Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reading? Who's Got Time to Read in December?

I have had such a delightful December, and therefore apologize for my inconsistent writing. Last year, I resolved to write a blog. This year, I resolve to write only when inspired. I think I've started this resolution a month early.

But I've had a few good reads lately that I thought I would pass your way.

  • A homemade coffee table that hides toys! Awesome!
  • The soup I can't wait to try, even if it has very intimidating gnocchi in them.
  • The funniest mom article I've read in a long time! Ninety-nine percent of the time, it's not this life that becomes difficult, it's all the ridiculous expectations I subject myself to. If you can relate, read this. (Thanks to Amy.)
  • Ann is always so good. I savored each word here.
  • When things go a bit awry in life, I find myself reaching for rules and control. Here's a recovering legalist's take on the allure of legalism.
  • As a Christian, I found this post interesting (though I cannot agree with number 6): Protestant Traditions Not Found In The Bible.
Wishing you all a weekend exactly the way you had it planned, unless there's something better in store for you - than I wish that for you.

Resting in His Plans,
Karen

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bob's Strombecker Train Apart

It's the only time I have gone to purchase something and hoped it was not for sale.

Surely, as much as I wanted it, someone else treasured it more.

Like Woody landing in the garage sale box, part of me wanted to believe it was all a mistake. After all, across the top of the Boy Scouts' "Shoe for all Boys" brown, oxford shoebox (size 5) were the handwritten words:

Bob's Colored Wooden Train SAVE

And if that didn't convince rummaging family members to save it, the black ink on the side of the box reiterated:



Where was Bob???

Did he even know his dear wooden train set was sitting haphazardly near the edge of an overstuffed table, surrounded by chipped teacups, old Christmas decorations, and a tropical-themed paper towel holder?

I went by it for the first time and just read the label. Surely, someone put old felt scraps in a box that just happened to say Bob's Colored Wooden Train on it, right? After all, some family member, parent I surmise, specifically labeled this and wrote SAVE across the top. If ever kids were going to obey, you hope it's when they see your words in capital letters!

I meandered, and returned, curiosity pulling me through the Saturday-morning yard sale frenzy to the folding table. Feeling a bit like I was treading on sacred ground, I lifted the lid. My heart sank and soared.

Inside, like old dried bones, lay wooden pieces, colored and aged beautifully, well-used and carefully counted each time they were picked up - the full set of Brother Bob's Wooden Train Set.


Someone had decided the letters imprinted on the shoebox were no longer important. Bob's Wooden Train Set SAVE. What part of that phrase was grounds for disregard? Was it Bob himself? Had he been unworthy? Disappointing? A prodigal that had never returned? Or was it the "Wooden Train" part? The materialism of a toy, nothing more. Maybe a boring toy that Bob never even liked, a train that he never wanted but that someone else thought he needed to save. Or was it the word SAVE that was disregarded? Maybe it had nothing to do with Bob or the train itself, but with the person who wrote in capital letters for emphasis. Did the writer's word "Save" translate into materialism, or dementia, or hoarding, or awkward love for a son?

I put the lid back on the box and carried it to the man wearing the fanny pack. (You always know who is running the garage sale by this telltale sign - the fanny pack.) He turned to me and adjusted his baseball hat.

"G'morning," he said warmly.

"Good morning," I answered. "Are you Bob?" I lifted the box to show him the lid.

"Yeah. My old train set. I'll give that to you for five dollars."

My heart shouted "Five dollars?!! Appalling! Don't you see what's written across the top?!!"

My brain said, "Five dollars?!! What a deal! Sold!"

"Okay," I answered, moving both hesitantly and yet excitedly to my wallet. "Are you sure you don't want to keep it?"

Bob shrugged, and waved his hand in dismissal. "My dad kept everything we ever played with. That's why we have so much junk to clear out."

Ouch, I thought. Junk. Someday, it's what my own kids will call it all, lining it up on the sidewalk in the sunshine. And that will be just fine with me.

Except it won't be, if I wrote the word SAVE on it. Then, my word would mean SAVE. Other words sprawled across boxes will mean things too, like "Sug's Bitty Baby SAVE" or "Punkin's First Piano Lessons SAVE" or "Little Man's Green Backpack SAVE." Will they read into my words, each letter important when I'm gone? Their names, like baseball-cap Bob, I pray, will be read with Mom's handwriting speaking her heart - cherished, treasured, no matter if they are prodigals or disappointing or successful or wandering. The specific boxes contents, even these words will mean something - yes, just material possessions, but special and worth marking a shoebox and carving a spot in the attic. And that last word - SAVE. I pray that they sense my heart in that word, whether they choose to abide by it or disregard it. I don't really care too much if Sugs decides not to keep Bitty Baby for her own grandchildren, as long as she senses her mother's affection for her in the act of saving.

Perhaps we won't cherish the things our parents' cherished. Perhaps our kids won't cherish the things we cherished. But will they sense our hearts in the very words? Unconditional acceptance, love without strings...

