Thursday, December 27, 2012

13 Reasons to start a Journal in 2013

1. The time you take to reflect and write may be the only solitude you get. Psychology Today says solitude improves relationships and fosters problem solving. Who doesn’t need that! 

a beautiful journal from paperblanks
2. Defeat thought-scatter. When one thought leads to another so fast I can’t keep up, I need to slow the synapses! Writing helps. The must-do list loses the frenzy factor when I move it from my head to my journal.

3. Ideas are clarified, insights gel while you write. 

4. Record major life events.  My journal helped keep me sane and organized during my daughter’s hospitalization. It preserved our questions about her condition and the physicians’ answers. It chronicled the process of her recovery. It documented the interminable communication with the insurance companies. 

5. Record the minor pleasures. Then you can go back and relive the things that made you laugh, gave you a thrill, and caused you to be grateful. 

6. Record the events you never want to repeat. Reflection reveals other choices you could have made.

7. Boost your creativity, even if you don’t think you have any.  I like to illustrate my thoughts. I keep a separate section at the back of my journal for projects to pursue later.

8. Track progress--and obstacles--toward your goals. 

9. Paper doesn't talk back. You can express your feelings without saying something you’ll regret or get fired for! 

 10. A full journal is satisfying. When life seems to be a series of recurring tasks, completed pages in a journal are evidence you were in the driver’s seat for at least some moments. 

11. When I review my journal for the year I see patterns of behavior, recurrent 
themes, insights. It helps me set new goals.

12. It's memory back-up. Once it's written down you can find it again.

13. It puts in you in good company. People from all walks of life, ancient and modern, have kept diaries. I bet you can find someone you admire on this list!

How many of you kept diaries as a child? How many keep journals now? What kinds of details do you record? Why does it give you pleasure? Share something from your journal in the comments box. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Santa’s Not Welcome

Santa’s no longer welcome at my house. I thought I’d be enchanted with him forever.  But before I hit thirty I knew he’d been stringing me along. And I realized he couldn’t offer anything I truly wanted. I’d been completely deceived by the glitz and candle light, which, while pretty, still left me in the dark.

Santa couldn’t deliver the Hallmark-card family I yearned for. No slippers or even diamond earrings were going to make up for my disillusionment.   No amount of shopping, gift giving or cookie baking could balance out the guilt I felt about how I fussed at my small children or criticized my husband.  I needed a new me, and Santa couldn’t produce it.

Then Jesus came calling. When I understood that He wanted to trade me divine forgiveness for my shame, I placed my faith in the cradle-to-cross Savior.

  I learned that Christmas is all about the second chance, the clean slate, the renewed spirit that Jesus offers. He was the miracle and Santa a sham.  I plugged the chimney, metaphorically speaking, and put up the manger on the mantle.

So you won’t find Santa here. We celebrate Jesus born and Jesus resurrected. 
Forget the little hooves on the roof top. I’d rather have the angelic hosts singing to high heaven and its King. I love the Light of the World more than the colored strings on my Christmas tree. The trappings of the season (interesting word, “trappings”) can’t compare with the truth behind the celebration.

I pray that your festivities would be focused on God-Come-Down. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Borrowed Christmas Traditions

I asked some friends to share their Christmas traditions. I’m happy to spotlight them here. 

Peggy Stanley has contributed this story telling tradition from her family.

This craft preceded the story.
"My sister, Ann, was an enthusiastic elementary school teacher for 42 years.  As my sons and my brothers’ sons and daughter came along, Aunt Ann used to read a relevant story to them every Christmas Eve.  This tradition began in the late 1970’s.  Ann chose stories such as The NutcrackerThe Legend of the Candy Cane, The Polar Express, The Stranger in the Woods etc., and with each reading, she gave the children a symbol of the story.  My grown sons still have many of these such as the little wooden nutcracker and the bell that those who believe can still hear.  

Three generations sharing a story.
Now, we are too geographically spread out to all get together at Christmas, but Thanksgiving is the gathering time.  Aunt Ann has now included the youngest generation in her stories, and five little ones from ages five to one sit hypnotized as she carries on the story tradition.  Some of the older ones as well tiptoe in to catch a favorite story.  This year they all made nutcrackers before the story began.   What a very special way to link the generations, kindle the Christmas spirit, and create memories for children of all ages."

