24 December 2011

Treasures Abound

Christmas Eve baking, music listening, excited bouncing, and pinecone glittering. Treasures abound.

Merry Christmas.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, 
where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven ...   
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Matthew 6:19-21

Clean-It-Out Day

In expectation of all the Christmas extravaganzas, today has been "clean-it-out" day. Boxes from Amazon shipments and scraps from wrapping have all been isolated and pitched with verve.

And while we're at it ... the children were enlisted into service as well. Since they are undoubtedly getting new goodies, it is time to cull out the old. Empty bins and shelves in the closet? This is a good thing. Kids are remarkably willing to clean when it involves making room for anticipated treasures.

A kid tip? Collect 3 empty bags. A big ol' garbage bag in the hall for trash (there will be lots ... why is this always so??) and two other bags for each kid (paper grocery bags work great). One for giveaways and one for "I don't know what to do with this so I'll ask mom."

Is the house now a picture of tidy perfection? Of course not! But it's better than before we started and that is a great thing.

21 December 2011

Operation Smile, Chocolate Style

I've begun to feel challenged, lately, to find more opportunities to smile with my neighbors. A quick wave as I drive by or a chat at the mailbox are easy to do. But in the wintertime, when we are all clustered indoors, we see each other very little and it's too blasted cold outside to really visit on the sidewalk over recycling bins.

But yet, I've had this nudge. Reach out. More. Keep it simple. Show you care. Bring a smile.

I can do this.

So this year we mixed up a ridiculously easy hot chocolate recipe that slaps together faster than a bejeweled Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye musical number. (Have you seen "Sisters"?? Watch the ladies first and then watch those boys. One of my favorite old-timey movie scenes ever).

Once made, we spooned into containers, wrapped in string and tied on a little note. The girls and I delivered small tubs of hot chocolate mix to our frosty and hermited cul-de-sac. And you know what we got? A lot of smiles.

We pray for opportunities to show His love, right? Here's a nice, simple, chocolately one that's a sure-fire winner.

• Pass-It-On Hot Chocolate Mix •

8 c. powdered sugar (1 c. more if you like it on the sweeter side)
4 c. cocoa
10 c. powdered milk (or one 8qt. box)
4 t. salt
8 t. cornstarch
a couple good shakes of cayenne pepper

Mix all together, spoon into air-tight containers or baggies. 2-3 T per mug of hot water or milk.

**Takes me two batches to make up enough to pass out to neighbors and friends.

20 December 2011

Skipping Rocks and A Mama's Heart

 At first, while rummaging his closet, I thought I had just been negligent. How can he have grown out of all of his long-sleeve shirts? What has this poor boy been wearing these last months?

But then later, while watching him skip rocks with more skill than I'll ever muster, I realized ...

... he's just growing so quickly. My mama-heart is both wistful and joyous all at once.

16 December 2011

A Christmas Thank-You Gift

Personalized pencils for teachers along with a little festive zippy pouch (made from a vintage table-cloth and red ticking!). Affordable, practical ... and still awfully cute.

15 December 2011

On the Tree and Throughout the House

We don't really collect nutcrackers, but we seem to have amassed a number of them throughout the house. Kids are so drawn to them, aren't they? Both a bit human and a bit imagination.

And if they are "working" nutcrackers, beware of fingers. We have a six year-old loose in the house who will attempt to crack yours in the big red fellow's mouth if you aren't on your guard.

13 December 2011

Advent in the Heart and Home

I'm guest-posting over on GraceLaced, authored by my friend, Ruth. She is a fellow busy-mama who does wonders in her home and with her kids ... and isn't afraid to expose the less than shiny parts of life. I love people like that.

Here is the post:

 Merry Christmas, friends! It was with great joy that I accepted Ruth's request to share with you, some of our favorite advent-season traditions. Over time and through much trial and error, I have realized that any traditions we have grown to love have been ultimately rooted to two things: Expectations and Simplicity.

Expectations can be a killer. It can drain joy and smiles and leave behind a colander full of disappointment.

It has been my experience that deciding ahead of time what will become a treasured moment ... doesn't always fly. Turns out, people don't like to be bossed into special moments. And believe me. I've tried. Sweet traditions seem to evolve on their own accord. Yes, they often require a little effort or forethought, but they may or may not "stick." Initially, they are best offered up without expectation.

