Friday, February 10, 2017

French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon (Books to Read)

Sometimes after mulling over books to read you decide upon a title that seems like a wildcard.  It’s not your normal story line or genre.  And sometimes that’s a great thing!
French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon was my wild card read.  The cover and title captured my attention.  I was intrigued by the idea that any kids ate everything.  A foreign concept in my world.  
Author, Karen Le Billon takes you on a journey.  This journey is the account of her year spent away from Canada and living in Brittany, France.  Le Billon has two children and is married to a Frenchmen.  The story details their attempts to mesh with French food culture, especially in the realm of feeding her children the French way. She has humor generously sprinkled throughout this book. You smile at her attempts to gain ground in healthy eating that solidly lands her in a myriad of mishaps.
She’s transparent about the struggles she has melding into a new culture and doing things that those surrounding her do with ease.  Like feeding her children a balanced and varied diet.  She describes the struggle of being an outsider in a culture where food rules are a large part of society.  
The book finds its outline in these ten rules, dubbed French Food Rules:
  1. Parents : You are in charge of Food Education!
  2. Avoid emotional eating : No food rewards, bribes!
  3. Parents plan and schedule meals and menus: Kids Eat what Adult’s Eat! No Short Order Cooking
  4. Eat Family Meals Together: No distractions
  5. Eat Your Veggies : Think Variety
  6. You Don’t Have to Like it, but You Do Have to Taste it!
  7. No snacking! It’s ok to feel hungry between meals
  8. Slow Food is happy food, As in Eat slow!
  9. Eat Mostly Real Food – treats are special occasions
  10. Remember eating is joyful – RELAX
Karen comprises her list of rules based on the values and practices of French Culture.   She comes up with ways to implement these ideas and goes back to the drawing board when her ideas don’t mesh with reality for her family. She commits different faux pas and violates cultural standards on different occasions.  And sometimes she wishes to forget their year in Brittany and find herself back in Canada devouring a bagel slathered with cream cheese and not trying desperately to persuade her young daughter to eat the beet and vegetable purees that are offered at preschool lunch time in France.   
At the end of her year in Brittany, France Karen heads back to Canada.  Upon reentering westernized culture her family is faced with the challenge of implementing French food rules into their lives.  That proves difficult.  She discusses the benefits and pitfalls of both cultures.
I suppose that a book spanning three hundred pages on food rules directed particularly to families and children might seem a bit much, but it is filled with insight and ideas that I haven’t thought of and new perspectives to approach family meals.
Here are the pearls of wisdom that I’m taking with me and trying to incorporate in my kids’ lives and my own:
“The average number of times children have to taste new foods before they willingly agree to eat them: the average is seven, but most parenting books recommend between ten and fifteen.” (pg.11).
Karen describes French parents as simply offering new foods to children and expecting that children will taste them.  They needn’t eat the full portion.  Just taste.  They believe with enough exposure children will eventually embrace the new flavors.   This concept had me revisit foods that I have offered my girls, but had little success with and were pulled from our menus.  Lately I have tried to include new fruits and vegetables whether raw, in side dishes, or served as fresh dessert.  
My girls gingerly touch the new offering sitting next to a familiar food on their dinner plate.  Madelyn’s nose curls slightly, “I know I won’t like this,” She predicts.  I remember Karen’s admonition to stay positive, “Oh you will.  Just taste it.  You just have to try it enough times!” Keep it pleasant. Karen describes the importance of being positive about all foods.  Not relegating some foods good and some bad.  If the girls can't offer a positive thing to say about a food I try to get them to say something about it's smell, appearance, or color.  "You don't like oranges yet, but don't they smell good?  Do you like the color?"  This is much better than forcefully demanding a clean plate.  It gives space for little people to warm up to food, not fear it. 

