Sunday, December 11, 2016

Christmas Stories

The Christmas season is upon us, and my family is starting a new tradition this year of unwrapping a new Christmas book each day leading up to Christmas. We owned several winter/Christmas themed books already, but we needed to add to our collection, so I began searching for some old favorites. After sharing some of these stories with my daughter, I realized that some of them were fairly dark:

“The Small One” by Charles Tazewell, is about a donkey who is too small and too old to do the heavy work required, and must be sold, but nobody will buy this sorry creature except the tanner. Just when the young owner has given up hope of saving his beloved donkey’s life, a man comes along. He doesn’t have much money, but he has a pregnant wife, and a long journey ahead of him to a little town called Bethlehem…

“A Tale of Three Trees” is a folk tale about one tree who hopes to be made into a treasure chest, another who dreams of being a great sailing ship for kings, and a third who longs to remain on the hilltop forever, pointing proudly to the heavens. All three are cut down, and the first is turned into a feedbox for animals, the second into a humble fishing boat, and the third is hewn into rough beams and left in a lumber yard. Years pass as the trees each mourn their dreams. But one day, the feedbox is surprised when it is used to hold a baby, the fishing boat carries a man who can calm a storm, and the third is made into a cross.

In “the Other Wise Man,” by Henry Van Dyke, Artaban plans to join his fellow Magi to give gifts to a newborn king. On his way to meet his companions, he is delayed when he stops to help a dying man on the road. When he gets to Bethlehem, he is too late: the holy family has fled to Egypt. Herod’s soldiers arrive to kill all the baby boys, and he saves a child by bribing the soldier who comes for him. He spends the next 33 years searching to no avail, gradually giving away all of the wealth he had brought for Jesus except for one pearl. He finally arrives in Jerusalem only to discover that the King for whom he has been searching is about to be crucified. As he rushes to see, he encounters a girl who is to be sold into slavery to pay off her father’s debts. He buys her freedom with his final treasure, just as Jesus dies on the cross. He is injured during the earthquake, and is ushered into heaven with words from Matthew 25:40 “Inasmuch as you have done to the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me.”

Why do I love these stories so much? These are tales of broken dreams: A worthless donkey destined for the glue factory; Trees filled with hopes for great purpose, being used in lowly, demeaning ways; A Magi who spent his whole life searching for the King, but arrives empty-handed only to find him dying.

But more than that, these are tales of redemption: The worthless donkey carries Mary to Bethlehem and is present at the birth of the Christ child. The manger tree holds the greatest treasure in the world, the fishing boat tree carries the King of Kings, and the final tree stands high on its hilltop, pointing the world to Heaven. Artaban’s life goal was to meet Jesus and give him the finest gifts money could buy, and though he thought his mission a failure, he learns in the end that every act of kindness, every generous gift was given to God, and his faithful seeking came to an end when he met the King face to face in His glorious kingdom.

These are not just stories, they are our stories. How many of us feel, like the donkey, that we have nothing to offer anyone? How many of us dreamed like the trees of a perfect job and grand life, only to find ourselves working for low-wages outside our chosen field just to pay off our student loans? How many of us feel like our whole life has been wasted on a failed mission? We all need redemption.

The donkey wasn’t chosen because he was special, he became special because he was chosen. The roughly hewn trees held no intrinsic beauty or worth of their own, but they became timeless symbols of the greatest story ever told because of who they held. Artaban spent his whole life hoping to pay tribute to the new King, without realizing that he already was serving him everywhere he went. Jesus made them beautiful. Jesus made them treasures. Jesus fulfilled their dreams in ways they never could have guessed.

So friends, if you question your value, know that Christ has deemed you precious enough to die for.  If you feel unworthy, remember that Jesus has offered himself to be judged in your place, so that when God looks at you, he doesn’t see the crude vessel, he sees his perfect Son. If you feel lost and searching, God will meet you where you are. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

If you find yourself seeking, or longing for redemption, I would encourage you to start here, or here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


