Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Perfect Christmas

We all have a picture in our minds of what the perfect Christmas would be like, don't we? Mine involves lots of family, plenty of food, everyone pitching in to clean up, having energy to play with each grandchild and spending extra time with each older family member, all the while praising God and exuding joy and beneficence over all with whom I come in contact. I don't know where I got this ideal from, but it certainly hasn't been my experience (especially the last part, I'm sorry to say.) I was reminded of my expectations this morning when I woke up at 4:30 with a stuffy head and sore throat. Not today, not when Joel and his family are coming from Georgia tonight! As the day has progressed, other needs, burdens, and little glitches have presented themselves. It's tempting to get frustrated by all this real life that is interfering with my ideal.

Right now, I'm catching my breath and pondering that first Christmas.... one unexpected thing after another, and none of them easy! Mary and Joseph had to leave home when it was least convenient in order to answer a government summons, no comfortable accommodations were available for her as she went into labor, no one pampered her through childbirth and postpartum, and they didn't even get to go home right away! Someone was out to find and kill the child, so she and Joseph had to flee with their child to a foreign place.

In spite of how this all looked, though, everything was under the eye and hand of a loving heavenly Father. In so far as it happened according to His will, it was a perfect Christmas! The promise of the Messiah was fulfilled, and real people enduring real hardship were very much a part of those promises coming to pass. As life moved on for Mary, she would endure much more suffering and heartache, but she always knew that she had committed herself to God's care that day the angel first appeared and she said, "Be it done to me according to your word." As hard as things got, the glorious day of the resurrection made everything clear. He did everything He had promised.

As I try to finish up the prep for the week-end and pray for friends and family who are having a difficult time, I'm thankful for the reality of the gospel. My idea of "perfect" is so shallow and selfish; God's kind of perfect is life-giving! These momentary sufferings and hardships are under the care of One who came to live a most inconvenient human life, to die so we could live! I pray that your Christmas will be perfect this year -- that you will truly know "Emmanuel", God with us, and that you will know joy and peace in believing.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hello, old friend

It's been about four years since I've had my sewing machine out. Something about this season, though, always makes me itsy to create a little something that won't be consumed by January 2nd. This year I decided to pull down some fabric from the attic and make some quick aprons. It's not a lot, but it satisfies my need for color and tactile activity. Of course, that means other things aren't being done right now, but I'll catch up later. And my sweet hubby is fixing dinner tonight so I can have this brief time of R & R.

Friday, December 3, 2010


December is here and I think I'm the only one without any Christmas decorations up yet! Not to worry, though; we're right on track with the traditional Trumbo approach to the holidays. Tomorrow is the day to put up the Christmas wreath and the window candles. Saturday I'll wash the holiday mugs for display and use. Next week I'll put the garland up in the dining room and hang some mistletoe. Then the baking begins! We will get our tree on December 18th. Why so late? Because we always wait until school is out so we can actually enjoy the process of putting it up and decorating. (And Rick likes to look for "specials" as the countdown of days gets closer to the 25th.) The girls will hang the ornaments after Rick tussles with the lights. Then, we'll settle back and enjoy the lovely soft lights and the amazing aroma of fresh pine. That, more than anything else, puts me in the Christmas mood.

I think my family's favorite tradition has to do with food, though. Like everyone else, I do a lot of holiday baking - special cookies and treats that I only make once a year. I begin early and freeze as much as I can for Christmas day. On that day, I put out a dessert buffet of all the goodies, and everyone is allowed to eat from it at any time of the day. I don't monitor my husband's fat intake or my children's sugar intake that day - it's one of my gifts to them. ☺ We enjoy a bountiful breakfast that morning, then keep a pot of Christmas stew on the stove and fresh bread on the counter for whenever anyone gets hungry. After breakfast, there's the general mayhem of presents and play, and with five children, eight grandchildren, and my mom all pitching in, that's a lot of activity!