Karen highlights the importance of table in French culture.  “Food is never eaten standing up, or in the car, or on the go. Food is not eaten anywhere, in fact but at the table. And food is only served when everyone is at the table.” (page 27).
Karen describes the French as those who view meal times as supremely social times.  There is no snacking and emotional eating that takes place. Eating takes place with family at a table in an unhurried pause filled with warmth and connection, not hurry. People are satisfied with their meal because they have eaten it in the presence of loved ones and focused on the flavors and food in the moment.  They get up full.  
I have tried all school year to revamp my ideas of family dinners.  We are not all together every night, but the three or four nights we do share family dinner I’m trying to make it notably special.  This book really helped me rethink family dinner.  Refocus my approach on pleasure and enjoyment, instead of a power struggle or a surrender to kiddie only approved dishes.  
Last Monday night I remember scanning the faces of my children as they ate new foods and old ones willingly.  There were funny stories and adorable quotes emanating from the mouth of my four year old.  There was a nine year old downing seconds of a food I never thought I’d see her eat. Across the table sat my husband who smiled widely and seemed to really be enjoying our kids, the food, this sacred handful of moments we were all sharing. It’s working!  My heart smiled.  All the extra preparation and thought paying back in joyful small moment dividends.  
Later that evening as we cleaned up the kitchen together I paused over the open door of the refrigerator, “Look Keith” I pulled him over to the open door.  Dish cloth in hand he obliged me. “Look at what’s in the fridge” I said happily.  He nodded not nearly as amused, but being a good sport nonetheless, “Vegetables.” he muttered.  He went back to wiping down the counter.  I felt the joy of that victory.  It was long in coming.  It hadn't happened over night.  It had happened over the course of several months.  Gradually. 

I took notes and highlighted so much of Karen’s book but there are two things that I’m taking away too for my own personal growth: Pleasure and Slow Eating .
Karen highlights the French attention to pleasure at meals and in their thoughts towards food, “Pleasure is the most important goal for the French when they are seated at the table.  The most important thing is to enjoy your food.” (pg. 161). She contrasts this with the American approach that associates food primarily with health.  This is surprising noting elevated American obesity rates in comparison to the French.  French people seem to enjoy their food, yet maintain a healthier weight.  
She introduces the concept of slow eating being key to these realities.
Slow eating allows one to fully enjoy a meal.  Slow eating also enables you to realize your satiety level and realize you are indeed full.  You don’t overeat.  
I find myself putting my fork down and just talking, waiting to eat more bites.  I’m letting food fill me and letting my body tell me if I need another bite. The method proves true, I’ve been surprised at how full I can feel rather quickly if I eat slowly.  
Karen talks about the phrase the French ask their children at meal times end, “Are you satisfied?”  Not “Are you full?” I’ve been asking myself this question and found it helpful and enriching.  I’m making food with a higher attention to flavor, quality of ingredients, and most of all joy and I’m finding that I’m more satisfied with the result.
Food is one of the foundational ways we tend our bodies and the plate is the path way to family chatter and communing.  Why not put a precedence on this special time and tweak and tinker with different ways to make it better, more satisfying?
The best part of our meal is reflecting on the joy of the day.  Last week my friend told me they ask "What's your rose of the day?"  Rose meaning the sweet spot of the day. We are calling our joy of the day our rose and my girls love it.
We also tell jokes that aren't allowed to leave our special table.  The girls giggle and sometimes remind me of those special secret moments.

If you are weary of eating the same four kid approved meals and bored with dinnertime read this book :)
Here is the author's blog:

Pre Dinner "Huddle"

My usual audience as I prepare family dinner

Fires & Forgiveness

Early Autumn found me praying daily, hourly about forgiveness.
I was praying it for myself and declaring that I offered it to others.
I was praying for other's to find there way to it's release. 
Forgiveness was the pulse throbbing through my mind.
We have all had moments, seasons, and offenses that make us justifiably unforgiving.  We are the wronged and we writhe with the call for justice.  Messages on forgiveness sear us, prick us, and irritate us.
But when you do wrong and need forgiveness like you need oxygen to take your next breath you start to explore the topic with intensity.
You see yourself in great need of forgiveness and you see those who have hurt you as your equal.  Those that you have withheld forgiveness from in the past now seem to be sharing your same patch of ground. You now stand with them like a penniless beggar bankrupt without forgiveness.
You stop seeing yourself as the wronged only, but now you have joined the group of wrongdoers.

