A chapter a day...


That's my read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year checklist, and all those boxes are checked! {Thank you, God, for giving me the perseverance to stick to it!}

It is so gratifying to be sitting at the end of this year knowing that I read every single word of God's Word this past year.  I love that.  I love His Word, and my time reading the Bible always expands my worship of Him.  I am so thankful.

I feel compelled to take more time this year for prayer, so I'm not committing to reading through the entire Bible again this year.  I want to grow in the discipline of prayer and of listening and responding  to God's Spirit.  I've been thinking so much lately about how easy it is to feed on God's Word and build our knowledge-- but how often God moves/leads *when we pray*... there are just so many examples in the NT of the disciples meeting and praying and knowing where to go and what to do and seeing God work and move *because* they prayed, and I want that, too.  I want to spend my days being led by His Spirit and doing His work.  This past year I spent way more time reading than praying, and I really missed that sweet intimacy with Him that comes from time spent in prayer. 

I am working on a plan for reading-- it will just be at a bit slower pace.  I've decided to scale back and read "a chapter a day" this year, which will allow for more time of focused prayer and also the freedom to dig in and study.  And- Mark is going to do my chapter-a-day plan with me.  Sort of as an afterthought, I asked Ella and Isaac (our able readers) if they wanted to do it, too.   Ella is very excited and agreed without hesitation.  (Her comment: "Then we can all read the same thing and talk about it!")  Isaac is still deciding.  He told me he's in the middle of reading the Psalms right now and isn't sure he's ready to commit to more reading. ;)  I know Isaias would like to, but he's not quite at that level of reading yet, so we'll just have to do a lot of narrating what we read to him so that he can participate in our conversations. 

Reading a chapter a day means that we will read through 11 books of the Bible this year.  These are the books I chose:

Joshua
1 Kings
2 Kings
Psalms 
Proverbs
Isaiah 
Zephaniah
John
1 Corinthians
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians

That's exactly 366 chapters- out of 1189 total chapters in the Bible.  (At this rate it would take us a little over 3 years to read the entire Bible, but: one step at a time.  This is our goal for *this year*, and we'll see what next year holds.)   I've already promised to email a friend my chapter-a-day checklist, so if any of you are interested, just send me your email address and I'd be happy to email it to you, too.  :)

Early morning gratitude

I was up early this morning with the girls while everyone else slept.  They were vying for a position on my lap- both were sleepy and wanted to snuggle with mommy and Audra did not want to share lap space. Adelia is very sweet about sharing, so for the most part she will let Audra have me to herself. This is quite unfortunate because I *love* it when Adelia just wakes up from a night of sleep or from her nap.  It's the only time she will sit still, and she wants to be held.  (Audra, on the other hand, wants to be held fifty times a day!)

***

(Case in point: as I was typing that statement, Audra came over and said, "I want to sit on your lap." ;))  So: I closed the laptop and set it aside and pulled her onto my lap.

Anyway~ back to what I started to say earlier:  I sat this morning on the couch, taking turns with the girls- when Audra was off playing happily, I'd pull Adelia into my arms and vice versa.  At one point, Adelia was snuggled in beside me and Audra sat on my lap, facing me- squeezing my cheeks and poking my eyes and giving me tight hugs and chattering about all sorts of things, (if she says 'Jofuss' (who goes with Mary and baby Jesus for those of you who don't know who 'Jofuss' is) I might actually die from cuteness overload.)  And I thought: "This is the greatest job in the world."  What other occupation could you be in where people approach you several times a day just to tell you how much they love you, and to cheer you with countless hugs and brighten your days with smiles and laughter?  What wonderful years these are!  And how gracious God is to allow us- as mothers- to get to play such a big part in their lives.


I was overwhelmed with thankfulness this morning.  How dear my children are, how much I love them and delight in them, and how grateful I am to get to be their mommy.  Yes, the days are long and often challenging, but God is gracious and is so faithful to give strength and perseverance with each new day.  It is such rewarding work, isn't it?

Blessings to you and your children today.  (Don't forget to tell them how much you love them!)

Happy day-after-Christmas! (& our Handmade Christmas recap)

I kept meaning to get on the computer during the past couple of days and wish you all a Merry Christmas, but... there was just no time.  I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, and reveled in the amazing gift of Jesus!  

We have had a great week together as a family.  We began our festivities on Sunday night- the week before Christmas- by pulling our mattresses into the living room and sleeping by the tree.  Then we surprised the kids with a Pajama Ride announcement (which included a trip to DQ and a drive to look at Christmas lights.)

Settling everyone into bed before our Pajama Ride.

Then we spent a couple of days doing the finishing touches on our handmade gifts for one another and other odds and ends (wrapping, grocery shopping, baking, etc).

Doing some knitting with the girls.  (Doesn't Audra look so wiped out from her knitting project? ;))

On Thursday night we celebrated my grandpa's 91st birthday-- which doubles as an extended-family Christmas party.  There were over 100 of us there- and it was a joyous occasion.  So many aunts and uncles and cousins and their kids and my grandpa smiling with happy tears in his eyes through it all.

Friday was our own family Christmas.  We had a yummy breakfast of coffee cake (birthday cake for Jesus~ candles and all!), sausage, bacon, and Orange Julius-drinks in the blender.  Oh, and hot cocoa, too- with dollops of vanilla ice cream.  Then we read from Luke and prayed and opened our gifts for one another.  Here's the rundown of our handmade gifts:

Audra drew Adelia's name.  Mark and I puzzled a bit over what she could give Adelia- since, at 2- she can't really *make* many things.  One thing Adelia loves is food- so I contemplated making homemade crackers until I decided that I was spending enough time in the kitchen and why complicate things when she'd be just as happy with popcorn?  But then- THEN: Mark had the brilliant idea of making a "snack mix" for Adelia.  Bingo.  I grabbed a few bags of snacky stuff at the grocery store, and Audra did the work of dumping out the bags, stirring, and transferring into a container.  Then I made a label for the top that said Adelia's Snack Mix (made by Audra), and Audra happily colored all over the label.  We wrapped it up together and we were done.



She was so focused.
When Adelia opened it, she pretty much thought it was the best.gift.ever, and ate it throughout the rest of the day.