In thinking of what traditions, specifically, have meaning for us, I realized I couldn't ask that of myself, but must ask the children what their favorite traditions are. My husband and I have offered up all sorts of Christmas season experiences over the years, but in general, their response is the deciding factor in what "sticks" and what doesn't. Here is what they said they loved:
Cozy to them meant candles and Christmas CDs, twinkling Christmas trees, and stockings hung. Baking cookies, reading books, piecing puzzles, and watching old movies. It meant time together. Atmosphere. All of the little stuff that added together becomes tradition and memories. Not complicated. Not even specific. Just Cozy. Your cozy may look different than our cozy. Don't try to measure up or compare. What you are already doing is enough and it's special.

Advent Readings
For the last four years we have read one of the books from Arnold Ytreeide's series. We light the advent candles and cuddle in for a good nightly read. The stories are exciting, they reinforce God's plan for His people, and they remind us of who Christ is for each of us.

Each Sunday of advent we replace the evening meal that we normally would have with one made of rice and beans. This is to serve as reminder to us of all of those in this world that would be grateful for such a simple meal. You'd think the kids would grumble but I'm always surprised by their enthusiasm.

The money saved by making this our meal is represented by a dollar bill placed above the plate of each person. This gets tucked into our "Blessings Jar" along with any other donated funds from chores or savings. We choose some person or group that we know could use the gift and send it to them after Christmas. It's simple and not a huge amount of money, but a very real way to show the children how they can show love in Christ's name. 

All three of my children agreed on these three as their favorite traditions. It's not the activities, really, it's the intent and the togetherness. It's what has emerged as special to our family.

So how to figure out what works for your family? It may be different than what works for ours.

However, next to managing healthy expectations, advocating Simplicity will bless any family. If it's complicated, someone is going to get stressed out or bored. Totally not the point, right?

Here are some tips I like to refer to as "Operation Holiday Simplicity":

1. Pray that the Lord would show you how to navigate this season in a way that would bring Him glory and honor.

2. Say "yes" to down time! Just because you have a day free doesn't mean you should fill it up with holiday plans. Be willing to let fun opportunities pass by so you can fully appreciate those that you purposefully choose. Added bonus? You're making room for spontaneous jigsaw puzzle sessions or Christmas stories by the fire.

3.  Do it if it is fun. Only if it is fun. Christmas cards? Only if you enjoy the process and won't groan at the postage. Of course we all love to receive them, but nobody will think less of you if you don't send them. Baking cookies? Bring me a plate if you spent a glorious day making them. But if you dread the making, the chilling, the rolling, the cutting, the frosting ... just make some hot chocolate and everyone is still happy.

4. Find simple, sustainable traditions that bring Christ into your home. We all have our favorites that work for us, but our family is learning to slow the daily pace down enough so we can truly set the focus where we want it to be and simply enjoy the season.

5. Let go of the expectations and just enjoy. This means being willing to bag the most brilliant idea if it isn't working for the family. This is a biggie for me. I'm prone to over-planning which can really be a drag for everyone else. Appreciating the days for how they offer themselves up is a skill I'd really love to make habit.
Truly, this is the season for expectations. But in all the treasured moments we find, may we remember our true joy does not come from that which we create. Let us hold loosely to our own expectations, and simply take on The Expectation of Christ. He is coming ... and in Him, our expectations will be met in full.

“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem!"
Luke 2:10-11

06 December 2011

Reflective Art

 I've been in the process of unearthing and framing some of the children's art and displaying in about the house. How has it taken me over a decade to finally do this? What's more, the children are near beaming with pride over seeing their art on display. Such minimal effort and such happy result.

Lucette painted this abstract tree when she was seven and I love it. I hung it right next to some vintage, granny-like botanical prints and the juxtaposition of style makes me smile.

And of course, decorated with Christmas tree lights makes for a most festive viewing.

05 December 2011

01 December 2011

The Creator Represented

The routine physics of this created world sometimes stop me in my tracks. Marvelous realities that I often forget to marvel at. God could have made steam and it's properties to rise straight up ... yet He didn't.

Lucette Paints Still Life

29 November 2011

Shiny Kettle Conquered

My tea kettle gets used daily. So she must reside on the stovetop and be routinely assaulted by myriad food and oil splatters. She gets all sticky, splattery, dusty, smudgy and wipe downs are rather futile. The tea kettle is hardworkin' gal, but rarely at her Sunday best.

I usually have at her with an SOS pad from time to time. It works ... mostly ... sort of. But today, I tried something new. Oven cleaner. I tend to shy away from nasty chemical cleaners such as these, but I had a most unfortunate fruit cobbler overflow in the oven not too long ago and something had to be done. Enter in: oven cleaner.