One early October morning I submerged my hands in soapy water trying to wash the remnants of the previous night's dishes. I pulled out my kindle and searched for a sermon to accompany while I cleaned the stacks of crusty plates.
Randomly or so it seemed I clicked upon a sermon that delivered the most profound message on forgiveness I had ever heard.
I felt compelled to send this message to my husband.  I was nervous, but I did anyways. 
I didn't say much, but that night as we went through our dinner routine I noticed him antsy and on edge. 
He brought up the sermon I sent I could see the wrestle playing out on his face.  The message was hard to hear.  Hard for anyone who had someone to forgive. 

Later that week I sat at the table a pond of midmorning sunshine swirling around me.  A text from my husband snapped me out of the quiet.
"I'm doing a message on forgiveness." the text read and I gulped in wonder.
"Really?" I stared wide eyed at the screen.
That Sunday I sat in the back pew listening to my husband approach this topic.  I knew it was like climbing a craggy mountain or scaling a precipice.  It was difficult. It was a sacrifice.
I left with awe at the miracle I saw unfolding in Him.
He challenged everyone to make a list of all of the bottled up hurt that we were clenching white knuckled and burn the list.  Letting the flames eat away the debts owed us.  Considering all balances even and paid for.  Not to be reopened.
The next week he told me a couple friends were coming over to grill out.  "Oh okay.  Any special reason?" I asked.
"Yes, we are making our lists and we are going to burn them."
Surprise rose in my eyes and I was stunned to know these talked about lists were going to be fleshed out on paper. I nodded in agreement.  "I'll make one too."
Late that Friday night I quietly tucked into the corner of my couch with my list.  I thought it would be a bit taxing to write, but I didn't realize just how long it would take.  Everyone was already out by the fire pit but I still had a list to write.  It took me an hour. 
I thought I would start with the most current season of my life, but I didn't. 
When my pen hit the paper stuff from childhood came flooding out, filling up the college ruled lines.  I felt in those moments that I had to pen all of it out. Any pent up hurt I held would be released onto paper by my pen.  I worked my way through significant painful moments that had imprinted me with self loathing and left me wounded.  I filled up at least ten pages.  I worked from the earliest and put my pen down with things most recent.  Things I had long thought I had forgiven God resurfaced in my mind.  I put my pen down and almost shut the book, but I quietly knew I wasn't finished.  There were two more to forgive.  "I have to write down everything I really have held against God" I knew in my heart.  Even though God had never wronged me, yet my feeble and doubtful brain had quietly held things against Him.  I penned down as many doubt darkened corners of my mind that I had quietly contested against God.  None justified, but real to my heart.
Lastly I knew I was supposed to forgive myself.  Something I knew would most challenge me.
I knew that I had always, all my life kept a running tab of my wrongs and replayed them over and over torturously in my mind inwardly punishing myself endlessly.
A woman had met my eyes at church one day and whispered into my ear, "The person hardest to forgive is yourself."  I was stunned that she saw it and I nodded quietly tears springing to my eyes.
After I filled up the last lines with every thing I knew that I still punished myself for that stretched as far back as twenty years time I finally put my pen down.
I felt exhausted, spent.
My husband and friends were gathered in late night darkness.  The firepit snapped and popped against the chill of night. 
Someone offered a prayer of blessing and help as we were all standing in agreement that we were making a stand to forgive anyone on our lists. I think God honors tangible moments like this.  Ones where the desire of our hearts expresses itself in a physical sign.  Like the burning of grudge lists or the building of an altar.  God sees we are serious.  He meets us there.  One by one we tossed our list in (or my almost novella).  My husband was last.  I saw the struggle play at the corner of his mouth as he held one last time to the list before he let go of the list and we all sat back in silence watching the flames annihilate the grudges of the past.

