Monday, December 30, 2013

4 Things I Learned in December

It's that time again. The post where I share a few things I've learned or noticed this month. 

It's not an exhaustive list, nor will it change your life. But it's a fun post to write and I'm thankful that Emily over at Chatting at the Sky offers this link-up opportunity at the end of each month. Want to know more of what I'm talking about? Go here.

In no particular order, here are four things I've learned in December.

1. I want high-waisted, layered, ruffly 80s skirts to make a comeback. 

Even though I'm entirely too old to wear one. The acid-wash is more than welcome to remain in the late-80s / early-90s; it's the layery ruffles that are so swoony.

We had a little Christmas party. It's something we started two years ago as a time for our small group to gather and munch and sip and karaoke to "Total Eclipse of the Heart" on Singstar. Anyway, this year I dressed up as the "Ghost of Scooper Past" and I pulled this little number from the wardrobe archives.

Even though it was only partially zippable, it was kind of fab to wear it again. {The belt, socks, and booties are all from my little box of yesteryear wear. Because some things are just worth saving.}

2. Everything is overpriced at Disney {this is not news} except for one thing: silhouettes. 

We went to Disney World during the first part of Christmas break with my husband's family and I stumbled upon a little artists' section in the Magic Kingdom. 

Hidden amid the expected theme-park caricature painters was an unexpected silhouette artist named Anthony. I've always wanted silhouettes of my kids but have never gotten them. Well, Disney World became my happiest place on earth that day because I got sweet silhouettes of each of my kids for just $8 each. Eight dollars. If you've ever looked into getting silhouettes, you know that $8 is a bargain times ten. You can also purchase the oval frames for $7.95 so I said Merry Christmas and told my kids that this was their gift to me.

Here's how my curly-headed youngest's turned out. Spot on.

Instead of sketching or painting, Anthony cut them with scissors. It was amazing to watch. He had these tiny, fine-tip scissors and he finished each one in about four minutes. It was like magic and I think they turned out beautifully.

What's the moral of the story? If you go to Disney, skip the $40 souvenir t-shirts and get the $8 silhouettes. 

3. My daughter is growing up. 

I notice it every day. More and more, my stuff is becoming her stuff. Sweaters and scarves and necklaces are disappearing at an alarming rate and I can usually find them strewn over the hot-pink desk chair in her room or stashed inside her tote bag. 

This makes me happy and sad. A girl grows up entirely too fast. This is truth. But it's also a sweet thing to bond over our kindred love of accessories and slouchy sweaters. I'm thinking the mascara and lip gloss may begin to disappear next.

4. Writing is like running.

I've really struggled with both of these the last two months. I blame the winter and the blahs and the sicknesses and the holidays and how all of these can suck the inspiration and confidence right out of a girl. And while all of this is true, too much time off or just simple inconsistency have a way of turning a running break or writer's block into stagnation and discouragement.

Before long, you don't even want to try because you know it's going to be a struggle. It might even hurt. Perhaps you'll hate yourself a little bit and question if you're ever meant to lace up your running shoes or open your laptop again. 

I've been a runner longer than I've been a writer and any runner will tell you this obvious truth: the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Any writer will tell you the same thing about plucking away at the keyboard. 

If you only lace up or boot up when inspiration strikes, you will most likely feel clunky and exhausted.

I'm looking forward to shaking off the cobwebs on my sneakers and my laptop in the coming weeks...even though it's going to feel awkward and painful and I will curse my haphazard ways. 

Aren't you glad the beginning of the year is right around the corner? A fresh start is always a gift.


That's all I've got for December. I'm sure there are many other things I've noticed but they have come and gone in my brain, drowned in the sea of cheese, creamy coffee, and holiday confections that have been my steady diet the last few weeks.

What have you learned in December?  

