December 27, 2017

What Your Hurting Friend Might Really Mean When She Says She's "Okay"

Oh, mama. I have such a heart-wrenching number of people in my life who have experienced trials and grief and loss lately.

Some of the losses are due to literal, physical death—unexpected, too-soon passings of people my sweet friends cannot imagine life without.

Some of the losses, though, have been caused by other kinds of death: the death of dreams or hopes or expectations of what would or could or should be. I’ve tried to check in with these women as they’ve journeyed through their seasons of sorrow—and admittedly, have done an unsteady job of it. Often, when I’ve asked how they are, they’ve answered, “I’m doing okay.” By which I understand they do not necessarily really mean "okay.”

From what I can glean from these brave friends and from my own experiences in OK-land, “I’m doing okay,” is sometimes just the easiest, most socially acceptable way of communicating, “I’m not good or fine. I’m something else, something complicated and messy that I’m not even sure about myself.”
I don’t pretend for one second to fully grasp what my friends mean when they say they’re “doing okay.” But I'm so honored to be over on Her View From Home, sharing a few possibilities that seem like they might honor the truth...

**This post may have been shared at some of these link parties.**

December 14, 2017

How We Accidentally Started a New Family Christmas Tradition

Once upon a Christmastime, there was a busy mom who had A LOT to get done on Christmas Eve Day. She needed her children to be occupied with something that did not require her involvement, oversight, or assistance, so she suggested they plan an at-home Christmas Eve service for their family that night. 

The children disappeared into the playroom, and the mom disappeared into the kitchen. The mom got her work done, and later that night, the children “invited” their parents to a candlelit service in their living-room-turned-sanctuary. The whole thing turned out to be the best Christmas gift since the original Christmas Gift, and everyone lived (mostly) merrily ever after.

Of course, the mom in this little yuletide tale is me, and the children are my now-teenage daughters. What has become our traditional at-home family Christmas Eve service truly was born this way. I just threw the “go plan a Christmas Eve service” suggestion at my daughters without really expecting much. But year after year, they’ve surprised and delighted us with hand-written “programs” and welcome signs and decorative lighting and instrumental duets and readings and raps and dances and videos.

If you’re hoping to start a new family tradition that will become a classic, head on over to Confessions of Parenting, where I'm honored to be sharing a few things I learned from our very accidental success.

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

November 27, 2017

10 Things You Might Not Know You Need This Christmas

Happy Christmas season! 

But enough with the preliminaries. 

I know you've got a list a mile long and about two seconds to spend on this page. I'm honored you're here at all, so I'll try to make it worth your while in a hurry.

1. If you need an alphabetical assortment of stocking stuffer suggestions: try this joint-effort list my girl Lisa the Syncopated Mama and I put together last year.

2. If you need a festive-looking gelatin salad with no weird chunks of anything in it: this Cherry Applesauce Salad made with fruit juice and unsweetened applesauce and one surprise ingredient that I PROMISE works. But please know that if chunky molded salads are THE thing that makes your family's holiday complete, that's fine, too. My people just happen to prefer smooth, and this salad slips right down.

Cherry Applesauce Gelatin Salad {print}

1 3/4 cup water
2 packets plus 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (yes, this means you have to open three packets, but it really does make a big difference)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 12-oz can 100% juice apple-cherry frozen juice concentrate, thawed

Pour the water into a medium-sized saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over the surface; allow to stand for one minute to soften. Dump in the sugar and cinnamon candies and stir. Cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and the candies are melted. Do not boil. Remove from heat and stir in the juice concentrate, followed by the applesauce. Pour into a pretty serving bowl and refrigerate several hours until set. Serves 6-8

3. If you need a festive holiday dessert you can make waaaayyy ahead of time (like, yesterday): Peppermint Crunch Oreo Ice Cream Cake

4. If you need a way to get Christmas tree sap off your hands: hand sanitzer. (Yes, really.)

5. If you need a new warm fuzzy Christmas song: Mathew West's "A Christmas To Believe In." Best get some tissues first.

6. If you need a beautiful Christmas quote to read out loud around the table or just ponder in your heart: This. All this. From "10 Gifts We Can Receive From God This Christmas," by Alicia Yoder

7. If you need a real-life way to stay close to Jesus this season (and in the new year and, well, forever): the Daily TruthBytes for Moms app. Short devotionals, words from the Word, prayer paths...all delivered right to your phone. No guilt, just good stuff from God from some moms who need it themselves and figure someone else might need it, too. If you're an Android user, just search "TruthBytes" in the app store; Apple users can follow this link:

8. If you need gifts that encourage and facilitate hospitality, especially if you, like me, are (ahem) "hospitality deficient": a hospitality planner or hospitality calendar from my friend Sue over at Welcome Heart

9. If you need simply gorgeous free printable gift tags that would make a gift of a roll of toilet paper seem lavish: these from Write Them On My Heart

10. If you need to refocus on what--Who--the season is really all about: this CHRISTMAS acrostic. What a beautiful name it is.