I was bouncing a screaming baby in one arm and wrestling a tantruming toddler into time-out with the other. I ran into the kitchen to discover that lunch was burning on the stove, and then I saw Kaja’s glasses. She had taken them off earlier because of a bloody nose, and Teddy must have gotten hold of them. These nine long weeks have left me broken. We had a baby, then three weeks later, within 24 hours, I went from “just” caring for three young children on my own (while recovering from surgery) to an infected incision, a toddler with a broken leg, and a sick child. Did I mention we had a newborn? Four rounds of illness have now swept through our family, and not one of us has been spared. Every time I dare to hope we are on the mend, something new knocks us down again. I am so, so tired. Tired of being sick, tired of doctor’s visits, tired of prescriptions, tired of respiratory distress, tired of fevers, tired of the question “Should we take him to the ER?” Tired of sitting up all night with miserable little ones, tired of crying children. So tired. Yet in my head echoes a little ditty that Kaja likes to sing. The words are from Galatians 6:9 “Let us not grow weary of doing good. In due season we shall reap, if we don’t lose heart.” That bouncy, obnoxious little tune won’t get out of my head, and for once I am thankful for earworms.
Jesus was no stranger to this kind of suffering. He knows what it’s like to have people pressing in on all sides, he knows what it’s like to constantly have people needing him, wailing for him, practically hanging off of him. He knows what it’s like to be exhausted: he was so tired he slept through gale force winds! He was constantly on his feet, teaching and caring for the sick. He would rise before dawn and escape to a mountain outside of town, and people would find him and interrupt his prayers (I don’t have a mountaintop, but I swear, one day Teddy is going to learn how to pick the lock on the bathroom door). Christ was pouring out his life for us even before he was crucified, and he was faithful to this mission out of love for the Father. I tell my children every night “God made you, so you belong to God. God loves you and wants you to love Him back.” Despite all our shortcomings and rebellion, the Almighty Creator of the universe valued us enough to send his son to suffer and die in order to restore what was broken and bring us back to Him. Renewed lives, repaired relationships, perfect unity. The reward makes the suffering worth it. So let us “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. Who, for the joy set before him endured the cross.” (Heb. 12:2) God treasures you, and God treasures your children. Don’t grow weary of doing good: he has prepared these good works for you (Ephesians 2:10), He will not leave you to do them alone (Matthew 28:20). 

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Shoe Game!

The shoe game: 
Make two piles of shoes, with one shoe from each pair in each pile. 
Put them far apart, this uses up extra energy. wink emoticon 
When you say "go!" Each child grabs a shoe from one pile, runs to the other to find the match, then runs to the door to line them up neatly. You can do it simultaneously as a race, or take turns (I prefer this way, since we're working on turns in this house...).
Teaches different skills across varying age levels: matching, colors/size ("can you find the other blue shoe?" "oh, this shoe is too big to be a match!"), counting to 2, counting BY 2's at the end to tally up the pairs, right and left as they're being lined up, the important life skills of finding matching shoes and putting them away neatly, taking turns, etc. Plus the farther apart your piles and door are, the more energy they'll burn! And when they get bored of this game, shoes are fun to play with! They want to try on each other's shoes, wear them on their hands, and just be silly. I played it today with my 5-year-old and 18-month-old, and I first "invented" this game with a class of kindergarten, first, and second graders, so it works pretty well for a sibling game or across age groups (older siblings can practice helping the younger ones, too!).
(Adding mom's fancy shoes, dad's big shoes, or dress up shoes is extra fun, too!) :)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

"Teddy's Song"

A year and a week ago, we found out we were expecting. After two years of hoping and heartbreak and miscarriage, I was so delighted! But I remember breathing a prayer on my way to church: “Lord, this baby belongs to you. Help me to hold this child with an open hand.” Exactly a week later I was going to get my first lesson:

That morning in church we sang a song, called “Behold Our God.” I had never heard it before, and to be honest, I wasn't a huge fan. It just takes me a while to process and connect to unfamiliar songs, so I remained unmoved. But we had a running playlist of the songs we sing in church so Kaja could learn them and participate in service, and I added it to the rotation.

Later that afternoon, I went to the bathroom and discovered that I was bleeding. I was crushed. Time stopped and I couldn't see or hear or think anything besides “We're losing this baby, too.” I don't know how long I sat there, trying to breathe, but the first sound that made it past the ringing in my ears was the playlist running in the other room:

Who has held the oceans in His hands?
Who has numbered every grain of sand?
Kings and nations tremble at His voice
All creation rises to rejoice

Behold our God seated on His throne
Come let us adore Him
Behold our King nothing can compare
Come let us adore Him!

Who has given counsel to the Lord?
Who can question any of His Words?
Who can teach the One who knows all things?
Who can fathom all His wondrous deeds?

