Friday, December 2, 2011

Rethinking Christmas

Advent season marked the time I started curling my toes in church. As a kid, it always came as such a surprise that Sunday after Thanksgiving that we could begin talking about Christmas already. With thrilling anticipation, the pastor had my attention, knowing that presents were soon on the way.

But really he wasn't talking about those kind of presents, he was talking about the one big present, Jesus. Advent season meant lighting a candle each Sunday and preparing our hearts and minds for that amazing birthday party. Who doesn't love a party?

Christmas stopped becoming a joy when I became a grown up and realized all the wonder and magic was up to me. I was the one who would be shopping, cooking, cleaning, preparing. Along with that work, came the heavy guilt about all the expense, measuring up and giving enough. But was the wonder all up to me, really? Or did I simply decide that?

One of my favorite daily devotion websites is called "Following the Star" at I think the author says it best when she writes:

"I step into this season with an open heart, O God. As I wait for you, surprise me with the hope of Christmas that will fill the empty places. Amen."

That is my prayer this season. I remember the child-like, toe-curling wonder of Advent, not for the presents, but for the open heart and the hope it brings. To remember that I can choose to focus on the guilt or I can choose to focus on the star.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Loser 101

Winning is overrated. Losing might be the new "it."

Lately I have been watching a lot of losing at little league baseball. As a mom, I have run out of cheery things to say. But to truly appreciate winning, I think you need to lose a lot.

I see my son tap his pitcher on the head and give words of encouragement. He never would have done that before had he not known what it’s like to walk 20 batters in a row. I see him cheer his teammates on for the tiny victories, even though they may be down by 10 runs. He has come to know how important little things can be. Little things done well, strung together make a good game.

Then I see my kid throw a perfect pitch. He would not know it’s true perfection if he hadn’t thrown a lot of awful pitches. I watch him swagger back to the mound. I witness his confidence soar. Only he and I know how many afternoons we have spent throwing that ball back and forth. All those days where we mimicked plays, with pretend stress-filled moments. Mom was the umpire those days as I belted out my best impersonation of a passionate blue yelling “STRRRRRikeee.”

Now he hears the real thing.

Winning is sweet. But it’s in the losing that we come to know it’s taste. I think losing well takes more character and guts than winning with style. And that makes it not so bad after all.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An E-mail from the Big Guy

Recently my husband and I were enjoying a sporting event on TV. We couldn’t help but notice most of the fans were not watching, but were looking down at their phones the entire time. Part of me was completely annoyed, but part of me understands.

There is something wonderful about connection. I find e-mail is the first thing I want to do in the morning and the last thing I want to do at night. I know it’s ridiculous. That got me thinking about what God would have to say about e-mail. What would He say in Facebook updates? “Just healed someone. Prevented natural disaster. Whew! LOL”

I think it’s embarrassing how much I like e-mail and texting and the Internet. Truly, what does all this add to my life? It made me wonder what God would have to say to me in an e-mail.

I imagined it would go something like this:

Hi there, God here.

Just so you know, I think you are great. Do you have any idea how much I love you? Well, it’s a lot. In case you were wondering, you don’t have to earn my love. It’s just there and will always be there.

You are doing such a fantastic job as a mom and wife – thanks for all the ways you love your family. Also, last week when you stopped to ask that family if they needed help on the highway, I thought that rocked.

Now get back to bed and get some rest. You have a big day ahead and I have some surprises planned for you.

Lastly, you are skinny enough.

Love you,


PS There’s more joy in being present to life, than updating your Facebook page.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Canning Anyone?

I’ve been thinking about canning lately. Yes, canning – think grandmas with winged aprons and a beautiful pantry filled with rows and rows of goodness. Somehow the idea of lining my shelves with summer’s bounty and sweet, red-checked jars sounds appealing.

This week at the grocery store, I discovered Canning Magazine – has it always been there? Usually I’m studying fashion magazine covers, diet features and celebrity gossip. And now, canning.

I can’t quite put my finger on the canning whim. Is it the fact that I’m getting older? Maybe it’s a longing for simple things. Right now the world feels pretty go-go, zoomy to me. School’s starting, the economy is crazy and the politicians even more so. Everyone needs something from me – parent meetings, broken faucets, socks with holes in them. I’m overwhelmed by it all.

