    Days like this one open so many doors for learning, great conversation, and praise to a God who would provide something so sweet from a tree! If you live in West Michigan or the Northeastern United States, check your local directory for a syrup farm near you; you’ll never look at your pancakes the same way again.  I promise!

    What about you? What fun winter activities have you discovered recently?

    Posted in Discoveries, Education, Family, Family Activities, God, gratitude, Kids, Kids in School, Living Green, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Nature/Outdoors, Random Fun, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Family Friday: Math at Dinner

    Do you remember memorizing your math facts in elementary school?

    I clearly recall my second grade teacher walking us up one-by-one to the front of the room to recite addition and subtraction facts. With breath suspended and heart pounding my ears, I looked to the paper train hovering above the blackboard and followed her tapping yardstick until reaching the goal: finish the entire train without one mistake.

    No pressure, right?

    With our own kids starting down this road of mastering math facts, my husband and I have been trying to find ways to incorporate a little math into daily life. This doesn’t mean that flashcards and calculators have to make an appearance or that the mood must become tense and somber–there are other ways to get your kids thinking! Here are a few ways to weave math into your dinner convo tonight:

    1. How old is grandma? One of our kids asked how old grandma would be on her upcoming birthday. Instead of just telling them, we offered her year of birth, provided pencil and paper, and asked them to figure it out.

    2. What about the dog? We got a puppy seven months after we got married. If we got married in August of 1998, roughly how old is our dog now? [cue the paper and pencils] How old is he in dog-years?  How old was the dog when you were 4?

    3. Speaking of Marriage: If mom was born in 1975 and we got married in 1998, how old was mom when she walked down the aisle? [Repeat with dad].

    4. When your brother is 10….? Our youngest son is in preschool and is not yet working to memorize math facts. However, this boy does not want to be left out! So we crafted a few simple questions for him like, “If your brother is 3 years older than you, how old will he be when you’re 6?” or in reverse,  “When J is 10, how old will you be?”

    We actually had fun and spent most of our dinner crafting problems and searching for solutions. Once we had discovered one grandma’s age, the kids prodded for information they could use to figure out the other grandparents’ ages. And with a little thinking we were able to incorporate our 5 year old effortlessly.

    Next time you sit down for dinner, add a piece of paper and pencil to each place setting and flex your math muscles together; not only will it prepare your kids for the rigors of school, but it reinforces the idea that math really is an everyday skill.

    Posted in Discipline Issues, Education, Family, Family Friday, Home, Kids, Kids in School, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    Counting the Cost at Lent

    My school year has been transformative for several reasons, but the most notable has been joining BSF, Bible Study Fellowship. This international Bible study brings over 200,000 students together over 38 countries each week; it’s truly mind-boggling to think that women in Africa and men in South America are opening to the same passages of Scripture and learning the same truths as we are in West Michigan.

    Today our lecture leader wove several questions throughout her talk that seemed perfectly timed with the beginning of this rich and historical Lenten season. As you prepare your heart for a measured time of self-sacrifice, devotion, and prayer, perhaps these thoughts could spur you on–spur me on–to greater love and purpose.

    • “Ministry that costs nothing accomplishes nothing.” Is it costing me anything to be a Christian today?
    • “Jesus’ heart was to bless all, but to please just one.” This demonstrated his love and obedience. Am I being obedient to God? He never says it will be easy.
    • Women, on average, speak 20,000 words a day! We weren’t saved to sit, so what am I doing with my 20,000 words a day?
    • The Pharisees had religion, but no relationships. They knew duty, but lacked devotion. They had lists, but no love. Does this describe me in any way?
    • Even those who believe have honest fears and doubts. But do I focus on the problems…or Promises?

    What are you doing as you walk the calendar road to Resurrection Sunday? Have you been convicted? Encouraged?

    Posted in Compassion, Discipline Issues, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, God, gratitude, Growing Pains, Heartbreak, Home, Matters of the Heart, Prayer, Seasons of Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

    Easy Recycling and Repurposing Craft

    This past weekend my son was given a homework assignment to find an object that could be recycled or repurposed into something new and useful.

    [DISCLAIMER: by useful, we don’t mean turning a regular piece of paper into a paper airplane which another boy certainly did do as his project; I noted that you may as well take a Jimmy John’s napkin and blow your nose in it and call that recycling].

    Instead we turned to the wonderful world of youTube for some ideas. What we came up with is a bird feeder that I will actually use after the grading is done! Perhaps you’ll be inspired to make one with your kids–it’s the perfect way to welcome spring!

    You will need:

    • 1 empty [2L] bottle
    • one 1/4 in dowel precut to about 10 inches
    • an exacto knife for cutting
    • a drill
    • bird seed
    • string for hanging

    DIRECTIONS

    1. Grab an empty 2Liter bottle from your recycle bin and strip away the label.
    2. Using a craft blade or exacto knife, carefully cut two round circles across from each other in the bottle, approximately 4 inches from the bottom. These should be large enough to allow birds in but keep other pests out.
    3. Again using your exacto knife, slice a small “x” shape about an inch below each of the round circles [picture the straw hole in your fast-food drink lid].
    4. Insert your pre-cut dowel into the “straw hole” and through to the other side.
    5. Fill feeder with bird seed.
    6. Drill a small hole in the cap and insert a string for hanging.

    Using a paper funnel to get the seed in.

     

     

    Posted in Art/Beautiful Things, crafts, Discoveries, Education, Family, Home, Kids, Kids in School, Living Green, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Nature/Outdoors, Random Fun | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    What Are You Craving?

    Today I’m tooting horns and celebrating with an acquaintance/church friend of mine awaiting the release of her first book, Craving Grace. I’m honored to have been given the opportunity to review this book in the next month or so…just in time for your Mother’s Day shopping and graduation-gift-buying!

    On her blog today, Lisa’s asking you to post questions you might have about the book; please join me in checking it out! I’m sure I’m not the only one who’ll relate to her mini-bio on the back cover about a girl who did everything “right” until…one night.  [Hmmm!! I’m intrigued!]

    What happens when perfectionism and rules and legalism crash into God’s sweetness, love, and grace? You get a great new book!

    Posted in Book Lists, Faith, God, Growing Pains, Matters of the Heart, Seasons of Life, writing/work | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

    ICD Revisted

    In August 2009 I posted a humorous take on my own made-up disorder: ICD–“Inter-Connectivity Disorder.” I purported that this disorder subconsciously connects faces into a criss-crossing web that leads me to exclaim, “You know who he LOOKS like?!” at least seven times a day.

    The irony of this post, aside from being my most popular ever and based purely on an invented disease, is that many of my commenters thought it was real! They said things like, “I do the same thing and I’ve always wondered if there was a name for it!”

    It simultaneously made me laugh and wonder if I’d be sued for fraud.

    But mostly I laughed.

    So in the spirit of silliness and adding a measure of light-heartedness to the gravity of global news, here is my latest connection:

      

    Moammar Gadhafi

    Henry, my little buddy and our dog's best friend

     

     

     

     

     

    Oh, sweet little Henry. If only Gadhafi had a small measure of your kindness and joy for life, the world would be a much better place.

    YOUR TURN: Who are your look-alikes? Leave a comment with names or link back to your own blog post about the same topic if you want to show photos.  Cheers to ICD!

    Posted in Random Fun, Silly Lists, Social Justice, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

    Building Trust in the Small Things

    When the lights fall and I’m lying motionless in a smudge of darkness, my prayers become loose and frayed and worry sets in. While many contend that worrying is “normal,” I know that many more would suggest it reveals my own lack of trusting God to hold the future. And as much as I’d like to say that notion is ridiculous, I know better.

    In today’s world, we worry about any and everything. Does red dye in food cause hyperactivity? Does aluminum in our deodorant cause cancer? Should we quit drinking milk? Is red meat as bad as they say? Will our identities be stolen while we’re at the lakeshore? It can be maddening, really, and I think that we as Christians have a tough job when it comes to responsible stewardship and responsibly seeking health…while not getting sent into a tailspin with worry.

    For me–and probably many of you–one of the concerns that immediately rises to the surface has to do with trusting our kids as they become more independentand trusting that with God’s help and by his grace our parenting will prepare them for good choices and right living. Of course at this point I have no reason to think our children will turn to trolls when they hit fifteen, however, I do wonder:

    • When my future teen leaves to spend time at a friend’s house, can I trust that he will really be where he claims to be?
    • Can I trust that he or she will seek solid friendships instead of falling into the wrong crowd?
    • Can I trust that she will refrain from watching TV shows or movies that clearly lie beyond the boundaries we’ve established?
    • Will I be able to trust him to walk away when buddies pull out a Playboy or Maxim Magazine?

    So one of the little things we’ve been trying to do is to use the language of trust with small things. For example:

    • “Son, if I set the timer, can I trust that you’ll turn off the computer when your time is up?”
    • “Daughter, it’s lights out and radio off at 8:30 tonight.  Can I trust you to do that?…or will I have to come back to check on you?”

    Of course all this is an unproven and untested in the real world, but my prayer is that the kids will begin to see that trust is earned in small steps and with daily decisions.  Jesus himself says it perfectly in Luke 16:10:

    “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

    Parents out there, what are your biggest worries? And what are your techniques for instilling the importance of trust in your children?

    Please leave a comment and share them below so we can encourage each other!


    Posted in CRAZY kids, Discipline Issues, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, God, Growing Pains, Home, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Prayer, Seasons of Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

    Family Friday: Book Nights

    Cover of "WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS"

    Cover of WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS

    Pop some popcorn and get in your jammies for Book Night!

    My husband and I first considered taking story time beyond Officer Buckle and Gloria when one of his friends from work shared this simple idea: instead of “movie night” or “game night,” they do “book nights.” He mentioned how excited his kids get when they pile on the couch with a great chapter book.

    Now, I can guess what you’re thinking: this is your big idea? Reading a BOOK?! Ok, I’ll admit that this is not rocket science, but I’d argue that for today’s families, hunkering down for an hour or two to read a chapter book is more difficult than it sounds.

    You have to resist answering the phone.

    You must carefully choose books that are compelling and classic, while being age-appropriate for each child.

    You must make time.

    Our most recently finished classic is the beloved Where The Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. If you’ve never read it, please add it to your to-do list immediately. Simple yet profound, this book will have you laughing and weeping and wondering if childhood can ever be the same as it was for the young protagonist.

    One of my favorite passages says, “…People have been trying to understand dogs ever since the beginning of time. One never know what they’ll do. You can read every day where a dog saved the life of a drowning child, or lay down his life for his master. Some people call this loyalty. I don’t. I may be wrong, but I call it love–the deepest kind of love” [214].

    There are some action sequences in this book that are a bit PG+, including the detailed death of a boy in a hunting accident, however the sweeping sentiment of love, hard work, and loyalty is priceless. To add some depth to the experience, I found the movie on the $5 rack at Target and our family enjoyed comparing and contrasting it to what we had read in the book. Our kids absolutely loved them both, but agreed that grandpa just didn’t look quite like they had pictured him in their minds [isn’t that always the case?]

    Last night we began a shorter chapter book, Who Was Harriet Tubman? It’s exciting to plan ahead and choose books that teach wonderful values [like Red Fern], encourage imagination [Narnia Series] and that teach history [Tubman, Island of the Blue Dolphins].

    It takes purposeful evening planning to stay consistent, and I’ll admit that’s something we can improve on at our home. However, even snuggling up two or three times a week is a great family moment free from media and screens, but full of wonder and dreams.

    Posted in Book Lists, Book Review, Education, Faith, Family, Family Friday, Home, Kids, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Things I Love!, Uncategorized, writing/work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    Shovel It In, Kids. And Quiet Down While You’re At It.

    How long does it take you to eat your lunch?

    And what’s on your lunch menu, generally speaking?

    Today I surprised my oldest and snuck up to school with a bag of processed goodness from a certain “Clown-Based Establishment” in our town. That’s right, McDonald’s was in the house school.  My son was over the moon with the revelation that meat sandwiches and apple slices would be replaced with cheeseburgers and fries. I, of course, gazed at the luke-warm patty sitting neatly on its yellow paper and calculated how I would completely nullify my morning workout in just one hearty serving of grease.

    Super.

    At any rate, this is not a post about the cuisine found at the Golden Arches. It is about school cafeterias and what I learned sitting at a round table of third-graders in the middle of the day:

    1. They get fifteen minutes to eat their lunch. Some of you are probably thinking it takes you that long to relieve yourself [ahem], so how in the name of all that is holy could kids consume an entire lunch in fifteen minutes? Good question.  This is how:

    2. They eat only the good stuff. A sweet boy and friend of my son was sitting a few butt-spaces over from us. I took mental notes on what he chose to eat from his bag-lunch.

    • [1] Jell-o chocolate/vanilla swirl pudding cup
    • [2] Chips ‘Ahoy cookies
    • [1] bag of mostly crushed potato chips which were literally jammed into his mouth while the bell rang…before he politely declined my offer of a napkin and proceeded to smear salted hands down the front of his pants.  Mmmm.

    3. It is loud and stressful. Now, I must commend our school for maintaining high and clear expectations and having disciplinary procedures in place; however, 100+ kids in a small echoey place? Not ideal.

    4. Did I mention they get fifteen minutes to eat? And, might I highlight the fact that if they can’t properly stab their own Capri Sun or if you forgot to add a fork to their lunch box, they have to raise their hand and wait for a helper to come to their aid. Again, it makes sense to not have dozens of small bodies bustling around, but for real. We’re down to twelve minutes–best case scenario.

    {EXHALE}

    I guess the moral of the story is this : pack light, pack little, and tell your kids to sit down and shovel it in.

    TICK.

    TOCK.

    Time’s a’wastin.’


    Posted in CRAZY kids, Discoveries, Education, Family, Food, Kids in School, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Rants, Things I Don't Understand Thursday, Things that are STUPID | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Your Baby Doesn’t Come With Instructions

    Do you find it rather unbelievable that we are asked to fill out nearly every detail of our existence to rent a movie from Blockbuster, that we are legally bound to take hunting and boating safety classes if we wish to pursue those hobbies, and that even ordering things online means creating accounts and passwords till the cows come home?

    Thank you to Kamarah Sietsema for this lovely photo

    It seems that so much of what we do–be it hobby or job or personal–requires jumping through some hoops. YET, what is arguably the most important job a parent will ever do [that’s right–actually RAISE their kid] requires little more than watching a dusty video on Shaken Baby Syndrome before leaving the hospital. You can be the biggest turd in the zip code, running a meth lab in your shed and letting goats sleep in your living room, and if you want to reproduce the only thing there to stop you is a rusty zipper and the old box of pizza you left on the mattress the night before.

    Comforting, I know.

    Now don’t misunderstand: I’m not advocating for governmental oversight into parenting or reproduction. at. all. Ever. Period. Fin.

    However, I’m merely making the point that there is no manual, no instruction book, and generally no formal training on disciplining your children or raising them to love the Lord or be kind, loving members of society [except for the gentle input of your mother-in-law…wink, wink]

    Am I the only one who sees this irony?

    So I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that parents often feel overwhelmed and defeated as they deal with screaming toddlers feigning death in the supermarket or dramatic school-goers who are having “the worst day EVER!”

    It’s hard, right?!

    While we’ll all have trials with our kids–and while we acknowledge that at the end of the day, they’ll still make their own choices–I don’t believe we have to feel hopeless.

    Of course as parents we have the Bible to guide us. Proverbs will quickly become your best friend if your looking for ways to remind your kids [and yourself!] about anger and foolishness. But if you’re looking for something a bit more concise [i.e, leaving out all the exciting stories of death and rebellion and plagues], here are a few resources to consider:

    For New Parents

    Baby Wise, by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam: INVALUABLE for newborns!!  A MUST!

    Parenting Kids Who Can Speak 🙂

    Shepherding a Child’s Heart, by Tedd Tripp: Fantastic resource for disciplining–even if you don’t agree with everything.

    Bringing Up Boys / Bringing Up Girls, by James Dobson: I confess these are both in our home and on the nightstand, but I haven’t completed either yet. Friends who have read them highly recommend the insight gained.

    General Resource

    Words Kids Need To Hear [To Help Them Be Who God Made Them To Be], by David Staal: Tremendous book about how to love your kids better. Very quick read with great ideas; practical.

    ***

    If you’re anything like me, you’ve got twenty-six other titles laying around that are half-read or in the “I really need to read this” pile. I can think of several off the top of my head that should be added above, but I’ll keep it brief for tonight.

    What are your classic parenting books? Please leave a comment with your suggestions! Readers helping readers…

    Posted in Book Lists, Book Review, CRAZY kids, Discipline Issues, Faith, Following Jesus, God, Growing Pains, Home, Kids, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Uncategorized, writing/work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

    On Jobs and Polished Nails

    I went to college at a time when I thought I had six job choices: nurse, lawyer, doctor, teacher, church-something-or-other, or the mysterious “business” person. It never occurred to me that there might be other fields outside the scope of my imagination that deserved consideration.

    Shame.

    As I’ve gotten older I’ve found myself in envious disbelief when I hear of people who dared to get a cool job–who dared to push themselves beyond the boundaries of the expected and the safe.

    Packaging Engineer?  Huh??

    Traveling Journalist? Really?

    Website designer?? Wait…we didn’t have websites then…

    This year marks my ninth home with our children and the bittersweet end of this road is drawing close. My feelings surrounding this event are immense and varied, and best saved for another post. However, the prospect of working again is on the horizon, and that prospect is at once exhilarating, intimidating, thrilling, and a bit daunting.

    Although I am so thankful for my training and experience as a teacher–and although I am glad to use what I learned as a parent-who-teaches–I’m standing at a fork in the road and am considering a left turn. Something unexpected. Something that might be considered “a bit of a stretch.” I think I’m finally ready to brave the unwritten pages of a new chapter rather than return to the classroom [insert many prayers here].

    I’m considering things for this next chapter that I love, but acknowledge they probably won’t ever move beyond hobby and into a real money making “here’s-your-paycheck” type of job.  That could pose a bit of a dilemma, but I’m not going to let pragmatics and potential problems stand in the way. I’m dreaming about the what-if’s and the why-not’s.

    And I’ve decided.  I want to work here:

    Oh. my. It’s stunning, right?

    Now, on to the practical: What kind of job, you ask?

    Well…technically, I don’t know yet.

    I just know that it’s going to require this laptop and some really gorgeous shoes. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to keep my nails polished so that I can page through lovely paper samples and examine stunning photographs without the embarrassment of a stray hangnail.

    Sigh… Sounds dreamy, right?

    Helping me along with the fantasy is Lavender & Lilies, who posted this box of eye candy last week, including the photo above.

    Thanks for the dreams, L&L.  I’ll be back for more.

    Moms out there who are contemplating a return to work outside the home, how are you processing? What are your aspirations?

    Posted in Chores/Duties/Jobs, Decor/Organizing, Discoveries, Education, Family, Growing Pains, Home, Marriage, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Prayer, Seasons of Life, Uncategorized, writing/work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

    Hearing Isaiah in a Painted Sky

    “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
    or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
    Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
    or weighed the mountains on the scales
    and the hills in a balance? “

    “To whom will you compare me?
    Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
    Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
    Who created all these?
    He who brings out the starry host one by one
    and calls forth each of them by name.
    Because of his great power and mighty strength,
    not one of them is missing…”

    Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
    The LORD is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

    [Isaiah 40: 12-13, 25-26, 28]

    Posted in Art/Beautiful Things, Faith, God, gratitude, Home, Matters of the Heart, Nature/Outdoors, Prayer, Seasons of Life, Things I Love! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

    Valentine’s Day Part 2: Hunting for Treasure

    It’s probably the hibernating teacher within that brings me round to setting up riddles and scavenger hunts for my kids. Yes, after all these years of standing in slippers wiping butts and noses, there are moments when that alter-ego is dusted off and put to use. My hands start scrawling notes with time stamps and abbreviations, planning out each section of our night and crossing my fingers for a normal bedtime. I stay awake into the wee hours of silver moonlight thinking about how it will unfold and try to convince myself that this is all very normal.

    This Valentine’s Day, having already delivered the cookies, we planned for some family time that centered around a hunt. The goal was to come up with a creative way to unveil their gifts and cards instead of looking at them all and saying in a benign tone, “Here you go.  Happy Valentine’s Day.” [cue pink cards and wrapping paper flopping weakly on the table].

    PLAN:

    1. kids will find hidden riddles and mini-gift bags accompanying each clue [one bag per kid]
    2. run riddles and gifts one-at-a-time back to living room and start a pile
    3. continue searching
    4. once all 6 cards are found, sit as a group to solve each riddle
    5. riddles are intentionally scrambled and kids will have to unscramble “clue” words [below in bold caps] to form a coherent sentence which will tell them what to do

    SCAVENGER HUNT CLUES:

    1. Look up Genesis 8:16. What did God tell Noah to do? [“COME out of the ark…”
    2. Look up John 14:1. Write down the word before “hearts”: [YOUR]
    3. Look up John 3:16. Write the first word here: [FOR]
    4. Write down the missing homophone: two, too, [TO]
    5. Look up Genesis 43:26. What was presented to Joseph? [GIFTS]
    6. Look up Exodus 20:12. Whom must you honor? [YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER]

    The kids worked together to form: Come to your father and mother for your gifts –or–For your gifts, come to your father and mother.  They got it! Running downstairs they found their gifts laid out in three piles: nothing special, but something to let them know they were thought of. A small card, a little candy, lots of love.

    So it was a great Valentine’s Day at the Graham household. We didn’t get to the Bingo game or The Story of St. Valentine as I had wanted, but the kids enjoyed the challenge and the mystery of the hunt nonetheless.

    Try it next time you want to send your family a creative message–maybe even something like “pick up your disgusting clothes pile” will turn into a fun!


    Posted in Contest, CRAZY kids, Education, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, Gifts, God, Holidays, Home, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Play, Random Fun, Seasons of Life, Silly Lists, Things I Love!, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Valentine’s Day Part 1: Spread Some Love

    Don’t we all wish there was a fool-proof recipe or some sort of silicon mold that promised to shape our children into the caring, generous, love-filled humans we want them to be? Or perhaps some magic powder we could sprinkle on heads or tiny feet that guaranteed sweetness and compassion?

    Instead, we parents carry the burden–and joy–of instilling these values and character traits into our children with purposeful teaching and through personal example. In my own life, I can think of incredibly generous individuals whom I so admire, and others that I love dearly, but who seem to squander opportunities to spread love. Taking time to reflect on both possibilities can help us parent with “the end in mind.”

    So it was perfect timing that our youngest son’s AWANA homework last week was to make Valentines’ cards with his memory verse on them.  We decided to tackle it as a family and started our Valentine’s Day celebration with the premise that we should share love with our neighbors.  Although they may argue that they’re sick of our baked goods and annoyed by little hands ringing doorbells in the dark, we think it’s fun and enjoy these small moments.  Neighbors, thanks for graciously welcoming our children…and our cookies 🙂

     

    Heading out for deliveries 🙂

     

     

    Posted in Compassion, CRAZY kids, Decor/Organizing, Discipline Issues, Education, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, Food, God, gratitude, Holidays, Home, Kids, Kitchen/Culinary Woes, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Neighbors, Play, Random Fun, Recipe/Kitchen Success!, Seasons of Life, Things I Love! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    Easy Meal Idea With a Side of Smiles

    If you’ve been a long-time reader, you will know that my kitchen prowess is, well, a bit unpolished. That is to say, I should have auditioned for Anne Burrell’s Worst Cook in America. I’m sure I could put on quite a show with my colorful creations.