Behold our God seated on His throne
Come let us adore Him
Behold our King nothing can compare
Come let us adore Him!

You will reign forever...

The lyrics reference God's response to Job when he questions his suffering and loss. God reminds him that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and sovereign over all things, and although things don't make sense to us, everything makes sense to Him, and this life is part of something so much bigger than we could ever comprehend. The reminder that our strong, wise, and loving God is in charge was exactly what I needed in that moment. Still devastated, but reassured.

I bled off-and-on for nearly a month, and every time the bleeding restarted, I thought “This is it, the miscarriage is finally starting.” But it never did, and baby kept growing healthy and strong!

That was only the beginning of our pregnancy scares, which included placenta previa (it moved just enough by the end of the pregnancy and never ruptured), exposure to Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis (which most likely would have killed or maimed the baby had I not already unknowingly built an immunity thanks to previous exposure to this rare virus), and a uterine rupture during an attempted VBAC (the OB caught it just in time, we had an emergency C-Section, and are both fine. In the OR, when I heard him point out where my old scar was tearing open, I realized how very narrowly we had escaped tragedy).

Throughout the pregnancy, this song kept popping up. It seemed that on the days I was most overwhelmed by the fear of losing another baby, I would inevitably hear it on the radio or we would sing it in church (at our old church, at a church we visited once, and even on the first Sunday we visited our new church). Sure enough, we even sang it on baby Teddy's first Sunday at church (I should say, the congregation sang. I held my baby tight and wept grateful tears into his soft, brown hair). This morning, a year after hearing the song for the first time, a year after my heart was shattered by what I thought was another miscarriage, I sat in service, rocking my baby boy, listening to my daughter singing next to me: “Behold our God, seated on His throne. Come let us adore Him...”

Our baby's middle name is a variant of John, which means “The Lord has been gracious to us” and He truly has.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Bacon Fried Rice Recipe

Yes, that's right, BACON.

I love fried rice because it's a great way to use up a bunch of whatever random ingredients you have floating around in your fridge. One week in our house, that ingredient just happened to be bacon. And history was made. This is NOT a low-fat or low-sodium meal! Not at all.

Really, it's just a basic fried rice recipe, but you use bacon as the meat, and as an added bonus, you fry everything in the rendered bacon fat. Yep, fried in lard. Like I said: NOT low fat!

The 3 tricks I've learned for good fried rice are:
1. use leftover rice. It needs to be on the dry side to fry well. Wet rice just kind of stews...
2. don't be shy with the oil. It makes a big difference.
3. have everything ready to toss in the pan before you start. Things move quickly, it's good to be prepared. (take a minute to loosen up the rice a little so it's easy to just dump in. It tends to clump together and stick in the pot, and you don't want to be messing with that when it's time to put it in!)

Okay, here is the recipe. Remember: since this is a basic fried rice recipe, you can substitute any other meat/tofu for the bacon, and use regular cooking oil, and you've got yourself regular old fried rice! Get creative!

  • Leftover (cooked) rice (it's important for it to be "leftover" because it needs to have time to dry out. Cook a fresh pot the day before and leave it in the fridge overnight if you have to).
  • Chopped veggies (I used carrots, green bell pepper, and mushrooms, because that's what I had in my fridge. It's kind of a "toss in whatever you need to use up" sort of a thing, so use whatever sounds good. Frozen works just fine in a pinch)
  • 1 or 2 eggs, beaten (you get a nicer texture with 2, or 3 if you've got a lot of rice, but you can get by with less)
  • Sliced fresh ginger
  • Minced garlic
  • Soy sauce
  • BACON (cut into small pieces. I had about 1/2 a pound, but you could do it with more or less. I usually only have about 1/4 pound when I make it.)

1. Cook the bacon, rendering out all the fat. Remove the bacon pieces, keeping the fat in the pan.

2. Use the bacon fat to fry the chopped veggies (high heat). Remove the veggies, reserving the grease.

3.  Put several tablespoons of the bacon grease back in the pan to heat on high (I had a TON of grease, so I had to remove some, but depending on the fat content of the bacon, you might need to supplement with regular cooking oil. You want enough to generously cover the bottom of the pan, but you don't want a deep puddle. You can always add more, it's much harder to drain it back out...)