The predictability of these things is one of the special aspects of the Christmas season. It's the anticipation of the special foods, the favorite ornaments, the same routine that generates an eager, joyful feeling about the holidays. The shared memories of family traditions is a gift that I enjoy year after year.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Holidays - Cheers! or Oh Dear!

The early promotion of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons sets off a low-grade panic in my mind. There are so many options everywhere that I feel like there's no way I'll do everything that needs to be done before the happy day of December 25th. Add to that the budget constraints that most people are still under and that time of joy begins to feel like a long, dreadful march uphill in the rain!

This week is Thanksgiving, and what I had originally foreseen as a quiet, "no fuss" holiday for this year to accomodate the tiredness I feel from this busy fall has morphed into more of a "deal" at our home than I thought I wanted. But this morning, as we prayed the prayer of confession at church, I became aware of the magnitude of my selfishness. We have so much to be thankful for! How can I possibly want to just shut the door to others who are without family or resources? Shame on me! Thankfully, God is always gracious and forgiving, and my heart was calmed as I asked for strength and joy to serve and welcome whomever He adds to our celebration this year.

Christmas is next. As we look at our calendar and I try to figure out how to shop and prepare, I keep thinking about the importance of joy in this celebration. Once again, I'll need grace for that to happen. I've already been encouraged along those lines by Nancy Wilson's excellent post about Christmas at Femina this week-end.(see link under Good Reads) Be sure to check it out!

And, in the words of Fra Giovanni, "Take joy"!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bless or Impress?

What motivates us to do what we do? I know for many girls and women, it's the desire to impress someone - parents,teachers,a young man,a spouse,co-workers,other moms,employers, etc. Our desire for approval impacts our decisions, large and small. Even something as simple as what to wear can be a big deal when we're concerned about impressing some one. Does this mean we shouldn't factor in other people at all as we make decisions? I don't think so. As a Christian, I need to remember that I'm called to a life that is God-ward first and foremost, but my expression of love and faith is lived out with other people. My motivation for choosing to clean house, do laundry, dress tastefully, wash my hair, cook tasty and nutritous meals, etc. is based on God's call on my life. In Genesis 12, when God called Abraham, He told him that He would bless him and that Abraham would, in turn, be a blessing to others. So, this idea of "blessed to be a blessing" gives me my framework for decisions. It gives me a focus on both God and others as I make all kinds of decisions each day.

I really don't care whether or not I'm impressive, but I do pray that, in some small way each day, I'll be a blessing. How will you bless those around you this week?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Seasonal Beauty

Autumn is my favorite season! I love everything about it -- the variety of warm and chilly days, the consistently cooler evenings, sweaters, hot drinks, pumpkins, sweet potatoes.... well, you get the picture. But the thing I love most is the breath-taking surprises the trees give. In the midst of the expected greens, yellows, and browns, there will be a glowing red maple that casts rosy light over everything around it. Leaves that appear to be neon orange. Crimson dogwoods. Every year I'm amazed at the beautiful mix of subtlety and boldness in the colors of autumn. The beauty of autumn is different from the beauty of spring - that season of riotous colors from all over the color palette! Autumn's colors are, for the most part, variations on just a few basics.

I was thinking about this today in light of the seasonal beauty of a woman's life. A young woman in the springtime years is energized with possibilities. Having four daughters has allowed me to observe (and remember!) those years of "trying on" different looks and exploring a wide variety of interests. It's an exciting season with a beauty all its own. Then there's summer - that season of sameness, in some respects. Since I live in the South, my experience of summer is one of consistent, and sometimes overwhelming, heat, but there are some of the most gorgeous reflections of light during the summer - a sunrise, sunlight glimmering off a lake or ocean, a sunset in the mountains. The days are intense, much like the early adult years for a woman. If there are young children in the mix, that intensity can be magnified, but the potential for such beauty is there! The beauty of these years comes as we learn to reflect the light of grace in all of our relationships - husband, children, co-workers, parents, and siblings.

