Monday, November 30, 2015

Mailing Week - A Christmas Countdown

Today is a drizzly dreary day, perfect for holing up in the house and working on some Christmas projects. I've been at the sewing machine most of the afternoon and think I can finish up two sewing projects today. Such fun to strike projects off the list.

This is why I like to start Christmas preparations early. I enjoy these projects so much more when I have no time pressure.

This is mailing week. But I'm skipping sending Christmas mail this year. I'd rather wait and send out a baby birth announcement in January.

I know that with social media, sending a yearly Christmas update is fast becoming obsolete. I'm one of those strange folks that actually enjoy writing a family Christmas newsletter. It is fun to look back over the year and compile a review. Especially when Ed gives me a crazy idea like last year's Christmas card/letter. I'm still hearing from some who say that their children ask them to reread that Christmas card often - a compliment I never received before and proof that it wasn't your typical card. But the downside is that now I feel pressure to beat last year's creativity.

And I don't like pressure. So a note to all my real-life, snail-mail friends - expect my next Christmas letter to be the most boring you've read. Ever.

But even though I'm not doing Christmas letters this year, I hope some of my friends are. I love getting the mail in December. It is such a treat to find something beyond bills and advertisements in the mailbox. Whether it is a friend I only hear from once a year or see every week at church, I love the smiling family photos and letters (and no, none of them are the least bit boring.)

And this ends the Christmas Countdown. For the month of December you are on your own to complete your projects and enjoy special time with your family and friends.

Prepare - Mailing Week - Inspiration for the final week of the Christmas Countdown

So what about you?  What project is on the top of your list this week? And how are you relieving some of the pressure on yourself this month?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Escape from the Prison of Ungratefulness

Written at Thanksgiving several years ago.

I once said that mothers couldn't get sick. I was blessed with good health and couldn't remember when I was sick for longer than a day. But a bad cold hit me the week before Thanksgiving. And it refused to leave.

Don't pity me. I wasn't deathly ill, just miserable. I continued to care for my children - as much as I could from the couch. Casseroles from the freezer supplied our meals. Cleaning was non-existent. After I lost my voice, homeschooling entered survival mode.

My husband added household tasks on top of all his normal responsibilities. I was grateful for his help but typically I measure the success of my day by what I accomplish. Holding down the couch didn't qualify. I coughed like a chain smoker and could not sleep, but worse, I now felt like a total failure as a wife, homemaker, and mother.

God was working on me. 

He wanted me to discover joy in Him, not in my accomplishments. He longed for me to be thankful for the circumstances He placed me in and to find fulfillment in serving Him with my whole being – coughs and all.

The calendar reminded me that I had promised to visit an inmate. She had attended the Bible study at our local detention center and now had moved to a long-term prison facility in the city. I managed to feel good enough to keep the appointment. 

It was a scary, new experience to visit a large city prison. The high walls ribbed with rolls of barb wire silhouetted in the November darkness echoed the hard, cold eyes of inmates held  in sin's night.

Next time my gratefulness needs a boost, I'll remember to visit a prisoner. 

Or the homeless. 

Or the sick. 

Spending time with those who have far greater problems than mine drove me to sheepishly return to my Father and say "Thank you for my problems – my cough, my hyper children, my dirty house.”

God doesn't reserve His lessons on gratefulness to one day of the year at Thanksgiving. This year, a visit behind prison walls demonstrated the prison of ungratefulness where I resided. Thankfully, His Word holds the key to unlock the gate.

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts...and be ye thankful. (Colossians 3:15) 

And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. (Colossians 3:17) 

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Freedom is found when my joy is based – not on my circumstances, but on the One who rules my heart. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Faces Of Syria - New Book!


We all have heard the stories and seen the photos of the Syrian refugees.

And if you are like me, you don't know what to think or what to do. I feel helpless faced with a problem of such magnitude. A problem with no easy answers.

That is why I was eager to read Faces of Syria, a new book just published by TGS International (a subsidiary of Christian Aid Ministries (CAM).

Katrina Hoover traveled to Jordan and Lebanon a couple months ago to listen and record Syrian refugees' stories. I enjoyed following along in her journey through Katrina's blog.

Katrina was joined by Rosetta Byers as photographer. Together the two made a photo book to share a perspective of the Syrian refugees that most of us will never have since we can not meet them personally.

Faces of Syria is a lovely book with full page photos on every spread. The book is brief yet poignant, sharing in a few of their own words the heartbreak and suffering these lovely people have experienced.

I want to share the needs of the world with my children in a safe way. I want them to know that not everyone has as comfortable life as they do. Since we don't have television, my children know very little about the world news. But we've been praying for the refugees and this book was a perfect way for them to get a glimpse into this crisis. With the many photos of children, it appealed instantly with my children and we were able to read about their lives in Syria and why they had to flee their homes.