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What an $18 Fake Christmas Tree Taught Me About Saying Yes

When my kids ask for something, I usually say no

That's because they ask for things like candy and screen time and new stuff and candy and things that are just completely unreasonable and also candy. Undeterred by the frequent no, they continue to ask for these things a lot. And because I try to keep treats and electronic brain-numbing to a healthy moderation, it seems like I am forever and always saying no

But all of that changed on an impromptu trip to Big Lots. 

Every year these kids of mine beg for a Christmas tree in their room and every year I think to myself, That is so totally unneccessary. Kids with their own personal Christmas trees? It's a testimony to American consumerism and privileged kids run amuck. My kids have plenty. I will not add to their ruin by indulging them with their own personal Christmas trees.

Yet two weeks ago I found myself unloading two four-foot Christmas trees from the Big Lots shopping cart into my van. A pre-lit green one for the boys' room and a pre-lit white one for my girl. 

I'm not sure what happened. But I think it had something to do with Barbie Dream House regret and my kids growing up too fast and thinking about how they'll anticipate getting these trees down from the attic every year and falling asleep each December amid the glow of twinkle lights. 

I called my husband from the parking lot and said, You will not believe what I just bought. 

I picked the boys up from school and told them what I had in the trunk. Fifteen minutes of squeals and delight later, we were unboxing a kid-size tree and decorating it with their homemade ornaments and plugging in the lights. 

My daughter got home late that evening from youth group. It just so happened that they'd crafted cute little ornaments and I said, Oh, I have just the place for that snowman ornament. 

When she walked into her room and saw the white tree with the glittery pink bow at the top, she resembled a just-crowned Miss America, hands cupped over her mouth and shaking with happy disbelief, eyes as big as saucers. All she needed was a sash and a crooked tiara.

I guess Christmas came early.

Every day they are loving their trees. So inspired by the $18 white sparkly tree, my daughter has commenced to making her digs ever merrier. She raided the leftover Christmas decor and her room is bedazzled in tinsel and lights from top to bottom. And my littlest son keeps finding trinkets to add to his toppling fake evergreen. 

I've lost count of how many times they've thanked me for the trees.

Sometimes love looks like saying no to Twizzlers because they need to eat their veggies. 

And sometimes love looks like a four-foot tree from the Big Lots Christmas aisle.


This post is linked up to "Tuesdays Unwrapped" with Emily over at Chatting at the Sky. Join us as we "take the time to unwrap the small, secret gift of the everyday."

Interested in having each post from a la mode delivered to your e-mail inbox? You can do that near the top of the right sidebar. Just enter your e-mail address in the subscribe box. You can unsubscribe anytime you like. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Our Merry Little Christmas Home

Today I'm linking up with none other than the Nester for her Christmas Tour of Homes. 

2013 christmas tour of homes

I love her and gospel of imperfection. It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful, you know. You do know that, right? 

Whenever I feel stressy or fussy about something with my house, her little voice begins singing in my head and I feel better. {Do you like how I just turned the Nester into a tiny Mary Poppins house whisperer that travels around in my head?} 

Moving on before things get weirder. 

But let me first say this. I'm all about using what I have. Greenery leftover from the bottom of the tree. Earthen crocks emptied of dried hydrangeas and filled with evergreen. Starfish as Christmas stars instead of summer beachy decor. White cardstock circle-punched and hot-glued onto string. You get the idea.

My pictures aren't perfect but then neither is my home. What you don't see are duffle bags in the living room and dishes in the sink and the toilet that's broken in the kids' bathroom. I could go on. But that's kind of the point. If I apologize for the imperfection, I apologize for the real life that we live here each and every day.

Christmas comes whether everything's ready and perfect or not. I say bring it.

On with the tour...


I swapped out our usual kids' gallery artwork for their Christmas creations of years past. Sometimes it pays to be a sentimental hoarder.

My very sentimental nativity, a wedding gift from my dear mother-in-law. In all these years, all we've managed to break is the donkey's left ear.