    HOWEVER. In a moment of serendipitous delight, I actually hit one out of the park this past week! Of course the protein was prepackaged and precooked, but hey–once the Costco food testers get you drooling in the aisles, there’s really no turning back.

    Here are the details.  Go ahead and add it all to your shopping list:

    • 1 french bread baguette
    • baby spinach
    • sliced tomatoes [I make mine half-moon shaped]
    • dipping herbs + EVOO
    • Amylu’s Chicken Burgers [YUM!!]

    I use my lovely new panini press to toast the french bread which has been generously slathered in the EVOO and herbs. Next, to accommodate the size of the “bun” I cut the burgers in half. This is also a tricky portion control stunt I use to reduce my tendancy to strap on the feed bag and go to town.  Last, top with spinach and tomato and BAM! Instant smiles!

    I slice my bread on a bias so that the "buns" are bigger

    Prepare your dipping sauce to baste the bread

    Mmmm! Hot and toasty...

    Toss on your chicken burgers for those great grill marks

    Garnish...

    Enjoy!

     

    Posted in Family, Food, Home, Kids, Kitchen/Culinary Woes, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Things I Love!, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

    Family Friday: Compassion Project

    I don’t know about where you live, but the past few weeks have blasted West Michigan with painfully icy wind and record-breaking snowfall. I wish I could say that I’m loving it, but in truth, I’m counting the days until we can flee like frozen refugees for asylum on some non-specified Florida beach.

    While our climate can seem oppressive, weeks like these do provide fodder for thought if you’re looking for matter to ponder. At our home, the relentless weather led to a meaningful conversation about the homeless in our community. Tucked safely in our cozy home like birds in a nest, we empathized and tried to comprehend life in their scuffed shoes. We imagined a cold night without restful sleep or a place to go, and decided that there had to be something we could do–however small–to show compassion.

    We came up “The Compassion Project.” Sitting down together, the kids dictated a letter to our neighbors which I typed up.  It started out:

    “Dear Neighbors,

    Have you ever imagined what it would be like if you lived in Michigan in the winter and were homeless? I bet it would be freezing.

    Together as the Graham Family we are working to collect blankets you don’t need or care about that we could take to people who are homeless. We will deliver them to Mel Trotter…”

    After dad made copies, we drove our little offspring around the neighborhood to deliver the letters and later in the week we collected the blankets. We were surprised and grateful to those who scouted out forgotten quilts, washed them, and had them ready when we came around in the suppertime darkness. At the end of the night, we had almost 30 blankets!

    Tired but happy 🙂

    Bagged up and ready for drop off

    That weekend we delivered everything to Mel Trotter, a shelter in downtown Grand Rapids. While I wanted the kids to see the reality of life on the margins of society, more important to me was instilling in them the idea that showing love and concern for others doesn’t have to be a monumental undertaking. You don’t need a million dollars. You don’t have to know the president. You certainly don’t have to be a grown up!

    Why not reach outside yourself today with the little ones that you love? Whether nieces or nephews, grandchildren, kids at church or school–or your own children–find a small act of compassion that you can do together. Love always brings a little extra sunshine to the winter snow!

    Check back next week for another Family Friday idea…and be sure to share your own great ideas by leaving a comment below!

    Posted in Compassion, CRAZY kids, Education, Faith, Family, Family Friday, Following Jesus, Gifts, gratitude, Home, Kids, Marriage, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Neighbors, Random Fun, Seasons of Life, Social Justice, Things I Love! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    An Our Final Winner Is…

    KAREN SILVA!  Karen, you will soon be the proud new owner of Keri Wyatt Kent’s book, Simple Compassion. I’ll be contacting you to make arrangements for shipping!  Hope it’s a blessing!

    Thanks for playing 🙂

    Posted in Book Review, Compassion, Contest, FREE BOOK, Giveaway!, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

    Peanuts in the Morning

    Do you remember the sound of Charlie Brown‘s teacher on The Peanuts? She had that muffled “whaa-whaa-whaa” of an expertly muted trumpet combined with some sort of nasally resonance never before heard on earth–much less in a classroom. How Linus ever managed to do anything beyond “pound erasers” is beyond me.

    Which brings me to our home this morning. It seems I must sound like the Peanuts teacher to my kids. I see them stare blankly into my eyes, their gaze hollow and questioning. I swear they see my mouth moving and may even note a waving hand or pointing finger. What they don’t seem to capture, however, are any of the things that come tumbling out of my mouth before 8:30 in the morning.

    “What?…get dressed? What are you talking about?!”

    “Huh? Hurry up? What for?”

    “Brush my teeth? I did that before bed last night!”

    Well, ok…they really didn’t say those things, but they may as well have. Instead of saying those things they:

    1. Did not get dressed [or run an ever-loving comb through their ever-loving hair]

    2. Did not hurry up [missed the ever-loving BUS]

    3. Did brush their teeth, but also managed to drop the toothpaste on the floor [awesome]

    Friends, what’s up with the pre-bus stop disconnect? Why–in February mind you–is it so fantastically difficult to get buttons fastened and socks on feet? How long does it really take to suit up in snow gear–and should I clock this task in minutes or hours?

    Tomorrow, instead of fighting and going crazy in my head, maybe I’ll just look at them and express, in all candor, my true feelings:

    “WHAA WHAA WHAA.”

    I promise: they won’t know the difference.

    Posted in CRAZY kids, Discipline Issues, Family, Home, Kids, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Random Fun, Rants, Seasons of Life, Silly Lists, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

    Thin Places goes to…

    DENA!  Congratulations!  You’re the new owner of my gently-used copy of Mary DeMuth’s Thin Places.  I’ll be contacting you for further details soon!

    Posted in Contest, FREE BOOK, Giveaway!, Literature/Books | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

    And Monday’s Winner Is…

    Terri from nanasfaith.blogspot.com ! You are the proud new owner of my Defiance Texas Trilogy set, by Mary DeMuth.  I’ll be contacting you for your shipping information so that I can get the books in the mail by the end of the week!

    Congrats!

     

    Posted in Contest, FREE BOOK, Giveaway!, writing/work | 1 Comment

    And The Winner Is…

    Terri from nanasfaith.blogspot.com ! You are the proud new owner of my Defiance, Texas Trilogy set, by Mary DeMuth.  I’ll be contacting you for your shipping information so that I can get the books in the mail by the end of the week!

    Congrats!

     

    Posted in Contest, FREE BOOK, Giveaway!, writing/work | Leave a comment

    Take Care of Your ‘Neighbs With Some Simple Compassion

    Today, one of our local news reporters delivered his thoughts on this record-breaking weather while stationed up to his thighs in snow on a fake deck. Nice touch, I thought. One leg was in a “normal” section of the snow while the other was dramatically stomped into a tall drift, making the point that with the wind comes a new problem: blowing snow piling up to legendary heights.

    Thoughtfully, this reporter not only called us all to personally use care and caution while outside, but to go the extra mile and check in on a neighbor. Blow out another driveway. Help someone get down the sidewalk. Keep your mailbox free and clear for the postal worker. In other words, exhibit some simple compassion.

    This news snippet brought to mind a book I reviewed last year by Keri Wyatt Kent, Simple Compassion: Devotions to Make a Difference in Your Neighborhood and Your World. This book will be the subject of today’s free book giveaway! [Click on “Book Reviews” above for more information].

    You have a week to do this–and a week to tell all your friends so they can throw their name in the hat. If living the Way of Jesus is important to you [instead of just talking or reading about it], this book is the perfect catalyst to get you thinking.

    To enter your name into this contest, simply:

    1.  Link TO my blog FROM your blog, facebook page, or twitter.

    2.  Leave a comment below so that your name can be entered into the random drawing.

    The winner will be announced next week Wednesday, FEB. 9. Good Luck!


    Posted in Art/Beautiful Things, Book Review, Compassion, Contest, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, FREE BOOK, Friends, Gifts, Giveaway!, God, gratitude, Home, Kids, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart, Prayer, Seasons of Life, Things I Love!, writing/work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

    More Exciting Than A Blizzard? A FREE BOOK!

    It seems that nothing has the power to transform meteorologists into giddy children like a rollicking storm. Weathermen and women posted outdoors in the bluster seem thrilled to be at the center of such epic developments, their stern admonitions to skedaddle to the gas station and grocery store delivered while leaning precariously on the margins of a barely-visible highway.  There, hanging on for dear life, they convince us that the world as we know it may very well be coming to an end, sending school kids everywhere into a tizzy of snow day speculation.  [Ours are prepping for a sibling slumber party even as I type!]

    THANKFULLY there’s a spark of light in all this blizzardy drama!  A free book for you!! Up for adoption today is my read-and-reviewed copy of Mary DeMuth‘s powerful memoir, Thin Places, published last February by Zondervan. [For more information, click on “Book Reviews” above].  Part of the reason I’ve chosen to share this book is that I found it to be so compelling, so raw and honest, that anyone who picks it up is bound to be changed. I hope that you’ll agree…and that you’ll pass it on to bless someone else in your community after you’ve laid it down.

    If you’d like to toss your name in the ring, simply:

    1. Post a link TO my blog FROM your blog, facebook page, or Twitter.

    2.  Leave a comment below so that your name can be placed in the random drawing [I use random.org]

    That’s it!  Unlike this blizzard–which should blow over in the next couple of days–you have a week.

    The winner will be announced next week Tuesday, February 8. Good luck!


    Posted in Book Review, Contest, Discoveries, Faith, Family, FREE BOOK, Gifts, Giveaway!, God, Growing Pains, Heartbreak, Holidays, Home, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Seasons of Life, Things I Love!, Uncategorized, writing/work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

    Book Giveaway Week!

    This past week while huffing through a morning deathmatch with our eliptical machine, my gaze fell on the nearby spines of several books have been given to me over the years to review. Having gotten them with the intention of spreading the word, I figured that it’s high time they should be put up for adoption; after all, books can only inspire others when they’re read, which means they need to come down off the shelf and land squarely a pair of open hands. Maybe your hands?

    Mary E. DeMuth

    So to kick things off, I’m giving away my Defiance Texas Trilogy set by Mary DeMuth. I’ve reviewed all three of these books for Mary and can’t say enough about her storytelling or the effort she invests in her craft.  [If you’d like to read my reviews or learn more about any of her stories, click on the “Book Reviews” tab at the top].

    To win all three gently-used books, simply add a link TO my blog FROM your blog or facebook page, then leave a comment below to submit yourself into the random drawing. Remember to enter your blog address in the comments form, leave an email address, or check back so that I can find you to discuss shipping options!

    I’ll announce the winner next week Monday, February 7.

    Tomorrow’s giveaway will be another fantastic Mary DeMuth book: her memoir, Thin Places. If you know anyone who has ever dealt with the pain of losing a parent at a young age, endured a broken home, or felt the shame of sexual abuse, you’ll want to visit tomorrow to enter.  Perhaps your contest win could be a life-changing gift for someone you hold dear, if not for yourself.

    Posted in Book Review, Contest, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, FREE BOOK, Gifts, Giveaway!, God, Heartbreak, Home, Kids, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Prayer, Things I Love!, writing/work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

    Family Friday: Indoor Skeet Shooting

    I have to give major props to my husband for this one–it’s totally his brain and creativity that adds so much color and life to our home.  What can I say–he has a PhD. I guess you have to be crazy … colorful to get to that point.

    In fact, tonight on Modern Family, one of our favorite shows, Claire said to her son Luke, “Luke, don’t know it’s a rule that you can only have one fun parent?” That’s Brandon, friends.  I’m “fun” in the “let’s have a teachable moment and do something nice for so-and-so” sense of the word.  So if that’s fun, I’m hilarious.

    At any rate, Brandon came up with this beauty over Christmas break when our Nerf arsenal was at an all-time high. Walking around like a chew-spittin’, saggy-pants-hikin’, told’ja-so cowboy, he proposed we needed a little indoor skeet shootin’.

    Welcome to Kentucky.

    This evening proved to be a lot of fun, and I think the take-away for me was just how easy it is to be inventive and creative with stuff you’ve got laying around the house anyway.  In a nutshell, here was the night:

    1.  Dad goes to the second story with balloons

    2.  Dad drops balloons over the ledge [our 2-story foyer is open]

    3.  Kids armed with double-barrelled Nerf guns wait at the ready, aiming for the balloons.

    4.  Kid who makes contact with the most balloons wins [daughter who enjoys note-taking will keep score].

    and of course, Mom and Mr. Fun give it a whirl, too…

    Look at me!  A different kind of “hilarious.”  Try it!

    Posted in CRAZY kids, Discoveries, Family, Family Friday, Holidays, Kids, Marriage, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Play, Random Fun, Seasons of Life, Things I Love!, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

    What a Great Idea!

    I love to share great ideas. If it’s something that can encourage or edify–I’m your blogger. [keep that in mind and send my your besties!]

    Recently my dear friend Lyndsey sent me a link to her friend’s design blog–you know–the kind of designer that nearly makes you feel like a kindergardener coloring with jumbo crayons stuck between your toes in comparison. But I say that in love and admiration.  April is amazing.

    Anywho, I love April’s idea so much I’m linking to her site so you can check it out for yourself.  My husband and I have been working on our own version of this on a piece of wood he rescued from a gym floor…when it’s done you can bet you’ll see it here first 🙂

    April’s Family Rules Canvas Idea is just a click away…

     

    Posted in Art/Beautiful Things, crafts, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, God, gratitude, Growing Pains, Home, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Prayer, Random Fun, Things I Love! | 2 Comments

    Fortune Cookies: Free Therapy

    Let’s pause for a moment of honesty.  [Exhale through the nose]…

    thanks to travelstart.com for the photo

    I ate the whole. box.

    [Minus five cookies which were generously allotted to my children.]

    I mean, this was over several days, so don’t go pointing fingers.  I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s ever eaten more than the “suggested serving size.” Those are just guidelines, anyway.

    I didn’t really know I loved fortune cookies this much until they became a secret treasure to be consumed in the late evening hours. Preferably during an edifying episode of The Bachelor.  In case you didn’t know, some food just tastes better in your pajamas [no charge for that priceless tidbit].

    Maybe it’s the elastic waist band that is so forgiving, or the fact that it’s quiet and you can hear your teeth crunching without the background noise of kids fighting over who forgot to flush the toilet.

    At any rate, what I discovered [beyond my penchant for binging] is that fortune cookies are like free therapy! Who knew?! Biting into one of these is like flipping on a grown-up version of Barney and having a group of cheerleaders spring into your living room for encouragement, cartwheels and all.

    So now I know: in those moments when gray clouds seem to crawl over my future, all I need to do is look at this array of oh-so-specific fortunes for a quick pick-me-up:

    1. “You will make a sudden rise in life.” [That is correct. Starting with my weight.]

    2. “Opportunity will soon knock. When it does, answer the door!” [Ding-Dong: Girl Scout cookies!]

    3. “Your golden opportunity is coming shortly.”

    4. “The weekend ahead predicts enjoyment.”

    5. “A charming friendship is in the making.” 

    6. “Grant yourself a wish this year; only you can do it.”

    7. “Opportunities surround you if you know where to look.”

    Don’t you just feel better already? I told you–instant cheerleaders, right? Opportunities abound, and good times and charming friends are coming my way! Fantastic!

    So next time you need free therapy, head down your nearest “ethnic” aisle at the grocery story and look for that lovely, shiny blue box of LaChoy goodness.  Happiness and instant optimism for only $1.97!

    Grab your jammies and dive in.

    Posted in Discoveries, Food, Kitchen/Culinary Woes, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Random Fun, Silly Lists, Things I Love!, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Family Friday: Spiritual Formation

    I’ve been thinking about posting this for awhile now, and thanks to the encouragement of a friend am finally getting around to it. This Friday I thought I’d share an idea I had for bringing Scripture into the kitchen–which we all know is where all the action is, and arguably, the heart of the home. The look and specific location of this thing in our kitchen would definitely NOT make the cut on Dear Genevieve or Divine Design, but I think it’s ‘divine’ all the same [terrible pun, I know].

    A little background: When our kids were little I’d search the Bible for Scripture passages that could teach a lesson [i.e, “It is good to share what we have”] and were short enough to get caught in the crazy brain of a 3 year old. I’d print them out on cardstock paper, have the kids draw what they think the verse meant on that same paper, and then put them in a binder that we’d look at before bed.  It worked great, and if you’re a mom of young kids I’d still recommend it.

    The problem with growing kids is that it becomes–or is becoming in our home–more difficult to sit down together every night without the static of homework and sports and dad being gone. The binder got put in a basket and we started getting it out less and less.  I decided there had to be a better way to get this stuff in front of our kids’ faces and into their hearts.  So here’s what I came up with:

    I bought these nifty magnetic ropes from Home & Company [I know…I’m obsessed…] and decided to condense my goals into two parts: 1) here’s what we believe, and 2) here’s how we want to live.

    Now when I find those clincher verses I write them out on flashcards and put them up under the appropriate category.  


    This way we can reference them during conversations and they see them every time they leave the house and return home again.  And so do I.  Because I don’t know about you, but my Scripture skills can always stand some remediation!

    Lastly, the verse that we’re focussing on today [or for us it’s every-two weeks] goes up on the fridge.  We reference it mostly when it comes up in discussion or when it’s a natural teaching moment.  I almost never say, “Ok, kids! Repeat after me!” [unless I’m really torked about something and need drop the holy hammer].  Rather, it’s more something like this:

    “Wow, you guys.  Look at this article in the paper today.  The homeless people in our city are really struggling.  Can you even imagine what it would be like to not have a warm home or a place to rest at night?  What do you think we could do to show them kindness and love?”  [more on this specific convo another time].

    [Mom, continuing]: “…it reminds me of this verse we’re studying…”

    Next to our verse we have our prayer focus.  I blotted out the names we have up there right now to protect privacy, but we talk about it as a family and decide together who we can be praying for in a special way.

    And you know what?  Kids get it!  They really do.

    Be encouraged, moms and dads and those of you with special kids in your lives.  Your efforts at home–even when they seem to go in one ear and out through a sassy mouth–do matter.  And if you’re walking it–they’ll remember it.

    Do you have a great idea to share? Leave a comment or email me privately; maybe I’ll contact you to be a guest blogger for me in a future Family Friday!

    Posted in Art/Beautiful Things, crafts, CRAZY kids, Decor/Organizing, Discoveries, Faith, Family, Family Friday, Following Jesus, God, gratitude, Growing Pains, Home, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Prayer, Recipe/Kitchen Success!, Seasons of Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

    What Women Tell Me: Finding Freedom From The Secrets We Keep, by Anita Lustrea

    “As a girl and young woman, I memorized hundreds of Scripture verses in vacation Bible school and in Sunday school.  I grew up memorizing the hymn book. I didn’t, however, grow up understanding much about God’s grace and freedom.” [pg. 191]

    For so many women around the country, the melodic sound of Anita Lustrea’s voice piping into the kitchen each day on Moody Radio is a call to sit down with a good sandwich and breathe deeply during the lunch hour.  Speaking for myself, her show Midday Connection has been a welcome hour-marker in my day; for years I have flipped on the radio, scrambled to hush crying babies or quickly closed the door on a noisy washing machine so that her conversations could bring light into my day. You can imagine, then, how I felt to have received a note from her asking me to review her new book [WOW!].  And after you read the book yourself, you’ll understand the joy I felt in turning each page [11+ pages dog-eared].

    While the topics discussed in Anita’s book are reflective of what one might hear on Midday, rather than threading in an outside voice to the dialogue, Anita stitches in her own unvarnished story of growing up and grappling with the ebb and flow of life. Whether it be loneliness, struggling with fitting in, divorce, single motherhood, or body issues, Anita’s journey is told with the curtain pulled back and the lights fully on. To her credit, she doesn’t retreat into silence when discomfort creeps in: she tackles it with truth and the kind of authenticity that brings the reader back through the chapters of her own history to the place where she can whisper, “me too.”

    What struck me about What Women Tell Me was how well-crafted each chapter was. Opening each chapter with an email snippet from a radio listener, Anita dives in with her own stories recounted from various points in her life, drawing on Scripture and noted authors for depth and breadth. With a skill and eloquence that is not overdone, people, places, and emotions become real–nearly tangible.  I could picture the junior high version of Anita navigating the halls of her school.  I could sense the deep longing within her for true, lasting friendship.  I remembered having been there myself.

    In particular, Anita’s bravery in discussing both divorce and the issue of pornography should be applauded–especially by those within the church who often turn a blind eye [or fire quick judgment] to these kind of bleeding wounds.  I was surprised by all the hurt and struggle the Lord has brought into Anita’s life, yet she unfolds each detail with the hope that her story can bring freedom to another shrouded in secrets.

    Anita is real and unflinching in her storytelling and in her faith.  I picked up the book with curiosity and put it down next to a list of people with whom I need to share it. If you have ever felt the tight, suffocating grip of secrets, I encourage you to read this book while you seek the freedom Christ died to give you: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galations 5:1.

    This year, end your slavery to secrets and isolation! Choose today to unyoke yourself.  Find room to breathe, room to cry, room to be real…in the pages of What Women Tell Me, and ultimately, in the arms of Jesus.

    Posted in Chores/Duties/Jobs, Discipline Issues, Discoveries, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, Food, Friends, God, gratitude, Growing Pains, Heartbreak, Holidays, Home, Kids, Kitchen/Culinary Woes, Literature/Books, Marriage, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Music, Nature/Outdoors, Neighbors, Play, Prayer, Seasons of Life, Social Justice, Summer, Travel, Uncategorized, writing/work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

    Family Friday: Engaging in the News

    Stop rolling your eyes.

    If you’re honest, I’ll bet at least a handful of you are contemplating a click of the mouse right now, mumbling something like, “There’s nothing good in the news–I can’t even stand to turn on the TV or open the paper!  And there’s no way I’d show any of it to my kids!”

    OK.  Calm down.  Don’t get your panties in a bunch.  This is a really cool idea and if you’re into intercessory prayer, I think you’ll be on board.

    Over the past couple of weeks you’ve probably heard the story of Ted Williams, the man with the “Golden Voice” who was discovered panhandling on the side of a Columbus, Ohio freeway [you can watch a CBS Morning Show clip here]. A drug addict and homeless man who hadn’t seen his mother in 20 years, Williams once held a job as a radio announcer and was blessed with a new beginning as the voice for a Kraft Macaroni & Cheese ad that aired this past Sunday on ESPN.

    Getting to the point: our local Grand Rapids Press printed his story and I was struck by Williams’ final remarks: “I just hope,” he said, “everyone will pray for me.”

    This article is now cut out and will be read by our family tonight at dinner before making its way into our photo-album prayer journal.  We’ve cut out and prayed for other newspaper faces before, including a very moving season of prayer for a local 17 year-old boy whose poor choices meant that Christmas would be spent in jail.  We prayed for his safe and quick return home.  We prayed that he would find one good friend in jail.  And we prayed for his family.

    In my opinion, although sweeping prayers “for our government” or “for our leaders” are not bad, I’m not convinced that they mean much–if anything–to kids.  Who are these leaders, anyway?  And…what’s a government??

    No, kids need faces.  They need a story. And they need a reason to care.  Wouldn’t you agree that a man returning home to his mother after 20 years of being apart would conjure powerful emotions in a child whose entire world revolves around mom and dad?

