So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

I can think of no better way to write about 2012 than to say, "It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times."


After a delightful year of wedding planning (if you've ever planned a wedding, you'll know it is typically anything but delightful), we had a wedding.  A beautiful, fun, dream wedding.

We became the parents of twin girls.  After two years of brutal insecurity, our adoption became final.  No more days of fear or panic about losing the girls.  They would forever be ours.  Forever.

Our Dedication Day at Church the Sunday after our adoption was final.

In August, we had a fabulous family month filled with an adoption party, family photo shoot, and a family vacation to the beach, all sweet precious memories forever etched in my mind.

At the adoption party.  Pictured here with our attorney.
One of our family photos courtesy of the amazing Chip Gillespie
Jacob and the girls on the beach.

And then on the day I got home from my vacation, I lost my job.  No warning.  No trouble at work that I was aware of.  Bam.  Universe shift.  And in truth, I am still reeling, still asking questions in my mind, still struggling with so many things.  I can still feel the sudden, breath taking plummet.

When you work at a church, your work life, social life, deep friendships, much of your spiritual life, it's all woven together.  A friend of mine told me that she had lost her job at a church twice and that she was surprised by the friendships that didn't survive and grateful for the ones that did.  I get that.  It's a loss and a significant one.  As I said, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

And then a friend suggested I write, as in, for-my-vocation write.  And so, I'm a writer.  And I have been blown away how God continues to send new clients, new work, repeat business.  I am overwhelmed at how fulfilling it is to write for others, as my vocation.

As part of the result of my job loss, Mike decided to go back to work into captive employment (that's what it's called when you don't work for yourself) and sell his company.  He was able to do both within just a couple of weeks of making the decision, so we felt like it must have been the right decision.

And just like that 2012 is over.  We survived yet another end of the world, and even though there were times it felt like the world was ending, we never lost sight of what is truly important; faith, family, true friendships.  And for that, we are grateful.

All that to say, 2012, we bid you so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu.  We run headlong into 2013, and all that God has planned for us.  See you there.

Sometimes My Imagination is Impressive

I have long since been an "upcycler," long before I even knew there was such a thing.  For those of you out of the know, an upcycler is someone who makes something better out of something that some might consider trash.  It's not the same as a recycler, so don't be confused.

What I have never been is a crafter.  I'm not particularly gifted in that way, but I am resourceful. So sometimes, when others might see something and think it is trash, I see something and see it as "potential."  (My husband calls this hoarding and will frequently say things like, "Carol, is there a reason we're saving old shoebox lids?"  . . . he's learned not to throw things away.)

Anyway, one day I was cleaning my bathroom, and I was shocked at how much toilet paper we go through in a week.  What brought this horror to my mind was that there were 11 empty toilet paper tubes in my trash can.  ELEVEN!  (Of course it is possible that it had been more than a week since I had last cleaned that bathroom.  Also possible is that I hadn't emptied the trash the last time I cleaned the bathroom.)

But nonetheless, ELEVEN empty toilet paper rolls!  I started thinking what I could do with those rolls (other than recycling of course) and continued to think about it the rest of the time that I was cleaning the house.  And then it hit me!  I could make a nativity scene out of them.

True story.

So, I collected my materials:

  • 10 toilet paper tubes
  • 2 glue sticks
  • Crayons
  • 4x6 pieces of scrapbooking papers (these are the perfect height and width to go around a toilet paper tube
  • Flesh-toned Construction paper (this was all I had for the faces)
  • Scrap fabric (I cut mine into 4x6 rectangles)
  • Ribbon or twine to tie around the "waist" and headpieces of the characters and to make wings.
  • Cotton balls
  • Flexi Straws

  • I started with the Shepherds

    The girls colored the faces of the shepherds and the sheep.  Then they glued the scrapbooking paper around the toilet paper roll and glued the faces on.   I cut one toilet paper roll in half for the sheep and let them glue on cotton balls.  While they were busy with that, I "dressed" the shepherds with their head pieces.  I stapled the fabric to the sides for extra support, and then tied the raffia ribbon on the waist of the shepherds, and lastly shoved the flexi straws through the belts to resemble staffs.  Voila.  Shepherds and sheep.

    Then we made the Wise Men.

    We constructed these the same way as the shepherds.  I love their faces!  We started off making them all different, but that was too much trouble and the girls couldn't agree on the fabric and the ribbon, so we just gave them all the same fabric and ribbon (which I ended up liking way better!)