{click here for a printable version}

What might I not know I need this Christmas? 
Tell me in a comment, or hop on over to Facebook and leave a message there. 
And thanks for spending a few moments of your busy holiday season here. 

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

November 8, 2017

10 Possibly Weird Things I'm Oddly Thankful For

Thankfulness has been on my mind a lot lately, and not just because it's Thanksgiving season. Last fall and winter, I did a Bible study on the armor of God, and thanksgiving popped up there because it's pretty much the prerequisite to peace. If shoes are the peace in the suit of armor, the soles might be made of gratitude.

I'm thankful for all the usual (but not-to-be-taken-for-granted) things: my faith, my family, a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear. This list alone represents an embarrassment of riches I need to remember to be grateful for every single day.

But lately, a few more obscure targets of my appreciation have come onto my radar. Namely... 

1. Retractable vacuum cord. Watching my canister vacuum suck up the cord when I'm done using it thrills me every time I push the button. This either makes me really pathetic and in desperate need of an actual life or charmingly grateful for the little things. 

2. Notes and reminder features on my cell phone. Longtime Guilty Chocoholic Mama friends, please don't hate me for this, but it's true: I have upgraded from my dumb phone. I promise: I haven't crossed over! It's just that I have teenagers who drive and are out past dark, and my old phone was not keeping me in adequate contact with these treasured people. Apart from the assurance of keeping up with my progeny, the things I love best about my upgraded phone are the "notes" and "reminder" features. Which are the new sticky notes in my life. I use them for mini grocery lists and texts I want to send later and blog post title ideas and (my personal favorite) Bible verses I'm either trying to memorize or just need to keep literally close at hand. (Psalm 5:3 is a current go-to.)

3. B&B Vanilla Bean Noel. Other than the fact that using this makes me want to eat my elbow, it's pretty much perfect.
4. That my 19-year-old still calls me "mommy" when she texts me. Except when she's mad at me. Which isn't very often. And is almost always justified.

5. Cherry Limeade Sparkling ICE. Vitamins, antioxidants, and puckery pick-me-up fizzyness with no calories. I'm pretty sure this is the most I could ask for from a beverage.

6. Toilet paper. I've often said I would have made an awesome pioneer woman on account of their limited wardrobe choices (fewer decisions to make) and limited social lives (see: introvert homebody). But I do greatly appreciate the modern convenience of toilet paper versus whatever they had to use. Which is probably enough said on that topic.

7. The load-size sensor on my washing machine. Several months ago, my old washing machine died after a mere 23 years of service. (It had been a wedding gift from my in-laws, so my husband and I felt rather smug that our marriage had outlasted our appliances.) I went looking for a new one that would wash my clothes; I did not need it to interpret the mood of my apparel or otherwise promise to change my life. I ended up with a agitator-free, front loader which, as it turns out, almost has changed my life. In keeping with the title of this post, I'm oddly grateful for the happy little song it plays when I turn on the power; I think the title is, "Now We're Going To Do Laundry...Won't This Be Fun?" But what I love the most is that I can throw in a load of whatever, close the door, and push start without having to decide if this is a small load...or a medium-ish load but with bulky stuff that could push it into large-load territory...or a small large load. No, I just get the thing going and leave the room while the machine takes its contents for a test spin to figure out how much water it needs to do the job. And then at the end, it chirps to tell me it's done, but only in a non-aggressive, "I know you'll probably ignore this until tomorrow morning which is why there's a 'rinse and spin' option, too" kind of way.

8. The online book request option at our local library. I'm standing in the kitchen. I suddenly think of a book I should read or need to read or want to read. I pop around the corner to my computer desk, log into my account at our local library's website, search for the book, request to have it sent to the branch closest to our house, and wait for a call telling me it's in. Really, a lot more of life needs to be this easy.

