Friday, December 21, 2012

The Secret of Christmas

We all long for home, especially at Christmas.

The home we hope for is the one of our hearts, the very best idea of home. This may not match the picture we had growing up, or the one we see on TV. We long for the home of deep sanctuary, the one that glows from within, casting warm lights on our faces. The home that allows us to set all our troubles down and find the nourishment of loving company, feasting and laughter.

I was lucky enough to have this kind of home growing up. If you were to look at the surface of the circumstances, you would disagree. My mom was divorced with five children and not working, which meant Christmas was always full of guilt. We lived in a broken down Victorian home that never put out enough heat to feel any sort of warmth. We never ever had enough money to get Christmas together in any sort of style – it was always ramshackle, last minute and chaotic.

Despite all those crazy circumstances, I think about those holidays as a kid with wonder. The food, the gifts, the decorations – everything was pretty unremarkable. None of the material things stand out. What fills me with wonder is how we had nothing and yet we had everything. I remember the funny conversations, the times spent together, the laughter, the cooking contests – attending Christmas Eve services and loving the beauty and simplicity of an old church decorated with simple pine boughs. What made those Christmases great was the fact that we enjoyed all we had – each other.

Every holiday as a grown up, I try so hard to re-create that magic. I read magazine after magazine about meaningful Christmas holidays, recipes and activities. But when I think about it, it really is simple. It’s paying attention – to each other, to the moment, to the beauty all around you. It’s quietly letting go of every guilty demand. It sounds simple, and it can be, if we let it. Stop. See. Smell. Treasure.

As part of the holidays, I love to read the Christmas story from the Bible. Many people love the part about the angels belting out praises or the shocked shepherds or the wise men showing up. My favorite part comes at the very end – it almost seems insignificant, but to me, it is everything. In Luke 2:19 (NIV) it says “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Mary could have been thinking about a lot of things. She just gave birth – she could have been thinking “where is my mother-in-law to help out?” or “why couldn’t I be sleeping in a real bed?” But through it all, Mary treasured. Not exactly a magazine-style Christmas. If Mary, despite all these crazy circumstances, could still focus on the joy of it all, what about me?

This is the secret of Christmas. When we want to feel guilt, think of Mary. When we want to be stressed, stop and treasure. When we want to get angry or think it’s about one more thing we have to do, it’s time to stop and adore.

Mary gives us the secret to Christmas.  It is finding true home and to treasure it all up in your heart.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holiday Peace

Lately the words "holiday peace" are feeling like an oxymoron.

If you are like me, things are getting to a fevered pitch as we are working on whipping up the magic and wonder again this year. Holidays had such a different feel when I wasn't the one hosting, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, wrapping and being the leader of the cheer-making. 

Deep sigh. Yes, indeed I need some holiday peace.

So in an effort to discover more wonder, I began writing down things that made me smile in the chaos. Sort of a gratitude journal at a time when my heart is desperately in need of it.

Here's my things that make me smile this season:

--Filling the bird feeder for the first time this year and watching the birds arrive in festive celebration.

--Hearing someone sneeze in a Christian bookstore, followed by an avalanche of "God Bless Yous."

--The privilege and honor to bless a family of a fallen soldier this Christmas.

--Making toast from the heel of the bread knowing no one likes it, but I secretly love it.

--Having a funny conversation with my doctor about how he has always wanted to enter the Guiness Book of World Records for pogo-stick jumping. 

--Hearing the "Car Wash" song come on the radio when I am in the car wash!

--Helping out my neighbor with her small children and being peppered with funny questions like if I like zebras and what is God's favorite color? (all of them, of course.)

--Finding the rattiest, but most treasured Christmas decoration I made many years ago. It always reminds me of the heart I hope to have this Christmas and here is what it says:

The True Christmas

If, as Herod, we fill our lives with things, and again with things; 
if we consider ourselves so unimportant that we must fill every moment of our lives
with action, when will we have the time to make the long, slow journey across the desert,
as did the Magi? Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds?
Or brood over the coming of the child as did Mary? 
For each of us there is a desert to travel. A star to discover.
And a being within ourselves to bring to life. 
--Author Unknown

Wishing you moments of holiday peace that make you smile. As a gift to yourself, take a moment to notice all you have to be grateful for this season. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Child in Charge of Thanksgiving

This morning I woke up my 11 year-old son and told him that he was in charge of Thanksgiving.

"I know you are only a child, but I think it's time," I said. 

He stared up from his covers sleepily and with a blank look on his face.  "I can't tell if you are serious or if you've lost your mind," he said.

I let out a deep laugh and said, "that's what's so great about homeschooling. Sometimes you study math, reading and writing and then sometimes you study Thanksgiving in a hands-on course."

