Happy Memories and Happy New Year!

On New Year’s Eve, I sat down to reminisce over the past year and write down a few memories. The children woke up before I could finish. By nap time I had the start of what seemed to be a cold. A nap didn’t kick it and instead it grew worse. I spent most of the next three days in bed with a fever and coughing.

(Whooping cough is at “epidemic proportions” in our city. Despite having been vaccinated this fall (under the mistaken belief that it would help protect the many babies in my life), I’m fairly certain our family has succumbed too.)

Anyway, a week has passed but I finally was able to get back to the reminiscing…

photo by Your Pic Photography <3

Last winter I was fairly convinced I would never again finish dinner and feel like doing anything but laying on the couch, hoping to keep dinner down. Many of the habits I worked so hard on in 2012 fell by the wayside as I struggled on in survival mode.

Spring came. Morning sickness abated. The three miserable weeks of stomach flu were aired out in the beautiful breezes of spring. William overcame his fear of animals as we took weekly treks to a friend’s home for the kids to ride horses. Rose made huge bounds in reading [I love Phonics Pathways!] and I first heard the words that warm a mother’s heart, “Mommy, can I read you a story?”

Without even mentioning the fact that he’d helped me prepare four “failed” gardens since we got married, Joshua dug up two lovely little plots for me. The kids and I spent many happy hours digging in the dirt, watching seeds sprout and turn into towering plants, squashing bad bugs, rescuing good bugs, and then plopping fresh produce into our mouths. We dubbed the garden a smashing success, especially Rose’s little plot. Her one grape tomato plant drooped heavy all season and produced about as many tomatoes as all ten of mine. Maybe more.

The garden was in full bloom when we welcomed Edmund into the world, just 12 hours after his cousin arrived. His arrival was tempestuous, but he has filled our house with such gratitude and joy and so many adorable baby giggles. Josh and I are pretty sure he’s the happiest baby ever. [Since he’s the oldest of eleven and I’m the oldest of eight, we think we have a fairly good amount of experience!] The kids love holding Edmund, showing him their toys, and making him giggle.

Fall also brought the start of school. Adjusting to life with four has been fairly easy since Edmund’s such an easy baby. Adjusting to life with four plus school has been much more challenging. Rose is attending a two-day-a-week classical Christian school associated with our church and homeschools the rest of the week. Since I couldn’t bear not teaching her, I’m also teaching part-time those two days while my mom watches the other kids. Not only is Rose in my class, so is my “baby” sister Kathryn! Though sometimes I wonder why on earth I thought I could juggle teaching at this stage in life, I have been so grateful for the encouragement that their young minds are capable of SO much more than I dreamed possible. I’ve been amazed so many times as the students (and Will and Meg too!) catch on to things way more easily than I expected. I certainly underestimated their capacity at the beginning of the school year!

I heard rumor that it was supposed to be a really cold winter, but when we were still having picnic in t-shirts late-November, I doubted. December came and winter started in earnest: cold and early.

Will, my sister Kathryn, Rose–note to the wise: take pictures before your children are freezing cold

My little sisters got “snowed in” with us for a weekend of giggles, games, talking, movies, playing in the snow and way too many sweets. Barely had the snow melted when we were hit with another round.

One of my favorite memories from the year happened during that snowstorm. Joshua had had a long and tiring week at work. Friday rolled around and he didn’t get home for dinner until almost 9:30.

Friday night was all but over. Or so we thought. Then we decided to make the most of the time we had left and watch a Christmas comedy together. We had to skip several not-so-great parts, but I cannot remember when I last laughed so hard. After the movie was over, I went upstairs to get ready for bed. A couple minutes later, Joshua came up and asked, “Hey babe, want to go make a midnight snowman with me?”

It was actually well past 1:00, but how can a girl resist an invitation like that? Suppressing our giggles, we crept out into the softly falling snow and built the most gigantic snowman our street has probably ever seen. We couldn’t wait to witness the children’s surprise in the morning!