    I believe that drawing the hurts of the world into your home–the hurts of strangers–is a powerful demonstration of intercessory prayer for your kids. It gives your family the opportunity to talk about the choices of these individuals, about what went right and what went wrong.  It opens the door for empathy and compassion: “How would you feel if…” And of course, it reminds us of the hope and joy available to all in Christ; it reminds us that even dead-beats and dead-ends can find rescue and resurrection.

    They just need someone praying for them.

    Will it be you?

    Posted in Faith, Family, Following Jesus, God, gratitude, Home, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Prayer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    Tangled Up In Applause!

    For those of you look beyond the paltry three-sentence reviews in the newspaper to determine whether the latest Disney or Pixar flick is a good fit for your clan, I’m using this post as an opportunity to share my thoughts on Tangled.

    Having walked out on or turned off many a movie in my day due to an easily-frightened child at home, I have to be very cautious with our film selections–especially when shelling out $14 at the mall for a matinee [highway robbery!!]  Thankfully, we were very pleasantly surprised at both the beauty of the animation and cinematography [ok…that was me] and the humor and delight of the story line [that was my child…and me!].  All thumbs up!

    For those of you unfamiliar with the tale, Rapunzel was stolen away from her crib as a baby by the manipulative Gothel, who raises her as her own child for the express purpose of having access to the magical healing and restorative qualities of the girl’s hair. Disney successfully adds a colorful cast of thugs and animals to deliver that coveted “princess” quality we all love.  Rapunzel is sweet and dreamy, a girl at war with her desire to obey house rules, yet longing to be free. Flynn Ryder, Disney’s hero and would-be-prince of the story, undergoes welcome change after beginning the movie as a thief and liar–a change which is wonderful to watch and even better fodder for conversation at home. Unlike the Brother’s Grim story, this version sets the stage with Rapunzel’s estranged biological parents as king and queen of the land, so the stakes are high for her safe return.

    True to Disney’s feel-good style, the moral of the story is to follow your dreams, even if it means scaling mountains or risking life and limb [or in this case, one’s hair] to do so. There are some lovely songs that showcase the innocence of Rapunzel and others that expose Gothel for the wicked woman she truly is. We laughed and nearly cried…and most of all, we had a great time.

    If you’re stuck on the PG rating, I think you can move ahead with relative calm and confidence if you’re okay with these elements [note: some spoilers]:

    Gothel, the evil “mother” [kidnapper] is very scary looking until she is made younger by touching Rapunzel’s hair.  In fact, toward the end of the movie when Rapunzel’s hair loses its powers, Gothel shrivels up to a haunting skeleton-like hag.  Of course being shrouded by a black cape and hood only adds to her foreboding appearance.  Additionally, she meets her doom by falling out of the tower window; although you see her hit the grass and see her cape floof out, Disney spares you any gore here.

    Continuing with Gothel, she does sport a tight, low-cut dress throughout the movie. When Rapunzel hugs her, her face lands squarely on mom’s perfect breast.  I’ll admit that I found it a bit distracting. I mean, really.  Who runs through the mountains collecting parsnips for dinner with full cleavage on display?

    Evil “stepmother” character take 3:  In one nighttime scene the camera pans to the side and you suddenly see her [again with the cape and hood] standing silently behind Rapunzel, which is unexpected and actually a bit startling.  [I warned our fam about this ahead of time].  At the end of the movie she also appears to stab Flynn and his death seems imminent, however Rapunzel’s magic restores him [again–I told the kids that Flynn wouldn’t die.]

    There is also a scene in the local watering hole with a gang of criminals who are quite scary, including one who speaks as though intoxicated. We knew about this ahead of time, and also knew that in a matter of seconds these limb-missing, toothless thugs would burst into song.  It actually is one of the funnier parts of the story, but worth mentioning to your young ones.

    Lastly, there’s the wonderful kiss and happy ending that we all want when we go see a fairy tale.  It’s a fantastic animated film that will please both boys and girls…and their parents.

    If you’ve already seen it, what would you add to this review?  Please leave a comment!

     

    Posted in Family, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Movies/Movie Reviews, Random Fun, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    The Good, The Bad, and The [very] Ugly


    It’s no secret that I’m not all that gifted in the kitchen.  I mean, I try. Really, I do. I occasionally reference a recipe and even give a passing thought to planning my meals.  At my best I actually enjoy our dinners, savor each bite, and make a note to copy each procedure to the nth degree.  At my worst I don’t even eat what I cook.  I keep a bowl of Raisin Bran handy and sneak bites while the kids work on my debacle.  Is that bad?

    My latest strategy is to watch The Cooking Channel…while I’m on the elliptical machine–my own homespun version of kitchen penance and self-induced food torture.  I did recreate a Giada “Venetian Holiday” recipe this past Saturday that successfully livened up the abysmal Bowl Games.  Not that besting U of M or State was that difficult, however, considering what happened tonight, it must be pointed out.

    This evening’s foray into Costco’s lightly breaded Tilapia was an average success, paired with mashed potatoes and broccoli that never fails to be cold by the time it climbs onto my fork [why is that?]. When I noticed that one of the kids’ fish still looked a little…shall we say…fishy, I slid it back under the broiler for what I intended to be just a quick wink…and of course promptly forgot about.  The result?

    FLAME BROILED

    Standard.  Bad and [very] ugly wrapped in bread crumbs.  And absolutely obliterated. Reaching for the Raisin Bran now…

     

    In better news, THE GOOD:

    What I lack in front of the stove I’m hoping to make up for behind wrapping paper. I’ve been working on a special gift for my niece’s fifth birthday tomorrow.  Blank canvas, paint, a pack of $4 brushes and fingers crossed = this:

    In the beginning was the base coat...and the base coat was varied...

    ...then came the letters...

    Dots and dashes in the details.

    Do you think she'll like them?

    YES.  I am taking orders.  The fish isn’t working, but the canvas just might…

    Posted in Art/Beautiful Things, crafts, Decor/Organizing, Family, Gifts, Home, Kids, Kitchen/Culinary Woes, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Random Fun, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

    For Your Olfactorial Pleasure

    Ok, I’m not really sure that’s a word, but I’m guessing you know what I mean.

    Smells!  Good ones!

    I discovered a wonderful new candle that I just have to rave about—and adding frosting and sprinkles to the news is that these are locally made! Lakeshore Candles burn evenly, smell awesome, are soy-based, and come with a reasonable price tag. Check them out at Holland’s Home & Company, found in 8th Street’s Clock Tower Building.

    Frasier Fur and Winter Wonderland are perfect for the snowy season!

    Posted in Art/Beautiful Things, Discoveries, Holidays, Home, Random Fun, Things I Love! | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Dare I Put It In Print??

    Dear friends and marginally-invested visitors,

    It’s time to own up to the truth.  I must remove the mask and costume and be honest: I am a blue-ribbon slacker. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I kick butt and take names when it comes to slacking.

    Sure, my cupboards are newly organized and my 38-piece set of Snapware is finally put away, but truth be told, I am completely undisciplined. I start things and get distracted by the washing machine beeping and thoughts of seeing John Mayer in my living room in concert. I pause to find a recipe on the internet and end up planning a fictitious vacation to St. Croix. I think about exercising and settle for a quickly-paced trip upstairs to make the bed. Pathetic.

    I need to get my poop in a group already!

    So!  Along with millions of other slackers who use the onset of a new year to get their life into gear, I am putting some ambitions into print.  Well, I’m putting two ambitions into print because things get real after they’re written down for the world to see.  The rest will be hanging on my bathroom mirror.  No need to raise the bar too high too quickly.

    1. I’d like to use this blog as a place for sharing fun family activities.  My husband is pretty creative and I figure sharing his genius is your gain.  So, if you’re looking for ways to enjoy your kids outside of video games and without heavy doses of Day Quil, come back and look for Family Fridays.  I’m hoping to be on the job with this weekly. Please come back and leave your comments! I’d like this blog to be [dare I say it…] helpful, rather than just a collection of my ramblings. There are more than enough ramblers out there.

    2.   “Run, Forrest, RUN!” So far in my life I’ve run three 5Ks, and would like to add a 10K to my unimpressive resume this May.  Firming up my gut rolls will be an added benefit if I can ignore the dessert tray in the meantime. If you live in the area and want to join me, I’m aiming to be laced up and jumping around behind the starting line of the Fifth-Third River Bank Run on May 14. Considering my age and the height of my arches, this is a tall order. I’d love to know that I’m not the only crazy person out there, paying to run down the streets of Grand Rapids on Mother’s Day weekend. If you don’t want to join me but would like to submit a great song for my iPod, please leave a comment.  It is decidedly time to expand my hip-hop tunes beyond Gold Digger.

    So, there you have it.  What kinds of things are on your list this year?  Will they make it into print?

    Posted in Chores/Duties/Jobs, Discipline Issues, Growing Pains, Kids, Music, Nature/Outdoors, Seasons of Life, Silly Lists, Uncategorized, writing/work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

    New Year’s Eve Traditions

    Contrary to the throngs of Time-Square-pounding, diamond-clad, smoky-eyed, horn-blowing ladies waving their champagne flutes to the thumping beat of the Black Eyed Peas, I was at home this New Year’s Eve wearing hoops and yoga pants, sporting mascara-free lashes and thumping–ok, humming–to the sultry beats of 40’s jazz that I got for free at a wedding reception.

    No Dick Clark, no Ryan Seacrest, no Kathy Griffith.  Instead, my husband and our kids.

    For the past three years on New Year’s Eve, we’ve stayed home, opting to forego the hassle of babysitters and overpriced parties.  We turn off the lights, set candles aflame, and celebrate the gift of another year together.

    Our night begins around 6:30 with appetizers: this year we made our favorite jalapeno popper recipe from my neighbor.  We pulled porterhouses and sizzlers from the freezer [we did our kids the favor of giving them the steak “without the bone.”  Such a sacrifice…], chopped and roasted vegetables, baked potatoes, made salads, and prepared dipping sauce for the warm french baguette.  With sparkling grape juice on ice, we pulled everything together for dinner in our pajamas–always a hit!

    After dinner we dug out our special memory journal and read aloud the memories we wrote last year, sighing and smiling at the mention of things long forgotten; things that might seen insignificant and trivial to those on the outside looking in, but precious and treasured to those of us storing them inside our hearts.  We went around the table and shared our favorite memories for 2010, adding them to the annals, and then set goals for the New Year.

    While I’m not naive to the possibility of this all shriveling away at the onset of dating high school gatherings, I hope that these nights will always be special to our kids.  I hope that they’ll remember staying up late when they were 5 and 7 and 8, and consider the fun we had and the kooky things we did together. I tell myself we’re doing it for them–to build strong bonds and strengthen the love that holds us together.  But really, maybe I’m doing it for myself.  So in those moments of change and doors closing behind teenagers, I’ll have memories like this for myself.

     

    J making the steak marinate.

    Mushrooms and zucchini tossed in EVOO and seasonings

     

    China and crystal...and candles suspended in rice because I don't have the right kind of candleholders!

     

    Thanks to the kind gift from a friend, we each had wine glass jewels!

     

    "A" preparing the dipping sauce

     

    Daddy pouring the Sparkling White Grape Juice...made in Michigan!

     

    Smiling brothers 🙂

     

    Celebrating with cupcakes!

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Happy New Year, Everyone!

    Stuff 2011 with all the memories you can!

     

     

    Posted in Faith, Family, Food, Friends, Gifts, gratitude, Holidays, Home, Kitchen/Culinary Woes, Marriage, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Neighbors, Recipe/Kitchen Success!, Seasons of Life, Thngs I Love!, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    Settling for Reflections

    Last week wasn’t the first time that I’ve learned something new–or remembered something old–because of the words or actions of a child. Usually it’s my own kids convicting me of something, perfectly reciting words I wish I never would have spoken, and holding me to things that I shouldn’t have promised. But most recently, my memory was jogged by my mesmerized and sleepy three-month old nephew whom I’ve recently had the joy of babysitting.

    One morning, after breakfast was gobbled and Baby nestled safely on my lap, I watched in wonder as he watched in wonder. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Baby Einstein or our silly dog or my morning hair that had him staring, though: it was the reflection of the Christmas tree lights dancing on a black TV screen.  Their pretty colors blazed brightly in the early morning, but even still, they were small and distorted against the convex screen. If he only knew that turning his head just slightly to the right would have afforded him a view much more beautiful than a dim reflection–he could have gazed at the actual tree!

    I was immediately stopped in my tracks. How often don’t I settle for a watered-down substitute for something intended to be so much more beautiful?  So much more authentic and whole? How often, Lord, do I miss out on what you really have in mind for me?

    This Advent Season was the perfect time for Baby to remind me of this.  Many of us talk about the hustle and bustle, the hurry and worry, the tinsel and wrappings–yet we–or at least I–will admit to continuing down that same worn path, staring blankly into a dim reflection on a dark screen rather than turning my head to behold something true: the manger.  The Christ Child.  The Reason.

    11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.[a] All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. [I Cor 13:11-13, NLT, emphasis mine]

    Let’s turn our heads away from all that distracts us so that love will be the source of all our light and joy this Christmas.  Join me?

    Yearning for the day when we will see with perfect clarity,

    Jane


    Posted in Faith, Family, Following Jesus, God, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Seasons of Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

    Meet Rob and Kelly…

    One thing I so appreciate about our family is that we try to be purposeful about planning special nights together where TV and telephones fall to the wayside, and imagination and teamwork grab the spotlight. They are nights when we [usually Brandon and I together] plan some sort of activity that includes riddles, a feat to accomplish, or something to create. My husband has dubbed these nights “Family Challenges” and this past Saturday’s was a hands-down favorite here.

    Planned this time by Brandon and our daughter [she earned the privilege to plan], we were given two bags of balloons and the directive to create a “balloon person” and compose a small write-up about who this individual is–all in 45 minutes. Divided into two teams, we were allowed to obtain any other necessary building materials from the kitchen or garage [i.e. tape, markers, string] and were encouraged to stage the scene to fit the character of our creation.

    Here’s what we came up with, named by our children:

    "Team Kelly" posing with their new friend in full snow gear.

     

    “Snowboarding Kelly”, a 7 year old girl who loves to ‘board.

     

     

    "Rob" is a 20 year old college student at home for Christmas vacation. He loves to enjoy a snack in his slippers.

    Because nothing seems “official” to certain members of our household without an poll or referee involved, we are asking for you, dear readers, to vote on which creation you like the best. Lest you are tempted to click on without voting, you should know that there are prizes for the winners!  The kids are depending on you!

     

     

    Posted in Contest, CRAZY kids, Education, Family, Holidays, Home, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Play, Things I Love! | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

    Little Star, by Anthony DeStefano

    “Little Star knew that Jesus could have chosen to be born in a palace, surrounded by riches, but instead, he had humbled himself to be born in a stable…Of all the stars in the heavens, Little Star was the only one to understand the king’s message.  His message was love.” [from Little Star]

    With fresh eyes and childlike innocence, Anthony DeStefano has given us another treasure in his latest children’s book Little Star, published by WaterBrook Press. Teaming up again with illustrator Mark Elliot who brought whimsy and realism to DeStefano’s This Little Prayer of Mine, this book delivers lovely artwork wrapped in the wonder of the Christmas story.

    Little Star is the tale of the Bethlehem Christmas star as told by a father to his young son.  The boy, troubled that he can’t locate the famed light in the sky outside his window, asks where it could be and why it no longer shines.

    His father explains that “Little Star” was overlooked by other bigger and brighter stars as an inferior member of the heavenly host.  Left out and disregarded by all, Little Star was uniquely situated to understand the lowly state of the Holy Family.  They were not welcomed in by the inn keeper.  They were poor.  They were not important in the eyes of the world.  And yet, God was preparing them to be the parents of a King.

    DeStefano’s wraps up his story with an ending that children will remember through the years, and certainly, each Christmas as they work with their family to decorate the tree and place a star on top.  If you’d like to hear the complete story, grab a cup of hot chocolate and listen to Pat Boone’s narration here.

    Whether a gift for your own children, grandchildren, or other loved ones, Little Star would make a wonderful addition to any holiday library this Christmas.

    Posted in Holidays, Literature/Books | Leave a comment

    Beware: I’m 8 and I have a label-maker

    After returning back to headquarters Saturday night with scads of candy, sweaty hair, and cavities at-the-ready, the kids dumped piles of loot on the dining room table and declared victory.

    Victory over vegetables, unprocessed food, and moderation in any form.

    And at that brief moment when sugary bliss intersects with a primeval need to organize the booty [booty 1 |ˈboōtē|:• informal something gained or won]…THAT is the moment when 8 year-olds reach for the label-maker.

    Observe:

    1.  Obtain Rubbermaid container for “non-chocolate” items, being careful to sort out any dangerous, braces-endangering objects such as Jolly Ranchers, Laffy Taffy, or worse…the terrifying…DOTS. [cue Jaws music and smoke]

    2.  Obtain larger Tupperware container and label with “Chocolate.”  Tip:  “If you don’t know how to spell “chocolate”,  just copy it from the wrapper of your Hershey bar.” Response to said tip:  “Thank you, son. Good to know.”

    People, do you SEE this organization??  I know, I know, you may think it a bit Type A. But lest you assume this level of sorting and labeling is a lifestyle, allow me to assure you that indeed, it is NOT. His bedroom is a tornado.  The space under his bed is a private storage bin.  The floor, a dumping ground for wet towels and dirty underwear.

    So why this determination on Halloween?  Easy.

    “Mom, I take my candy seriously.” [Yes, that is a direct quote!]

    I can’t argue with that.



    Posted in CRAZY kids, Family, Holidays, Home, Kids, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Nature/Outdoors, Neighbors, Play, Random Fun, Things I Love!, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

    “What’s Included” In Mexico

    This is the Elation while docked in the port a...

    Image via Wikipedia

    Next month my husband and I are leaving the mess in the kitchen, turning on our heels, locking the doors, and escaping into the wild blue yonder together.  Along with some of our best friends and our new friend, the ultra-cheap Carnival Cruise Lines [in this instance, cheap is a compliment], we are heading west from Florida and into the sandy, sunset-washed waiting arms of Cozumel, Mexico.

    Preparing for our day on shore means that we have been trading ideas and websites with our travel partners, searching for activities worthy of our time and money, and weeding out those that are either dangerous or stupid…or both.

    Case in point: today’s search.  I stumbled upon an activity that was airbrushed and plucked to perfection, promising the beauty of nature and all things eco-friendly.  Apparently this includes “visiting” crocodiles and other eye-brow raising activities.  While this alone did not slam the door for me, the fine print below did.

    Note the last item in the right hand column–that’s what’s included with our $119 rate.

    Rates*:
    USD $119 Adult
    USD $109 Kids

    * Rates & schedules may vary depending on the date selected.

    • Land Transportation and Ferry from Cancun or Riviera Maya
    • Punta Sur Park entrance fee
    • Certificated bilingual guides
    • Snorkel gear and Dive Master guide for the snorkel tour
    • Buffet
    • Bottled water, soft drinks, beer after the snorkel tour
    • Life insurance

    I’m sorry, LIFE INSURANCE??

    Boy, I’ve never felt so secure!  Yes, there may be crocodiles and other mammoth flesh-eating beasts on both land and in the sea, but have no fear! We have Mexican Life Insurance!

    Friends, help me.

    If you’ve been south of this particular border, please leave your ideas for fun, affordable activities!


    Posted in Friends, Nature/Outdoors, Play, Random Fun, Rants, Vacation | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

    A Patch of Sky

    Today as I sat motionless beneath a two-way stoplight, I looked up and noticed a gap in the steel, perfectly framing a bookmark-sized patch of the purest blue sky.

    It was mesmerizing.  Suspended above a cloudless tree line it floated like soapy cashmere and I couldn’t turn away. I wondered what Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams would call this color.  Maybe Mountain Columbine or December Frost; Shadows on Pavement or Starched Oxford.

    I imagined how perfect it would look spread evenly in Martha Stewart’s spare bedroom, trimmed with thick white woodworking, a backdrop to her Nantucket wrought iron bed.   Quilted bedding just in from the line exudes the heady perfume that only mother nature can manufacture; hydrangeas burst from a glassy globe, beckoning visitors stay just a moment more.

    Maybe someone feel in love there, in Martha Stewart’s spare bedroom. Maybe a college acceptance letter was opened and read, joy muffled so as to not disturb a fussy souffle still in the oven.

    Maybe Benjamin Moore found his inspiration there, just like I did.  Perhaps he looked up from his parked buggy and caught a patch of sky between the branches of trees–between the dance of autumn leaves.

    Beauty’s everywhere this time of year.  Where have you found it?

    Posted in Art/Beautiful Things, Discoveries, Nature/Outdoors, Things I Love! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    A Slow Unraveling

    This fall my kitchen windows have seen more than just leaves changing color outside; they have stood witness to exhausting and unwelcome changes happening within our walls, around our table, in our kitchen.  It’s taken me a more than a stretch of days to put my finger on it, but now that my prints can be dusted in all corners of the surface, the slow unraveling beneath that surface cannot be denied.

    By God’s grace, I am not speaking of the kind of life-altering unraveling that sadly befalls many: divorce, death, depression.  Rather, mine is the arguably more insidious, nearly imperceptible slipping away of something that robs your joy while you’re stirring cookie dough or chopping vegetables for a salad.  And all the while, I stand by, examining specks on the kitchen floor as oblivious as a Parisian tourist smiling exuberantly while being pick-pocketed on the subway.

    The past few months have produced, as my husband postured, “the perfect storm” at our house: he was promoted and began a new job [fantastic, but demanding], our oldest child began a ridiculously over-scheduled rocket football season, and my daughter’s violin classes were moved to an after-school time [whereas before 1st grade we went during the day].  Add to those entrees the side-dishes of grocery shopping, house cleaning, beginning BSF [which is wonderful], pre-school field trips and classroom volunteering, and WOW!!  I need an assistant.

    Today, while talking with one of my “counselors,” it was pointed out to me that I have “togetherness” issues.  Meaning, I need–and value and desire–an abundance of quality time as a family unit.  That’s not a bad thing, but it means I need time.

    Time to read together.  Time to teach our kids to pray.  To teach them to love and serve and give generously.  To bake together and show them how to make applesauce in autumn.  Time to go to the orchard and ArtPrize.  Time to visit our college for football games and time to just sit in the grass with neighbors.

    And it positively grieves my spirit that rather than leisurely enjoying our meals, they are jammed into a fifteen minute time slot because we have to leave for football practice.  Or that homework is happening at 9:30 because the game went late.  Or that daddy can’t do bedtime tonight.  Or that my children see their teachers more than they see me.

    Ten minutes with me a day is unacceptable.

    In this house, ten minutes is not okay.

    So this month I am praying over our calendar and over my priorities and over my time.  What can go?  What can I do differently?  What can I do better?  What are my expectations? What is fair? What can I ask of my kids…of my husband?

    And I’m praying for an end to the unraveling.  I’m praying that God, in his might and in his wisdom, would knit us back up, a cord of three strands, more tightly than ever.

    Posted in Chores/Duties/Jobs, CRAZY kids, Family, Following Jesus, God, Growing Pains, Heartbreak, Home, Marriage, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Nature/Outdoors, Neighbors, Play, Rants, Seasons of Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

    Running with Children

    So I’ve been trying to be diligent in my exercising lately, walking the dog and going for runs as often as my knees can handle it. I’m trying to loose my three pound gut roll, er, “be healthy” and model active living for our kids. Also, I may or may not have seen a heinous photo of myself two days ago in which I leaned over to hug someone, and by the looks of my midsection it appeared I had a small ferret nesting inside my sweater.  It was terrifying. Terrifying.