The moment spoke volumes to me and all of us. We couldn't go back to the fire and retrieve the ashes.
There were two things that really stood out to me in different messages and words I read about forgiveness.
One was this: those who hurt you never realize how much they have cost you. They will never know.
That truth reminded me of the words Jesus agonizingly breathed out while being crucified.
"Father forgive them for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34). 
We know that what we are doing is wrong, but our hearts deceive us into knowing how wrong it is.  The full weight of our sin.  We are blinded to it's costliness.
Secondly: We must absorb the debt others owe us and consider it canceled.  They can't repay us. 
No one can repay you for hurt they've inflicted.  It's impossible.  Just like people on my list would never be able to undo damage done with words, I could never undo the damage I had done. I was completely sorrowful for it, but I could never undo it. 
The Psalms mirror this theme, "Lord, if you kept a record of sins, who O Lord, could ever survive? But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you...hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is unfailing love and an overflowing supply of salvation.  He himself will free Israel from every kind of sin." (Psalm 130). 
That is what Jesus has done.  He absorbed and became the very debt we owed, taking the wrath that we could never survive and handing us in return forgiveness and new life. 

If you are grappling with grudges or are in need of forgiveness yourself take time to listen to that sermon I found.  It's life changing.
Lastly, if you now need forgiveness let that this time be a springboard for you to now forgive.  You know now what it is like to need forgiveness.  Now you can forgive.  Forgive anyone you have kept chained up in the past with the weight of their offenses.  Release them.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Special Birthday

Three weeks ago marked nine years of Meredith.  Whenever January 21st rolls around memories flood.  

She’s the baby I always marvel over has reached another year.  That we made it another three hundred sixty five days. That now nine years stretch out between the days before I was a mom, when I was still twenty-two and not responsible for much.  
Meredith has always been a grace to me. Her middle names fits. She still is.  When I think about succumbing to despair I start to think about her gray green eyes looking for mine.  The way  she still curls up in my lap and reaches for my hands.  Her long slender fingers threading through mine.  I think about her when I think about giving up. I think about the way she looks at me and the tender heart that hides under her nonchalant attitude.
Meredith experienced much growth this year.  She gained confidence which is no small feat considering her normal shyness.  She started to excel in reading thanks to her new tutor that is imbibing her with belief in herself.  I find her reading on her own now in the dimness of an almost darkened room.  Last night she finished another book and it was quite lengthy.  She’s shown me this year that what she most needed was someone to believe in her and then tell her over and over that they do.  Someone had to believer in her before she could believe in her.  That’s what Meredith’s new tutor has done for her.  She’s called for self belief in Meredith and Meredith has blossomed under the weight of her encouragement.  She has given her courage by encouragement.  She’s helped heal Meredith.  
Meredith’s legs have stretched out long and we keep having to find longer pants. She is starting to look like a preteen.  The other day I noticed sports bra straps peeking out of her shirt and she quietly nodded at my question.  She is interested in different things and our conversations find us discussing different topics. Her requests for birthday presents included electronics and clothes and temporary hair color.   Not toys.  She wears her knock off ‘beats’ around her neck.  Music or not.  Just because they match her DC shoes ☺
As we drove home the other day before her birthday I brought up her upcoming birthday. I was meaning to fill the moment with sentiment about our soon to be nine year old, but she cut me off. “Mom, I’m halfway to eighteen.”  She jolted me into reality quickly with those words.  “I know” I glanced back at her in the rearview.  I’ve always been someone who starts to mourn the halfway of a thing.  I know it sounds weird, but I always notice the halfway point of something and ponder all the ways it’s half way over.
I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the deeply blue eyes of baby Meredith and the hour we used to spend every night just she and I reading all her books over and over. I pictured baby Meredith’s quiet and gentle demeanor as she shadowed me around our small apartment as I did household chores and she pretended to dust and vacuum with me.  I remembered my days off from work when I abandoned all I needed to get done deciding to scoop Meredith up in my arms and hold her close during her nap time. Her golden hair curling damp against my chest.  

I remembered the other day how significant every milestone she made had seemed because she was the first baby and grand baby on both family sides.  How every moment was documented in scrap books and shared with grandmas.  I remember the sacred awe filled moments that encapsulated her first two years with us.  Before we added any more kids.  
I pictured the way jealousy bubbled out of her tiny two year old frame as I caught her kicking her newborn sister weeks after bringing her home.  