Bob seemed to be unperturbed by the sale, certainly not a monumental moment for him. Maybe his dad marked everything with the word SAVE. Or maybe they were paying medical bills that were much more important than an old, wooden train set.

He took my five dollars and directed me towards a box of old records, should I be interested in other antiques.

I wasn't.

Just this one antique.

It meant something to someone. But not enough.

And in many ways, the man was right. It was just stuff, a mere toy.

But it spoke of a father's heart. A father who carefully marked the box, stashed it for years somewhere safe. It obviously meant something to him, nostalgia and memories on red wheels.

And now, as the Little Man and I roll "The Strombecker Train Apart" around our wood floor, I wonder. Does the passenger car go in the back or the front? Are we setting it up the right way? And what's a Strombecker anyways?


The images flutter around in my head like mosquitoes around an outdoor lightbulb, none of them really connected to one another. Father and son playing wooden train...perhaps a son unwrapping it or buying it with hard-earned money...the day someone boxed it up and knew someone else needed to be reminded, even from the grave, to save it.

Obviously, there was a father's love here. And a son's choice to let this specific handwritten sample of love go for the reasonable price of five dollars. Perhaps I'm reading far too much into it, but to this day I find myself cleaning up the Strombecker Train Apart and glancing at the lid. I even mentioned it to my mother, showing her the handwriting and surprising both her and myself with tears. "They didn't save it, like he asked them to."

But perhaps the handwriting across the top needed to be there for a son to read, to someday know that his now-gone father had kept it all of these years.

I take that thought to heart these days. Might my busy Christmas antics come from an overflow of the heart, not from demanding expectations or impressive results. No matter what the responses might be - this Christmas and in fifty years, I pray that my gifts would come with truth, not manipulative or materialistic or insincerely manufactured.

Are any of our gifts given so that we receive certain results? Are there unseen strings attached to our gifts, expectations we have?

I pray not.

Might we give generously this Christmas season. And might we rejoice in the giving, not the resulting responses to our gifts. Whether the homeless man flips you off for the hot cup of coffee (Oh yes, he did!) or whether he leans his head into your car and smiles his missing-teeth-smile at kids while saying "God bless you!" (Oh yes, he did!), let us give with hearts that shine His love, no matter what we get in return.

I'm jumping in with both feet, giving with reckless abandon as He leads me. Whether my kids sense my love, or sell it at a garage sale, it's not really about the stuff anyways. There is thought and cost in most of the gifts I will be giving, but more importantly, there will be deliberate and overflowing joy. Might this be what recipients sense.

I pray you are enjoying this season with dreams unfolding - sometimes not the way you wanted, or perhaps better than you ever imagined - and with grace, always grace. Which takes disappointments of children, and brokenness, and tense family moments, and unappreciated gifts, and pours life into these.

Resting in His Perfect Gift,
Karen

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's been killing me not to share our little secret. The thing that has had me distracted and unable to sleep at night.

Finally, after keeping the secret so well, and thank goodness we didn't have to wait until December 25th, we lined the kids up on the couch. Grandparents were there too and the kids thought they were taking Christmas pictures with Uncle James...who took a picture so we weren't guilty of lying.

Then, Daddy surprised them with a box. With a dog in it.

It was perfect...The kids were shocked, and still didn't understand it thirty minutes later. I know this because one of them found me down the hall and asked, "So, whose dog is that?" "Ours!" I replied. "You mean, we get to keep it???!"




Resting Spiritually (and awake every 2 hours physically!),
Karen

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Conversation Kit Questions

I've been caught three times in the last three days whispering Christmas secrets. I'm happy to report that no surprises were ruined, and all schemes are in place. I can't wait to tell you (or show you) all about it!

In the meantime, someone asked for the "Conversation Questions" that I used for the Family Conversation Kits I made last year for friends with little ones. It didn't seem like such a big deal to move a Word document to a pdf file for your convenience, but apparently it's beyond my technical abilities. No skin off my nose, I take the failure in stride.

So, here's plan B: the questions are here. Just copy them to your own Word document and press print.

Trash truck is coming so I'm signing out.

Resting in the Babe,

Karen



If you could cover your bedroom with animal wallpaper, what animals would you choose?

Have you ever missed out on something you really wanted to do? What was it?

What subject do you least like talking about?

When we talk to animals, do you think they understand us?

At the amusement park, if you had to choose between going on a scary ride or watching a funny show, what would you choose?

What was the most shocking news you ever heard?

When you think about getting older, what do you look forward to?

If you could shout something really loud, what would you say?

If you could share Jesus with one person, who would it be?

What things in life do you think should be free?

If you could invent one thing that could make the world a better place, what would it be?

What’s your idea of the best adventure ever?

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re playing?

What would you say is a big waste of time?

What is your favorite dessert? And would you share it?

What are you most proud of?

What chore would you do happily for the rest of your life?

What is your definition of strong?