Autumn is definitely my season. The intensity is beginning to wane, and things are more focused. I'm enjoying the fruits of many things during this season. I get to see grandchildren being born as well as reap the benefits of years of teaching (getting to spend more time actually enjoying my students as I need less time to research and prep lessons!) My prayer is that, as I go through this season, I'll be a reflection of focused living in Christ - subtle in some ways, surprisingly bold in other ways! As winter approaches, I want to experience the beauty of that season as well. Winter can be stark, but there's a clarity to that starkness and a quietness as things rest. Snow is the most beautiful aspect of winter - a blanket of clean peacefulness that falls over our little part of the world. I want to be that way for those in my life -- peaceful, settled, yet with a clear perspective on life and death that allows both joy in the present and hope for the future.

I pray you'll also enjoy the beauty of the season, both the natural beauty around you as well as the beauty of your season of life.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fall's a whirlwind!

It's been over a month since I've posted, but that doesn't mean I've been thoughtless for a whole month. (hehehe) I've been pondering a few things I want to blog about, but this first October entry is something easy - FOOD!
Many of you don't know that Rick taught at a boarding school for twenty-six years, and our family lived on campus. That means that we ate meals in the dining hall for nine months out of the year. I know; pretty sweet, huh? I learned to like things I probably wouldn't have tried if I'd been doing the menu planning (like salmon), but I also learned what a pleasure cooking can be. Now that we live in our own home with me as the chef, I'm finding new and wonderful things to make. At least, they're new for us.
For tonight, I'm preparing a recent find: Crock Pot Macaroni and Cheese (modified from the Fix It and Forget It Cookbook)
8 oz. cooked macaroni (I ususally do a wee bit more)
3-4 c. shredded sharp ceddar chesse
1 13 oz can evaporated milk
1 1/2 c. milk
2 eggs (I beat these before adding them)
a pat of butter (about 2 tsp)
1 tsp salt
some fresh ground pepper (to taste)
1/2 tsp ground mustard

Combine all ingredients except 1 cup of cheese in greased slow cooker. (I grab a stick of butter and run it around the sides and bottom to "grease" mine.) Sprinkle reserved cheese on top. Cover and cook on low for 3-4 hours. Don't remove lid during cooking!

We'll be enjoying this with grilled Italian sausages, grilled onions and peppers.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Loving Teaching Writing

I love words. I'm enthralled with the mystery of language - how the particular arrangement of a few sounds can produce ecstasy, puzzlement, laughter, or a life-changing insight. I'm also saddened by the fact that so many people don't realize that their words can produce death - loss of joy, confusion, death of a dream, solitude, despair. Proverbs says that "death and life are in the power of the tongue." (I need to always remember that, especially when interacting with children and young folks. )The power of words is also part of the challenge and joy of writing.

Last week I had the privilege of teaching a mini-writing refresher to a handful of high schoolers, and I was reminded of why I love this so much! Of course, the understood goal was that they would have a stronger grasp of the elements of good composition at the end of it, but the perk was that, along the way, some of them actually began to glimpse the possibility of enjoying the process! It is the coolest thing in the world to watch young men or women discover that ideas and feelings are "at their command", so to speak. Words become something more than air vibrations. It's humbling to be present when a student discovers his or her own voice in writing. For me, it's almost like assisting at the birth of child!

I hope each of you is able to take the time to notice the beauty in the spoken and written word at some point today. This is as important to our well-being as the beauty of the natural world is. If you have young children, find stories or poems that evoke delight and enjoy them with your children. Play word games; laugh at their puns. Learn a new word each week that has delightful sounds. (Beatrix Potter's books are excellent in this regard for little ones!) If they have a foundational love of language, growing into writing should be a delight for them.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Who's Listening?

It's that time of year when a mother's thoughts turn to school. Whether it's buying new lunch boxes for kids going off to school, helping that college student pack the car, or planning homeschool lessons, we want to make sure we are as prepared as possible so that our children will grow in knowledge and wisdom. There are so many externals that demand our attention, though, that sometimes we miss the simple things that really nurture our children's minds and souls.