Janet Head has six grandchildren. When they were small she began the treasure hunt one of the nights close to Christmas. She explains, “the teacher in me wanted to come up with a new Christmas tradition for my grandchildren that would: teach following directions, cooperation, taking turns, and critical thinking.  A large order.  I came up with a treasure hunt.  The children (then ages 3-7) would follow a set of written directions to find their gifts.  They loved it and I felt somewhat successful in achieving my goals.  Now they are older (ages 8-13) and there are now 6 of them.  It's gotten harder and more expensive.  We keep changing it each year to suit everyone.  But we still do it and the children are all in agreement that we should never stop it.  Good luck.”

She’s looking for ideas for inexpensive gifts for the teens and tweens, so please contribute your thoughts.

She and the kids also prepare 400 decorated sugar cookies. She makes the dough a couple of days before Thanksgiving. The kids spend Thanksgiving night with her and then in the morning start rolling, cutting, egg-washing, and sprinkling and baking. I’ve eaten Aunt Alice’s yummy cookies. Here's the recipe:

Aunt Alice’s Christmas Cookies

4 sticks Fleishman’s margarine
2 ½ cups sugar
3 eggs
1 ½ Tablespoons vanilla
5 cups flour 

Cream margarine and sugar.  Add eggs, vanilla, and flour.  Beat until blended.
Refrigerate overnight.
Roll on a floured surface (needs to be marble) and cut with cookie cutters.
Make a wash of 2 beaten eggs and water.  
Brush cookies with egg wash and sprinkle with colored sugar.
Bake at 400 degrees until lightly browned.  Check after about 10   minutes since ovens vary.
Cool and store.

Grocery List for 4 batches:
( 4 batches will yield 36 bags of cookies)
1 5-lb. sugar
3 5-lb. flour
4 pkgs. Fleishman’s margarine ( each pkg. 4 sticks)
1 doz. eggs plus 2 for wash
red and green sugar sprinkles
plastic bags
Christmas bags and yarn or cookie tin

Thanks, ladies, for sharing.  Readers, I hope you enjoy your last weeks of preparation. Start a new tradition. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Two Miracles of Chanukah

I never had a Jewish friend growing up. I don’t have one now. But I have appreciated learning a little about Jewish holidays. 

As an elementary teacher I tried to give my students nuggets from cultures different from their own. One year, I invited our Jewish assistant principal to come to the class and talk about her heritage. She described how she’d felt as a child being “different” because she didn’t go to church, but synagogue. How she hadn’t celebrated Christmas, but Chanukah. 
As part of our lesson, I shared the history behind Chanukah. How the Romans persecuted the Jews in their own land, forbidding them to worship and maintain their laws. The Romans slaughtered Jews who refused to worship the Roman idols. 
An army of loyal Jews, called the Maccabees, finally liberated Jerusalem and cleaned out the Temple.  When it was time to light the ceremonial lamps which burned nonstop they realized there was only enough purified oil to keep them burning for a  day. But God intervened, and the oil lasted for eight days while a new batch was prepared. 
Chanukah commemorates the miracle, the victory, and God’s care. 

I found a tender contemporary story about the holiday,   The Tie Man's Miracle by Steven Schnur.  The Tie Man (who sells ties door to door) is an old, lonely Jewish man. A family invites him to share the candle lighting with them and in the course of the evening the family’s young son asks him awkward questions.  The boy’s father briefly explains that many Jewish people were killed during a big war, including the Tie Man's family.  
To lighten the mood, the old man recounts a childhood tradition. If, on the last night of lighting, one watches the candles burn out, and all nine burn out at the same time, “those nine little columns of smoke would rise as one up to heaven, carrying our wishes straight to the ear of God.” 
The old man heads home. The young boy stays up to see if the candles will all burn out simultaneously. As they do the room brightens. The boy sees shadows of feet running across the floor, voices shouting “Papa!” and for a moment before the room darkens--he hears laughter.