Now would be a good time to visit grandma’s house and sit on the porch swing with her. After a nice talk, she says “why don’t you take home a jar of jam to go with the bread I made you?” I smile and nod and head to the pantry where I find treasure that grandma has lovingly stowed away from the summer garden. That sounds nice.

Too bad I don’t have that grandma. But the idea stays with me. There is a certain grounding in caring for your family that grandma’s generation knew well. Spending an afternoon making jam could be exactly what is needed. I think when the world spins crazy, I like to focus on home. I can’t control any of the chaos outside of it, but I can care for my nest.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Inspiration Surprise

Yesterday I was inspired in a coffee shop bathroom.

Even writing that sounds really odd, but it's true. There I was in a honky tonk bathroom in the North Carolina mountains at the local coffee shop. The day was ordinary, the weather was pretty ordinary, most of all I felt extremely ordinary.

Out of the corner of my eye, I briefly caught a lonely looking picture on the wall. I glanced quickly and was ready to walk out the door. But I didn't. I paused and studied it a bit. It was a rainy day sort of picture that provoked some serious melancholy thinking. The focal point of the painting was a glossy cross -- a hopeful contrast against the sad backdrop. Next to it in writing so tiny you had to strain your eyes to read this:

"You are mine for all time;
Nothing can separate you from my love.
Since I have invested My Very Life in you,
be well assured that I will take care of you.
When your mind goes into neutral
and your thoughts flow freely, you tend to feel anxious and alone.
Your focus becomes problem solving.
To get your mind back into gear, just turn to toward Me.
Bringing yourself and your problems into My Presence.

This made me stop right in my tracks. Words and images so powerful, I had to capture them. Have you ever had one of those moments that just sort of wakes you up? This was mine. What else have I missed because I wasn't paying attention? There is so much more to life if I could shake off my ordinary glasses to see it.

PS. I later learned that the artist is Dawne Raulet, a Southern mom who chucked her 15 years as a stockbroker to follow her dreams with art. She has a great story -- and I almost missed it, along with her beautiful work.

Check her out at

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Doing Hard Things

When it comes to doing hard things, I'm a wimp.

Recently, I was invited to participate in a church mission project for homeless people. My first response was "no way." I'm the kind of person who would rather support from afar. This is a quality I am not very proud of, but it is the truth. It is much easier to donate things like ketchup, collect canned goods or give away blankets. But to actually look people in the eye as you hand them a meal is very different.

So when this project kept coming up over and over, I knew I needed to "man up." This was not a smiley decision, this was a "do it scared" sort of time.

We pulled up on the designated spot to see hundreds of homeless people gathered in anticipation of a picnic meal. To say I was terrified to even get out of car was an understatement. My wimp self wanted to drive away. But luckily my brave self prevailed as my son and I made our way to the picnic.

I'm so glad we didn't miss it. We spent the afternoon talking to all sorts of people -- people just like me, but who had fallen to difficult circumstances. People that were drug addicts, jobless, broken, unable to return to their home countries. I practiced my elementary Spanish with those that didn't speak English. I introduced men with tatooos and piercings all over their face to my son. We even sang songs with those that felt like singing. It was a total grab bag of experiences.

After that day, I felt emotionally raw. The most surprising thing was that people just wanted to tell me their story. I wasn't there to change them, to do anything but to listen, be a friend, give a meal. Most were grateful for someone who would simply hear them, to matter in this world. In that, I am no different.They may sleep in a different place and have dark experiences to tell. But we all long for the same thing -- to be significant in this life.

If you want to find out more about serving the homeless population, visit

Or for a really powerful article about "What it means to be homeless" -- check this out:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Save Me Emily Post

Teaching my son manners has made me a mom vigilante.

Like a sniper stakeout, I am constantly surveying the landscape and pouncing on any opportunity to remind and practice manners. I sit at the dinner table and wait, ready with the "where does your napkin go?" or the classic "what do you do with your dish?" and the kicker "did you ask to be excused?"

Obnoxious, I know. But how else do the kids learn the stuff but in the heat of the moment? I've decided that with enough practice, it will come natural. But it hasn't yet. Maybe it's me or maybe I'm doing it wrong.

Everyone else's kids appear to "yes, ma'am" me with no problem. Other people's children show gratitude without the whiny prompting I give to the tone "now what do you say?" Gosh, I hate that. Maybe it's just the fact that I have a boy and the Y chromosome doesn't think like that.