    Then we made the Angel.  

    We had enough toilet paper tubes to make a host of angels, just not enough patience! We tried lots of fabrics, but nothing seemed right, so we settled for looping a piece of gold, wired ribbon and stapling it to the back for wings.

    And lastly, we made Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. 

    Do not be distracted by the fact that the baby Jesus has a mustache.  I mentioned that the girls decorated the faces, right?  :)

    We made Mary and Joseph the same was as the other characters.  We made the manger and the baby Jesus by cutting a 1 inch strip out of the center of one of the toilet paper tubes.  We wrapped the cut out piece with swaddling cloth, tied it on, and THEN glued on the face.  We (and by we, I mean "I") took the other (larger) piece of the toilet paper tube, spread it open, and stapled raffia ribbon in it to resemble hay.  Then we simply placed the baby Jesus on top of it.

    Here's a picture of the whole gang!

    All that to say,  some might have seen merely empty toilet paper tubes, but I saw this.  Sometimes my imagination is impressive.  Just sayin'

    Sometimes, a Girl Just Needs Her Mommy

    Mike started his new job this week.  For those of you not in the loop, Mike sold his company, and went to work for a very large corporation.  I can never remember his title, and every time I say it, I get it wrong, but as best as I understand it, he oversees crews of people who run pest control routes.

    Some of his crews work days, some nights, and some weekends.  And for now, as he is getting to know his crews, their routes, see what they do and where they do it; he works some days, some nights, and some weekends.

    THAT means a significant amount of transition in our household.  But change is good, right?

    You have to keep in mind that for over 2.5 years, we have had a pretty consistent routine in our lives with the girls.  We have nicely divided certain duties as it relates to their care.

    For example, in the mornings I get the girls lotioned, dressed and do their hair.  Then Mike feeds them breakfast and brushes their teeth.  At bedtime, Mike bathes them then I rock them to sleep.  If the girls wake up at night, Mike gets up with them.  Once they wake up for good in the morning, I get up with them, and he sleeps in.  Like I said, we have duties.

    But for the time being, as Mike is trying to figure out his new schedule, many of these duties will fall to me.  I don't mind doing them, of course!  It's just that it's different.  But change is good, right?

    As I was rocking the girls to sleep tonight, I had a couple of thoughts.  One was how grateful I am that my mom is here right now because she is so much help.  She's learned the lotioning and hair routine.  She cleans the kitchen (I HATE to clean the kitchen).  And she is here in the middle of the night.  When Mike isn't home, I don't sleep well, but knowing someone else is in the house with me helps me sleep at night.

    And I also thought, what is this going to be like when I'm all by myself?  It's not that Mike is never going to be home, it's just that his "at home" time isn't going to coordinate very well with mornings, bedtimes, bath times, etc.  And there's TWO of them.

    But I'm a grown woman.  I can handle this!  I've already raised two kids! Right!  Right? right?

    All that to say, change is good.  It's just very unnerving sometimes.  I'm sure glad I've got my mommy. :) At least for a couple more weeks.

    We Cannot Choose Fear

    My favorite time of day is bedtime.  Bedtime at my house has always been relatively easy.  Our girls don't get out of bed, not even once. No requests for a drink.  No excuses that they need to go to the bathroom.  They just go to bed and go to sleep.

    Not only that, they go to bed at 7:00 p.m. and sleep until 7:00 a.m.

    It really is bliss.  (Minus of course Nikki's head banging that sounds like someone is building furniture, but even that is getting better little by little, and we are assured that someday she will outgrow it.)

    They would get in their beds and lie down and go to sleep if that's what we wanted, but they always request me to rock them to sleep.  Whenever possible, which is most every night, I do, in fact, rock them to sleep.

    On the nights that I don't rock them, they don't sleep well.  They toss and turn.  They have bad dreams. Nikki bangs her head particularly hard.

    And on the nights that I do rock them, they crawl up into my lap, wiggle themselves into a little ball, snuggle under their blanket and melt into my arms, and fall fast asleep.

    It is one of the best moments of our day.

    There is something incredibly comforting about crawling up into the lap of the person in your life that provides you comfort, security, unconditional love.

    It's how I feel about Jesus.  And some days, I don't know what else to do but to crawl up into his lap and melt into his arms.

    Putting my kids on a school bus, thinking about their safety all day, thinking about the parents whose children went off to school one day and never came home again.  It's too much.