9. Electric pencil sharpener. Sometimes, it's the littlest things that wreak the biggest havoc on your emotional stability. Dull pencils are one of those little things for me. I want mechanical pencils to solve this problem, but they come with their own issues. So a few years ago, I broke down and bought an electric pencil sharpener for our home. I really don't think I can adequately describe the calming effect sharp pencils--and the assurance I can resharpen them ANY TIME I WANT TO--have on me. Maybe the best less-than-$20 I ever spent.

10. You, dear reader. If you are my mom, thank you. If you are one of my faithful readers and encouragers, thank you. If you are a new visitor to my little slice of the blog pie and are not sure how you ended up here and are not sure you're ever coming back, thank you. I don't think it is at all odd that I'm grateful for you, and I'm sure you are not weird, or at least not any weirder than I am. And anyway, everyone knows that weird is the new wonderful.

What are you (possibly oddly) thankful for? 
Tell me all about it here in a comment or over on my Facebook page
Maybe I should be thankful for it, too.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
Previous posts that might have something to do with this one:
31 Things I Love (That You Might Love, Too)

This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.

November 6, 2017

What My Children's Love Taught Me About God's

My daughter asked to take this picture with me.

"I don't have any pictures with you in them," she told me sternly. "I want one today."

And then the other night, when I tucked her into bed (which, okay, involves me standing at the foot of her bed while she pulls up the covers), she sighed happily and said, "I love our family."

We weren't having a conversation about our family. We weren't having a conversation about anything, actually. I was just telling her good night. She said this wonderful thing out of the blue.

"I'm so glad," I told her. "But what makes you say that now?"

She said, "I don't know...I just love it when we're all together."

I read a post a few days ago that said there's no love like the kind of love your children have for you when they're little.

And I agree: the love our kids have for us when they're small is unmatched and exuberant. Our babies and toddlers and preschoolers and pre-pre teens give it to us freely, without having to think about it. Their fierce hugs and sticky kisses belong to a precious season of parenting that does not last forever. Soak it up and store it up, parents of littles: that kind of love is a precious treasure.

But there is also no love like the love our kids have for us when they're older. Because this kind of love is a choice.

It is on-purpose love.

It is love by decision, rather than by (delicious, delightful) default.

It is love of intention.

And this is where my children helped me understand in a new way something I’d never fully grasped before: why God gives us free will. Why God gives us the choice of whether or not to love Him when He knows some will choose not to.

I'm so grateful to Lori Wildenberg for letting me tell the rest of the story of this lesson I learned from my children. 

Ultimately, it's a lesson about grace I'm not sure I could have learned any other way.

**This post may be have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

November 1, 2017

How To Act Like a Calm Mom Even If You Don't Feel Like One

Like most moms, I was a perfect parent until I had actual children. 

But ever since that first big "it's a girl!" announcement, I've been messing up with rather alarming regularity.

Thankfully, God has taught me a lot of lessons along the way. The other day, in fact, He showed me that it really is possible for an older mom to learn new tricks.

I'm so grateful to my friend Ruthie Gray for letting me share this lesson. I'd love to have you head on over to read the rest of this story about the mom-with-mileage "aha moment" I wish I'd had when I was a younger mom...

**This post may be have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

October 30, 2017

This Is Why What Moms Do Matters So Much

A few weeks ago, I wrote a Facebook post about the joys of having our older children choose to love us. 

Several sweet moms responded that they hoped their children would make that deliberate decision when they got older. One mom commented, "I wish you could share the formula for this."

I've thought a lot about that formula lately, and of course you know there really isn't one. Most moms are just trying to do the best they can, day in and day out, while they hope their love for their children is what carries through above and beyond all the messes and mistakes and meltdowns.

But as I've pondered that formula and how I spend my time as a mom and the love my family has for me, I've come to realize one thing: maybe the most important work I ever do as a mom is to care for my family's souls.

I'm deeply grateful for the chance to share about this on Her View From Home. I'd be honored if you'd take a moment to head over and read a little more about this subject that's so dear to my mom heart.

**This post may be have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

October 13, 2017

Ten Things You Might Not Know You Need This Thanksgiving

I think it's important you know right from the start that this post has nothing to do with the latest in turkey basters or brine injection systems.

