the Christmas I let go

I was reading through some old blogs this morning, and came across my Christmas Manifesto from five years ago.

And I have to say that five years later, I still stand by it.

This year, I’m continuing my search for simplicity and sustainability. Shopping is done, though I keep having this niggling thought that there’s one more gift I need. The house is decorated…mostly. That mantle still isn’t totally done and it might not ever be. We’ll survive.  I have a few plans for baking. Friday night, when Tom and the kids head to Fresno, I’m having a wrapping party with myself. The only big thing left to tackle is cards.

Right now, there’s a Pooh bear as an angel with my Grammy’s Nativity and a Matchbox monster truck near baby Jesus.

I’m going with it.

I never thought I’d call the holidays relaxing, but somehow they are this year. Even with 19 people eating Thanksgiving dinner at our house, it was easy. Christmas seems to be following suit.

And I am taking a deep breath, letting go and enjoying the season.

There will be some hectic days – two Christmas services at two churches in two days – but this is a very good place to be.

Pooh bear angel and all.



When we moved to Florida, Hanna had just turned 7 and was in the first grade. She was put into Miss Grippo’s class and from the first moment we met her, I knew she would be a perfect fit for Hanna.

Her class had been working on a musical to earn money for a trip to Disney World and she told me that Hanna could be in the chorus, but wouldn’t have a part of her own because it was only a few weeks until show time.

Within a week, Hanna had a part…and knew her lines and everyone else’s.

The next year, Hanna stayed in Miss Grippo’s class, though she was now Mrs. Caponi. And Mrs. Caponi and Mr. Caponi started a drama school, which of course Hanna had to be part of. They performed at senior centers, Downtown Disney and shared children’s musical theater with our community through amazing shows.

And I think Hanna knew every part in every musical she was ever in.

Drama was the perfect activity for Hanna – it combined her love of talking and her natural flair for the dramatic with her ability to memorize. She performed in many shows with the Caponi’s Cannolis and was able to help out a little as an older student.

It was a bonus to us that Mr. and Mrs. Caponi became our friends Angelo and Jennifer, and our neighbors too.

And I was reminded again this week of the tapestry of our lives – and how it’s not just family members that invest into the weavings of children, but those around them.

Hanna joined FFA this year, and took part in the Opening/Closing Ceremony Competition this week as a Greenhand. Her group took silver and, on her own, she received Outstanding Sentinel. She is poised, clear and confident as a speaker, and is already talking about FFA debate and speech competitions, and the leadership conferences she can attend in the next few years.

And I smile.

Because seven year old Hanna was seemingly randomly put in Miss Grippo’s class…because the Caponi’s helped instill in her a love of theater…because she learned so many skills during her years as a Cannoli…because of all of that, and so much more, she has an ability to communicate that isn’t exactly common in high school students.

I continue to be thankful that Hanna was placed in Jennifer’s class eight years ago. I truly believe God was active in that moment, and that He was using that one decision – which class to put a first grader in – to weave something into the tapestry that makes up Hanna in a huge way.

I can’t wait to see what else He does with it.

she made noodles

She made noodles for the first time last night, from start to finish.

I don’t usually make chicken and noodles when it’s still in the 90’s. Or really even the 80’s. It’s been my tradition to make them on the first cool fall day, usually around the beginning of November.

Growing up, I remember my Grammy and Great-Gram only really making them at Thanksgiving and Christmas, or if someone was sick or had a new baby. They are a lot of work – cooking the chicken all day to make stock, mixing the noodles, then rolling, cutting and placing carefully into the boiling pot. Most definitely not an everyday meal.

But yesterday, we all needed a little extra love. Tom was out of town and it was an emotionally difficult day with new news about Papa. We invited Uncle Roger and Mary, and Hanna asked all afternoon if she could make the noodles.

She did, with minimal help and direction from me.

And she turns out to be the most even noodle cutter I’ve ever seen.

I love sharing this tradition with her. I stood at my Great-Gram’s side, watching her carefully cut the dough when I was little as she talked about how her mother made them when they had an old hen that needed to be cooked. In college, Grammy called one day and said it was time to learn. I can’t eat them anymore, and don’t even want to attempt a gluten-free batch, but it’s important that this chain be continued.

I’m not sure if she realized how in demand this would make her, though. She’s already got requests from Uncle Roger and Grandma both to come over and make more.

in focus

It’s amazing to me how the right information can bring everything into focus.

