Monday, August 10, 2015

The Extraordinary Ordinary

This kind of beauty takes my breath away. I can't believe it's just growing in my front yard!

The title of this blog post is from the title of the inspiring book I'm reading, The Extraordinary Ordinary Life of Mark Rodriguez. From the preface by his mother, who put the book together from his journal writings: "Like Mark, we can have that same intimate and loving relationship with God. When we ask, He makes the ordinary extraordinary. May the words of Mark, a seventeen-year-old ordinary kid, help you to experience this extraordinary ordinary life with God."

Mark's life was ended by a seemingly random act of violence when he was just 17 years old. The words he left behind in these journals have been an incredible gift, not only to his family but to all of us who knew him and thousands who didn't. I have grown in my relationship with God through the words of this extraordinary, ordinary young man.

*Entry 8, August - The 12 Months of 2015 Blog Challenge 
The title is from the book mentioned above.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Buy You a Dress So Pretty

My daughter OG has moved into her sister's old room. (EV has moved into a new room, in a new house, in a new life, in a new town, with a new name... but that's another post for another day!)

One of the things OG is doing is to decorate the room in a Victorian theme, which includes a picture wall of old black-and-white framed photographs of family members. It is beautiful...both the room, and the photo wall!

When my auntmy mother's sister and my daughter's great auntmailed her the old black-and-white photos, she stuck in a couple of color snapshots from my childhood. Among them was this gem:

Good heavens, Mom! Buy me a new dress, already. Put that thing I'm wearing on my sister, and buy me a new one, so we might not both look like, well... Hmmm... I don't know what to call that...

(Oh, and doesn't my cousin, John, look thrilled to be photographed next to his obnoxious little cousins visiting from out of state?!)

This picture makes me cringe and smile, all at the same time. Kind of like most things in life I look back on with a fresh, new perspective from the future...

*Entry 7, July - The 12 Months of 2015 Blog Challenge 
The title is a line from the song "Pouring Rain" by David Stewart.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Last Day at the Beach

The Last Day at the Beach. That's the title of this achingly beautiful song from William Ackerman. I can't listen to it without getting wistful. This year's family reunion beach week has been the first year that we have had more high school graduates among our children than not... four to three! One of my daughters is married, and her husband joined us this year. (Welcome, Ronald!) One of my sister's daughters is engaged, and her fiancé joined us this year, too. (Nice to finally meet you, Crawford!)

There's been lots of fun and feasting... sunburn... beach volleyball... ukulele... feasting... rain... Avengers and Jurassic Park (must. get. ready. for. sequels!)... feasting... Taboo...  Nanny's cakes (coconut, chocolate chip, rum, and poppy seed)... new pups ("Finley and Chewie, meet the cuzes!")... biking (and even a bicycle built for two!)... feasting... donuts from Duck Donuts on National Donut Day... skim boarding... freezing produce... "Farkle!"... boogie boarding... feasting... hot tubbing... coconut rum fruity drinks and Mike's hard lemonade... The Dugger Interviews (isn't the world talking about anything else?!)... feasting... shopping... reading... Pictionary... corn hole... rain... feasting... Heads Up! charades (thank you, Ellen!)...

The list of fun memories, far from complete, makes me smile... and I list it to keep me from crying. Every year, as the week comes to a close, I am amazed at how quickly it has flown, and how fleeting time is. Our children are growing, and we are growing old, and there's nothing we can do to slow the hands of time. Another fun week is coming to a close much too soon, and we ignore the approaching goodbyes that will inevitably prick our eyes come morning. Goodbye, Beach Week 2015. (Such fun you've been!)

Until we meet again next year...

*Entry 6b, June - The 12 Months of 2015 Blog Challenge 
The title is that of William Ackerman's song by the same name.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

On a Bicycle Built for Two

These two sweet cousins get together once a year, during our annual beach week family reunion getaway on the NC shore. They've been almost inseparable for the entire week, every summer that I can remember--and this year they even got to go biking on the same bike! Such fun!!

*Entry 6a, June - The 12 Months of 2015 Blog Challenge 
The title is from the classic children's song "Daisy, Daisy" (aka "A Bicycle Built for Two").

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Complete Classical Christian School Reading List (Grades 1-8)

Here is a great book list that I might want to reference later. Like Justin Taylor, publisher at Crossway, "I'm a sucker for good reading lists." Here's what he has to say about this one:

"There are hundreds of thousands of books written for children. The challenge is discerning what is best for them to read, given so many options. I’m a sucker for good reading lists, so I’m grateful for the folks at Calvary Classical School—a classical Christian school in Hampton, Virgina—who have given me permission to reproduce this list. For outside reading, the books are divided into three levels. Books with a “+” denote that any title in that series would be acceptable. I’ve done my best to link to the paperback or cheapest version at Amazon. I hope this proves helpful for a lot of parents and teachers!"

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Borax Ant Killer

It makes me cringe to think of posting a recipe for ant poison here on this blog, but it works!!!  I want to share it with any of you who may also have problems with ants in the kitchen as soon as it gets warm outside. The original post appeared on a blog and came to me via a friend on Facebook. (And did I mention that IT WORKS?!!!)

1/8 C. sugar
1 tsp. Borax (laundry aisle)
1/2 C. water

1. Boil water, then pour in empty jar.

2. Add sugar and Borax to hot water and stir until completely dissolved.

3. Soak cotton balls with mixture and place on a piece of aluminum foil.

4. Place near the path where you have ants coming in. 24-48 hours later, they're gone. (Truly!)

I didn't believe this, really. I'd tried Combat and Raid Ant Bait traps. I'd tried Ant Terro. I'd tried natural remedies. I'd tried wiping everything down with vinegar-water. I'd tried spraying ant killer outside along the perimeter of the house. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, has ever worked before to kill the ants. This works. YAY!!