4. Toss in the ginger and garlic, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds (leave in)

5. Pour in the egg

6. IMMEDIATELY add rice (this is why you should loosen it up before you start, you need to add it before the egg starts cooking), stirring to coat with egg and oil. Cook for a few minutes, until egg looks cooked.

7. Add the bacon and veggies back in.

8. Drizzle with soy sauce, mixing in until just barely golden brown. 

Before soy sauce

9. Cook another minute, stirring constantly, and you're done! Enjoy!

After soy sauce: ALL DONE!!!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Easy Thai Coconut Curry Chicken Recipe

Here's a great, fairly quick and easy recipe that my family loves! It's a great way to dress up chicken and rice, with TONS of flavor.
I always keep a can of coconut milk in my cupboard, just in case!

Adapted from: this fancy, tasty-sounding recipe


  • olive oil or other oil for cooking
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red sweet pepper, chopped
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed 
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 2 Tbsp curry powder (or more if desired, but my preschooler can't handle the spice. This gives it just enough to be interesting and still okay for her young palate) 
  • 2 Tbsp creamy peanut butter (I just tried this new addition tonight. I liked it enough to add it to the official recipe, but it's always been good in the past without it, if it needs to be omitted)
  • 1 13.5 oz can coconut milk (not water, but the milk. Usually found in the Asian food aisle)
  • salt + pepper to taste (I never add any)
  • Rice

  1. Cook rice (I'm adding a reminder because I always forget to get the rice started soon enough!)
  2. saute onion and sweet pepper in oil until soft
  3. add chicken and cook through
  4. add garlic and curry powder, cook about a minute, stirring constantly until toasted
  5. Add peanut butter, let it melt and stir to coat
  6. add coconut milk and stir. If you had curry powder or anything else cook onto the bottom of the pan, scrape it off into the milk with your spatula, it tastes yummy and makes cleanup easier! ;)

Of course I forgot to take a picture of the final result, but even my picky 3-year-old ate it happily!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Indoor Active Play Grab Bag Ideas

Thanks to this crazy cold weather, Kaja hadn't left the house in almost 5 days and was going stir crazy! She was literally running in circles this morning, and I knew we had to do something! Now, there's a million ideas on Pinterest for indoor active play, and I've tried a couple, but I haven't had much luck finding ones that really capture her interest and keep her moving for more than a few minutes, and I was hoping to tire her out! She's very story and craft oriented these days, so anything that captures her creative/imaginative side helps! That, and just changing things up a lot!
So, I decided to do a "wiggle grab bag." with LOTS of active ideas. You pull an idea out of the bag, and everyone has to do what the paper says before you can pull out another idea. Each activity can be done in a matter of seconds, or, if it strikes your fancy, you can play at it for as long as you want. This is simple and open-ended so it can move with her.

I wrote down the ideas, drew lines to make a grid around them, and had her cut them out, so she got some fine motor practice in, too! ;)
Here is what we have so far:
  • Toss a ball into a laundry basket (this was a favorite, she did this for a good 20 minutes)
  • Lay down and do the bicycle motion in the air (slow, fast, to a song, while counting, see who can do it longer, etc. I got tired way before she did! Great ab workout!)
  • See how long you can stand on one foot (then try the other)!
  • Bounce around on a yoga ball or large stuffed animal
  • army crawl across the room
  • do baby push-ups (we have an infant, so we all do "tummy time" together!)
  • Do 10 jumping-jacks
  • crawl under all the kitchen/dining-room chairs
  • balance while walking on a line (use masking tape or just the grout lines on tile floors)
  • Hop in a circle
  • Roll across the room!
  • Climb up and down the stairs pretending it's a mountain
  • Spin around 5 times
  • Climb up the back/side of the couch
  • push laundry basket around on the carpet (get 2 and make it a race!)
  • Dance to a silly song (Hokey Pokey? Chicken Dance? Something with motions!)
  • Walk backwards to another room and back
  • Flap your wings and fly around the house
  • Be a human wheelbarrow (one person holds ankles while the other walks on hands)
  • "Crab walk" around the room
  • Jump like a frog (could play leap frog!)
  • Crawl to the other side of the room and back
  • Line up stuffed animals (or pillows) and jump over them
  • Play "Ring Around the Rosey"
I anticipate adding more as we go. We moved and jumped and played for about 30 minutes before we had to take a break, and we only used 4 or 5 ideas. We'll do it again tomorrow...