        I cry every time I read this story.                                                                        

As it happened, I was sick the day I intended to read it to my class. I left it with a note for the substitute teacher that I hoped she could get through it without choking up. 
When I returned I found a reply. She appreciated the opportunity to read the book to the children because she lost family during the Holocaust. 

Chanukah begins next week, on December 8. You have just enough time to find this book and share it with a young person you love. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Are blessings plastered on your refrigerator door?

It's Thanksgiving week.  Are you consciously being grateful? 

I’ve been making a list  of God's gifts to me. I started last November after reading Ann Voskamp’s 1000 gifts.   My list only to #235, but I’m getting quicker to recognize moments of beauty, instances of kindness, and the abundant evidence of the good things in my life.

Do you need a budge? Go stand in front of your refrigerator. (This won’t work if you have a sleek absence of magnets and the stuff they hold up.)  But my fridge door is a changing exhibit of blessings. At a glance I’m prompted to remember trips, children, answers to prayer, and the last bloom of autumn. 

 The fish magnet (top, R)  is twenty years old.  I’d snorkeled in Hanauma Bay, Hawaii and sighted the wrasse, a fish that looks like it was painted with pastel watercolors. I followed it through the coral, hardly able to believe the extravagant colors were on a living thing. 

 The Eiffel Tower reminds me of the trip to Paris with my mother-in-law. As we stood at the railing, a bird pooped on her. We scurried to the ladies’ room, grateful for the attendant’s help cleaning up. The unexpectedly warm temperature of the day and the flowering trees of late spring are brought to mind. 

My Sunset Beach, NC bridge drawing evokes the book club’s annual vacation. One look and I can smell  cooked shrimp,  
feel sand under my bare feet, and spy the rise and fall of the dolphins’ backs out in the ocean. 

The travelogue concludes with an ad for traditional roast lamb sandwiches, doner, in Bursa, Turkey. This is a twofer.  
1) It reminds me of eating this kind of sandwich when visiting Bursa in 2006.
2) I'll be prompted to pray for the visiting missionary who recently passed out the magnet. 

The orange calendula blossom is the last bright spot in my garden.  

Baby O is an answer to many prayers -my friend's grandbaby born after years of wondering if her daughter would have children. Yeah, God! 

The tour, and list, concludes with current photos of my grandsons.  

 My list is up to #244.  How many gifts can you record right now? Add one in the comment box.   Happy Thanksgiving, because giving thanks makes you happy!

 “I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart, I will tell of all Your wonders.”  Psalms 9:1

Saturday, November 10, 2012

B Grandma: a pit of neurosis

      One day while I chatted with a colleague I noted a little side table in her office. On it sat a cup of markers and pencils and a cube of colored sticky notes. Above the table kid-scribbled notes were pegged to the wall. A long chain of paper clips snaked around the table top. The woman followed my glance, and remarked that her grandchildren frequently came over after school. "I'm so glad I get to spend time with them. I'd hate to be  the B grandma."

Was a B grandma like a B team? I don't know if grandmas can drill and skirmish to improve their abilities. In my mind, the B grandma was less available, the less favored, the one lacking grandma zing! 

Was I an A or a B grandmother? I immediately, detrimentally began to compare myself to THE OTHER GRANDMA.

She was available, and watched the baby every Wednesday while great grandma and grandpa joined them for the morning coffee and infant entertainment.  It became known as Samday. He was the star of the morning and they showered him with affection. 

I, however, live 1500 miles away. I only saw him every 4-6 months, too long for toddler memory. My son-in-law invested in pre-Skype technology and Sam learned to recognize me over a TV and telephone connection.  Later, his little sister didn't take to the system as well, and every face to face visit required me to get reacquainted.  I tried to make up for lost time when I visited, but It felt like I wasn't making a big impact on the children. 

