Friday, December 23, 2016

For the wages of sin is death, 
but the gift of God 
is eternal life 
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

We rejoice in the hope that we have in this season and always. 
It is not a hope that we deserve or have earned.
We have hope because Christ came to earth to die for us and bring us into fellowship with Him!  

Joy to the World!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christmas Outtakes

We've had our share of infamous Christmas memories.

Like the year Gavin was a toddler and sneaked downstairs before anyone else was awake and ate all the individual chocolates out of the advent calendar.

Or the next year when Maddie climbed onto the dining room table and ate the gingerbread house.

We've had kids open presents that were not intended for them and kids open presents early that were intended for them.  Then there was the child who got up in the middle of the night to re-wrap the presents he opened, in an effort to make right his wrong. 

One year we had hundreds of praying mantises hatch from our Christmas tree and cover the wall by the tree and the presents under it.  

I've even had to perform the Heimlich maneuver on one of my children on Christmas Eve, and the child was so disturbed by the incident that it ruined his entire Christmas!

This year has been mild in comparison, but we have had a few Christmas outtakes.

Try as I might, we could not avoid sickness this season.  Alaine and Maddie both caught a fever virus right after Thanksgiving, but it was mild and passed within 48 hours. 

Just this week, Macie caught a different fever virus.  She had a mild cold before she got a sudden high fever on Saturday.  She still ate well and actually slept better, both for naps and at night.  I thought  it might be roseola.  Her symptoms were textbook, and sure enough, she broke out with a light, lacy rash on Tuesday, confirming my suspicions.

Our medical concerns didn't end there.  Earlier this month, we were in the urgent care center when Macie scratched her eye (a corneal abrasion).

We were given antibiotic drops and a pain reliever and by the next morning, you almost couldn't tell it had happened!

We got several strange photos of Alaine in December.  Both of her top teeth were loose and instead of pulling them out, she played with them and let them dangle until they literally fell out.  We called her Nanny McPhee.

While my girls have had a wild month, my boys have stayed healthy and whole.

Gavin celebrated his 14th birthday a week ago.  He wanted no fanfare but had a blast when we spontaneously got a pizza to eat in the car while we were running errands.  Then he had a friend over to eat dinner, play chess, and watch crazy YouTube videos.  Maybe we would have had some funny outtake photos, except I forgot to take any photos at all.

We're moving into the last weekend before Christmas and we pray it stays free of sickness or injury.

The only downside is the fact that we've had four, yes four, separate invitations for Saturday evening and we can only accept one!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christmas (or Winter) Mini-Unit

{This post contains a few Amazon affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a few pennies from your purchase.}  

We are counting down the days until our Christmas break and we are in the single digits.  Three more days to go. 👍 Because of Brian's line of work, we begin our school year in August and work hard through the fall so that we can take off at Christmas and continue our break through the end of January.  It has been an intense few weeks as the kids prepared for their Christmas choir recital and then as we worked toward a stopping point in our school books. Gavin, especially, put in a concentrated effort to accumulate hours toward his art history credit.

Now.  Now, we are beginning to breathe a little easier as the end is in sight.  We took some time this week to do a fun, book-based Christmas activity.  This would be appropriate to do as a winter activity in January as well.  

First, we sat by the Christmas tree and read The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.  This book is short and simple, appropriate for anyone from toddler on up.  Macie, who turns 1 next month, enjoyed turning the pages after we finished reading.

Then we read A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney.  I was fascinated by this a picture book biography of the life of Ezra Jack Keats (actually Jacob Ezra Katz) who was born into a Polish-Jewish immigrant family in the early 1900s.  Why did I always assume Keats, himself, African American?  Probably because he includes people of many nationalities and colors in his children's books.  This biography addresses why he felt so strongly about writing books for all children. This is a new book, published in November of this year, and while it is marketed to children, the comprehension level would begin at mid-elementary age.  The story will speak to those far beyond!

To cap it off, we watched The Snowy Day, a 45-minute movie, new on Amazon video this year. It expands the story of the book and is available free with Amazon Prime (not an affiliate link).

Do you enjoy Christmas reading with your children? If you 'like' my Facebook page, you will notice I've been linking to a slew of my old blog posts, recommending Christmas books.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Unconventional Hospitality

In my most recent post about hospitality, I promised I had one more thing to say:

If hospitality is about fostering relationships, don't be afraid to accept other opportunities for community.

