Open House: Saturday, January 4

At the Christmas tree farm this year

Outside my window...  It is gray and raining.  Isaias is doing some football drills.  Isaac just took the dog for a walk. 

Around the house... The boys and I just wrapped up a game of Settlers.  The girls are in the living room, discussing the Bates family (I know this because I just walked past and overheard "Carlin.... Tori and Bobby....")  and coloring as they discuss. ;)

In the school room....  We are on our December break, planning to start slowly back this week, but I'm waiting until Ella returns to community college to fully begin again.  I want to revel in the time she's here with us at home, without the stresses of school upon her.

In the kitchen... I just made some chex mix, sliced up some cheese and summer sausage, and called it lunch.  I have no idea what we're doing for dinner tonight.  (Leftovers?)  I did meal-plan this week, but I forget right now what meals I have planned that I haven't yet made. 

Decorating the tree together
I am thankful... for Mark's hard work for our family... for the opportunity to take Isaac out to practice driving today... for Ella home on break.... for this wonderful break (Mark had two whole weeks off), which ended up being really restful.  We played lots of games, completed a couple of puzzles, watched movies together, ate a lot of good food, caught up on sleep, and celebrated well.

I am wearing... jeans, a long-sleeved green t-shirt that says GRATEFUL on it, my hair up in a messy bun.

I am creating...  I have been memorizing 1 Peter- and am just through chapter one, but before I head into chapter two I've decided to do a verse per page in my journal, so I've been handlettering out each verse in my journal with watercolors and markers.  That's been a fun and creative pursuit for me.  I've also just finished doing a verse on a chalkboard for the kids at our church.

I am reading... (This is ALWAYS my favorite prompt!)  I did a lot of reading over break.  I finished Francine Rivers' A Voice in the Wind this morning.  I read it years ago and loved it and though I don't generally love re-reading books, it's been long enough that I had forgotten a lot of it and enjoyed it all over again.  Prior to that I read a Lawana Blackwell book (another of my favorite authors), and some novels by Laura Frantz and Lori Benton.  Next up: Something Needs to Change (David Platt). I'll list here what everyone else is reading, too, since we just had this conversation at the dinner table last night:
Mark: just finished Deep River (Karl Marlantes), now reading D-Day (Stephen Ambrose)
Ella: just finished An Echo in the Darkness (Francine Rivers)
Isaac: What IS he reading?  I currently forget.
Isaias: Sherlock Holmes
Adelia: Hardy Boy books.  She prefers the Hardy Boys to Nancy Drew. 
Audra: The Moody Family book series (Sarah Maxwell)

I am watching... Mark and I just finished Little Dorrit on BBC (from 2008).  Prior to that we watched The Mill (2013).  As a family we watch Bringing Up Bates.  The boys enjoy watching Dude Perfect.

I am thinking... about starting school again next week, and am thinking how- so many years into homeschooling- I am not as inventive and motivated as I used to be.  I am tired.  I love it and value it (and mostly I value these relationships with my kids), and it's important to us, but it is hard.  And it's a lot.  But we keep plugging away and I'm still thankful to get to do it. 

I am listening to... In the evenings Mark is reading aloud The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (second time through the Narnia series).  The podcast I listen to most often is Relatable with Allie Beth Stuckey (Love her.)  I also love Christy Nockels' Glorious in the Mundane podcasts, but she doesn't post often.  Mark got me two cds for Christmas (yes, we still buy cds): Christy Nockels (Into the Glorious) and Ben Rector (Magic), so I am listening to those.  I would love to find a good audiobook that we could listen to when we start back to school.  I love long winter afternoons with the kids by the fire listening to a good hearty audiobook.  Any recommendations? 

Okay.  That's an awful lot.  I'd love to hear back from you.... any good books you've read?  Or that your kids have read?  Movies or shows you're watching?  Songs/podcasts you love?  Meals you're making?