Lately I have made it my mission. I'm reading "365 Manners Kids Should Know" by Sheryl Eberly -- Nancy Reagan's etiquette guru. It reads like a daily devotion with today's entry of "how to eat tacos." Not exactly what I was after, but always helpful to know how to manage those pesky things. I figure if Nancy's go-to gal says it, I probably need to work on it. At least it will mix up my vigilante style.

I read in the book that Ms. Eberly told her children they would never be invited to the White House if they had bad manners. I like that. In fact, after today my son will be ready to eat tacos with Mr. President.

PS. If you have any good tips about teaching kids manners, please share! I'd love to hear your ideas...

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Thomas Jefferson Style Summer

“What are you doing this summer?” is one of my favorite questions to ask.

I love living vicariously through other people’s cool plans of trips to the beach, mountain visits, fun excursions and neat-o camps. The best answer I have heard comes from a fellow homeschooling buddy who said “I’m having a Thomas Jefferson style summer.”

Now every one knows Thomas Jefferson. Most know him as the third president of the United States, author of most of the Declaration of Independence and a founding father of our country. But I don’t really think of him much when I’m making summer plans.

She explained that a Thomas Jefferson style summer for her family meant they were “reading as many great classics as we can get our hands on.”

You see, back in the olden days, that was how the leaders of our country got their education. They had a mentor and read every great book, discussed it, debated it and sometimes even memorized it. This was the style of thinking that shaped our country by forming critical minds, able to discuss, analyze and defend great works.

Wow. I was planning just to hang out at the pool. Now I have to go check out War and Peace from the library and actually read it with my son.

Well, maybe not. Even though I may not spend my summer lost in Shakespeare and Tolstoy, she makes a great point. Summer might be the very best time to read something amazing and talk about it as a family. Not to be busy every moment, but to spend time turning the pages together. Even though my son is old enough to read on his own, there is still something magical about reading a great book and experiencing it together.

Here’s a beautiful book to try -- check out the illustrated classic “Wind in the Willows” with the amazing art and charming story. Even though it was written in the early 1900s, the tale remains captivating. My video-game-obsessed, sports-all-the-time, 9 year old son loved this sweet tale of adventures in English countryside. And I bet you will too.

Hope you will enjoy some "TJ time" this summer with your family.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

School's Out Blues

School is almost over and it's making me a little weepy.

Sad not for the reasons you might think though. I get nostalgic this time of year because the truth is real: my child is growing up. In my head, I start to count how many summers left until college and then it's Kleenex city.

I know, I know – growing up is part of the journey. But for me, this has been truly an amazing school year and I’m not ready for it to be over. As our first year of homeschooling ends, I am in awe of all that we endured and experienced. Just like Dicken’s great novel “Tale of Two Cities" begins "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom.”

Yes it’s true, homeschooling is not all sunshine and roses. There were the complete meltdown days where absolutely nothing worked and we were both crying – and it was only 9 a.m. Then there were the wonder days where we spent hours in museums or gardens, having the whole place to ourselves on a Monday. The freedom of a learning ecosystem at our own pace instead of a 9-3 p.m. timeslot was pretty darn cool.

The most surprising gift of all was a newfound connection with my son that I had never thought possible. Yes, I knew my son and all of his likes and dislikes before. But now, I feel like I know him in a much deeper way that I could not have appreciated without our daily toils. He literally goes everywhere and does everything with me. I’m proud to say that he even put up with hours of prom dress shopping with me and my niece --- simply because that was the task of the day. And he was okay with it.

As this year winds down, I look over the many joys, failures, successes and wonders and it makes me smile. Like finding a dollar in your pocket, I feel lucky to have stolen these days away from what the world thinks I should be doing. I know that more than money, these precious days will become my proudest moments as a parent.

Now before you think that I’m the sort that says “everyone needs to homeschool” – please don’t. Homeschooling is not for the faint at heart. It is definitely the road less travelled. However, come June, every parent in some way becomes a homeschool parent. It’s simply how you look at it. I hope your summer will be filled with the wonder of knowing your family in a deeper way. It’s the most important work we have as parents. And the hardest.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Going Amish

I’m going Amish on Monday.

With National “Unplug Your TV” Week running from April 18-24, I’ve decided that we are going to pull the plug and see what happens. Or in my terms “Go Amish.”

I can say the Amish thing with good faith, as I grew up in a small Michigan town that had quite a large population. Luckily, no TV week is about as close as I will come to becoming Amish, other than wearing black and white a lot and baking my own bread.