I guess that is a topic all to itself and not really hospitality at all, but it is important.  It doesn't have to be in my home with my food on my timetable to be meaningful.

Accept an invitation to another person's home.   Go to the park with another family for conversation and play.  Accept an invitation to meet up at a restaurant.   Go out with friends after church.

Immerse yourself in other people and their lives.

As we sink deep into this holiday season, remember to invest in more than gifts and decorations. Invest in people, too. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Wednesday Through Sunday {in three words}

This is Wednesday:

crazy sous chef

making pumpkin pie

And now Thursday:

all six kids

and an outtake

two of us

gathering with family
{photo by Mom}

On to Friday:

choosing a tree

 this is it

mommy/baby selfie

lost a tooth

Saturday was Fun:

annual date day

💗our third wheel 💗

evening birthday party

Day of Rest: 

choir singing hymns

one more song

Back to reality.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

a Charlie Brown lunch

I talked about some happy Thanksgiving memories, but Thanksgiving 2014 will go down in our family history as a bad one.  On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Maddie woke up sick.  She had a slight fever and stayed on the couch most of the day watching movies, but by Wednesday lunchtime she was well enough to join us at the table.

Unfortunately, another kid woke up with a fever on Thanksgiving morning and a third developed one mid-morning.  Before cancelling the day's plans, we made a few calls to family who encouraged us to come to dinner anyway, saying they would risk exposure to germs since Maddie's case had been mild and quick.

Wrong move.  ðŸ˜¬ On Friday morning we began putting up our Christmas tree and by afternoon, a full-blown case of the flu hit our house with high fevers, chills, sore throats, headaches, and body aches. This was the scene in our house while Brian was stringing the lights:

And despite all the festivity around him, this little guy only managed to put one ornament on the tree before he curled back up on the floor. 

It was bad.  Brian and I managed to finish the decorating before we succumbed, too, and it was days before anyone was well enough to cook dinner or go to work, let alone take care of the long Christmas to-do list. 

In those few hours between bouts of wretchedness that year, after Maddie got better and before aninyone else got sick, we made a happy memory.   On Wednesday afternoon, we served a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving lunch.

Today we did the same.  Today everyone is well and we are very thankful for it.

We popped some popcorn, toasted some bread, handed out gourmet jelly beans, and portioned out pretzel sticks.

Tomorrow we will feast on turkey and mashed potatoes, but today we enjoyed a few simple pleasures. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Is there space for "twaddle?"

When I shared how our family uses the library, I implied that one reason I don't scan the shelves is to avoid twaddle-- poor quality, silly, or fluffy books.  

But...confession... I'm not totally offended by twaddle

I obviously steer away from books that are too mature for my readers (or listeners) and I discuss with my older kids the wisdom of setting a standard for content in the books they choose.  I sometimes push my younger boys to read books a little longer or complicated than they are comfortable choosing on their own, but I do not forbid them from easy, maybe even trivial, reading. 

Here's why: first of all, I know for myself that I often look to reading as an escape.  I have opportunities all throughout theday to stretch my brain, but reading is my way to relax.  I don't want to look up words or think deeply.  After Macie was born in January, one of my goals for the year was to read for pleasure. I declared that it was "not the year to tackle heavy classics or challenge myself intellectually."

Also, much of our family culture has been shaped by "twaddle-y" books.  Conversations are sparked by what we read.  No one would consider the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books classic literature, but we love them.  My kids say I am a twin of the "Mom" character in the books.  We both dance (and embarrass our kids) when we hear music and apparently "Mom" always gets her ideas from the magazine she subscribes to called Family Frolic. I get ideas from podcasts.  They know because I often listen out loud in the car while I am driving them to and fro... and then they see me implement the ideas at home.   I've been caught!  Maddie says that The Mom Hour is my Family Frolic

We enjoy other characters, too, and many quotes from the books are recited around the dinner table and are inserted into our real-life situations.  My boys particularly love how older brother, Roderick, watched the movie instead of read the book for his high school English assignment.  Unfortunately, he watched wrestling movie, Lords of the Ring, instead of the correct Lord of the Rings

I'm not saying that these types of books should replace classic or other thought-provoking literature, but I am saying there are pleasure benefits and relational benefits to fluffy books, too.