My mind flashed back to watching her bright blond hair glint gold in the Tennessee sun as she sat perched upon a rock wall laughing at all of us in delight. 

I saw her standing at our front door one bleak November afternoon watching the squirrels play lost in deep thought.  She came to me and said simply, “I’ve decided to ask Jesus to come in to my heart.”  I remember that evening with joy watching my husband explain everything to Meredith.  She nodded with clear eyes in understanding.  My mind fast forwarded to this past year when my husband got to baptize her himself.

I see her squealing as she flinches holding her fishing line as she catches her first fish.  My husband reeling in the line.  June sunshine baking her skin into a rich tan, freckles splattering even her lips. Green gray eyes smiling at first fish wonder. 

I remembered all the prayers she had prayed for people.  Like a well worn mantra repeated over and over she had asked simple blessings for friends at every meal.  Even when she was just a toddler.
My mind went back to all the afternoons we spent sun soaked with mulch cloaking our flip flopped feet swinging in the sun. We were gloriously lost in unhurried afternoon sunshine.  Enjoying simple things like cool grass and fast fluttering butterflies…together.  

My mind darkened briefly with all the ways I have failed her and all the things I would do differently.  All the ways I hope she isn’t like me. But as I looked into her eyes in the rearview I knew grace.  I’ve always thought of Meredith as a tangible picture of grace.  A life gifted to us.  One that we get to know, learn from and mostly get to cherish.  One I could never have dreamed up, but that I get to dream with.
I don’t want to think about her childhood half over, I want to think about all the ways it’s been  full. 

Happy Nine Meredith ☺

Friday, January 13, 2017

Middle - Five Minute Fridays

After reading the word middle I thought of my dinner last night.  It was filled with middle goodness.
My sister made me a simple, but decadent sandwich.
Toast wearing so much golden butter served as the envelope carrying a sweet savory middle: brie cheese and freshly made blackberry jam.
When I first sunk my teeth past the warm toast, sweet, but tart blackberries and creamy brie cheese surprised me. They suited each other well.  The sandwich was very rich so it was a bit hard to finish, but very satisfying too.
The goodness was the middle.
Later we sliced into miniature molten lava cakes and more flavors flowed straight from the middle.
We couldn't eat much savoring a couple of rich bites.  I chose my bites from the middle.  The middle where the chocolate soaks the cake.  The best part.
Most of life seems to be found in the middle.
Like the toast that brackets or holds the sandwich's contents, major life events or victories don't make up most of our days.  Our days are made mostly in the middle. 
It's usually what we make of the middle moments, the middle of a day, the middle of all that is mundane that makes us and makes a life sweet and gives it's best content.
Do I take time to taste the middle moments, really?
Pause and lean into them?
Learn from them?
Open them?


Pausing yesterday, putting down the stack of mail and bills. I feel baby boy's arms lightly twist around my legs and his head lean against my knee. His touch, barely there yet deeply there all at the same time. 
He quietly toddled off, but I lowered myself onto the kitchen floor and say, "Baby Mac, please come back."  His gray green eyes glisten happy as he walked back and drops gently on my lap. 
Middle moments.

My dad's eyebrows arched up as he related an interesting historical story.  He's always been filled with lots of knowledge about lots of things. Especially history and numbers. This time I really listened to the story.  I left the house with the story rolling over in my mind.  Amazed by it. 
Middle Moments.

This morning I padded up wood floors.  Everyone was ready, and it was  time to get my husband up.  He likes to sleep til he absolutely has to get up and gets ready within fifteen minutes.
He needed to get up now...
I usually go and tap him and tell him, "You must get up if you don't want to be late."
I pause in the room, daylight barely opening it's eyes over the earth.  I can't see well, but I decide to slide in the warm sheets and find myself right in the middle.  The middle of his arms.
For just a couple moments I rest my head on his shoulder and stop rushing. I don't say, "You must get up." Instead we pray.