    All that to say, I have long since learned that we cannot protect our children from all this world can do to them.  And I have long since learned not to live in fear of those things.  We simply cannot choose fear and all that it will drive us to do.

    I have learned to pray and trust God.  And sometimes, when I am overwhelmed by life, I crawl up into His lap and sleep.

    The Secret is Out

    Several years ago, my then soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Christina, and I were talking about what we wanted to make for our Christmas "goodies."

    I told her that one of the things I had always wanted to make was peanut brittle, but every time I had tried, it had turned out tasting like c-r-a-p (sorry if that is offensive to you, but no other word accurately describes how my brittle had turned out in the past).

    She told me, very excitedly, that she had actually made prize winning peanut brittle at the county fair when she was in high school.  Prize winning brittle?

    Could it be this girl who was about to be in my family had brought with her the answer to my life-long desire of brittle making?  (okay, it wasn't actually a life-long desire, but it was a desire).

    When we started talking about how to actually make peanut brittle, I realized that what she was a prize winner at was peanut patties . . . you know the pinkish round things that they sell at truck stops?

    Sooooo . . .  we searched the Internet (believe it or not Pinterest was not around yet, or at least not popular enough for anyone to know that they should go to Pinterest to find a delicious recipe for peanut brittle!)  And after many hours of searching, we found the perfect recipe.  It's called "No Fail Microwave Peanut Brittle" but trust me when I tell you that name is TOTALLY not true.  They should have maybe called it "No Fail Once You Have Figured Out How Your Microwave is Going to Work Peanut Brittle."  But I guess that name would have been too long.  Regardless, it's a very misleading name.  (My point is you are likely to burn your first batch.  Watch the microwave carefully!)

    We made some, adjusted the recipe, made some more, adjusted the recipe, and finally landed on our own version of  Carol and Christina's Microwave Peanut Brittle.

    As a Christmas gift to you, I am going to give you our secretly perfected Microwave Peanut Brittle, though I did have to console Christina at the gym this morning when I told her I was giving away our secret recipe!

    Carol and Christina's Microwave Peanut Brittle

    1/2 cup light corn syrup
    1 cup of sugar
    1 cup of RAW peanuts (YES, THEY HAVE TO BE RAW!!!)
    1/8 tsp of salt
    1 tbsp butter (not margarine!)
    1 tsp vanilla
    1 tbsp baking soda (must be fresh!)

    Here's how to make it!

    First off, let me help you by telling you to get a microwave safe measuring cup that has a handle on it!  It is KEY to making this!  I like this one. 

    Next, butter a cookie sheet.  Don't forget this step. There's no picture of this, but if you don't know how, just cut off a tablespoon of butter and rub it onto a cookie sheet until it's covered with the butter.  Don't use a cooking spray for this step.  Or margarine.

    Place first 4 ingredients (in order) into your awesome microwaveable measuring cup with the handle. DO NOT STIR.  Microwave on high for 3 minutes.

    Remove from the microwave, by the awesome handle, and stir.  It will look like this when it comes out of the microwave.  After you stir it (not whip it, mind you, just a gentle stir) put back in microwave and cook for 3 more minutes on high.  Work fast.

     Remove from the microwave using the amazing handle, add 1 tbsp of butter, NOT MARGARINE, and WITHOUT STIRRING, put it back in the microwave, and cook for 2 more minutes.
    Notice how brown it is starting to look?

    This next part is tricky, and I was working solo, so I don't have a picture of it.  Instead, I have inserted a picture of me and Shannay which I think adequately depicts how excited I am about the awesomeness of this peanut brittle.  


    Here's the tricky part.  Work fast.  Remove brittle from the microwave.  Add 1 tsp of vanilla (it will bubble and sizzle) and 1 tbsp. of baking soda.  Stir.  When you stir, it will foam up.  You have to work fast.  Stir quickly, and then pour out onto your buttered cookie sheet.  It is best to use a wooden spoon for this part and you need to press out the peanut brittle until it is thin (but not see through).  If you don't get it thin enough, you can't break it, and people can't eat it.

    Here's how it should look when it is cooling.  It needs to cool about 20 minutes.  Then break into bite-sized pieces.  But don't worry, if it's not cool enough, you'll know because it won't break.  It will just bend. Oh, and BE CAREFUL!  This stuff is sharp.  I have actually cut myself badly doing this.  (But, sometimes I am klutzy, so you might not have that problem.  And also, spellchecker autocorrected clutzy to klutzy, so don't think I'm trying to be cute or play fast and loose with the English language.)
    But I digress.

