Our Trip to Lovely London

I told you last week [in the post where I revealed I could’t spell “peEk”] that Joshua took me to London.

It was absolutely amazing!

I’d only wanted to visit England since I was about six. The more I studied history and literature, the more I wanted to visit England.

We’d considered going for our honeymoon, but decided to wait. Then we had a baby right before our first anniversary, then moved, then had another baby… We finally decided we’d better go now or we’d probably wait another 20 years. It was kind of crazy, but I am SO glad we did.

We were only in England for a week, but got to see and experience so much. And enjoyed such a wonderful, relaxing time before the busyness of Joshua’s new job arrived.

We spent the first day in London mostly just walking around and soaking in the sights. Then we took the train to Stratford-upon-Avon for a few days.

Lovely Avon river that runs through Shakespeare’s birthplace, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch

On our sixth anniversary, we visited the church where Shakespeare was baptized and buried for a surprisingly good service. The sweetest lady asked if we had moved there. When we said we were just visitors, she showed us all around the church… which was already old by the time Shakespeare was born!

Then we got on the train to visit Oxford. We ate at the Eagle and Child where Tolkien and Lewis met to discuss literature, then walked around for a while, but were disappointed by how touristy Oxford felt (which is totally hypocritical coming from tourists, I know.)

On our way to Oxford we noticed that one of the stops had a castle sign. So on our way back we asked a train conductor if we could just hop off and visit it. He shook his head in dismay and said, “You Americans always want to see England in day, but yeah, you can stop off if you really want to.”

So, we did. (But hoped he didn’t see us!)

A delightful last minute stop at Warrick Castle

It was totally worth adding to Americans impetuous reputation!

The castle was simply amazing. Walking up the winding tower staircases, sitting in the lovely church, and strolling through the gorgeous gardens made so many scenes come completely alive.

Plus, there’s nothing quite like touring a castle with your beloved to make for a delightful anniversary!

London Tower

We spent the last three days back in London touring major attractions and doing non-super-touristy things, like sitting in on a courtroom proceeding at the Old Bailey.

Outside the Globe Theatre, where we watched Henry V

I still can hardly believe we’ve been to London together, but I’ll treasure the memories forever!

Happy Independence Day!

Yesterday Joshua told me his boss was smoking Boston butts and wondered if we wanted some. At that moment I realized July 4th had snuck up on me.

You’d think with it being on the same day of the year for over 200 years it wouldn’t do that…

Despite my lack of planning, we have had a lovely celebration.

We started off the day by heading over to watch an old building in town be demolished. The building had to go so they decided to make an event out of it.

Amazing how many people will gather to watch a building implode! 

Shortly after getting out of the car, loud-speakers announced it would fall in five minutes. We ran as fast as we could with all three munchkins piled into the stroller. The moment we cleared the trees, the explosions went off and the building fell.

It really was amazing how little time it takes for a building that took so many thousand man hours to build to collapse!

Yep, she’s got a mischievous streak

After eating homemade cinnamon rolls on a park bench, we headed out to Joshua’s boss’s farm to ride horses and pick up the Boston butts.

Meg didn’t get a turn. She’s not very happy about that. 

 By 9 a.m. it was already getting pretty warm, but Rose and Will each got a turn to ride their very favorite pony, Sweet Boy.

 Rose rode him all by herself without Josh even leading. For a little girl who used to be afraid of kittens, that is a pretty big deal!

What could be better than a big slice of watermelon? Your own watermelon bowl! 

Remember how I wasn’t going to go shopping till we move? Well, we stopped by the store and went inside as a family. Which of course meant we found several things that would simply be un-American not to have for the Fourth of July. Like chips and corn on the cob.

So, we bought them.

We didn’t go over our normal weekly grocery amount, so that’s good, right? (Next year I will be prepared. I hope.)

A good friend joined us for lunch and Joshua grilled corn on the cob, onions, and mushrooms to serve with the Boston butt and chips. You can’t get much yummier than that.