The other grandma is wonderfully creative and the kids adore her. As they matured she expanded their world in wonderful ways. When Sam was four she enrolled him in a clown clinic, created a cunning hobo costume, and he presented a solo gig.  I felt sorry for myself because I couldn't offer anything like that. 
When he was in kindergarten she signed up to be the class mystery guest. Well, gosh, I thought, I can do that, so on our next trip west I had my chance. I bought a funny book about a farting dog, which I thought would surely be a hit with Sam. Standing in line to enter class a little boy asked whose grandma I was. "Sam's" I told him. He remembered the A grandma. "Do you do magic tricks and tie balloons too?" 

"No, I read books." 

"Too bad" the little guy grumbled. 

Yeah, too bad for me I thought. I was even a B grandma to a five year old stranger!  

When our granddaughter called to tell us about the other grandma's new a puppy, I briefly, ridiculously, considered building a small corral in our large yard and getting a pony. 

Last week  Em called and told me about her kindergarten costume parade. Of course A-grandma had gone to the parade and sent me photos. Not only had she gone and immortalized the big event, she came in costume! 

Now, I really like the other grandma. I am glad she's a big part of Sam and Em's lives. But I do feel left out and under-gifted.   Like an athlete on the bench I don't get enough playing time and my inner coach says my performance lacks luster.  I've moaned about this for so long my husband now comforts me by saying "You're the best B grandma in the country."

 I've quit contending for the A spot.  I'm trying to shake loose from the comparison altogether. The whole A/B classification has created a black hole which sucks up joy.

And I avoid even thinking about the step-grandma's themed holiday weekends and the boatload of playmate cousins her daughters produced. I could slide right over the edge of sound judgement into C status and a big hole of self-pity. 

I know it's petty. I know children's affections aren't to be won by one-upmanship. I know that they love me. But if I were a kid, I'd rather spend time with the A-grandma too. I thought being a grandparent would be an effortless process.  Perhaps my expectations of the grandchild-grandparent relationship were unrealistic and too rosy. But deep down I feel disappointed by the bond I've been able to create with them, and discomfited to consider that genealogy doesn't guarantee warm fuzzy feelings.

My heart's longing is to have the love of my grandchildren. But the only thing I can control is that I love them with all that I have. Then the children are blessed, and I am blessed.


Thursday, November 1, 2012


 Oh, how I love this time of year. It’s time to ready my heirs, my heart, and my home for celebrating the most wonderful event in history. 

I start preparing for the grandkids months ahead.  Because they are far away, and because they don’t understand waiting, I send one small gift for every day from December 1 to December 24th.  Jesus is my focus. I have sent them traditional advent calendars, nativity sets to open piece by piece with relevant Scripture and Bible story books. This year I'm sending the advent candles and candle holder hoping their families will begin a new tradition. Those are mixed up with crafts projects and inexpensive toys. 

One year I sent Sam two snow globes. When his little sister accidentally broke the first, he was crushed and called to tell me about it. I secretly instructed his mom to find the one labeled for later, and give it to him the next day. He was amazed that I could get it to Denver so fast! (Nothin’s too hard for a grandma.)

In preparing these “Celebrate Jesus” boxes my attention is drawn to the shiver-producing details like the wonderful angel visitations to Mary, Joseph, the wise men, the shepherds and their "Yes!" responses. 

"Yes! I will mother God in the flesh."
"Yes!" Joseph said, "I will do as You ask." 
The wise men said "Yes, we will travel a great distance following the star."
"Yes!" the shepherds said as they ran into Bethlehem to find the baby. 

I fill my ears and heart with centuries worth of beautiful lyrics and melodies.  It's hard to limit the choice, but one of my favorite contemporary songs is  Welcome to Our World by Chris Rice. "Yes, Lord Jesus, welcome to my world." 
(The grey letters indicate a link to a site for product information, or the songs. Just click on it.)

Last of all I decorate the house simply. We glean the yard for pine branches, holly, pine cones, and nandina. The natural greenery and the lights in the long dark days of winter transform the ordinary into something special. When we're home for the holiday I decorate a real tree with three generations of ornaments; the beautiful, the well-worn, and the ugly all commemorate Christmases past. 

What are your favorite advent traditions? I hope Janet will explain her Christmas Eve treasure hunt. I think I've fixed the settings so that you can leave a comment. Otherwise, send an email.  I'll do a follow-up blog to share your ideas. I can't wait to hear from you! 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What I learned from Michelangelo about too many projects

The artist who created this beautiful chair personalized it with one of my favorite quotes. 

