What do you do with Santa?

When I was ten, I was already old enough to have stopped believing in Santa. Maybe because in the two years since my parent's separation and subsequent divorce, he'd never given me the only thing I really wanted--to have my dad in our lives.

So when I was hospitalized with pneumonia that Christmas, I wasn't expecting him to find me. But sometime in the middle of the night, I awoke to Santa and someone else next to my bed. I closed my eyes as quick as I could because I knew that Santa wouldn't leave you anything if you saw him.

When morning broke, there on the little table next to the bed was a stack of gifts that I knew wasn't from my family; they hadn't been to the hospital yet. (Somewhere I still have the heart-shaped tiger-eye necklace that was with those gifts.) For most of the rest of that day, I was happy to entertain the idea that maybe Santa really was real.

My family came to visit. I think I liked the attention from everyone and I definitely liked getting more (and better) presents than ever before.

Later, alone in my room again, I saw a nurse open the closet across the hall from my room. The closet held all kinds of toys, including a doll just like the one at my bedside that morning. I realized that Santa hadn't brought my gifts; they came from that closet.

I was a little sad to have my illusion evaporate, but it didn't ruin my life or make me question all the adults who went to such lengths to perpetrate the fairy tale upon innocent, trusting minds.

So when it comes to my own children, I'm ambivalent about the white-haired guy. We do a lot to make sure the kids understand what Christmas is really about. We've never told them about Santa, but culturally it's out there, so they can't really miss it.

Along with our Nativity focused stories, I have read them a book about Saint Nicolaus so they understand that even Santa gave gifts because he loved Jesus.

I don't want to be the mom with "those kids" who ruin holidays for their friends, so I haven't made a big deal about Santa being a story, but my replies to their questions and conversations tend to be very neutral.

Santa's never been to our house. Bug is nearly seven, but he's never been a fan. Boo is recently 4; when he saw Santa's House was opening the day after Thanksgiving, he put in his request for a visit. That was a first.

So this year, for the first time, "Santa" will be making an appearance at our house. The gifts the boys asked him for will be beneath the tree on Christmas morning. I won't say they're from Santa, but I'll let them believe for now if they want to. Their "Santa gift" will be topped with a Christmas ornament that shows Santa kneeling before Christ. One comes with this poem. (Scroll down to read poem.)

It's hard sometimes, finding a balance between telling our children the truth and letting them enjoy the fleeting days of childhood magic.

But I don't believe my faith was harmed any by those young days of tooth fairies and Easter bunnies (my grandfather faithfully nibbled on the carrots we left out) and Santa.

And this year, I'm going to let their imaginations ponder the possibilities while I present the Nativity and the wonder that it brings.

What do you do with Santa? I'd love to hear.


"Are we going to have presents for Christmas?" asked Bug as I tucked him in.

"I'm sure we will," I replied, still trying to keep the mystery. "Why do you ask?"

"Dad doesn't have a job yet." His answer alternately surprises me and makes me sad.

I assured him we'll have a nice Christmas; and we will. Most of their Christmas was taken care of months ago. New budget constraints mostly mean no last-minute excess, and that's not a bad thing by any means.

What's not such a good thing is that my six year old is even concerned about such matters. I think we've been pretty careful not to give the boys cause to worry about things.

We don't focus on what we don't have or can't do, and we don't have worrisome conversations in front of them. We don't really have worrisome conversations at all. We do trust in the Lord's provision and we're taking this transition one day at a time as we seek what He has next for us.

But contrary to what we so often hear about kids being 'resilient' and adaptable, I think kids observe more and internalize more and are shaped more by their childhood experiences than we give them credit for.

I know I was more aware of my own parents marital issues--both before and after their divorce--than they thought I was. And moving and changing schools and having an absent father and a difficult step-parent situation all impacted and changed me in ways that affect me still.

Life is hard. It's messy and imperfect and certainly not always fun or comfortable. And while part of me would love to give my kids an idyllic childhood with nothing but happy times and warm memories, I know that's not possible.

So I guess the most I can hope to do is reassure them that God loves us and takes care of us and things will be good, even if we can't always see what's ahead.

PS--I'm blogging at Exemplify Online today. We'd love if you'd drop by and get a new view of how important certain Christmas ornaments can be.

Tiny Tim said it Best...

In this season of transition, we've been away from home on Sundays as much as we've been home. So we haven't attended the same church twice since October. While I hope the vagabond days will be behind us soon and we'll find a fellowship to call our own, I have to say that I've actually enjoyed visiting different churches.

When you're on staff at a church, you seldom get to be away on weekends, let alone visit other churches in your community. And in our 'me' focused culture, I think it's easy for each church to begin to see itself as the only game in town.

In the past two months we've gone to church with different friends, we've visited churches out of town and attended the church where Boo goes to preschool so he could join his friends singing to the congregation.

And though they're man-made creations, I'm discovering that churches are as uniquely created as snowflakes and no two are the same. That they'd be as different as they are really hadn't occured to me.

The architecture is different, the demographics are different, the preaching is different, the singing is different, the communion customs are different.

Coming from a mainly non-denominational background, I have next to no experience in a liturgical church. But today, as I sang songs I didn't know, and stood up and sat down and responded back at designated intervals, I felt oddly comfortable.

The traditions may not be mine, but the focus of it all is the same. And because the focus is the same, for today, I belonged. My God. My people.

This time of year most of all, I am so glad to be truly experiencing Luke 2:10 "...good news of great joy...for all the people."

I am glad for you; wherever you are, whatever your traditions. There is something remarkable about belonging to the same vast, diverse family. So to quote a different kind of traditional Christmas tale, "God bless us! Every one!"