    Finally, put your bite-sized pieces into a cute dish and give it away as a present.  Or eat it all yourself.  But be advised, in no way should this be considered healthy.  Eat at your own risk.  Also, make at your own risk.  Don't blame me if you burn yourself or cut yourself, or break a tooth.  That's my disclaimer.

    All that to say, I hope you enjoy this delicious recipe.  And if you see Christina, tell her thanks.  She might still be a little sad that I shared our secret recipe.  But, well, the secret is out, so . . .

    Christmas Weekend Giveaway

    UPDATE:  And the winner is . . .  Jennifer Dearmore!  Jennifer, contact me so we can arrange your pickup!

    Crèche (also spelled creche or cresch) - Nativity scene, a group of figures arranged to represent the birth of Jesus Christ

    Some years ago, I started collecting Nativity scenes.  My collection started with a very large, white, milk glass nativity scene that my mother-in-law made for me to be able to put under my Christmas tree.  After that, I seemed to get a lot of nativity scenes as gifts.  And pretty soon, it became a tradition that Mike would buy me a new nativity scene each year.  I now own over 50, far too many to set out in my house, but I love all of them!

    One of my favorites is from WIllow Tree (those wooden doll people without faces, sounds creepy but they're pretty).  Anyway, this year  I unpacked my Willow Tree nativity scene, only to discover that Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus are missing.  MISSING.  Seriously, how does that even happen?  I packed all my Christmas stuff away at one time?  And the only thing missing is the baby Jesus?  I mean, he's kind of the point, right?

    Every day when I walk past that nativity, I think, "What am I going to do about my missing baby Jesus?"

    So with that brilliant segue, I am going to tell you about my wonderful weekend giveaway!

    My Christmas Weekend Giveaway is a Crèche, handcrafted by a local business owner here in Texas where I live.  It's from rough hewn lumber, simply painted white.  I love it.  It's a simple statement in my front yard.  It says, "Baby Jesus.  He's kind of the point."  (It doesn't actually say that.  In case you win, I don't want you to be disappointed.  But it does come with the light, so that's a bonus!)

    But to win, I'm going to mix it up this time.  You have to follow my blog by clicking on the blue "Join this site" button, and then leave a comment.  You also have to have a friend comment on the blog and include "I'm _______'s friend."  You can increase your chances of winning by pinning, posting and tweeting the link to this blog as well!

    Check back with me on Monday when I will draw the winning name!

    All that to say, I'm off in search of my baby Jesus.  If you were the baby Jesus, where would you be hiding?
    Oh, and in case you don't win, if you'd like to order one of these, let me know and I'll hook you up with the guy who makes them!

    Cookies with The Joneses

    Well once again, "Cookies" has come and gone.  "Cookies" (in it's present form) is a tradition that started in our family in 1997, when Mike decided that he wanted to deliver cookies to the families for whom he was a Deacon. (I seriously struggled with that sentence!)

    He only had 10 families, but as soon as I did the math (not a strong suit in my case) I realized that was 10 DOZEN cookies, and that didn't even count any for our own family to eat or to give away to neighbors, etc.

    Soooooooo, being the creative mom that I am, I encouraged the boys to invite some friends over and we made a competition of it.  Boys will do just about anything if you make a competition out of it, INCLUDING decorating cookies for hours.

    Downside to boys decorating cookies is that they are BOYS!  They do weird things like lick their fingers, and pile on too much frosting and too many sprinkles!

    So we had to make some rules.  And that's what started, "The Rules."

    Of course, we have added to The Rules over the years as the need has arose arisen arose. Whatever.

    For example, there's the rule of submission (not meaning you have to bow down to my authority).  In order to submit an entry into the official competition, you must decorate at least 6 total cookies.  We had to make this rule because one year a person, who shall remain nameless (but she knows who she is), created only one cookie.  In two hours, she made one cookie.  It was a masterpiece.  And of course it won!  But others whined, revolted, suggested that it was not fair, and so the 6 cookie rule was born.

    And you have to name your cookie that you enter into the competition.  I don't know how this rule came about, but I think it was because we had two cookies that were really similar and so when the vote happened (yes.  we vote.  by secret ballot), there was some confusion as to the winner.