Adelia drew Ella's name, and she had a lot of help from me.  I gave Adelia some paint pens she went to town decorating a blank canvas that I had.  Then I found a picture of the two of them- Ella holding Adelia as a baby- and used some stickers and scrapbook paper and mod-podged it all on the canvas.  It turned out pretty cute.  I don't have a picture of the front of it, but here's the picture of Ella opening it: 


(I had also knitted up a hat for Ella and sewed a bird ornament from this book so I had Adelia give those to her, too.)

Isaias drew Audra's name, and he drew her a paper doll- knowing how much she loves getting into Ella's paper dolls.  It was such a sweet, thoughtful idea.  Mark and I helped him come up with an additional idea, too (just in case she wasn't quite as enthused with his torn-out stick-figure paper doll as he might think she would be).  Mark sat down with him one afternoon and looked up coloring pages online and let Isaias choose a bunch of them for a coloring book.  He did a great job- choosing nativity scenes, kitties, Hello Kitty, Little House, and all the things she loves.  We printed them out, 3-hole punched them, and he wrote Audra's Coloring Book ~from Isaias on the cover.  Then Isaias selected some crayons and put them in a baggie and wrapped it all up for her. 

Audra looks at her coloring pages as Isaias looks on.

Isaac drew my name- and he had remembered me saying a couple of months before- on a day when I was craving something sweet but we had nothing at all sweet in the house- "All I want for Christmas is some Swedish Fish, some Skittles, and some chocolate." (Immediately after that little declaration, I regretted it because I saw a slight look of panic on Isaac's face and figured he had 1)drawn my name, and 2)was trying to figure out how on earth he was supposed to make mommy some Swedish Fish, Skittles, and chocolate!)   He did great.  His idea was to make me a treat jar to keep by my bed, so he decorated the outside of a jar and then made a LEGO smiley face and taped it on top of the jar and filled it with Swedish Fish.  He also drew me several small pictures (he called them "pennants") that I can hang up on a little string near my treadmill so that I have something to look at while I'm on the treadmill.  (Is that not the cutest thing?)  I loved it all.  :)  And the Swedish Fish are all gone. 

Ella drew Isaac's name and has been thoughtfully saving the tickets she's earned from school store in anticipation of gifting them to Isaac who is saving earnestly for a LEGO set he desperately wants to purchase from school store.  (Mark found a nice LEGO set at a garage sale ($3) and added it to our school store but priced it *really* high (100 tickets)-- knowing that Isaac knows how much that set is worth and recognizing that Isaac will have to buckle down and save for-- something he is not very good at doing.  He wants that set more than anything but keeps getting distracted with other school-store purchases, so he's only saved up about 30 tickets for it all year.)  In the past two months, Ella has carefully been putting away nearly 40 tickets for her gift to Isaac-- to add to his saved 30.)  This was the gift I was most anxious to see opened-- it was such a thoughtful gift from Ella and I knew Isaac was going to be overwhelmed with the magnitude of all of Ella's tickets.  Both Mark and I were teary-eyed and Isaac was literally speechless when he opened his gift.  He really could not believe that Ella would be willing to give up all of her tickets for him.  

Isaac, staring at the container of Ella's tickets

(Ella has also been knitting Isaac a green and gray striped scarf, but she didn't finish in time for Christmas, so she drew a picture of it and told him that it was his when she finished.  (He's seen her knitting it and had hoped it was for him and is excited for her to finish!))

I drew Mark's name.  (I had thought that drawing one of the kids' names would be so easy-- I could sew for the girls or knit for the boys, but-- MARK?  What could I make him?)  I Googled "handmade gifts" and it took me just a couple of minutes to decide on an idea of a Memory Jar.  I sat with my journal for several quiet-times and wrote down memories, then eventually transferred all of those ideas onto slips of colored/patterned paper and filled up a Memory Jar- 365 days worth of memories for Mark to open.

Mark- trying to figure out what his gift was

Finally (and you're amazing if you're still reading because I know this is a long post!), Mark drew Isaias' name, and puzzled over what to make him until he settled on a football theme (Isaias loves football) and decided to created a game for him.  [If you have boys who are into football you're going to want to pay close attention and do this for them or have them do it.]  Mark cut out a picture of a player from each NFL team from a Sport's Illustrated NFL Preview Issue (free at the library!) and then printed out corresponding team logos (from online) and made a deck of 64 cards.  Each card was given a value of 1-10, based on the actual offensive and defensive ranking for the teams this season.  We used clear contact paper to "laminate" the cards and on the back of each card it said: Isaias' NFL Challenge, along with some football clip art.  Rules of the game are similar to the card game of War, where your cards (or in this case, teams) face off, and the highest number takes all cards.  When there's a tie (or in this case, "overtime"), they play it out just like you do in the game of War.  This was a HUGE hit and our three older kids played this for literally hours that day and days since.  (I KNOW.  How creative is my husband?!  He should patent this.)

Isaias opens the box and all the cards tumble out


Two hours later...


So that was our handmade Christmas gift exchange.  We all want to do it every year, and we will.  We did our Samaritan's Purse giving later.

Saturday we spent the whole day (10:00 am to 10:00 pm!) with Mark's wonderful family- and the kids had a blast with cousins and uncles and aunts and grandpa and grandma and pizza and lots of laughter and games (Twister!  Hide and Seek!) and gifts.  

Sunday morning we did our stockings here and then headed to my mom and dad's (joining my brothers) for a full day of Christmas there- complete with a huge breakfast and snacks all day and games and puzzles and singing and prayers and gifts and lots of laughter.

We are so, so blessed to have such wonderful family so near.  Mark goes back to work tomorrow and we have one week to undecorate, rest, tidy, and ease back into a more scheduled life. 

What was your favorite gift to GIVE this Christmas?   (Mine was probably my gift to Mark- because I knew he would be blessed and it is such a fun gift because he gets to keep "unwrapping" it for a whole year!) 

Why I said yes

It was on this date, December 15th, fifteen years ago, that Mark proposed to me.

As he knelt to express his love for me and his desire for me to be his wife, I happily said yes.  We had been dating for three years and I knew him well.