Christmas Story Book

Just a quick post today--I hope you're having a blessed December so far. I've been having fun adding ornaments to our NativiTree and reading through the month with the boys.

I've been trying to read a storybook that's relevant to the part of the Nativity story we're talking about. It's not easy; there are lots of books about the animals at the manger, but not so many about some of the key figures like Elizabeth or Joseph.

Yesterday I found a great book that fills some of those gaps. The Nativity Story by Geraldine McCaughrean has 10 short stories and includes Zechariah, Elizabeth, John, Joseph and others. It's the perfect addition to a collection of Christmas story books.

Keeping it about Christmas

I didn't grow up with many holiday traditions. By the time I was a teen, my mom was making Scottish shortbread to give away, and we did always spend Christmas Eve with my dad's side of the family and Christmas Day with my mom's, but that was really about it.

I want my boys to grow up with more entrenched memories than that. I still make shortbread to give away, and am the cookie mom for the boys classroom parties. We're still discovering local traditions like parades and pajama story-times and neighborhood light displays.

Beyond being simply memorable though, I want them to be aware that this is the one time of year that all across the world people pause to remember the birth of the most important baby ever.

I'm intentional about not setting up our tree until about mid-month so the gift repository doesn't become the focus of our decor. I do set up our various nativity sets, including a couple that are intended specifically for them to play with.

But my favorite tradition is our Advent NativiTree. Each day until Christmas morning, we open a door on our "Christmas House" Advent Calendar to discover an ornament that represents part of the Nativity story. The boys hang the ornament on a small tree and we read the corresponding portion of scripture. Then we read a Christmas storybook.

This year I've added a Christmas carol to the tradition. Tonight the Christmas house will reveal an angel ornament as we read about Gabriel appearing to Mary. Our carol will be "Of the Father's Love Begotten."

It surprises me every year how excited the boys get to see what's behind the door and to hang the ornament on the special tree. By the time we put up our regular tree, we'll have spent more than a week focusing on the real reason for the season, and the 'getting' of gifts takes a back seat (at least until later).

What do you do to help your family remember what Christmas is really about? I'd love to hear your traditions.

Thought I'd share this version of tomorrow's song, O Little Town of Bethlehem. YouTube has been a great way to share some of these traditional carols with the boys.

A Good Soak

I'm bringing back a post from last year (I'm not doing the cooking this year, so the 'brining a turkey' part doesn't apply, but the rest is relevant). Whatever your plans for this holiday, the next month or so can be really busy as we try to make sure everyone else has what they want/need. At the end of this post there's a recipe for bath salts; I hope you'll take the opportunity to take a bit of time to relax and pamper yourself. Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm brining a turkey for the first time this year. Alton Brown has long declared that it's the best--no, the only--way to get a really moist, flavorful turkey.

It's really counterintuitive to me. How can something that is used to dry things, also be used to make them moist? I mean, have you ever played with homemade playdough? The kind made with enough salt to preserve a side of beef for a cross-country trip in a covered wagon? That stuff does not moisturize my hands!

But nevertheless, when you add the right amount of salt to some water, and throw in some other spices for good measure, you get a juicy, sweet, turkey! (Who figures these things out?!)

The Bible talks about salt in a number of different places. One of my favorites is:

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." Colossians 4:6

It's estimated that there are more than fourteen thousand commercial uses of salt. There must be nearly as many effects of words. Words can inspire or undermine, affirm or tear down, motivate, destroy, manipulate, calm, stir up, persuade...the list goes on. It's easy to find parallels between the properties or uses of salt and the influence of words.

Salt is a flavor enhancer. Especially this time of year, this is probably the first use for salt that comes to mind. Salt, as a substance, doesn't actually do anything to the flavor of the food itself. The perception of "enhanced" flavor is a result of how it affects the tongue. The simple explanation is that it takes the senses of smell and taste to actually taste the flavor of foods (I'm sure you knew that). But did you know that when a salted food hits the tongue, it "wakes up" those taste buds and the brain then triggers the nose to start to work, which allows the flavor of the food to be sensed. The food has the same flavor whether it's salted or not, but the ability to distinguish the flavor is dependent upon salt.

Our words can do the same thing to our relationships with people.

When we first started dating, one of the qualities I most admired in Hubs was how he never intentionally said rude or unkind things. He once told me that he tried to measure his words by this standard, "Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?" The more time I spent around him, the more I found my own tendencies for sarcasm and put-downs changing. The words we choose can enhance our relationships or tear them down.

Salt sets dyes—in other words, it permanently reinforces color. Has anyone ever said something to you that "permanently reinforced" something you thought about yourself? Perhaps when you were young someone called you "chubby" and you've been fighting that as you grew up. (In my case, as a knobby-kneed youngster it was "puny-bones." No one ever calls me that anymore!) We are more likely to remember the negative things we're told, but words can also reinforce positive concepts.

I remember being in first grade learning my telephone number and address. I pointed out to Mrs. Walker that there was a "p-h" where the "f" sound was. She responded with enthusiasm, "That's right Mary. 'P-H' makes an 'f' sound! Very smart." Actually, I was kind of confused by that "p-h," but as a very shy and insecure 6 year old, her praise meant the world to me. For years I remembered Mrs. Walker as my favorite teacher because she was the first person to make me feel smart.

Salt melts ice. We know that salt is used to defrost ice on frozen roadways and keep it from freezing over again. A Japanese proverb expresses the thawing power of words, "One kind word can warm three winter months.”