Bay-leaf garland and fun lights, both treasures from the Pottery Barn outlet's 75% off clearance 10+ years ago.

Jesse Tree ornaments from Ann Voskamp's book, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas.

Glitter initial compliments of the Walmart ornament aisle. $1.57. 

Paper-punched garland. 

Furry scarf turned garland. 

Clippings from the tea olive bushes in the front yard.

From our merry little home to yours, may grace and peace be yours this Christmas.


2013 a la mode Christmas posts:

Waking Up This Christmas

When Your Christmas Plans Aren't Going As Planned

2012 Christmas posts:

For the Mom Who's Trying to Get Her Kids and Her Holidays Just Right

December {Week 1}: Into the Mess

December {Week 2}: Belief is a Gift

December {Week 3}: "Mindful of My Humble State"

Interested in having each post from a la mode delivered to your e-mail inbox? You can do that near the top of the right sidebar. Just enter your e-mail address in the subscribe box. You can unsubscribe anytime you like. 

*Amazon link is an affiliate link, which means I earn a small commission if you make purchases through the link.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Waking Up This Christmas

The discussion all began with some observations on last week's local Christmas parade. For all of you non-southern readers, we have small-town Christmas parades down here. It's a tradition my Michigan-born husband still finds amusing.

Some friends were there with an Ethiopian family from our church. Both families are new-ish to this area and both families were struck by the same ironic "oversight." 

In the midst of a parade commemorating Christmas, there was no Christ. They were baffled.

I must admit, I felt kind of guilty by the fact that I wasn't baffled. In a culture that celebrates multiple religious holidays alongside all things Santa and North Pole and tinsel and consumerism, my own vision has become dulled to the omission of Christ. I'm used to our cultural celebration over Christmas overshadowing the Christian celebration of Christmas.

Rest assured, I'm not knocking Christmas trees or gifts or Santa or even parades. We decorate our home and buy gifts for our kids and love us some Santa. I also understand that we live in community with others who represent an array of religious traditions. 

This isn't a post about beating people over the head with baby Jesus and his manger, nor is it a rant against the other symbols and non-religious traditions that even Christians, us included, partake in during this time of year.

It's a post about the dulling of our senses.

As I've been studying the book of Matthew this year, I'm struck by how many times Jesus speaks to the spiritual blindness and deafness of those who had front-row seats to his message. And not just to his message and miracles, but to Him, the actual Messiah.

They couldn't see who was right in front of them. And this seems crazy to me, until I realize that we're not so different today.

In Matthew 13:14-15, Jesus is speaking to great crowds and quotes the prophet Isaiah using this very imagery of senses:

You will indeed hear but never understand,
  and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people's heart has grown dull,
  and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
  lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
  and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.

Like the great crowds, I fear our hearts have grown dull.

It's easy for Christians to fall prey to the assumption that we are immune to dulled senses. Dull implies fading. It can be a gradual thing and that means we're often unaware that it's even happening at all.

I wasn't at any local parades this year but I fear that my own senses would have been too dull to see and to hear and to understand that amid all the tinsel and music and baton-twirling, we've forgotten what it is, who it is, that we anticipate. 

But this week, I've woken up to the loud and unmistakable truth of December. 

It's as if the brutally honest words of one of my favorite Christmas characters of all time, Gladys Herdman, have been ringing crystal clear in my ears:

Hey! Unto you a child is born!

If you've never read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, it's one of the my all-time favorites. One of my grade school teachers read it to our class when I was a kid and now my family reads it each year. The story never gets old or any less funny. 

There's something completely refreshing about the irreligious, irreverent Herdman kids who found the Christmas story so startling, so amazing, that they hijacked the annual pageant {cigars and dirty sneakers in tow} and told the Christmas story to the entire town. A town that was so polite and well-mannered, they were embarrassed by the startling truth and wonder of their very own Christmas pageant. 