    One year, we invited a lot of people over (thinking "more people, less time decorating") but that was NOT a good idea!  So from that day forward, we have pretty much only invited one family over to help us.  Thus the coveted "invite."  (I don't know if it is actually coveted. I just like to make stuff up like that so the night sounds really mysterious and awesome.)

    Here are the official rules:

    1.  You may not lick your fingers.  If you do, you have to wash your hands immediately.

    2.  Less is more.  That means don't pile up a bunch of junk on your cookie.  They just don't taste good that way.

    3.  The Rule of Submission.  You must decorate a minimum of 6 cookies in order to enter 1 cookie into the competition.

    4.  You must name your entry.  The more creative the name, the better.  This year's winner was "Harry Connick Ginger."

    5.  The Vote is by secret ballot.  Each person gets one vote and you cannot vote for yourself.

    6.  You may not eat any of the cookies on decorating night because the frosting must dry for at least 12 hours!

    There's probably more rules.  We make them up as we go sometimes.

    The winner is awarded something different every year.  Sometimes they get a really awesome handmade trophy.  Sometimes they get a Cookie Winner Ornament.  Sometimes they just get a collective round of approval (laced with a little jealousy by the losers!)

    Here are some pictures of the 2012 Cookies night:

    Shannay enjoying her cookies. 

    Nikki enjoying hers!  (They got to break the rules and eat one!)

    Very seriously at work.  

    Zack and his Grandma Nana.

    The winning cookie "Harry Connick Ginger."

    Tabulating the votes.

    The Victory Dance.

    All Smiles with her trophy.  (Yeah, we spare no expense for our winner!)

    So happy for Grandma!
    Grandma's Victory Dance!

    Our honored guests, Seth and Shawna Johnson

    Fun Night.

    The Johnsons and the Joneses

    All that to say,  Cookies 2012, you're in the can.

    Grinch Me Green Weekend Giveaway


    My mom's in town, visiting me from Mesa, Arizona.  She's here for a month, which I think she is a bit nervous about (at least she was when we were planning her trip here!)  A month is a long time to be away from home, for anyone, but especially when you are brand new to the retired life.

    So far we have had a cookie party, decorated the tree, gone Christmas shopping (and even made a few returns!)  But just to prove she's my mom, she spent 3 hours cleaning my kitchen on her first day here!  Some people might be offended by that, but not this girl.  I love it!  I hope she gets that "bug" in every room of my house!  Seriously.

    But anyway, I tell you all that to say that I got so busy enjoying my mom's visit that I totally forgot to post my weekend giveaway.  But, I'm a woman of my word, so I'm posting it now, on Sunday night (technically still the weekend) at 9:00 p.m.!

    Remember when I said I couldn't decide between Grinch Green or Burlap and White?  Well my giveaway this weekend is what inspired me to think of going with Grinch Green.  It's so pretty, and something I know Nikki and Shannay would have just loved!  I say "loved" because I went with the Burlap and White.  (Wait till you see the pics!)

    So this weekend's giveaway is a Grinch Green Ornament Package with 4 Caged Ornaments, 2 Glittery snowflakes, 4 bell balls (so cute), 1 Metal Holly Stocking, 3 yards Grinch Green Garland, 1 dozen Grinch Green Icicles, and something I'm sure I'm forgetting.  Anyway, it's worth about $60!

    Here's how to win!

    Follow me on this blog.  (Do that by clicking the join this site blue button on my sidebar!)  If you are viewing this on a mobile version, you have to scroll down, click View Web Version or View Full Version and then click the blue Join this Site button.

    Comment on this blog post!  (That's your official entry!)

    Tweet this post, pin it or post it!

    That's it!

    Then don't forget to check back to see if you won!  (AND IF YOU DID, I NEED YOUR ADDRESS SO I CAN MAIL YOU YOUR PRIZE!)

    All that to say, since I didn't get this posted on time, I will leave it up until Tuesday morning and then I will draw the winner.  Hope you win!

    What Else is There to Do?

    I haven't blogged about this in a while.  Honestly, because I was gun shy from some hate-filled responses I got.  But the purpose of this blog is to live my life out loud, in a real, transparent, and authentic way that  hopefully connects with you, helps you, challenges you, makes you laugh or shake your head.

    I lost my job in August.  And by "lost it" I mean I was let go, fired, canned, dismissed.  I don't want or need to make it prettier or uglier than it is.  It's just a harsh reality.