The goal of Faces of Syria is to prompt us to pray for the people of Syria. To look at these photos and into the eyes of these precious children makes my heart long to bring hope to their hearts. And I know that prayer can reach through miles and borders and bring that hope.

As we near Thanksgiving and enjoy the many blessings we have been given, take time to remember those who have long for the lost days of peaceful homes and warm family times.

You may purchase Faces of Syria from TGS (which will help to support the work with needy around the world).

I was given a review copy of Faces of Syria but all opinions in this review are my own.

Baking Week - A Christmas Countdown

A new week and a new goal - this time baking.

For some of you, this week will be busy with Thanksgiving plans.

I'm not sure what the week will hold for our family. More than likely we won't do anything extra-ordinary, but Ed has a few days off work so just spending time together is always enjoyable.

The children are already talking about baking Christmas cookies, so I'm hoping to spend at least one evening this week with the sprinkles and cookie cutters. Likely the bulk of the baking won't be done until next week. I do like to have most cookie baking done at the beginning of December so that we can pull out Christmas cookies to take to various events throughout the month.

I'd love to hear about your family's baking traditions. What recipe do you look forward to making (or eating) every year?

Prepare - Baking Week - Thoughts on baking and the joy of the Lord

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Caramel Apple Coffee Cake

I know Home Joys already has lots of coffee cake recipes - thanks to Flo's generosity in sharing her many coffee cake recipes.  But this caramel apple coffee cake is one that I've made several times this fall - always to an appreciative audience.

I adapted this recipe from Southern Living. I use whole wheat flour. I suppose I want to pretend I'm making it better for me, but of course this is still firmly in the dessert category. You are welcome to use white flour if you prefer

Caramel Apple Coffee Cake

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup honey

Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil for 2 minutes while stirring. Remove from heat and cool at least 15 minutes before serving. Store in fridge for up to a week. You will not need all of the caramel for this coffee cake, but it makes a great apple dip or ice cream topping.

Streusel Topping:
1 1/2 cup whole wheat or white flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup soft butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

Mix together until well blended. Set aside.

1/2 cup soft butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups whole wheat or white flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups peeled and diced apples

Beat butter and sugar. Beat in eggs. Mix in flour, baking powder, salt, milk, and vanilla. Pour batter into 9x13 pan. Top with apples. Drizzle with 1/2 cup caramel sauce. Sprinkle with all of the streusel topping.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Cool for at least one hour. Drizzle with 1/2 cup of caramel sauce immediately before serving. Store cake in fridge.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Grocery Shopping Week - A Christmas Countdown

A friend asked me this past week if I was keeping up with this Christmas countdown and had all my Christmas shopping done.

No, not even close. Most days I'm not getting anything done besides the basic cooking/cleaning/childcare. Time for extra projects of any sort is rare these days.

And that is okay. I'm not doing this Christmas countdown to make me or anyone else to feel behind. There is still plenty of time before Christmas. But for me, this countdown means that I have begun. I have made some lists and when I do find a few spare minutes, I'm making tiny steps of progress.

Some days, just beginning is the hardest step. So I'm happy about starting even if I can't brag of completed projects.

This week is grocery shopping week and this is actually one task I have accomplished.

Last week my mom was keeping my children for me while I had an appointment so I took the opportunity to stop at the grocery store and do a major stock-up. It is rare for me to go shopping without my children and I made the trip worthwhile.  My cart was heaped so high I could barely push it. It felt so good to have that project done.

I had more than Christmas on my mind. I bought newborn diapers and other items that I want on hand before the baby is due. As much as I hate shopping, it is a relief to have this checked off my list.

Of course I'll be at the grocery store again in the next weeks, but at least I was able to stockpile many of the non-perishables.

What about you? Will you be hitting some of the grocery sales in the weeks before Thanksgiving to stockpile some grocery basics?

Prepare - Grocery Shopping Week - inspiration from last year

Friday, November 13, 2015

Camping at The Farm

With dairy farmers and busy schedules, my family rarely spends a whole weekend together. This past weekend was the first time in six or so years that we attempted it.

But it was so worthwhile, even though some were coming and going throughout the weekend to take care of the cows back home.

Our camping destination was a little mountain farm about an hour away.

We hung out in the barn for most of the weekend.

A perfect place to enjoy meals, games, and just gabbing.

 I woke in the early morning to hear the sound of the basketball on the barn floor hours before breakfast. After staying up late, I couldn't believe the youngsters' energy level.

Those with endless energy (that wouldn't be me) biked,

took walks in the woods,

and played cornhole (plus soccer and football).

Pipe cleaner glasses are great assets for the cornhole spectators.

Or you could just hang out with cousins in the leaves.

And of course, we ate.

When my family is together, food is always the main event.

Each family took turns planning a meal, so we had a constant stream of good food.

And if the November chill got to you, the barn's coffee and snack bar was always available.

What are you enjoying this November?


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