It took the filthiest, most uncouth family infiltrating the town's Christmas pageant to wake the people up to the greatest news of all: 

Hey! Unto you a child is born! A baby! Sent to rescue the world and take us as we are. It's crazy and wonderful and seems too good to be true.

We don't have to be embarrassed about it. We don't have to make it politically correct or socially acceptable because it's neither of those things. 

A pregnant virgin. A baby king. A star that shone unabashedly so people could come and worship. A hooker grafted into the family line of Jesus. A perfect man dying a brutal death on a cross to save a wretched world. 

There is nothing polite and acceptable about any of that. It's downright scandalous. We're not supposed to clean it up or gingerly set it upon a shelf alongside the other traditions of the season.

Though Jesus came quiet and unnoticed in a stable, the magnificence of his coming deserves a megaphone and exclamation point.

Our culture celebrates many things this time of year but for those who are in Christ, we can be bold in our acknowledgment and in our worship.

I don't say that lightly. For a soul-searching contemplative like me, I'm more comfortable being like Mary and simply "pondering these things in my heart." And we can. We should. But let us not forget that Mary also sang a song of praise out of her heart's overflow, a song about the mighty, magnificent God she served.

This year, I invite you to wake with me out of our dulled slumber. 

Let us see the glorious truth and person of Jesus with eyes wide open.

Let us hear his voice with new ears.

Let us perceive his message of hope and deliverance with fresh understanding.

Let us ponder and sing, hope and rejoice.

Let us wildly anticipate and parade the great news.

Let us boldly celebrate with our liturgies and our very lives that unto us, a child is born!


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Friday, December 6, 2013

When Your Christmas Plans Aren't Going As Planned

It happens every December. I make plans and my heart swells with all things Christmas and I think about how lovely life will be. 

And then we go off the rails. 

It started Sunday evening, a time that was supposed to be a festive family affair of getting the Christmas tree and lighting it up and reminiscing about our favorite ornaments and drinking homemade hot chocolate by the fire.

Instead, only half of the lights decided to glow and the kids fought too much to even finish the tree and I accidentally slung a mug of cold coffee across the kitchen, a casualty of speed-loading the dishwasher. While Andy Williams crooned "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" in the background, I wiped coffee from every imaginable surface and the kids cried because the tree wasn't done and they never got their hot chocolate. 

I cried too.

The youngest hates our Advent devotional time and is bent on making his mother lose her religion while we all learn to celebrate Jesus. This kid has single-handedly sabotaged every single day of our Jesse Tree reading and brought the older kids, who should know better, down with him in the process.

Last night I was in tears before we could even begin. I shut the book, walked away from the table, and commenced to cleaning the kitchen. But while I was about the business of wallowing in the annual failure of our personal Advent efforts, my husband spoke to each kid and brought them all back in to apologize. 

And then he said, I want you to read. This is why we need it.

This sweet family of mine can be accused of many things but we will never be accused of having our act together. We're a mess. All the time.

Tomorrow evening we're having a Christmas party for our small group. Getting our small and unruly house pretty-ish and ready for grown-ups is no small task and for the second day this week, I am struck with a mysterious bout of extreme dizziness that has me totally in bed and unable to walk without crashing into the walls and knocking down the tree.

It will take a Christmas miracle and possibly a maid to pull things together.

But I'm old enough to realize that stuff like this happens every year as our glittery, nostalgia-laden, perfection-driven expectations are pummeled by real life.

The silver lining here is that interruption and imperfection and inability have a way of taking me down to the bare bones questions.

What's most important? 

What am I striving for? 

How can I be grateful even though the room is spinning today and my house is still in chaos and I'm having a party tomorrow and my head won't stop hurting?

If all my plans and expectations are dashed for one reason or another, what still remains?

The answers to those questions reveal the state of my heart, a heart too often buried under layers of superficial loveliness that start out fine and good but snowball into something big and ugly. 