I knew that during Mark's first couple years of college, he was also taking care of his grandma who had Alzheimer's.  He spent his weekends caring for her.   In her tired, confused mind- she often called him the wrong name- and she could be awfully stubborn about things.  Sometimes on a Friday or Saturday night, his grandma would insist that it was "time to go to church".  He would patiently explain, "No, Grandma.  It isn't Sunday.  No one is at church right now."  But she would get herself all ready for church, and insist upon going.  So Mark would carefully help her out to the car and he would drive her to church.  They'd reach the dark, empty parking lot, and she would have a puzzled look on her face and realize that no one was here for church, and they'd go back home.

I remember thinking then- when I heard the stories Mark would tell me of his time with his grandma- that he was a remarkable man.  What guy in college is spending his weekends taking care of his ailing grandma?  My Mark was.

When we began dating, I was eighteen; had just moved out of the house- and had two little brothers still at home.  Micah was seven and Seth was two.  Whenever we'd go to my house, Mark would end up on the floor with my brothers, playing with them.  I loved this.  I knew he wasn't doing this to impress me or anyone else- he just genuinely liked them and got down on their level to play with them.

We'd file into church next to my family on a Sunday morning and Seth would reach up to Mark, wanting to be held.  Mark is so tall that his arms offered the best view.  Seth liked to be held in a sitting-up position, but facing outward.  (Not real comfy for whoever was holding him.)  Mark would steadily hold him just that way, facing out, during the whole of the worship service.

For years Mark taught the two-year-old Sunday School class, and those two-year-olds loved him.  They would climb all over him and he made them laugh and they were just so taken with him.  He loved each one of them.

I watched Mark with my brothers, with his nephews, and with his two-year-old classes, and knew he would be a good daddy someday.

During college I worked at a Christian bookstore.  Usually I had the closing shift.  We closed at nine o'clock, and I was by myself, vacuuming, closing out the tills, and locking up.  Not so when Mark began dating me.  He would drive out to the store about half-hour before closing and just browse the bookstore while I closed up.  He wanted me to be safe: it was dark, I was alone- and he would just show up.  I never asked him to nor did I expect it of him.  He just showed up one night and kept coming, each night I was closing.  And I felt treasured by him.

I lived with a bunch of other girls through college.  We had meals together each night, and divvied up the household chores.  Chores were always expected to be done on Saturdays.  I worked Saturdays, so when I came home from work those nights I had my chores to do.  I remember coming home from work one night (with Mark) to discover that my chores had all been done for me.  I wondered aloud which of my roommates had done this?  I think I even asked a few of them, and it was one of them who told me that Mark had been by earlier in the day to do my chores for me.  (I think that week my chore was the living room/dining room area and the kitchen).   He did it simply to bless me, knowing I would be tired when I got home that night.

He was the most romantic guy-- he courted me with near-daily cards and flowers and thoughtfulness packed into every date.  When he knew I would be celebrating my birthday while on a missions trip, he tracked down a birthday card well in advance and sent it along with me.  I still remember being on a sleeper-train riding through Poland, and opening my birthday card from Mark- which was a Polish card!  How he found me a Polish birthday card, I'll never know- but somehow he did.

I watched the way he interacted with his siblings and the way he honored his parents.  He loved them.  He spoke well of them, and there was great fondness and camaraderie in his family.  I loved that.

He spoke well of everyone, actually.  Any time I would complain to him about anyone, he always- annoyingly- believed the best in a person; giving them the benefit of the doubt and encouraging me not to be quick to judge someone else's motives.

Mark quickly became my best friend.

I was deeply afraid to get married.  I was so fearful that someday I would be left-- the way my mom had been left by my dad.  It was my greatest fear.  I wanted to know, for sure- that this would not happen to me.  I wanted assurance that this man, Mark, would never be that man.

But that day, on top of that hill- fifteen years ago, I was unafraid.  I knew Mark.  I knew his character.   I knew he loved and feared God above all.  I knew he loved me. And I trusted him.  That's why I said yes.

Fifteen years later and he's still the guy who will lay aside his own interests, his own time and comfort, for someone else.  He is still selfless- always thinking of others before himself.  He is still great with children: he is an amazing daddy to our five.  He still courts me with cards and flowers and thoughtfulness.  He still loves his family and others well.  He's still my best friend.  He is trustworthy.  He loves and fears God more today than he did back then, and I admire him more than anyone on this earth.

Christmas gift-giving

The view from my favorite spot on the couch

We're doing Christmas a little differently at our house this year.  We decided to draw names amongst ourselves and give homemade gifts (using what we already have) in lieu of purchasing presents for one another.  (Stockings are still fair game, but the only presents under our tree for one another will be homemade.)  The reason we decided to do this is twofold:

1)  None of us need a thing.  We are so rich already.
2)  There are so many people on earth who truly DO have needs- real needs like food, clean water and clothing.

So we decided to start this new tradition in order to be able to give more generously to those who do have needs.

Our kids were completely on board.  The idea of making a gift comes very naturally to them-- and they have been full of creative ideas for their name-draw and that alone has been such a joy to behold.  I love it that this requires us all to be more thoughtful, and I think much more time is spent thinking of the individual we're giving the gift to (as we mull over what they would like, and as we put in the actual time of making the gift.)

I can't wait to tell you all about the handmade gifts we've been secretly working on around here-- after Christmas, of course.


Oh!  And-- I must tell all of you fellow book-lovers about this idea (one that I first heard about at Amanda's blog, at the end of this post): You know the moment when you get out your bin of Christmas books to enjoy for the season?  Wrap each book in wrapping paper, and then put them into your bin and let your kids open one each day leading up to Christmas- so that they can have the joy of rediscovering their treasured Christmas books all over again!  (Isn't that the BEST idea?)  I can't wait to do that next year.



Two other Christmas gift-giving posts, from the archives:

The Part of Christmas I'm Most Excited About
Our Favorite Kind of Gift-Giving

Wednesday, December 7th


Last night we had a bit of a long night.  Audra (2) woke up sometime around two o'clock, hollering for daddy, and he went in to settle her.  (Me? I went back to sleep.)  I don't know how long he was in there, but I heard her calling again at around 3:40.  Mark was getting out of bed to go to her and told me then that this was the fourth (!) time she had called him since that initial two o'clock wake-up.  I was awake, then- and listening to all the goings-ons, and hoping she wasn't going to wake the other girls, and ready to assist if he needed me.  Then I heard Ella's voice, and Audra asking, "Daddy?  Will you please scratch my back?"  ;)  He did that, yes he did, at 4 in the morning, because that's the kind of amazing daddy that he is.