Blessings to you and yours,

Another birthday

I'm sneaking into this space today to write.

We celebrated Isaac yesterday.  He is 16.  I cannot even begin to tell you how strange this is.  SIXTEEN?!  Where do the years go?

Isaac was my cuddly, sweet, little chubby-cheeked boy.  I used to call him my "budders".  He would climb up into my lap or beside me and chat with me.  He used to wear this old denim jacket and a red cowboy hat and cowboy boots, wherever we went, like it was his uniform.  He used to sit in the living room and build something (a puzzle or Legos or blocks), and sing at the top of his lungs.  He laughed a lot.  He was always imagining something.

Now he stands several inches taller than me.  He stands beside me and I look up to him.  He reminds me so much of Mark.  He has the same kindness, the same thoughtfulness, the same sensitivity.  He is gentle in spirit.  He's also hard on himself.  He is hesitant to try things unless he knows he'll succeed at them.

I see traces of that little-boy-Isaac in him still-- he likes to talk--- but especially when it's just one-on-one.  He still has an incredible imagination.  He pours it into a story he's writing- just one- that he's been working on for years, complete with maps and timelines and character sketches and drawings.  He draws well.  He has a great sense of humor.  He is so smart.  He likes to listen to political podcasts.  He still builds Lego creations.  He loves to listen to music.  He is kind.  He feels and thinks deeply.  He is compassionate toward others. 

I love him so much.  He is truly one of my favorite people.  We try to hang out together, just the two of us-- heading for coffee and the park or a walk-- every week or so, and I love hearing him talk about the things he's interested in; about the things he's reading and listening to, about the things that affect him.  He is my friend.  I know him so well, and yet I'm still studying him and learning who he is, too.

This is what I think every single day: it is a worthwhile investment to invest in your children.  I have loved these years of parenting.  I always wanted to be a wife and mommy and it is a wonderful, fulfilling job.  I am so grateful for the years I have spent here, in our home, caring for our children.  They grow up to be pretty amazing people.

Happy Birthday to my budders. 

(Photo taken yesterday, on his birthday.  We'd just finished playing a game of Settlers and they were sitting beside me.)

Printable Thanksgiving/Fall Coloring Pages

Hello, sweet friends! 

Last week I sat down and made these coloring pages for my girls.  Then I had the idea to make them available as a free printable on Etsy.  Come to find out, Etsy doesn't let you list things for free.  So I put them up for the lowest price I could, which is 20¢ for the two pages shown here.  (If you are wanting something for your little ones to do, here's a project for you.)

The link is here: WithGreatJoyshop.  (I've never done this before, so if there are any problems and you are unable to download, will you please let me know?  Thank you!) 

Hope you are all doing well. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Cinnamon Knots | a recipe

Hi sweet friends,

I just posted a picture on Instagram and had requests about it, so here's the recipe for those of you who are interested.

First off, I was inspired by this recipe from Half Baked Harvest.  I adore that blog, AND her cookbook, so if you're not familiar with it, consider yourself in for a huge treat when you go peek.  :)

I tweaked her recipe, and here's what I came up with:

Cinnamon Knots

1 1/2 cups of warm water
2 1/4 tsp. yeast
2 T sugar

Dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water and leave it for 10 min.
        3 1/2 cups flour
        2 T melted butter
        1 tsp salt
Knead for a few minutes in your stand mixer (or with your hands or a wooden spoon.)
Roll the dough out flat in the shape of a big rectangle.
Spread some softened butter across the dough and sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon over the butter.  (Maybe 3-4 T of softened butter, about 3 T of brown sugar and then just shake the cinnamon over that.)
Fold the dough in half, pressing the dough down with your fingers or the palm of your hand.  (I also rolled my rolling pin over the folded dough again to press in the sugar mixture.)
Cut into strips.  (I used a pizza cutter.)
Taking one strip at a time and pinching the ends with your thumb and forefinger, twist the strips and literally tie a knot into the middle of the strip.  The remaining dough (the ends, around the knot) you will just sort of scrunch around the knot as you're lying it onto the pan.  Use parchment paper or a silpat, and leave a bit of room around each one, like you would for cookies.