When I was thirty my goals seemed just out of reach and I had the energy to keep after them. I wanted to make my 1900 Victorian home as lovely as a decorator magazine. But we were short on cash, so I smashed the cracked and bulging plaster walls, removing the debris in five gallon buckets. Then I had rooms full of exposed studs and dangling strands of horsehair because we didn't have the know-how to put up drywall. 

Michel A. would have been horrified. 

A gracious friend remedied the pitiful state of our walls. I was a maniac unleashed. We painted, stripped woodwork. Then I made curtains for every window and comforters for every bed. I embroidered table cloths, made my kids clothes 'cause I thought I could do it cheaper than buying them. In the spring I tore up the backyard and laid the sod which I scrounged from the big Home and Garden show. About a third of it grew, leaving the rest of the yard with strips of dead grass. It looked a like bad hair cut.

Now it would have horrified Olmstead. (follow the link for info)

In my forties I wised up a little and tackled smaller projects.  But in my heart the desires grew. Itching for a big garden we moved to North Carolina. Our little farm house had two acres. In my imagination they were English cottage gardens and a year's worth of vegetables. 

The decade of my fifties was spent turning the baseball-field yard into one sculpted garden after another. Rain made flowers and vegetables grow; I was in heaven! By the time we had the vegetable garden plowed, it was out of hand. I had more ground than I could keep groomed. I mulched. I weeded. I sprayed. Gangs of weeds mobbed the gardens. I needed riot control! 

If only I had more time, I thought. Surely when I retired every flower border would be lush and the vegetables would stand in weedless rows.

It was a fallacy. Of course other interests begged for time.

 This spring we returned from a trip to overgrown asparagus, the strawberry bed exploding with fruit, weedy empty beds that would have to be prepared for beans and tomatoes within a couple of weeks,  and I realized I still wasn't going to be able to get it all done. The balance tipped. I wanted to actually keep up with my projects, maybe even take a break once in awhile and wander around the yard just enjoying it. Perhaps read a book in my swing under the chestnut tree without the timer being set to move me onto the next task. 

I wish I could talk to Michelangelo. Did he rue the images of paintings and sculptures he couldn't tackle?  Did he want to just lay down on the floor of the Sistine Chapel and savor the satisfaction of the finished dome, admire his design and execution before he jumped up and headed off to work on the sculpture of Moses? 

The chair's quote mocks me now. Why did I desire to do more and more? Is there greater satisfaction in three hurried projects than two leisurely ones?  Did I imagine I was earning  reward points in life for being busier than folks who never make a list?

 Or maybe I was too focused on my desires. I should have followed more of Michelangelo's example. He knew to talk to the Lord about his desires.  I should have been checking my lists with The Boss.

Shoot, maybe I should just throw out that big box of photos now, save myself the delusion that I'll get them turned into mediocre scrapbooks. And that piece of wood that's probably warped while it waits for me to get started on the barn quilt. Then there are the fabric scraps I've been saving to weave a rug for which I don't have a loom.

At the very least I need to rewrite the quote. "Lord, grant that I might accomplish exactly what You desire."

Scroll to take a poll about your oldest unfinished project! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Emotional Jet Lag: What Happens After Good-bye

I "lost" two hours in air travel this weekend.  I'll be additionally fatigued for the next few days. All of us who fly through time zones feel it to various degrees. 

The bigger adjustment for me will be the emotional lag, the living in one frame of feeling, while reliving the one I left. I think it's like jet lag. Plane trips disrupt my body rhythms.  The longing for my loved ones interrupts my thoughts, and takes longer to subside.

 It doesn't matter if you're the traveler or the one staying behind, the separation tears at your hearts. You have to adjust to the loss of immediate stimulation and response. Knowing you can't "play doctor" one more time, or hear the giggle of the one you cherish feels like an amputation.

We grandparents know the relationship can survive.  But we will miss the sweet sensation of  the child's hug, the little hand in ours. We crave the face to face chatter which Skype can't replicate. 