We all went back to sleep sometime in the 4 o'clock hour.  I left a little after 6 to exercise and when I got back, I came back to bed.  I then asked Mark for a recap of the night (in my foggy middle-of-the-night state I hadn't understood why Audra had initially called out-- Did she have a bad dream?  Was she sad/scared?)  As Mark was giving me the timeline of events, he said that after the second time he'd soothed Audra back to sleep, he went back to bed only to hear Adelia (3) calling out for him.  He went in to her- quickly- as to not wake Audra again- and Adelia asked him to find one of her stuffed animals that she likes to sleep with.  (I think he said no, he could not find that right now, as it was dark, and to please go to sleep.)  He went back to bed, and then Adelia began calling "Dadddddyyy"- quietly at first, then more loudly.

Then Mark overheard Audra, now awake, holler from her bed to Adelia: "He's MY daddy!"  Mark heard them bicker about that for a few minutes (Adelia replying, "He's my daddy!" and so on...) and then they quieted.  Mark and I were laughing about it this morning- it reminded me of the whole idea of getting your dance card punched- it was as if Audra was telling Adelia that she had daddy reserved for the entire night and Adelia could not use him.  Silly girls.  Wonderful husband and father.

Default: theirs and mine

One day as I was trying to get the kids ready to go somewhere--- which always seems to be an extremely Long and Trying Process at our house, and one in which I'm usually exasperated at my children who want to play or goof around instead of getting on their hats and coats and shoes or boots, or in which I'm usually exasperated by the child (not always the same child, mind you) who is not at all ready while the rest of us are standing at the door ready to go--- I had a thought.

It was simply this:

Their 'default' is play.

It's the way God created them, these children of mine.  And it's a good and beautiful thing.  They naturally, inherently just want to play.  (My personal default happens to be work, hence the exasperation on my part.)

My boys in their room together-- with clear instructions to clean their room-- will inevitably end up in some drama or giggles or play-fighting or jumping or climbing or a dumping out of a toy bin in order to build or play something.  That's just the way they were made.  They look for it, they celebrate relationship with each other by playing together.  Any two of my children who pass by one another in the process of doing their individual chores will interact with each other on some level and that will lead to a disruption of my personal work-default and an entry into their default of play.  If I want to leave the house, and right now, please, or we're going to be late!-- one of them will find something to do instead of getting their shoes on and will end up sitting comfortably on the floor, playing.   It puzzles me, truly- and I usually think it's absurd:  Hello?  We are leaving.  As in, now.  Do you see us?  How could you possibly be [sockless, shoeless, coatless] and PLAYING right now?

And yet: it's their default.

Now- I'm not eschewing obedience or my desire and intention for my children to learn responsibility and a good work ethic.  I want those things, and we are fully in the process of teaching our kids those things.  But it is helpful for me to remember that it is a process.  They are firmly, cheerfully situated in their God-given play-mode and it will take years of gentle, faithful, patient instruction and our own example to teach them and show them that there is real joy to be found in work-- and in the reward of getting to play when your work is finished.


In the meantime, I am finding great joy in observing their playfulness-- in everything they do, and I'm marveling- truly- at their ability to pause in any given moment and laugh and play and relate to one another, forsaking all work.  I think I could (re)learn to do a good deal more of that myself.  I am- more often- settling my exasperated self with the truth of how God has designed them, and by realizing that more often than not- they've gotten it exactly right.



Adoption link

If you've read here for any length of time, you will know how much I admire David Platt.  He's the pastor of a church in Alabama, and whenever I have the opportunity to listen to a sermon online, I choose one of his.  Don't ask me how I stumbled upon him-- some link somewhere led me to the church's website one day and I listened to him then and I think he's an excellent communicator of God's truth.  I read his book Radical last year and loved that, too.

Anyway:  David Platt, his wife Heather and their two boys are in China right now.  They've just adopted a little girl and he has been blogging about their experience.

Today I read his posted entitled The Gospel and Adoption and I just know some of you are going to want to read it.

Here's just a snippet:
In the gospel, you are reminded on a daily basis that there was a day when you were a child of wrath, filled with evil desires, totally unable to control your sinfulness, and desperately in need of Savior, and God reached down His hand of mercy past the depth of your wickedness in order to adopt you as His own. When there was no initiative to draw you to Him, He initiated a relationship with you. So now, when you see a child with minor or major needs, you reach out to that child, simply because you realize you are that child.
and another quote:
We adopt not because we are rescuers. No, we adopt because we are the rescued. 
Yeah.  Go read it.

If you're interested in starting at the beginning and reading their entire adoption journey, start here.

Also, for any of you fellow AGCI adoptive mothers, this post in particular reminded me so much of our experience in Guatemala, meeting Isaias' Special Mothers and saying thank you to them- especially this young woman who nurtured him the most while he was at Hannah's Hope.

Good read

This was the best blog post I read all week.

Go read it, and then go see your kids-- really see them.



{Thank you, Tonia~ for the link}

School-to-vacation transition

Each year we take the whole month of December off-- no school at all.  We spend December decorating and playing and resting and singing and reading through all of those Christmas books we bring out once a year.  We wrap and we buy or make gifts and cards and- the month flies by.   Several times over the past few days I have chided myself for not just beginning our vacation time at Thanksgiving.  Why didn't I plan it that way?


{last night, decorating the tree}

This past week was filled with family gatherings and we leapt into vacation mode.  Yesterday we got our Christmas tree and brought the decorations out but today we have to pull back and get busy with school for our final week.  I've decided this was poor planning on my part.  (I keep wondering: has this not bothered me in previous years, or this is new?)  Anyway: new note to self: When Thanksgiving hits, start vacation.