I'm not going to tell you what to do if your turkey is dry. (Slice it thin and add some extra broth, I think...but I go with an herb-butter basted turkey breast every year and just skirt the dry meat matter entirely.)

On the other hand, if you find yourself needing one of these other Thanksgiving non-essential-but-nice-to-haves, here's what we're thankful to have on hand in our house.

1. If you need a Thanksgiving book that will become a family classic: Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember, by Barbara Rainey. This is our family's go-to Thanksgiving resource. Filled with rich details about the voyage to the new world (condensed version: this was no Carnival cruise), life for the Pilgrims (condensed version: this was no "woo hoo, we got away from jolly old England" vacation), and the history of Thanksgiving as a national holiday (condensed version: Sarah Josepha Hale was one determined woman), this instant heirloom also offers President Lincoln's entire 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation and journal pages for recording your family's personal thanksgivings. 

2. If you need a new appreciation for what the Pilgrims went through: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving with The Mayflower Voyagers. Trust the Peanuts gang to tell the Thanksgiving story in their own fun-but-factual fashion. Even my teenagers love to watch this double feature. For one thing, it makes them thankful they weren't Pilgrims.

3. If you need Thanksgiving dinner background music: George Winston's Autumn album. Soothing, somehow seasonal music, and no lyrics to compete with conversation. May possibly encourage your dinner guests to linger at the table for at least a quarter of the time it took you to put the whole meal together. 

4. If you need the world's best pie crust: My mom's pie crust. A couple unusual ingredients push this over the edge into flaky-yet-workable fame. Think you can't make your own pie crust? With this recipe you can..and with this recipe, you'll be glad you did. You could fill this crust with almost anything, and it would give you something to be thankful for.

My Mom's Pie Crust {print}

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into smallish pieces
1/2 cup shortening, cold
1 egg
1/3 cup cold water
1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar

In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. Throw in the pieces of butter and tablespoon-sized "portions" of shortening and cut all these into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or a fork or two knives. Whisk the remaining crust ingredients and toss with the flour mixture until it starts to form a ball. Add a couple extra drops of water if it seems too dry. Divide in thirds, form into balls, wrap in plastic, and chill until you want to roll out and use. (You need to at least rest and chill the dough for an hour or so, but longer is even better.) You can also freeze your dough portions for at least a few months. Whenever you use it, roll it out and bake it according to the directions for whatever recipe you're using it with. 

Makes 3 (9") single-crust pie shells 

5. If you need a Thanksgiving banner even a "crappy crafter" (as the birthday card my sister gave me one year put it) can make: this gorgeous Thanksgiving banner from The Deliberate Mom. Truly, if I (personal hashtag: #idkhowtodiy) can make this, anyone can make it. 

6. If you need a plan for when the day doesn't go as planned: this post in which I recall the Thanksgiving I was surprised by good. 

7. If you need an alternative to "let's go around the table and say something we're thankful for": NOT, mind you, that there's anything wrong with doing that! I happen to love this tradition. But depending on the crowd you've got gathered, sometimes it's nice to have an option that doesn't require people to think on the spot. A couple years ago, I made Scripture place cards using the word "THANKS" as my guide. Each Scripture contained a word that started with one letter of the word "thanks." We went around the table, and each guest read the Scripture on their card. A little cutesy, but very Thanksgiving-y. It just so happened we had 6 people to go with the six letters, but you could adapt this idea based on how many guests will be gathered around your feast. And if you need a one-stop-shopping source for Thanksgiving Bible verses, you'll find a lovely collection here at Daily Bouquets

Click here for a printable version of this. 

8. If you need a classic Thanksgiving sitcom episode: "Thanksgiving orphans," from Cheers. (Warning: food-fight alert.) 

9. If you need a lesser-known-but-should-be-classic Thanksgiving sitcom episode: "Thanksgiving Until It Hurts" from Dharma and Greg. I'm already laughing just thinking about it. 

10. If you need a quote about gratitude that puts everything in perspective: "Gratitude gets us through the hard stuff. To reflect on your blessings is to rehearse God's accomplishments. To rehearse God's accomplishments is to discover His heart. To discover His heart is to discover not just good gifts but the Good Giver. Gratitude leaves us looking at God and away from dread. It does to anxiety what the morning sun does to valley mist. It burns it up." (Max Lucado)

Now it's your turn: what do I need for Thanksgiving that I don't know I need? 
Please let me know about it, either in a comment or over on my Facebook page
Blessings on all your Thanksgiving preparations!