    But before you applaud my efforts or reach for your sticker book of gold stars, you should know that by “running”, I mean jogging down to a stop sign while yelling breathlessly at my son to stop at the corner and not park his bike and then wander through murky ditch water. The whole trip stretches between 1.5 – 2 miles, depending on which way I exit my neighborhood.  That means it takes me about as long to get dressed, find my iPod and get out the door as it does to actually pound the pavement, but hey: better than nothing, I say.

    Yesterday looked like this:

    I left the house after gleefully discovering that my son’s bike was “fixed” [read: chain was attached and functioning] and bribing him with a play date if he rode along with a happy heart.  Lest think this unimportant, rework this scenario with a grouchy 4 year-old trying to canvas 2 miles on a scooter, all the while complaining of tired legs and begging to go home [so he can ride this same scooter back and forth across the street instead of down the sidewalk with me].  But that’s another story.

    So we’re heading south into the glory of the autumn morning when Shazam! M’s chain falls off.  I try to replace the greasy chain while jogging in place, or at least making a half-way effort to continue moving my feet while struggling with this offensive piece of junk. After a few go-rounds I finally win the battle and smear my filthy hands in the dewy grass to clean them.  Just like camping, I think to myself. No sweat.

    Now, picking up speed again for the next several yards and feeling pretty good about it, my son has stopped at a nearby pond where he has spotted an enormous bird standing like a statue under a stand of trees.  To my novice birder-eyes, I think it might be a Blue Heron.  It was, no joke, easily taller than my child.  I’m pretty sure that this bird could kill us with his freakishly pokey beak…or at least peck our eyes out like a scene in some horrific Greek myth.  Trying to flee from such thoughts, I propose that we should name this bird and look for it every time we pass the pond.

    M decides that his name should be Alex Rodriguez.

    Not this one:

    This one:

    I had to laugh.  After meeting Alex Rodriguez and trucking down the bike path to our turn-around point, I am again jolted from my steady trot by M exclaiming that his bike chain has fallen off.  [Unreal!] In my eternal patience and everloving kindness I calmly replace the chain…for the second time…on his offensive piece of junk…and continue.

    What I won’t do to remove that ferret from my sweater. I mean business.

    I am busy mentally patting myself on the back about my dedication to finishing this outing when we passed Alex Rodriguez again, moving like a shadowy flamingo near the pond and…you guessed it: THE DANG BIKE CHAIN FELL OFF YET AGAIN!

    Would I really make this up?!  By now I resemble the tire-changing scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie’s dad knocks the hubcap out of his hands.  There was muttering and fist shaking, and quite possibly silent bouts of screaming.

    The moral of the story, friends, is simply this: Running with children, while providing practice in bird-watching and general tenacity, does not do much in the way of cardiovascular training…even if I can say that I saw Alex Rodriguez sunning himself at the pond.

    Moms out there:  How do you exercise with your little ones?  Please leave a comment and share your best ideas…or funniest moments!

    Posted in Fitness, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Nature/Outdoors, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

    And the Winner Is…

    Jennifer!!

    As chosen by random.org, she will receive a personalized and signed copy of Shauna Niequist’s book Bittersweet.  Jennifer, please email me [janeg75@gmail.com] with your mailing information so that I can forward that on to Shauna’s blog tour folks.

    Thanks everyone for participating!  If you’re at home in the midst of another great book, please leave a comment and share what you’re reading!  With the weather cooling it’s the perfect time for hot cider and something magical from the bookstore.

    Posted in Contest, FREE BOOK | Leave a comment

    Bittersweet, by Shauna Niequist

    What a delight to have been offered the opportunity to review Shauna Niequist’s latest book, Bittersweet, released last month by Zondervan.  Stitched together with threads of the poetic and honest writing we devoured in Cold Tangerines, Shauna’s voice again rings true in this, her sophomore debut about “change, grace, and learning the hard way.”

    Comprised of forty essays ranging in topic from meals lovingly prepared after a morning at the farmer’s market, to the grief and disappointment that settled in the wake of a devastating miscarriage, Shauna’s rich descriptions and morsels to ponder prompt the reader to do more than turn pages; she prompts us to turn our perspectives to find the take-away, the lesson, the a-ha moment awaiting our discovery amidst even the most swirling and overwhelming of circumstances.

    One of the things I so appreciate about Shauna as an author is her ability to swivel from deep thoughts to flat out humor. In what is essentially a letter to her son, Henry, Whole Heart reads with the tenderness of a mother’s caress and will, no doubt, be treasured by this growing superhero-boy as the years stretch him into a young man.  Pages later, the introductory story in Princess-free Zone had me chuckling at the thought of her band of church friends stumbling onto a crazed patch of sand in South Beach–only to be compelled moments later to remain mindful of the effect that I have–and that women collectively have–on girls like my own daughter.

    As I mentioned the other day, one of the chapters that gripped me most is entitled Things I Don’t Do. In it she describes the pressure we feel [notably, the pressure mothers feel] to do it all–and do it all well.  She shares with great transparency that sometimes, “…everything becomes a lifestyle.  Everything is an addiction.” [pg. 56]  Be assured, she’s not talking about possessing everything–the new Escalade, a great pair of designer jeans, or the latest techno gadget–she’s talking about mastering and managing everything. Work.  Family.  Home.  Bills.  The PTA.  Being a fantastic wife.  Having polished floors and fingernails.  As a mother, her words sounded the alarm I didn’t even know resided within me.  Could it be, I found myself asking, that I do the same?

    With wit and masterful writing, Shauna draws us into her world, inviting us to sit like gulls on the fence while she reflects on South Haven summers and hands preparing meals and travels to the wonderful, “otherly” California.  Her ability to choose exactly the right words–with exactly the correct tone–creates a symphony on paper.  If you’re new to Shauna–or an old friend returning for what seems an afternoon visit over tea and homemade mini-cupcakes–you’re in for a treat that refreshes.

    Bittersweet, like a good meal, is layered with flavors and experiences and emotions–raw and real–waiting to be savored and enjoyed.  Dig in!

    ~~

    I am pleased to offer YOU, dear reader, the opportunity to win a personalized and signed copy of this book!  Here’s how you can win:

    1.  Leave a comment in which you share a bittersweet memory or moment from your own life in 3 sentences or less.

    2.  Post a link on Facebook or on your own blog for an additional entry [let me know you did this by sending me an email: janeg75@gmail.com]

    3.  Do this before midnight on Friday, September 3!

    4.  The winner will be selected randomly [thank you, sweet computer program] on Saturday, September 4.  If you win I will contact you for info and congratulations!

    Good Luck!

    Posted in Contest, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, FREE BOOK, Friends, Gifts, God, gratitude, Heartbreak, Home, Kids, Literature/Books, Marriage, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Nature/Outdoors, Play, Seasons of Life, Things I Love! | 7 Comments

    Should’a Would’a Could’a

    Sure.  There are lots of reasons I should have stayed home today:

    1.  A sink that appears to have vomited up fruit particles, dirty pans, and filmy glasses.  You’d think that with a dishwasher directly adjacent to the sink I could keep things picked up and put away.  BUT.  Let’s be honest: loading and unloading that blasted thing two or three things a day is about as fun as being ravaged by clown nightmares while you’re on vacation.  Still, I am running out of cups.  And we’re down to about 7 forks. I suppose I should’a taken care of that…

    Seriously. Where's Alice?!

    2.  Our dining room table seems to have sprouted clean laundry limbs and junk mail leaves.  What I really need is an assistant whose very life is made complete by the opportunity to sort and recycle all our stuff.  The laundry…well, I’ve accepted it as the thorn in my flesh.  I’ve resorted to placing it on the table so that I don’t take up valuable seating by alternately plopping it on the sofa or side chair.  Still, I suppose it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to tidy a bit…

    Wish I could use the Mary Poppins finger-snapping trick here...

    3.  Then there’s the laundry room–also used as the “CRAP!  They’ll be here in 5 minutes!–  Hide all the clutter!!” room [picture the intro to Everybody Loves Raymond].  I guess it’s catching up to me.  Unfortunately.

    Have Mercy.

    I should’a would’a could’a stayed home to attend to these things.  Instead, however, I attended to these things:

    Take time today to forget your should’a would’a could’a’s.  School is just around the corner, ready to be ushered in by changing leaves, burgeoning pumpkins, glossy apples and the kind of chill that whispers football. History reminds me that there will be plenty of time for laundry, dirty sinks, and messy tables when the windows snap shut and rain slides down their panes.

    But today…ahh…  Today is a day for glorious sun and childhood and all the things that make it so fun to be a mom.

    Let go today.  By doing so, maybe you’ll find that you’ll be able to better hold on to summer.

    Posted in Decor/Organizing, Discoveries, Family, Home, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Nature/Outdoors, Rants, Summer, Uncategorized, Vacation | 3 Comments

    The Lure of Summer

    My blogging aspirations for the summer have, quite obviously, fallen flat, dying the pathetic death that comes with goals left unattended.  The weight of summer presses in on my heart and I am drawn, again and again, away from this magical little metal rectangle and off to the grassy expanse of our backyard.  No, I don’t mourn what I’ve gained during my respite this summer–the tradeoff of being away is worth the loss of a few readers [though I do hope you’ll return!].  Instead of writing, I’ve:

    • reveled in the new wonder of frozen blueberries, picked by my hands and those of my children
    • squished my way through saturated sand on the shores of Lake Michigan
    • laid my skin out to bronze and burn beneath a sun that I adore and yearn for in February
    • packed hummus and naan and grapes and cheese for picnics
    • felt the sting of tears at the birth of our nephew; all new and wrinkly and fresh
    • unleashed my soul into a music-filled night at Frederik Meijer Gardens
    • sped through the warm spray of waves in South Haven, utterly free, flying across deep water
    • laughed until my sides hurt around a campfire, sharing wine and memories with dear friends
    • celebrated twelve years of marriage to my wonderful husband, and marveled at my son–only 8–who thinks he’s twelve.
    • savored the fried crunch of panko-breaded coconut chicken beside the Black River [thank you, Linda!]
    • realized that in everything, the joyous, the sad, amidst imperfections and disappointments and loss and everything in between, God is there, loving us. Always loving us.

    As summer winds down, may your small moments be sprinkled with laughter and joy; may the sun shine a little more brightly on your tomorrow, and may you find the rest you long for in the coolness of night.

    Posted in Discoveries, Family, Food, Friends, God, gratitude, Home, Marriage, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Nature/Outdoors, Neighbors, Play, Random Fun, Silly Lists, Summer | 1 Comment

    Balance Beams at Summer’s End

    A Confession:

    Lately I feel as though I’ve been walking a balance beam–clumsily and epically unsuccessfully.

    Locked between walls of my own architecture and construction, I find myself scurrying from thing 1 to thing 2, trying to fit it all in, trying to do more and do it all better.  There was the new washing machine to buy, laundry toppling under its own weight, meals not made due to shopping not done, football practice to drive to and violin practice to slog through.  Fighting kids and flies in the house and an old dog with an open sore…[exhale]…I have to say, this pace does not bring peace.

    Screen doors open and slam and open and slam.  The phone rings and interrupts. Bills arrive.  Kids need snacks [see “grocery not done” above] and a small screaming voice reminds me that buns must be wiped post haste. My life seems to be defined by the number of times per day I unload the dishwasher or brush crumbs from the counter and into my waiting hands.  It’s never. done.

    In short, I am beating the wind in this struggle.  If I stay home to polish the silver, shine shoes, and attend to the lime buildup in my shower, my precious little darlings drive me BONKERS.  If I go to the zoo/museum/store, weaving my way through several zip codes and traffic lights–offering my children the very best in wholesale shopping freebies–I feel the very life drain from my being as though daylight itself has become a condition to endure until I can pass out on the couch at dusk; reaching for the remote control masquerades as a lifeline to nirvana.

    Pass the wine.

    Now, I know some of you are probably thinking, “It’s the end of summer.  Those feelings are understandable!  We’re clinging to the promise of the merciful yellow angel chugging down the block, whisking our children off to their heavenly oasis: school.”

    Perhaps.

    Yet I still have a nagging in my spirit that says:  Is this really how life should be?

    In her fantastic book, Bittersweet, which I’m thrilled to be reviewing for you on September 1, Shauna Niequist explores this very idea in her chapter entitled: Things I Don’t Do.  In it she confesses that she is bound to list making, often making lists into task-masters they were never intended to be.  During dinner with a dear friend, she heard words that reshaped her thinking, and by extension, reshaped mine:

    “It’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about.

    What’s hard…is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to

    do the things you really care about.” [pg 54].

    Isn’t that so true??

    Here I am stuffing my days with nit-picking minutia, dragging my children all over kingdom-come, or alternately, allowing my emotions to dictate the atmosphere on my days at home, when really, I need to figure out what I want our family life to be like, and what needs to go in order to get there.

    If I allow our days and evenings to become bloated with activities and exhausting busy work, that’s my choice.

    If I would, however, give myself permission to be quiet…

    To sit.

    To examine.

    To pray.

    To take an ever-loving BREAK…

    Maybe I’d be able to more clearly separate the grain from the chaff.

    Perhaps I’d more readily pinpoint and highlight the ways in which my choices have made this balance beam so tiring and discouraging.

    So for tomorrow and the day after, my list will read as follows:

    #1.  Figure out what matters.

    and with God’s help…

    #2.  Do it.

    Readers, are you feeling the balance beam struggle in your home right now?  Please share…and encourage.

    Posted in Chores/Duties/Jobs, CRAZY kids, Discipline Issues, Family, Growing Pains, Home, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Rants, Seasons of Life, Summer | 6 Comments

    Stefanich Stepping Stones

    Tonight is one of the many times I’ve sat in my home, buoyant and basking in a deep pool of gratitude.  My good friend Kamarah [Best Neighbor Ever] recently sent me an email sharing the journey of a wonderful woman in our community who just happened to be my son’s first grade teacher and will be the same for my daughter when the leaves turn in September.

    MacKenzie and David, her groom of one year, feel such a perceptible leading of God’s spirit in their lives that they have dedicated themselves to walk a path that few choose, but one I so admire, respect, and honor.  With hearts full of love, they are adopting one child–or perhaps even siblings–from Ethiopia.

    To help hem-in the costs associated with international adoption, they are conducting an online auction beginning tomorrow, July 29 – Sunday, August 1. I hope you’ll join me in supporting their efforts, lifting them up in prayer, and cheering them on as they take these courageous steps of faith.  Click here to learn about their journey and to shop the auction.

    I feel so blessed that my children are able to sit and absorb the goodness of someone like this at their school!  My pool of gratitude, churning with life and burgeoning with love, grows deeper and deeper each day, thanks to people like MacKenzie and David.

    Posted in adoption, Education, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, God, Home, Kids, Marriage, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Seasons of Life, Things I Love!, Travel | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

    Birds in Cleveland

    Sitting alone in the terminal, windows revealed thin, glinting silver tubes slicing through July’s muggy atmosphere. I hovered over carry-on bags while the revolt in my stomach was slowly being quelled by the lunch spread across paper on my lap.  Peace…or the closest thing to it was beginning to settle.

    Two bites later, something akin to that sixth-sense of feeling someone standing beside you or entering the room replaced lunch and peace, as I thought I heard the sound of air rushing—just for a second.  And shortly thereafter—again.  Looking both ways, then up, I saw the quick, fierce flapping of small wings.

    There were birds in the airport.

    Perched on exposed beams the color of aircraft carriers, these little lives flitted around, frantically searching the terrain below for scraps of breakfast or droppings from lunch.  Upon spotting a morsel, they’d swoop low, crossing back and forth like Cinderella’s chirping, airborne dressmakers.  Joining other nameless travelers watching the spectacle, I waited for them to land, expertly plucking crumbs from the dirty threads of carpet.

    And I instantly thought of the song my mother used to sing to me as a little girl—the one about sparrows and God’s love and His perfect provision. Here, in the midst of travelers and workers, plastic chairs and metal structures, birds were finding what they needed to live and make a home.

    Sometimes God’s gifts and measures of provision do seem to turn up in the most unlikely of places.   This week I experienced that very thing in the most humbling and surreal way:  I was invited to Columbus, Ohio by Tami Longaberger to help promote the book we worked on together at the company’s annual convention, The Bee.  What a bizarre privilege to offer help, to be a contributing team member, to be part of the success of this project.

    I felt out-of-place in some ways, having left behind a sink full of dishes, a floor to be mopped, and fresh cookies tucked neatly in Tupperware for my kids—and heading straight for a new dress and a convention center.  But in other ways, I felt right at home.  Using parts of my brain and waking up skills that have been slumbering for a long time.  Chatting with people and striving for a common goal, and feeling such happiness to see it coming about.

    I was like a bird in an airport.

    Only God isn’t offering me crumbs.  He’s laying a sprawling banquet and pulling out my chair, encouraging me to dig in.  To enjoy it.  And in the midst of it all, in my heart, to praise Him.

    Posted in Family, God, gratitude, Literature/Books, Seasons of Life, Travel, writing/work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

    Bleeding Cherries

    Tonight we went cherry picking–something I love doing when the days of June dwindle into the heat of July.  Standing in the evening shade cast by a low, squatty canopy, I looked up to the patch of blue breaking through the branches.  There, shining like perfect spheres of glossy lipstick were the cherries that punctuate summer for my palate.  Dangling in a barely-there breeze, sweet and juicy, they are, seemingly, the very essence of Michigan.

    Summer means a lot of things to me.  Traditionally it means traveling and campfires and the beach and grills.  This summer we’re subtracting the travel due to what my husband calls “smart choices” an I call “self-induced torture.”  I guess I never truly realized how much my spirit depends on travel for perspective and joy and kinship.  Perhaps God’s trying to teach me to be content right here.  But although I feel desperate to touch the ocean or walk in groves of old-growth trees, it’s not just nature and national parks that I miss.

    It’s my friends.  And picking cherries, cleaning strawberries, and anticipating blueberries only reminds me of the many times we did that together.  Of the many meals we’ve shared under so many different skies.  Of the late nights and laughter and dreaming.  Of good food and blessings that burst forth, blooming from the earth.

    It’s an unavoidable juxtaposition: being surrounded by farmer’s markets and fantastic weather and wonderful lakes while tears hide, tucked deeply in tired eyes.  But the stain of fruit on my hands seems an apt representation of my heart right now: broken and laid open.

    For another year.

    Posted in Friends | 3 Comments

    Life In Defiance, by Mary E. DeMuth

    The doors slam in the unshaken universe that is my dear Lake Pisgah. Metal against metal is dissonant against birds chirping their songs to welcome springtime around the bend. It’s a pleasant day with the sun warming our heads as we walk toward the shoreline. I hear our feet crunch against brittle grass, Emory’s steady humming, and a hint of wind through still-bereft trees.  In the light of the beauty beckoning me, I push down my fear… [pg. 213]


    Exuding rare poetry, well-crafted words and a story that winds deeper and more fully into the pained hearts of desperate men and women, Mary DeMuth delivers the final book in her Defiance Texas Trilogy published by Zondervan. Set against the backdrop of a small town reeling from disappearance and murder of young Daisy Chance, Life In Defiance is relayed from the perspective of Ousie Pepper, the pastor’s wife who ekes out an utterly defeated existence under the crushing fist of her husband.

    Certain she knows the identity of Daisy’s killer, Ousie moves through her days caged in secrets: the “gleaming” pastor beats and belittles her, twisting Scripture for his own benefit; the mysterious killer is on the loose while she ferrets away clues to “protect” others; her penchant for alcohol squeezes more tightly and she eagerly gives in–anything to dull the torment of life with Hap Pepper.  Ousie has relinquished herself and supplanted a woman who feels little except the sting of her own shortcomings.

    Like familiar faces gathered around a table, the cast of characters is one we know and understand well from Books 1 & 2. Old friends become pulsing lifelines to Ousie and those once dismissed are afforded a fresh glance.  Life In Defiance builds on Mary’s expert character shaping by introducing us to new folks that blow into this Texas town like Tumbleweed: coming and going softly, but leaving indelible footprints in the life of Ousie Pepper.   It explores elements of trust and disappointment; it follows the human heart to the end of itself and asks the questions, “Is this all there is?  Will I ever be good enough?  Do I matter?  Am I lovable?”

    With strong thematic elements of domestic violence and references to sexual and substance abuse, this book is raw and gritty and real. As an outsider looking in, I was thoroughly frustrated with Ousie’s mental gymnastics that sought to justify the behavior and hypocrisy of her husband.  I pray that women living this kind of tortured reality would see Hap’s evil in full color and abide Emory’s suggestion to “make a plan” rather than listening to well-meaning but ignorant people who reinvent Christian submission to mean that under the husband’s authority anything goes. Certainly abuse is not what Christ intended for any of us.

    While I was left wishing for greater resolution between Ousie and her son Jed, in particular, all-in-all I found the story to neatly wrap up loose ends, finally revealing the killer lurking in Defiance.  I applaud Mary’s use of broken, imperfect characters and her ability to peel back the layers so that we readers can see our own reflections, however dim, staring back from stark pages.  She writes without pretense [much unlike new character Sheba Nelson] unveiling wrinkles and cracks and muddy pasts to the Glory of God.

    Thank you to Mary for another wonderful installment of quality fiction and for reminding us that in Defiance–and in our towns–no life is wasted, and no body is beyond the grasp of our loving Savior.

    Posted in Literature/Books | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    LOVE THIS!

    In the humid rain with a van full of kids, I sloshed to the end of the driveway and across familiar roads to Target.  Toothpaste and deodorant being what they are [essential!], we rolled through the aisles tossing Crest and Method and Suave into my Market Basket from Tami.

    A Basket of Goodies...

    And it was there, exactly, that I found them.

    Toothbrushes made from recycled yogurt containers!

    How cool are these?!

    What an awesome concept!  I was thrilled to share them with my kids.  And the great thing is, not only are the toothbrushes recycled, but the manufacturers encourage you to recycle them again in three months!! All you do is hold on to your packaging , insert your used toothbrushes after ninety days, give or take a few sunrises, and send them back!  They even pay for postage…

    Self-addressed stamped...tootbrush return?

    As a side bonus, I discovered a trove of Burt’s Bees chap stick on clearance [have you ever seen Burt’s on clearance?!], so I loaded up with four sticks of delicious, pepperminty goodness.

    It is my belief that one can never have too much chappie.

    Or too many yogurt-based toothbrushes 🙂

    What’s your favorite GREEN product?  Leave a comment so we can add some new things to our shopping lists!


    Posted in Living Green, Things I Love! | 1 Comment

    Things I Don’t Understand Thursday: TMI at the Salon

    Allow me to set the stage:

    I decided to indulge yesterday — enjoy a little piece of the relaxation pie on my last “free” afternoon before the kids explode into the neighborhood, fleeing big yellow buses and running loose on summer vacation.   All the swirling, wonderful, serendipitous events of the last few months have meant that I haven’t had much “extra” time on the calendar —not that I’m complaining–but it was nice to look at a fresh hour, sprouting and about to bloom, and realize that I had nothing to do.