A new year is here now and with it a new round of snow.

Looking back on 2013, at the trials and joys, at the hard work and happy days, my heart is filled with gratitude for the goodness of God to us. May His goodness bless you this New Year!

Applesauce Making Day

One of my very favorite growing up memories was our yearly trek to a local apple orchard with some daer friends. Perched on the tree limbs, with the crisp scent of apples all around us, we held races to fill our bushels baskets or pretended like we were Laura and Mary Ingalls and their friends gathering apples to store for the winter.

After the bushels were filled, we had a picnic lunch then crammed back into the van and headed home to make applesauce.

After reading the “Little House” books, one of Rose’s favorite things to do is “get ready for winter”.

Sadly, the orchard no longer allows kids to pick apples (I’m sure we were a huge legal liability!), but applesauce making is still a fun yearly tradition.

This weekend, my Mom and youngest sister came over and helped us fill our freezer with applesauce (otherwise I would have been in the midst of stickiness till midnight.)

Will was convinced making applesauce is easy-peasy. It probably helped that he was eating his third bowl of applesauce while I cleaned up. 

It’s so fun getting to share a taste of the past with my own children. And even though I’m not six anymore, I still share Rose’s love for filling the freezer with fall’s bounty as we “get ready for winter”. It makes me feel just a wee bit like Caroline Ingalls…  though I doubt we could survive two weeks without a trip to the store.

Anyone else love the deliciously stick mess of applesauce making? 

Introducing…

Edmund Páll

Born Sunday at 12:03 a.m.

Weighed 7 lbs., 7 oz.

Rose was convinced it was a boy. Why? Because she’d been praying for a brother “for Will” for years. She is such a sweet, responsible big sister.

When William heard that he had a brother, he stared in dazed disbelief. After a minute, a huge grin spread across his face and he can’t seem to get enough of him since.

Little Meg smothers him with kisses and just loves holding him. Our biggest challenge is keeping her from loving on him too much.

Edmund was about three weeks early, so when he’s awake enough to open his eyes, my heart skips a beat.

Usually though, he’s sound asleep (at least till midnight!)

Later I’ll share a bit of how God displayed His goodness to us in the details of Edmund’s birth, but for now I’m busy cuddling our little newborn and trying to convince him that night is a good time to sleep. 🙂

A Peek into our Summer

The first half of summer has simply flown by. With a new baby on the way and Rose starting school in earnest this fall, one of my main goals for the summer was simply to savor the moments with my children.

Blogging has been on the back burner (as you can tell!), so I thought I’d give you a peek at what we’ve been up to. 

Joshua’s family–just think how big it will be in ten years! (photo credit)

The summer got off to a lovely start with Joshua’s little sister Becca’s beautiful wedding. Outdoor weddings are risky, but her dream was to get married in her parents’ backyard. The dream turned out practically perfect.

Rose with the kids’ favorite pony, Sackett

June began with two events the kids had been highly-anticipating: Rose’s sixth birthday and the children’s very first horse “show” (thanks Elissa!)Those who warned me that time flies by much faster once you become a mom were right. It’s hard to believe that Rose is already six and little Meg can sit on a horse (almost) by herself. 

Rose’s favorite part of turning six was getting to stop laying down for a quiet time. We bought her a beautifully illustrated copy of The Secret Garden (thanks Candace for the recommendation!) and have had lots of fun reading it together while the other two nap.

Joshua had to go to Texas for training mid-June. My mom and sisters helped speed the time till he got home by painting our bedrooms. I still wake up each morning and smile when the sun peeks through the white curtains (which I still haven’t taken time to iron) and lights up the relaxing warm-gray walls.

Most of my lengthy before-the-baby-arrives to-do list probably won’t get done [maybe, just maybe, I’ll get those curtains ironed], but it’s so much fun to be able to “nest” in my own home. With Will and Meg we spent the summers leading up to their births with family (which was awesome), but I almost drove myself crazy trying to “nest” away from home. 