What are your thoughts?  Do you read twaddle?  Do you allow your kids to read it? 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

How Our Family Uses the Library

I've had several in-real-life questions from in-real-life friends about how we use the library: how often we go and how I find the books I read to my children.  I answered them in person, but I figured it might be fun to share my answers here, too. 

We go to the library every. single. week of life, including when I was 8 months pregnant during  last holiday season and when I had a tiny new baby. Books are due every three weeks and a few years ago I considered only going that often.  Then I came to my senses, realizing that won't work for us. We check out and return far too many books each week.  We currently have 55 items checked out on our library accounts and about 20 items on hold waiting to be picked up.  It hurts my brain (and my back!) to consider stretching the time between visits and needing to deal with that volume of books times three! 

the newest reader: Macie, 10 months
Alaine and I have continued the habit we began during the summer of  reading a few picture books on weekday mornings after breakfast.  I try to have between 10 and 15 waiting for her at the library each week. We are also reading the entire Mr. Putter and Tabby series out loud in order. I did that with the kids once before, but  it was before Alaine was even born so she and I, plus Ben, are revisiting them. Again, too many books to consider not going weekly.

Then there is the questions of how I find the books we read. My older kids generally choose their own books, but how do I find the books we need for school, plus a variety of picture books... in a small library... with a baby in tow?  I seldom browse the shelves at our library.  I would guess that 95% or more of the books we check out come to us via the hold shelf.  I can go online to access any book in the statewide library system and have it delivered to my small town library.  I do all my research during the week and make a ten minute trip inside the library where a large stack is waiting for me.  (My older kids often browse for themselves while I nurse the baby or let her crawl around the children's room.)

I have mentioned briefly how I utilize the list feature on my library card online.  I am forever on the look-out for book recommendations.  I follow several book lovers' Facebook and Instagram accounts (like this one and this one and this one...) When someone shares a book that interests me, I add it to my ongoing online list. I have a general list and then I have more specific lists, too, like a "Christmas" list and an "audiobook" list. This is what I pull from when I place my holds each week.

 Below is a screenshot of my list of lists.

What about you?  How often do you go to the library?  Do you take your kids with you?  How do you select books?  Any great sources of book suggestions? 

Be looking for a post where I share what I think about twaddle-y booksIt's not what you might expect. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

More on Hospitality and Community {part 3}

This is part 3 of my informal series about imperfect hospitality.  Get caught up here and here.  

As we (my family, specifically, and maybe yours, too) prepare to welcome people into our home during the holiday season, it is important to remember that
 the house and the decor and the food are secondary to the people. Relationships are what hospitality is all about.  There are a few points I focus on to keep my priorities in the right place. 

  • Kids are equally as important as adults.
It is easy to focus on our adult friends and relatives and forget that the younger people they bring along matter, too.

Sometimes it is fun to invite only kids over, too. This may be kid-led, like when my kids had a group of friends over for a movie party at the end of the summer.  (They plan to do it again the weekend before Thanksgiving--with even more kids this time-- 13, or possibly 17, kids, instead of 12!)

Other times we invite whole families, making sure the kids feel welcome, too, whether with their own table or a special dessert or activity.  

Mother's Day meal (2013)

Welcoming friends' children into our home while the parents go out for a few hours alone is also hospitality.

  • The house does not need to be spotless.

It is so easy to let the house cleaning take over my brain.  I attempt to keep my house moderately clean all the time so spontaneous hospitality is possible, but when I have time to plan ahead, I have a hierarchy of importance.  The bathrooms come first.  (No one wants to use a dirty potty!).  Next I want the house straight and the clutter picked up.  If there is time, I vacuum and/or sweep the floor, specifically the main traffic areas.  Dusting and deeper cleaning (mirrors, wiping down the refrigerator, etc.) come last. 

Valentine's Day celebration (2009)

  • Entertaining does not need to be complicated. 
Keeping people happy and entertained can be as easy as having a good conversation. Watching a sporting event together on TV or playing a board game works as well. We've hosted more than one Survivor party of the years, too.


And though we don't want the food to take precedence over the relationships, sometimes food is the entertainment. Before they go home for the day, Brian and a single co-worker sometimes discuss what they will be eating for dinner. If a particular food gets a lot of talk, Brian tells me, and we make a point to invite his co-worker over next time we eat that particular dish. We've done chicken and dumplings, blackberry chicken, and cider beef.  We plan to do honey sriracha wings next (this recipe, substituting 4 tablespoons sriracha for the hot sauce).