Despite getting a great night’s sleep, by 1:00 we were all ready for naps. Is this heat making anyone else lethargic?)

Now it’s time to head out for the night’s celebration.

Wishing you and yours a very happy Fourth of July! (Even my non-American friends.)

When $5 Almost Ruined a Perfect Weekend

How I almost let a silly five dollar miscommunication ruin a perfect weekend.

I am a penny-pincher. I like saving.

When I was little and was given candy, I ate a few pieces and stashed the rest away for later. Years later my Omma told me she found bags of candy hidden in “secret places” … that I had forgotten about.

The dentist may approve of my approach to candy, but I failed to realize that sometimes being too much of a saver can keep you from enjoying and sharing what you do have.

When I grew older and money started to replace candy, I kept to my saving ways (though found forgotten stashes much less frequently!) Joshua is also frugal, but has helped me put frugality into its proper place. Thriftiness should be a tool, not an idol.

Now, for the story…

Sometimes the grandest weekends get ruined by the silliest things. I almost ruined our perfect weekend by getting angry over a $5 purchase. Almost.... photo credit

How I Almost Let $5 Ruin a Perfect Weekend

Last week was a busy one for Joshua. He put in long hours at work, leaving home early and getting back late. About halfway through the week he showed me a picture and asked, “Do you want to make these St. Patrick’s Day cupcakes together on Saturday?”

The kids overheard and couldn’t have been more enthusiastic in their response. Every day they asked, “Is it Saturday yet?”

Saturday finally arrived. Joshua had to work a few hours that morning and then it was cupcake-time. Before he left work, Joshua messaged me asking if we needed anything for the recipe.

“We don’t have any sour cream,” I said, “but we can substitue yogurt for it. And we have semi-sweet instead of bitter chocolate.”

“Want me to pick some up?”

“I don’t think we need it. What we have should work great,” I answered. “Up to you though.” [What I really meant was, I don’t want you to get any.]

“I’ll pick some up,” he said.

While I waited for him to get home, I started to stew. Stopping by the store was delaying our afternoon. I’d already spent the grocery money for this week and these cupcakes were turning out to be much more expensive than I’d planned! Did Joshua not trust me that the substitutes would work? 

Then Reason (“God’s viceroy”) slammed me in the head. “After Joshua put in long hours all week long to provide for you, are you really going to let a sour cream purchase make you upset? Are you going to ruin the fun family time by having a bad attitude over $5? If you really didn’t want him to pick it up, you should have said so! Is this the proper attitude of a godly wife?”

[Are you laughing? Me too!]

Thankfully, by the time Joshua arrived home, I’d realized the answer to all those questions was a resounding “NO!”

Instead of starting off our weekend together with a sulky wife, bewildered husband, and disappointed children, we had a lovely time making cupcakes.* Then we spent the rest of the weekend together, reading, watching a movie, playing outside, worshipping and going horseback riding at a friend’s farm.

Maybe throwing a fit over $5 wouldn’t have ruined the entire weekend. I’m glad we didn’t have to find out.

While wisely stewarding your resources is wonderful, sometimes we can take thriftiness too far. God has “given us all things richly to enjoy.” Even a tub of sour cream.

*Joshua even told me “Just wanted to let you know that I was given unexpected cash. The money for this purchase isn’t coming out of your grocery budget.” Isn’t he wonderful? He knows his wife well! 

 

I Am a Sinner. I Am a Saint

(A post inspired by Lent and an empty Pinterest “about” box.) 

Today marks the first day of Lent. Until a few years ago, I thought Lent was a Catholic excuse to eat more fish.

What is Lent really? Lent is the period of forty days leading up to Easter, when many members of the Church remember Christ as our suffering Messiah. It is an integral part of the Church Calendar, which has been used for centuries to point Christians to Christ, in all His glory.

Like many things, the Church Calendar has been abused. Some have turned it into an excuse to sin because, well, “we’ll repent at Lent.” Just because some have distorted the meaning, doesn’t negate the beauty it can bring to the Christian walk.