He’s always been our quirky kid.

He didn’t talk until he was 4. We’d get in the shower after him to find everything lined up, and the shampoo poured down the drain. Loud noises and bright lights seemed to bother him more than other kids. He would be obsessed with fish, with whales, with dinosaurs, with facts. He survived on air from 14 months until nearly 3 years.

He went to school and he learned to adapt.

He still doesn’t like loud noises. Can’t make decisions. Insists on soft clothes. Seems to have some processing issues, but can do most math in his head. Writing is physically painful. Still picky when it comes to food. His world is just sometimes a little bit different and a lot more frustrating.

And the coping mechanisms he taught himself don’t seem to be working as well.

We found a counselor – a total blessing – who gets him.

She is giving us words that are making all of those quirks come into focus. Teaching us how to help him and finding more areas that need deeper assessment. Guiding us to better expectations and ways of doing things.

And we are grateful.

5 Minute Muse: trying to get back in the habit of writing for joy. Setting the timer and writing, no editing.

in times of loss

I’m happy to see September draw to a close this year. I always look to September to be a month of transition, when the seasons start to change and we get a glimpse of what life and schedules will be like for this next school year. It’s always been the deep breath before the holidays hit, something I’ve come to appreciate even more now that Tom is pastoring two churches.

This September hasn’t been that way.

At the beginning of the month, one of my younger cousin’s passed away, unexpectedly and tragically.

A baby that I visited with my mom and grandmother. A little boy who was the ring bearer in my wedding. A teenager who loved to fish and was so proud of the first truck he bought. A young adult who was my brother’s best friend and still working to find his feet in this world.

I’ve been blessed to grow up in a close family, and my cousins were my very first and often best friends. This is the second time we’ve lost one, and it’s like a piece of my heart has been torn out each time. I’m so thankful for the hope that I have in Jesus Christ for a reunion with them one day. There is still pain, but there is peace also.

The day after we returned from his memorial service, my grandfather fell and suffered a broken hip, among other issues. He’s 88, and he and my grandmother have been married for 62 years. It’s been so difficult to watch him struggle in the hospital, and to know her pain in watching his.

I’ve seen more of both sides of my family this month than since the last wedding, and under circumstances I pray we never have to repeat. I’ve often said that God has been beyond gracious to me and that the family I was born into is proof of that.

We’ve had other difficulties this month, realizing that sometimes a child’s quirks are maybe more than quirks and it’s time to get some assessments done. We’re trying to find our path through homeschooling with virtual school. We have a high schooler now, who is busier but is blowing me away every single day with how hard she’s working and a new sense of maturity and independence.

A friend sent me this poem a few weeks ago. It’s one that was new to me, but that I’ve turned to over and over this long, difficult month.

God, make me brave for life: oh, braver than this.
Let me straighten after pain, as a tree straightens after the rain,
Shining and lovely again.

God, make me brave for life; much braver than this.
As the blown grass lifts, let me rise
From sorrow with quiet eyes,
Knowing Thy way is wise.

God, make me brave, life brings
Such blinding things.
Help me to keep my sight;
Help me to see aright
That out of dark comes light.

I pray that October is an easier month, but I also know that His grace is sufficient for all things.

back to school, virtually

When we decided that Hanna was going to public high school this year, I was excited about the prospect of having no one home but my little nephew that I watch.

It didn’t work out that way.

Caleb went through some bullying issues that left a deep impact on him last Spring. We were thankful that his teacher took care of them quickly once he finally told us what was going on, but the damage was done. He’s also been having some pretty serious stomach issues and he’s been sick constantly ever since we moved back to California and he started at this school.

Three weeks ago, Tom and I started looking seriously into what virtual school would mean for him. I knew I didn’t want to be responsible for homeschooling again, and we knew his temperment well enough to know that forcing him to school was going to be disastrous.

We said a prayer and jumped into K12.

I don’t like making these big decisions so quickly, but we had just about a week before school started in our community. It hasn’t been the easiest to get set up – somehow, he missed getting assigned a teacher, his books didn’t show up until a day later than he needed them, and on his first official day, the entire system went down.

So far, it’s going well.

He has a little more freedom if his health needs it, and I’m pretty sure this curriculum is more rigorous and has more depth than what his fifth grade classroom would have been. In addition to the core curiculum, he also has art and music appreciation classes and can be active in community sports programs. I love that he’s essentially being homeschooled, but I don’t have to do all of the work. Of course, I help when needed and Tom and I are both able to check on things either with him or through the computer.