**This post may be been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

September 28, 2017

13 Things To Say To Your Kids When They're Having a Bad Day

The other day, I got this text from my college freshman daughter:

"Didn't go so hot."

She was checking in with me about the Psych 101 quiz she'd just taken. The one she'd nervously asked me to pray about when she left for school that morning.

I responded to her message by assuring her of my love and telling her it would be okay and encouraging her to just do the next thing she needed to do, the best that she could. 

And then I ordered her a jacket she'd been looking at online. Because, retail therapy. (Also, because she needed one.)

When kids are hurting, moms want to make it better. So we pray...and pray some more. We worry...and worry some more. But there are also things we say--things that aren't new or groundbreaking but that are timeless classics for one reason: they work.

If someone who calls you "mom" is having a bad day, here are some go-to phrases you might want to have in your maternal arsenal. Don't let their simplicity undermine their power. I've said these things over and over, and often, not long after I've said them, my daughters have told me, "I always feel better after I talk to you." Which is pretty much the highest mom compliment I ever hope to get.

1. I love you.

2. I'm praying for you.

3. Take a deep breath.

4. I'm already proud of you. 

5. This is not your whole story.

6. Do you want to talk about it?

7. I'm here for you.

8. Just take the next step.

9. It will be okay.

10. I know you'll be able to figure this out.

11. Is there anything I can do to help?

12. I really, really love you.

13. How about some ice cream?

What would you add to this list, mama? 
Leave your wisdom here in a comment or over on Facebook
While I wait for it, I'm going to round up some ice cream.

P.S. After I originally wrote and published this post, I added a few "things," necessity being the mother of invention and motherhood often necessitating invention and all that. Pin away...because mama said there'd be days like this.

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

September 13, 2017

Almond Poppyseed Muffins

Every so often, I work as a catering assistant, and here's one thing I learned right away: by the time the night is through, whatever we're serving will inevitably become The Thing I Most Want to Eat in the World.

At a recent wedding, the cake was an almond poppyseed affair, and the minute I was able to swipe a sample from a layer that had been cut and served and whisked away to our prep station, I began fantasizing about this cake. Specifically, about eating it. More specifically, about eating quite a lot of it.

But since neither a wedding nor a wedding cake were in my near future, I needed to apply this combination to something that would fit into regular life. Enter Sunday-morning breakfast. I often make muffins for my family while we're rushing around trying to get ready for church and negotiating face time at the house's "best" mirror. 

I don't make muffins for breakfast before church because I need one more thing to do on Sunday mornings (a.k.a., the time of the week when the members of my family generally like each other the least but must, by the time we pull into the church parking lot, pretend we like each other the most). I do it because making them on Sundays means I have leftovers for Mondays (a.k.a., the day of the week we most need mood-enhancing baked goods for breakfast).

After tasting and obsessing over that wedding cake, I tweaked one of my favorite muffin recipes and ended up with something that had the soul of the cake but the applicability of something I can legitimately serve for breakfast. 

My family liked them quite a lot the first time I made them, thanks for asking, AND we managed to make it to church on time with a minimum of discord. Which is as much of a Sunday-morning miracle as I'm likely to see again anytime soon.

Almond Poppyseed Muffins {print}

2 cups all-purpose flour (sometimes I substitute 1/2 white whole wheat flour, but don't get too grainy with'll lose the wedding cake-esque quality)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon (yes) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon poppyseeds
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg white
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup plain yogurt OR ricotta cheese
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure almond extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray OR line with cupcake liners.

Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and poppyseeds in a large bowl. (I love to use my batter bowl for this, along with about a zillion other kitchen tasks.) Make a well in the center and set aside. 

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients (egg through extract). Pour into the well in your dry ingredients, and gently fold everything together just until you don't see any more dry mixture. Do NOT attempt to de-lump your batter. Lumpy muffin batter is happy muffin batter, and it will make you a happy muffin-eater.

Divide your batter among 12 muffin cups, and bake for 12-18 minutes, just until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out mostly clean.

Remove from oven and cool 5 minutes in the pan before removing to a wire rack. Enjoy while warm or cool completely before storing or freezing in an airtight container. Makes 12 muffins.

Previous post that might have something to do with this one:Four Kitchen Tool Must-Haves Plus One I Just Really Like

This post may have been shared at some of these blog parties.