    So I had long talk with myself in efforts to justify spending $12 on an hour with my hands in water, cuticles tended to and nails slathered with polish.  I know, I know–$12–what’s the big deal, right? But it felt like such an unnecessary luxury in the face of bills and gas tanks and a living room remodel.  Still, I determined that a snatch of pleasure couldn’t be pricetagged, and I went for it.  Went for the manicure in the kind of place with purple walls, abundant triangular mirror arrangements, and excessive black lacquer furniture.

    As my nail tech worked with gentle purpose, I breathed deeply, let my chest rise and fall naturally, closed my eyes.  She clipped and filed, switched hands and repeated; rested my fingers in a warm bath, removed barely visible remnants of an old polish job.  Richard Marx crooned his overwrought nineties love songs from the corner boom box.

    Ahhh. Lotion squirted on my hands and she pressed her thumbs into the palms, kneading out the balls of tension and strain.  The fragrance was layered: sweet pea and mint, lightly zingy on my skin.  Zingy and amazing.  Next came wrists and forearms and each finger.

    It was quiet.

    The faint sound of bubbles provided soothing white noise.

    I may have fallen asleep.

    Until, that is, my ears regrettably grabbed hold of the conversation occurring behind me at the pedicure station:

    “I’m sorry my feet are so bad–I had to have my toenails removed.  They kept getting ingrown, so the doctor pulled them out from the roots.”

    Ummmm….  WHAT?!

    My eyes snapped open and I swallowed hard, sending gurgling bile back to a churning stomach.

    Yeah, I thought, You better be sorry, lady.  That unfortunate mental image has shattered my $12-purple-nail-salon-sanctuary and plunged me into The Land of Gross better left to digit doctors specializing in compromised toenail growth. Even though I know it’s not the same thing, all I could picture was the toenail fungus commercial where the little fungus-monsters open up yellow toenails like glove compartments and hop inside, frothing at the mouth to be destroying a perfectly-good flip-flop season.

    Overcoming this negative imagery took all the mental fortitude I could muster, I assure you.  Luckily for me I was able to focus my attention on the dusty silk plant arrangement bursting from the top of the tool sterilizer to my left.  It very well may have saved the day.

    The moral of the story is that your medical history, while perhaps important to your nail technician, need not be broadcast across the room with the booming volume of a court bailiff.  Why not lean over and whisper your apologies, informing said technician of your litany of sensitivities and anatomical abnormalities?  Why do I need to hear about things getting ripped out?

    Please, let me have my $12 moment with zesty lotion and sleep-inducing massage without worry of nightmares.

    That’s all I ask.

    ~~

    So what’s your favorite TMI moment?  Leave a comment below and share it with the rest of us, or post the story on your blog and link back to me 🙂






    Posted in Random Fun, Rants, Things I Don't Understand Thursday | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    Hooray For Talented Friends!

    I’m using today’s post to brag about my wonderfully talented [and too-humble] neighbor, Kamarah.  She’s just recently allowing the petals of her photo-flower to bloom, and has comprised a uTube video highlighting her work for future clients.  If you’re someone who needs a photographer or slide-show video maker [i.e. mom of Senior, bride-to-be, birthday planner], check it out!  It’s a 4-minute phenom!

    CLICK HERE to watch!

    Posted in Friends, Nature/Outdoors, Neighbors, Play, Random Fun, Things I Love!, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

    Yes, I Still Have a Pulse!

    Hi Friends!

    For the handful of you out there who still remember me–or even care–I’m still alive and well and fully intend to get back to this blog after my life returns to normal.

    In the meantime I’m hard at work on this book and spending most of my mental energy wondering how this fantastic waltz through dream-world ever came to pass.

    Tami invited Brandon and I down to her home this week and was entirely gracious and wonderful, making us feel right at home with every comfort.  Forever the hostess, we were included in private meetings, exclusive dinners with Longaberger National Sales Leaders, one-on-one tours,…you get the idea.  It was amazing to see what her days are like!

    At any rate, the manuscript is due in roughly TWO WEEKS [charge defibrillators!!], so I really just can’t spend any spare time ruminating with you all, however much I’d love to.

    So please be patient and pray for me if you’re into that sort of thing.  My fingers are practically typing while I sleep…

    Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

    The Gift of Sand and Water

    Anyone who knows me well can attest to the hold that the beach seems to have on me.  The sound of pounding water, birds overhead, toes in sand, sun on shoulders, salty air — it’s almost too much.   Living in West Michigan provides access to beautiful lakes and great shorelines, but the ocean, ah…that’s quite another thing.  Enjoying creation there is a spiritual thing for me; I see God’s handiwork in jumping dolphins, shell fragments washed onto shore–each unique in color and texture, the sound of beach grass rustling in the wind.  The artistry of the landscape takes my breath away and, at the same time, breathes new life into my waiting lungs.

    Last week we trekked down to Florida for Spring Break, spending six nights on an island paradise and concluding our trip with a day at Disney.  I’m sure I’ll be writing more about our vacation in days to come, but in the meanwhile, here are some photos that best capture my memories.

    Daddy & M waiting to skim board

    A & new friends playing

    The boys fishing off the back of the Pier

    Mini-Science lessons on the beach after sundown--HOW COOL!!

    Watching God do magic in the evening sky

    Perfect endings.

    …to be continued…


    Posted in Discoveries, Education, Gifts, gratitude, Kids, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Nature/Outdoors, Play, Things I Love!, Vacation | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

    A Lovely and Thankful Wreck

    I’ve been a wreck lately.

    My emotions on have been arching between profound gratitude to God and utter disbelief and, on the far spectrum, sadness that our kids are growing up so fast.  It seems I’ve been waiting for years for them to gain some independence and strength, and now that it’s here, I find myself staring in the rear-view mirror, searching for scraps of their smallness.  [Moms out there–can I get an ‘amen’?]

    At the same time, I’ve been gifted with the most gigantic fluke you can imagine–if you believe in flukes [which, to be honest, I don’t, but this might be the closest I’ve come to considering it].

    After working as a lowly creative copy writer for the Longaberger Company for five weeks, some of my projects seem to have sprouted legs and made their way up to the President’s desk [OMG], and then to Ms. Tami Longaberger herself [O.M.G!].  And, as if God decided to puppeteer some cosmic ‘Shazow‘, Tami liked my work.  Loved it, actually.

    So…I was asked by her to ghostwrite her book which will hopefully be coming out this fall.

    That’s right.

    It’s straight up crazy pants. I still think I could be living in some parallel universe somewhere dreaming this all up.  I’m waiting for George Jetson to fly in with Astro and tell me it’s an enormous joke.

    The caveat, however beautiful and fantastic this opportunity, is that the entire book is due on May 1.

    Of this year.

    And we’re leaving for vacation soon.

    [searching for an inhaler or strong drink right now…]

    I feel just…utterly undone and thankful and speechless at this turn of events.

    What is God doing?  What in THEE WORLD??

    And so, I sit in the kitchen and stare at the artwork on my fridge wrought by tiny hands and expanding minds, and I’m a wreck.

    And I think about this book, and I feel like a poser.  I am not “a real author.”  I am trying to be, but I never thought my trial-run would be working with the owner of a  multi-million dollar company.  So you can imagine, I’m a wreck.

    A lovely and thankful wreck.

    Posted in Decor/Organizing, Faith, Gifts, God, gratitude, Growing Pains, Home, Kids, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Seasons of Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

    Be Still My Soul

    One thing that has always amazed me is how poets and hymn writers of the past so eloquently captured the message of God’s compassion, His immeasurable grace, and the comfort found in the Gospel.  We sang this song in church today while life after life filed to the front, Image-bearers each, to partake in the ancient Sacrament of Communion.  As the whispery strain rose, hanging above us like a gauzy canopy of love, I couldn’t help but thank Heaven for the gift of Ka­tha­ri­na von Schle­gel, whose song written in 1752 still touches my heart today.

    [Sung to the tune of Finlandia]

    Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
    Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
    Leave to thy God to order and provide;
    In every change, He faithful will remain.
    Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
    Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

    Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
    To guide the future, as He has the past.
    Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
    All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
    Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
    His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

    Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
    And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
    Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
    Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
    Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
    From His own fullness all He takes away.

    Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
    When we shall be forever with the Lord.
    When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
    Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
    Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
    All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

    Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
    On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
    Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
    So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
    Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
    Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.

    Posted in Faith, Following Jesus, God, gratitude, Matters of the Heart, Music, Things I Love! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    Found Art, by Leeana Tankersley

    “Because such art is essentially redemptive, found art is also deeply spiritual, predating even urinal-man in its origins.  In God’s hands, spit and mud become sight.  Dust and rib become humanity.  Darkness and void become world.  Fishermen become followers.  Virgin becomes mother.  Water becomes wine.  Empty nets become overflowing.  Death is somehow miraculously refashioned into life… When I arrived in the Middle East, I realized I was looking at a half-me, a fragmented soul walking around town.  I had given away pieces of myself, convinced the giving had all been for good causes.  During this journey, I discovered it was high time I felt the losses, collected the pieces, and reclaimed myself.”  [pg. 13]

    In her debut book, Leeana Tankersley expertly layers story, emotion, and personal reflection to create a deeply moving and heartfelt account of the year she and Navy SEAL husband, Steve, spent in Bahrain.  Structured as a memoir of sorts, Tankersley’s 27 essays are grouped thematically around pieces of “found art” collected during their stint abroad:  a handwritten note from Kuwait, a braid of fringe from a persian rug, a bit of basting thread. Retrieved memories from the past are pulled to the surface and intertwined with events from the Middle East, creating a soul-moving work in which shortcomings and hopes and joys and losses are addressed and attended to with care.

    After meeting her husband and skipping through a brief courtship, Steve and Leeana wed and almost immediately set out for the Middle East on assignment.  Thrust into this new world where women are faceless and the earth is dust, Leeana struggles to find her footing.  Suddenly, in contrast to her “former” life in San Diego, nothing is expected of her.  She doesn’t have to “do” anything.  She feels slightly off-kilter and out-of-place.  With Steve coming and going in a flurry of secret Navy operations, Tankersley is left with time to think and examine her life, her heart.  What she finds is surprisingly deep and utterly transparent.  She spares no detail when discussing the challenges of her marriage, the hard work done in a counselor’s office, her struggle to understand a God who allows such a devastating war and heart-splayed-open sorrow and anguish.

    I was struck immediately by two things while reading this book: Leeana’s expertly chosen and perfectly descriptive words that became art themselves, and the shameful reminder that I do not really comprehend the gravity of sacrifice made by our soldiers and their families each day. Tankersley’s essays lay bare this true cost with courage and, deftly, without becoming political or preachy.  Rather, her insights enlighten and provide a new lens for readers who, page after page, are drawn deeper into her dessert world.

    Compared in style to Shauna Niequist, Tankersley’s essays are rich and honest, sincere and seeking.  Found Art would make a lovely gift to a military family or anyone you know who strives to find beauty in the foreign, unknown, and mysterious.

    ~~

    Thank you to Tina at The Blog Tour Spot, and to Zondervan Publishers for generously providing me with this book.

    Posted in Discoveries, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, God, Growing Pains, Heartbreak, Home, Literature/Books, Marriage, Matters of the Heart, Nature/Outdoors, Seasons of Life, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    [A Different Kind of] St. Patty Green

    Contrary to most St. Patrick’s Day festivities I’ve been privy to, we’re steering away from shamrocks and ale and making a B-line for healthy greens this Wednesday.  Not because I’m a prude who doesn’t like cabbage or has nightmares about biting leprechauns, but because I’m nursing a serious sore throat and muscles that feel stiff and achy.  Maybe it’s “the rheumatism.”  Or maybe I’m desperate for a chocolate-shake IV drip followed by a Nigh-Quil induced sleep.  I’ll take my pick.

    In the name of good health [that is, wishing for it], I’m sharing my new favorite recipe that is as delicious as it is green.  You might even be able to get your kids to enjoy this for St. Patrick’s Day!

    GREEN SMOOTHIE

    Combine the following into a reliable blender:

    1 ripe banana

    1 wedge of fresh pineapple

    1 whole kiwi, washed and with ends removed, but with skin on [Vitamin C]

    roughly 3/4 C water

    squirt of Agave Nectar to sweeten

    generous handful of spinach leaves [organic best]

    ICE

    >>Blend until smooth, and enjoy!!  It’s truly delicious!

    QUESTION FOR YOU:  What will your family be eating/drinking this St. Pat’s??

    Posted in Family, Food, Holidays, Home, Illness, Kids, Kitchen/Culinary Woes, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Recipe/Kitchen Success!, Thngs I Love! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

    Practicing Silence

    “Sometimes we need silence.  Not always, but definitely sometimes.  If we will comply, if we will receive the moments of quiet contemplation and rest, we might be surprised by what emerges.  As much as I didn’t want to engage in the art of shutting up, the solitude offered me gifts I had never, ever received.  …

    “Like a desert windstorm, life is often unruly — wild, fierce, and howling.  By choosing the stiller and smaller world of voice rest and life rest and mind rest and body rest, I somehow chose the stiller, smaller voice of God.” [Leeana Tankersley, Found Art, pg. 58]

    Reading these words last night sparked an image of a future me, flashed upon the deepest places of my heart.  It stirred within me something profound — full of wonder and sadness.  It’s difficult to hold seemingly opposing emotions in the palms of upturned hands; it leaves me stranded, sometimes, without hands to dig or reach or overturn.

    Pondering Leeana’s words made me shifty and unsettled, in part because the silence I think of is not a “day-at-the-spa” invited silence.  It’s the uninvited kind that invades me.  I thought about what my life will be like in two short years, after doors close and school buses chug past, picking up my children and packing away their unscheduled, snuggly, lazy days with mommy.

    I tried to imagine the inevitable future silence of our home.  Clocks clicking.  Dishwasher swishing.  Laundry churning.  Dog scratching.  And me: alone.

    It isn’t the “silence” itself that frightens me.  Or, as the author of Found Art alludes to, the scary reintroduction of yourself to yourself, although I will need a hefty reintroduction to be sure.

    It’s the slow slipping away of these days.  These very present days–which, of course, will lead to silent ones spread out like an icy mantle: slippery and unfamiliar, forcing me to walking with unsteady feet.  It’s the acidic, stinging feeling that I’m losing them–that I’m losing my kids.

    And I know that’s not really true–in fact, many days I celebrate our freedom to run around without diapers and bottles and cumbersome car seats.

    Yet their smallness is going away.

    Their fingers are losing those squishy dimples.

    My son listens to ESPN radio and wants “cool” clothes from the mall.

    My daughter is growing like a weed and can barely fold herself up enough to fit on my lap.

    And my youngest…I just noticed today how he surpassed a bulletin board at our library.  He wants “spiky” hair and a “gas-powered dirt bike.”

    The silence I’m pushing against is the uninvited kind that erupts from the slow stream of hours and days and years.  A time to come when kids are busy with friends and sports and social lives that don’t include me.  When I’m at home –in silence– pleading with the walls to give me back the sound of laughter from tiny voices.

    I’m not ready to lose all those tender moments yet.  I’m not ready to give up on snuggles and kisses and tickle fights.

    I’m not ready for that kind of silence.

    Not yet.


    PS:  My “official” review of Leeana’s book is on the way, courtesy of The Blog Tour Spot and Zondervan Publishers.

    Posted in Chores/Duties/Jobs, CRAZY kids, Discipline Issues, Faith, Following Jesus, Gifts, God, gratitude, Growing Pains, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Nature/Outdoors, Seasons of Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

    5 Things You Can’t Quit

    Last week while furiously peeling potatoes, simultaneously trying not to gore myself with the peeler or drop a starchy, slippery mass down the garbage disposal, I suddenly had a bizarre sort of desperate thought:  “I will be grocery shopping for the rest of my life.  I will use up these potatoes and have to go back to the store, and I will need to grocery shop forever.”

    Well, duh.  It’s not the deepest, most philosophical ponderence known to man, but in that moment, I wondered: “How many other things will I have to do — forever??”

    So I decided to make a list.  I exempted any and all bodily functions and things that are essential to life itself [i.e., eating, drinking, breathing, using shelter, using the potty, etc.], and here’s what I came up with:

    5 Things You Can’t Quit

    1.  Clipping Fingernails/Cutting Hair. OK.  If you’re Lee Redmond and you enjoy looking like THIS [see right], you might argue against fingernail clipping, but I’d argue right back that you’re bonkers. And gross.

    2.  Using Money. Yes, it’s true: money, the proverbial root of all evil, is a necessity.  And while you may pine for the days of yore when trading glass beads and animal furs was the way to do business,  we’ll ever see those days again.  And really, a pile of animal furs wouldn’t fit in your wallet even if you could get them past the PETA demonstrators.

    3.  Grocery Shopping. All of you who have just finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle are ready to send me pointed letters of disagreement [please, do!], however, I would argue that while you may raise your own chicken, pork or beef, and while you may have a garden the size of Delaware, there are some things that you will need to get at the store:

    • salt, pepper, spices [don’t even try to tell me you’re going to grow your own cinnamon]
    • COKE!! coffee, OJ
    • mustard
    • vinegar
    • tuna
    • toilet paper and other “feminine” needs [if you go back to pioneer days — well, see note on Lee Redmond.  Bonkers. Gross.]

    4.  Taking Out The Trash/Recycling:  Again, unless you desire to live in a cistern of filth like THIS [see right], I don’t see any way around this one.  Nasty. [PS: if you haven’t checked out A&E’s Hoarders, set your Tivo for Monday nights at 10 pm].

    5.  Laundry.  What can I say?  It. Must. Be. Done.  Forever and ever, AMEN.

    So what would your list look like?

    Please leave a comment with the “5 Things You Can’t Quit”, as you see it.

    Posted in Chores/Duties/Jobs, Decor/Organizing, Home, Kitchen/Culinary Woes, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Random Fun, Silly Lists, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

    Egg Cartons, Baby Chicks, and FREE Fun

    My husband calls me a recycling maniac.  I prefer to consider myself a “wise recycler” or “earth-conscious mother.”  I’ll leave the title “maniac” to the kids, little angels though they are 😉

    At any rate, I’ve been in the habit of saving egg cartons because once-upon-a-time, my farm-living, egg-selling sister re-used them at her roadside stand.  Now that hard times have hit small organic businesses, they only produce enough eggs for their family and have shunned my monthly donation of double-digit cartons.

    I suppose I can’t blame her.  I mean, if you aren’t packaging up farm-fresh eggs of all sizes and colors, what IS one to do with oodles of cartons?

    Thanks to my Aunt Barb’s crafty ways, I have an answer!  Make adorable baby chicks for your Easter mantle!  And, depending on how heavily-stocked your art bin is, you may very well be able to birth these beauties for free!

    To adopt your own family of Baby Chicks:

    1.  Cut egg cartons apart.  I chose to do rows of 3 chicks, still connected, but you may modify according to your needs.

    2.  Next, using either yellow cotton balls or colored pom-poms from your local craft store, glue one pouf into the carton and a second one on top [like a snowman.]  We used Elmer’s glue rather than a glue stick  [which is always fun with kids].

    3.  Glue googly-eyes on your chick above an orange bill.  I used card-stock paper for my chirper.

    4.  Cut another section of egg carton carton to resemble a “cracked” egg shell.  This will be glued on the chick’s head in hat-like fashion, mimicking the idea of her bursting from her egg-home.

    5.  Add a smiling child [and plenty of help from mom] and celebrate your success!

    6.  Display your hatchlings with pride at the center of your home.

    Happy Spring!  Happy Easter!

    Leave a comment below to share your own Easter or Springtime craft!

    Posted in crafts, Discoveries, Family, Holidays, Home, Kids, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Play, Random Fun, Thngs I Love! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

    Hallmark Sends Its Very Best

    I’ve already told you bits and pieces of my now-exposed [obsessive] affair with Hallmark Gold Crown Stores.

    It’s thorny territory for me to write about something so intimate and special, but at last I’m able to admit that sneaking away to be with ‘Mark is time that I long for and treasure.   Escapes are carefully planned so that I am alone, without the distraction of children reaching and touching and interrogating.  I strategize so that I can meander without the inconveniences of pressing deadlines.  When I run to ‘Mark, I ensure that my thoughts are there only, able to linger on every carefully crafted word. 😉

    Like any good lover, I know the power of secrets, so won’t devulge everything [like how much Platinum status has cost me!].  But today I can’t help share this one item which has brought such joy to our kids:

    As part of our family Valentine celebration I bought three of these adorable little books: one for each of our kids.  The inside has pre-written pages that either prompt you with a question, fill-in-the-blank, or provide a check-mark style list for you to complete.

    Some of the sentence starters are silly:  “If ___________was and Olympic sport, you’d win the gold medal for sure!”

    Others are sentimental and profound:  “Thank you for teaching me how to_________”, “The thing I most admire about you is: ____________”.

    By now it shouldn’t surprise me how much kids love these kinds of affirmations, but it does — every time.  I truly marvel at how the human need for acceptance and love begins at such a young age.

    My husband and I are huge fans of The Biggest Loser.  Several weeks ago, Sam, one of the Samoan contestants, broke down in tears and was barely able to speak because of a recent conversation with his father.  At 24 years old, it was the first time he had heard the words I’m proud of you.

    And he was crushed with love and gratitude for those words.

    Isn’t that sad, in a way?  That this man had to wait nearly a quarter-of-a-century to hear that?  My DNA dictates that I’d rather be open and free with the abyss of my heart than raise kids who feel uncertain about their parents’ affection.

    If you’d like to see a new kind of inner light shine brightly on your child’s face, purpose to leave a sweet letter on her pillow or nestle a card in his dresser drawer.

    He may not want to open it in the school cafeteria, but I guarantee that it will be ripped open with joy in your home, and stored away forever in his heart.

    Posted in crafts, Discoveries, Family, Gifts, Holidays, Home, Kids, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Random Fun, Thngs I Love!, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

    Yoga With Kids is Soooo [NOT] Relaxing…

    Yoga.  The word, even to non-practicers, seems to evoke a sense of calm and relaxation.  It conjures up images of super-fit Californians poured into black yoga pants, lean muscles taught and glistening on some Pacific cliff overlooking the gorgeous, sparkling ocean.  The instructor’s voice floats over the sound of waves, cooing in a soft, 1-900 style tone:

    “Let your body just siiiinnnkkkk into the mat.  Block out all distractions and focus on your breathing.  Yeeesssss.  That’s goooood….”

    Despite my former dedication to such teachers, lately I’ve been sitting and watching their DVDs from the comfort of our couch, eating a handful of Oreos Veggie Straws and trying desperately to suck in my gut before someone asks me when when the baby’s due.

    I’m sure you can’t relate.

    Well this morning, after being encouraged and motivated by Poppy, the wonderful author of “Yoga is Yummy”, I decided to get with the program.  Still in PJ’s and lacking the proper elasticized breast-hoisting mechanism, I popped in [my secret boyfriend] Bob Harper’s Weight Loss Yoga DVD, straightened my spine and tried to get “in the zone.”

    With kids fighting in the background.

    With my son running back and forth across the fireplace hearth positively BAWLING because he didn’t have anyone to play Duck Duck Goose with.

    With my son then crawling under my belly as I trembled and moaned in plank position.

    And as he continued to weave in and out of my legs while I contorted into twisting triangle.

    Ahhhhh.  The picture of harmony and calm!

    Finally, by some stroke genius and good fortune, I convinced both kids that Duck Duck Goose is a washed up, repetitious game for toddlers, and that they too should enter this world of serenity with me.