Update NOTE: This absolutely worked amazingly the first time I tried it. Then, two weeks later, the ants were back. I pulled the leftover poison jar back out, and it didn't work at all! It seems to be important for the poison to be fresh, so I've cut the quantities way down in the recipe. Just make a fresh batch each time you need it.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Birth Day

Today, the delightful woman who made me a mother turned 21. She and her new husband, Ronald, came over after church for a birthday celebration meal. (Each child has always gotten to choose the meals on his or her birthday, and even when you're married and moved out, that's still the deal. This year's choice? Home-rolled sushi followed by spaghetti with homemade meatballs. Hey, I don't plan the things...I just cook 'em!)

When my sweetie little-girl-all-grown-up came in, she handed me these beautiful flowers.

"Happy birthday!" she said.

"It's not my birthday. It's your birthday!" I replied.

"Yes, but you did all the work!"

Amen to that--and your sweet self was worth every minute of the pain!

Happy birthday, dear EV. I blinked, and your childhood was over. Happy first-time birthday where my home is no longer yours. I'm so very proud of the woman you have become!

*Entry 5, May - The 12 Months of 2015 Blog Challenge 
The title is from the "most recognizable song in the English language." And here is a super fun article containing five fun facts about the Happy Birthday song.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

But First, Let Me Take a Selfie

I know that I'm getting older... and that I "just don't understand"... and that taking selfies is just what everybody (insert the words "under thirty") is doing.

And I've been known to stick my arm out with the best of 'em, to capture a moment with the camera turned the wrong way...

But, truth be told, I'm a little disturbed. I find the selfie craze pretty disconcerting. I'm concerned about what it is turning us into... who it is making us. It scares me a little to see people so utterly self-absorbed that literally every kind of moment has to be captured with the camera facing SELF. It is changing how we view things. It is changing how we document things. It is changing how we do relationship.

I don't know about you, but I didn't need anything to come along to make me more self-focused... more self-absorbed... more looking at myself and how the world affects me, instead of how it is affecting those around me!

Last night, my family and I were camping, and all of them had headed to the bath house to get ready for bed. I had stayed behind, enjoying the last few moments of our little campfire. The embers were morphing and moving in the smoke, and the last dying flames joined their movements in a mesmerizing dance. It was glorious, that sight, as it combined with the sounds and smells of that fading fire... crackling pops... rising sparks... the scent of wood and earth and smoky tendrils filling my nostrils...

It was in the context of this peaceful, beautiful, holy moment that I saw of one of the most ridiculous things I think I've ever seen. Across the way, at the next campsite, I became aware of a couple of guys who had set up a tripod and camera in front of their campfire. (Yes, a full-blown tripod, complete with camera attachment.) They were ready to capture their selfie the old-fashioned way, I guess... at a decent distance, and without the distorted shoulder in one of the corners. And so I watched them as they attempted to do so. Not once. Not twice. Not six or eight times. No, I watched these two young men literally set up the scene (clinking beer bottles in front of their campfire), hold the pose (as in, "Let's keep these beer bottles in this fake clink for eight seconds while the camera takes the shot), look at the result (apparently never quite perfect enough), and then re-stage the entire thing for a re-do-try-over TEN TIMES. They wasted almost twenty minutes with this project. Were they enjoying the fire? The beers? The company? No, they were obsessed with staging and then capturing the perfect (fake!) moment.

I had been experiencing the perfect (real) moment, and I was never once--not even for a fleeting instant--tempted to spoil the mood by trying to "capture the moment" with my camera. And, had I been so inclined, I certainly would never have been tempted to try to capture it by sticking my arm out and centering my big ugly mug in front of the real show!

I'm not sure what to make of it all, but I know that I never want to miss the real things going on around me because I'm too busy staging some fake ones.

*Entry 4, April - The 12 Months of 2015 Blog Challenge 
The title is from the song "#SELFIE" by The Chainsmokers.

(For some interesting thoughts about selfies, you can read these two articles, which discuss some research-based findings suggesting that our selfie-centered behavior is making us psychologically sick. I wouldn't be surprised.)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Now His Life Is Full of Wonder

Today is my son PT's birthday. He is not here to celebrate with us the way he has every year of his life to this point, which is eating his favorite foods--whatever he's chosen for the meals in any given year, and whomever he's chosen for us to share them with.

And even though he is a freshman in college this year, he isn't spending his first-birthday-away-from-home in a dorm room, either.

No, this year, he and some friends have taken a Spring Break road trip to Colorado. Not a bad way to spend your birthday, I'd say. (Beats the view around here today, that's for sure!)

Happy birthday, PT! Hope you're having a blast!

*Entry 3b, March - The 12 Months of 2015 Blog Challenge 
The title is a line from the song "Rocky Mountain High" by John Denver.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Let My Hair Grow Wild and Free

I received the following picture from my son today. His declaration: "So apparently my hair gets really poofy when it gets long."

That, and you suddenly look a lot like Andy Samberg...

*Entry 3a, March - The 12 Months of 2015 Blog Challenge 
The title is a line from the song "Find Me" by Margaret Becker.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Happily Ever After

*Entry 2, February - The 12 Months of 2015 Blog Challenge 
The title is a line from the song "Happily Ever After" by Case. (This song is an R&B love song, not a style I usually like much, but the words are fun!)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Reflections on "A Really Kindred Spirit"

"Marilla," she demanded presently, "Do you think that I shall ever have a bosom friend in Avonlea?"