This was my solution this morning:



I took out our schedule and highlighted the "have-to's" for the week and listed them ALL on the board, with a note on top saying: "When you've crossed off everything off your list, you're on vacation!!!"  I'm pretty confident this means we'll have a day or two of school frenzy, but then we can start celebrating already.  (We'll see.  Isaac and Ella are already about halfway done with crossing off their lists, but Isaias opted out of school for the day in lieu of watching The Sound of Music with the little girls (movie.of.choice these days)).

How was your Thanksgiving?  [What was the best thing you ate?  The stuffing was my hands-down favorite this year.]

Good read for adoptive parents

I followed a God into this story who heals and redeems, who
 restores wasted years and mends broken places.  This God specializes in the Destroyed. I've seen it. I've been a part of it.  I have His ancient Word that tells of it.  I love a Jesus who made reconciliation his whole mission. My children will not remain broken.  They are loved by too good a Savior.  I will not 
remain exhausted and spent. I am loved by too merciful a Father.


* * *

Read the entire post, called After the Airport, here.

Blueberry-banana muffins

{what we had for breakfast this morning}

Blueberry-banana muffins
(preheat oven to 350, yields 20 muffins)

Puree or blend together, then set aside:
1 1/4 cup frozen blueberries (I set these out for about 15 min so they were slightly thawed)
1 banana

Mix together:
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 beaten eggs
berry/banana blend
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup applesauce (I buy this applesauce in bulk and substitute it for oil in all baking recipes)

Scoop into buttered/floured muffins cups and bake @ 350 for 12-13 minutes.

Remembering my life two years ago


I came across this photo the other day and I kind of marveled at this snapshot of my life just a couple of years ago.  This picture was taken when Adelia was 16 months old and Audra just 4 months old.  (And people comment *now* that my hands are full!)  Um, no.  Those were the days when my hands were positively the fullest: two babies, both of them so needy for their mama.  Nevermind three older kids that also occasionally needed me.  ;)  I spent the days juggling these two and trying to determine which child was the neediest at that moment: usually one of my little girls.  So many times it was both of them- they both needed me to hold them, to soothe them, to feed them, or to change them.  I *often* walked around the house like this- one of them in the Ergo, and the other on my hip, or we'd settle on the couch and look at books together.  These were exhausting days, and I felt utterly spent by the end of each one of them. 

I know there are some of you who are in this season right now.  I was trying to think of what I could say to encourage you.  Most importantly, this: God is faithful.  It is He who has entrusted these little ones to *you* and He will be faithful to equip you.  He will strengthen you and help you.

Some practical things: it was during this season when I dropped everything that I didn't absolutely *have* to do.  I didn't intentionally drop these things- it just happened naturally.  Things like getting the kids dressed for the day, going places, sending thank you cards (or any cards, for that matter), organization of the clothes the kids had outgrown, balancing the checkbook, etc.  (The list goes on and on and on.)  You just do what you have to do to make it through these days. 

Try to get as much sleep as you can, accept any help anyone ever offers, try to spend time with Jesus each day, take breaks when you are able (when your husband comes home you can run errands all.by.yourself: it's dreamy), pray out loud- with your kids, make simple, easy meals (or get take out), and just love your children well.  Find delight in these little persons God has given to you: laugh and play and tickle and cuddle and be silly and read another story and change another diaper- and don't forget to kiss their bare belly when you do- and watch and wait for daddy when he comes home and sing songs together and just love them. They truly are a joy.  Embrace this season.  It goes by so quickly.

I LOVED this book.


You do read Katie's blog, right?   Now that I've read this book, Katie Davis is officially my new favorite person.  You must read this book.  (Have I ever let you down with a book recommendation?)  I love this girl.  I love her heart, I love her dependency on Jesus, I love her simple, pure faith.  I was challenged and inspired and convicted and blessed so much by this book.  Ella (9) is reading it now, and I hope the truths in this book impact her for a lifetime.

While you are waiting to get a copy of the book, go watch this video.  (It's not even 4 minutes long, and it's well worth your time, but my *favorite* thing she says is at 2:52.)  See? -why I love her so much?  You will, too. 

Copywork selections

We're 10 weeks into our school year and it's already time for me to refill Ella's Copywork Jar.  I changed it up a bit this year- there are no longer different categories for different days of the week (Mondays-Poetry, Tuesdays-Quotes, etc); we just have several selections tossed in.  The other change is that I really aimed to make the copywork selections shorter, so that Ella will not get bogged down with a long passage (as was the case last year) and neglect neat handwriting.  Our focus is on quality, not quantity. So far I have had her print each one, but the next "batch" she will do in cursive.  She often draws a little picture to go along with it. It's been going really well!  I've listed her copywork selections below if any of you are interested in using them for your own children:


Thirty days hath September, April, June and November.

*
January brings the snow, makes our feet and fingers glow.
 

*

February brings the rain, thaws the frozen lake again.

*

March brings breezes loud and shrill, stirs the dancing daffodil.

*

April brings the primrose sweet, scatters daisies at our feet.

*

May brings flocks of pretty lambs, skipping by their fleecy dams.

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June brings tulips, lilies, roses, fills the children's hands with posies.

*

Hot July brings cooling showers, apricots and gillyflowers.

*

August brings the sheaves of corn, then the harvest home is borne.

*

Warm September brings the fruit, sportsmen then begin to shoot.

*

Fresh October brings the pheasant, then to gather nuts is pleasant.

*

Dull November brings the blast, then the leaves are whirling fast.

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Chill December brings the sleet, blazing fire, and Christmas treat.

*

Many hands make light work.

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Practice makes perfect.

*

A man is known by the company he keeps.

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A child should always say what’s true
And speak when he is spoken to


*

O wind, a-blowing all day long,
O wind, that sings so loud a song!

*

A noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea.

*

Red sky at night, sailors delight;
Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.


*

Adopt the pace of nature: Her secret is patience.
    ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
 


*

Never let us reflect upon small annoyances, and we shall be able to 
bear great ones sweetly.
    ~Charlotte Mason

*

All beautiful and noble possibilities are present in everyone.
    ~Charlotte Mason

*

Kindness is to make everyday life pleasant and comfortable to others.
    ~Charlotte Mason

*

A grateful heart rejoices not only in the gift but in the giver.
    ~Charlotte Mason

*

I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.
    ~George Washington Carver

*

Roasted Vegetables

I promise I haven't forgotten about a follow-up to this Four Stages post.  I'm working on it.  I just haven't been on the computer much and when I am, it's easier to post a photo and a few words or go with a post I've already written.