If you were given one hour of homework to do every night for the next five years, which subject would you choose?

If you could learn something new tomorrow and succeed at it for life, what would it be?

If you were to exchange places with a friend, who would that be?

If the President walked into the room right now, what question would you ask him? Or her?

If you could help anyone succeed at one thing, what would it be? In what way?

If you were to describe trust, what color would it be?

What’s the yuckiest thing you’ve ever eaten?

If McDonald’s changed the color of its arches, do you think people would still eat there?

What job do you think would be fun?

What job would you never want?

If you could have a home with the most beautiful view in the world, where would it be?

You find a door to a secret attic that hasn’t been opened in 50 years. What do you find there? Besides money!

If your story could appear in any newspaper or magazine, what would the headline read?

What is your description of a godly person?

If you only had three movies in your collection, what would they be?

What one luxury item would you take with you if you were dropped (gently!) onto a deserted island?

What is the most comfortable place in your home?

What is the difference between wants and needs?

If you could invite one person to dinner, who would it be and why? What would you eat?!

What place would you go back to tomorrow?

In God’s eyes, often, the rich are poor and the poor are rich. In what ways are you rich?

What subject makes your brain ache?

What month of the year best describes who you are?

When you hear the word “competition” how do you feel?

Which do you usually listen to, your head or your heart?

What is the most important thing that has ever happened to you?

If you could change one habit, what would it be?

What would you do if you won the lottery and had only one day to spend the money?

What did you do last year that you would never do this year?

What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

What do you always need help with? Do you like asking for it?

What do people mean when they say “less is more”?

What’s your idea of a good surprise?

If you could have a conversation with any animal, which one would it be and why?

If the four Gospels were never written, would we know Jesus the Christ?

What one thing do you think about most often?

Describe your perfect day.

If you could stay up all night, what would you do?

What always makes you smile?

Finish the sentence “We were put on this earth to _____________.”

If you could say a special thank-you to someone, who would that be and why?

If you had $100 to give away, who would you give it to and why?

What is the thing that you fear the most?

When was the last time you cried?

If you were given one weekday to do anything you wanted with your parents ,what would you do?

Where do you like to go when you have to solve a problem?

Who is your hero – on earth and in heaven?

What is one thing you have always wanted to do?

If whatever you invented would be a success, what would it be?

If you could rent only one movie at the store right now, what would it be?

When was the last time you practiced “love one another as Christ has loved you”?

If you could ask the whole world to think about one thing for 1 hour, what would it be?

What is the difference between God’s peace and the world’s peace?

What is more important, knowledge or imagination?

What’s one thing you always buy but never really use?

What makes you know you can trust someone?

What is one thing that always cheers you when you are sad?

If you could be named after someone in history, who would it be?

People who ___________- have a lot of courage.

What do you like spending money on?

When you hear the word “unfair” what do you think of?

What is the most rewarding thing someone has ever done for you?

What is your favorite family activity?

If you could jump into a boardgame or computer game, which game would you jump into? And who would you be?

When was the last time you had to say “I’m sorry” to someone?

What is the kindest thing anyone has ever done for you?

If you could add two commandments to the ten existing ones, what would you add?

What is your favorite Bible verse?

Have you had a prayer answered lately?

What makes a good friend?

If you had a time machine and could go back in time, what year would you go back to? And who would you be?

If you discovered a buried treasure in your backyard, what would be inside of it?

If your house was on fire and you could grab three belongings (your family got out!), what would you grab?

If Jesus were coming back tomorrow, what would you do today? Who would you do it with?

What do you think was the greatest invention in your lifetime?

If you could go on a roadtrip, where would you go and with whom?

What’s your favorite dream?

What makes a perfect night of sleep for you?

If you were an ice cream flavor, what flavor would you be?

Who has been the most influential person in your life?

What’s your favorite book? Would you jump into it (figuratively) if you could? Which character would you be?

If you could wear a sign on your back, what would it say?

What do you wish everyone knew about you?

If you could go on a roadtrip, where would you go and with whom?

What’s your favorite dream?

What makes a perfect night of sleep for you?

If you were an ice cream flavor, what flavor would you be?

Who has been the most influential person in your life?

What’s your favorite book? Would you jump into it (figuratively) if you could? Which character would you be?

If you could wear a sign on your back, what would it say?

What do you wish everyone knew about you?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gifts without Exchange

Giving is one of my favorite things to do at Christmastime. I know this is not popular in some circles, where folks adopt the family tradition of giving to those in need, not ourselves. I love this, but have realized that for me personally, gift-giving is one of my love languages. I wait all year for the chance to scheme, whisper, and wrap.

So, we give gifts in this family. We do NOT "exchange" gifts, which implies you get something in return. That's not the focus at all.