"A--a what kind of friend?"

"A bosom friendan intimate friend, you knowa really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul. I've dreamed of meeting her all my life. I never really supposed I would, but so many of my loveliest dreams have come true all at once that perhaps this one will, too. Do you think it's possible?"

Yes, it's possible, dear Anne of Green Gables. But it's a rare and special thing to be treasured among the highest of treasures!

Below you will find some thoughts milling around in my head about friendship. They are shared in the form of an email I received from a dear friend, and an email I wrote to my precious family. 

We're in the final stretch of wedding planning and execution around here, and I have no time for blogging about any of it! (The only thing I'll say about that is this: Go hug your sweet little ones. Next week, they'll be driving you around, and the week after that they'll be getting married. Don't blink!)

My loves,
Some of this is addressed to my sweet daughters and some of it to my dear men, but I wrote it intending for all of you to read all of it. I love you!

My dear daughters,
Find yourself a few dear friends like this throughout the years of your life. I can count them on one hand, over my entire lifetime, but they are a priceless, rare treasure. (See note from Christine, below.) 

You will have many, many special people move in and out of your circle of associations over your lifetime, but deep, heart friends—"bosom friends," as Anne of Green Gables called them—are a true, rare gift from God. They don't usually come along when you're a teenager, (though they certainly can), and they are usually the result of "clicking" with someone on both a spiritual level and a personality level. You'll know them when they come along. Treasure them. 

(And know that I'd love nothing more than to eventually be one of them to you!)

My dear men, I cc'ed you rather than addressing you directly because men's friendships tend to work differently than women's. A deliberate choice to facilitate some connection with the spiritual men in your circle—for accountability and occasional companionship—seems to be key for guys. That, and a deep, heart-and-spirit connection with a "wife of noble character." ("Who can find? She is worth far more than rubies...") Treasure her, too, once the Lord brings her along. 

Dear ones, settle for nothing less than the best: a deep, soul, Spirit connection with your spouse. It, too, is a rare gift from God, and worth waiting for, and earnestly seeking. 

I'm so glad I have your dad as such a soulmate for walking this life together, and that God has given me friendships like those I've shared with Christine. Karen. Cheri. Kathy. Johanna. 

Keep your eye out for those special types of friends. They don't come along every day! And work to become ready to *be* that kind of friend, once they do. 

Life is good, and God is great. Above all, love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. He is, and will always be, your first and closest and truest Friend. And He will shape you into the man or woman of God that He wants you to be, and that will make you the kind of friend that's a rare treasure. Like my dear Christine, writing from across the miles in Iraq:
From: Christine
Date: February 13, 2015
To: Laurie
Subject: Thinking of You
Laurie, I am thinking of you all so much as the wedding approaches. I am really bummed to not be there to help out. When you asked for Christmas trees, I knew you must be planning something special.  
Just know that I love your family and am so glad I know you and Iivo from even before dear EV was born. We have walked thru lots of life together, and I can imagine the thoughts and emotions you have as EV gets married. 
I will be thinking of you so much next Saturday and look forward to being with you to hear all about it! 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


I received the following photo texts from my daughter OG today:
Just randomly settling himself on a plastic bag...
With his little toy
All comfy
Isn't our little Finley adorable?!

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Visit from Across the Miles

A decade or so ago, some dear folks moved here from Germany to spend a couple of years working in the States. We met them in our neighborhood park and became fast friends. Last night this dear man arrived on our doorstep, here in town for a few days with business. Our son PT was great buds with their Max during elementary school, and our "baby" girls, now both 14, used to share a weekly play date when they were 5. Too bad they couldn't all come!

Ulrich said something during his visit that rings so true to me: "There are some people that you can not see for many years, and when you do see them, it's like no time has passed at all. You can pick up right where you left off. I believe that this is what heaven will one day be like." Amen to that!

Sunday, January 11, 2015


A message from my dad, the puppy caretaker while we're away: "That's a little mound of toys piled on his food bowl."

I guess he's missing us and not sure when he'll get his next meal while we're gone. Poor little guy!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Not a Cheesy Card

I have gotten some pretty terrific gifts for my birthday this year (including the much-needed laptop I'm writing on right now!), but my favorite present by far has been this poem my husband presented to me last night. It is as much a tribute to Williamsburg and our alma mater as it is to me. We've long called this town "the center of the universe"—and, for us, in some ways, it is.

I am so grateful for such a dear companion to walk through this life together!

Not a Cheesy Card

On these streets,

Among these trees and houses,
Where leaves rustle and a carriage rumbles by,
I fell in love with you...

Where old porches and new shoppes,

Old traditions and new ideas,
Godless pride and Holy worship breathed among old stones,
I fell in love with you...

Magnolias and pines,

Delis and waterside parks,
"We were young," "sure enough," and "ready for the storm"...
I fell, fall, falling, keep falling...

Your mouth, your kiss

Your hand, your hair... you... beautiful...
Your neck, all else, the universe centered, or so it seemed...
Fell, fall, falling.  Keep, keep falling...

Our little homes, growing, then not...

Your belly, growing, then again,
Our children, our loves...
But I still fall, falling for you...

Your hand,

Your hair,
Your mouth, still... you... more beautiful...
Falling... further... still...

You are my true love and I will cherish you until the very end.

I am... really... still... falling... in love with you

© 2015 Iivo Sitterding

Maybe pick a different pair?!

Looking for bridesmaid shoes is hard work, and every once in a while you just need a fun break...

Apparently even big girls still like to play dress up!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Just a letter to mark a day...