Salt is necessary for life. Salt is a mineral and the only non-biological food that humans eat routinely. Salt is required in the nutritional and bodily processes of all animals, including humans. It is present in all our body tissues and fluids. Without salt these systems would eventually shut down, resulting in death. Here too, scripture offers a parallel:

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue." Proverbs 18:21

Whether you're doing the cooking this year or accepting someone else's hospitality, it's likely that some time in the next few weeks you'll find yourself in a situation where you might need a reminder to make sure your speech is "seasoned with salt" and always full of grace.

While you're shopping for ingredients for your famous pie or your favorite side dish, pick up the ingredients for these simple bath salts and then take some time to "brine" yourself.

As you measure these skin softening salts into your bath, think about measuring your words. When you soak in the fragrant water, think about ways to use your words to refresh the hearts of people in your life and allow His spirit to soften you on the inside. (And in this busy week, you certainly have my permission to have this experience with any bath salts you have access to.)

Basic Bath Salts
1 cup Epsom salts
1 cup coarse sea salt (you can often find both of these at dollar stores)
10-20 drops fragrance oil or essential oil
10 drops food coloring (optional)

Place the salts in a large bowl and mix well. Add the fragrance oil and food coloring and mix well. Allow to air-dry overnight, then pour your salts into a glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake every day for one week before packaging.
To Use: Draw a warm bath and add 1/4 cup of the fragrant salts to the running water.
Makes six to eight uses.

Happy(?) Holidays

"Why are you so tense?" Hubs asked as he slid past me in the kitchen.

"Did you see that?" I asked my husband. "Did you see the tight lips when she said that? I get so tired of the barbed comments all the time."

We'd been married several years but Hubs still didn't understand why family gatherings that should have been fun and festive always deteriorated into uptight and uncomfortable. My family wasn't the type to have obvious arguments. We excelled in subtle disapproval that, despite the fact I was well into my 30's, took me right back to childhood. And not in a good way.

For all the build up, I think many of our family holidays are like that. We go into the season with this expectation of smiling, appreciative faces around the table. Voices of gratitude and support sharing in meaningful conversation and hours of family fun, just enjoying one anothers company.

All too often though, the pressures of the preparations make us snappy, the troubles of travel make us tired and the unfortunate reality of the whole thing can be a big let down.

I posted one perspective of having a flawed family at Exemplify last week. I know that even if we learn to be thankful for the family we've been given, it can still be a trial to spend these moments of high expectation with them.

Here are a couple of tips that might help if your holidays are sometimes less than joyous gatherings:
  • Resolve not to take the bait. My family made snide comments so subtle that casual observers would miss the dig entirely. I finally decided not only not to respond in kind, but not to react in the first place. The remark would fall on the floor and the conversation could carry on in a new direction.
  • Rather than dreading the inevitable uncomfortableness, look for ways that you can bring new light into the situation. Find ways to serve from the heart--whether you are hostess or guest--busy yourself by making it a good experience for someone else. Play with children, get seconds or refills for others, find little things that will occupy you and remove you from the worst of it.
  • Pray for the people who bring the most drama with them. The act of praying for someone--even someone who stresses us out or causes us grief softens our heart toward them. Your prayers might not change the situation, but they may change you.

I'll spend the rest of the day in preparation for our holiday with family. I'll be praying for you as you anticipate your own celebration of God's goodness to us.

Never Left Out--5 Minutes for Faith

I'm blogging at 5 Minutes for Faith today. We'd love if you'd drop by.

Never left out: "...In the blogosphere we find ourselves competing for attention from people who have captured our fancy. We feel left out when they don't respond to the comments we leave them or when they don't visit us in return. When I start to feel that way, I try to remind myself of the reason I started blogging to begin with..."

Christmas in my Heart

Around the 'net and around the neighborhood, people are in varying degrees of Christmas preparations.

I know. I'm hardly in the Thanksgiving mindset yet and that's next week!

I'm not feeling particularly festive at the moment. Uncertainty does that to me.

I don't want to hear Christmas carols yet. It's a reminder that the year is nearly over and there's so much I planned but haven't accomplished.

I don't want to see Christmas decorations because I don't know whether I'll be unpacking ours to 'deck the halls,' or if I'll be packing them and everything else we own to move to who-knows-where.

And I don't really like the way Thanksgiving gets lost in between Halloween and Christmas and has been reduced to a day of 'carb loading' so people can get up (or stay up) in the middle of the night to begin a marathon day of shopping.

So no one would be more surprised than I when I visited the Christian bookstore, shopping for writing inspiration, and I didn't get past the children's Christmas book display.

As part of our Advent Nativitree tradition, I like to have a Christmas book to read to the boys each night. I'm trying to build a collection of books so I have one that corresponds to each aspect of our custom. So I had fun choosing some new books to fill some of the gaps (and right now some of last years books are still on clearance!).

I got excited thinking about adding to the experience this year now that Bug is old enough to read the scripture each night.

And I realized that I don't have embrace the commercial aspects of the season to have a heart that's ready to be filled with the anticipation of celebrating the coming of our Savior. In fact, maybe one is easier without the other.

So, ready or not, Merry Christmas! From my heart to yours.


Follow me to Exemplify Online

I'm excited to be one of the contributing bloggers to Exemplify Online Magazine's new Family Channel blog. My first entry goes up today; it's a children's devotion complete with an activity to help communicate the message to kids. I hope you'll take a look at today's devotion and check out the other great things going on at Exemplify.

I'll be contributing every-other Friday or so. Check back on the 20th for an entry that might help you head into Thanksgiving week with a new perspective on family matters, along with a new recipe that would be a great addition to your holiday dinner.

(I've been) Gone but (you're) not forgotten...

It's hard to believe it's been more than a month since my last post. But, considering the month it's been, it's not entirely unbelievable.