Life isn't made up in what we do every once in a while, or the place we arrive.  Of course that's part of it.  But the meat of life is made somewhere in the every day, minute by minutes. Tucked into all the middle of our moments. 

My baby boy in the middle of sister love

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Snow Days

I see her peeking behind her screened door.  It's early in the morning.  She's cradling a cup in her hands and still wearing her pink pajama bottoms. She's looking for signs of life or rather awakened life stirring at my house.  Just across the street.
She's our little nine year old neighbor. 
It's not your typical Tuesday.  It's a snow day Tuesday.  Which means in a couple of hours my house and her house will become the shared playground for the afternoon.
There are already snow boot tracks criss crossing through both yards.  There have been hours of Barbies played, countless cups of hot chocolate, many loads of wet snow clothes spinning dry, and lots of movies shared. 
Thankfully on snow days my girls usually sleep in.  A bit longer than our neighbor.  Just give it a couple hours and the house will be a hub of activity and brainstorming.
Yesterday I felt a bit of tension as I surveyed just how many activities were spread across the house.  I couldn't find kitchen counter space as the girls had decided to make candy and decorate cookies.  After which they tried to sell to a few kind neighbors.  I finally went upstairs to escape the activity for a minute and heard them charge back inside, snow boots squeaking across the wet hardwoods, "We made a dollar!  Someone bought our cookies!"  My oldest girl cheered.  "We are starting to make money!"
I smiled in spite of all the chaos. Oldest girl is always drawing up plans of how she will start her own business and you know...make money.
I think their plate of cookies turned up a small four dollars.  But after sampling the cookies, that was a generous profit. 
The silent snow started falling Friday and fully cloaked the yard in brilliant white by Saturday.
It's been a few days of slow going, family time. 
We have loved it.
Fire popping and crackling at night. Lot's of movies and games.
Red cheeks, igloos.
So many sinks of dishes.  There's been a lot of snacks eaten.
I have a feeling this is the last snow day as warmer temperatures are set to come this afternoon.  The snow will puddle and all of the snow cone making will cease.  In fact its supposed to be sixty degrees by week's end.
But it's been a lovely slice of January. 

Snow makes everything dazzling white.(Until it's trampled on and scraped by sleds and trudged on by boots)
When snow first falls it brings beauty to all it covers.
I remember discussing this with oldest girl a few years ago.
We sat in traffic stopped at train tracks.  The snow had fallen and was still cemented icily to the ground. As we sat looking at the train we noticed how pleasant the hill in front of us looked.  Usually this hill was a mangled maze of weeds, ivy, and shrubbery that needed to be mowed down.  It was an eye sore.  But not on this day.  The snow had clothed this usually ugly hill with beauty.  A new beauty that wasn't indigenous to the space.  Funny, all of the weeds and messy vegetation actually provided a great base for the snow.  The dips and shapes that emerged from under the snow were interesting and pleasing to look at. 
At that time oldest girl and I discussed this.  How snow had transformed the quite ugly into something strikingly beautiful and had used the ugliness underneath.
We revisited this conversation the other night at dinner as the wind whipped around the house and temperatures plunged.
I know the application here.  It's easy to see.  That when God's grace falls, His redemptions covers the ugliest patches of dirt in our lives and His holiness brings a startling beauty.
Even to that spot. That person that seems almost unredeemable.  Even if  that's me. 
That relationship that seems filled with broken places.
That part of my life, season of my life, or brokenness of my life that almost broke me.
He can redeem even that.
Every year when the first snow christens the earth Isaiah's words fill my thoughts.  I'm staring out the door, breathing in that cold, but clean air.  "No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it.  I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow.  Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you as white as wool." (Isaiah 1:18).
It's true. But I must confess I've always had so much trouble believing it. 
As I wash all the hot chocolate cups today, oversee crafts, and listen to little girls hatch their dreams of entrepreneurship gazing out my windows looking at the snow I'm going to pray to believe it. 
Believe it more this year. 
Cold kissed rosy cheeks