Dear Laurie,
Your "good manners message" was received here with raised eyebrows and sharpened attention. Do things like this still exist? I lost out on a date once because I tried to open the car door for her. I had her coat rudely ripped out of my hands when I tried to help her with it. Without a smile, she pushed past me and knocked me into the door post when I tried to enter the restaurant first in order to ensure it was a place suitable for her visit. Etc. And over the years I settled for the thought that what we had learned as good behavior did no longer count in the modern world. But none of the girls who went against my grain in these small ways became the grandmother of your children. Now, after your message, I fear I have a long and hard upward haul back into a mode where I was when I left dancing lessons in senior high, hovered there for a while, then slowly began to slip – once, again, and again. Thanks for the eye opener.

Still with the warm memory of our transition into the new year, I am slowly recovering from the cold that I brought to you from Sneads Ferry. Not that anyone there gave it to me – no, they all remained untouched, but I picked it up there, because I had it during the short day-and-a-half here before I started out to come to you, and almost did not. I hope I did not deposit it in your house? And as things begin to look better through the burning and tearing eyes, old plans come back to life again. Originally, I thought to get a birthday card for you up there, but as things developed, this plan was shattered. Then I thought to make up for it by getting one here and mailing it, but, under the restraining grip of the bacterial assault, I missed this connection, too, and now am forced to send you my greetings through this uncouth media of digitized mail.

There is, however, in considered foresight, a birthday greeting from me "hidden" in Opa's room, between the little book shelf and the wall in the far left corner when you come through the door. Oh, you found it already! It is, as you must have read from the label, a (ask Google) – a round basket made of natural cane, used to proof bread dough before baking. I saw those offered by Bob's Red Mill when I ordered a shipment of 5-grain cereal, and since I remember these things from way, way back, I got me one. That last bread I baked before Christmas, of which you tasted and declared good, was proofed in one of those baskets. The first rise of that dough was scarily ineffective, and the second also totally unsatisfactory. That's when this first basket came through the mail and I washed it and dried it and threw the dough in it, covered it with a towel, and let it stand – and wouldn't you believe it, it rose to more than double its size after all the stress it gave me at first! Back then, when you tasted the bread, I could not tell you about this for fear to give away my plans for your birthday.

Now, one such story proves nothing, but I am looking forward to your own story of resounding success. May it give you joy in providing your family's daily bread. 

The use of this ancient baker's helper is remarkably simple: flower the dry mold liberally, place your dough in it (it has a capacity for a two-pound loaf), let it take its final rise, and simply dump it onto a baking sheet or stone or whatever you use to bake, this last area prepared the way you always prepared it in the past. Generations of bakers have graduated with these things and the result, including the distinctive pattern on the finished loaf, will assure many more generations making use of it.

In this sense, I wish you a great birthday, and great days to follow. May health and wealth and happiness be yours tomorrow and always.
With love, Opa

From stock like that, how could my man not be terrific?! It is so wonderful to be known, and gifts when I feel most known are the ones when I feel most loved. I'm so excited to try this new dough-proofing basket! Thank you, sweet Opa! Many happy returns all around!


Check out this clever Christmas gift, made by my daughter EV and given to our Finley from his litter-mate brother, Chewie, her pup:

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A New Benchmark

Once upon a time, there was a young family with two young children. The mother was home all day with her preschoolers, and money was very tight for anything besides basic necessities. One day, that woman found an inexpensive outdoor bench at the local Big Lots store. Made of wood and metal, it was a sturdy bench that would serve them well for a long time.

Fast forward almost twenty years. That bench has stood in the front yard, the side yard, the garden, and--for the past few years--on the back deck. Over the decades, the wood has faded, then cracked, then gotten a little green with mildew in spots, finally beginning to rot away in places. The young mother remembers sitting on that bench in the front yard, watching the two- and four-year-olds ride their scooters around while she was in labor with her third child. Each little chubby leg of her four children has, over the years, hoisted itself up into that bench to sit and visit for a spell.

That woman, of course, is me, and about a month ago, I asked my father-in-law if there was any way to clean the wooden slats of that bench to restore it to some semblance of beauty and functionality. He looked it over and broke the news that it was probably not worth the time or trouble that it would take, but that he would see what he could do.

You can't even imagine my surprise and delight to receive this wonderful Christmas gift from sweet Opa! He had taken the bench apart and carried three of the pieces--the curved top, one of the seating slats, and one of the side pieces, home to his workshop. Instead of restoring them, he was replacing them--with beautiful oak pieces lovingly carved and fitted to the frame. He even saved and remounted the original metal plaque that had adorned the old one! I absolutely love it!!

This is what was waiting for me on the back porch during his visit this last week:

This bench was never this beautiful, even on the day it was first purchased almost twenty years ago. And though it has certainly accumulated a lifetime of memories since that time, none has been so precious as this lovingly crafted, hand-wrought makeover. Thank you, oh thank you, dear Opa!

May we sit on it, doing life and memories together, for many more years to come!

*Entry 1, January - The 12 Months of 2015 Blog Challenge
The title is inspired from the song "Benchmark" by Dave Burland.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The 12 Months of 2015 Blog Challenge

Yesterday was the 12th Day of Christmas... and thus, the official end to the 12 Days of Christmas Blog Challenge.

It's the one time of year I force myself to blog every day. I love the exercise of writing... of capturing the thoughts and feelings swirling around in my head, and organizing them into something that makes some modicum of sense... of sharing those thoughts, however dull they may be on any given day, with those who care to read them... of chronicling the mundane and the ordinary from our daily-day life, and thereby--if only occasionally--hallowing it as something extraordinary. It also forces me away from the tyranny of the urgent and back to the truly important, so often overlooked in our daily-day busyness!