I don’t know, at this point, whether we’ll continue this all year or just until some of his health issues are settled. He is very much a home-body and an introvert (like me) and when we made the decision to homeschool Hanna again for a season last year, he begged to come home as well. It might just be the best option for him, at least for the next few years.

I’m reminded again that I am so grateful we have these options to find the best option for our children.

the freshman

first day of school, with Aunt Carrie

Two weeks ago, the girl started high school.

High school!

It was a long, hard road through middle school to get here. We homeschooled for sixth grade, she started seventh at the massive public middle school, transfered to a small, private Christian school for a few months and ended up back at a smaller public school after we moved back across country. That’s where she started eighth grade, though we finished the year at home again due to some struggles.

Honestly, I had no idea what was going to happen this year.

Last Spring, we’d decided to enroll her in one of the approved Virtual Schools in our state. By May, she decided she really wanted to go to our town’s high school and have that high school experience. I met with one of the counselors, we put a plan in place…and I spent the entire summer praying.

She was nervous, yes, but she’s blown us away with how well she’s doing so far. She loves her classes (well, most of them), she has a wonderful group of friends, she’s talking about maybe running for freshman class secretary and joining the Blue Crew (a student spirit club) and FFA and maybe even raising a pig to show at the Spring fair.

And while I’m in complete denial that I actually am old enough to have a high school aged child, I couldn’t possibly be more proud of her. It’s so hard to know how much freedom to give, but we’re trying to say yes as often as we can to give her the best high school experience she can possible have. All of the sudden, she’s older, more mature and there are days I look at her, and don’t even recognize this young woman she’s become.

I know there will be ups and downs, heartaches, disappointments and more to come over these next four years, but I thank God for the peace and excitement of these first few weeks.

our no excuses summer

Last night at Little League, I had one of those moments of clarity that come every so often when things are quiet.

It culminated in this tweet:

Thinking this is going to the summer of no excuses. My kids are not going to be happy with me. #toodarnbad #paleo #limits

And after a little more thought last night, I realized it’s time to take a stand.

I’ve been so frustrated lately with all of the excuses – why teeth aren’t brushed…homework isn’t done…things aren’t put away…why attitudes are bad…the forgetfulness that’s really just laziness…and so many words that are unkind.

It seems like I hear a hundred different excuses a day.

And I’ve been really frustrated…

to the point that I ended up yelling “shut up” in the car yesterday on the way to a doctor’s appointment.

It’s been a rough year.

It’s been a long year.

We’ve allowed some really bad habits to develop.

But those are just more excuses.

We’re less than four weeks away from summer vacation – something I’ve been looking forward to – and I’m realizing if we don’t tighten up the reigns a bit, it’s going to a long, miserable summer. I don’t want a summer of XBOX 360 and tv non-stop, of complaining and laziness, of arguing and blaming.

I’m realizing that for any change to be permanent in a family, it has to start with mom and dad.

Because I am the queen of excuses – the kids come by their propensity for them naturally.

I didn’t exercise this morning because I didn’t sleep well…I didn’t sleep well because I didn’t eat well…I didn’t eat well because I was tired and stressed…I was tired and stressed because I didn’t eat well or exercise.

It’s an ugly circle that doesn’t do anyone any good.

Tom spoke on Jonah this past Sunday in church, and I was particularly struck by two things – God’s command to Jonah to just go and the fact that Jonah was down in the ship sleeping while it was sinking.

It’s time to wake up, and it’s time to go. Time to make changes and to hold myself – and my family- to a higher standard. I’m not sure exactly how to do it, beyond starting with prayer. I’ll share more, and if you want to join with us in the No Excuses Summer, please share. I’m hoping to have some definite goals up next week if you want to join in.

No more excuses.

No more laziness.

No more bad attitudes.

No more bad food.

No more excuses.

this guy

This guy has had one heck of a year.

He finished his Master’s of Arts in Theology.

Spent a week in Costa Rica as a missions trip speaker.

Started his new position as “the pastor”.

Learned to work from home (and be productive).

To steer committee meetings, and balance the personalities within them.

To lead worship, and not just teach.

All while being a husband and dad, and keeping what should come first…first.

This guy is 38 today.

I’m so thankful for the 17 years that I’ve shared with him, and am praying for many, many more.