I didn't forget about finding my 'joy moments,' but I couldn't bring myself to log in and type them.

I realized yesterday that it isn't that I've been too busy (although it was a very full month with 3 birthdays, 1 anniversary, 4 pumpkin farm visits, 2 class parties, 1 kiddie party, the end of a job, several trips out of town to talk about possible jobs...it's been hard to find a routine).

The real issue is that I intend for this to be a place of refreshing for my friends who stop by. And I've discovered that sharing moments of refreshing has to come from a heart that is refreshed. Some of the events of the last two months have drained me to the point that there hasn't been an overflow to share from.

God has been faithful to meet my needs and I haven't actually felt depleted, but I think it's been a (hopefully brief) season of needing to soak in and not worry about giving out. That's not an easy place for me to be, and it's taken me a good while to see it.
It helps to remember this:
LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;
you have made my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I have set the LORD always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body will also rest secure...
You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:5-9, 11)
I am hoping that a new month will bring renewed 'refreshment,' especially as we enter this holiday season that can be so draining, but really should be a time of rejoicing and 'being filled' (and I don't mean our tummies or our closets or other gift-related places).

Maybe, to get the ball rolling, you could share with us "What has refreshed you most in the past month?" or "What refreshment do you have to look forward to as we enter the holiday season?"

I'll give it some thought and be back to answer too.

Today's Joy Moment--Off he goes

I need to get caught up from the last few days (it's been a busy week), but today's TJM didn't really require words:

What was your joy moment?

Today's Joy Moment--"Just Kidding"

Bug was on his way out the door to school this morning when he turned around, with all the seriousness a first-grader can muster.

"Happy Birthday," he said.

I blinked in surprise in response.

Then he dropped his chin, peered up from under his lashes while the left corner of his mouth crept up into his characteristic crooked grin.

"Just kidding!" and he skipped off to the car.

I love seeing his sense of humor develop--and knowing that he's aware that my birthday is actually tomorrow!

5 Minutes for Faith--Blind Man's Bluff

My dad lost an eye recently due to an infection that wouldn't heal and three (yes 3!) corneal transplants that wouldn't heal. Now he's got macular degeneration in his remaining eye. His field of vision grows smaller and fuzzier almost by the day. So he's having to find new ways of navigating in a world that he can see less and less of.

My physical eyesight is ok (as much as it can be 'for my age'), but we're walking through one of those valleys (or, as Holley Gerth described today, an alley) that is rather narrow and kind of dark and next to impossible to see where the next footstep will fall. I can empathize with my dad's circumstances from a spiritual perspective. I blogged about it today at 5 Minutes for Faith. Would love it if you'd hop over and check it out.


Today's Joy Moment--A Listening Ear

Do you have days where you feel like no one really listens to you? (If you're a mom with small kids I know you do!) I have enough of them that I don't really pay much attention to the fact, but every once in a while, when someone really listens, it stands out.

Today was one of those days. Hubs was meeting with someone and I had the chance to stop by and say hello. I wasn't supposed to stay--I didn't intend to stay. But he asked a couple of well-timed, pointed questions and actually listened to my answers. It was lovely.

But even more than that (other writers will get this part especially), he asked specifically about projects I'm working on. And he got excited about them. And really engaged me in conversation about them. That was a big joy moment for me. Those moments tend to be isolated to the couple of writers conferences I go to every year (and it's months until the next one!). It was a unique pleasure to talk writing to someone who isn't part of that world, but was genuinely interested.

Has someone given you a sincere listening ear lately? What was your Joy Moment today?

Today's Joy Moment

Working on the first BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) lesson for the year.
Looking forward to getting to know Jesus better through the eyes of John.
Grateful that God, His love and His word are consistent even (especially?) when others/circumstances are not.
What was your joy moment today?

Today's Joy Moment

Saturday morning cartoon lap-time and wrestling with my 3 year old.

What's yours?

A Very Disney Life

How's life been treating you?

In the great amusement park of life, are you on the predictable ups and downs of a merry-go-round, or are you spinning like a tilt-a-whirl? Is your life a casual cruise around "It's a Small World," or, like mine, is it full of slow climbs, rapid drops and whiplash-inducing twists and turns of "Thunder Mountain?"

I have to say there's been a lot of that lately (and the older I get the less I like roller coasters!) But even when the floor drops out of my "Haunted Mansion," there are still moments of joy. And when life gets busy or difficult I don't notice them as much as I should.

I learned this about myself a few years ago when I was going through a rough patch. I decided to keep track of ways that I saw God's presence in my life. I wanted to be more mindful of Him on a day to day basis, even when I wasn't 'feeling it.' So I started to write down my observations every day. Eventually, I didn't have to sit and reflect to find proof of God in my life, I caught the moments as they happened.

If you follow my posting schedule at all lately, you'll probably be able to tell when I get overwhelmed or overscheduled and can't give my blog (or lots of other things) the attention I'd like to. The trials of the day consume my time and energy and I don't have enough left for the things I want to give it to. So, I'll keep going with my devotional/refreshmoments posts as I can, but I'm going to start something new.

I am going to try to do a "Today's Joy Moment" post. I won't commit to doing it every day, but I'll make a good effort.

And you're invited to join me. When you catch one of those little things that might slip by unrecognized, take note of it and post it here. Your observations will help me see different things that I can be grateful for and might encourage someone else too. And the best thing that comes from intentionally looking for the joy moment in each day? Soon it becomes a habit. And the more joy you notice, the more joyful you'll feel--even when life seems otherwise.
So, let's get started.