Therefore, for a second year, I am committing to continue throughout the year with the 12 Months of 2015 Blog Challenge. The rules are simple:

1) Blog at least once each month, sometime during that month. (You may post to an actual blog, if you have one. If not, compose a note to be published on Facebook, or simply write it out longhand and share it with at least one other person. Whatever works for you. Just grab your thoughts, organize them, capture them in words, and share them with at least one other person.)

2) Give your blog post a clever title, using the title of or a line from a song. (Identify the song at the bottom of the post.)

3) Include a photograph you took to accompany your post, if at all possible. ("If at all possible" is the caveat for those of you who don't take pictures, or don't own a digital camera, or don't use a smartphone, or don't look at life with a photographer's eye... But maybe 2015 is the year to learn to do just that! Look for ordinary miracles in your days, and capture them. Look at life with gratitude, and express it. I'm planning to, and I know that it will change me!)

Won't you join me?

"There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know 'til he takes up the pen and writes."    ~ William Makepeace Thackery

Monday, January 5, 2015

Oh What Fun It Is!

One of the super fun things we have done this Christmas break is learn a new game... and we have played it a lot! Why? It's really fun, it's easy to learn, and it doesn't take very long to complete a round. The educator in me also loves that it forces practice with numbers and quick computation.

I really think something was lost when electronic gaming became all the rage. Board games have become all but obsolete, along with the fun interaction with a group that they involve. We're old school, and we still love them!

My parents first learned this game when they went to visit family in Tennessee for Thanksgiving. They had such fun with it that my mom bought it for my dad for his stocking at Christmas. We played it for the first time at my parents' house on Christmas Day, after the feast. We got hooked and played it as a family several times in the ensuing days.

When Iivo's dad came to visit for a few days around New Year's, we played with him, too. Not much of a game guy beyond Scrabble—he doesn't love the ruckus and silliness that sometimes accompanies group games—he told us afterwards, "That game is really fun...especially if you're playing with a congenial crowd." (He's probably right about that last point. We don't have anyone who got gloaty and mean when they were winning—nor anyone who got upset or pouty when they weren't—and everyone was pretty good-natured if they found themselves suddenly being trounced and left in the dust. With this game, it really is all in good fun!

The game is a dice game called Farkle, and it is available for pretty cheap at WalMart and places like that. We didn't buy it, however, because you don't really need to. You're better off spending your money on a good (read: quiet) dice cup and some nice dice. I typed up a version of the rules by consulting online, and I used my handy home laminator to make nice reference cards to use during the game. That's all you need, really: six dice and a copy of the rules. I'm happy to share the one I typed up, if you're interested. I also typed up score cards (for up to ten players) for everyone to use—two to a page—since we make everyone who's playing keep score for all players. Yes, it's more math practice, but it also helps with strategy for your turn if you know how many points each player has at any point during the game.

The only thing I can't provide for you is OG's signature exclamation, whenever someone rolls a farkle and loses all their points. Something really is missing, for us, when she's not playing, and no one calls out this happy and funny little consolation:

*Entry 12, The 12 Days of Christmas Blog Challenge 
The title of this blog post is from part of a line from the Christmas classic "Jingle Bells."

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Miracle Has Only Just Begun

One of the things I have always loved about my Christmas stocking is that it reflects a warm, welcoming, homey environment. I don't have anything against snowmen... or Santas... or teddy bears... or gingerbread houses... Not at all! But I have loved that my stocking shows a roaring fire inside a warm home, a haven from the freezing weather outside. That is what I always want my home to be... a warm haven of welcome that invites people in.

When we first bought this house, it was a miracle house. Trust me, I don't throw that word around, and I don't use it lightly in this instance. Though I do believe in "ordinary little miracles," this isn't one of them. This was a big-time miracle that placed us in the home that has shaped our family for over two decades. That full story appears below, for those who care to read it, but at this point, suffice it to say that, the Lord took our miracle-house-in-the-first-place and made it a miracle all over again, a second time.

I remember a particular morning that I was praying, bemoaning, "Lord, if you are intentionally keeping us small because we're going to be in a hut in Africa someday soon, thank you. But if this is the kind of ministry you've called us to in this season of life, could we please just have a little more room?" I was having my devotions in my bedroom closet at that particular moment, because it was the only room in the house that didn't have someone sleeping in it.

I'm not kidding, nor am I exaggerating for effect. We had taken in a young, unmarried pregnant woman who was sleeping on the bottom bunk of my son's room. He had moved to the bottom bunk in the girls' room, displacing his sister OG. We had raised her sister EL's crib to the highest level, keeping the side rail down, placing a step ladder beside it, and telling OG that she now had her own "big girl bunk." The littlest one, EL, we moved into a porta-crib, vacillating between our bedroom closet and our bathroom, as we were never quite able to decide which of those two rooms it was more inconvenient to be barred from in the mornings.

Sleeping on the pull-out couch in our den was a young woman from our church who was separated from her husband. He had come home from a Navy deployment and they were working through some real marital difficulties with the help of pastoral counseling with the elder board at our church. Because of the floor plan of our house, I couldn't turn on a light in our kitchen, dining room, entry hall, or hallway without disturbing her, so I was—literally—crouched in our bedroom closet for devotions, begging either for a move to the mission field or for a little more room for ministry here.

I told no one. I didn't really harbor on it. I didn't keep praying it, asking over and over again. It was just one desperate cry of longing, uttered from my bedroom closet and then forgotten in the busyness of daily life with little ones and live-in guests.