Despite technology distance makes communication lopsided. I can initiate calls or write to the kids, but they need their parents' help. And mom and dad are up to their eyeballs in the demands of the moment.

Virtual fun can't compete with roller skating or painting a bird house. And there's just no way to gather the kids from two families together via email or snail mail.

        How do I adjust to "love lag?"  
  1. Be thankful. Savor the fun and joy we shared.
  2. Chronicle the trip. I like to cement the memories with books of photos and narrative using Shutterfly .  I send  favorite photos of us together as postcards using the sticky-backs from PhotoStix
  3. As a believer in God's "social media", I pray. Better than I, He can guide their school situations, shape their characters and meet family needs. 
  4. Get busy. responsibilities eventually fill in some of the hole left by the separation.
  5. Share the highlights. I brag about our adventures to my fellow grandparents. They empathize. 
  6. Plan for the next visit! 

I bet you have other ways to cope, and I'd love for you to share them. If you don't see the comments box, hit "No comments" and see if the box opens. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


     We haven't had a hard frost yet;  there are more leaves on the trees than on the ground.  The chestnut tree, which shades my hammock chair in the summer and gives me a wonderful place to relax, is now off limits.
     The plentiful nuts are dropping to the ground, and I won't even walk under the tree for fear of being struck by one of the barbed hulls. The brown spiked missiles are sharp enough to puncture leather . The falling bombs skitter off of the leaves below them in unpredictable trajectories so that the hulls cover the ground under the canopy and five feet beyond. 
 I wish every fruiting tree in my yard produced like these worthless bothers. Last year my husband raked and gathered 30 wheelbarrows full.  
       The nuts themselves are as alluring as the hulls are repulsive. They are glossy, deeply red-brown. The skin is smooth and the nuts fit in my palm and invite me to caress them. Surely something so alluring would be good. Or so I thought.  But whether I put them in chocolate nut pudding, or baked  them, they were  unappetizing. Then I glued them onto a wreath to display their beauty. No value there either, the color faded and worms wiggled through. Yech! 
    I gave up on the nuts, and the next year concentrated on the hulls. Instant fire starters? No,they burned too slowly. 
     Finally we found a use for a small fraction of the spiny shells.  My husband dumped a load down the hole the ground hog had dug from his home to our garden. There was no way any critter would risk the pain of burrowing through the hulls. The ground hog found another way out. 

    Always looking for a profit (metaphorically, not financially), chestnuts teach a twofold lesson. Number one, what we find alluring may be corrupted.  The exterior  is only as valuable as the  soundness of the interior.
     And number two, if you try hard enough, can find something worthwhile in the prickliest of situations. 


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Super Grandma Needs Rescue

Some Super Grandma I am! 

I botched my last “mission” and a kind stranger, 1500 miles away, rescued me. 

I had mailed packages to both sets of grandchildren. But on one, I confused the streets and a stranger received the package. He checked the return address, but there was no name, just “Super Grandma.” Super Grandma had blown it, and he knew some little kids could be disappointed. Using his computer to do some kind of reverse search he found our phone number, called and left a message on my phone. He even offered to take the package to the kids. 

I went online to find him in the Denver, Co. directory and realized my mistake. I had used the correct house number, but the street of my other set of grandchildren. Duh!  Super Grandma - NOT! Luckily, one daughter lives 4 blocks from my white knight, so she picked up the package from him.

These little mistakes are getting more frequent, and I have some concern.  (Remember the crazy trip between airports in NYC I summarized in the Traveling Mercies blog, August 28?) A few days ago I called my husband in a panic from the gas station because I was unable to get the key back into the ignition. I tried and tried, and I feared I’d be late for a meeting. Then I remembered--I had both sets of keys, and I was trying to insert my key in his starter. 

I attribute these errors to being in a hurry, too busy, etc. But what if they’re an indication of mental decline?  I guess I’ll know it’s serious when it causes someone else to be alarmed. I flinch to even imagine myself in that state. 

I hope it’s not time for me to transform my cape into an apron.  


These photos were taken by Frenchman Sacha Goldberger of his grandmother. Read her story and see more photos at