Today's Joy Moment

Watching my three year old hit the ball with his dad. No tee, just a simple pitch and a really good swing. His natural ability amazes me and his own delight at connecting with the ball is a total joy moment.

What was your joy moment today?

By Chance?

Sea dragon


Funny bottom-feeding fish that looks dead
but actually lies flat with eyes on his 'side.'

"Hammer-eyed" shark
(as my kids used to say)

All, courtesy 'primordial ooze.'


Fruit worth the thorns

(Warning--alliteration alert ahead. Sorry, I just couldn't help myself. It wasn't intentional, but the following post is fairly dripping with it!)

One of the highlights of our trip to the NW was a quintessential small-town evening at a farm on Sauvie Island.

In the summer, the fields are full of fruits and flowers. And on this particular July evening, there was a bluesy band performing under the pergola while people picnicked on the lawn.

It was an enchanting evening; just warm enough to be comfortable. The farm was beautiful in the dwindling daylight. We got to spend the evening with dear friends we hadn't seen in more than two years.

The kids had a blast running up and down the rows of sunflowers,

dancing to music so old it's new again,
and raiding the berry bushes for the remnants of the raspberries.

I have always LOVED raspberries. I think heaven will be filled with delights we can't begin to imagine, but I think raspberries will be on the menu too.

One of the things that puts them in my 'semi-precious berry' category is the effort it takes to collect them. They're small and delicate, requiring a gentle touch when plucking from the vine.

And then there's the thorns. They're kind of tiny too, when compared, say to rose thorns. But dang, those things are plentiful and pokey. I think the berries are all the more prized as a reward for the wounds suffered in the quest. The quantity collected is often in direct proportion to the tolerance of scratching.

So imagine my delight when I discovered these particular berry fields contained thornless raspberries! Who knew?! It made it easier to set my kids loose knowing I wasn't going to deplete my bandaid stash patching them up. Even so, I still tended to approach the bushes gingerly; as though there were sneaky thorns hiding, just waiting for their chance to snag me.

Sometimes I approach people like I did those bushes. It isn't pleasant to encounter prickly people (I know I am guilty of being that way too). Once wounded, it's natural to avoid a repeat, even with the promise of something delectable. So even if the pokey parts aren't visible, I keep my distance, gingerly moving around to prevent getting snagged.

Even when the thorns stick right out where they can be seen, they may be protecting something sweet and precious. Like a young raspberry start, people aren't born with thorns. They develop over time--often to guard the tender fruit that would otherwise be subject to pests and predators. By offering genuine care and friendship, it's possible to transform the prickly person into one that offers all the sweetness without the hazards.

I want to make the effort to see the unique gift of each person; to risk a poke here and there when I can see thorns and harvesting wholeheartedly when offered the fruit of true friendship.

Summer Pudding
This is one of the simplest desserts ever, but it's ohhh so yummy! (And relatively healthy even!) It's the perfect thing for these last lazy days of summer when the fruit is at its finest and you want something that highlights their sweet deliciousness without a lot of fussing or pretense.

10 to 12 slices fine textured white bread
2 quarts (8 cups) mixed fresh fruit (or thawed frozen fruit)
2 cups sugar (approx. 1/4 cup for each cup of fruit)

Rinse fruit under cold water, remove any stems or unripe fruit and drain well. Over low heat, mix fruit and sugar, stirring gently until sugar is dissolved and juice is formed. Set aside to cool.

Remove crusts from bread slices. Trim one piece into circle to fit bottom of 2-quart deep bowl or charlotte or pudding mold. Fit other slices of bread around sides of bowl, not overlapping, but not leaving any gaps.

When fruit has cooled, spoon a little of the juice over bottom of mold. Carefully fill the mold with the fruit, and pour the rest of the juice into the mold.

Cover top of fruit with remaining slices of bread cut to fit the bowl. Fit a flat plate or saucer inside top edge of mold, resting on the pudding. Place a heavy can or weight on top. Refrigerate overnight.

To unmold, carefully run a thin knife around the inside of the mold, and turn onto a serving plate. Slice and serve with lots of fresh whipped cream and more berries/fruit.

An encouraging word

A couple of weeks ago I took the boys to the train museum to meet up with friends we haven't seen in a long time. I wanted to have a good visit with her while our four boys were entertained with train rides and handcar excursions and train stuff, but it was one of those days where the mischief (of mine) outweighed the merriment and was wearing me down.

As we toured the sleeper and dining cars, Bug rushed ahead and we got separated as another family climbed in behind him. Boo was chomping at the bit to catch up, but I was trying to get him to stay with me. Have you seen the narrow aisles on a train? The group ahead of us was an elderly couple and their adult son--who walked with a limp.

I dreaded the outcome of Boo crashing through the train, knocking his good leg from under him and setting the older folks a-wobbling.

"Your children are beautiful," said the man as he tried to inconspicuously grasp the seat to keep from being toppled by my tots.

"Sometimes I wish their attitudes matched their appearance," I replied with a sigh.

He watched them dart around, "They made my day," he smiled.

He departed, pausing to thank the docent for his hospitality (as he had all the others as well) while I tried to keep them from crashing into the tables of rare railway china. But his comment stayed with me. Honestly, I think he was far too kind under the circumstances. But in an otherwise exasperating day, his remarks were a bright spot nonetheless.

I posted at 5 Minutes for Faith recently and shared another experience where someone expressed a kind thought that was the exact opposite of how I was feeling at the moment. Both of these experiences have me thinking...there are so many times when I think something positive or complimentary about someone but I keep it to myself.

I don't know why, exactly.

Maybe a bit of residual fear of talking to strangers. Maybe reluctance to get caught up in a greater conversation when I really only want to comment and run.