We have been enjoying this lovely Autumn weather.  And- it's notable that my older children have begun teasing me because of my exclaiming over every single colored tree we pass on a walk or bike ride or drive.  It's true- I am always pointing out that tree and those colors and this tree-lined road-- so beautiful! and "just LOOK at all those crunchy leaves on the ground and don't you all just want to go make a giant leaf pile and jump into it?"  I can't help myself.  The other day I heard from the back of the van all these little voices exclaiming about that yellow and those oranges and just LOOK already at that tree! and I couldn't help but laugh.  :)

Speaking of Autumn, here's one of my favorite meals for the season, and our VERY favorite way to eat veggies. 



Just cut up whatever you have in the form of vegetables- in this pan there are grape tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, onions, whole garlic cloves, butternut squash, and some broccoli.  (Anything goes, though- just use what you have.)  Put it all in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil- maybe a tablespoon or two? Sprinkle some salt over the top and stick it in the oven.  Bake on 425 for about 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender (I always check the carrots; they seem to take the longest.)  If you remember, while it's cooking, open up the oven and stir the vegetables once.  But I usually forget and they turn out fine.

When they're done, you can eat as is or sprinkle with parmesan, smoked paprika or whatever else you like to eat. 

Okay... I'm off to put a chicken in the crockpot for dinner, make some coffee cake for breakfast, welcome a new student to our school for the day (! Ella is having a friend over to join us in our school day-- how fun is that?) and enjoy the rest of the day with my kids.  Hope you have a great day!

Butternut Squash Lasagna

There's a restaurant in town that makes Butternut Squash Lasagna and it used to be Mark's favorite thing to eat. That is, until we discovered the Butternut Squash Ravioli at our favorite Italian restaurant. Delish. Every time I've eaten either one, I spend a good deal of time savoring each bite and trying to determine *exactly* what is in it and how I can replicate it at home. (Does anyone else do that?)

For years I have determined to come up with a butternut squash recipe that is at least similar to one of those two entrees.  I stumbled upon a recipe last week for Roasted Butternut and Sweet Potato Whole Wheat Lasagna and decided to try it.

It was amazing.

And if you try to tell me that you do not like squash, I.will.not.listen.  This was SO yummy and you must try it.



I made some changes to the recipe.  We didn't have whole wheat noodles, I used more mozzarella cheese, etc.  So the recipe below is how I made it, but it is adapted from this recipe from How Sweet It Is.


Butternut Squash Lasagna

12 cooked lasagna noodles

1/2 large roasted butternut squash (Slice it lengthwise, bake @ 400 degrees for about 40 minutes or until it's soft when you poke a fork into it.)  I bake my squash face up on a cookie sheet, and brush squash with a little melted butter.)

2 medium sweet potatoes (Cut in half, lengthwise and stick these on the pan with the squash- they will likely be done before the squash, though- so watch them.)

16 ounces mascarpone cheese, at room temperature (Trader Joes has this)

3 T butter

1-2 shallots, thinly sliced

3 cloves of garlic

1 cup parmesan cheese

1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

1/4 tsp nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

a bunch of fresh sage leaves, chopped


When the squash and sweet potatoes are cooked, scoop out the insides and puree or blend or mash somehow- whichever method you'd prefer.  (You can do this step earlier in the day or the night before, too.)

Saute shallots and garlic in the butter for a few minutes.  When cooled, add mascarpone cheese, sage and half of the parmesan.

Layer lasagna in a 9x13 pan.  First mashed squash/sweet potato mix, then noodles, then cheese.  Repeat until you run out of ingredients.  (When I got to the cheese layers, I spread the mascarpone blend and then sprinkled a bit of mozzarella and parm.  Make sure to save some to top it all off.)

Bake @ 350 for 30 minutes.

Eight: a happy birthday

Dear Isaac,

Early yesterday morning you bounced into our room and said, "I'm eight years old!"  Never have I seen anyone so happy about a birthday.  All day long you were positively wiggly with excitement over turning eight.  :)

You opened presents shortly after that trip to our room-- some LEGO mini figures, a model, a LEGO set, a game, a book, some treats chosen by your sisters~ and then you were off to play with it all.

You chose homemade doughnuts* for breakfast.  You had seen a picture on the cover of a magazine I had lying around and decided- months ago- that that's what you wanted for your birthday meal.  (Later, I baked your other request: chocolate cake with lime frosting.  ;))



You stood next to the back door so that we could mark your height, and you were so smiley about the fact that you are taller than Ella was at the same age. 

You are growing, my boy.  So often when I look at you now I am struck by how tall you are, and how my little boy just isn't so little anymore.

You still like building LEGO creations- and you're a really inventive builder, daddy says- but many days the LEGO bins stand untouched because you're on the couch with a book in hand.  Your favorite books are The Narnia series.  Daddy read those aloud a couple of years ago, but you read them on your own in just a few weeks.  You love to ride your bike, too.  It's one of your favorite things. You like to climb (trees! on top of the swingset!) and find bugs (not spiders) and explore.  You love the woods: there's so much to see and find and so many things to climb.  :)

You are silly and imaginative and are always ready with a "What if...?" question.  You smile often.  You laugh just as often.  You are a kind older brother.  Audra has learned to ask you if she needs help making something or finding something: you are always happy to drop what you're doing and help.  You are thoughtful and willing to play things the little girls might like to play, even if you're not very interested in it yourself.

You ask me- several times a day, always in the kitchen- "Mommy, what can I do to be your helper?"  You know that mealtimes can be a busy time for me- getting everything ready and on the table- and you are always there, waiting for me to tell you what you can do.  You offer to take groceries in for me all the time and you *always* take the biggest load- even when I try to talk you out of it.  ;)

You love Bible time- and especially the Old Testament stories.  You are truly captivated by what God can do and how big He is and how He chooses to work.  I love how much you love that.  As I prayed for you today, I asked God that with each new year, you would love Him ever more than you did the previous year.  That is my heart's desire.   You think eight is good?  I can't wait to see what God has for you in the years to come!