As a fallen sinner, it is so easy for me to want to focus on just one part of God. To worship just His goodness or just His justice. To “worship the babe in the manger, but forsake the Christ of the cross.”

The Church Calendar exalts Christ in His many different manifestations: human Man, suffering Messiah, risen King.

Yes, it is common to “give up something for Lent.” But “giving up something” is not the point. Making sacrifices serves as a potent reminder, but the purpose of Lent is to point us to Christ, who gave up everything for us.

 photo credit

What on earth does this have to do with my “About” box on Pinterest?

I just set up a Pinterest account (send me your usermame, I’d love to follow you!) and sat staring at the empty “about” box.

I am a wife, a mother, a blogger. But what really defines who I am? Two conflicting terms kept floating through my mind: sinner and saint.

I am a sinner

My first parents, Adam and Eve, sinned. I followed their footsteps, choosing forbidden fruit instead of faithfulness. Sin stains my heart. Self-love motivates even my best actions. 

Idolatry entwines my heart in its ugly grasp. I turn from my Maker to things of this earth.

Yet, the Creator of this world, whom angels and seraphim and cherubim and all of nature worships, came down and shed His blood to wash me clean. He sacrificed everything, even fellowship with God the Father, to redeem me.

I am a saint, washed in the blood of Christ

Because of His atoning blood, I am washed clean.

I am a saint.

The words sound so lofty. Saint? That brings up images of great heroes of the faith. Of men and women who changed the world.

But Christ’s blood has washed me clean. His sacrifice atoned for me. Now the Father sees me through Christ, a saint.

Whether we observe Lent or not, may we worship the suffering Messiah, who took sinners like us and renamed us saints through His precious blood.

Linked up at Women Living Well, Proverbs 31 Thursdays &  Finer Things Friday

Build Your Family Culture

We’ve all heard the saying, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Sadly, the saying is all too true. We mothers wield incredible influence over the climate of our family.

God has called us to wisely build our homes. Building a home is glorious work, but it is work. Hard work. My prayer is to cultivate a family culture that encourages our unique interests and glorifies God.

I have so much to learn still, but these are four ways I have learned  am learning to build my home.

As moms, we set the tone for our family culture. Here are four ways to embrace and build your family culture.

photo credit

4 Ways to Build Your Family Culture

Avoid the comparison trap

Falling into the comparison trap is such a strong temptation!

“Comparing ourselves amongst ourselves” is a sin as old as the world. The internet intensifies the temptation.

The web is a wonderful gift, opening up new worlds and connecting us with new people. But the web can also entrap us. It is easy to read a blog and get discouraged or jealous: someone else will always have more extravagant vacations, more creative family times or a more involved husband.

Comparison is the thief of joy. Comparison tears the family down instead of building it up. If we are to wisely build our homes, we must stop comparing our own family with other families.

No two homes will look alike. That is a beautiful thing! Just like God didn’t make all flowers into roses, he didn’t give all families the same passions and interests.

Make your marriage top priority

If you have been blessed with marriage, your relationship with your husband is your most important earthly relationship. Guard it. Cultivate it.

As a mom of little ones, it’s so easy to let my children’s urgent wants crowd out time for my marriage. I’m their mom, of course I need to care for them, but I also need to carve out time to pour my heart into making marriage glorious.

Embrace the little things

Just like a child’s worldview is shaped from millions of forgotten moments, the tapestry of the family is woven with millions of tiny threads.

My children have a hole in their ceiling with a hook end in it (left by a previous tenant). Part of their going-to-bed routine is jiggling the peg, affectionately referred to as “stirring the soup”.

It’s a silly tradition, but they love it. I love it too because it’s another thread of our family tapestry.

Purposefully build traditions

In our day of instant gratification and a dozen distractions, it’s easy to let family time slide. But we moms have such an incredible opportunity to shape the culture of our family… if we’re willing to work at it.

Traditions don’t have to be expensive or complicated. Here are a few super simple ideas…

In short, find things that your family loves doing together and make it a point to do them. Build your family traditions!

Building a happy family doesn't demand tons of money. Instead it takes lots of love and hard work.