Within a month, I found myself talking to my dad on one of the daily morning walks we took around the neighborhood. He had given us, free of charge, some sample pergo-type flooring that had been sent to his company by a manufacturer who had hoped they might choose to carry their product. Since our kitchen was still covered with the original vinyl linoleum, we had welcomed the gift and gladly put it down. Click-lock flooring is pretty easy to do yourself, so we had managed to cover it reasonably well to the edges. I was telling my father that we were out of our league, though, when it came to covering the gap you must leave at the edge of such flooring to allow for expansion and contraction. He told me he would have his business partner come cut some molding for us and help us put it down. ("'Business partner'? What 'business partner'?!" I asked. And that was how I found out that my father had started a business with the man who had helped put the pool-house in his back yard! Though we'd been walking and talking together every morning for years, this was the first I'd heard of it!)

That, my friends, is also how I met Dave. He came over to measure for the molding. While there, he casually mentioned, "You're losing your roof, you know." (This we did know, having certainly noticed that several shingles would blow off each time we had a bad storm!) We told him that we realized this, but that we had been considering adding a fourth bedroom, so we didn't want to replace the roof, only to have to rip it up again if we did.

The next time I saw Dave, a few days later, he was like a kid in a candy shop. Although he had come over to install the molding in the kitchen, he had brought his newest project: plans he'd dreamed up—and actually drawn up!—for turning our 3-bedroom, 2-bath, 1800-square-foot ranch into a 5-bedroom, 5-bath two-story with dormer windows and almost 4,000 square feet. We were stunned. And a little embarrassed. Had he thought we had wanted him to do this for us? Was he going to expect to be paid? What should we even say? We started hemming and hawing: "Um, Dave. Er. We can't afford this kind of renovation! Um.We can't even afford to pay you for having drawn up these plans. Uh. We just meant we might extend the left side of the L-shaped ranch and turn it into a T-shaped ranch. And, um, we can't even afford to do that—but we've been trying to spin straw into gold and figure out how to pull it off—which is why we still have the crummy roof but no addition. What were you thinking?!"

Dave quickly put our fears at ease, explaining that—for him—this was great fun... better than a video game, this drawing up of imaginary dream plans for fantastic house renovations. He didn't expect us to pay him, nor did he expect that we'd ever actually use the plans. He was just excited to share his handiwork. And what handiwork it was! We had fun looking over it, we had a good laugh, and then we went back to life-with-four-kids-and-two-live-in-guests.

Within the next couple of weeks, we were invited to share brunch with my parents after church one day. We arrived at the usual restaurant and were pleasantly surprised to find that Dave and his wife, Janet, were joining us. After much visiting and feasting, the conversation turned to the renovation plans Dave had drawn up. My father asked what we had thought of them. We shyly replied that they were great, but that we couldn't afford anything like that. After a few more minutes of awkward conversation, it became clear that Dave and my father had already talked about this, and that they were jockeying to build this addition for us. They needed a local "show home" in our town, they said, since there were many local folks contacting them about additions, and it was cumbersome to take people to the next town over, many miles away, to show their handiwork. If we were willing to be that show home—letting them take people through the house whenever needed (maybe once a month, but no more than once a week, they conjectured)—they would like to do the addition for us. So, while we paid for things like carpet and paint and ceiling fans, the cost for the bulk of this addition was absorbed by my dad and his company.

We lived in the house during the renovations. When we started—in February—I remember telling Dave, "As long as as it's done by the time we need to start school next September. (Ahem. I had a little to learn about construction!)

I recall my friend Ken saying to me at one point, early on, "You are not doing this. This thing is happening to you... around you." And he was so very right! The Lord had heard my hastily-uttered-then-quickly-forgotten request ("...Could we please just have a little more room?!") and He had chosen to give us "exceedingly above what we could ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20).

The renovation took almost a year to complete. I remember vacuuming up the scraps from the newly installed carpeting, the day my in-laws arrived to celebrate Christmas with us. The every-couple-of-weeks unannounced "show home" visits—which were wonderful because they forced us to keep the house tidy at all times!—ended with the dissolution of Sanctuary Builders a few years later. But for the last decade, we have lived and grown in this house, ministering and hosting and housing others whenever the opportunities have presented themselves.

I am so thankful for the incredible gift of this home—ultimately from my Father, the source of "every good and perfect gift" (James 1:17), but also from my earthly father, the first man I ever loved, and one of the dearest persons on earth to me. Proverbs 13:22 says that "a good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children," and my father has done that in so very many ways, both tangible and intangible. How blessed our children have been to grow up within half a mile of their grandparents, loving and knowing them in deep, daily-day ways. Thank you, Heavenly Father... and thank you, earthly Dad!

For those who might care to read about such things, which I'm sure is not many, what follows is the full story of how we came to be in this miracle house in the first place.

When Iivo and I began looking at houses, we quickly realized something very depressing: We couldn't afford anything nice in any kind of nice neighborhood. (Never mind the spiritual crisis it caused us,  wrestling with our feelings about "good" neighborhoods versus "bad" ones... and with deciding what kind of place we wanted to raise our family... and with my thoughts and fears when imagining walking with little ones around a neighborhood where I didn't feel safe... and with wrangling through the realization that mercy and justice and compassion and help are difficult enough concepts to define and wrap your brain around, let alone embrace with deliberateness and purpose... But those are all thoughts for another post!)

At any rate, after looking at all the things we could afford, we realized that the little townhouse we were living in was just fine, and that it would have to serve us well for a few more years, because we weren't going to move across town to something awful when we could stay here. We loved it here, five minutes from my parents' house, the childhood home I grew up in.