 Despite the grimace, Will couldn’t stop talking about how fun their fishing “trip” was. It helped that he caught his first little fish almost instantly. 

Earlier this year while reading through the Gospels with the children, I read the verse “if your son asks you for a fish, will you give him a snake?” Later that day Will announced that Joshua was taking him fishing. He hadn’t talked to Joshua, but was fully convinced that Jesus’ words meant that if a son asks for a fish, his father will take him fishing. (How could Joshua say “no” to that?!)

We joined my family at the lake for the day, Joshua and Will finally got to go on their fishing trip. 

Will’s fish was too small to keep, but we did get to have dried fish (a traditional Faroese treat) for lunch. 
When it came right down to it, sleeping in a tent seven months pregnant with wiggly little ones didn’t seem like quite as much fun as I’d originally thought, but we let Rose spend the night. Even though I knew I was entrusting her into good hands and that she and my baby sis (who’s only five months older than she is!) would have a marvelous time, letting go was harder than I thought.
Fears of her drowning or getting abducted flooded my mind, until I finally entrusted her into God’s hands. All my fears proved unnecessary. She survived the weekend with nothing worse than a few chigger bites.
What has your summer been like?
[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

Fourth of July: Love and Allegience

July 4th is one of my favorite holidays. I love the stirring music, the vibrant colors, the beautiful fireworks and especially the rich legacy that we as Americans celebrate.

But until recently, I didn’t realize how nationalistic I was.

“Look! There’s our flag!” the kiddos love to point out. (photo credit)

In high school I fully succumbed to the notion that America is the center of God’s modern plan. My love for America became idolatrous. (Sometimes good things are the easiest things to turn into idols!) The American Dream became, in my mind, the ideal for all the world.

Then I heard a 4th of July sermon that was not just about how great America is. Instead it reminded us that, though as Christians we are commanded to be good citizens (and we are so blessed to be American citizens), our primary allegiance as American Christians is not to America. [Gasp! What?]

Our primary allegiance as American Christians should be to God and to His church. Just like the primary allegiance of an English Christian or a Chinese Christian should be to God and to His church.

Yes, God has worked mightily in American’s past. He is still working mightily here today. Studying our history is a wonderful blessing.

But God is not just King over America. He is King over all the earth. Someday every single nation will proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.

So sing our national songs with gusto, enjoy the fireworks, give thanks for our freedoms, but remember that our primary allegiance is not to America. It is to Christ.

Make the Most of Mealtimes

The dinner table holds many fond memories from my growing up years. After we’d eaten dinner as a family, we lingered around the table. Sometimes we sang. Sometimes we talked about current events. Occasionally I’d subject my sweet family to a fifteen minute history lesson on the causes of the Battle of Hastings. (I’m so glad they love me!)

As we children grew older and our schedules got more hectic, dinnertime became even more special. I remember unwillingly dragging myself away from the table because I simply had to go study for a test.

“Secret Ingredient I” ~ Purchase at AllPosters.com

In our hectic culture, it’s getting more rare for families to eat dinner together each night. According to a recent Gallup poll, only about a quarter of Americans with children eat dinner together daily. Almost one quarter eat three dinners or less together per week.

Even more sad is that the average parent only spends 38.5 minutes in meaningful conversation with their children per week! (A.C. Nielsen Co.)

38.5 minutes isn’t nearly enough time to nurture a soul and shape a worldview.

In the Bible, the table is where much of the worldview-shaping in a family takes place. The table is a place for teaching, for feasting, for fellowship. When the Psalmist painted a picture of a blessed man, he described his children “as olive plants round about his table.” (Ps. 128)

My desire is that as my children hit their teenage years, they find it as hard to pull away from our table as I did from my parents’.

But a table the family loves to linger around doesn’t just happen. It takes work, time, and lots of love.

Building our family culture is part of our calling and making the most of mealtimes is part of that building process.