He was scared.

Lately we have been reading a book called "Doing Hard Things  --  teenage rebellion against low expectations" by Alex and Brett Harris. In it they talk about how we don't expect much from our kids and therefore they don't give it.

Looking back over history, there are so many examples of kids who did amazing things. Clara Barton at age 14 nursed her father's hired man back to health from small pox. She then went on to care for her entire village during the outbreak. At 17, she was a schoolteacher for 40 children, some her same age. You know her name probably as the founder of the Red Cross.

Then there's the example of David Farragut. David was 12 years old when during the War of 1812, he was given the assignment to bring a ship captured by the USS Essex safely to port.

Really now, I'm not asking my son to heal the sick or captain a ship or anything. But to cook a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner for 8, why not?

It was a funny prospect. But it also got me thinking why don't I ask more of my son? In a backhanded way, am I saying that I don't think he is capable? It reminds me of that great quote by Goethe which says "Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being."

Maybe he won't have to cook the turkey this year. But he can certainly help unload the groceries, chop things and set the table. Children are capable of amazing things, but we as parents have to believe it first.

P.S. For more resources and great articles on Thanksgiving, check out the seasonal guide from Carolina Parent at:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Good Gifts

You knew it was the holidays when the Sears Catalog arrived. Back then, it felt like it was the only catalog. Fat, thick and loaded with colorful, happy images of families having a blast with all of their “stuff.” My brothers and sisters would pour over that thing for days and weeks – dog earring and circling every toy and doodad we wanted for Christmas.

We loved to play the “page game” – where one person got the left hand side and the other got the right. Flipping quickly, we would point out what we wanted and shout “mine”  -- then compare it to the gift they chose. We would dream of Christmas trees loaded with a sea of presents so thick, you couldn’t even find your way to the bottom of it.

Now our mailboxes are so thick with catalogs, we are having a hard time finding the bottom of it. Recently, my friend Beth visited me. I saw the “Sears Catalog” look in her eye when she saw my pile. For Beth, she lives in a Winnebago and travels all over the United States for about 10 months of the year. Because she has her mail shipped to her wherever she is, she gets no catalogs.  Before my eyes, she morphed into a 9 year-old girl dreaming up her wish list for Santa. It was more fun to watch her look at my catalogs than to look at them myself.

This holiday season, my wish is to choose gifts that change lives. I know that is not possible to do with everything. But unlike the Sears catalog, I want to give people something that has an echo effect – resonating for years to come. You don’t have to look very far to find great gifts that help amazing causes. But the point is, you do have to look. My invitation is before you click “buy” or swipe that credit card, you will pause and wonder if you are giving a good gift. The good gift, the best gift is the one that changes the recipient for the better. And it’s probably not found in a catalog.

If you are looking for a “good gifts” place to start:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Take It Outside

It’s about that time and you know it. The time for amazing fall weather that we get to relish like only North Carolinians can. With “Take a Child Outside” week happening September 24-30, we now have even more reason to do so.

But wait. Let’s think about that for a minute. Why does taking a child outside have to be only one week? With the fall weather approaching, I would hope that maybe it’s just a reminder that the outdoors is getting really beautiful. Or, better yet, that we are kicking off a new season of adventure and outdoor goodies like farm visits, pumpkin patches, corn mazes and tree fort building.

Whatever the fall season brings, my hope at home is that we think of the outdoors first. The showy wonder of fall reminds us to put down our i-thingies and do device detox for a little while.  I plan to go outside, breathe deep and remember that soon our days will be shorter and darker.  Outside time isn’t just a week, but an opportunity to store up some wonder for the winter ahead.

For more on “Take a Child Outside Week,” visit

Thursday, August 30, 2012

School's In Blues

As the big school machine cranks up another year, most moms are walking around with a secret smile on their face. With the kids back in school, they now have a bit of time reclaimed to do whatever moms with kids in school do. As a homeschooling mom, this time of year marks the time when I feel most insecure about educating my son at home.

Don’t get me wrong, some days are a total wonder. The gorgeous afternoons with a true North Carolina blue sky where we sit and do nature studies by the lake. The captivating days when we can visit a museum and recite in detail the most important event leading up the Civil War to the tour guide. The best is when someone quizzes him on some rare detail that they are sure no homeschooler would ever know – like the capitol of Gambia. He beams “Banjul” and asks “did you know that it is the smallest country in Africa?” Those are the kind of days that make momma proud.

But then there are the days when I discover he doesn’t know how to spell the word “doctor.” Yes, it’s true. Even worse are when I am checking over his papers to find sentences beginning without capital letters or ending with periods. Then come the days when he forgets how to do long division. Again. The days when math makes us cry (just a little) and it’s only 9 a.m.  I’m sure these types of mental blips happen for public and homeschool kids alike. At least I’m praying they do.