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Holidays Can Hold

The holidays have all blurred by and January has opened up a new year.
I wanted to try to remember, pause or reflect on what filled up our holidays, but I never stopped while they sped on.
Too many things to keep track of.  All of the special events, family gatherings, and traditions that splatter the end of November through December calendar.
It seems like so many people have had a hard year.
I seemed to have heard it everywhere and from people I hadn't expected.  So many problems.  So many obstacles.  So many question marks.
The reasons are numerous and varied, but I haven't known too many people that hailed 2016 as a sunshine soaked year.
It just seemed like an arduous year that had to be plodded and waded through with periodic times of refreshment or load lightening here and there.  For the most part, it's not one I would ever wish to repeat.
As Thanksgiving approached and Christmas unfolded, I found that the holidays can hold.
When life has been rough and worn you raw and you don't exactly know what to do next the holidays have a way of letting you know what to do next. They can be your compass for the last six weeks of the year.
Granted, holidays can heighten the hurt, but sometime they can help you walk forward when you don't know what to feel or think, you just have to keep walking.
Sometimes the holidays can help hold you.
This season felt a bit awkward.  What to do? It hadn't exactly been a joyous and festive year.  How would we treat the holidays?
Thankfully we returned back to the rhythms of the season and they swept us along in their fast moving current.  It helped.
I remember right before Thanksgiving when my husband and I were trying to inject ourselves with some hope we decided we would definitely be doing our Friends-giving again this year.
I'm so glad we did.  Our house was brimming over with friends of all kinds and the food was excellent.  After the fire pit was doused and all the dishes washed and the last guest left  late in the night, we smiled sleepily.
I felt held that  November night by Hope.  Good things had happened in past Thanksgivings and they happened at this Thanksgiving. The holiday helped hold us.

Happy Thanksgiving :) 

Frog legs made a Friends -giving appearance
(Some say they were good)  

Keith frying his turkey 

When I try to think of all of the Christmas activities that happen between school-church- and a large family I can't recall all of them clearly.
I just know we were busy.
I remember shivering outside of a local Christmas Tree  lighting listening to my girls singing loudly, their school choir encircling the sidewalk.

Despite our less than enthusiastic feelings about Christmas this year, my husband and I knew we had to get a tree.  Eventually.  I'm never too excited about it, but I don't think either of us really wanted one this year. Our kids kept begging and reminding us that there were officially only two weeks until Christmas and still no tree. And why? What plausible explanation did we have to offer them? Sooo,
we brought the tree home on a weeknight.  (We didn't do any home work.) and spent the night letting the kids decorate the tree, eat holiday-ish food, and watch Christmas movies.
The kids were fully delighted. As we swept up pine needles and watched the tacky tinsel shimmer in the multi colored lights I knew we needed these moments.  Especially now.

Even the most simple of past holiday traditions reeled us back into each other.  Oldest girl asked me as soon as December started when I would be serving our regular Christmas ice cream sundaes? (This began when she was much younger and is literally just ice cream with red and green candy.) I smiled. She had remembered this simple small thing.  We had to start having them of course.  We've eaten too much ice cream this past month.

We did have to attempt at Christmas cookie baking.  Despite our first two batches landing solidly in the trash we finally produced some things that oldest girl accepted as worthy of plating.  She teared up at the first round.  That is a tradition that is only for the joy of the kids.  No one was going to be gifted with those cookies and more joy was spent eating the dough and decorating them. :)

I heard my husband's usual chuckle at my confused wrapping attempts. Package wrapping isn't my skill set and we have always laughed at how appalling they are.  He quickly took over.  I gladly yield all present wrapping to him.
That familiar exchange brought small smiles.
Even in the silences between us the holidays held.
The Saturday we spent a whole day solely looking for special things for our kids reminded us of what was important and right with our life.  Our four precious children.

We experienced much graceful generosity and that is always humbling.  It's never deserved. Ever. But it happened nonetheless.

The simple task of having to go look for presents for family members and friends brought a familiar joy.  I loved looking for things that might make someone smile and feel thought of.  The whole task was one of my favorite days of the season.  I have always loved giving gifts and it meant something even more to me this year.  I came home that day quite tired, but full in heart.