In our extended family, sometimes we draw adult names out of a hat, sometimes we just give to the kids, and sometimes we go all out. I think the best guideline for giving gifts is this: give a gift if you can't help yourself and have a great idea for someone specific, but agree that if there isn't a good idea for someone, it's okay with everyone to forego the gift tradition instead of giving simply out of obligation. If you have a family of thick-skinned folk, this works pretty well. There's no pressure or obligatory giving, just genuine gift-giving.

That being said, I've got a few gift ideas I thought I'd pass your way. Feel free to take 'em or leave 'em. Another source for great gift ideas is here - at the bottom of the page, there are underlined recipients - women, men, children, grandparents, and other special people. Click on any of these and get hundreds of clutter-free gift ideas.

For Husbands: Real Gil always says he doesn't care about Christmas gifts, but in this one area, he married the wrong girl. He's stuck with all that inconvenient unwrapping and knotted ribbon, whether he likes it or not. Here are some of my favorite gifts for him over the years:
  1. Last year, I went to Costco and had all of our old home videos converted to DVD. It was surprisingly cheap (about $30) and simple to have done.
  2. When he first started drinking coffee on his commute, I had a travel mug customized with our childrens' pictures on the sides.
  3. A blurb book is another clutter-free gift that is always a hit.
  4. Vacations are the ultimate gift for hubby! We often plan something for early in the next year and leave it at that.
  5. Real Gil loves Brian Regan, so I made quick work at the official Brian Regan store last year and a few t-shirts found their way under the tree.
  6. Real Gil enjoys reading, if it's not bills, textbooks, or politics. So, books he has enjoyed and given to others are Manhunt by James Swanson, The Same Kind of Different as Me, and anything by Philip Yancey.


For Our Parents:
  1. One year when our Christmas budget was very tight, I made my parents a "memory box." Inside the box, I wrote out memories I had of growing up in our home. Some of them were really light and funny, others were more personal. The tag on the box said to pull one out each day. I think they totally disobeyed, but they did enjoy the gift. Surprisingly, it did not take me very long, especially after I skimmed some of my old middle-school journal entries. A friend of mine adjusted this idea by partnering up with her brother and sister and together, they made short work of 365 memories.
  2. A custom-made calendar. We do one every year in a matter of minutes (or hours, depending on how particular you want to be!) here for $10 (standard size) or $18 (11.5 x 14). It comes in the mail and you're done!
  3. If you didn't have enough time to make a blurb book for someone, you can always give the a Blurb gift card so they can go create one themselves.
  4. There have been a few years where we simply give our parents concert tickets. Now, that gift would also come with us being on-call for the grandparents who live with them while they go out on a much-deserved date.
  5. And my mother-in-law loves Christmas, but dreads decorating for the holidays. That's when I jump in and decorate for her.
  6. One year, we put together "Grandma's Bag of Tricks" after reading about one in Parenting magazine (all ideas come from Barbara Rowley's article, which I cannot find online!). Included in the small kit of entertaining tools for her purse to use with grandkid was gum, mints, a pen, a comb, a small pad of paper, a few crayons, a pair of cute reading glasses, a small package of tissues, one rubberband or hair tie, and a marker pen. Then, we gave her an intricate list of ideas for what to do with kids to entertain them with these items. Our instructions were from the same article (which I typed verbatim for you since I can't find the link online)!:
  • Let your toddler slip credit or business cards between the tines of your comb to make them stand up in a row.
  • Give the first player a pen "microphone." She begins a story and when she passes the pen, the next person continues it.
  • See how many things in your purse can roll, and which rolls farther or faster or straighter: pens, coins, mints, lipstick.
  • Set an open pair of eyeglasses on a table. The arch under the nose bridge is the goal; use a mint, dime, or folded-up pieces of paper as a puck and flick it through.
  • Lay out credit cards, photos, and business cards in rows. Hide a dime or paper scrap underneath one card and give your child three chances to find it. Then trade roles.
  • Show your child how to fold paper into a fan, accordion-style; make two fans. Roll up tiny balls of tissue and see who can fan her ball the fastest across the table.
  • Search for all 26 letters in the contents of your wallet.
  • Draw outlines of four or five objects in your purse. Then, let your toddler match the pieces to this "puzzle."
  • Stare at the contents of your purse or even the opposite wall. After 60 seconds, all players except the "memory master" look away, and you quiz them on what they've seen.
  • Lay a piece of paper over a coin, credit card, or key, and rub a pen or pencil back and forth over the surface to reveal what lies beneath.
  • You both close your eyes and draw wildly on a piece of paper, then exchange scribbles. You can finish each other's drawings or color in the closed shapes.
  • Hold keys, credit cards, or your child's hand on a piece of paper and help him draw around it. He can color the outline.
  • Have kids take turns shaking a coin in their hands and guessing heads or tails.
  • Play hangman!
  • Close your eyes and let your child hand you things from your purse. Guess what they are (penny or dime, Visa card, or driver's license, and so on). Then give him a turn. Or have your child take an item from your purse and try to figure out by elimination what he has.
  • Guess the color of the next passing car, the shirt of the next person walking into the room, and so on.
  • Give three verbal cues about a food, a color, or animal that you like and see if the other person can guess what you're thinking.
  • Suggest three or four characters and challenge your child to create a story that uses these characters.
  • Scrunch a tissue into a ball, and drape another tissue over it. Twist it below the ball to make a floaty body. Tie with a rubberband. Draw a face, and stick it on a pen or your finger. Have a puppet show!
  • Fold up tissue into a tight square. Color on one or two markers with a marker that bleeds through. Open to see your design.
  • Accordion-fold two tissues together and secure the center with a hair tie. Gently pull each ply apart to form a flower.