As we begin the 6th grade this year, the fact that he is beginning middle school is one that I do not take lightly. The pressure is on for me. I can’t afford to screw this one up. Sometimes I wonder if I am doing my son any favors by serving as his chief educator. But mostly I feel grateful that I am not missing out on his days. I am thankful that I get to pour into him as much as I possibly can, while I can.

Ironically, it was a pair of dirty tennis shoes that helped me reconcile my feelings. As I was hand washing my sneakers, I thought hand washing something was like homeschooling. Traditional schooling was like putting your clothes in a washing machine. Were the hand washed things cleaner than the machine? Probably not. Did both things get clean? Absolutely. The end result was the same.

For now, homeschooling is our map for the year ahead. With a deep breath, a lot of prayer and effort, we focus on one day at a time. I know my son’s education may not always be homeschooling. I know there will always be holes in his learning, even in a traditional school. Yet, for this season, I will do all I can to pour into him the very best way I can imagine. I know the most important thing is to love him through the journey, even if he doesn’t know how to spell doctor.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer Wishing

It's summer, quick make a wish! Or better yet, get your family together and capture all your wishes. You know how it goes -- summer feels like it's going to stretch out forever like a long luxurious slip and slide on a hot day. Then before you know it, it will be the Fourth of July and then we'll be shopping for school supplies and then game over.

My favorite thing to do about now is to make the summer "wish list" of all the things that I can't wait to do. Usually it starts out really grand with big adventures like white water rafting or road tripping to far flung undiscovered beaches. Lovely, right? Next the jungle heat kicks in, then I somehow forget about my ambitious list and resort to more hammock-like activities.

This year, I made my wish list artsy by laying out pieces of sparkly paper and funky markers for the whole family to add their ideas. It became kind of a note "tag" where everyone could post things as they walked by, along with funny little drawings to go with their wishes.

Here are a few of our wishes: play Yahtzee, go to a Durham Bulls game, sit on the dock, go "real" rock climbing, read The Hobbit, swing in a hammock, go swimming beneath a waterfall, stargaze, discover a new hiking path and camp out.

Speaking of camping out -- June 23 is the Great American Backyard Campout weekend. It's a perfect time to get outside with a good ole fashioned back yard camp out. 

Whatever summer holds, my wish is that it would be a summer to remember. Because as my son grows, I know that summers spent wishing are numbered. I don't want to miss a single moment. I hope you won't either.

For more details and ideas on the Great American Backyard Campout, check out the National Wildlife Federation site:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Gift of Vuvuzelas

Don't you love it when you find something pure, true and authentic?

Maybe I'm in a place where I am feeling less than authentic about things. Not that I'm being fake, I'm only feeling smiley on the outside and not so much on the inside. Lately I had been feeling weary in spirit.

That's why reading the book "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp has been a little like shaking the snowglobe inside of me sort of experience. I am treasuring the texture of her words, the completely naked style writing of raw truth and emotion. It's wild and I love it.

What is even more fun is the free app that you can download. It is a really fun place to document "your gifts" of wonder in your life. At first I thought it was weird, like one of those sugary gratitude journal sort of things. But the more I started documenting my "gifts" the more I couldn't wait to add more.

The app allows you to take a little picture or add an image and then some text about what your gift is that you are grateful for today. Yesterday my "gift" of the day was vuvuzelas. My son recently won it this weekend at an art festival and hasn't stopped blowing it at random times. It's hilarious. He loves to hear how it sounds when it echoes through our backyard or from the cul-de-sac or even from his window. It's almost like a poke in the shoulder that says "hey! wake up, life is happening!" I can't help but smile every time he does it.

More than anything, it's been a gift to me to be reminded that everything is a gift. Even vuvuzelas.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Warrior Me?

This weekend I get to be a warrior. Not just what they call "weekend warriors" the ones that go to Home Depot and paint their decks or remodel something. I get to be the kind that wears a furry helmet and horns, a la Viking style. Yes, and run a 5k while scaling rope walls, climbing through mud pits, crawling under barbed wire and such. Did I mention jumping over fire? 

Here's what I will look like if you need a visual...


You think I'm kidding but I'm not. Some friend of mine (who shall not be named but who I'm thinking of doing voo-doo on right now) thought it would be "super fun!" Right about now, I'd like to smack her for ever thinking this was a good idea. 

Yes, it's true. I'm participating in the NC Warrior Dash on Saturday. It is a great cause for St. Jude Children's Hospital and pediatric cancer research. Please pray that I live to tell the story!

Wouldn't you like to be a Warrior too? If you've ever wanted to be a Warrior, check it out here.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Sandwiches are only fun at picnics.