One day, as we were bemoaning that we would never be able to afford an actual house in this part of town, my dad casually mentioned, "You ought to look at that house at the front of the neighborhood. We played golf with that guy about a year ago—he was a singleton who joined our threesome—and he was anxious to sell it then. He might be open for an offer."

Well, long story short, we did. We looked at it. It was cosmetically hideous but structurally sound, and we knew some new carpet and fresh paint would do wonders. We calculated the absolute most we could afford monthly without my paycheck—the plan was for me to stay home with our children when they were born—and made an offer. We made the offer through his real estate agent, hoping that the lack of commission he'd have to pay our agent would help with the deal. We had decided to have my father, the consummate businessman, make the offer for us. As we sat with the agent around my parents' family room, my father said, "TM, the kids would like to offer—" and proceeded to name a price that was $1000 less than we had told him was "the absolute most we could afford." We had no idea why he was doing that, but we had decided to let him handle it, so we let him handle it. TM responded with something like, "Well, I'll make the offer, but I think that's what he paid for the house, ten years ago." (Bear in mind that this was long before the "housing bubble" had burst and people had experienced the reality that their house was worth less than they'd paid for it. Houses in our area had steadily risen in value for decades, and this house was undoubtedly worth more than we were offering.)

As expected, the homeowner was insulted by our offer, and countered with a counter-offer of his own. We explained to the agent that we couldn't afford any more than we had offered, and she indicated A.'s feeling that the house should sell for "what it's worth, no what they can afford!" We agreed, and told her that we were sorry for having wasted her time. We had just thought that, perhaps—with the house having sat on the market, unsold, for almost two years—A. might just be willing to part with it for the lesser amount.

We arranged a meeting with TM, the real estate agent, to get our earnest deposit back. That morning, she told us that A. had called her and said, "Keep it alive, TM." The conversation went something like this:

TM: "We could do some creative financing and get you into the house for about $25 more a month."

Us: "TM, we know that this is how this usually works. We make an offer. They make a counter-offer. We haggle a while and settle somewhere in the middle. But we really did offer the most we can afford. $25 more a month and we don't eat one week. We're sorry."

TM: "Can you not offer him anything?"

We proceeded to tell her that, actually, we had originally settled on a figure that was "the absolute most we could afford" and our father had—for reasons he couldn't explain—offered $1000 less than that. We could counter with an offer that was a measly $1000 more, if she thought it would help. She agreed to try once more, and our offer was accepted! We found out later that, in reality, A. had actually paid $10,000 more for the house ten years ago than he was selling it for now. (Again, this was pre-housing-bubble-burst.)

It really was a miracle that we got into this house, one of the smallest in a lovely neighborhood just minutes from my parents...on foot!

For many years, we lived in that house, growing—and eventually outgrowing—the little three-bedroom ranch. When they were little, we had all three girls crammed into one of the tiny bedrooms, while their brother PT was king-of-the-world in the other (tinier) one. We used bunk beds like loft beds and put the girls' furniture beneath them, but it became apparent that eventually—as the actual size of their clothing grew with them—we wouldn't be able to fit it all in one little dresser and one little closet. We began to dream of adding another bedroom, but it was only a dream. We were no more able to afford more per month then, than we had been at the beginning! Where would we come up with the money for anything of the sort?

It was at that point, in the midst of all that hoping and dreaming for one more bedroom, that the Lord gave us the miracle addition... a miracle addition on a miracle house!

I believe the Lord knew that this gift would take my natural, God-given bent toward hospitality and solidify it into a lifetime of ministry in our home. When you live in a house that literally grew around you—happened to you, in response to the prayer, "If this is the ministry you have for us in this season, could I have just a little more room?"—you are all the more likely to open it up to people for ministry whenever you possibly can. We've hosted countless meetings for church over the years: Bible studies, prayer meetings, pot luck dinners, music practices. We've housed hundreds of people, many of whom we haven't known before they came... some for days... or weeks... or even longer, when it's been needed. I'm so grateful for the opportunities we've had to meet people, many of them pastors and missionaries involved in God's work around the world. It's been fascinating to meet them and hear of their work with Bible translation or church planting or ministry in orphanages.

One such dear stranger-turned-friend, Lucy, had come to stay at our house multiple times. The last time she called me, she said, "I absolutely love staying at your house. That guest room is so peaceful, and I get so much work done! Thank you for letting me crash there and for leaving me alone to work!" We got word just this past week that sweet Lucy died last month. Finally, she has gone home to be with her First Love and heard those blessed words, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Matthew 25:23). And I know she's enjoying an even better, more peaceful room, prepared for her by her loving Heavenly Father (John 14:2-3).

I'm so thankful to have had the chance to bless her and know her because I was given "a little more room," and I can now keep a guest room, ready and waiting, for whomever the Lord sends to it.

What a gift!
*Entry 11, The 12 Days of Christmas Blog Challenge 
The title is a line from the song "The Miracle of Christmas" by Stephen Curtis Chapman.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow will find it hard to sleep tonight!

I am having trouble sleeping these days.

Don't get me wrong. I have no trouble falling asleep. In fact, I'm pretty sure I could fall asleep within two minutes any time, anywhere. If I can lie down in comfort, quiet, and darkness, I can fall asleep. Instantly. When I hit the pillow at night, I'm out like a light. Literally. Boom, I'm gone.

I've even become one of those people I never understood, growing up—the ones I mocked and made fun of. You know the ones: People Who Fall Asleep During Movies. I remember uttering the words, "I don't understand people who fall asleep during movies! I could never do that! I'm too engaged and involved in the story. Even if I don't particularly care for it, I could never sleep during a movie." (Sigh. The list of things I understand now that I never understood in my 20s and 30s grows daily... and exponentially. The attitudes of my former selves toward others over the years, embarrass me!)