    And can you believe — IT WORKED!

    Despite my floor space being stolen and my energy now focused on capturing the fun on my camera, we actually had a great time together.

    Who knew that yoga with kids could be so….relaxing?  😉

    Posted in CRAZY kids, Discoveries, Education, Family, Fitness, Home, Kids, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Play, Random Fun, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

    Ice Tunnels and Secret Caves

    As the snow continues to threaten and temps stay frosty, cabin fever can set in and cause temporary insanity.  To combat mental decline, we planned an adventure to Lake Michigan this weekend [free fun!] and the kids are already asking to go back.

    I don’t usually post a slew of photos without text, but in this case I’ll let the pictures do the talking and encourage you to get out and enjoy the frozen landscape.  Your kids will think the Magic Schoolbus took them to the moon!  It’s beautiful and completely different than anything I’ve seen.  Great memories!

    My two oldest on the far right, waaaay out on the lake

    My youngest next to the pier

    West of the pier

    My cuties finding a snow cave

    On top of a huge pile of snow, looking down a crevasse to the lake

    Playing "Little House on the Prairie" in a hidden "house"

    Posted in CRAZY kids, Discoveries, Family, Kids, Nature/Outdoors, Play, Random Fun, Thngs I Love!, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    Keeping Christmas Alive

    In truth, I can’t completely remember if I read about this craft or adapted it from several other ideas, but this year we actually got out the scissors and did it.

    We purposely saved our Christmas photo cards so that we could cut the pictures out and make them into prayer placemats.  My mom, in her generous wisdom, had given us several old wallpaper books for all our crafting, so rather than buying poster board or another large piece of paper, we cut out swaths of wallpaper as our base.  Across the top I wrote “Today We Pray For Our Friends”.

    With a pile of photos on hand, the kids started clipping away.  We tried to choose pictures of people we know best, even if we don’t see them frequently.

    After getting all the photos in place, I used a Sharpie to write prayer starters between the pictures and across the page:  “Help us make good choices” and “Thank you for good friends and good health” etc.

    Although I was hoping to “officially” laminate them at Staples, it became a bit cost prohibitive.  Instead, I sped over to my local hardware store for some clear contact paper and did the job at home for $3.69.  Fantastic!

    We trimmed off the excess and now have wonderful placemats to use at breakfast time.  Rotating them between our three kids gives us the opportunity to pray for different people, different needs, and through different lenses.

    If you still have your Christmas cards, give it a try!  Or if not, collect special photos throughout the year and use them as a springboard for prayer and gratitude with the little hearts in your home.

    Posted in crafts, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, God, gratitude, Holidays, Home, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Random Fun, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

    Crazy for Brains

    I lay there with one eye open, watching the TV move in blurry sequence.  By now two kids warmed the sheets next to me so I could “rest my eyes.”

    Whatever cartoon Nick Jr. was peddling at that hour of the day, I took it in under the haze of morning.  Surprisingly, I managed to laugh at the little caricatures trying to teach recycling to kids during a 5 minute mini-lesson.  With a variety of bins before them, a moose-like critter and a blue owl sporting a cute flower in her feathers discussed the future resting place of a drinking glass.

    Just as moose was going to recycle it in the “glass” bin, another creature perked up and interjected that maybe “someone” [cough] would like to reuse it…?  Astutely taking the hint, moose hands off the glass to his buddy; buddy responds with,

    “Thanks!  Now my Frozen Gnome collector’s set is COMPLETE!”

    [HA!]

    Frozen Gnomes?

    Where do they come up with this stuff?  That is so utterly RANDOM!

    Later today as we tooled down the road in our lovely family van with the kids’ tunes pumpin’, I listened carefully to the words of a new-to-me Laurie Berkner song, I Feel Crazy, So I Jump in the Soup.

    Laughter exploded from all of us as she sang!

    One of the following verses says, “I feel crazy so I gallop in the soup.”

    That’s brilliant!

    Her website [yes, I did indeed come home and look it up 😉 ] says that a 4 year-old once asked her to write a song with that title, so she did–on the spot.

    Right.

    I’m totally jealous of people with those kinds of crazy brains–people who think of galloping in soup and collecting frozen gnomes.  People like this brilliant woman [read the entire post–it’s hilarious] who, of course, have book deals and can somehow whip up ridiculous yet coherent streams of thought that make me laugh and burn with envy.

    Sometimes I try to learn from them and make up imaginary lists of useless but comical items in my head.  But always I sit at home wishing I had crazy for brains.

    What do you wish for?  Leave a comment so I don’t have to lament alone 🙂

    Posted in CRAZY kids, Discoveries, Music, Play, Random Fun | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

    This Little Prayer of Mine, by Anthony DeStefano

    “Impress [these commands] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”  Deut. 6:7

    This verse has a way of lacing up its running shoes and doing laps around my mind.  It’s so honest, so simple.  God takes the time to show us how to teach our kids: often, with purpose, and stirred into the daily-ness of kitchen conversation.  He draws a map, clearly instructing us to bring God into the mundane rather than separating moments out for Him.  We are not to isolate Jesus to Sunday, Awana, or Cub Scouts.  And thank goodness!  Bringing God into the kitchen, the garage, and the muddy backyard models for our kids that there is nothing in our lives that is not spiritual.

    At our house, when it comes to teaching our children–be it about sharks, recycling, or Easter–you will find me searching for a good book.  Our kids are tough critics: they love the library, they know what a Caldecott Award and a Newbery Medal are, and they have a sharp eye for literature that is colorful both in word and form.

    In light of this, it is my pleasure to introduce you to a book that meets those criteria and adds to them a measure of wit and wisdom that our children found delightful.  Anthony DeStefano, bestselling author of A Travel Guide to Heaven, and Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To debuts his first children’s book this month.  Published by WaterMark Press and set for release on February 16, This Little Prayer of Mine carries with it high praise from such notable folks as Bernice A. King [daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King] and the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

    DeStafano tackles tough issues like justice, rebellion, isolation and confusion, wrapping them in soothing rhyme and ensuring that high concepts are palatable for young readers.  Woven throughout these larger issues are models of both intercession and prayers of gratitude; the scope of this prayer demonstrates that nothing is off limits when we talk to God.

    Illustrated by Mark Elliot, the book’s images are wonderfully life-like, with the cover-art reminding me vaguely of Disney’s Toy Story.  Our children commented that the pictures “look so real!” but that the inside ones “are a little dim” [we wish they were all as vibrant as the cover].  The pictures convey the text so that very young children can sit with this book and understand much of its message even if mom and dad are not nearby.

    This Little Prayer of Mine is a book that will be re-read often at our home.  While our 6 & 7 year-olds are perhaps at the upper-end of its influence, our 4 year-old sat at attention, pointing to pictures and adding his own color commentary.  If you are a mother of a toddler or preschooler [ages 1-5] striving to live out God’s command in Deuteronomy, take a peek at Anthony DeStefano’s latest release.  May it not only become a treasure to your children, but may your children grow to treasure its message: we can take anything to the Lord in prayer.

    ~~

    My sincere thanks to Anthony for inviting me to read and review this book.  It was an honor!

    Posted in Education, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, God, Home, Kids, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Remembering My Own Thin Place

    When I survey the landscape of my life, it’s shocking that fingernails still cling to these hands at all for all the scraping and clawing college required.

    It wasn’t the academics that pulled me apart; books and essays and ink pens were friends.

    It was scarce tuition money that threw an ever-present shadow of fear over me.  Would I have to abandon my friends and beautiful campus before walking across that spring stage?  I imagined having to pack up and leave in the night like a tangle-haired mother evading an impossible landlord.

    With these kind of shadows creeping round, you can imagine my angst when I felt the Lord calling me to South America.  My love for Jesus and the developing world was magnetizing, but paying for it seemed the one hurdle I would never overcome.

    I battled the demon of money, feeling certain that God would not withhold a righteous desire because of this one pesky detail.  My housemates gathered and prayed over the possibility of a summer in Peru.  And slowly, the shadows retreated.

    Miraculously, within two weeks of sending support letters, my feeble, unbelieving hands held all the money I needed—to the dollar.

    My soul took wing, soaring with gratitude and love—the kind that springs from certainty, conviction, and affirmation.  I flew through the pine grove on feet that moved without instruction, praying prayers without words.  Tears like rivers now freely ran. My face, a burst of joy; sunshine radiating off gray clouds.

    Unrestrained elation.  God a breath away.

    I inhabited a precious Thin Place.

    ~~

    Note to readers:

    This post is part of a contest to describe a Thin Place in exactly 259 words [which, according to WordPress, mine is].  The winner gets a new Kindle!  Wish me luck 🙂


    Posted in Contest, Faith, Finances, Following Jesus, Giveaway!, God, gratitude, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

    Thin Places: a memoir, by Mary DeMuth

    “The Celts define a thin place as a place where heaven and the physical world collide, one of those serendipitous territories where eternity and the mundane meet.  Thin describes the membrane between the two worlds, like a piece of vellum, where we see a holy glimpse of the eternal–not in digital clarity, but clear enough to discern what lies beyond.” [p. 11]

    The sky seemed a giant gunmetal smudge as I moved through campus that spring; the decision had been made and my heart leapt in its cage at the thought of seeing summer plans turn into reality.  Never had I felt such certainty–such a sense of calling as when I left to spend three months in Peru working with the poor and vulnerable.  God had spoken so clearly and purposefully.  His voice, undeniable.  My face, a burst of joy; sunshine radiating off gray clouds.

    That was a thin place for me.

    The Celtic definition Mary shares in her introduction brings to mind more of those wonderful “holy glimpses of the eternal,” although they are sparse and sprinkled scantily across calendar pages that comprise years of my life.  And as I read through Thin Places, I wondered, How many more have there been?  How many times have I failed to see God breathing so closely?

    The gift of this book, and I do believe it is a gift, is Mary’s passionate search for the thin places of her life, and her ability to turn those places round and round, looking for the speck of goodness, listening for the sliver of time when God spoke uniquely to her.  This ability to hover over years and circumstances with wisdom and perspective is truly awe-inspiring.  Despite all that was dealt to her, she holds the cards, reshuffles them, and finds a way to make meaning.  Finds a way to win.

    With an engaging and lyrical style, Mary replays the scenes of her life, letting the reader fully conjure each episode: smells and sights and feelings–all portrayed perfectly and poetically by a master storyteller.  Mary does this with clarity, telling her story with brutal honesty.  Specifically, the chapters entitled Snapshot, Shame and Marked were so naked and raw that I could not help but sob quietly, letting tears bleed into heartwrenching pages.

    Thin Places is arranged in 28 short chapters embraced by an introduction and a conclusion.  I enjoyed the way that this book was mapped out by themes rather than being entirely chronological.  It amazed me that Mary was able to sit down and comprise *28* themes: growth and struggle, hardship and revelation–28 thin places where God has revealed himself to her [could I even get to 8?!].  She tackles brokenness, loneliness, despair, and hurt, but in time flips them around so we don’t miss their other side.  Deftly, skillfully, she threads the needle and shows us how so many scraps and throwaways are really the makings of God’s tapestry.

    To anyone who struggles to move beyond the heartbreak of stolen innocence, the disappointment of childhood cut short, the need to be seen and loved for who God made each of us to be, Thin Places will speak to your soul and stir you in a powerful way.  Mary has so completely poured herself out, so thoroughly wrung herself dry, that in the end only Christ himself is left to shine.

    Mary’s writing mantra is “turning trials to triumph.” There’s no denying that she has done just that with this memoir, released February 1 by Zondervan Publishers.  As a reader, I offer proud applause for all the triumphs.  Proud applause for her love and undying passion for Jesus.  Applause for her determination to remember, learn from, and share so many of her own thin places.

    ~~My thanks to Zondervan for furnishing a copy of this book.

    Posted in Discoveries, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, God, gratitude, Growing Pains, Heartbreak, Home, Kids, Literature/Books, Marriage, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Play, Seasons of Life | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

    More Free Books!

    If you’re the lucky owner of a portable reader such as a Kindle or a Nook, you’ll be dancing in your pajamas to know that a few great books are being offered as free downloads through next week–just in time for your upcoming winter vacation or the unexpected wait at your dental office.

    One of the book offerings is the amazing Daisy Chain by Mary DeMuth; Daisy Chain is the first in the Defiance Texas Trilogy, and was reviewed here last fall along with the second book in the trilogy, A Slow Burn. I am excited to let you know that I will also be acting as an influencer/reviewer for Mary’s latest release, Thin Places, out this January. I’ll be posting my review of this heartbreaking and redemptive memoir on Tuesday, and hope you’ll come back with your entire world of friends to check it out.

    Read more about how you can download your free eBooks HERE.

    Posted in FREE BOOK, Giveaway!, Literature/Books | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Drumroll, please!

    Congratulations to Kamarah S!  As the person who referred the most folks to this contest, Kamarah will be the recipient Gary Thomas’ latest book, Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling Good?, courtesy of Zondervan Publishers.

    Thanks to all who participated and as always, to you for reading.

    Posted in FREE BOOK, Gifts, Giveaway! | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

    Update your iPod

    Sometimes I find myself dreamily swaying back and forth, occupying a snatch of time that feels special, different.  I look to my right and see smiles, to my left, hear laughter, and know that God has given this moment for us to enjoy.  And in His grace and love, he gives it freely to all–even to those who will not credit Him with the gift.

    Two weeks ago I got to see Brandi Carlile perform at a local venue here in Grand Rapids.  My concert buddy and I had been introduced to her months before as the opening act for The Indigo Girls.  It was a gorgeous summer evening in a semi-outdoor concert hall nestled at the heart of an age-old forest.  The lake adjacent to us glittered back the drooping late-day sunshine and lapped softly against the beach that remained hidden from view.  [What could be more lovely?] My, oh my.  I fell in love with Interlochen, and I fell in love with Brandi.

    I’m a sucker for girls or guys who can pick up a guitar and possess it in such a way that it nearly becomes an extension of their bodies–an extremity allowing them to open their souls with poetry and tempo and meter.  If those girls or guys can write songs that wield power enough to hush a crowd or rouse them to frenzy, I’m gone.  My heart and spirit connect to music the way that others connect with paint or cooking or building streetrods.

    Watching this variety of soul expression in Interlochen and again in Grand Rapids this January leaves me slack-jawed with equal parts envy and admiration.  Some day when I can afford one-on-one guitar lessons [preferably with John Mayer] at my beach house [preferably in Southern California], I’ll work my fingers bloody to achieve even the repetitive and elementary notes of Jingle Bells or Happy Birthday.  But until then, I wipe the drool from my mouth and sway dreamily in the presence of music and musicians like Brandi.

    If you’re looking to update your iPod and you enjoy folk/rock, check out Brandi’s album The Story, or her new album with a new Elton John collaboration: Give Up The Ghost.

    Ready your handkerchief for drool–and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

    Posted in Discoveries, God, gratitude, Music, Nature/Outdoors, Random Fun, Summer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

    WIN THIS BOOK!

    Zondervan was gracious enough to provide me with a second copy of this book to pass along to my masses of spellbound and excited readers [cough]; to that end I am happy to launch a spiderweb contest to determine the winner.

    Yes, I made up that descriptor.

    At any rate, if you’re dying to read Gary’s book [you should be] but you can’t justify yet another trip to the bookstore [I’m with you] or you just lost your Kregel coupon in a pile of dirty snow [how unfortunate], TODAY’S YOUR LUCKY DAY!

    HERE ARE THE RULES:

    To enter the contest, please:
    1.  Post a link to this entry from your own blog or Facebook page.

    2.  Add a comment below below stating where you posted the link.

    3.  Friends who see your link should leave a comment stating that “Sheila told me about this contest”; if these friends want to be entered themselves, they should also post a link to their blog or Facebook page.

    4.  The person who refers the most people to this contest by noon on Friday [2/5] wins the free book!

    Good Luck!! This book is worth it!

    PS:  If you haven’t heard of Gary Thomas’ latest book yet, you can read my review here.  I also wrote about honoring God with our view of food [one of Gary’s topics]; you can read that post here.

    Posted in Contest, Discoveries, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, Food, Gifts, Giveaway!, God, gratitude, Home, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart, Random Fun | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

    Pure Pleasure, by Gary Thomas

    Check back tomorrow to see how you can win a copy of this book, courtesy of Zondervan Publishers!

    Little did I know when I tore into the envelope that I was the lucky recipient of something I never knew I needed.  With the kitchen finally quiet, I embarked on the kind of delightful journey one rarely finds in non-fiction: a work so thoughtful and sown with so much depth, my underlining pencil never left my fingertips.  Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling Good? would change me.

    I grew up in a Christian home with parents who were raised under the pressed thumb of loving, yet legalistic parents.  My dad, in particular, often recounted wonderful, innocent opportunities he missed out on as a child because his mother and father thought they were “sinful.”  Riding a bike on Sunday.  Playing organized sports.  Befriending Christians of different persuasions: all “sinful.” And while I always had an ache in my gut, a rebellion to this errant type of Christianity, I never had the words to describe why it might ache the very heart of God. Gary Thomas most eloquently explains why:

    “Prayer and fellowship are among life’s richest pleasures, but let’s not stop there.  Let us learn to fill our souls with beauty, art, noble achievement, fine meals, rich relationships, and soul-cleansing laughter.  When we acknowledge these pleasures, we acknowledge God as a genius creator of brilliant inventions.  Let us be wary of a faith that denies these blessings as “worldly” and unfit, as though Satan rather than God had designed them.  Let us refuse to fall into the enemy’s trap of denying ourselves God’s good pleasures so that we end up deeply vulnerable to illicit pleasure.”  [pg. 17]

    In my estimation, the strength of Thomas’ writing is threefold: amazing research and breadth of literature upon which to draw, impeccable theology drenched in insight, and wisdom sprouting from love, compassion, and truth.  Time after time as I folded over yet another page corner, I found myself saying, “Wow.  That is so true.” And to be honest, while I knew I would enjoy the book, I didn’t fully reckon the weight it would have on my thinking.

    The scaffolding undergirding this book comes from the considerable attention given to Scripture, fortifying the position that our joy matters to God.  Thomas’ scholarly approach unfolds a new picture of who God is, pointing to the life of Christ for examples and instruction, and laying out sound defense for soaking up pleasures as good gifts from the Father.   So that we may better claim this joy, Thomas asserts that we must spend time discovering what things truly give us pleasure.  For some of us, the beach and a good book are all we need!  Others enjoy physical fitness, travel, cooking or baking, photography, golf, or motorcycles.  Whatever it is, these gifts, when in healthy balance, are to be accepted with gratitude.

    Thomas points out, however, that many folks are still hung-up on the old way of thinking: if pleasure involves laughter and does not explicitly carve out time for prayer, this time is not quite as well spent as it would be within the four walls of a church. Nonsense, says Thomas.  God is the creator of everything! And while considerable attention is given to the balance and control we must exert to remain pure in heart, he is quick to point out that our enjoyment of healthy pleasures gives God great joy–perhaps much like the joy an earthly father feels watching his spellbound children swoon over Christmas presents.

    In a world so bombarded with instant gratification of all kinds, Pure Pleasure also provides the kind of practical guidance we need to navigate confusing passageways.   Thomas includes invaluable information on “spiritual ferns”, those innocuous things in our lives that may cause us to stumble or falter.  He challenges us to be honest about our limitations and boundaries, and to recognize the dangers that come from both avoidance and exhaustion: “If your spiritual enemy can’t get you to apply the brakes to keep you from ministering, he may well try to get you to push the gas pedal to the floor, hoping to drive you off a cliff.” [pg. 122]

    The author arranges this book in fourteen chapters which are brought to a close with questions for discussion and reflection.  For those desiring further study and contemplation, the end of the book offers additional small group discussion questions, guiding the reader to purchase optional videos available online.

    When I received this book, I didn’t realize I had so much to learn about the heart of God or about how he wants to father us.  I didn’t realize that our enjoyment of life’s good things is so vital to effective witness and healthy spirituality–that God gives us these things, often times, as a protection from dangerous pleasures.  And that if we’d just lean back and drop into the arms of God and accept these things, we’d be all the better for it.

    Bravo, Gary!  Reading your book, for me, was a pure pleasure.

    –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –

    Thank you, Zondervan Publishers, for graciously providing me with two copies of this book, and to The Blog Tour Spot for including me in this tour.



    Posted in Discipline Issues, Discoveries, Faith, Fitness, Following Jesus, Friends, Gifts, God, gratitude, Growing Pains, Home, Kids, Literature/Books, Marriage, Matters of the Heart, Thngs I Love!, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

    All Hail Hallmark!

    When the “rewards” coupon comes in the mail, I’m the sucker who can’t wait to race out the door to Betty’s–Hallmark, that is.  I love walking into the dreamy ambiance full of pretty bags and holiday decorations, and hearing the clerk greet me in her usual soothing tone, “Hi, there. Welcome.”

    Welcome, indeed.

    The subtle smell of candles reminds me that I am on sacred ground: no rice has been burnt here, no bacon grease sent splattering, no wet dog slogging down the aisles.  Time alone at the Hallmark is my sanctuary.  I’d be willing to bet the farm, proverbially speaking, that if a neurologist hooked me up to expensive monitoring devices during my escape he would literally see my heart rate fall, my breathing deepen, my brain waves align, and my Seratonin levels spike.

    Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that selecting wonderful cards may just be my true spiritual gift–and perhaps working in that giftedness provides calm.  I pour over the cards, reading each one, pausing to consider who might be pleasantly surprised to receive it in the mail.  My feet take me across the carpet, weave me between aisles and right up to my willing death:  the clearance rack.  That’s where the budget gets blown, and that’s precisely how I’ve become a Platinum Gold Crown card-carrier.  And proud of it.

    Last Saturday I was able reclaim a scrap of time to get over to Betty’s, and found all sorts of treasures.  I won’t publish exactly how much I spent, but I consider it part of my tithe [kind of]… since it blesses others.   Don’t you think it’s worth it to brighten a day by sending a card that just says, “I know you’re sick of wiping poopy butts and blowing running noses and making meals that few appreciate.  But I appreciate you and I just wanted to let you know.”

    Well, whether you agree or not, I love cards, and in my next life I’m sure I’ll own my own Hallmark store and have my own line filled with hilarious adventures and off-color jokes.

    For now, however, I’m cheering for the brilliant folks who come up with things like this: itty bitty greetings for you to pop into your kid’s lunch box or backpack.  This particular one is a “school pack,” although I also got one that was more general encouragement and praise.  Each card is roughly the size of a pack of gum and you’ll get 8 cards in each pack.

    So for all of you encouragers out there looking to add a smile to someone’s sandwich, run to your nearest Hallmark, breathe in the scents, live in the calm and serenity, and grab a handful of cards.  Make it your goal to send at least one to someone each week…and see how the blessing may be returned to you.

    Posted in Discoveries, Family, Finances, Friends, Gifts, gratitude, Home, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Random Fun, Thngs I Love!, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

    Living with Prepositions

    It seems this blog has become my own private confessional.  Be warned: you are all priests and I expect absolution at the end of this post.

    I regret to inform you, as I’ve regretted admitting to myself, that I’m living in a land of prepositions.  My favorite of the moment appears to be about.