Did you know that a good conversation is one of the best teaching tools at your disposal? Active listening with appropriate responses that draw out the child actually contribute to his neurological development, not just his self-esteem! Dr. Jane Healy in her book Endangered Minds says, "Conversation builds the executive brain." That is, the working, problem-solving part of the brain that takes in information and makes connections is dependent upon consistent, quality conversation for optimal development. All those seemingly random questions that pepper your day are more important than you realize!

This is obviously true during the early developmental years, but it doesn't become optional once children are in their teens. As you answer questions and make observations in conversation with your teen, you are modeling for them a thinking process, a template for how to "connect the dots" in their world. These moments that aren't connected to "teaching" per-se can have long lasting effects, often more so than well-plannned lessons! As a bonus, you are cementing your relationship with them through your availability to listen and treat them as adults with legitimate thoughts and concerns.

Many families like to have regularly scheduled times for one parent to go out for a time with one child. These times can often be fruitful, and they help build good memories. Our best moments, though, have been those spontaneous ones that come while folding laundry, preparing a meal, or riding in the car. Deep questions are often asked at the most unexpected times, so we need to prepare our hearts and minds to be ready to really focus and listen so that we can pursue those good conversations.

One last thought (hope you're still listening!) Our husbands thrive with this kind of attentiveness from us as well!

Monday, August 9, 2010


I have a confession to make - I've been struggling with covetousness these past couple of weeks. As I read about the restful vacations to beaches, mountains, and exotic places that many of my friends were enjoying, I found myself wondering (and whining inside!) "When do I get a rest? When do I get to leave this all behind for a while? What about those of us who have to work with no cushion of time or money for a vacation?"
I also want to proclaim that God is good! It wasn't long before He reminded me of His provision of all I need in Christ. "Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you REST." (Matthew 11:28) What a difference a change of perspective can make! Tiredness didn't magically disappear, but gratitude replaced envy, peacefulness replaced agitation. Words from an old hymn have been in my head the past couple of days - "Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blessed; finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest."
So, I encourage you to find your "stay-cation" this month in the comfort and encouragement of God's word.
"Thou will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee." Isaiah 26:3

Saturday, July 24, 2010

One of THOSE days!

Yesterday Rick and I spent the bulk of the day baking for a friend's reception. It was a comedy of errors from start to finish - one of those experiences that made me feel like an incompetent young bride again!

Anyway, after mistakes, tweaking, tasting, tweaking, and throwing a few cookies away, I finally got a batch of almond cookies that looked and tasted passable.

Here's the recipe in a much larger font that the little magazine pull-out I was using. ☺

Almond Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Glaze: 1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
4-5 tsp. water

sliced or slivered almonds for the top

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Combine butter, sugar, and almond extract in large mixing bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy. Reduce speed to low; add all remaining cookie ingredients. Beat until well mixed. (I do all the mixing with a spoon instead of a mixer.)

Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet. (I line mine with baking parchment since these cookies are rather "delicate".) Flatten balls to about 1/4 inch thickness with the bottom of a buttered glass dipped in sugar. Bake for 7 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool 1 minute before removing from cookie sheet, then cool completely before glazing.

Stir together all glaze ingredients in small bowl. Decorate cooled cookies with glaze and almonds.

Enjoy with tea!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


With all this heat, I find myself looking forward to cool and crisp fall days. Isn't that always the way it is? No matter where we find ourselves, our desires eventually run to something else. This can be a problem if we're never content, but one way to correct our perspective is to recognize that we ARE made for something more than the moment we are in. It's that "tension" thing again - not missing the good of the time we're in, but not camping in that moment either.

Our family is in a season of transition again. (There have been quite a few of those over the past four years!) Abigail is away today on her first solo drive out of town. She's camping with some folks from our church, and I'm delighted to see her taking on new challenges and developing deeper relationships with other families. I'm also aware of feeling more and more like a spectator of her life. There is a bitter-sweetness to all this; I wouldn't have her stay a child and I'm proud of her moving forward, but I also cherish those sweet times when she was younger and more easily encouraged and comforted. The new blessing is that now we are learning to appreciate each other as adult sisters in Christ.