No, I have no trouble falling asleep.
My trouble is in staying asleep. Inevitably, almost every night, I find myself waking up sometime between 1-4 a.m. to go to the bathroom. At least half the time, I have trouble returning to sleep. Since almost every other late-forties woman I know struggles with this same thing, I have assumed it is mostly hormonal, combined with getting older. And I'm sure that's somewhat true. But I'm once again reminded, after reading this article, that it just might be my own fault.

Screen time before bed... screen time in bed... may just be killing my sleep. Like so many other things, I know this... but I don't act consistently in line with what I know. Sigh. And so the list of things I hope to be better about in 2015 grows.


Friday, January 2, 2015

A Puppy Dog for Christmas

This is the precious puppy face that greets me every single morning, without fail:

It's blurry because he was jumping up as I took it.

It wasn't easy to get him to sit still and "pose"!

It is adorable to me that Finley has come up with a little morning routine that involves running back to see me—usually I'm still in bed!—as soon as my husband releases him from his leash after their morning run. My husband unhooks Pippin, the other dog, first—and he runs into his crate, waiting to be served breakfast. Then Finley is unhooked, and he runs straight back to see me. He pops his head (and wet paws!) up on the side of the bed to say hello. I greet him and rub his ears a few seconds, then he turns and runs off back down the hall for "dinner."

It is so endearing to me that he runs back to say hi before he goes to eat...every single day!

*Entry 8, The 12 Days of Christmas Blog Challenge 
The title is a line from the song "Bobby Wants a Puppy Dog for Christmas" by Merle Haggard.

He really is the cutest, sweetest thing!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

We Read the Story That Started It All

This morning I am up before the rest of my family, praying for them as we begin the new year. During 2015, in addition to the fun and challenge of "putting off" something together, we're taking up the mantle of family solidarity in a much more significant way, as well. This year, we are "putting on" the daily habit of time in God's Word and journaling.

Although spending time reading God's Word each day has been a goal for each of us every year, this year we are shamelessly bribing our children to remain consistent by offering them money—and family pressure—to get it done. We figure there is no greater investment we could make in our children's lives than to help them establish a no-matter-what, it's-just-what-I-do-every-day habit of reading the Scriptures and writing about it.

To that end, we put forth this offer—printed and laminated into a book mark—and placed it in their stockings during the Christmas festivities:

The front of the card:

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”    - 2 Timothy 3:14-17


“How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees…I will not neglect your word.”

- Psalm 119:9-12, 16b


The Offer: Read your Bible and write in your journal daily for all of 2015, and we will give you $200 to spend as you like. Miss one day and you forfeit all of it.

The Challenge: Every day. No matter what.

The Benefit: “I’ve never met a strong Christian who does not meditate every day on the words of God. I’ve never met a weak Christian who does.”      – Ben Stuart

“Practice Round”: Starting tomorrow, on Christmas Eve, you may begin. On New Year’s Day, when you officially start this challenge, if you’ve succeeded, you will receive $20 toward a nice dinner out together as a family.

The back of the card:

“I’ve never met a strong Christian who does not meditate every day on the words of God.  I’ve never met a weak Christian who does.”    – Ben Stuart

Journal-Writing Tips

·         Write the date at the top of your entry. I also like to include the time that I am writing, in case I write more than once per day.

·         Write the reference for the Bible passage you read that day.

·         Write something meaningful to you that’s on your heart—either at this season of life, on this particular day, or in response to this particular Bible passage.

·         You might choose to begin with something like one of the following:

“Thank You, Lord, for…”
- “Lord, please help me with…”
- "This verse makes me realize…”
- "I really need to…”
- "I’m struggling with…”
- "I’m struck by…”

Note: Most people find it easiest to stay consistent with a devotional time if it is done first thing in the morning, upon awakening.

The “Proof”: You will show that you met the conditions by your word, and by having a daily entry in your journal, dated and showing which Bible verses you read that day. These entries are between you and the Lord alone. We won’t read them.

The “Rules”: Your entries may be as long or as short as you like, but the goal is daily time in the Word and prayer. You must write an entry each day, and you may not create an entry for a day you missed on a different day.

The cheap Ollie's calendars on which we'll keep track of our daily progress.
One is for the four of us here, one is for PT back at college, and one is for EV (and Ron!) when she gets married in February.
This is a bit of a bittersweet pursuit for us, learning the habit of daily journaling. We've all been given a front-row peek into the personal journals of our dear friend Mark Rodriguez as his mother, Leigh Ellen, has been publishing excerpts of them online in the form of near-daily encouraging devotional thoughts. (See God Is Super Good.) Mark, one of our son PT's best buds, was tragically killed in a random shooting as he drove home from his school's graduation ceremony last May. While this experience has rocked our faith community, where Mark's father is pastor, it has also served to strengthen so many of us in our walks with the Lord. As this was what Mark was all about in life, we know that he is rejoicing, even now, that it is still being accomplished here on earth while he resides in heaven.

Won't you consider joining us this year in our daily pursuit of time reading the Bible—God's very words to us—and in capturing our thoughts through journaling? We are so looking forward to growing in our faith and faithfulness this year! 

After all, consider this, from Ben Stuart: "I've never met a strong Christian who does not meditate every day on the words of God. I've never met a weak Christian who does." May we all be stronger Christians this time next year because of the time we've spent with Him every day in 2015!
*Entry 8, The 12 Days of Christmas Blog Challenge
The title is a line from the Christmas song "Daddy, Won't You Read It Again" by This Hope.