Build Your Family Culture

It doesn’t take tons of money to build a beautiful family culture. Instead, it takes love and work to avoid harmful comparisons, prioritize your marriage, embrace the little things, and purposefully make family traditions. This kind of work is totally worth every effort.

Love Seeks Not Her Own

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner: red and pink hearts decorate the stores, roses are on sale and restaurants are booked.

The History of Valentine’s Day

Little is known about St. Valentine, whose “saint day” was transformed into the day of romantic love. There were several martyrs names Valentine in the early church.

One priest named Valentine was caught performing marriage ceremonies for Christians. Since serving Christians was a crime, but Emperor Claudius II was so fascinated with Valentine that he pardoned him. That is, until Valentine tried to convert the Emperor. That infuriated the Emperor who condemned St. Valentine to death.

Centuries later, Chaucer popularized the belief that halfway through the second month, on February 14th, the birds come out to mate. St. Valentine’s Day was transformed into a day of romantic love.

Love birds

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Romantic love is a glorious thing. God blessed Adam and Eve in the garden and gave to mankind the secretness and sacredness of marriage.

But all too often romantic love is degraded into lust and self-love taints even our love for family, friends or neighbors.

Biblical love is so different than the world’s cheap substitute! Several lovely bloggers have anticipated the arrival of Valentine’s Day with a series on Biblical Love (based on 1 Corinthians 13).

Kasey’s beautiful post, Love “does not seek her own” keeps ringing in my mind.

Love does not seek her own.

Love does what is best for others, with no though to how it will personally benefit.

A cursory look at my own heart reveals self-love and self-serving tainting even good actions:

  • Did I take my daughter to the bathroom because I didn’t want her to wake me up later OR because she is beyond thrilled when she wakes up dry?
  • Did I start dinner early so that my husband could enjoy a warm meal when he arrived home OR just to cross it off my list of things to do?
  • Did I wrote a post because I think it will help me gain readers OR because I hope it encourages and blesses those who read it?

My love fails.

But, as Kasey said, “the indescribable love of God didn’t leave me to wallow in my wretchedness.” God’s Love points us back to Himself. To true selfless Love: giving His own self freely on the cross, to save sinners like me.

With the arrival of Valentine’s Day, my prayer is that God’s love will work in my heart so that, like St. Valentine, I do not seek my own: whether that means preaching to a cruel Emperor or washing the dishes cheerfully again and again and again.

Further reading on the origins of Valentine’s Day:

The Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Valentine’s Day
Wikipedia: St Valentine’s Day (since, of course, everything on Wikipedia can be believed)

Linked up at GratituesdayDomestically Divine TuesdaysTitus 2sdaysTeach Me Tuesdays

Joy in Unmet Expectations

Expectations are a good thing. Without them society would be doomed.

But expectations don’t always get met: perhaps you didn’t get the joy you prayed earnestly for. Maybe long-anticipated plans were cancelled when you had to pull out the cough remedies (again.) Maybe your children take turns waking you up at night and you can’t remember what it feels like to not be tired. Maybe the trials aren’t little things. Maybe they are large and looming.

Although expectations are a good thing, we need to be careful to have our expectations grounded in Christ. To remember that His sovereignty extends to the details of our lives. Then we can choose joy in the face of unmet expectations.

Sometimes our grandest dreams get dashed and our great expectations crumble. If we truly believe God is sovereign, we can choose joy in the face of disappointment.

photo credit 

Joy despite unmet expectations

I have been blessed by a “cloud of witnesses” in my life that point me to Christ. Friends and family who show me trust and joy in the midst of trials. One of them is my brother’s beautiful bride, Amber.

On our most recent trip to see extended family, we dropped by Amber’s house. She was busily getting ready to fly out of town with my brother, but they had offered their home to a family in need of a place to stay while they left.

The house was spotless, she had cookies on the table and “Welcome” and “Rules of the House” notes on the table. [Rules like “God loves children. So do we. Everything in the house is replaceable. Let your kids be kids.”]