Seeing our train friends' kind smile and his expressed delight in my children when they were anything BUT delightful at the moment helped relieve some of the tension I was feeling. Which led to a better day for all of us.

I'm sure he's gone on and doesn't remember the moment at all. Maybe he's the kind of guy who says so many kind things to so many people that he wouldn't remember our incident from all the others.

But I do.

And the next time something kind occurs to me, I hope I can overcome my shyness or insecurity and just say it. It's a really small way to 'pay it forward.'

"Here comes da judge!"

Once upon a time I did consider a career in law. And I have been told I missed my calling when my 'overdeveloped sense of justice' kicks in. Every once in a while though I get the opportunity to play judge (like in Mrs. Nieschultz' 5th grade class when we were learning about the judicial system and did a mock trial).

This one is a lot more fun though. My sweet friend Julie Carobini writes wonderfully 'beachy' books. (I am completely envious that she gets to hang out in some of my favorite coastal towns soaking in the atmosphere as 'research.')

In honor of her latest release, her publisher, B&H, is having a contest. The prize is two Adirondack chairs similar to the ones on the cover of Julie's book "Sweet Waters." All you have to do is take a photo of where you'd put the chairs, and email it to B&H. You can find all the details here.

And here's the fun part (for me). I get to help judge the contest! It's not about right and wrong, and won't do anything about that sense of justice, but hey! I do love being asked for my opinion, so it still scratches an itch for me!

So snap away and send in a photo. You might not live near the beach, but maybe you can sit in one of these cool chairs, read one of Julie's books and imagine yourself there on the sand, the waves lapping at your feet. Ahhh...what a great way to end the summer!

Getting it right

This parenting business is Hard.

I always knew it would be. That was part of the reason we waited so long to start a family. I honestly wasn't sure I'd be up to the task.

Now that we're 6 1/2 years in, sometimes I feel like I have more days when I miss than get it right. Every once in a while though, it all comes together and I know I got it right.

The boys were being their typically rambunctious selves after church, so I suggested they go run around outside instead of tearing across the platform or up and down the aisles. My parting shot as I prepared to follow them, "and no playing with the rocks!"

So, as I rounded the corner to head out the door, what do I see through the glass panel? Bug grabbing a handful of landscape gravel and scattering it across the sidewalk!

Normally I'd end up shouting after him, "Hey! I said no rocks!" But in one of those rare flashes of wisdom, I said "You're going to have to clean that up." I got an over-the-shoulder, "Ok," as he scampered off.

I located a broom and retrieved him from the playground to sweep the gravel back into the border. He didn't do it perfectly, (he is only 6), but it was one of those times he got to see the natural consquences of his disobedience.

It wasn't a big thing, but for at least that moment of the day, I thought, "Hey! Maybe there's hope for me after all!"

I bet you've had a moment like that recently too. A simple situation, no fanfare, no pats on the back; just one instance in a day that might have been otherwise frustrating, annoying or just ordinary, where you knew you got it right. The right word of encouragement, the right correction, the right life-lesson. A confidence-building moment for you as a mom. Share it here, tell a friend...make note of it and give yourself the credit you deserve.

5 Minutes for Faith--Wilting in the Shade

Mom Blogs
I'm posting today at 5 Minutes for Faith. I'd love if you'd stop by and let me know if you get enough 'natural light' in your spiritual life, or do you settle for 'artificial illumination?'

"I want what I want."

After a full day of fun summer-vacation things--free movie at the theater, meeting Hubs for lunch, a train ride through the forest (twice) and an unexpected bonus dinner with Grandma and Grandpa--you'd think (at least, I did), that the kids might be tired and cooperative.

Well, their energy seems to know no bounds, but their obedience definitely does. And I get tired of the sound of my own voice "Stop that!" "Come here!" "Don't!" "Quit!" "Time out!!!"

During the short visit with my parents I had to sit between the boys because I couldn't get them to stop wrestling at the booth. I couldn't get Boo to say "Sorry" to my mom when he stepped on her foot. Bug went dashing across the lawn (which was ok) and then crashing through the bushes (which was not) straight toward the 8-lane road on the other side--all the while completely ignoring my tactful, peaceful instructions to "STOP! GET OUT OF THE BUSHES! COME BACK HERE! NOW!!!"

At that point I gave up. I buckled them into their car seats and went to my parents car across from us to get something from my mom. Next thing I know, both boys are unbuckled (only Bug can do that) and they've opened the door of the van and are headed into the parking lot. And thus ended our visit.

Although the mayhem didn't end there. Boo wandered off in a store and didn't answer when I called--loudly; I'll spare you the play-by-play because I know you have other things to do today.

That evening at bedtime with Bug, I was reviewing just how disobedient a day it was.

M-"Did you hear me yelling at you to stop?"
M-"Why didn't you stop then?"
B-"Sometimes I just want what I want." That pretty much explains it, doesn't it?
I gave him speech #27; the one about "I don't say those things to spoil your fun or just to keep you from doing something you want. Almost all the time when I tell you to stop, or don't, or no, it's to keep you safe or keep you from making a mistake. Sometimes I can see that what looks like a good idea to you is actually going to be a bad thing."

I shouldn't be surprised at it any more, but it still catches me off-guard when God uses my own voice to lecture me. How often do I disregard His warnings--"Don't watch that, it's only going to lead to discontent." "Don't eat that, it's going to undermine your efforts to be healthier." "Don't read that, it will set up unrealistic expectations..." Those are some of the little things, but there are certainly bigger ones as well.

He doesn't send me these prompts to spoil my fun. On the contrary, His warnings are always because He can see the big picture. And in His desire for me to have all the best, He wants to keep me from the things that will take away from that.