    I would disclose the reasons to you, but in all honesty, I don't fully know or understand the reasons, nor is this about the reasons.  I'm not trying to say someone is or isn't to blame.  I'm not trying to say I am or am not to blame.

    That's not the point of this post.

    The point is that though I am 3 months down the road, doing something I LOVE to do, making more money than I ever thought possible working part-time from home (and Starbucks . . . and McDonald's . . . they have free wi-fi, aren't crowded and their coffee is cheaper!)  Anyway, I digress.  I LOVE what I am doing, making great money doing it, am home with the girls except for 2.5 hours, 2 mornings a week.  Even though my outside circumstances are not remotely bleak . . .

    I still struggle.  I have days that the grief and loss that I feel wash over me like a tidal wave.  I struggle to speak, to interact in a decent way with my family, to function.

    I miss little things and big things.  I miss my work.  It was life-giving.  I miss helping people get connected to their calling, to community.

    I miss prayer days.

    I miss interacting with my co-workers that I have done life with, some for 5 years.

    I miss the security guards.  They're such great people and have taught me so much about how the world perceives Christians.

    From what I understand, these feelings of loss and grief are normal, and I can expect them to be like this for a long, long time.

    So what do I do with these grief waves that threaten to tow me under on some days?

    There is only one thing I can do.  I run to Jesus.  I run to His Word.

    Proverbs 12:25 says, "Anxiety in a man's heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad."  I find the most incredible comfort in the Word, the Bible.  God's holy and spoken word to us.  It speaks peace and comfort over me and gives my soul rest.

    All that to say, I find comfort today in this from Psalm 33, "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.  He lays up the deeps in storehouses.  Let all the earth fear the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.  For He spoke, and it was done.  He commanded, and it stood fast."  God's got it. And even if I don't understand, he's still in control.  Totally in control.  And I can trust this He is for me and for my good.

    Why to the North Pole, Of Course!

    This past weekend, we took the girls to see the North Pole Express in Grapevine, TX.  Downtown Grapevine is so beautiful and quaint, and totally would have been worth the trip (if we hadn't been traveling with TODDLERS!)

    Several people  told us (AFTER I paid the $18 a person for the tickets) that the ride was somewhat "lack luster."

    By lack luster, they meant that the ride was not going to, in any way, resemble the movie The Polar Express.  For the most part, they were right.

    As we prepared to board, we were ushered into a tent where we were entertained with a show, a mini hit parade of Christmas songs (most of which children would NOT know, but that the grown ups enjoyed).  The Conductor, a Tom Hanks type character, came out and nervously told us that the train was in the station and that we had to board AS SOON AS POSSIBLE because it was Christmas Eve and the train could not be late!

    And then the train arrived, (a fact that caused Nikki to just about flip out!) and we were ready to board.


    The promotional brochure told us we would travel through the Christmas tree maze as we prepared to board the magical train!  True to it's billing, we walked through the maze, which was in fact a very clever way that they hid the barricades that guided the crowds in an orderly fashion to the train.  I supposed you could call it a "maze" if by maze you mean walk in a straight line and go the only direction that you are allowed to go until you are instructed to get on the train.  But when you're 3.5 feet tall, a "maze" of giant Christmas trees is pretty impressive no matter how it's laid out!

    Then we boarded the train that would take us . . . "Why, to the North Pole, of course!"

    It was 81 degrees outside.  It was 2:30 in the afternoon.  It was very, very sunny and bright.  It's Texas.

    Only the magical imagination of a 4 year old could imagine this train ride was going to The North Pole.

    And that's just what happened. Nikki was amazed that the conductor punched her ticket! And they were both thrilled when he stopped to take a picture with them!

    And though the train only traveled forward about a half a mile, and then backward about a half a mile, the magic of Christmas transformed it into The Polar Express, complete with a visit by Santa.

    I suppose the more sophisticated traveler would have doubted the destination.  I suppose they might have doubted that caribou on the track was what stopped the train and caused it to have to back up.

    But that's the beauty of being a child.  Their imaginations are not yet cluttered with harsh reality (though in the case of Nikki and Shannay they certainly could be).

    They laughed and sang and squealed with delight.  And they even looked out the window with wonder at the dry Texas landscape.

    All that to say, it was a great weekend.  I learn a lot about joy from Nikki and Shannay.  A lot about joy.


    UPDATE:  THE WINNER IS COMMENTER #6, DEBBIE LEBAUVE!  Send me your info Debbie so I can mail you your prize!

