Everyday Life

Give Freedom and Get A Merry Christmas For All

I had some high hopes for the Christmas season this year. We were going to do crafts. We were going to make our own bows to decorate the garland on the front porch. I was going to make a burlap banner that said something joyous like “Joy.” Profound.

Oh, and I was going to make my own candles. Ha! Knee slapper.

Every year I make all these plans that seldom ever happen. The only difference from this year and the other years when my over zealous plans have failed is that I am okay. Really! I’m okay that we only baked one thing (yesterday), that we still don’t have bows on our garland, that there is no burlap banner gracing our mantle (burlap is cool, but why? Something to ponder).

I’m okay because I’m embracing the word “Freedom” this Christmas. In fact, it’s turning out to be the best gift I could have given to my family. This is especially true for my daughter. Creative license is like a love language for five-year-old Ella. She unfurls like a Christmas rose when I let her do her own things. Our house really doesn’t have a finished feel at all this year. It looks like this:


And this:



And this:


Err…that may be a little too much creative license taken by the 3-year-old boy in our house.

I wouldn’t say our Christmas season has been “magical” because let’s be real, we still deal with sleepless nights, bad attitudes, hectic work schedules for Daddy, and plain ol’  real life in the midst of the holiday season. But giving this gift called Freedom has changed the overall feel of our Christmastime celebrations. I made this decision that we weren’t going to stress the small stuff early on in November, but I didn’t expect that it would make our whole Christmas feel like something closer to light and cheery instead of stressful and performance driven. And now I’m realizing, isn’t Freedom what Christmas is all about?

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galations 5:1)

Yes. Freedom is not just for the Fourth of July. Freedom is for every day, and especially Christmas Day. It’s the best gift humanity has ever been given! Freedom from the law, freedom from fear, from death, from striving to be perfect, and freedom to love and be loved. I struggle to put “give more love” into practice, but now I’m thinking it involves giving freedom to those we love.

I highly recommend including some freedom in your gift giving this year. It’s not too late. Let the children make a mess in the kitchen. Let your husband wear that ugly sweater/sweatshirt/fishing shirt without comment. Let your family members be sad if they feel sad, even on Christmas. Don’t sweat it if the bread doesn’t rise for Christmas dinner. It may not be the easiest gift you’ve given, but giving freedom gets easier and more joyful as you go along.

I hope you have a very, very merry Christmas!

With love,


Like this? Read What Christmas Looks Like Sometimes

Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews

What I Read This Fall

There are four more days left in this Autumn season, and I can guarantee you my Fall Reading List will not be completed in those five days. But that’s okay! A reading list is a starting point that morphs as time goes along. As Juliet says in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,

“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive–all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”

Well, maybe there are other reasons to read. But I find the first part to be true when it comes to reading lists. I start at the top, but get totally sidetracked when I find a new favorite author or read a book that refers to another book. That being said, here is what I did manage to read this Fall:


Gilead – You must read it. Best book I’ve read in a long time!

Rosie – Not a fan of this one, but I plan to try some more recent work of Lamott’s.

The Grapes of Wrath – Very raw and uncouth, and also deep and masterful. Just not my cup of tea.

The Signature of All Things – Abandoned halfway through. Eesh. If you liked it, I think we can still be friends, but let’s not talk about this book.

Listening ValleyListening Valley – This wasn’t on my list, but I needed a comfortable, reassuring read after three book busts, so I turned to my beloved D.E. Stevenson. This is a cozy sort of book to curl up with on a foul weather day. Fans of L.M. Montgomery or Jan Karon will love it.

Lila – I read this book on the heels of Gilead, and it was so totally different from what I expected! It was awesome, though. It will have its own review soon.


Shepherding a Child’s Heart – I really enjoyed the perspective of the first half of the book, but didn’t get much out of the second half that dealt with the method this particular author employs in child rearing.

For The Children’s Sake – I loved this book. It will receive its own review soon.

The Fitting Room – This was a much lighter read than I expected, but still pretty good.  Women of all ages can glean great wisdom from it, but it would be especially perfect to study with a group of teenage girls.

Yes PleaseOrganized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional LivingI am not funny enough to appreciate this book. If you like SNL or Tina Fey’s Bossypants, you might like this one. However, I would venture to say that Poehler just isn’t a writer. She even admits in the book that she is “better in the room.” I concur.

Bread and WineA stunning book. It’s changing my entire view of hospitality. I say “changing” because I read it through and reviewed it, but I keep going back to read parts and review the recipes. I’ve made two and they were both delightful.

Organized Simplicity – I think I’ll need to come back to this book in the future, when I can handle all the very useful checklists and strategies. Right now, I just need to get through the mess that is the Holidays. It’s the best possible kind of mess! But a mess still.

Wow. I read more nonfiction than fiction in the last few months. Ladies and gentlemen, that is a first! I feel so smart and boring. Maybe I can remedy that in my Winter Reading List.

Speaking of, The Winter Reading List is shaping up and will be posted soon! What’s on your list?

Everyday Life

Twenty-Minute Morning Update

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my frenzied frame of mind and my plan to calm the crazed brain: get up earlier than my kids. It’s been almost a month, so I think it’s time to let you know if my plan worked.

I can honestly say, yes, it worked! Even though I only partially achieved my goals, the difference from getting up when my kids wake up and getting up and getting even one thing done before they get up has been tremendous.

Please note: There have been some mornings when I let myself sleep because the nights with an infant can still be pretty tiring. I don’t beat myself up about those mornings as long as it’s not what I slip back into into doing every day. If you’re in a tiring season of life, give yourself some flexibility when you need more sleep!

