Saturday, December 31, 2011

a la mode: best of 2011

I love watching all the "Best of 2011" vignettes on TV right now, the good, the ridiculous, the worst-dressed. 

Today I took my own trip down memory lane, perusing my blog's 2011 archives. I have a tendency to forget what I write, to forget the lived-out everyday and the lessons learned in the process. 

October's 31 Days of Real series was a huge highlight. Thanks to the Nester for inspiring hundreds of us bloggers to join in. And thanks to all of your readers who encouraged me and commented and told me to keep writing. You really did spur me on to the finish line.

Often I've said that I write to remember. Reading back over my year has reminded me of beauty's persistence and God's faithfulness.   

As we wind down this year and anticipate the next, I decided to pick out a few of my favorite posts from 2011. When I compiled them, it just happened to be ten posts. Perfect. 

So here are 10 of my favorites, listed in chronological order. They're not necessary the most well-written or widely-read. They're simply the ones that tugged on my heart or made me laugh or seemed worthy of rereading.

And these are a few favorites from my 31 Days of Real series:

Notice the Becoming {motherhood}

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Year-End Reads & Reviews

I love a good booklist. I've kept booklists in my right sidebar ever since I started my blog in an effort to keep up with my yearly reads. It's also a lazy way to recommend books to others. When someone asks what I'm reading I can say, Just go to my blog. It's on the right-hand side.

When I saw that the Nester is having a booklist linky, I got way excited. Like her, I believe you can learn a lot about a person by their bookshelf and I love to see what other folks are reading. Furthermore, I like to dish about books as much as I like to dish about most anything. 

My 2011 Booklist {with mini-reviews}

Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life by Emily P. Freeman
~You can read my review of this book here.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling 
~I've been waiting for years to start Harry Potter with my kids. I felt that my older two were both at good ages so when we finished the Chronicles of Narnia series, we started reading Harry. It has been great, great fun.

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young 
~A devotional that carried me through 2011 by gently pointing me, daily, to the presence and power of Christ.

Loving Our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk 
~I really appreciated some of the ideas and techniques in this book. Like all parenting books I read, I've finally learned to take bits and pieces and apply what I think will work for us.

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp 
~This is simply a beautiful, deeply-moving I need to read again and again through the years. My mom bought this book for all the women in my family. 

Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living by Tsh Oxenreider 
~I'm rolling this one out again for the new year.

Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery by Don Richard Riso
~Taking the Enneagram a couple of years ago was a huge tool in self-understanding. Huge. This book, recommended by my friend / cousin-in-law, Lisa {who painstakingly took me through the Enneagram}, continues to be a go-to resource.

Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore 
~If you haven't read this yet, put it on your booklist for 2012. My friend, Amanda, buys this book by the case and gives them away. She gave it to me and I've already passed it on as well.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
~You can read my mini-review here. I've started reading this one to my kids every Christmas.

The Confession by John Grisham
~The Man and I love to listen to Grisham books on long car trips. They're engaging enough to keep us awake yet easy enough for our tired brains to follow.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows 
~Recommended by a couple of different friends. I LOVED this book...laughed, cried, and stayed up late to finish.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett 
~Okay, I'm sometimes reluctant to read fiction that's at the top of the bestseller list. I know that sounds a bit snobbish but I don't always love what's popular with the masses. This one, however, breaks all the rules. It's a must-read. Again, I laughed and cried and read with flashlight under the covers until the wee hours.

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis 

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis 

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis 
~It took us a good couple of years but I read The Chronicles of Narnia to my older two kids. It's been one of the highlights of motherhood, reading great books to my kids. The Last Battle had me weeping and thinking and tearing up again for days after I read it. I think about Heaven in a totally different light because of this book.

Though the Darkness Hide Thee by Susan Wise Bauer 
~Bauer has become my "matron saint of homeschooling." I love her book, The Well-Trained Mind, and I've used a lot of the curricula produced by her publishing company. This is her only published work of fiction and it's out of print but I borrowed it from Amanda. I enjoyed it. It's well-written and kept me reading. 