For Grandparents:
  1. My favorite gift for my grandparents is the ice chest full of homemade, frozen meals. I start working on these in November (although it's not too late if you are just getting started). All I do is double my dinner recipes and freeze the meals in small dishes. I also include small freezer bags with all the toppings, like a cup of swiss cheese to melt on top of ham crepes, tortillas for fajitas, or half a cup of cashews for cashew chicken stir fry. Then, I add a few batches of cookies - either frozen dough balls or fully baked cookies. Finally, I make a list of what's inside that intimidating ice chest with instructions for preparation. Favorites have been individual chicken pot pies, homemade spaghetti sauce, homemade bread (sliced and frozen), fajita fixings, individual servings of soup, and Italian beef for sandwiches.
  2. How about a gift certificate for grandma' favorite salon?
  3. Or the small, local diner where Grandma loves to eat has gift certificates, thus guaranteeing she gets a healthy dose of biscuits and gravy for the year.
  4. Our newest favorite gift idea for one of our grandmas is a Netflix subscription. Grandma loves old movies but doesn't know how to find them. So, now, she watches one and waits for the next one to come in the mail. Make sure to set up the account for your loved one and help them construct their queue.
For Kids:
  1. My personal favorite gift at Christmas for my children is Magnatiles. They have played with them for the last four years, and I'm convinced, they were the most used Christmas gift I've ever given someone. If you are looking for a great toy for your children, this is my #1 recommendation. Just make sure that you order a large enough package of Magnatiles so that they can really work with them. These will be in our family for the grandkids.
  2. One year, we bought the kids a bouncy house as their only gift from us. It was so much fun! I do not get it out that often (it's huge), but when I do, we are guaranteed lots of laughter and squealing.
  3. We love giving books. There are so many favorites. For really little ones, Goodnight Gorilla is an all-time favorite around here. For little boys, our son's favorite is The Little Red Train by Benedict Blathwayt - the illustrations are much better than Thomas the Train books.
  1. For toddler boys - and it seems, we've had our fair share of these - we always love the construction fork, knife, and spoon set found here.
    5. One year, we printed lots of fun pictures of our oldest daughter. Then, I shopped the clearance on scrapbook supplies, including a small scrapbook, and packed them all into a box. Punkin loved it! And still pulls it out to work on her scrapbook pages.
For Siblings & Friends:
  1. One year, I put together a gift bag for each of the special women in my family titled "My Favorite Things." It's not quite like Oprah's favorite things, but it was still fun. I had all kinds of little favorites from the year - my favorite lipstick, music CD, office supplies, and even my favorite brand of underwear! It was a fun, personal gift to put together.
  2. Date nights are cheap and become a playdate for our kids. Parents get to go out and we make memories with their children.
  3. The year my younger sister married, I typed out every recipe I loved. I printed the pages at Kinko's and put them in her own personal binder. And I made extra copies which I have given over the years to close friends and family members. Of course, it was a gift to myself too because I made one for me and my recipes were finally organized.
  4. For a family gift, I made "Family Conversation Kits" which were about 100 questions to ask at the dinner table (or anywhere for that matter). I printed these, cut them in strips, and put them in a cute, Chinese-food takeout box with a bow and a label on the top. I'll try to convert my conversation questions over the weekend so you can steal the questions I came up with.
Whew! Well, there you have it. I know I'm forgetting a few of my favorite gift ideas, so feel free to add your own in the comments section.

In the meantime, it's off to our town Christmas parade!

Resting in Him,
Karen

P. S. If I can figure out how to make a pdf file, I'll soon attach the printables needed for the Grandma's "Bag of Tricks" gift and the "Family Conversation Kit."

Friday, December 3, 2010

I Have A Really Good Excuse

For not writing lately...

There were Christmas lights to be hung.

And for the first time, I felt my insides stirring at the prospect of exterior illumination! I'm afraid I've caught the bug. What delight to watch ordinary, white bulbs twinkle, rainbows splash color!

I'm convinced that our home's exterior perfectly matches our personalities:


A little bit of Jesus...


A little bit of elegance (yeah, right.)...


And a little bit of humor.


So, there's my excuse. Now that my husband's bluejeans are firmly planted in the bushes, I'm back to blogging. I promise a long, practical post tomorrow...