  • Start meaningful conversations. Take turns sharing about your day, tell what you’re grateful for, and ask questions. Teach your children to listen and ask questions too.
  • Make the meal beautiful. This is one my mom was so good at! She often pulled out a pretty tablecloth, lighted a candle, and made a centerpiece. Even for simple meals, the food looked aesthetically pleasing. I remember her adding green beans to the meal at the last minute because “the meal has too much brown and orange in it.”
  • Learn together. Memorize a poem together or take turns sharing new things you’ve learned. As they get older, encourage them to share about what they’ve learned in school or discovered themselves.
  • Teach about food. What better time to teach your children about different kinds of food and the benefits of eating good fresh food, than while sitting around the table!
  • Tell stories. There are few things my children love more than a family story. I have also started telling the stories of the Bible to them at breakfast. My five and three-year-old love it, even though I’m generally reading straight from the pages of the Bible. Not only does telling stories at breakfast mean that they’re sitting nice and still, we don’t let a busy day crowd out the Scriptures!
  • Treasure meals together. I am so blessed to have a husband that is such a good example in this. Even when he’s incredibly busy at work, he makes great efforts to come home and eat with us. Sometimes I don’t do as good of a job. If I really want my children to treasure mealtimes, I need to lead by example and treat time with them around the table as more important than getting the dishes done efficiently.
What about you? How do you make the most of your mealtimes?

Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeEncourage One AnotherWalking Redeemed, Our Simple Country Life, & Proverbs 31

[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

Save the Whales (for Dinner) & Other Earth Day Thoughts

“Green” and “carbon neutral” products are such a fad these days that it’s hard to walk down the street without some reminder to recycle, be carbon neutral, buy earth-friendly products, or even invest in reusable toilet paper that you can bleach. (Wasn’t bleach the ultimate evil a few years ago?)

As a Christian, I am glad for the concern for this wonderful world God created. I’m all for reducing waste, avoiding toxic chemicals, and eating as healthy as possible, but the frenzy can be ridiculous.

For example, have you noticed that recycled paper costs more now than regular paper simply because it’s recycled? My cousin from Germany told me that “In Germany the demand for recycled paper was so high, they would send new paper straight from the factory to the recycling plant to meet the demands.” Crazy, huh?

While being good stewards is important, God placed man on earth to enjoy and take dominion. Today people are often considered the problem. “Save the whales!” many urge, “but it’s okay to kill the babies.”

Several years ago, a news article came out about the Faroe Islands, my tiny homeland, advocating boycotting their exports because they kill whales.

Yep, the Faroese kill whales. Not only that, they eat them. (And enjoy eating them.)

Whale killings are a part of the culture and heritage. But they are not wasteful killings. Rather, when whales are spotted in a harbor, the men of the town gather together to help catch them. When the whales are killed, they are divided and distributed among those that helped and those who couldn’t help, like widows. None of the whale is wasted.

It’s not just a sport. It’s a way for the community to work together, provide for themselves, and help out those who need it. (I believe the instigators of the boycott later realized that they were mistaken since the Faroese whales were not endangered. That is beyond the point.)

Christians should wisely steward the earth, not for the sake of mice in California or the whales in the Atlantic, but because God has given this beautiful world to us take dominion over. We should preserve its beauty for our children and their children.

We can do that in simple and sane ways: by growing a garden, choosing non-toxic cleaning supplies (or making our own), and being mindful of the daily choices we make.

Happy Earth Day!

Merry 9th Day of Christmas and Happy New Year!

I’ll be back to regular blogging next week. Since I didn’t get a Christmas letter out this year though, I thought I’d post a Christmas “letter” here instead. 

Can you believe it’s 2013 already? It doesn’t seem like that long ago we were welcoming in a new millenium, and now we’re beginning its thirteenth year. The time between Christmases, that seemed to drag by as a child, really does fly now.

We so enjoyed not driving for ten hours to celebrate Christmas this year! (One of the many things we love about having moved “home”.)