When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man by Edward T. Welch 
~Recommended by my counselor. I won't lie, I've wrestled with this book in a big way...but only because deep-down I'm challenged to confront some issues I'd rather not. It's not touchy-feely and Welch doesn't write "in my language" but it's still a book I recommend with confidence.

On My Bookshelf for 2012 

Continuing the Harry Potter series with my kids
~I'm so excited about this I can hardly stand it.

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller
~I bought this for myself last Christmas and never read it. My husband picked it up and claims it's one of the best books he's ever read. Our small group starts the book this week so I will, in fact, read the book after all. 

Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way by Shauna Niequist
~Recently recommended by a friend who's guessing this just may be my sort of book. I'm guessing she's right.

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
~Still reading from 2011.

Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary by J.D. Greear
~Still reading from 2011. When three people in two weeks recommended this book, I downloaded it to my Kindle.

Grace-Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young 
~This is one to go through every year.

Love That Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace by Gary and Betsy Ricucci
~Still reading from 2011. My husband and I are reading this together.

Same Kind of Different As Me by Denver Hall and Ron Moore
~I read it last year but I'm reading it again for my Inklings book discussion group in January.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
~Another recommendation by my friend, Amanda. I read everything Amanda tells me to read. Lucky for me, my mother-in-law had this sitting on her bookshelf at Christmas and loaned it to me.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Timothy Keller 
~I read everything Tim Keller writes. My husband asked for this book for Christmas so it was totally a gift for me too.

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown
~So this is one of the few books I'd never heard of but saw it on amazon months ago and bought on a whim. I couldn't believe it when I saw this book on the Nester's 2012 booklist! I don't know anyone else who's read it.

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work" by Kathleen Norris
~I've wanted to read this book for years and got it for Christmas last year from my sister-in-law. My friend, Keri, has been telling me to read this book since grad school but I'm a slacker. It's a tiny little book and I'm reading looking forward to it this year. {I promise, Keri.}

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall
~A gift from a dear friend. It's heavy and I didn't have it in me to start it yet...but I will.

I'm also planning to read a book or two about dog-training now that we have Jetta. Suggestions?

And now I'm exhausted. This post has enough hyper-links to crash amazon. I may just go lie down and start in on my reading list. 


Okay, now it's your turn. What are your favorite reads from 2011? What's on your shelf for 2012?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Being Kept by Christmas

It's been a mostly tradition-less Christmas season for us. No advent calendar, no Jesse Tree, no marathon cookie-baking sessions or anything like that. I've gotten by with the bare minimum: A simple tree and a garlandy mantle {that sheds}, cake-mix cookies, and store-bought gifts for loved ones. 

The Man and I have nursed sick kids, packed, unpacked, and packed again. We've traveled and shopped, enjoyed time with far-away family, and forayed through the usual chaos that comes with holiday schedules and kids and did I mention sickness?

Short on intentionality and long on practicality, this season begged me to throw off tradition guilt and make peace with reality. It's been a year of crazy and sorrow and change, a year that's coming to a close with loose ends, not a neatly tied-up bow.  

And I'm feeling like I need Christmas more than ever. 

Though I haven't done much in the way of keeping Christmas, I'm finding solace in the comforting reality that Christmas is still keeping me. 

It's not about the perfectly executed traditions or the bounding sense of merriment we muster up no matter what. It's not about the ways in which we make meaning of the true meaning of Christmas or whether our kids really "get it." 

{Because who are we kidding, they don't. And that's okay. They are, after all, just kids and their sense of wonder and belief and giddy anticipation is beautiful...even if it's a bit misplaced.}

There was one sort-of tradition, however, that my kids and I did keep this year. I read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever for the second year in a row. It's one of my favorite books of all time. One of my teachers read it to us in grade school and I never forgot it. 