You are so loved, my sweetest budders.  You are truly a gift, and I am so thankful God made you!


Love,
Mommy


*Doughnut recipe here.

Playdough!

One day last week I woke up with a really bad sinus headache.  So... we skipped school for the day.  I spent 20 minutes in the kitchen that morning making playdough and it provided the kids with a good hour and fifteen minutes of fun (and respite for mama). :)

Three batches of playdough

= happy kids.

If you haven't made playdough, it's super easy and fun!

Playdough

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water w/ food coloring of your choice
1 T oil
2 tsp cream of tarter

Combine all ingredients in a pan and stir.  Cook on med-low heat.  The mixture will form into a ball after about 3-5 min.  Cool and store in a sealed container or a ziploc bag.

Blessed

I took the kids to the vegetable store today- at 5:00pm- to get some celery that I needed for the cornbread stuffing I was making for dinner.  Once there, I couldn't resist those happy orange pumpkins, so I told the kids they could each choose a small sugar pumpkin.  They were delighted.

Each pumpkin cost me a little more than a dollar and the kids were over the moon about them.  

Isaias, in awe: "I've never gotten to choose my own pumpkin before!"  In fact, he has.  He just doesn't remember.  And usually we have pumpkins growing in our garden, so we don't always buy them.  But not this year. 


Shortly after I took this picture, I handed out Sharpie markers and they drew faces (and scribbles) on their pumpkins. 

I look at this picture and I feel so, so blessed to be mother to these five.  I love them so much and I truly just delight in who they are and who they are becoming.  I see God's faithful hand leading me as their mama and I am so thankful for His provision and for the ways He answers prayers in my life and in theirs.

I think about how Isaias prayed tonight at the table: "God, I thank You that daddy and mommy know about Jesus so that they can teach me about Jesus" and his earlier comment about how he's glad we adopted him so that he didn't have to stay in the orphanage and so that he could have the joy of playing with Adelia and Audra and be trained and taught about Jesus. 

I think about how when Mark came home from work, the kids all shrieked and ran over to him to tell him about their pumpkins and that when he came in, Audra clung to him, wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist.

I think about how Ella has posted a song sheet by the washer and dryer- so that when she does her laundry chore she can sing songs of praise.  I heard her today, joyfully singing as she worked.

I think of my hard-working husband who comes home each night to us.

I think about how we all remained at the table after dinner for family worship and then we prayed together and how much I love that.   

I think of all these little moments that string together to make our days and how each one is a gift from God, and I am so thankful.

{Thank you, Lord!}

Octobers

"Oh, Marilla," Anne exclaimed one Saturday morning, coming dancing in with her arms full of gorgeous boughs, "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn't it? Look at these maple branches. Don't they give you a thrill-- several thrills? I'm going to decorate my room with them."


* * *

{Things I like in October}

-apples, especially honeycrisp
-clean, brisk air
-huge maple leaves
-crunchy leaves to step on while walking
-pumpkin-y candles
-chex mix
-living in a neighborhood with trees all around us
-the colors of the trees: reds, yellows, oranges, browns, and fading greens
-leaves falling into our yard
-the return of socks and slippers
-knitting
-lotion
-boots
-cozy hats


-blustery days
-butternut squash
-pumpkins on porches
-wearing these shoes again
-sweaters
-soup
-homemade bread (which I have yet to make, but I have every intention to do so, and soon.)
-snickerdoodles
-pumpkin-y baked goodness (breads, cookies, scones, cakes)
-chestnuts
-scarves
-how pretty the grass looks with the colored leaves on it
-1000-piece puzzles


(#'s 1679- 1705, One Thousand Gifts)

What would make your list?


The Four Stages

I've decided there are four stages* of communicating with your spouse when you have children:

Stage 1: You talk often and freely, because your children are so young, they can't understand a thing you're saying anyway.

Stage 2: You talk a little less often, because now your children are in the chattering stage.  Sometimes you speak in code: you omit names and you wish your husband was better at reading your lips across the room, but it's hopeless: he cannot do such a thing.  (Every time you try, he looks at you like you're speaking Russian.)

Stage 3: You talk, yes- but every third word you spell.  So you have to be a good speller for this stage.  And you have to be a quick study to be able to decipher which word is being spelled.  Also, in this stage, you learn the trick of doing any serious talking while driving in the van: with the music turned up just enough so that your kids in the back can't hear what you're saying.

Stage 4: Talk to your husband?! What is that?  Because there are all these other little people talking or interrupting CONSTANTLY.  You can't even think, let alone have a conversation. 

We're in Stage 4.  What stage are you in?  (And do let me know if I've missed any stages you happen to be all too familiar with.)

Don't worry.  It's not as desperate as it sounds.  I'll post soon on how and what we're doing to survive this stage.  ;)


*So far.  I'm sure there are many glorious stages to come in the years ahead!

How God is Filling our Africa Jar

A few months ago I was talking to my kids about a book I was reading and we also talked about the famine in Africa right now.  My generous Ella (9) suggested we begin saving money in a jar for Africa. (You can read that post here if you missed it.)


Ella decorated the jar and we have been adding money ever since.  I've been excited to tell you how God has worked in our family to fill our little jar!  Right away two of our kids nearly emptied their piggy banks into the jar.  I worried a bit initially about how our Africa fund would grow.  (It's not like our kids get money on a regular basis.  They get some on their birthdays from great-grandparents and that's it- and birthdays were still months away at that point.)

I rarely have cash on hand and felt bad that I wasn't adding to our jar, too.  Then God reminded me of this: Every single time I go to the grocery store, I use my debit card.  And every time I do that, there's a prompt that asks if I want cash back.  So I started pressing "YES" and began adding more money to our jar.  (I will often hand that money to Ella to add to the jar-- she gets so much joy from doing so.)