Cover your knots with greased plastic wrap and let rise for 45 min to an hour.  (I turn the oven light on and stick them into the oven so there's no draft.)

Before baking, mix and sprinkle over the knots:
       2 T melted butter
       1 tsp cinnamon
       1/4 cup brown sugar

Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes or until golden.

For the glaze:
       1 cup powdered sugar
       2 T cream cheese, softened
       1 tsp vanilla
       2 T orange juice
       a bit of milk (around 1 T)

You can skip the orange juice for a more traditional glaze. ;)
Happy baking/eating!  :) 

PS: My sister texted me asking, "What are those blueberry looking pastries you posted on Instagram?"  :)

I know the lighting or the filter made it look like they were fruity but they weren't.  HOWEVER, rather than spreading the softened butter + cinnamon + brown sugar mixture, you could spread some berry or peach jam (YUM.  Trust me. I have done this.) And follow the recipe from there.  I'm personally not a big fan of cinnamon with berries so I would skip the cinnamon and only sprinkle butter & brown sugar over the top, but there you go.  They will be messier but delicious.  :)

Roll to the Middle

The other night I was feeling crabby at Mark.

The details aren't important, but when he pulled back the covers on his side of the bed, I was upset and he knew it.  (He had walked in a few minutes earlier and asked if I was mad at him.  I'd said no but my eyes and body language said otherwise.)  As he settled into bed beside me, I was turned away from him and was spending my time silently musing over all the reasons I was justified in feeling hurt by his actions.

I half-expected him to reach out to me, cautiously settling his hand on my waist-- because he usually does, but I also knew if he did that I would shrug his hand off.  (He probably guessed that would be my reaction, too, which is maybe why he didn't.) 

Minutes passed, and as I lay there I thought of some lines from the song by Sara Groves called Roll to the Middle.  I'll include the lyrics here if you're not familiar with the song:
We just had a World War III here in our kitchen
We both thought the meanest things
And then we both said them
We shot at each other till we lost ammunition

This is how I know our love
This is when I feel it’s power
Here in the absence of it
This is my darkest hour
When both of us are hunkered down
And waiting for the truce

All the complicated wars
They end pretty simple
Here when the lights go down
We roll to the middle

No matter how my pride resists
No matter how this wall feels true
No matter how I can’t be sure
That you’re gonna roll in too
No matter what, no matter what
I’m going to reach for you

And I had the thought, "One of us should roll to the middle; relent, reach out to the other right about now."  (But I didn't want it to be me, of course, so I remained seething on my side of the bed.) 

And then it occurred to me: Mark was already "rolled to the middle"; he was facing me, available for conversation, it was me with the walls up.  So I bit back my pride and rolled over and reached out to him and we began talking.  And all became well again.

I love that last verse of the song: No matter how my pride resists, no matter how this wall feels true, .... no matter what, no matter what, I'm going to reach for you. 

I'm so thankful to be married to this man who is always sure to have rolled to the middle first, who is quick to reach out to me.  He is so good to me, and is a constant reminder to me of God's tender love and mercy toward me, who is so undeserving of it. 

Grief in Two Parts

I love this season.

My Ella, a kindred spirit of mine in all things, including her mutual love of this season, told me recently that one of her friends said, "Why do people even like Fall?  Everything is dying.  It's just dead leaves everywhere.  It signifies death."

Later, when I was alone and I recalled that conversation, I realized that this season has signified death for our family.