My kids and I laugh at all the same parts and I cry at the end every. single. time. They look with bewilderment at my tear-streaked face and ask why Imogene Herdman playing the part of Mary and holding a plastic Baby Jesus doll always makes me cry. 

I guess it's just the sweet irony and the realness and the perfectly reverent irreverence of the whole manger scene. 

I love the book even more today than I did as a kid but for different reasons. If you're not familiar with the story, it's about a small-town Christmas pageant that's basically hijacked by the worst kids in the town, the Herdmans. They're a gang of siblings who cuss their teachers and smoke cigars in the girls' bathroom and steal from the offering plate.

They don't know the first thing about Baby Jesus or Mary or wicked King Herod or anything. But in a crazy turn of events, they end up playing all the key characters in the town Christmas pageant and well, the title of the book pretty much sums up the rest.

I'm not sure if the author intended it, but to me, it's the most perfect presentation of the Gospel of Grace in any Christmas story I've ever read. 

The worst kids in the town get the story and the pious church folks don't. The dirty kids don't try to clean themselves up before they come into the manger scene and the righteous church people just want to keep them out. 

But Jesus has a way of turning tradition and religion on its head and making it safe for everyone--the righteous and the unrighteous, the clean and the dirty, the grown-ups and the kids--to simply come.

And this year more than ever, I need an invitation to simply come.

I don't bring my togetherness or traditions or goodness. I don't bring answers or clarity or strength. 

This year I come to find rest, laying my weary head at the feet of Immanuel, God with Us, the One who has already come and brought with Him everything that I need.

Everything that you need.

Everything that the whole world needs.


For to us a child is born, 
   to us a son is given, 
   and the government will be on his shoulders. 
And he will be called 
   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, 
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tall in a Grande Cup

Several mornings a week I haul my butt out of bed while the rest of the house sleeps and run with a friend. It never gets any easier, the getting up part. 

We run and talk, bleary-eyed and cold. And then we stop on our way home for the prize.

Right now my seasonal choice is a steaming cup of Christmas blend, tall in a grande cup, with plenty of room for cream. 

The folks behind the counter know us and know our drinks and I just love that.

It's not a frugal reward but I rationalize that it's cheaper than a gym membership and it's a small price to pay for sanity in my opinion.

The running, the coffee, the conversational therapy...they are sweet, anticipated gifts that make even the hardest days a bit more bearable. 


Linked up with Tuesdays Unwrapped: Winter 2011 Edition. Unwrap with us?

Monday, December 5, 2011

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things...

Say Yes to Carrots Body Butter: My FAVORITE favorite thing

I'd hoped to do a favorite things post during my 31 Days of Real series but it got pushed to the margins. Apparently I had more pressing things to dish about. 

But I LOVE with all my heart to talk about favorite things with my girlfriends. LOVE. Last week the Nester posted a linky party and though I'm way late, I'm joining in anyway. 

I wrote a post last week that I never published. It was sort of a downer and this is Christmas. Therefore I decided to camp out in the land of favorite things instead of in the land of deep thoughts right now. 

So in the spirit of festive shallowness, let's get on with the list shall we?

Say Yes to Carrots Body Butter

{Pictured above}

I started using this stuff several years ago when I got a crazy Black Friday deal on it at Walgreens. The next year? Same deal. I even filled my kids' hands with 2 jars each {the max} and had them check out. But I may have singlehandedly abused the system and Walgreens has not offered this awesome deal for the last two years. I'm so sad about this. It's $12.99 a jar. I got it for about $2 a jar. I'll splurge when it's on sale for $7 or $8 but that's my limit. As of right now, I'm out. And my skin is hating me for it. 

Starbucks Via

Because there is such a thing as a coffee emergency and I always want to be prepared. I'm particular about my coffee but these instant babies are perfect for when I'm in a hurry and have no time for a proper brew.