Not as much fun when they become the bucket you fall into as the “sandwich” generation – caring for your own children while caring for your parents. That’s me.

I’m not sure how I ended up becoming the caregiver for my mom. It became the next obvious thing to do. Sort of like picking up a coat off the floor and hanging it up, my mom coming to live in North Carolina in a senior community felt like the right thing to do.

“You get mom,” said my sister, “I get dad.” We joked together about how each of us had been given one parent to care for, as we constantly compare notes on how to encourage each other. We talk weekly on the latest funny story or how our parents have become like another child to care for while home and hearthing our own family.

On top of the child-rearing issues, I get to learn about things like walker maintenance, Medicare, Social Security, what to do when your teeth fall out and how many doctors you can possibly see in a year.

I hope this doesn’t sound like whining. Being my mom’s “it” girl has been a huge blessing for our family. My son spends time weekly with his grandmother. We cook together and spend lots of time simply doing life. I am fortunate because my mom is fairly healthy, right now. Still, I worry about what is down the road on my sandwich.

For the moment, this sort of sandwich is all I have. I watch my mom teach my son how to make “toast treasures.” Slicing up the bread in tiny thin strips the way she used to do only when I was sick or sad as a child. My son watches in awe, sure that he is witnessing something life changing.

And he is.

PS. To read more about my story as a family caregiver, check out my excerpt in the recently released book Chicken Soup for the Soul for Family Caregivers.” The book features 101 stories of love, sacrifice and bonding from people of all ages who take care of family members at home or in outside facilities. This book is filled with great practical advice for anyone facing the important task of caring for a loved one in their golden years. Find it on or wherever you buy books.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Amateur Rocket Scientist

Lately I have been channeling my inner scientist.

Somehow I thought signing up for the North Carolina Science Olympiad was a good idea. I thought, "Hey, we'll launch rockets, we'll learn new things, it will be awesome." And it is. I'm just learning that I'm really not a very good rocket scientist.

But apparently that doesn't seem to matter. For the last six weeks we have been blowing up 2 liter bottles in our back yard by filling them with water and pumping them up with air by way of a bicycle tire pump until they launch. Genius, right? I'm even able to say things like "Hey kids, we just used Newton's Third Law of Motion!" (that's for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction for those who need a reminder.)

Like moths to a flame, every kid, grown up and neighborhood dog is drawn to our rocketry afternoons. Pretty soon everyone wants to take a turn at building their own rocket, pumping it up and vying for the most coveted job, pulling the launcher string.

Are we learning anything other than how much PSI it takes to blow a 2 liter bottle sky high? Not sure. Are we furthering the love of science? Probably. But the coolest lesson we have learned is to see how much we can fail miserably at something and have a total blast.

That part makes it worth it. Science for me as a kid was the most boring thing imaginable. I can remember my 8th grade teacher drawing circle after circle on the chalkboard as he talked about molecules. Or even better was reading mountains of textbooks, while cramming hundreds of science terms in my head. I even remember studying Newton's Laws.

The truth is science is super cool if it's done in a memorable way. My guess is that my son will definitely remember Newton's Third Law forever -- with some great stories of blowing things up in his back yard. For all this, my attempts at amateur rocket scientist are time well spent. If nothing more than to revel in the jubilation of a bunch of kids celebrating the awesome beauty of a 2 liter reaching the treetops.

PS. If you want to learn more about NC Science Olympiad, volunteering or just coming out to watch the events, visit

Friday, January 6, 2012

Gentleman In Training

When it comes to manners, I am old school.

I keep hoping for the day that I don't have to begin dinner with "napkin in your lapkin" or end dinner with "where does your plate go?"

These basic courtesies were literally drilled into my brain growing up about the constant importance of good graces. Is it wrong or dated to expect them in my 10 year old son?

This year, we have begun the book "50 Things Ever Young Gentleman Should Know" by John Bridges and Bryan Curtis. (there is also the girl version for young lady too). I have to say it is a hilarious read and a perfect tone for tween boys.

Here's a few examples:

On sports...
"A gentleman does not throw a fit when a call does not goes his way or when he loses."

On apologies...
"A gentleman who has offended another person says, 'I'm sorry.'"

My fav on hygiene...
"A gentleman puts on a clean shirt instead of smelling the armpits of a shirt to see if can wear it again."

It would be easy to blame technology or the media for ruining our kids, or the fact that this generation is different and doesn't understand the importance of good manners. I will set all that aside and be persistent anyways. Manners are important and tell a lot about the kind of character our kids have. Even if I have to say "napkin in the lapkin" for 365 days straight, one day I know he will get it.

And I know that day, Emily Post will smile. So will I.