It was late summer when I found out, to my great joy, that I was expecting another baby.  I whispered the news to Mark and we were cautiously optimistic (cautious, because our last two pregnancies have ended in miscarriage.  Optimistic, because what were the chances of that happening AGAIN?  We have been content in this place, surrendered to the idea that I would likely not get pregnant again.  So unexpected news felt like a great gift.)  We decided to keep the news to ourselves for awhile (and not even tell the kids) because we wanted so much to protect their hearts.  Some of the most heart-wrenching moments in my life are those that followed the telling to our children of our first loss: that the little baby brother or sister they were so eagerly anticipating had died within me.

And so we waited, and God gave us the strength to hope and He quieted my fears and I was really sick and we were counting down the days to the first ultrasound after which we would then get to reveal this amazing news to our kids.

The day for the ultrasound arrived, the appointment time came and I eagerly put on the gown and settled in to hear and see our baby.  Except as the technician moved her wand over my tummy, the room was silent; the screen was still.  My mind rushed to explain this: Maybe she just doesn't have the right angle yet.  Maybe she still needs to zoom in.

I looked at Mark in the dim room with questions in my eyes-- he'll know if we should be worried right now-- and he was focused, searching himself.

Still I hoped.  Until the truth was spoken aloud, I hoped.  And then I was crushed.  I can't even think of that day without the tears falling.  I was so stunned.  I had so hoped.  Why, when we were so content, would God offer this sweet gift to us, allow us the joy of hoping and dreaming about this little life to join our family, and then retrieve that gift?  For the third time?

We walked quietly out of the room, down the hall, through the office where minutes before I had  filled out paperwork and cheerfully anticipated good news, opened the main door and stepped outside. We hesitated then, just outside the door.  I sucked in air and said something to the effect of, "I can't believe we are here in this place again."  And then we walked the rest of the way to our vehicle.  It was only within the quiet of that space that I felt the freedom to cry.

Mark drove to his work to wrap things up for the day and come home with me early, and I had about half-hour in the car by myself.  I remembered then Ellie Holcomb talking about the story behind her song Find You Here.  She said that when her dad found out he had cancer, her parents invited all their friends and family over for a night of worship.  Right there in the thick of the dark news.  And that it was a beautiful night of proclaiming Jesus in the midst of the hurt.

It's not the news that any of us hoped that we would hear
It's not the road we would have chosen, no
The only thing that we can see is darkness up ahead
But You're asking us to lay our worry down and sing a song instead

You say that I should come to You with everything I need
You're asking me to thank You even when the pain is deep
You promise that You'll come and meet us on the road ahead
And no matter what the fear says, You give me a reason to be glad
Find You Here, Ellie Holcomb (first two verses)

So as I sat in our vehicle and waited for Mark to join me, I sang.  I sang and sobbed right there when my pain was raw.  I certainly didn't feel like singing, but I forced myself to.  That song, and Praise the Lord (the Imperials).

And then we drove home to tell our kids the news I never wanted to have to tell them again.

I never meant to stop blogging.  I've always been fond of this quiet little space here.  Over the years it's become a file cabinet for me-- a place to store favorite recipes, memories, photos, ideas, school plans, book lists, struggles and joys.  Like my own little bullet journal, but less listy and more chatty. 

And then our camera broke, so I had no access to photos except for the ones on my phone, which aren't great photos.

Readers kept reading but stopped commenting, and while that shouldn't matter and I wish it didn't, it does. 

And life is busy, and time is short.

So I eventually stopped.

I joined Instagram, (yes, seven whole years late to the party) thinking maybe I'll do that instead, (and upon getting there my first thought was, "Oh.  So THIS is where everyone went."  I really was dumbfounded; I hadn't known it was such a thing.  I understand the draw of it- short, snippets of life caught in photos.  But honestly it's not my favorite format.  I like words over photos.  I prefer a blog post to an Instagram post.

Anyway.  This isn't a post to officially announce that I've stopped blogging. 

And it isn't a post to say that I'm officially back to writing here in this space.

But suddenly I have three topics percolating in my mind and I may just write them.  I don't know if anyone will read or comment, but I want to put those words somewhere so it may as well be here, adding it to these files.