Makeup Primer

I've long heard the virtues of applying primer before the rest of your makeup. As I get older, my makeup tends to slide off or seep in or evaporate or something. I'm not really sure where it goes but it doesn't stay put as well as it used to. I bought an inexpensive tube of primer at Walmart {made by Hard Candy} but I think any decent brand would do fine. On the days I actually wear make-up, the primer makes it stay put. Sweet.

Flower Pins

I've probably cranked out 50 of these over the past year. They're my go-to gift for friends and teachers. And they make great stocking stuffers. I've sold quite a few to friends and family who wanted to give them too. I'm bad about taking pics of them but here's a little cluster I pinned to a top back in May. These days I'm making cozy, clustery pins out of old sweaters. I use the flower tutorials from the lovely and talented Emily at Jones Design Company

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

My friend, Sarah, told my about this bread back in September. It sounded too good and too easy to be true. It's not. Recently the Nester posted about this bread and a couple of weeks ago Lily texted me pic of her freshly baked loaves. It's a revolution in bread baking and if you make it, you'll know why. I recently got the books from the library but if I've been good maybe someone will bring me a book of my own for Christmas. 

Here's the link to the master loaf recipe.

Boot Socks

via Pinterest {can't find original source}

One Sunday during church my husband looked down and asked me where I got my new socks. When I told him I cut the sleeves off an old sweater, we both got the church giggles so badly we could hardly carry on. You can find lots of fun boot socks inspiration on Pinterest.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pancake Mix and Pumpkin Bread Mix


We're addicted to this stuff. You have to serve the pancakes with Reddi-Whip. It's a requirement. I don't know if you can still get it since it's seasonal but file it away for next year. 

True Story: I tried a sample of the pumpkin bread with pumpkin butter in the store. I bought 3 boxes. At the checkout, my conversation with the cashier went something like this:

Cashier: Did you try the pumpkin butter with it?

Me: Yes I did. It was delicious.

Cashier: So why didn't you buy any?

Me: Um, well, I was just going to mix up some whipping cream with sugar and cinnamon and serve that with it.

Cashier: No, no, no. Here's what you do. Buy a container of mascarpone cheese, whip it with the pumpkin butter, and voila, there's your spread. I'll go get you some.

And so he did. And clearly, I did not protest. God bless Trader Joe's. That spread rocked the house. 

Christmas Movies

My faves are Elf, Christmas Vacation, and Love Actually. {Even though I have to fast forward through a few tawdry-ish parts of the latter.} I'm giddy just thinking about wrapping presents late at night while I watch one of these favorite holiday flicks. 

What are a few of your favorite things?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Real First Week of Advent

  {A picture from last year. Because right now? The Christmas decorations are still living in the attic.}

I know, my 31 Days of Real are over but apparently I became addicted to using the word "Real" in my post titles. There are worse things.

I'm not sure why but I've been super anticipatory for this holiday season. Christmas decorations began dancing around in my head two months ago. I had crafts planned and cookies with the kids I'd hoped to make. But today is December 1st and I've got nothin'.

My house is a mess. I have a mountain of Cupcake's summer clothes sitting by my feet still waiting to be sorted and put in the attic. You read that right, summer clothes. 

His birthday was yesterday and as of two days prior, I had forgotten about it. That's right, forgotten my own child's birthday.

The tree and the bins of sparkly, garlandy goodness still sit in the freezing cold, junked-up attic. I can't haul it down until I clean things up enough to have a spot to put the tree. And I'm too weary to do any of it, the mess-cleaning or the merry-making.

The guilt sings its familiar tune like an annoying radio song I just can't get out of my head.

And then I read this quote last night from Ann:

Whenever Christmas begins to burden, it’s a sign that I’ve taken on something of the world and not of Christ. Any weight in Christmas has to be of this world. 
Christ came into this world as grace to lift all the weighty burdens. 
Christ the Babe comes to us in Christmas as Christ the Savior comes  to us on the Cross — seeking only our embrace.