Trees and traditions, family and friends, presents and parties--they are good gifts from God. There is no guilt in enjoying them well. As my dear friend Cheryl says, Christians should throw the best parties. We have the most to celebrate! 

She is so right.

But I have a way of turning these good gifts into ultimate gifts. Good desires into over-desires. I think we all do.

Here's the difficult, beautiful truth. Disappointment brings me to acceptance. Acceptance brings me to humility. Humility brings me to Jesus. And Jesus shows me that I can't save myself or save my crazy days or save my Christmas.

I'm dependent on Him alone. For everything.

Inability becomes a gift that points me to the ultimate Giver. 

At this moment, I'm unable to string garland or make my kids love Advent. I'm unable to get anything together really.

But inability and imperfection invite me to look to my Savior, to receive his love and grace and sovereign plans.

And that is a rather needful place to be.

And Jesus claims exactly these who are wandering and wondering and wounded and worn out as His. He grafts you into His line and His story and His heart, and He gives you His name, His lineage, His righteousness. He graces you with plain grace. 
Is there a greater Gift you could want or need or have?


What about you? How are glittery expectation and real life squaring off in your house this Christmas season?

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Unwrapping the Gift of Space & Stillness

We sat around our tables Thanksgiving Day, each one offering this year's specific gratitudes. My dad said he was grateful to still be working hard at a job he loves. My husband also gave thanks for a job he enjoys and for some much-needed time off from that job to rest and spend time with family. 

And then it was my turn.  

I said, Well, I'm thankful that I don't have a job.

We all laughed, including me. But the thing is, I actually wasn't kidding.

Me not having a job, it's not entirely true. I'm a wife, a mom to three kids, and a writer. I have plenty to do and by each day's end, it's never all done.

But for thirteen years I lived life in a breathless sort of state. Often juggling. Often stressing. Often dealing with heavy things. Always striving. My soul rarely rested for more than a few moments at a time. 

And then two years ago it all changed. I couldn't keep going like that. After years as a working mom outside the home and then a homeschooling mom inside the home, we decided to change up everything.

We put the kids in school and removed everything possible from my plate. We resolved to simplify, say no, rest, and heal. 

And we have. By God's grace and mercy, we have. And in many ways, we still are.

Though I've gradually added things back in--one morning a week doing art with kindergarteners, saying yes to opportunities that tug on my heart, more writing--I have space in my life to breathe. 

Two years later and I'm just as grateful. It still seems too good to be true. And though I don't know how long this sort of respite will last, I receive it as a gift while I have it.

Yesterday morning I sat in fuzzy pajamas on the sofa, the fire and lit-up Christmas tree as my backdrop. My husband had left for work and the kids were at school. Even the dog was napping in another room. 

It was just me and Jesus. 

There I was, the first Monday of Advent, still and reflective and able to offer up my time and anxieties and words to God. 

I soaked in the presence of Christ himself and He equipped me for the demands that would come calling throughout the rest of the day.

I breathed in stillness and exhaled thanks.

This time, this space, this ability to just slow and breathe and receive, I drink it down as one who thirsted long in the desert and finally arrived at oasis.

So on this first Tuesday of Advent, I unwrap the gift of quiet and stillness and communion. 

Perhaps you can too? Whatever your frenzied state, I invite you to carve out space, no matter how small, to still your soul and receive the peace of Christ himself. Maybe it's in pick-up line or in the few moments you have to shower or while you fix the coffee or stir the soup.

Wherever you are in the midst of these breathless days, take time to rest your soul, to inhale grace, and to exhale gratitude. 


This post is linked up to "Tuesdays Unwrapped" with Emily over at Chatting at the Sky. Join us as we "take the time to unwrap the small, secret gift of the everyday."

Interested in having each post from a la mode delivered to your e-mail inbox? You can do that near the top of the right sidebar. Just enter your e-mail address in the subscribe box. You can unsubscribe anytime you like. 


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