    I have a mental list of things I should be doing.  I spend considerable time thinking about them.  Planning to someday do them.  Lately I’ve been fairly convinced that if I just had a pretty bulletin board with artsy magnets and textured paper to “organize” my goals, then I’d do them, without a doubt.  I’d have various sections for all the flotsam wandering around in my brain; there would be bright colors and curliques and meaningful doodles.  And surely, then my prepositions would turn to verbs and I’d actually accomplish something!

    Here’s my list on its virtual bulletin board:

    1.  [This section would be pink and would include paper with scalloped edges.] I spend a lot of time thinking about writing a book or an article, but I know that I am not doing the hard work it will take for that to happen.  For real, Jane–just post something on this blog more than once a week!  Get out there and “Make it work!”  I’m sure that if I had an office designed by Nate Berkus that I positively loved and wanted to cry with joy at the sight of it, I certainly would not have this struggle.

    2.  [Green paper donning a work-out chart]  Run another 5K this spring.  I think about that.  I also think about actually running anywhere right now and quickly slap my own face and put myself in time-out.  On the couch.  With the remote.  My excuse: It’s too cold and I’m barely subsisting on root vegetables.  The only way I’m running is if Richard Simmons himself shows up and threatens to impose his hairdo on my scalp.

    3.  [Light blue for “to-do” lists]  I need to wake up earlier.  I would get a lot more done.  Because clearly, I can’t even keep cobwebs out of our Christmas tree or laundry from forming its own continent on our dining room table.  I think about these things while I’m lying in bed, convincing myself that it’s so much more “worth it” to pass another 20 minutes on high-thread-count sheets than to get up and stare at my dirty toilet.  After all, my brain tells me, a rested mama is a happy mama, so ‘you’re really doing your family a favor.’ I love my talking brain.

    4.  [Yellow: books I want to read, those I have read this year, and my prayer list]   I need to spend more time reading and praying.  Period.  Why is this hard?  This is hard because People Magazine exists and has taken up residence in our home.  This is also hard because I like to check my email and facebook page, and there seems to be a strange magnetic pull between my body and this computer.

    OK.  That’s it.

    Even though it’s more than a little humbling to reveal my shortcomings to the faceless world of cyberspace, I’m clinging to the theory that if I write them down, I’ll somehow be held accountable to taking positive steps away from prepositions and toward VERBS.

    So I’m curious: do you have a virtual bulletin board?

    What’s on yours for 2010?

    Posted in Chores/Duties/Jobs, Decor/Organizing, Discipline Issues, Faith, Family, Fitness, Following Jesus, Friends, God, Growing Pains, Home, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Rants, Seasons of Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

    An Apple At Dawn

    It is before 5 am as I sit here with my apple.

    People who know me will realize that something is strangely amiss that I would be pulled from the warmth of the bed I love to descend to a computer and a rigid wooden chair before dawn.

    The culprit?  I am seriously hungry.  [Hungry, people–not pregnant].

    In light of the tragedies in Haiti and the devastating and legitimate hunger of others around the world, I will not say that I am starving.

    I am not starving. Thank God–truly.

    But I am seriously hungry.

    Ten days ago I started a detox to help reposition my view of food and hopefully to change some habits that I was ready to conquer.  This particular detox demands that for 28 days I eat sugar-free, dairy-free [eggs OK for part], gluten-free, and beef/pork-free.  Additionally, at specific times of the plan [like this week], I am to cut out even lean meats like chicken and turkey, nuts, beans & legumes, and eggs.  This is all supplemented with certifiably “yummy” shakes [read: grainy, gritty, and taste like a pile of wet autumn leaves].  That’s why I woke up hungry.  Fruits, veggies, and rice, while delicious, aren’t really giving me the satisfaction that a warm and crusty piece of toast would, carefully smothered in jam and served still-warm on my plate.

    My love of sugar, in fact my felt need for sugar, was something I did not run away from.  I loved to sit with a glass of Coke–or three–or mix up a batch up chocolate chip cookies so I could devour a respectable portion of the dough.  And don’t even get me started on the holy grail of chocolate and peanut butter.  My goodness.  That has the prospect of taking on a life of its own.

    I began to acknowledge patterns I had long denied or downplayed.  Like how my lack of self-discipline when confronted with certain things meant that food didn’t submit to me and my fork, but that I submitted to it. And the more I’ve been learning about enjoying pleasures and following Jesus, the more I realized that this kind of submission will only be realized when put in right relationship with my heart and faith.  Giving free reign to self-indulgence doesn’t seem like the best way to move through life.  At least not for me.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I had the distinct joy of reading Gary Thomas’ latest book, Pure Pleasure:  Why Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling Good? [I’ll be reviewing this book and offering the chance to win a free copy on my blog next week!]  Gary approaches the subject of pleasure in such new and interesting ways I was unable to put this book down.  While he lauds accepting gifts of relationships, food, hobbies, and intimacy with open and grateful hearts, he cautions how blind abandon can, though won’t always, lead to sin. His chapter entitled “Dangerous Pleasures” gave me particular pause as I contemplated this detox:

    “I grew up in a conservative Baptist church.  Many of the older widows wouldn’t be caught dead saying “heck” or “gosh,” much less their demonic counterparts.  They wouldn’t think of watching an R-rated movie or, sin of all sins, participating in a poker game. But they would all but clean out the desserts during potluck.  Perhaps bereft of many common pleasures, they gorged without restraint when an “acceptable” pleasure sat before them, in much the same way that a climber atop Mount Everest desperately tries to suck down some air…

    “…It would be a monstrosity of a generalization (as well as a lie) to suggest that being holy means being thin.  God creates different body types, and it can be just as much a sin of vanity to spend hours crafting a certain physique as it can be a sin of gluttony to exert no control over our food appetites.  So without referring to body size, let me gently ask you this:  Does your discipline toward food honor God? Is your witness undercut by your failure to control, or even address, this particular issue? [emphasis mine]  Ultimately, only God knows.  I raise the issue primarily because it would be simplistic to talk about “dangerous” pleasures and ignore the most common, and therefore perhaps the most dangerous, pleasure of all–gluttony.”  [pgs. 150-152]

    Am I the only one who reads this and says, “Ouch“?

    Maybe I wasn’t cleaning out the dessert table at potlucks, but that doesn’t mean I have the right to ignore patterns of indulgence in my life.  I want to honor God with a right view of food–one that allows me to enjoy the distinct pleasure of sharing a meal with friends, one that sees the gift in slowly enjoying and savoring my [one] piece of dessert, and one that reminds me that I eat to live–not live to eat.

    Credit: CNN.com

    So in these pre-dawn hours I think on these things.  I remember that the inconvenience of giving up chicken and bread is a daily circumstance beyond the control of billions of truly hungry people around the world.  That most people on our planet won’t have fresh fruit and vegetables today.  That most people will be grateful for a bowl of rice and nothing more.  That most people don’t even have a glass of clean water to drink.

    My heart splits open at the images flashing across my TV screen.  Children wandering along, crying out for relief.  Mothers now merely existing with souls ripped out at the loss of family.  Brothers and sisters scrounging for scraps of food, praying for deliverance from their hell on earth.  All while I sit comfortably on my sofa, wrapped in a blanket, sipping my tea, lamenting a 4 week loss of bread and jam.

    I think of them.  I remember that my brief sacrifice is small and ordinary.  That it is optional.  I remember that my hunger is temporary and laughable.  My sleeplessness: a poignant reminder that at dawn and always, my heart sings with gratitude for the gifts and provisions of God.

    For an apple.

    And for so much more.

    Posted in Discipline Issues, Faith, Fitness, Following Jesus, Food, Gifts, God, gratitude, Home, Kitchen/Culinary Woes, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart, Seasons of Life, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

    BNE: Best Neighbors Ever

    I first crossed over the asphalt divide six years ago with a plate of monster cookies and a welcome note, hoping that the new people across the street would be, at the very least, pleasant.  What I never even considered was that they might become helping-hands, egg-lenders and sugar-borrowers, and in the end, true friends.  As the pages on the calendar tore away and we came to be surrounded on both sides by such people who give and take in the most harmonious way, my husband and I have soaked up the kind of blessings that make us want to leave the porch light on just a little longer.

    It turns out that one of the monster cookie recipients isn’t just a good neighbor to me, she’s a good neighbor to her friends across the country and around the world.  Kamarah is giving and judicious, kind and compassionate.  And when Shannon McNeil, a college friend from her days at Taylor University, was leveled with the unimaginable news that both of her children had a degenerative disease that would one day claim their lives, Kamarah knew that doing nothing just wasn’t an option.

    Joining forces with another mutual college friend, Michelle Montenegro who now resides in Costa Rica, Kamarah helped to form A Hundred for a Home, a non-profit fundraiser aiming to raise $400,000 so that the McNeil’s will be able to purchase the kind of handicap-accessible home they so desperately need.  In light of their work I am so excited to share that these heroic efforts have been highlighted in the February 2010 edition of The Ladies’ Home Journal!  [Click on image; see the center article under “Shout-Outs”].

    Join me in saluting the love and hard work that drives good friends to be good neighbors.  And if you feel so moved, check out the Hundred for a Home website or leave a note on Kamarah’s blog.


    Posted in Faith, Family, Finances, Following Jesus, Friends, Gifts, God, gratitude, Heartbreak, Home, Illness, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Neighbors, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Quote, Unquote

    Tonight I walked my oldest son to his room to spend a little time with him before bed.  He treasures these moments–almost longs for them in the way that I long for chocolate desserts and the pleasure of new slippers.  He thinks of all kinds of off-the-wall topics to discuss and touches my face and pats my shoulders.  I love it.  I love it because it is so purely J and because I know it won’t last forever.

    I lay down on the bed next to him briefly, staring up at the ceiling and enjoying the familiarity of our old mattress.  J asked me to tell him stories about when I was little [which I deferred to grandma, who will be coming over tomorrow with photos in tow.]   I turned to face him in the dusky dim, rubbed his back and said, “Oh, I just love you, J.  You’re my big boy.”

    To which he, ever lovingly responded, “I love you, too.  You’re my big mama.”

    Posted in Family, Gifts, gratitude, Home, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

    From “Pure Pleasure”

    This coming February I will be taking part in a blog tour for Gary Thomas’ latest book, the phenomenal Pure Pleasure.  When I was invited to do the review, the title intrigued me [subtitled: Why  Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling Good?] and I wondered if this was a thinly-veiled book about having hot sex and feeling great about it.  You can imagine, my husband was thrilled to see it on the nightstand.

    While Thomas certainly incorporates the gift of intimacy within marriage into his thesis, the broad topic of pleasure in general has been so compelling that I’m finding myself dog-earring or underlining something on almost every page.  Because we’ve been asked to save our reviews for next month, I’m tapping into my shallow well of personal restraint and will end this post with a brief quote.  Think about this as you move through your day and allow yourself to ponder whether you’ve been snuffing out God-given gifts of enjoyment and fellowship in the name of piety.  Just as your heart leaps in excitement to see your children explode with gratitude on Christmas morning, imagine the Lord’s joy when, rather than rejecting his good and perfect gifts [James 1:17], we accept them with light in our eyes and thanksgiving on our tongues.

    “Prayer and fellowship are among life’s richest pleasures, but let’s not stop there.  Let us learn to fill our souls with beauty, art, noble achievement, fine meals, rich relationships, and soul-cleansing laughter.  When we acknowledge these pleasures, we acknowledge God as a genius creator of brilliant inventions.  Let us be wary of a faith that denies these blessings as “worldly” and unfit, as though Satan rather than God had designed them.  Let us refuse to fall into the enemy’s trap of denying ourselves God’s good pleasures so that we end up deeply vulnerable to illicit pleasure.” [pg. 17]

    My review and a chance to win a free copy of this book coming the week of Feb 1.

    Posted in Discoveries, Faith, Family, Finances, Fitness, Following Jesus, Food, Friends, Gifts, God, gratitude, Home, Literature/Books, Marriage, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Music, Nature/Outdoors, Neighbors, Play, Seasons of Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

    Struggle Bus

    One of the many lovely things about Christmas and the New Year is the way families and friends come together around the table for a meal.  The dimly lit dining room aglow with reflections of the Christmas tree and Percy Faith’s Holiday album hanging in the air seem to cast a spell on those huddled around its oak belly.  For most folks, the eating doesn’t stop when the last of the Prime Rib is dipped in au jus; instead, the feast continues with all varieties of sugary goodness: frosted, chocolately, cut-into-shapes, sprinkled, and embellished to the point that eating these small pieces of art seems paramount to some kind of sin.

    Once the final page is torn from the calendar and I must face a new week in old jeans, I am left feeling heavy.  All this unrestrained, recreational eating ultimately leaves me with sludge in my shoes and a brick in my gut.    [Enter New Year’s Resolutions and daydreams about Bob Harper :)]

    Sometimes, though, heaviness is not about what I ate.  Sometimes it sneaks in the back door from unexpected places: a weird conversation.  Feeling slighted.  Hearing of another’s sadness.  Seeking shalom in your community, only to find that it evades.

    This kind of heaviness settles like a hefty wig about my head.  It wears like cumbersome shoulder pads.  Follows me like a lonely pup.  Sometimes, as my husband says, I “drive the struggle bus”. I like to think that I do a commendable job of keeping the bus on the road and getting it into park after a short trip around the block, but if I’m honest, I’d rather quit driving it altogether.

    Struggles are not new to humanity, nor are they unique to me or you.  Maybe other people, older and wiser no doubt, are just better equipped to deal with them.  I guess each of us has our own propensities and gifts, and mine appears to be making really good guacamole.  Not dealing with certain stripes of adversity.

    Christians like to say things like, “Well, I guess God must be wanting to teach me something, because I’m really dealing with a lot of strife.”

    I don’t know what to think about this, although I’m sure it’s come out of my own mouth many times.  Perhaps it’s human nature to look for the silver lining and try to make meaning out of confusion.  But what does that comment really mean?

    That people living with a terminal illness need to be taught a lesson?

    That single men and women must learn something before they can continue down the path of finding a mate?

    That if my friend on the brink of divorce would just “get it”, God would reverse the situation?

    which raises all sorts of other questions:

    God, if I learn this “thing”, will you remove this heaviness?

    Will you heal this man if he achieves the lesson objective?

    Are, then, those without struggles not in need of teaching?  Do they have it “all together”?  They somehow “figured it out”?

    I don’t know.  This type of theology seems too transactional for me.  Do this and I’ll give you what you want.  Learn the lesson and I’ll change things for you.  Conditional love?  Conditional provision?

    When Jesus was in the Garden, He prayed,  “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” [Mk 14:36]  How did God respond to this prayer?  With a crowd of mocking scoffers and wooden beams hoisted up, nails holding the weight of the world.  Despite his prayers, God [thankfully] did not stop the events leading to our Salvation.  And what of the Apostle Paul?  In 2 Cor. 12:7-10 he speaks of a “thorn in the flesh” that he thrice asks the Lord to remove–to no avail.

    What are we to think?

    Friends, I’ve put on a different pair of glasses and am looking through a new lens this year.  I still spend considerable time in self-examination, trying to discern whether God is revealing anything about me while I’m driving the bus.  Maybe after removing a few layers I’ll come away with a decision to make some changes.  To do better next time.  To ask for forgiveness.

    The irony is that struggle often does reveal our weaknesses [as Paul discusses].  But never is it promised that our ability to detect those weaknesses or to “learn something” would guarantee that we will now live in blissful abundance, grinning from ear-to-ear and eating ice cream for breakfast.

    Struggle happens in a sinful world.  Struggle happens when things aren’t the way God designed them to be in Eden.

    So until Jesus comes back to make all things new [Rev. 21:5], I guess we’ll all be driving the bus.

    I have to make peace with that.

    Posted in Discoveries, Faith, Following Jesus, Friends, God, gratitude, Growing Pains, Heartbreak, Holidays, Home, Illness, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Seasons of Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    Win A Free Book!

    Thank you to Keri Wyatt Kent for the comments she left [below] on the review I posted on her latest book, Simple Compassion: Devotions to make a Difference in Your Neighborhood and Your World.  She is inviting interested readers to visit her website for a chance to win a free copy of this book! If you’ve been looking for practical ways to promote justice in your neighborhood, city, and world, this book will be an ideal springboard for you.  Please link to me and tell your friends!

    Posted in Faith, Family, Following Jesus, God, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Neighbors, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

    Simple Compassion

    Yesterday my oldest child came through the door flushed and rambling about the latest bit of excitement in his 7 year-old life.  As he slowed down and afforded me the chance to listen, I surmised that his school was sponsoring the annual winter “Jump Rope for Heart” and that he wanted to raise money to help.  He shared “sad facts” about the many children living with disease and illness, and with conviction and determination, he announced he was going to work hard to earn pledges.

    My eyes pricked to see the compassion that even a second-grader can display.  To imagine life through the lens of another–to empathize with hardships–and then do something about it is what I saw in my son.  Because growing this trait in our kids is so important to me, I was thrilled to receive a copy of Keri Wyatt Kent’s latest book Simple Compassion: Devotions to Make a Difference in Your Neighborhood and Your World from Zondervan.

    Simple Compassion is a year-long devotional laid out in four parts:  Compassion Begins with You, Compassion Grows in Community, Compassion Extends beyond our Comfort Zones, and Compassion Offers God’s Love to the World.  I appreciate how Kent goes on to break each of these sections into 52 weeks, providing not only a short meditation for the week, but ending with two sections on how each of us can be challenged both individually and communally.

    One of Kent’s strengths is her storytelling.  Time and time again she drew me in to her deep pool of emotion by writing with honesty and ending, often, with thought-provoking questions.  Much of her questioning comes as a rebuff to some of the things she was taught as a child growing up in a Christian home.  For example, in week 5 entitled expectations, she probes: “What does God expect, anyway?  What does he want from us?  The world is full of problems, and it seems like people have a lot of different ideas about what it means to follow God, about what he wants us to do.  They focus on rules, sometimes.  By keeping the rules, can you make God love you?” [pg. 35].

    It is evident that Kent has done her research.  On several occasions she shares historical tidbits that sometimes surprised me and other times gave me an “aha” moment, allowing me to view Scripture differently or understand it more fully.  She is passionate about empowering Christians to join in the work of bringing the Kingdom to earth.  In particular, Kent wants to see women begin to view themselves as being an important and integral role in God’s work.  Too often, she asserts, women get the “little old me” syndrome and leave the work of discipling and involvement in social justice up to the men.  Some readers may want to know going into this book that Kent vigorously supports her position of women in leadership and jokes about “picking a fight with conservatives” [pg. 21] on this issue.  While I, too, support women in leadership and the importance of women in the Biblical story, at times her tone seemed a bit gritty.

    Lastly, I went into this devotional expecting something a bit more “unisex”, perhaps because one of Kent’s back-cover reviewers was Shane Claiborne, a well-known author and promoter of living like Jesus in a literal way.  Seeing a male’s thoughts displayed prominently made me assume that Simple Compassion would be something for both men or women.  In my opinion, while men would certainly benefit from Kent’s creative and approachable ideas on how to put compassion into action, this book is most definitely written for a female audience.

    All in all, I enjoyed Simple Compassion and plan to re-read it a week at a time as it was intended to be read.  I look forward to implementing many of the author’s ideas about loving neighbors and making a difference in the world–and next door [great for kids!].  At our house, 2010 is going to be one of trying to live out Micah 6:8 in a new way:

    He has showed you, O man, what is good.
    And what does the LORD require of you?
    To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

    Posted in Faith, Family, Following Jesus, Friends, God, Home, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Neighbors, Social Justice, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

    Hello, My Name is Jane, and I Have ICD: Part 2

    Welcome to my crazy brain, part two.  Come on in, have a look around, grab a cookie and put your feet up.  Ignore the wild ponies and flashbacks of college.

    I first revealed to you in August that I have diagnosed myself with a “disease”.  This fictitious self-diagnosis is intended to make myself feel better about the compulsive way in which I seem to link faces together; it gives me something to blame for my weirdness.   Sometimes I swear my friends want to hit me in the face with bags of sloshing strawberry jello when I say [for the 6,397 third time] “Do you know who that looks like?!

    So after months–okay, years–of this, we came to the sad conclusion that I’m living with ICDInter-Connectivity Disorder.   I’ve collected some new faces that I want to share with you, including one photo that my best friend took undercover.  She was even wearing a trench coat and sporting eye black.  Just kidding.  About the eye black.

    Exhibit A: Undercover Lee Ann Womack.  The real LeeAnn on the left, innocent football mom on the right.  Thank you, LEJS 😉

    Exhibit B: NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski [left] looks like Jon Voight from Mission Impossible.

    Exhibit C: Are any of you die-hard fans of Sprout’s Sunny Side Up Show? I know–who isn’t, right?  Moms–right?  [insert coughing now].  Here is the show’s host, Sean Roach, looking a lot like my sister-in-law’s ex-boyfriend.

    Readers, Do you have any of your own?  Write your own post and link to me!  Let’s create an online support group for us ICD’ers 😉

    Posted in Discoveries, Gifts, Random Fun, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    A Christmas Meditation

    One of my husband’s favorite Christmas songs was written a few decades ago by singer-songwriters Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene.  Mary, Did You Know? is a thought-provoking song that wonders aloud whether Mary fully knew the entirety of who her Son really was.  Luke tells us twice in in his Gospel that Mary “pondered/treasured” things in her heart [Luke 2:19, Luke 2:51]; yet, I wonder: did Heaven give her insight into the depth and gravity of the identity of her baby boy?  It’s an interesting premise and a beautiful song [Bill & Gloria Gaither have a nice version on iTunes].

    This Christmas I’ve spent considerable time thinking about the lyrics to this song.  As a mother, it’s fascinating to consider Mary’s journey into Bethlehem–which, contrary to legend, was probably on foot. After all, none of Scripture’s Nativity stories recount a donkey delivering Mary to the stable where she likely delivered Jesus.  The idea of those final hours and minutes of their journey, during which time she was presumably in labor, concluded in a dirty and dimly-lit animal barn is pitiful when compared to the luxe hospital accommodations of the modern world.  No warm towel, no sanitized instruments, no bed sheets.  Wiping him clean and striving to warm him with “strips of cloth” and then lying him in feed trough is, need I say?, incomprehensible.

    And so, I wonder, as she gazed lovingly into the face of her son, did God impress upon her spirit all that He was?  Did she see beyond His olive skin and damp hair? Did she know?

    ~
    Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?

    Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with His hand?

    Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?

    When you’ve kissed your little baby then you’ve kissed the face of God.

    [lyric credits here]

    As Christmas winds down and the TV blares the latest sales and markdowns at the mall, I sometimes let my mind imagine that Jesus is one day old.  Two days old.  Three.  I picture him cradled in his mother’s lap, quietly nursing and curling tiny fingers around the ones that would be his only biological connection in this world.  To think that God gifted Mary with such a unique and amazing role blows me away and almost paralyzes my understanding.  That in all the world–past, present, future–she was God’s choice to be Jesus’ mother. Though imperfect, though human, though in need of a savior as we all are, she gave birth to the Incarnated Christ. Wow.

    It’s an awesome thought.  For me it opens Christmas up to more mystery, more miracle, more marvel.

    “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…”

    What a gift given!  What a gift to receive this Christmas!

    [photo credit]

    Posted in Discoveries, Faith, Family, Following Jesus, Gifts, God, gratitude, Holidays, Kids, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

    After-Hours Shopping = JOY

    Friends, I have to say:  If you’ve never ventured to the mall during the week of Christmas to enjoy Macy’s “open ’till 10” schedule, or Kohl’s “open ’till midnight” promise, take advantage of it!