Why do we heap expectation on ourselves the way that we do? I realize that I can't just refuse to make things festive around here. I have kids and a husband and it's not their fault that their wife and mom morphed into an exhausted, cranky Scrooge between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I'll do what I can and it will be simple-ish. But I'll swat away guilt that it's not more. More intentionality with my kids and traditions, more service to others, more scouring for savings and perfect gifts. They're all good things. That's why I want to do them.

It's the doing that's the problem. So much doing.

We call it the season of giving. We rush around giving. But it should be the season of receiving. How can we give, in any true and meaningful sense, when we sit empty? I know that I need to receive Him, Jesus, and the rest and freedom He came to give mankind.

I know this. I do. But I'm still prone to sit vacant and exhausted even though I know He offers fulness and rest.

Resting and receiving is so much harder for me than doing and striving. I can't help but wonder if He lovingly allows the weariness and apathy so that I'm forced to stop dead in my tracks, to have no alternative but to just breathe and do the basics.

It's been a tough year, draining in every sense of the word. I'm the last one to gift grace to myself, to just slow down and let my body and spirit catch up with the toll of past circumstance. 

But today I'm feeling the need to do just that. The world won't stop spinning if we fail to make Christmas cookies or if my mantle sits naked.

If in keeping Christmas, we don't keep our sanity, well, we've missed something.

Maybe you're feeling much of the same, a need for rest and recovery....a holiday of grace. 

This Christmas, I'll be the one with a tree and not much else. Pillsbury slice-and-bakes instead of homemade. Sitting on the sofa instead of scurrying around the mall. 

And you're welcome to join me.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011



I don't remember when the prayers began but once they did, they never ceased. Neither did the questions. 

Mommy, when? 

Have you talked to Daddy any more? 

Do you think it will be before my next birthday? 

How much is a fence? I can save up and pay for it. 

How much are shots? You can take it out of my money. 

For years this child has begged for a dog, this child who relates as well to furry friends as she does to human ones. 

My husband thought it would be a phase. But she is nearly 11 and this phase has been going strong for a good 6 years. One of her favorite pastimes is thinking of names for animals she doesn't even have. 

I told her time and again why pets are a huge responsibility, how they are messy and expensive and rude, leaving their fur and slobber all over the place, chewing up shoes and furniture and then having the nerve to jump up in your lap and lick your face. 

I might as well have been speaking into the wind. 

My husband and I knew we had already lost the battle. It was simply a question of when we would wave the white flag of surrender. In my heart I felt we were getting close.

The day before Thanksgiving we made our annual trek to the flea market. You know that's a post in and of itself. We always see puppies at the flea market. And bunnies. And chickens. And pork rinds. 

But we happened upon a table with three sweet pups and the nicest owners. Their mama dog had an emergency C-section to deliver these bundles. A feeling came over me almost immediately. This is the one. I took their card and told them I'd call.

Four days after holding this furry bundle at the flea market, Blondie held her very own puppy in the van as we drove home. 

We stopped at the store while I ran in for special food and puppy pads and a leash. A leash. What in the world are we doing? I thought. An animal that poops and pees and barks is going to live in my house. In. My. House.

I realize that a dog is a normal, everyday thing that lots of people {who are not us} have and it's no big deal. 

But Jetta is a big deal to us and to me.

It's a crazy miracle, how overnight I have gone from someone who held animals at arms length to someone who loves this furry, four-legged thing that slides all over our hard-wood floors in the cutest way and looks up at me with those black marble eyes and head tilted just so. 

She has wriggled her way into hearts that already felt full and made room for more love. 

The Man and I, we find ourselves giggling and sighing. Over a dog. She has made our already complete family somehow feel even more complete, a four-legged gift I didn't even know we needed. 