It was obvious she had poured hours into preparing for their arrival. Just before we left, my brother got a call saying the family didn’t want to come after all.

I watched Amber. Her face didn’t betray a trace of disappointment or being upset for all her “wasted time.” So I asked, “Aren’t you disappointed?”

“I wanted them to come, yes. But, Anna, I believe God is sovereign. He knows what is best,” she answered. She wasn’t just saying it because that’s what a good Christian should say. She believed it and was just acting on it. Now of course, company canceling is not a major, life-altering trial. But sometimes it’s the little wrinkles in my plans that frustrate me the most.

God is sovereign. I believe that. But sometimes I don’t act like I believe it.

God said He has “a wonderful plan for our lives,” and it’s easy to expect that to mean a decent job, a house, a car, and food on the table at least three times a day. After all, Jeremiah says, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:11 ESV)

Unfortunately, this promise is made right in the middle of a prophecy of captivity. Seventy years of captivity.

God doesn’t promise His followers an easy life. He does pour out abundant blessings, but His wonderful plan for his followers often includes poverty, not a new Mercedes.

Sometimes we have grand expectations, but they get dashed. Choosing joy despite our unmet expectations isn't easy, but it is possible.

His wonderful plan for Mary was complete with a warning that “a sword would pierce [her] own heart.” (Luke 2:35) Yet she submissively welcomed His plan, knowing it would be painful. But also believing that it would give “hope and a future” to mankind.

Finding joy despite unmet expectations

None of our lives will carry the epic weight that Mary’s did, but we, like her, are still called to wait upon God and have our expectations satisfied in Him:

  • To hold our plans with open hands
  • To not expect a full night’s sleep, perfect health, a new house or for our laundry-list-of-Western-wants to be satisfied, but to expect God’s mercy to lead us on the right road.
  • To expect trials and joy, knowing that He is sovereign over all.

When our expectations are grounded in Jesus, then we can find His joy despite unmet expectations, whether they’re little details of our day or huge disappointments.

Christmas Wanderings

Christmas is almost here! Can you believe it?

photo by Laura Shreck

 

 

Here are a few Christmasy posts I’ve enjoyed from around the web.

Did Someone Say Advent? Such a great post from Amy at Finer Things if you are feeling like Christmas has just snuck up on you. “Regardless of me, in spite of me, Advent comes.  He still comes!” Amen to that!

Looking for fun Christmas stories to read with your kiddos (or to yourself)? Rebekah, has several Christmas series going. I’m reading The Best and Worst Christmas to my daughter and she loves it. Also check out her fun Christmas Baking Poem!

Heather, from Raising Mighty Arrows, shared such a sweet story of time spent with her darling son.

As the Christmas season rolls in, with all it’s busyness, this beautiful post from JessieLeigh at Parenting Miracles, is such a good reminder of what is really importan: This, Just This

Crystal from Money Saving Mom posted this inspiring, touching story about her daughter: What My 6-Year-Old is Teaching Me About Money

If you’re planning on heading out of town for the holidays, here are some tips for leaving your house ready! 

 

 

 

Learning to Say “No”

Christmas is around the corner. The calendar and pocketbook are being tugged at from every corner.

Cookie exchanges, Christmas performances, and holiday get-togethers vie for our time. It seems like every time I enter a store or turn on the computer, some new item that no one on my Christmas list needs, but would be so fun to get anyway, shows up. On sale of course.

The temptation to over-commit and over-spend is strong.

We must learn to say “no!”

Even to some of those incredibly delightful sounding parties or tempting books on sale for $5.50. Not so that we can play Scrooge, but so that we make room for the best, with no regrets come January.

We must make room to treasure the true Meaning of Christmas.

It's the season of love, joy, and endless demands on the schedule and pocketbook. Learn to say "No!", so that you can say "Yes!" to the best.

photo by Benjamin Earwicker

Learning to Say No

I hate saying “no” to events. Partly because I don’t want to miss out on any of the fun, partly because I don’t want to offend a friend. After numerous times of reaping the consequences of over extending myself, I’m slowly getting better.