Then there's Mark's story.  He agreed to write it out for you:  "For those of you who don't know, I am a mail carrier, walking from door to door.  Whenever I find coins or a dollar on the sidewalk or in the street, I pocket the money.  (And I usually leave it in my shorts pocket as a reward to our laundry washer, Ella.)  When we started our Africa jar, I decided to put any money I found on my route into the jar.  Recently, I was out on my route and saw a $20 bill lying on the sidewalk.  I was thrilled, because I never find so much; it's usually just change. I've found a $5 bill once or twice in over ten years of delivering the mail, but $20 -- unheard of.  I pocketed it and then set it on top of the fridge when I came home that night, thinking briefly about putting it in the jar, but selfishly not doing so.  I left it there for a week, every now and then wondering what I could treat myself to with this unexpected cash.  I mean, it was something extra, outside of our budget... was there a CD I'd been pining after or ...?  Then one night before going to bed, I saw the money on top of the fridge and God reminded me that I had committed to giving 'whatever I found' to the Africa jar.  Not only did He remind me of my commitment, but He also squelched my selfish resistance by saying, "Trust me on this.  I'll take care of your needs; so just put the money in the jar and watch what I do."  I promptly dropped the money in the jar.  The very next afternoon, I was back on my route and as I stepped from my truck to go into a business, I was shocked to see another $20 bill in the street!  I probably had a pretty silly grin on my face for the rest of the day, amused and amazed at how quickly and specifically God responded.  The first thing I did when I got home that night is to have Stacy drop that $20 into the jar."

[Stacy here again.]  Isn't that great?!  ;)  I love that story.  The kids said they're going to start praying that daddy will find hundred-dollar bills from here on out.  :)

We've decided as a family that we are going to give our jar money to Make Way Partners.  The president of Make Way Partners, Kimberly Smith, is the woman who authored the book Passport Through Darkness (linked to earlier in the post.  You can read about their ministry here if you are interested in learning more.)  Recently I read on Kimberly's blog that their annual orphan-food-purchase quote is a staggering half-million U.S. dollars. (Two years ago they paid about $90k. Last year the price was $150k). This year, the drought has made the food prices escalate.  Our contribution is a very tiny part of what they need, but we're praying that God will use it and multiply it and we are so grateful that we are able to give even that small part.

I want to add, here- before I finish this post- that I hesitated to even write this.  I don't want it to seem at all like I'm "tooting our own horn" by sharing about this.  And I am mindful of the verse in Matthew that talks about giving in secret.  I earnestly hope and pray that God is glorified through this.  My motivation for writing this here is twofold: 1) Maybe you will be encouraged to start a giving jar with your kids and 2) Perhaps someone reading this would be encouraged to give to Make Way Partners or another such organization(Or maybe you can just start praying with us that Mark will find a stash of cash on his route!  ;)) 

Thoughts on planning meals

I forgot how simple making dinner was each night if I just have a plan.  It's not like this is an entirely new concept to me.  I did it this way for years, but these past couple years it's been more of a struggle.  The girls were more demanding of my time during that dinner-making hour (and- let's face it- all the other hours, too!  ;)), so meal-planning become more sporadic.  I cooked, and we ate- but meals were thrown together, last-minute, and we were relying more-than-usual on others (hello Papa Murphy's, Trader Joes, and take-out Thai food!) to make our food for us.  ;)

Also, summertime is always a little more challenging for me to think up meals, so autumn is a good time to get reorganized.

Just writing it down and posting it where I can see it throughout the day is enough.  That posted plan serves as a reminder to me.  My children, too, will see it and say, "Oh!  We're having _________ for dinner tonight?" And I think, Oh yeah.  I should take that meat out right now while I'm thinking about it.

I'm three weeks into this new system and I'm thankful.  Thankful for the food God provides, thankful that I am able to cook for my family (and enjoy it so much), thankful that I can bless Mark by having a hot meal ready(ish) for him when he comes home from work.

Here's what my list looked like this week:

Monday | Tortellini -from Costco, we add pesto & parmesan cheese.  (I was gone, Mark did dinner.)
Tuesday | Chicken fried rice, sliced apples and almond butter, greek salad (peppers, sundried tomatoes, cucumbers, some greek yogurt, lemon juice, and feta cheese)
Wednesday | Butternut Squash & White Bean soup, cornbread
Thursday | Shipwreck Casserole
Friday | Italian Chicken Soup (Pioneer Woman), a side that I will come up with when inspiration hits
Saturday | Breakfast (my list says: waffles? sausage? omelettes? yogurt biscuits?)
Sunday | Pot roast with carrots and potatoes

My goal is to start posting either our meal plan or a recipe once a week.  I really enjoy seeing other peoples' meal plans or links to recipes, as it helps me get fresh ideas.

I hope you all have a great day!

Current read-alouds

Mark has been reading Little Britches to us in the evenings, and we're all *really* enjoying it. 


Here is a portion of what we read tonight:
But first: The background to this excerpt is that the narrator, Ralph, a boy of eight~ has lied to his mother.  When she finds out, she makes him stand with his face in the corner and wait-- missing supper-- until his father comes home.  His mother briefly fills his father in on the situation, and then this:
When he spoke, his voice was deep and dry, and I knew he must have been coughing a lot on the way home.  "Son, there is no question but what the thing you have done today deserves severe punishment.  You might have killed yourself or the horse, but much worse than that, you have injured your own character.  A man's character is like his house.  If he tears boards off his house and burns them to keep himself warm and comfortable, his house soon becomes a ruin.  If he tells lies to be able to do the things he shouldn't do but wants to, his character will soon become a ruin.  A man with a ruined character is a shame on the face of the earth."
I loved that illustration about the house, and I intend to use that in the future.

For the past few weeks I have been reading the.most.annoying.book.on.the.planet.  I know.  I thought this one took the cake.  But oh no.  This is far, far worse.  Surely you've heard of it:  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland?  Oh my goodness gracious, it's no wonder I never read this as a child.  Do not ever read it.  Trust me.  It's just... odd.  All of it.  For some reason the kids want me to finish it, though I can barely stand to.  But I think we're now two chapters away from being done with it so I will.

In the meantime I've also begun reading this to them


...because it's my all-time favorite book and I used to want to be Anne in the worst way.  I wanted to be Anne Shirley even more than I wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder, and that's saying a lot.  (And- truly: who doesn't want a Matthew Cuthbert in their life?)  So ~*happy sigh*~ that is making up for the insufferable Lewis Carroll book.  (My apologies to anyone who adores that book.  I simply do not.)  

What are you reading these days?