I purchased "fume free" and hoped for the best. I sprayed, I waited, I wiped ... and it was all clean. Wow. And then I sprayed down Miss Kettle and ... double wow.

After a nice soapy rinse down, she is nearly singing on her own. I think I may have to make room for an occasional chemical blast around here.  Any thoughts or experiences of your own?

24 November 2011

21 November 2011

Tricky Little Ruby Jewels

I have never purchased a pomegranate before, as I was downright scared of how one was supposed to get the tricky little jewels out. Someone told me to pare it and then twist it open. Nope. Didn't work. So then I turned to the trusty internet and found this brilliant instruction. No peeling or twisting, just chop in half, submerge under water and break apart membranes from seeds.  Brilliant!

And oh, they are so good. Already eaten plain, drizzled with chocolate, on a salad, and atop yogurt with granola. How do you like to eat them?

**Super fun task to do with kids. Just don't be a dodo head like me and forget the aprons. My sweater is currently soaking in oxyclean.

19 November 2011

Pops and Peter, Solving the World Energy Crisis

 The Science Fair Endeavor of 2011 is almost complete. I was the squawking schedule keeper, but otherwise, Pops and Peter were the masterminds in full.

And it's a good thing. If I'd been in charge we would have selected an experiment that had something to do with a dry bean or a shoelace. Never, never would I have ambitioned to test the efficacy of wind turbine placement and calculate the apportioned voltage. Say, huh??

I'm much better at sounding scheduling alarms. 

And the boys ... well they are much better at whatever it is they manage to consistently do. I just allow them to impress me and then I go back to my beans and shoelaces.

It's a happy system for all.

17 November 2011

16 November 2011

Pops Finds Art

 While we were off on our quick getaway trip together, we spent a day at a museum art market. Roaming musicians, dishes of local cuisine, and lots and lots of art booths. We looked with admiration and absolutely no personal expectation.

And then Pops found an artist that captivated him. He began describing his own evoked emotions in relation to the art. And they were deep.

This was a new experience. Pops doesn't normally talk art.

 I was more than a little surprised to find ourselves contemplating purchasing a piece of this art. "Maybe we should go have a bowl of soup and think this over," I suggested. I was having trouble seeing beyond the literal, beyond seeing, simply ... a wooden Moses.

But then Pops began elaborating on the form, the expression, the deep conotations.

We went back to look some more. And I realized. Why can I not support what Pops sees as beauty even if it is not what I initially would.

And suddenly. The art had life and beauty to me too. Was it the art? Was it choosing to delight in that which delighted him? I think, perhaps both.

This purchase was, for me, a moment of intentional grace. A choosing. I wanted to write it off as frivolous. Yet how often does my husband smile upon my own desire for "frivolity?" How often does the Lord? The answer to both, is frequently.

When I look at the piece, I am now absorbed by the expression of mercy, agony, weariness, devotion. A body bent with trial, yet strengthened by grace. A sense of rememberence past and hope in promise. I see beauty. I see art.

To give is to gain. To yield is to receive. To support is to be lifted up. A grafting together. A joy. Beauty.

 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 
Romans 11:17-19

08 November 2011

Choosing Intentional Grace

Have you ever noticed how good endeavors can sometimes lead to nit-picky difficulties? Little subversive issues to stand in the way of refreshment, growth and unity. Like arguments on the way to church? Yes, we've all had those. Same with date-nights and getaways ... often we can get derailed or undermined, our focus taken off of that which is truly important to us. Distractions or irritations to pull us off course. Suddenly we're arguing about granola bars. wet toothbrushes, and hurt feelings when we should be joyful in anticipation.

Over the years, we've noticed this pattern. But He is bigger and He is able! Once you know to look for it, it's pretty easy to spot those arrows of division. We've have been learning to call those moments out for what they are and to keep our focus on Him so He can clear the road ahead and make for smooth travels. We have to choose to give intentional grace for each other so those normal. hectic details we encounter lose their ability to fetter.

Off for some time with my honey, just the two of us. Praying God would use this time to build, build, build us up ... and to have us a little fun along the way.

Back after a bit!

07 November 2011

Oil Pastels, Arcimboldo, and Dreams of a Too-Old Mother

Peter and the girls have been studying Arcimboldo in their art classes. So awesome.

I kind of wish I was in grade school again. Think I could audit?

04 November 2011

Just Waiting for the Sentiment to Be Expressed

I love a good blank note-card. Perfect for a little letter of any occasion. (Why do I always seem to have plenty of 'thank you' cards, but so few multi-purpose?) When I found this giant Target pack on sale, I knew it was just the ticket. Sturdy, colorful note-cards with matching envelopes to boot.