  • Talk about the obvious. 
I am terrible at small talk, not because I don't like to talk, but I have a hard time initiating conversation with feeling awkward.  I like to think about a few conversation starters ahead of time-- nothing gimicky and certainly not a script-- but I consider what our guests do for a living or what I know about them.

They say that talking about the weather is boring, but almost everyone has an opinion about the heat wave or the cold snap you are currently experiencing.  Everyone has opinion about whether it will be a snowy winter or rainy spring.  Weather conversations often lead to discussions of holidays or vacations or family traditions.  It is not a bad starter topic at all!

12 cousins with Grandma-- 1 missing + 2 born since the photo was taken in 2013

When we had a group of kids over recently, some of them did not know each other.  We played a quick ice breaker that even the shyest of kids could play.  I said, "Raise your hand if you are five," and then each child who raised her hand told everyone else her name.  We continued right up the line until we got to the thirteen-year-olds. (And yes, we had each age represented!)   I wouldn't recommend playing this with adults, but it was perfect for our group.  

Part 4, which will also be the last part, will address how I Promote Hospitality Unconventionally. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

In Twenty-Three Days

Is it too cliche to say that time is flying this fall?!  Growing up, my dad used to say, "Today is the 4th of July. Tomorrow is Christmas."   I am seriously in denial that Thanksgiving is a little more than three weeks away.  That means you have twenty-three days to get your hands on this book and read it to your kids, your grandkids, your friend's kids...yourself!  I'm being very honest when I say that I often check out books from the library for my kids because I want to read them myself!

throwback to Thanksgiving 2009

We have a tradition in our family on Thanksgiving morning.  Though I cook most of my Thanksgiving dinner contributions-- the cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and sweet potato biscuits-- on Thanksgiving Eve, I intentionally save the corn pudding for Thanksgiving morning. It only takes a few minutes to assemble, but it goes into the oven for 45 minutes and the aroma fills the house for much longer.  It is the smell of Thanksgiving for us.  When I bake corn pudding other times throughout the year, someone often remarks, "It smells like Thanksgiving in here."

While the pudding is baking, we watch the Thanksgiving Day parade on TV.  Sure, the televised version includes things besides the actual parade-- Broadway dancers, corny commentary, street interviews, and pre-recorded musical performances-- but we love it anyway because it says Thanksgiving to us and it is tradition.  My kids have never believed in Santa, but they still stick around until the end of the parade to see Santa come into town on his sleigh.

For my kids, the highlight of the parade is the balloons. They try to spot Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon, Greg from  Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Red from Angry Birds. They look for classics, too, like Snoopy and Sonic the Hedgehog and Buzz Lightyear.

We discovered Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet this year.  Sweet is also the author of Some Writer which I read and recommended in October.  Both books have mixed-media  collage-style illustrations which I find fascinating and draw me in almost as much as the story {no pun intended!}.

Balloons Over Broadway is the biographical story of Tony Sarg, the puppeteer who designed the first large helium balloons for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  The balloons debuted at the 1928 Parade and were not "characters" like many of the balloons are today.  These first balloons, controlled by men holding long ropes, were shaped like zoo animals. Sarg called them "upside-down marionettes."  Sarg continued working with the Parade and did eventually collaborate with Walt Disney to design character balloons, including a Mickey Mouse balloon which made its first appearance in 1934.

The book also details Sarg's background as a child who "loved to figure out how things moved."  This aspect resonated with me, the mom of just such a child. Sarg used his curiosity and ingenuity to shape his career.

This is not a new book.  It was published back in 2011 which ironically is when I published a list of Thanksgiving-themed books that we loved at our house that year...and still love five years later. 

Click the square below for more Thanksgiving books!

What are your Thanksgiving Day traditions?
Do you watch the parade?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Acknowledging the Hard

This post is difficult to write, not because I'm nervous about how it will be received, but in the sense that my words may be construed to mean something else entirely.  I believe what I'm about to say is true, but it is not an excuse to wallow in pity or make excuses for ourselves.

We need to acknowledge the hard. 