Lord, help me replace my "I want what I want," attitude with "I want what You want for me."

Not a Pretty Picture

I put on my best Super-Nanny impression, "Do you know why you got a time out?" I asked my six year old.

His summary for the punishment for using the window-painting kit after I specifically said, "Not right now," caught me off guard.

"Because I didn't make a beautiful picture?"

He completely overlooked the mess on the walls and curtain and window, not to mention the plain old disobedience he and his brother exhibited. But it kind of broke my heart to hear that he thought I was upset that his artistic efforts didn't meet my expectations.

It was another of those moments where my mom-heart got a glimpse of my Father's heart.

How often do we try and try to "make pretty pictures" to please Him and mistakenly feel the same way when our efforts fall short, when in truth, it's really the sin/evil/wrong in our hearts that grieve and displease Him.

I recently wrote an article about holiness (for the August issue of Exemplify Online). One of the overarching themes I found as I studied the topic is that it isn't our actions that keep us from God's approval, it's our hearts.

It's not that we don't serve in church enough or feed the homeless enough, or read the Bible or pray enough. The problem comes when we do those things looking for brownie points. We serve to look good to those around us. We study the Bible so we can have all the answers with our study group or because we feel like God will look on us with more favor when we do.

In the process, we miss the point that He probably wouldn't care if each day we got nothing more done than feeding our children and keeping them from harm if we do it from a heart of stewardship over the lives He's entrusted to us and the weighty responsibility to raise them "in the fear and admonition of the LORD."

We take our very human tendency to be people-pleasers to an extreme and apply it to our relationship with God too. But in the same way I wasn't concerned with the "beauty" of my sons' artistic attempts, God isn't concerned with the statistics of ministries we lead or hours logged in study.

A friend recently summed it up, "God doesn't care about what we do as much as He cares about who we are." Couldn't have said it better myself!

(Now, does anyone know how to get window paints off walls, curtains and aluminum window frames?)

A warm welcome to Exemplify Online readers! I'd love to know if you stopped by from the magazine.

And to my faithful friends and followers, I'm back from various trips that kept me offline. I'll be doing a much better job keeping up with things around here--there'll be more kids' devotions and recipes, book reviews, and a modified Ruby Tuesdays will return in September. I look forward to reconnecting with you here and at your place(s). I've missed you!

I'm an IBM in a Mac World

We're out of town and I'm having unanticipated connection issues. (Who knew there was such a thing as a Mac-only network?). So I can't get online at random moments like I'm used to doing. I promise I haven't forgotten you (thank you for stopping by despite my sporadic updates lately!). I will be back full strength very soon! In the meantime, I hope you're having truly blessed summer days.


Mommy Meltdown

It's not pretty.

And no, it wasn't even directed at my kids. Another parent pushed probably my most sensitive button today. The "Your kid's a monster and mine is perfect," button.

See, I KNOW my kids are not perfect. And while I do try diligently to get them to behave as closely to that ideal as I can, I am completely aware of their flawed, human nature. (How could I not be when I am so acutely aware of mine and I know that in large part they are little replicas of me?)

But what I also know is that other kids are NOT perfect either. And I know that in a dispute between a 3 year old (mine) and a 6 year old (not mine) there are certainly two perspectives and two accounts and the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Also keeping in mind that I was watching said altercation and I did see mine (not perfect) jump over [not mine]. What I did NOT see was Mine hitting [not mine].

When I saw Mine jump over [not mine] I went to the play structure to instruct Mine to stop jumping as there were now too many kids to do that safely.

Mommy Meltdown began when parent of [not mine] came to tell me Mine hit [not mine] (which I did not see,) and that Mine "needed to come down for a time out." When I responded that I was watching and didn't see Mine hit [not mine] I got a patronizing, "Mine doesn't lie." When I further responded that I was watching and didn't see the 3 year old hit the 6 year old, but that, "I'm handling it," Mr. Smug only got more patronizing.

Now see, when my kids do something that I didn't witness, I don't typically take a third-hand testimony (otherwise known as 'hearsay') of what happened over 1) my own personal witness of the situation and 2) my own child's testimony of the situation. And I NEVER let the hearsay party dictate the where, when and how of any discipline that the situation may require.

But, when I couldn't get Mine's attention enough to communicate clearly, I told both of Mine to come down; that we were going to leave. When I asked if Mine hit [not mine] he told me no, and that [not mine] had stepped on him.

Now, I am working to get him to understand that it doesn't matter what someone else does and whether it was on purpose or not, you don't put your hands on someone else--even as a matter of protecting yourself (under those kinds of playground collision incidents. We'll get into the defending yourself against bullies and such when he's old enough to under the difference between accidental and intent to harm, etc).

I should have stopped there and left, but my 'overdeveloped sense of justice' couldn't leave well enough alone and I decided to tell [not mine's] dad that before he leaps to conclusions and tells other people how to handle things, it might be good to get some context. (As in, my 3 year old was responding to being stepped on by the 6 year old which got left out of [not mine's] version of the story.)

More patronizing; new claims of witnessing the situation; more insinuations that [not mine] and siblings are above reproach, mine are out of control monsters and I suck as a mom. At least that's how it felt.