Pretty paper always makes writing a letter that much more enticing, don't you think?

03 November 2011

Operation Healthy Lunch

 Do you know about pepitas yet? Just pumpkin seeds without the hulls.

I like to buy them raw and toast 'em a smidge in a skillet and toss them on salads. It's tasty business.

What's more? The kids like them too. Booyah.

01 November 2011

A Celebration of Color

Normally, I would never think to pair dusty turquoise, rust and concrete gray, pumpkin orange, and a dash of foliage green. But in fall, all colors seem to get a free pass to mix and match at will. The rules get bent and the sight is all the more glorious for it.

Another reason to have an affinity for fall.

28 October 2011

Assembled on the Coffee Table

One of the perks of having big(ger) kids? Stacks of fun upon the coffee table.

I am still a little boo-hoo over the fact I have no pudgy-limbed doll-babies anymore, but there is always something new to appreciate about each stage. Books and candles be some of mine!

27 October 2011

On the Foyer Table, Reminders and Otherwise

Life has been a busy swirling for me, lately. The blogging has taken a backseat, for sure. So while the absences have been many, by demand, I find myself missing the documented beauty about me that blogging brings. A reminder in bountiful sources of lovely in what can be an otherwise scattered day. Busy is good. Being still is good. But gratitude amidst it all? That is where my true accomplishment can be measured ...

... not in clean bathrooms, not in tidy cupboards, not in blogging posts and not even in well-groomed children (I said it. My kids get ratty hair, dirty fingernails, and if I could remember what a fortnight is, I'm sure I haven't changed their bedsheets in at least that long).

Accomplishment is in being where God calls us and doing what he asks of us. Right now. For this moment. Until He moves us forward.

It's busy. It's hard. Submission and obedience aren't glamorous words. But He is so faithful. And I am grateful.

"Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay ..." 
Ruth 1:16

25 October 2011

Apple Cider and New Joys

 Isn't it fun to have fun friends? You know, the ones who have great ideas and invite you to share in their brilliance?

David and Apricot were pals with Pops and myself when we were all in high school youth group together. Somehow we managed to pair off and get married and still be in touch. Life has led us to different careers, different journeys and even different continents, but old relationships have a sticking power.

Besides. When those relationships are with people who like some no-nonsense fun, you make sure to stay on their invite-list.

 This weekend we went to an apple-cider making shin-dig in their backyard. We all came with apples, mason jars, and portable children ... just to keep it interesting.

 With all the heaving and cranking necessary, the men got to wield the massive strength they are naturally encumbered with and impressed us all. Particularly once the juicin' hit the cups.

  I love meeting new people and going new places. It's a visceral need of mine. But old, dear friends can never really be replaced. So much shared history. People who remember the self-absorbed 16 year-old you... the one with the massive bangs and talent for pretending that you understood all those Monty-Python movies ... and they still like you.

For as the years go by, we get to match up all that we knew we always loved with all that is newly there to love.

And just from making some cider ... there is more joy.

14 October 2011

In My Slippered Dreams

I've never been good at picking slippers out. Or maybe I'm just plain picky. I want a rubber sole so I can go outside and get the mail and I don't want fuzzy fluff because it gets matted down and dirty. I want slip-on slip-off and I don't want Pops to call them my 'clod-hoppers'. They must be stain-resistant because I will undoubtedly spill some dinner on them. And in my slippered-dreams, they would be something cute enough that I can wear with regular clothes during the day and not feel like a frumpy-schlump when I open the door for the FedEx guy or hop in the van for the carpool rounds. I told you. I'm a high-maintenance slipper girl.

But then I found these. The good ol' fashioned Minnetonka moccasins. They meet all my criteria and they are crazy comfy to boot.

Dreams can come true.

**PS-They run a half-size large!

12 October 2011

No Effort Needlework

 I do love a good throw pillow. They seem to snazz up a room with so little fuss.

I found this piece of needlepoint in a broken 'ol frame at a thrift store for 99 cents. Pretty sad looking in the frame, pretty fantastic when paired with some flax colored cotton, a vintage yellow zipper and slipped over a fluffy pillow!

My favorite part? I get to enjoy this artful needlework without any of the effort!

10 October 2011

A Trampoline Series


Pops has wanted a trampoline for years. I resisted. I said the kids weren't big enough.

But then they got bigger. And we got a trampoline.

And we have had more fun than I ever imagined.