Since we have so much family in the area and the days around Christmas are almost overwhelmingly full of fun and parties and presents, we decided to wait to celebrate our own little family Christmas on the Twelfth Day of Christmas this year. (Traditionally known as Epiphany, when we celebrate Christ being given for us, the Gentiles.)

I am loving having more time to savor this season when we celebrate God becoming man “to redeem to the sons of men.” Plus, our house in Alabama was so tiny we had no room for a Christmas tree the last four years. I was as excited as the children to go and pick out a tree this year… and love the excuse to keep it up longer!

Meg’s serious face might camouflage just how much mischief she makes, but we aren’t fooled! (Photo credit– thanks Crystal!)

Looking back on the past twelve months, I’m overwhelmed at the goodness of God.

2012 opened with uncertainty and waiting. With hours of looking and praying and waiting to hear back about a job. As the weeks turned into months, my natural instincts to plan and worry became harder and harder to silence. Joshua turned down job offers in Alabama as we held out hope to be able to move “home.”

As summer approached and his year-long federal clerkship drew to an end, we kept waiting and hoping and praying. I’m afraid I worried “why didn’t we just take a job here?” more than once.

Then, just in time, Joshua was offered a job back “home” (at a firm he has loved.) God is so incredibly faithful. I wish it wasn’t so hard to remember that in the midst of uncertainty.

Life since then has been full. Joshua couldn’t leave work to find a house, so I drove up (with three kids) to go house-hunting without him. Once again, God led so well. From the moment I first walked in the front door, I knew that this house was the one I wanted to call home. After a crazy, exhausting, stretching weekend, we signed a contract on it.

A month later, the children and I “moved” while Joshua finished up his job. Thanks to generous help from our families painting and unpacking, by the time Joshua pulled up to our new home, it had a fresh coat of paint and was mostly settled. (By the way, if you ever have the opportunity to paint your kitchen red, do it! Thanks to each of you who recommended it!)

Before beginning his new job, Joshua and I took a trip we’d dreamed about since we first started courting… to merry England.

That didn’t help with getting the last boxes unpacked, but was entirely worth every moment. Joshua has been very busy since then, and I’m so glad we had the time together before he started his new job.

While he’s been busy working and I’ve been “playing homemaker”, the kids keep growing and changing.

Rose is five and a half  (a fact she stresses whenever she’s asked her age) and loves getting to play with her cousins and six-year-old “Aunt” Kathryn. I was determined to not be one of those homeschool moms who changes curriculum yearly.. but I’ve already changed her phonics program. And am ever so glad I did. We are both loving it now (instead of nearly coming to tears each day) and she regularly asks to keep doing more school.

We’re reading the “Little House on the Prairie” series and she loves it so much that the only thing she asked for for Christmas was her own set, “So I can read it to my children some day.”

For a few fleeting days, I was really worried about Will (3 1/2) because he’s the only boy amidst seven girls in our families. I was afraid he’d like tea parties, pink, and Strawberry Shortcake a  bit too much. I shouldn’t have worried. He still loves to bring me flowers (and won’t turn down the cookies at a tea party) but is irresistibly drawn to mud, sticks and trucks. For Christmas, Grandma gave him a knight costume. He instantly grasped the sword and asked “where are the dragons?”

Last Christmas Meg (now 1 1/2) was barely sitting. Now she’s climbing stairs, saying words, and wants to be part of everything big brother and sister do. If her appetite doesn’t decrease, I’m going to have to start taking the yolk out of her eggs. She’ll gladly eat three or four scrambled eggs in one sitting. She can stare her uncles down in a staring contest, but once she’s warmed up is ever so giggly.

Well, I’m already well over the recommended word limit for a blog post. If you’re still reading, thank you. Hoping you had a very Merry Christmas and have a blessed New Year.

“Rachel Weeping for Her Children” and Christmas

[Two years have flown by since the tragedy in Newton. Two years that have seen children killed in wars, Christians displaced by ISIS, families torn apart by sin, and senseless tragedy of every sort. Once again, echoes of Rachel weeping fill my Christmas thoughts and prayers.] 