Resting in Christ this Christmas,
Karen

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Follow-Ups

Updates have been requested. So, in a Tucked-In nutshell...
  • Our Veteran's Day visits were great. With two vets on our street and a surprisingly sunny day, we hit the sidewalk mid-morning. We baked cookies, packaged them in boxes, and affixed handwritten notes to the tops. One note had the four-year old words (scribed verbatim by Mama): "Thank you for shooting guns a long time ago. I wish I could come in and see your dog." No joke. Thankfully, our adopted veteran didn't have his reading glasses so he couldn't read the note until after we had left. But he made Sugs' day by inviting us in to visit with their dog, Charlie. When I finally pulled my children back out of their now finger-smudged house, Sugs ceremoniously bid farewell: "G'bye, Charlie. G'bye Veteran."
  • Our Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes looked so unoriginal when all was said and done. A bit mangled after all the time the kids carried them around WalMart, shoving toys in to see if they would fit or not. But I'm not sure there could be more heart in a box than these. The Little Man even started calling his recipient Jack. When Grandpa Joel teasingly asked if the shoebox was for him, the Little Man said, "Nope, it's for Jack." Grandpa approached Sugs with the same question, to which she wrinkled her nose in perfect disapproval: "It's not for you, Grandpa. It's for my friend, a brown girl."
Our two favorite elements to the shoeboxes this year were the coloring pages full of facts and questions to share with our recipients. And the potential to track our shoeboxes as they travel this holiday season. We've prayed for them now, that the children would be perfectly matched to their boxes and upon opening them, that they will sense our love for both them and Christ.
  • We celebrate Halloween. I read many interesting debates about whether or not it is a good holiday to celebrate. We chose to keep it simple and not make the issue too complex. I didn't lose a bit of sleep over the entire thing...except for the costume construction which had me up way too late one night. The Rapunzel wig was one-fourth of the price for a retail wig, but by the end of the night, I think I would have paid double just to rid myself of the project.
Kit Kittredge, Davey Crockett, and Rapunzel

  • Hawaii. What's there to say?

Resting Here,
Karen

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The laundry is half done and between loads, I've been putting together a few of my favorite articles and posts lately. Here are the distracting, motivating, controversial, or just doggone pretties I've stumbled upon...

  • The tablecloth I wanted to make for Thanksgiving...if I made Thanksgiving dinner...and wasn't in Hawaii eating kabobs with my family this year. Anyways, maybe a Christmas version is soon to come around these parts...
  • Amy always has great articles in her sidebar, including this one about what to give a family with new babies, and what peculiar diet one nutrition professor adopted.
  • How to survive serving others...poignant for this mother and wife.
  • The soup we loved on Day #1, and the pasta that it became on Day #2. Try this!
  • I'm getting the Christmas make-it-and-wrap-it bug. That's a bit scary for Real Gil, and perhaps for you when you see the results and try to hide your dismay. But with a good tutorial, I figure I can't get it too wrong. Check out Cathe's free vintage alphabets - I'm pretty sure I have a few fresh, white tea towels that are begging for some iron-on monograms... And I loved this whimsical homemade wreath. Pretty sure my grandparents had one in their house when I was a little girl. It must be made. And sprayed with sticky artificial snow.
  • This article was not half as interesting to me as the comments below it...if you want a little "stirring" of thoughts, respectfully debated, this just might be up your alley.
  • I love how Thanksgiving can be strung into words like these. And I look forward to similar words of prayer lifting above the Christmas table.
  • Simply put, I'm a mother of a son. And I pray there's a blog post someday like this mother's.
  • Monotony or excitement, might we do it with hearts that seek One.
The laundry is nagging me - this formidable mound of practicality and style and deals. So, read if you like, while I fold.

Resting Here,
Karen

Monday, November 29, 2010

Official Guest Post

Sluggish, sleepy,

We're home from a great week with family - a family that doesn't need improving, but was improved by tropical beaches, salty sunshine, and Hawaiian cuisine (Have you tried Hawaiian mustard???!!!).

Daunting piles of laundry await so I'm thankful for my friend, Ben Linn, who has offered his wisdom, humor, and wit for the day. Thank you, Brother Ben, for sharing...

____________________________________________________________________

It's not easy being a dad. The crying of children drowns out the TV. Having to set a good example means no more soda with breakfast. And having to help them do things really has set back my ambitions to be a cage fighting champion (right after I finish this cake). But in all seriousness, I think the toughest thing about fathering (brought to you by Father Loving Our Pre-Schoolers – FLOPS) is the changing role of fathering these days.

I don't know if the Ward and June Cleaver model was ever based in reality, but it's clear that prior generations didn't expect a lot of hands-on child-rearing from dads. For that matter, most things related to domestic economy were once traditionally relegated to moms. In fact, as a not-too-old dad myself (33), I can see that my role is much different than my own father's. This is not to say that my dad was lazy or disinterested in home stuff, but my mom took it all on as a general rule. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, dishes, diapers, child transportation, etc. - these were all usually handled by Mom. Today, I find myself taking on a number of things with my kids that my dad typically did not do with us.