I've admitted that life with a baby is hard, but this year has been hard in other ways, too. Buying a vehicle made finances a little tighter.  We started high school and had a bumpy start with our chosen curriculum.  In fact, we're still smoothing the bumps.  We've had to do extensive training, talking, and praying with two of the kids who have relationship issues with each other.  Another child has struggled with attitude over schoolwork. Brian has worked long hours.

I hesitate to share, even with my real-life friends. It's not necessarily pride or wanting people to see me as having it all together, but it is knowing there are people going through things far worse than what I'm going through.  And is it disloyal to my kids to say that their activities, growth, exuberance-- their very existence--  make some days difficult?   I choose this life, didn't I?

I believe it is important to acknowledge that what we are experiencing is hard.  We don't need to brush it off and paint a rosy picture for ourselves.  We need to understand that yes, this is hard.  The path I'm walking every day is not easy mentally or emotionally or physically.  Even if I've chosen it, or even if I believe it is precisely where God has placed me, it is hard

At the same time, I want to remember that hard is not the same as bad.  

"And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope." Romans 5:3-4 HCSB

One of my friends wrote recently about her strugges with singleness.  My mom wrote last year about the difficulties of walking the path of poor health with my dad 

God has given each of us hard things.  He says in His Word, "My grace is sufficient for you. for power is perfected in weakness."

Let's each of acknowledge our hard and then let His grace wash over us.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hospitality and Community, pt. 2

I mused about imperfect hospitality about a week ago and shared how it is so easy for me to come up with a list of excuses why it would be easier or better to avoid having people into our home.  I talked about why I've decided it is important despite my shortcomings and how our family fits guests into an already full schedule.

Today I want to take a few paragraphs to address one of my biggest hang-ups:
  How am I going to feed these people? 

The food

The food itself can be a big concern when you are pinching pennies (me!) or when you don't feel like a good cook (me, again!). I've found in most instances, guests want to help contribute to the meal so no one person is responsible for the cost or the planning. We hosted lunch guests this summer and ate simple dripped beef sandwiches with potatoes and a bowl of watermelon.  One family brought tomatoes from their garden to slice and another brought a pan of brownies. 

We had friends for dinner the day my water broke with Macie, too.  (What an adventure! You can read more about that here!)  That day I made ham and poppy seed sandwiches and our friends brought a fruit salad, and we ate before I headed to the hospital!

Another time we invited over friends with small kids so each family made two pizzas with a variety of toppings.  (I have a trick or two for baking pizza at home.) We baked all the pizzas in our oven and paired pizza slices with a big salad.

At the beginning of this month, friends came for dinner on a school night so I simmered a pot of  chicken and rice soup in the afternoon and made a pan of garlic and herb flat bread (a non-dairy variation of this recipe, using olive oil). One guest brought a salad and another assembled dessert and baked it in our oven after she arrived.  

We've also hosted people and served only snack foods.  I had a ladies' game party and offered desserts.  Ben invited friends over on his birthday morning and had donuts.

I served a walking taco bar to a group of hungry kids and teenagers. 

Feeding a crowd does not have to be expensive.  I employ a few go-to recipes that I am confident taste good and I use them over and over. (There are lots of food ideas on my blog if you dig into the recipe archives.)

Setting the table

Our dining room table holds eight and there are eight of us.  Macie uses a high chair so that only leaves one extra seat at the table.  Our solution is to serve the meal buffet style from the counter.  Usually the kids claim the seats at the table (often squishing in more than eight!), and the adults eat at the living room coffee table or on their laps.  Other times we switch it up and let the adults enjoy the table.  Once we borrowed a folding table and a few chairs so all sixteen people could score a spot at the table. 

And you know what?  If none of those ideas appeal, inviting just one person to fill that one empty spot at the table is still hospitality! 

What about the plates and glasses and silverware for extra people?  I bought an inexpensive set of white plates to supplement the dishes I already have. I use mix-and-match bowls and glasses, too. Nothing is a perfect match, but it all coordinates. Sometimes it is easier to use paper plates and plastic utensils. That is more than okay. Plus it eliminates the need to wash dishes when my guests go home

It doesn't have to be about food!

I always assume that hospitality equals feeding people, but if my goal is relationship, being together is more important than what we put in our mouths.  One spring we invited three other families over to dye Easter eggs with us.

Other times we've had people over just to talk and visit, or to take a walk.

...which leads to the next topic...

Who should I invite and what do we talk about?
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