As Crystal from Money Saving Mom points out, the purpose of learning to say “no” is so that we can say “yes” to the best.

We simply cannot do everything. (Or buy everything.) Time and money are limited resources. Saying “yes” to one thing of necessity means saying “no” to something else.

Prioritize

 Choose what is most important for your family, at this season of life, and let go of the rest.

Know your limits

 Some women can bounce from activity to activity without letting it affect their home, their family life, or their attitude. I cannot. Just because another woman/family is hostessing or attending fifty activities doesn’t mean it would be wise for me to.

Likewise, each of our Christmas budgets are different. We’re working intensely on paying off school loans. In the long run that’s a much better gift to our children than a large play set (that probably wouldn’t even fit in their room!)

Don’t commit immediately

It’s not an earth-shattering idea or anything, but it has been so helpful since I read about it a few months ago (I wish I could remember where!) Graciously say you need to check your schedule and/or talk to you husband before saying “Yes!”. This helps avoid an impulse decision that you’ll regret or, even worse, have to back out of later. (Don’t ask me how I know!)

Clear out the clutter

De-cluttering in December is weird. It’s also a very strong motivator to avoid impulse purchases. Many of those “50% off TODAY ONLY!” items will end up in the donation pile within a few months.

Simplify other areas of your life

The schedule is almost always more full at Christmas, so simplify other areas if you can. Unless you are forced by budget constraints or pressing health needs, lighten up a bit on yourself. As Joshua reminds me, “It’s not a sin to use paper plates!”

Most importantly, give thanks!

 We’re celebrating the greatest Gift ever given to mortals: God Himself as our Redeemer! No celebration can come close to being more lavish than that Gift. Yet don’t let the celebration cloud the Cause!

Learn to say “No!”, so you can say “Yes!” to the best

Learning to say “No” is hard, but so totally worthwhile. Every time we say “Yes!” to something, we’re saying “No!” to something else. By learning to prioritize, recognize our limits, and simplify, we can make sure we have room in our hearts and schedules to say “Yes!” to the best.

How do you stay sane during the holidays? (And have you ever had to back out of a commitment?) 

Snowflake Christmas Countdown

Advent began last Sunday. We were home sick and the day totally slipped by. It wasn’t until reading Nursery of the Nation’s post about making her own Advent Calendar that the thought even dawned on me. I had to jump on board. It’s too late to be a real advent calendar, so ours is simply a Christmas Countdown.

Instead of chocolate for each day like the ones I grew up with, this advent calendar has a daily activity to do together. [Nothing against chocolate advent calendars. They’re awesome. I *loved* them as a kid. But I’m potty training and handing out way too much chocolate as it is! ]

After three years of law school and having nearly a month off to spend with family out-of-state the whole thought of actually anticipating Christmas here, with my kids is exciting but new.

Time slips by so quickly. I want to treasure these days with little ones and having a fun activity to do together each day seemed like a great way to spend more time together.

I didn’t have felt on hand so used what I had on hand: an old box, white paper and a piece of scrapbook paper and ribbon.

The two older kids and I had so much fun cutting out snowflakes (though I think 2 is a bit way too young! Even Rose needed lots of help.]

I cut a piece from a big box we had sitting around. The edges were rough and ugly, so we covered them up with cute paper.

Then I wrote activities on the backs of the snowflakes for us to do together. They’re in no particular order. All of the small snowflakes are afternoon activities for the kids and me. The big snowflakes are activities we’ll do as a family.

The activities are really simple. Here are a few of them:

  • Make hot chocolate and tell Christmas stories
  • Draw pictures together to send to Nana
  • Make snowflakes to hang in their bedroom
  • Make and decorate Christmas cookies
  • Have a Christmas poetry night
We’d hopefully do many of them anyway. But having them written down, waiting for the kids to uncover, will ensure that that time together isn’t pushed aside for holiday craziness.
It’s simple, but I know they’ll like it!
What are your favorite Christmas things to do with little ones?