So, my apologies to:

  • [not mine's] dad for my parting shot about your kids being perfect and my kids being monsters and that's why we're leaving. And my further apologies (after your smug nod) for my final remark that "it must be nice to have such perfect children; I hope they stay that way." My actual hope is that you see your children for the flawed human beings they are so that they don't grow up with an unfortunate sense of entitlement.
  • My kids. I DON'T think you're 'monsters' and today, I don't even think you did anything especially wrong. I am sorry [not mine's] dad pushed my buttons and turned me into the Mommy-monster.
  • Parents I encounter in the future who may take it upon themselves to tell me when and how to discipline my kids for an incident that you didn't see. I am all for being told about something that I didn't see, but if I am already handling a situation, giving me additional information might be helpful; bossing me around will not be.
  • Hubs--just in case [not mine's] dad is someone you cross paths with in a work context or something; I don't think I gave Mr. Smug the best impression.

"I just like you"--5 Minutes for Faith

Mom Blogs
"Can I sit in your lap?" Three and a half year old Boo came to the bathroom door while I took advantage of Hubs day off to be leisurely about lather and lotion....

Please join me at 5 Minutes for Faith to read about why we shouldn't outgrow 'lap time.'

Off the beaten path

A bit ago I posted some pictures from our trip to the coast. The ones from the boardwalk/wharf weren't unexpected; the boys wanted to hear the sea lions before we went home, and we knew what we'd find there.

But the train tracks, the two (completely opposite) bike shops right next to each other, even the great little Starbucks tucked back off the road were not expected. They're all on a road that I've been on before. I haven't lived in that area for years, but I used to work less than a mile from that spot. But I didn't know any of those things were there.

Even so, we didn't intend to be there. We only stopped because Boo was falling asleep and we were trying to postpone that in hopes of salvaging some sort of civilized bedtime.

So we took the first exit off the freeway and stopped at the first place that looked like we could entertain the troops long enough to get them to stay awake for the rest of the trip.

And that's where we found all those other delightful surprises. I've been on plenty of trips like that in the past, and I love finding something I didn't expect to find because I've landed someplace I didn't expect to land. Some family members are a little harder to convince though.

I'm all about the journey. Yes, it's good to get where we're going, but sometimes a detour can be filled with delights that more than makes up for the annoyance of getting 'off track.'

Are you all about the destination? Do you prefer to stick to the designated path, aiming to get where you're going, no matter what interesting things can be found along the way? Do you take the time to look out the windows and notice the scenery?

Summer days can be the perfect time to make a plan and then get off the path and see what surprises you may have otherwise missed.

Have you had any memorable detours? Have you set off on a path not knowing where it would take you in the end? What was the best surprise you've found in a place you didn't expect to be?

"...I feel His pleasure"

I'm blogging at 5 Minutes for Faith today.

Mom Blogs

My six year old was born to run. Since he was a toddler, I've loved to see him break into a sprint (which is nearly any time there's a distance to cover of more than 10 feet). In his mind, he's usually imagining himself as a train of some sort, but I see a future track star.

Please check out 5 Minutes for Faith for the rest of this post.

Help yourself

"I want my mommy!"

Not an uncommon refrain during VBS, but this time it came from a young friend of ours who was visiting our program. "There's too many people here that I don't know! I want to go home!"

Little H, fresh from kindergarten didn't realize that two thirds of the other kids didn't know anyone when they'd arrived either. She and Bug (the only other child she knew in her class) had gotten separated at some point and she didn't want to get to know anyone new, she just wanted her mom to come get her.

I tried to call her mom, but didn't reach her. The newly-minted first graders were having snack (which is where I've been serving during VBS), so I let her stay with me at the snack station while waited for her mom to call.

After a few minutes she asked if she could help me pour the lemonade for the next group of kids. She quit worrying about the call as she busied herself making sure she filled each cup just enough, but not too much.

By the time snack was done, she had composed herself and I convinced her to join her class for craft time.

I realized that H had hit on something that many of us--years older--don't always realize. Instead of sitting and fretting over her situation, she got busy doing something. Her act of helping me made her feel useful and less lonely.

It got me thinking that the same thing that worked with H might work for grownups when we're lonely or sad and 'want to go home.'

  • If we're lonely, we can be a friend to someone.
  • If we feel unimportant, we can make someone else feel special.
  • If we feel out of place, we can find a way to serve.
  • If we're sad, we can cheer someone up.

When we take our eyes off our own situation, we often lose sight of what was troubling us in the first place.

A change of scenery...

I have to apologize for not being very good at updating the blog lately. Yeah, things have been busy, but more than anything, my brain hasn't been running on the inspired side.

Sometimes all it takes to clear the cobwebs though is a change of scenery. We took a little trip to the coast to celebrate Father's Day and my dad's birthday. I didn't take many pictures as the batteries on my "good" camera were dead; but here's a little of what I saw. There was something for everyone in the family:

Tracks for the train lover

A high-end bike shop for Hubs (in a completely unexpected location).

A dirt bike that was just the right size for Boo (and that's as far as he's going on one for a looooong time!)

And sun, sand and sea creatures for me!

But even better, in a really short timespan, God gave me several thoughts that I'm excited to share with you in the coming days. (And next time I'm feeling stuck, I'm going to head west to the salt air and seagulls and see what He brings to mind.)
Where do you go when you need inspiration/to be refreshed?

No more goodbyes

Mom Blogs

I hate goodbyes. You'd think I'd be better at it at this point in my life–I've had lots of practice. It started when I was little. We moved enough that I never attended the same school for more than 2 years until I reached college...

Stop by 5 Minutes for Faith to read the rest of the story.

Kick up your heels...

This used to be a cow town. That's not an insult, it's a fact. But the cattle ranches have been largely replaced by vineyards. And someday the high school mascot will be "The Vintners" or "Sommelier." But, once a year they go all out to remember the cowboy roots and celebrate the start of summer.

The young...

the youthful...

Even the horses dance here.

Real cowboys...
there's a clown in every crowd...

Take some time to kick up your heels this summer!
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