Don't let the rugged masculinity fool you, ladies. I do most of the laundry around the house. I get the kids ready and down for bed every night. I do the dishes. And if there are going to be homemade cookies in our house, they'll be my work instead of my wife's. And it's not for lack of doing the usual dad things either. I'll change the oil and fix the washing machine and barbecue sausage and hang blinds just as often. And of course, I must point out that my wife does quite a bit in her own right – grad school, helping in the kids' classes, and quite a bit of her own housework.

How did this come to be? How is it that my role as a husband and father is so different than what I saw growing up? I would like to share a radical concept... my wife and I talked about it and came up with a plan that worked for both of us. She didn't coerce or browbeat me; she just shared what she felt she needed in terms of my support, and I shared what I felt I could reasonably do. It was an exercise in compromise, and what we have works well for us.

As a sidenote, I can't say what any of my friends do around the house for their families. It's not something we can talk about. If we try to sound like we do too little, we'll be seen as a deadbeat. If we sound like we do too much, it's more like, “You'll make a nice wife someday.” Whatever the case, we husbands are called to love our wives as Christ loved the church – sacrificially and completely. If I can love my wife by hanging up some shirts, that's easy! And I know my Heavenly Father is pretty hands-on with me, so I think I should be as involved with my kids as I can be. And every family is different. So I encourage all the wives to communicate with their husbands and work out some good compromises around the house. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm out of the of the office this week. By "office" I mean the laundry room, the kitchen, and the mini-van. My partner in the office is also gone, Real Gil says his name tag. Funny thing though - we're out of the office, but some elements of the office have come with us.


Note out the window: dark and snowing.
Note: inside the window, one tired Mama (sans makeup) and two wild kids!


That's fine by me.

We played "napkin tic tac toe" and passed out in-flight lollipops.


There was lots more in that chunk of time, but seven long hours are now blurred in Hawaii's sunshine.

After cousins reunited,
they scoped out the hotel...


they dogpiled...

and tumbled...

Then, we stripped off winter clothes, slathered sunscreen, took tags off kid flip flops, and went exploring...

So, I'm off to chase kids, reapply sunscreen, and enjoy my family. I'll see you all next week, my friends. Praying your Thanksgiving is filled with good food, sweet company, and overflowing hearts.

Resting in Christ,
Karen

Friday, November 19, 2010

When WordGirl Haunts

There are times in life when I get long periods of silence, when God's Word pours over me in the early or the late hours of the day.

Then, there are the times in life where I grasp at minutes, or seconds, of treasured Word. It seems that God, always approachable and available, understands, and meets me right where I'm at.

This week has been one of the latter form. In a hurried scramble to flip my bookmark out of the way, I ran across these words.

"Oh Lord, my God, in You I put my trust." (Psalm 7:1)

So simple, so refining. Like a children's show theme song, these words resonated in my head for days. Only these were words I lingered over, sometimes with ease and sometimes with struggle.

When the letter arrived with insurance's refusal of our appeal, I shook my head, and remembered these words.

"Oh Lord, my God, in You I put my trust."

When the flat-screen TV was left on Pause for five hours and a slight picture of WordGirl embedded itself in the screen, I remembered these words.



"Oh Lord, my God, in You I put my trust."













When the ten-minute dentist appointment became an hour-and-a-half repair, I felt these words pour over me.

"Oh Lord, my God, in You I put my trust."

When Real Gil and I remembered that we disagree occasionally, and that we were never meant to fully satisfy one another's needs, I recalled these words.

"Oh Lord, my God, in You I put my trust."

When we caravanned to the auto mechanic for the third time this month, I loaded children and smiled knowingly at Real Gil.

"Oh Lord, my God, in You I put my trust."

When a little one seemed lost and I dashed around the house, only to find her sitting peacefully in my armoire...

"Oh Lord, my God, in You I put my trust."














When the sun rolled over His mountains with streaks of day in its wake, I whispered it out loud, even with little ones nearby.

"Oh Lord, my God, in You I put my trust."



I pray you see both the subtle and the dramatic evidences of His trustworthiness this weekend.

Resting in His Peace,
Karen

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Traditions

Have you heard that new Christmas song by Dave Barnes and Hillary Scott yet? Oh, wow. It's another reason to turn on the Christmas music in November, says I.

I promised myself that I wouldn't post anything about Christmas gifts or shopping until after Thanksgiving - disciplined, that's me. So, I will not mention any gift ideas yet. But I wanted to give you a very short list of our essential Christmas traditions. If you find that any of the ideas herein seem like good fits for your family, you might want a few weeks to throw stuff together.

Without further ado...