As for Blondie, well, she finally got an answer to those persistent prayers of hers. A Thanksgiving gift, an early Christmas present, and a best friend, all rolled into one precious package.


{For inquiring minds, Jetta is a Miniature Schnauzer, 6 weeks old. Her name means "black gem."}

Monday, November 21, 2011

Real Gratitude

It feels strange and good to write here again after an unexpected "blog-attical." The truth is, I was weary in both body and soul. I had things to say and share but no "oomph" to get to the keyboard and scrawl something out. And that's been just fine. After all, I wrote for 31 days straight last month and that left me a wee bit drained.

Like everyone else, I'm thinking about gratitude during this week devoted to the celebration of thankfulness. And as a mom who longs to be somewhat intentional about the virtues of the upcoming holidays, I fight the urge to force gratitude into the hearts of my children and then wrongly assume that something genuinely noble will work its way back out.  

Between preschool and church, my three-year-old has made three thankfulness wreaths in the last three weeks. My older kids gave presentations to their classes last Tuesday about things they're thankful for. 

My 8-year-old's list went something like this:

1. a house  
2. CC {our homeschool group}  
3. PS3  
4. iPod Touch  
5. a bed   
6. football  
7. Mommy & Daddy  
8. a TV  
9. God  
10. Church 
{Numbers 9 and 10 came at my urging to write something even remotely virtuous}. 
11. friends  
12. clothes  
13. a toilet  
14. a body  
15. Harry Potter

I'll be honest, I feel like a failure as a mother when I see PS3's, iPods, TV, and football making the cut before God and church.

At ages 3, 8, and 10 I'd prefer them to appreciate Jesus over electronics. My husband says they're simply more honest than we are. He's right.  

My kids aren't alone. A friend of mine has been sending me regular updates of her boys' thankfulness tree additions. They're hilarious. Their Sharpie-scrawled paper leaves said things like: My DSimy xboxmy brother being quiet, and not having to do school

We are soooo spiritual, she joked. The boys were well into the thanks-giving before Jesus even made the list. 

We can laugh about the tree, but it represents a common lament among mothers. Our kids don't appreciate the things they should and they worship the things they shouldn't. We want them not to complain about their dinner when kids in their own community are starving. We want them not to want more and more when they already have so much. 

Misplaced affections are the human condition. Discontent is our default.  

My own sense of real gratitude, budding though it is, has been slow coming. As in just the last couple of years

Noticing the small gifts, celebrating the everyday, knowing that in Christ I already have all things--I was a grown-up for years before good and true things began to matter in any sort of meaningful way. I'm three decades older than my 8-year-old yet I expect him to be further along the path of true thanksgiving than his mother is. 

Daily, I fight for gratitude. And some days I surrender to the trivialities of this world before the day even begins.

As Ann Voskamp says in her book about gratitude, The only way to fight a feeling is with a feeling...We can only experience one emotion at a time. And we get to choose... 

Choosing thankfulness takes practice. And practice takes time. And time is something my kids haven't had much of yet. And really, they are thankful. I simply judge the objects of their gratitude and in doing so, I heap condemnation on their young hearts and nurture guilt in my own.  

My primary prayer this year has been this: 

God, make the Gospel real to me. Make it work its way down deep so that all of life looks different. May it change the way I live. May it change the way I love. May it change the way I forgive. May it change the affections of my heart. May it change the way I give thanks. May it change the way I sacrifice. May it orient my gaze, moment by moment, to the cross. May gratefulness for Christ and His finished work matter over everything else. 

Deep gratitude for the beauty and power of the Gospel always gives way to grace. And grace gives me compassionate eyes to look at a young boy's thankfulness list peppered with electronics...and smile at a child's honesty.

It's a start. For him and for me.  

I hope and pray that one day gratitude for things that matter will fill their hearts and change their perspective.

But until then I'll let time and the Spirit do their work. And I'll nod earnestly and pretend that the Cars 2 video game is indeed something to be thankful for. 


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