My goals were to do just three things each morning before the children were asking for breakfast and book reading and all other manner of demands:

1. Shower/dress

2. Read and pray

3. Make a short to-do list

The truth is I have only gotten all three of those goals accomplished once or twice in the last month. We live in a pretty small house and all the bedrooms are clustered together, so in the early mornings I creep around trying to be as quiet as possible. I know where every squeak in the floor is and I tiptoe around them all. The problem with the goal  of getting dressed is I can’t quietly open my antique dresser to get clothes out in the morning; if I don’t lay them out the night before, goal #1 doesn’t happen. What does happen almost every morning is reading and praying. What a huge difference this time to focus on one thing at the beginning of my day has made in my mindset for the whole day! I’m not saying all my troubles are gone and I never lose it or react badly throughout the day. But I do have an underlying strength to draw from when the pressure cooker turns on.

I get around to writing the short to-do list almost never. I am thankful that I’ve gotten into a better chore routine thanks to this Cleaning Chart from A Well Feathered Nest. I’ve tried a few different cleaning schedules, but this one fits the natural flow of tasks in our house best. There are still some specific tasks for each day that aren’t on this chart which I need to get better at writing down, but even if I don’t, I have some direction for the day thanks to this chart on my fridge.  I’m hoping to get into a better habit of writing my to-do list the night before. Maybe this will calm my brain before bed instead of gearing it up for the next day? We will see.

It seems like every time I talk to a fellow mom these days, whether a stay-at-home-mom, working mom, or a combination of the two, the conversation always turns to how to balance everything we need to accomplish to keep our home and family well cared for. The Twenty-Minute Morning experiment is working great for me right now, but I am far, FAR from being on top of everything in my household. It would be great if any of you readers could share any tips you’ve picked up along the way on what works best for your lives. Dads, too! We all have all kinds of hats we wear and try to balance.

Reading, Reviews, Saturday Cooking

Saturday Cooking: Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine is Changing My Life

On a gloomy December morning, I enjoy the rare treat of sitting alone at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee, a toasted English muffin slathered in blueberry preserves, and a book. I wouldn’t choose this type of morning every day–I love the chaos and energy, the blue eyes and burnished blonde hair usually flying around the circle from living room, dining room, kitchen, at 8:00 a.m. on any given morning–but as a once in a while thing, this morning alone is heavenly.

Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table, with RecipesWhat book am I reading? Funny you should ask. It’s kind of a cookbook, kind of a memoir. It’s Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine, a book I wouldn’t have picked up on my own whim in a million years. But I heard Shauna speak twice in the last year, and then a speaker at MOPS said Bread and Wine was pivotal in helping her become the cook she always wanted to be, so I ordered it from my library and here it sits in front of me. I’m not a cookbook reader. I struggle with even wanting to cook, and much more with the actual cooking. When the whole Julie and Julia book and movie were crazy popular, I just shook my head and said, “Why? Why would I put myself through a year of making complicated, French recipes?” I wouldn’t.

And I still wouldn’t. But when the every day need to feed and nourish my family collides with the stress of planning and prepping and shopping so often that it just drives me crazy, I know this whole cooking thing is something I need to figure out. Add Bread and Wine to the mix, and it suddenly becomes something I really, really want to figure out and just might enjoy. Niequist says, “I believe every person should be able to make the simple foods that nourish them, that feel familiar and comforting, that tell the story of who they are….And the only way to get there is to start where you are.”

I’m teetering dangerously on the edge of declaring 2015 the year I begin to truly learn to cook. It’s quotes like this that make me brave:

“We’ve been told that cooking and baking and entertaining are specialized skills that only some people possess, and that without a culinary degree or a lifestyle brand we can’t be expected to do anything but buy prepared food. Marketing and advertising campaigns urging us to eat out or buy already prepared foods want us to think that plain old cooking is difficult and not worth learning. This trend began in the 1950s after factories that used to make ammunition had to make something else. So they started making shelf-stable food in cans and boxes, similar to what soldiers had been eating but unfamiliar to the average American family. In order to sell canned food and cake mixes, advertisers had to convince American women that cooking is too hard and troublesome for our modern world. But it wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now.” (Bread and Wine, p. 41, emphasis mine)

Quotes like that, Niequist’s skillful and passionate writing on the glories of food and love around the table, and my 100% confidence that my husband will totally back me up in this even though I haven’t asked him yet (he will) urge me on into this scary thing of picking up a cast iron skillet, crushing some peppercorns with it, and then attempting to make Stake au Poivre. I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds ah-mazing. I’m kind of worried I’m going to waste a lot of money on food that turns out badly, but then I read this:

“It takes some time to learn, to try and fail and make a mess and try again…But it’s a lovely process, with not a minute wasted. If you put in the time, the learning, the trying, the mess, and the failure, at the end you will have learned to feed yourself and the people you love, and that’s a skill for life–like tennis or piano but yummier and far less expensive.”

Yeah, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of money on learning golf and I’m still not even close to good at it. I guess it’ll be more worthwhile to try and do something well that I have to do every day anyway.

I guess I’ll take a deep breathe and let myself dive over the edge.

2015, I doubt I’ll be a Foodie when I’m through with you, but I plan to make a mean Steak au Poivre with Cognac Pan Sauce before you’re over.

Whether you consider yourself a Foodie or not, Bread and Wine is a delightful, insightful read that pretty much anyone can enjoy. I highly recommend it. But be forewarned– you may find yourself searching for Sriracha sauce in the grocery store before you’re through. Or maybe you already know what aisle that’s on. If so, call me. I need help. =)

Read more Saturday Cooking posts here!