We read. And thanks to the advice of my dear friend, Miss Marla, we wrap all of our holiday books at Christmas, and cram them all into a big basket by the fireplace. Then, every night (if we're home), the kids get to pick one wrapped book and unwrap it. (I have a friend who then teaches gift-receiving etiquette right here - even teaching her kids to say "thank you" after they unwrap the book!) Then, we read the book. While I do not have twenty-five Christmas books, I do have some favorites. The longer, chapter books we "mark" discreetly and unwrap first. To fill up the other days of the month, I check out Christmas library books - about five at a time - and even wrap those. Here's our freshly wrapped pile of books for the season, ready to go thanks to Punkin's newly discovered gift-wrapping abilities.


Last year, our favorite Christmas book was Jotham's Journey. I have talked about it all year long, and now, we get to continue the story with the sequel. If you land a copy, don't forget to read the end-of-the-chapter summaries - for me, some of the best Christmas devotionals out there. Ask my kids how many times Mom choked up and stopped reading last year...it's a bit embarrassing. Other books we cherish include...
By Jay & Kathy Stockman (a fairly expensive, but treasured book)
Each page of this book has a door, with 25 total doors. Each door contains one element of the Christmas story. The illustrations and words are beautiful.
Just tonight, I caught my mom and Sugs snuggled up, peeking in all the doors of the book.


Another favorite...
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

This year, we are also going to try doing a Jesse Tree. I plan to either make or purchase the Jesse Tree Ornaments (I like these and these)
and we'll be reading Geraldine McCaughrean's The Jesse Tree.For younger children, these are two of my absolute favorites -
Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell and Jason Cockcroft,

and Mortimer's Christmas Manger by Jane Chapman and Karma Wilson.


We give. I'll share some of my favorites next week. The kids love to get in on the action and they make lots of homemade gifts, mostly all found at Family Fun.

We play. One of the best things I did was order a toy nativity set. The children always forget about it until Christmastime and then, they spend many hours playing with a "new" toy. After moving into a neighborhood with spectacular Christmas lights, we added a "Pajama Patrol" to our holiday traditions. The kids put jammies on, I grab cookies, and we go watch the Christmas light show in our neighborhood. I love what this mother did to make the Christmas light observing more fun for her kids. Our little town has a Christmas tree lighting nighttime parade which we always bundle up for as well.

We sing! Oh yes, we do. It's not good singing, but it's usually loud and fun. There's nothing better than trying to keep a straight face while a three-year old belts out "Glo-ooo-ooooo-ria!" This year, my favorite music includes my cherished Pottery Barn 3-disc Vintage Christmas Collection (a gift from Stephanie, have I thanked you enough for this!?!), anything by Dave Barnes or Audrey Assad, and my old, wrinkled sheet music Christmas carols. (Below is Audrey Assad live if you want to hear her sing my favorite Christmas song.)




We visit. Pretty much anyone who will come over, or anyone who will have us and our germs. On Christmas Eve's Eve, we pack up the entire family and spend the next two nights at the grandparents' houses, one night at each set. It's fun to wake up in the morning with family and already have the presents, food, and other general details in place. Another favorite way to visit and give at the same time has been to throw a little kid's birthday party for Jesus, complete with birthday hats and cake. The children of our friends are all invited and parents are sent on a date night, their gift from us.

We laugh, mostly at ourselves. You'll see why when we post our Christmas family photo.

And my all-time favorite Christmas tradition. I purchased a small box with a lid. Every year, I plant it up on a high shelf and walk by it, wondering what I will write this year... After all of the Christmas hubbub has calmed, I take a small chunk of time and write down the memories from the year's holiday - favorite memories, who was present, who was missing, milestones from the year, what we are looking forward to in the next year... These have been so fun to read over the years! Also in the box, we include letters to Santa or tickets to Christmas events we attended. I just reread these the other day and smiled as I read my cursive: "Big question: where will we be living in 2007?" and "In 2008, I'm dreaming of a full night of sleep!"

There are a few things that we do not do during the Christmas season. We do our best not to stress. That means that for the most part, I do not Christmas shop. I try to have the majority of the presents purchased before December 1st. I know that's crazy, but it has really freed me up to enjoy the season. Also, we do not maintain a rigorous school schedule, mostly because we do a lot of reading in the evenings so we don't do as much "official" schoolwork. One last thing: because we have so much family in town, we find that our little ones are quickly overwhelmed by all the noise and presents, and much more prone to all-out, freak-out tantrums. So, we distinguish our own little family Christmas from the extended family Christmas celebrations. Usually, we just find a day when Real Gil is not working and we plan that as our Christmas. We start the day with doughnuts in Mom and Dad's bed (our usual birthday tradition, for Jesus this time). Then, we exchange gift and spend the rest of the day together. That night, we usually go out for dinner as a family, and end the night by trying to be as sneaky as we can about leaving our once-a-year Christmas "bonus" tip for the waiter or waitress.

What Christmas traditions, books, or gift ideas do you treasure? Which Christmas traditions have you not participated in, and feel good about doing so? What advice do you have for mothers at Christmastime?

Resting in the Christ,
Karen