In the aftermath of the terrible tragedy in Newton, the verses from Matthew’s nativity account have tumbled through my grieving thoughts dozens of times.

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Senseless death, cruel tragedy, and the depravity of mankind: what do all these have to do with Christmas? Jesus didn't come into a world that was getting along just fine without Him. He came because we needed Him so desperately.

 Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens

As I read through the grief-stricken accounts of the Newtown shootings, my heart is full with a tragedy that is impossible to wrap my mind around.

Tears come to my eyes as I think of the mothers who kissed their little ones good-bye for the last time Friday morning, of the families whose joyous anticipation of Christmas has been shattered by heartless, senseless death. Tears well up as I read of neighbors taking down their Christmas decorations out of love for those who won’t have a Merry Christmas.

But as I’ve thought of the propriety of celebrating Christmas in light of such tragedy, Herod’s soldiers keep coming to mind.

I love setting up our nativity display with Mary, Joseph and the shepherds worshipping the tiny King. I love the star that adorns the top of our tree. I love the wise men bringing their gifts and the angels proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”

But Herod’s soldiers? Surely they are not part of the story. The image of Herod’s soldiers tearing little boys from the arms of their wailing mothers and murdering them before their eyes sends shudders down my spine.

In stark contrast to the usual lovely Christmas scenes, Herod's soldiers marched into the picture spreading senseless tragedy and hopeless weeping. But Herod's soldiers are part of the Christmas story and remind us that Jesus didn't come into the world because the world was getting along fine without Him. He came because we desperately need a Savior. “Rachel Weeping for Her Children” and Christmas

But Herod’s soldiers are just as much a part of the Christmas story as the shepherds and wise men.

Jesus wasn’t born into a Kincaid-esque town, wrapped in peace and love.

The second Person of the Trinity was born into a dirty stable, with smelly shepherds as His first worshippers. He was born under the reign of a tyrant who ordered the cold-blooded murder of little children.

Jesus didn’t come into a world that was getting along just fine without Him. He came because our fallen race desperately needs a Savior.

“After all the investigations [in Newtown], after everything is examined, after all the funerals are held, we will still come down to this—we are a broken race, lost and without God in the world… Jesus is the answer, and the senselessness of our sin is the presenting problem… At Christmas, we celebrate the entry of Jesus into this world. As our sorry condition demonstrates, we desperately need Him.” (from The Senselessness of It)

God became man to redeem mankind from the terror of sin. This is why, in the face of such tragedy, we will weep and we will pray. But we will also still celebrate, for only in the Incarnation lies our hope.

photo credit 

No Voting for the King of Kings

Billions of dollars in advertising and countless hours of campaigning have lead up to this election day. Many hopes and fears ride on the outcome of the vote.

photo credit

Voting is an incredible blessing and a weighty responsibility. Few men (and far fewer women) in history have held the power that citizens in America and other democratic countries hold.

I am glad I am an American. I am proud of our freedom. Grateful for our heritage.

But it’s so easy to fall into the mindset that that if only we could elect the perfect president, all will be well in America.

“If only we get the right man in office,” I’ve heard repeatedly, “America will be saved! If not, we’re doomed.”

Of course who is in the White House (and all the other offices!) matters. As Americans citizens we wield an important influence in our country. But as we head into the voting booths, let’s keep the election in an eternal perspective.

True change will not come when the right man is elected president. True change will come when men worship and obey God.

Our salvation doesn’t rest in who holds the Oval Office. Our salvation rests in our Lord Jesus Christ. Someday every single knee will bow to Him.

Until that day, let us rejoice that we can’t vote for the King of kings and Lord of lords. No amount of effort by evil men can vote Him off His throne. His victory is sure.

That’s cause for great rejoicing, no matter which candidate wins the 2012 election!

Linked up at Gratituesday, Deep Roots at Home, Growing Home & Proverbs 31