    My family Christmas decor is pretty traditional.  Traditional red, traditional green, garland, stockings, pine cones, traditional.

    I've thought about changing it a few times, but then I think about my sister-in-law, Debbi, and the year she decided to change her Christmas decor.  She went from a traditional "family ornament" tree to a plum and fruity tree.  Her children had all left home, and she was trying to mix it up, do something different, so she kept all the family ornaments boxed up and went out and bought these purple fruity tree ornaments.  Her kids revolted (I thought it was pretty) and she went back to her traditional tree.

    So whenever I think of changing, I think two thoughts.

    • "Will my kids revolt or even notice at all?"
    • "Will I like it?"
    And I inevitably end up leaving it the same. 

    But this year, I'm toying with a couple of ideas.  I'm thinking of either going totally "Grinch Green"

    or burlap and white.  I'm leaning toward the burlap and white though, because I saw some amazing photos last year on Pinterest.

    So, in honor of Christmas decorating, and grinch green, I'm giving away a cute little napkin holder.  It's the size of a dessert napkin holder (thought I don't know how big that is in actual inches.  Maybe 6"x6" . . . I'm terrible at guessing stuff like that, so maybe we should just call it "the size of a dessert napkin holder.)

    Here's how you enter.  1.  Follow this blog by clicking on the blue "JOIN THIS SITE" button in the right sidebar.  2.  Comment below.  Your comment IS YOUR ENTRY.  3. Pin this, post this, or tweet it!  And 4.  Check back on Monday to see if you won!  I will post the winner her, on this blog entry.

    I will also post the winner on Facebook and Twitter.  And LASTLY, and this is REALLY IMPORTANT, you have to give me your contact info if you are the winner!  You can do this by emailing me at  I can't tell you how many winners I have had that don't do this last step, and I can't get their prize to them!

    All that to say, each week I'm going to be giving away a bigger and bigger and bigger Christmas prize and you are eligible to win them all!  So follow, comment, pin, tweet, post!

    Christmas and Your Church Staff

    Last year at this time I worked at a church.  In fact, this is the first time since 1998, that I have not worked in a church at Christmastime.  If you've never worked in a church at Christmastime, or had a spouse or parent who worked at a church at Christmastime, then you may not know the immense amount of STRESS that comes with this holiday.

    In the Christian church world, it's the Super Bowl.  It's the celebration of the birth of the Savior of the world.  It's a month long building of events and concerts and plays and markets and parties and dinners, all culminating in THE EVENT, Christmas Eve.

    Christmas Eve is the single most attended service of the year in churches, by Christians and non-Christians alike.  And I have to tell you, that's a lot of pressure for a church staff. In many cases, it's the only chance people will give the church, so you gotta get it right.

    Keep in mind that people who work at a church also have families, and family parties, and neighbors and traditions, and school events, and shopping and all the things everyone else has to do.  (Yes, I know other people have jobs at Christmastime, but trust me, it's different!  I've been on both sides of the fence.  It's different!)

    And when your family is dressing up all cute and feeling all warm and snuggly and festive as you attend the Christmas Eve service together, keep in mind that the folks who work at the church are attending ALL of the services while their family is most likely at home, celebrating without them, or "making the most of" the fact that their family member isn't there with them.

    And they've probably been there for hours getting ready for the service.  No details have been left to chance.  The candles, the music, the lights, the message.  It's all been thought about for a long time.  Even if your church does it simply, it's still a massive undertaking for the staff.

    Why am I writing all of this?  It's not because I was bitter working in the church at Christmas.  I wasn't. I loved it and miss it.  (Well, parts of it.)

    I'm writing this because this Christmas I want you to cut your church staff some slack.  I want you to shower them with grace.  I want you to withhold how you wish the Christmas Market had been bigger.  Or your critique of (or the lack of) the Women's Christmas dinner.  I want you to be thankful that there WAS a Children's Choir performance and that your child got to sing in it, even if they didn't have a solo.

    I want you to appreciate that someone had to set up and tear down and set up and tear down and set up and tear down the insane amount of extra events that people seem to want to plan AT church at Christmastime.

    Please, take the time to send them a card and write a meaningful note in it.  Not just for your Senior Pastor (though he's clearly important) but to any staff member that you interact with regularly.  Or give them a gift card (even it's $5 to Starbucks) or just do something nice for them!  Mow their yard.  I don't know and it doesn't really matter.  Just be thoughtful is my point.