    Sunday night I managed to peel myself off the couch, against any sane and half-way intelligent cell in my being, and ventured to the mall first, then Meijers for our weekly groceries.   Needless to say, I did not want to go.  I knew it would be crazy.  It was dark.  It was cold.  And I wanted to be home in the coziness of our Christmassy living room.

    Only the prospect of no milk in the morning [and the idea of starving, complaining children] made me do it.

    And I’m here to tell you–it’s the way to go!!

    I went to the mall first, arriving shortly after 9 pm.  Macy’s was like my personal haven.  I felt like Elvis–or possibly Oprah–renting out the entire store for peaceful shopping.  Though I didn’t bother to count, I’m sure I saw fewer than ten other shoppers in the store during my rendezvous at the palace of Origins and the jewelry counter.  Bliss!

    Upon leaving Macy’s to go to Kohls, I was gifted with THESE MARVELOUS HALLS…alone.  Ahhh!!

    I took a moment to respectfully admire the brilliance of the freshly zambonied floors.  I listened to the sound of nothing. What a lovely thing at Christmas time.  No crowds.  No hustle-n-bustle.  No pushing and shoving and fighting for the deals.  Just me and my thoughts.

    After finishing up my few errands at the mall, I embarked on the short trip to Meijers for groceries.  I grabbed a cart around 10 pm and hallelujah! The store was as empty as I’ve ever seen it. [Why am I sharing this??  I should be hoarding and coveting this secret to the grave!]  It almost brought a tear to my eye to not have to jockey my cart around slow-walkers, screaming kids, and people who stop in the middle of the aisle to read their lists.

    Lest you don’t believe me, see for yourself:

    I’m reaching for a tissue now.

    Look at these empty, peaceful aisles!

    Christmas music was piping through the still air, my cart worked its way across the linoleum, and my mind was blissfully blank.  [except to take this picture with my phone 😉 ]

    The wonderful thing about this shopping experience was that the only thing that ever became a hurdle to overcome, were the boxes that were busily being unpacked for the suckers who want to face the crowds in the morning.

    As for me, I’d gladly trade in an hour of sleep to gain a day of sanity.

    That’s a Merry Christmas.


    Posted in Chores/Duties/Jobs, Discoveries, Food, Friends, Gifts, gratitude, Holidays, Home, Kids, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Music, Random Fun | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

    Things I Don’t Understand Thursday: Cobwebs In The Christmas Tree?!

    How can it be, Friends?

    The tree hasn’t even been up for a month, and apparently an army of spiders has covertly taken taken up residence in its branches.  These busy little web-builders must be decked in green camo for the holidays, because I haven’t seen even ONE scooting across the carpet or knitting its way to webville.

    But be sure:  I am not exaggerating.  The tree is being decked with unwanted tinsel, and the morning light streaming in all glorious and wintery does nothing to hide the tangled mess of spider creativity.

    What am I to do??  DUST THE TREE?!

    Well, it’s probably a good thing.  I really don’t have much to do at this time of year anyway.


    Posted in Chores/Duties/Jobs, Decor/Organizing, Discoveries, Holidays, Home, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Rants, Things I Don't Understand Thursday | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

    [We Are] Overlooked: final thoughts

    Matthew 25:37-40 (The Message)

    “When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?? Then the King will say, ‘Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me.”

    From Max Lucado’s Cure For The Common Life

    “Love the overlooked.”

    Jesus sits in your classroom, wearing the thick glasses, outdated clothing, and a sad face. You’ve seen him. He’s Jesus.

    Jesus works in your office. Pregnant again, she shows up to work late and tired. No one knows the father. According to water-cooler rumors, even she doesn’t know the father. You’ve seen her. She’s Jesus.

    When you talk to the lonely student, befriend the weary mom, you love Jesus. He dresses in the garb of the overlooked and ignored.

    You can do that.

    Even if your sweet spot has nothing to do with encouraging others, the cure for the common life involves loving the overlooked.”

    ~

    ~taken from www.weareoverlooked.com/about; under the section entitled “Where Does The Name Come From?”

    Posted in Discoveries, Faith, Family, Finances, Following Jesus, Friends, Gifts, God, gratitude, Growing Pains, Heartbreak, Holidays, Home, Illness, Kids, Literature/Books, Matters of the Heart, Social Justice, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    [We Are] Overlooked

    I happened upon a wonderful organization the other day that captured by imagination and my heart.  It’s called Overlooked, and it’s all about delivering justice to those in this world who are overlooked everyday by their governments, neighbors, politicians, and brother and sister human beings.

    The “About” page sums it up:

    ~
    “We are not a charity.

    We are not a ministry.

    We are not seeking donations.

    We simply want to offer you easy, practical ways to help people that have been overlooked and make the world a better place.

    When you buy our merchandise you allow us to provide children in Africa with mosquito nets and clean water.

    You allow us to free young girls in India from sexual slavery.

    You allow us to loan money to women in poverty to start new businesses for a chance to support their own families.

    We are more than just another charity, ministry or t-shirt company.

    We are Overlooked.”

    ~

    I think that’s just awesome.  Why not consider buying or gifting a t-shirt or handbag this Christmas and spending money that will move forward in the world to make a difference.  Throw yourself into the pond and made some waves–or at least, some ripples.  Get people thinking.  Imagine that $5 could change a life.  Save a life.  Add hope to a life.  After all, isn’t that what Christmas is really about?  Life and hope?

    Click here, look around, get out your plastic, become a walking justice sign.

    Posted in Discoveries, Faith, Family, Finances, Following Jesus, God, gratitude, Heartbreak, Holidays, Matters of the Heart, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

    No School!

    Ah, the childlike joy of having school canceled–what thrill can compare in the mind of a 6 or 7 year old? Yesterday our kids had an unexpected day off due to a power-outage in their elementary building, followed up [with glee] by a snow BLIZZARD day today!  Such sweet, unwrapped, intangible gifts are received with smiles as wide as Montana skies in summer, and our kids couldn’t wait to dive into a day in the kitchen with mom.  Love that.

    In the spirit of sharing, I’m posting my mom’s luscious Cinnamon Roll Recipe today and am inviting you to give them a try.  They’re easy, deee-licious, and fun to do with helping hands.  I must begin by saying that I acknowledge the hideous nature of the photos below.  I took them one-handed with my cell phone because the battery on our real camera was dead.  So, the lighting is terrible, the colors unacceptable and unedited, and the sharpness, well, they’re not sharp.  But hey–I never claimed to be a photographer 🙂  You’ll still get the idea!

    For a Breakfast Party in Your Mouth, You’ll Need:

    1 bag of frozen white bread dough [I used a 3-loaf pack of Rhodes]

    Copious amounts of brown sugar

    Plenty of cinnamon

    Raisins if you like them

    dental floss for a cutting trick

     

    2. Sprinkle lots of brown sugar over buttered-dough.

    3. My brown sugar in the forefront. Lots. of. sugar 🙂 THEN, follow with a generous all-over sprinkling of cinnamon.

    4. If you like raisins, soak them in hot water first to soften and plump them. Then, add copious amounts to your rolls. For me, a cinnamon roll just isn't a cinnamon roll without raisins.

    5. Roll dough lengthwise in preparation for cutting. Above: my non-raisin rolls which were delivered to a friend, and all manners of cooking crap in the background. Ignore my junk!

    6. Ready to cut. Tip: slide dental floss under roll. Lift both ends and criss-cross, making sure the floss touches in the middle. In a quick motion, pull the criss-cross for a nice, non-roll-squishing cut.

    7. Me "floss-cutting" the rolls. Best idea ever! Thanks, Mom!

    8. Arrange rolls in pan, leaving space for them to rise. Crucial!!

    9. Cover pan and set on stovetop while you preheat the oven to 350*. The warmth seems to speed the process. Let them rise until they fill the pan! See below.

    10. When your rolls are nice and puffy, stick them in the oven for roughly 15 minutes or until very lightly browned. Too dark = hard and crispy! Trust me, that is NOT what you want.

    To end, mix up some powdered sugar + milk frosting and drizzle over warm rolls.  Enjoy with your family…just don’t give yourself a stomach ache by eating too many like someone I know did this morning.  It makes doing yoga a little uncomfortable!


    Posted in Family, Food, Gifts, Holidays, Home, Kids, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Random Fun, Recipe/Kitchen Success!, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

    What I Can’t Carry

    Today I just needed a little time.  Some space to breathe and room to think.  Looking outside, the gray ceiling of clouds promised a harsh cold, but I didn’t care.  I found my running shoes, clicked my dog to his leash, and opened the door.

    It felt really good to go for a walk alone–and for the first time in many months–without my iPod.  Because what I heard today was a new kind of silence:

    heels crunching into snow.

    the scratch of hood on hair in rhythm with my stride.

    buzzing electrical lines.

    a far-off bird.

    Reuben’s paws click-clicking on pavement.

    my own breath.

    wind in skeletal grasses, tall alongside the road.

    the whir of cars racing past.

    the rub of dog leash against gloved hands.

    ~

    God was calming my soul.

    I knew when I left the house that I had a lot to unload.  Today in church we sang a song that I love, with a line that says that [Jesus is] “…gonna take what I can’t carry no more.”  What we sing is a bluesy and wonderfully re-written version of Amos Lee’s Black River. And it had me thinking as I sliced through the winter afternoon.

    Maybe I’m the only one who struggles with “carrying”.  Maybe it’s easier for you to lay something down at Jesus’ feet and just walk away.  But I’m finding that there are one or two things that seem to sprout seedlings in my heart even after I try and try to tear them out.  Why does my mind persist in reminding me of the hurts and disappointments and measuring sticks? 

    With wind numbing my ears and stinging my eyes, I rounded another corner.  I turned “the seedlings” around in my mind and weighed my options.  I thought about love and wondered what it means to act lovingly when you feel injured.  How do you know when love would confront, gently, and speak honestly?  How do you know when love would leave it alone?  Choose to overlook?

    In 1Peter 4:8 the Bible says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  So I considered packing up my feelings and stuffing them in a Tupperware container, snapping on the lid, and lodging it into the back corner of the freezer.  I would deal with these feelings by myself–sharing them with my husband, of course–but not approaching those directly involved.  I would trust God with my heart and remember my great worth in His eyes.  But I would not unearth my feelings in the context of a conversation with the salt-rubbers.  Because love covers over a multitude of sins, and I should love them and not seek recourse in confrontation.

    My other option was sitting down with them and, like coffee thumped over by a thoughtless hand motion, let my thoughts spill out on the table between us.  Let them sit there and bleed into the tablecloth and dry as a stain.  A muddy blob of emotion laid bare.  Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin” : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”  Except the sun has gone down many times.  I guess I’m sinning.

    The struggle is that relationships look easy on paper, but we all know that in real life they are complex balls of connections and history and love and trust and vulnerability.  Maybe I think I’m ready to unravel that ball, but to be honest, the thought of approaching a table to drain myself is terrifying.  It makes the inside of my heart feel spooned out and hollow.  My palms start to sweat and I am filled with worry.

    So, for now I’ve decided that “…the bitter pill I swallow is the silence that I keep.”  [Ghost, Indigo Girls]

    For now I will try to stop carrying.  I will try to trust that Christ not only will carry it for me, but that He actually wants to do it.

    I will remember that my worth does not require the validation of the world and a select few of its inhabitants.

    That it is measured not by rulers and yardsticks, but by two beams that were hoisted up as the greatest demonstration of love the world has ever known.

    I will keep walking and enjoying the crunch of the snow and the sound of my dog next to me.

    I will swallow the pill and work on my own heart.

    I will work on loving.

    Posted in Faith, Family, Following Jesus, God, Growing Pains, Heartbreak, Matters of the Heart, Nature/Outdoors, Seasons of Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

    Things I Don’t Understand Thursday: Real-Life Ignorers

    Isn’t she cute?  My daughter, that is 🙂

    What’s not cute to me is what’s happening in the background [since I’m considerate and decent, I blotted out their faces].  I understand needing to check your phone in case the babysitter calls to tell you the house is on fire or your child is suspended from the ceiling fan, but this woman sat fingers-to-phone for at least 20 minutes! [Yes, I unofficially timed her.]

    This real-life ignoring is reaching epidemic proportions.  You see it in restaurants, airports, at the mall–even in church!  [SHAME!]  And while it can be argued that we have progressed as a society–that we enjoy more conveniences and are more “connected”, this photo exemplifies my point: are we really “more connected” when we ignore life happening around us?

    Notice her husband/boyfriend/companion in the brown shirt.  He is thoughtfully and fully engaged in conversation with the other couple.  Red shirt lady is leaning forward on the table, apparently hanging on his every word.  Meanwhile, Clarice is fingering her way into Carpel Tunnel Syndrome and being the latest friend voted off the island of real life.

    What kind of message is she sending to her husband?  To her friends?  Even to me–a stranger secretly taking a picture “of my daughter”–the message I’m getting is that the people around her don’t matter as much as the next ring of the phone.

    It’s easy to fall into the trap of being over-connected.  To wade too deeply into the cyber-sea.  It’s a diversion.  It makes shopping easy.  It’s fun to update your Facebook status and check your email.  It’s enjoyable for me to sit here and blog.

    But if it comes to the point that my real, 3D life–my children and husband and friends–have to compete with my phone…slap me.  Having a loving community around you is too important to gamble on a text message!

    Posted in Family, Friends, Matters of the Heart, Rants, Things I Don't Understand Thursday, Things that are STUPID | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

    Quote, Unquote…Again

    Yesterday my youngest had a couple of cute moments–have to record them since I’ve done a pathetic job with his baby book share them with you!

    1.  Our little guy has an adorable lisp [s’s] and can’t quite seem to pronounce a few of his letters.   When he’s talking, things sound sort of like this:

    quad= todddirt bike = dirt bite [our boys are obsessed with quads and dirt bikes!]

    grandma = ramma

    milk = milt

    chicken = titten

    Since he just turned four a couple of weeks ago, it’s not something we’re worried about yet– it still sounds cute to me!

    Today, however, a few of his words came out crystal clear!  He said “quad” the way it’s supposed to be pronounced!  Then he said something else and it came out perfectly!  I looked at him and said, “M!!  Say that again!  You did it!  You made your sounds!”

    He looked back at me and said–very seriously– “Yeah, God healed me.”

    2.  Same little boy, different situation!  When I picked him up from preschool he asked me if we were going to see Dr. Kik–my chiropractor.  I told him that I had already gone and thought little of it.  That’s when the drama started.  Sobs.  Fake and forced, yet somehow producing tears.  Maybe they were partially real–but certainly coerced.  Finally, after trying to ignore him patiently let him calm down–which he did NOT–I decided to probe.

    “Honey–I didn’t realize you liked Dr. Kik so much!  I’m sorry–next time I’ll make sure to take you.”

    Sob, sob…crocodile tears…

    “Babe!  Please calm down!  You can come along next time.”

    Cry, cry, ball, ball.

    “M, I didn’t know you wanted to go along to Dr. Kik!”

    His response?

    “I wanted to get some of his ca-ca-caaaannnnddddyyyyy!”

    Silly me.

    Here I thought he had formed a bond with my kind doctor.  Thought he enjoyed the fake skeleton in the corner.  The medieval-like back crackers.

    Nope.

    He wanted candy.

    So glad he has his priorities straight.

    Posted in CRAZY kids, Family, Following Jesus, God, Growing Pains, Home, Kids, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Random Fun | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

    Move Over Nate Berkus!!

    DRUM ROLL, PLEASE!!

    I am proud to applaud the work of my husband and the strides we made on our poor, pathetic, ghetto bedroom of yore.

    Tonight I feel like I will be going to bed at some 4-star hotel!  [Maybe I’ll bump that up to 5-stars after the artwork is chosen and ordered].  I wish you could feel how puffy and soft and cozy our new comforter is!  And all those pillows!  Luxury!

    Here are some before and afters:

    BEFORE:

    Not terrible, but bed-on-the-floor doesn't really scream "love den" to me. And the old rocker was taking up valuable real estate.

    NOW 🙂

    Now: Soothing colors and a BEDFRAME!! Hooray! Light-blocking curtains! Three cheers!

    NOW 🙂

    Check out my husband's mad carpentry skills! What? Carter Oosterhouse?! We love the wainscoting and the texture and depth it brings to the room. Still need a bed skirt.

    BEFORE:

    So glad to have the too-small random stuff off the walls!

    NOW 🙂

    A little different angle here, but you can see how clean/minimal everything is.

    A huge thanks to Brandon who gave up his whole Thanksgiving weekend [plus some] to measure, cut, saw, sand, glue, nail, prime, and paint!   I feel so lucky to finally have a bedroom that, to me, feels like a retreat.

    Posted in Chores/Duties/Jobs, Decor/Organizing, Family, gratitude, Home, Marriage | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

    The Biography Channel

    Last night while Norm Peterson my husband was upstairs working on our bedroom renovation/redecoration, I got sucked into several hours of the Biography Channel.  I’m pretty confident that I can now tell you just about anything you need to know about Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, or the upcoming special about celebrity encounters with ghosts.  Critical information.

    One of the segments I really enjoyed was a program called “Johnny Cash America” and included all sorts of amazing video footage of his life.  In it, certain portions had voice-overs by Johnny himself, lending a rather eerie quality to the old film.  His unmistakable voice and larger-than-life persona made me hunger to know more about someone I had previously only encountered via Joaquin Phoenix in Hollywood’s Walk the Line.

    One of the things Johnny said about faith got my attention, making me stop to grab a pen.  I rewound the DVR to get the words just right.  Maybe you’ll find them to be profound, as well:

    “What is man if he doesn’t have a spirit, and what is man’s spirit if it cannot connect with the Master of Life?”

    ~

    Later, in the Willie Nelson biography, Kris Kristofferson praised his friend as the kindest, funniest individual he’s ever known.  He lauded Willie’s “outlaw” style of blazing his own trail and not falling into the easy traps of sounding like someone else, dressing like other Nashville stars, or wearing his hair like most country stars of the 50’s & 60’s did.  But it was, again, one sentence that struck me as especially meaningful.  Kris said this about Willie:

    “[Willie] wears the world like a loose garment.”

    ~

    Both of these quotes have stuck with me today.  In particular, I’ve been thinking about the last one and about whether the same will ever be said about me.  That I was in the world, but not of the world.  That I engaged fully in this place, but was not tossed about aimlessly by the quickly-shifting winds of culture and expectations.  That I wore the world like a loose garment: draping myself in it, but not constrained by it.  Not confined or limited.  Not bound by the seams, stitches, whims of another.

    To me, that’s a beautiful thought.



    Posted in Discoveries, Faith, God, gratitude, Matters of the Heart, Music, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

    It Must Be Raindrops…

    I grew up listening to Oldies, and to this day I still enjoy a sugary doo-wop song or something that emerged from Motown at the height of its glory.   I love The Platters, The Fleetwoods, Martha & the Vandellas…pretty much anything from the American Graffiti Soundtrack.   There’s another song I’ve been thinking about today though.  Do any of you remember the song Raindrops by Dee Clark?  Dee tells us that since “a man ain’t supposed to cry, it must be raindrops…falling from my eyes.”

    That about sums up my day.  I am, apparently, either a hormonal mess or suffering from early seasonal depression.  The littlest things have made me all choked up–barely able to complete sentences without betraying myself.  I may need help. Today I got teary-eyed from:

    1.  Seeing a Lowe’s commercial in which mom and dad were working hard to prepare their home for the holidays.  Since their daughter couldn’t return home to be with them, the parents used a laptop web-cam to show her around the house, proudly displaying their remodeling efforts via Skype.  When mom says, “And just wait to see what we did outside!” she opens the door to find daughter secretly waiting to surprise them.  Aww! Sniff, sniff.

    2.  Today we had to borrow my parents’ 1985 Chevy Suburban to haul some wood [that’s a blog entry for another time].  This is the vehicle of my youth–of all the trips to Minnesota to see Grandma and Grandpa–my 5th grade venture to Washington DC before Grandpa died:  it all happened in that car. Now, with over 250,000 miles on it [!!] and still running strong, I hopped in and felt like I was in a time warp.  To top it off, my dad still had all his mixed tapes from those trips in the blue auto-organizer–the one that sits on the hump on the floor in between the driver and the passenger.  My oldest son was along and I thought I should do my family duty by indoctrinating him into the world of “Real Country.”  That’s right–“Real Country” capitalized and used as a proper noun.  Songs by the old masters.  People who have names like Hank and Lefty.  Tammy and Loretta. You know the type.  Tennessee twang from the 1950’s and 60’s. This was the soundtrack of every 12 hour trip I ever took, and it didn’t take me long to learn all about drinkin’ and cheatin’ and “layin’ you down.” Subtle education, really.

    Anyway, I put the tape in so I could point out the fiddles and steel guitars to my son, and I started crying! Not sobbing, runny nose cry, but please-don’t-ask-me-to-talkbecause-I’ll-blubber-and squeak-cry.   I’ll admit that I have so attached those songs to the person of my father that part of me was wondering how I’ll ever listen to them after he’s gone.  And that’s what I was thinking about.  Going to get a pile of wood for Bob Vila my husband, and thinking about how I’ll ever live without my dad.

    3.  I had to stop at the grocery store for a bag of roma tomatoes this morning.  I’ve had a hankering for guacamole.   [I mean, how can you get through vacation without plopping on the couch next to your husband and plowing through a bowl of homemade guacamole with copious amounts of tortilla chips?]   As we were leaving the store we were met with the ubiquitous Salvation Army bell ringers.  I grabbed the loose change from my sweatshirt pocket and dumped it into the red can, feeling a bit sheepish that I wasn’t able to produce more.

    On the way to the car, A asked me who the people were and why they were standing there ringing a bell.  True to form, I could barely formulate my answer about all the needy people that ache for help, especially at Christmas, without swallowing my tears.  By this time of the day I was fairly certain I may be going into menopause.

    4.  In the same vein, Angel Tree commercials are now airing, reminding able givers to consider pulling an ornament off an Angel Tree and providing an unwrapped gift for a child this Christmas.  The announcer said that West Michigan alone has 30,000 wishes to fill this holiday season.  30,000 kids with nothing under the tree?  I’m crying again.

    5.  Don’t call your shrink–this is the last one.  Tonight on NBC World News with Brian Williams, his “Making a Difference” segment highlighted the work of a non-profit organization called RAMPRockin’ Appalachian Moms Project.  Seeing how one person can so powerfully change the trajectory of so many people’s lives amazes me.  It truly makes my heart beat a little faster.   So I sat and watched Amy, a mother of four from Connecticut, run a ministry that has delivered over a quarter of a million dollars of aid to one of the poorest places in our nation.  Heaters, clothes, food.  I sat and thought about how I never have to worry about those things.  How my needs are met and met and…exceeded.  And how the people of Appalachia don’t have heat.  And it moved me.

    As we enjoy the quiet warmth of our own homes this Thanksgiving Eve, I invite you to send up your prayers of gratitude to the One who loved us so much that He Gave. And if you need a place to start, take 2.5 minutes and see what’s happening in Appalachia.

    Good thing they’re predicting more rain tomorrow.  I might still be singing that song.

    Posted in Faith, Family, Following Jesus, Food, Gifts, God, gratitude, Growing Pains, Heartbreak, Holidays, Home, Kids, Matters of the Heart, Motherhood/Mommy Duties, Seasons of Life, Uncategorized |