It’s not that I think TV is evil or the demise of our civilization (although it could be). It’s more about the fact that I find it a bit embarrassing how much TV our family watches. Even more ridiculous is how much we watch in separate rooms.

I read something recently that said, “if you complain about not having enough time to do something, stop watching TV and now you have no excuses.” More than reclaiming my time, I want to reclaim my family’s attention. I want to spend evenings in leisurely conversation, to be able to look into each other’s faces, without the distraction of a screen, the noise of the Weather Channel or trying to cram a meaningful thought in between commercial breaks.

In my loftiest thought, I want to know deeply what’s on everyone’s hearts and how life’s going in their spirit. I’m sure that is a big goal and probably not accomplished in one week. But it’s a start. Maybe we’ll have great discussions, maybe we won’t. Perhaps we’ll simply watch one TV, but at least we'll be together.

Join me by hiding your remote control and flipping the breaker switch on your TV too. To find out more, visit

Also, if you want to be really scared about how much TV we watch, check out this video:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Real Windows to the World

“Birds are awesome,” according to my 9 year-old son.

Lately we have become amateur ornithologists – or people that study birds. There is something wonderful about bird watching. It started off simple in our family. I thought it would be fun to fill a feeder and see what happened.

Once we started getting a few visitors, it was easy to become greedy and want more. We then added suet cakes – a square of bird food that you hang like a popsicle in a tree. Next we wanted to find fancier bird food to see if we could get more exotic and varied guests. Then we got really crazy and got a bird identification card, a bird call book and spending more and more time discussing what we saw each day.

What I love about bird watching is that it slows me down. As I pass by the window that looks over the feeder, I can’t help but stop and see who is visiting. Usually there are Chick-a-dees, Grey Tufted Titmouses, a red Cardinal – but sometimes golden and red-breasted Finches and on the very special days, a Woodpecker.

One day, I was watching from the kitchen and discovered a brilliant red-bellied woodpecker visiting our feeder. It was a cold and gray day, but his tuxedo speckled jacket, white breast and dashing red head were stunning. It took my breath away and I uttered “awesome” out loud. Upstairs my son was watching too and heard me and answered, “I know mom, it is awesome.”

In our go-go, zoom-zoom media-rich life, it was such a refreshing moment to know that there is still wonder in the world. To remember beyond life in the tiny screens, we can still be captivated by the simplicity of nature outside. We can still treasure the real windows to our world.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Spring Haiku

If your life were a Haiku poem, what would it be?

You may remember that Haiku is a Japanese style poem that has 3 lines and the rhythm of 5 syllables, 7 syllables and then 5 again. For a person that loves to write long, flowery sentences, Haiku feels like the equivalent of naked writing.

What's cool about Haiku is how much you can say in a tiny bit of writing. It usually gives you a sensory surprise and a sweet picture of an experience -- like turning the corner and pow!

My writing life has been "dry" lately --- so the idea of Haiku has been a fun inspiration. You know those dehydrated sponges in a flat shape -- that is me. Too many projects, too little inspiration makes a dusty, uninspired writing world.

But back to the Haiku. My friend recently encouraged me that "some is better than none" -- so to get my writing back on track, I decided doing a little is where to start. So in honor of the season of spring, which offers the hope of lovely summer, I start with my "spring haiku."

Gray spring morning
Birds don't notice dreary
Song everywhere.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lovely Freedom

I just bought freedom. It was only ten bucks.

There is something oxymoronic about saying "I just bought freedom." It has the same funky feeling as "grandma, put the saw down." It simply does not go together. Yet, I gladly paid my ten dollars for it.

If you haven't heard of "freedom" -- it's a new application you can download to your computer that will not let you connect to the Internet for a certain period of time. ( Some super-genius is now getting severely wealthy over the fact that I (and probably you too) cannot get anything done anymore because we are constantly distracted.

I really bought it for my 9 year-old son. Please don't tell him though. I secretly love turning freedom on and then walking away from the computer. Minutes later I hear the frustrated sighs and then "mom, the Internet's not working!" I fake the irritated face and say "darn that Internet! That thing never works."

Then he is forced to do the amazing -- find something to do. Something wonderful without technology -- like read a book, use his imagination, make a paper airplane or draw. Not only is this forced Internet break great for 9 year-olds, it also works perfectly on adults.

What's ironic is freedom is something I have had all along, yet it took paying for it to see how much I was missing. Now if I could only get it to work on the TV....