    And best of all, when they ask you to, or better yet, BEFORE they ask, volunteer to serve.  You'll have plenty of chances.  There will be Children's events and Student events and Women's events, and OF COURSE Christmas Eve.

    All that to say, this Christmas, let your church staff (if you have one) inhale the beauty of the season by helping them a little bit more.  After all, it's your Super Bowl too!

    HO! HO! HO! and Happy Birthday

    I have possibly mentioned, once or twice, that I am a fan of the Christmas season.  I love everything about every second of it. I acquire and abandon new "traditions" on a regular basis and am totally okay that we don't do the same thing in the same way every year.

    For example, when my boys were younger we read "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  (It's only 85 pages long and seriously one of my favorite stories.)  We read it so much that I could recite much of the first page.  "The Herdmans were the worst kids in the history of the world.  They lied, and cheated, and smoked cigars, (even the girls)."  And every year I looked forward to the reading.

    And even though we don't read it anymore (but mostly likely will start soon with the girls), I love the memories I have of reading that story.

    I also used to buy the boys an ornament every year that was somehow related to what they were doing that year.  My thought was that when they were grown and moved out of the house, they would take their lifetime of memories and ornaments with them to start their new lives.  It never occurred to me that they would have other thoughts about their own Christmas tree.  (duh!)

    But I'm okay with that too.  I loved doing it, and I still love unwrapping those ornaments and remembering their childhoods.  And I'm buying the girls ornaments too.  And if they grow up and don't want them for their tree, well that's okay too!

    (I'm starting to realize some of my traditions might be about me.  Tee hee)

    And I used to buy a new nativity set every year (well, technically I still do this), but I stopped putting them all out last year (courtesy of Simple Christmas, thank you very much Brian Mann!) and gave myself permission to "downsize" Christmas.

    Some of my favorite things still happen today though.

    For example, the weekend after Thanksgiving always marks the hanging of the lights.  Mike and one or both of the boys get out all of my Christmas boxes, 16 to be exact, then sort out all of the lights, map out a strategy, and hang the lights on the house.  I have gone outside many years to arguments, laughter, people hanging in ridiculously unsafe manners from very tall ladders, and a myriad of duct tape and extension cords that would put Clark Griswold to shame!

    I usually try to stay inside once ladders
    and rooftops are involved!
    Mike unraveling a string of "new" lights after announcing
    the icicle lights had been retired.

    And we still have "Cookies."  The weekend where I bake dozens and dozens of cookies  and then we invite one set of friends over to help us decorate.  It's a fun night.  Lots of competitive decorating.  And at the end, a winner is awarded by popular vote.  This doesn't sound like too much in this one paragraph, but if you've ever been the "chosen friends" then you know it's a special, special night.

    Zack and Christina in 2009 with Cookie Champion Jackie Key

    Jacob with 2010 Winners Corina and Kristina Patterson

    And Zack with 2011 Loser, Ben Rush (sorry Ben)

    And we still go to Guadalajara for dinner on Christmas Eve (because when I worked at the church, it was just too much to do 4+ Christmas Eve services AND have a meaningful Christmas Eve dinner).

    They would absolutely KILL me if they knew I had posted
    this on the internet!
    And we will most likely still open presents on Christmas day, though it will definitely be different without Zack and Christina.   And we'll still open our presents in age order.  And we'll still eat a non-traditional Christmas dinner, like mouth-watering burgers or fish tacos . . . who knows? . . . because I can't bear the thought of another turkey dinner so soon!

    And we will most likely still play Trivial Pursuit after our not-so-traditional dinner.  Heck, I might even splurge for the new edition this year!

    This year though, I'm thinking of adding some new things. (WHAT?!!!)

    The girls made gingerbread houses with Zack and Christina.  I can see us doing this for years!  It was funny to watch them do this though!  Zack (who helped Shannay) is like his Mama; a teeny weeny bit controlling, and Christina (who helped Nikki) is totally a free spirit.  You can easily tell this by looking at the houses.

    And we're going to Dallas this weekend to ride the Polar Express.  Maybe that will become a tradition.

    The girls are going to see the Nutcracker.  I have ALWAYS wanted girls just for this very reason!

    And we might even start the Elf on the Shelf (maybe not though!)

    All that to say, I'm gearing up for the holidays.  HO HO HO!  and as Frosty would say, "Happy Birthday!"