The other big change is that we are wrapping up our homeschooling years (as far as we can tell!) Hope will be going to high school at her dad's school this year, so this summer is a time of getting ready. She has a more challenging summer reading list. She's reviewing her Latin in preparation for being in a classroom environment. And, we're shopping for clothes - school uniforms instead of jeans! She and I both are ambivalent about this transition. I know she's ready for the new challenges, and I've been so encouraged to see her maturity increase over the past year. But, I'm going to miss her!

I am thankful for so many good memories. As I realize that I have more years behind me than in front of me (unless I set a new world record for age!), I have to remind myself that I need to press forward with as much energy and eager anticipation as I did as a twenty-something. There are grandchildren to be loved! There are young people to be taught! There's a wonderful man who still needs an encouraging and loving home to come to each day. And, God is still at work in training my character and molding my heart. I'm not finished yet, so I don't want to waste time longing for those good things (or regretting those not-so-good things) of past years.

Seasons change. Each one has its blessings and challenges, but there's always the reminder that the new season is on the way. What a testimony to God's faithfulness! And what cause for hope!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I finished a fascinating book yesterday entitled The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. The subtitle is "What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain", but it not just an anti-Web tirade. Mr. Carr chronicles the history of man's quest to communicate and how the changes over time (invention of the alphabet, printing press, etc.) impacted culture. As he explores the development of the Internet, he brings in relevant research about the inner workings of the brain. I honestly couldn't put this book down, and there are many topics he introduced that I want to explore.

One thing that caught my eye was his mention of the use of "commonplaces" as a help for memory and thought. These were basically what we might call journals -- notebooks for recording quotes, ideas, or questions about what a person was reading. The idea of recording these sorts of things was suggested first (as far as we know) by Erasmus in 1512. Because of his habit of writing down excerpts from things he read, he was able to memorize an amazing amount of classical literature.

This amazing feat of memorization was not what grabbed my attention, though. It was the connection between the habit of "journaling" and the creation of thought. Taking time to write down quotes as well as responses to ideas begins the process of thinking deeply. In fact, Francis Bacon wrote that working consistently in a commonplace "supplies matter to invention".

Today there are beautiful notebooks available in bookstores everywhere. Sadly, most of us don't have (or take) the time to sit and write down much beyond a to-do list. However, I do think we've kept the idea of the commonplace and transferred it to a digital format -- the blog! As I've perused blogs over the past few years, I've found myself gravitating to those that are more like commonplaces. I enjoy reading snippets of reading, hearing another person's reaction to or questions about about what they're reading, and following the comments that often serve as a sort of conversation about the ideas.

So be prepared! I have a lot to process from Carr's book, and I'll be doing some of that here. If you enjoy being part of the process or conversation, pour a cup of tea and join me.



Friday, July 9, 2010

My days are full of tension

...but not the kind that causes headaches! I was thinking today about how each day brings new opportunities to find "balance" in life - between being and doing, hearing and speaking, contentment and longing, resting and working hard. This is one of the biggest challenges for me in my Christian walk - keeping the proper balance, or tension, in each area.

Beautiful music has provided a good reminder for me about how important tension is. It takes just the right amount of string tension for a violin string to sound a clear, beautiful note. It also takes just the right amount of tension for a life to sound forth a clear, beautiful song. Thankfully, God is the master tuner, so I know that whatever comes my way is designed to serve His glory if I yield to the perfection of His touch. If I slack off, the note is wobbly. If I jump hard on the difficulty and don't rest in Christ, the note is shrill and most unlovely!

For today - "Come, thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace..."


Well, this is the kick-off post for my new adventure! I hope to post regularly (probably weekly) random tidbits that I've gathered from living, loving, observing, reading, and conversation. Don't worry ... I won't use your conversations without your permission!
I've been a skeptic for many years about the benefits of the Internet. I have to say, though, that this past year has caused me to soften my stance and welcome the benefits of being connected to friends and family all over the world. I hope that the connections here will bless many and add to the richness of our lives together.
Please be patient as I learn to navigate these new waters!