The four days of Christmas gift exchanging and feasting at all of our combined families were all familiar and special times of the past.
We watched our girls wear their matching Christmas dresses to their great grandmother's Christmas party. So many great grandkids tearing into presents and cardboard bits and tissue paper littering her floor as the kids played with all of their new toys.
Briefly for a few fleeting seconds my mind went back to eleven years on that night.  Keith had proposed to me after leaving that party.  Now I had four of my own kids there.
Sometimes the holidays bring back a flood of special memories that otherwise lay dormant in our mind and force us to recollect on generous moments and perhaps re-collect some sweetness, some things that once were.
Christmas Eve with the Kids 

Seafood Feast Christmas Night 

Christmas was special this year because we were at church.  Even though I spent the service chasing my one year old around the perimeter of the building I noticed everyone's happy faces and watched Christmas joy spread smiles wide and sparkle eyes.
Our last stop on Christmas night was the most delicious.  It wasn't a typical ham or turkey.
My mom and sister decided to live on the edge a bit and have a seafood themed meal.
There was fish, shrimp five ways, lobster tails, and crab legs.  Among many other side dishes and the usual roast beef for anyone not willing to try the seafood.
I have not been that full in a very long time.  We just kept eating.
I watched my husband masterfully crack open the crab legs and show my mom what to do.
It was a fun twist on Christmas food and definitely my favorite.

I'm thankful the holidays are over.  I'm thankful that January is here and 2016 is forever history.  I wouldn't want to repeat much of it.  But I'm thankful that the holidays can hold us together and give us the next steps, the familiar traditions to walk through when we don't quite feel it or know what to do.
Two days before Christmas I remember putting kids' jackets on and picking up a load of presents to take out the door to a family function.  I had two covered dishes in my hands and my husbands' were loaded down with gifts.  I decided to cut through the loud and said quietly looking him right in the eyes, "I love Christmas because it was always a special time for our family.  It was our best time.  We have always done Christmas well. We have always made it special."  My eyes swum with tears and I watched his mist over. Over a decade of past Christmases fast flying in my mind's eye.
Sometimes the holidays hold.  Hold you and hold up in front of you what is most important.
Whether the holidays were hard to navigate because of pain and loss or a welcome distraction from pain and loss, or if 2016 was wonderful and you are spilling over with New Year Hope....
I'm so glad its a new year.
Welcome 2017.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

All The Pretty Things (Books to Read)

You know I love books and I love to pass them on to others.  Here's a jewel I took my time reading through.  That I might absorb the story fully.

All the Pretty Things is Edie Wadsworth's memoir.  After confessing it took years to finally write this former Tennessee doctor spills out the story of her life across the pages.  I found myself nodding in agreement with so many thoughts she shared.  Feeling as if she formed the very words I felt too despite our very different life experiences.
Sometimes I felt like I was revisiting moments in my extended family's stories.  Coming from a family deep in the Appalachian mountains entrenched in scandals and jail time and alcoholism I've heard and known similar stories in my own uncles, aunts, and grandparents.
This is a story of abject poverty, extreme family dysfunction, and a little girl turned woman who refused to give up on the love of her alcoholic daddy.  Who always needed her daddy.
This is a story about a young girl trying to take care of a charismatic drunken daddy, spending her Friday nights in a truck parked outside the local bar waiting on daddy.  A story of a girl who never stopped loving her daddy.  If you read the book you love him too, despite all of his inadequacies.
This story introduces you to teachers that care and open children's eyes to something better and more.  This story is about a mom who works tirelessly to give her kids some kind of life.
This story is about sisters melded together in the face of trauma.
This story is about people with out hope, clueless that life could really be different.
This story shows the reality of children scarfing down school lunches as their primary food source.
This story is about the power of strong role models like coaches, teachers, and youth pastors.
This is a story about a woman from dirty trailer parks and no dinner who determined to be a doctor and put herself through med school.
This is also a story about a woman whose perfectionistic drive and deep gaping soul wounds drove her to destroying parts of her life as an adult.
This a story that covers honestly topics of divorce, alcoholism, adultery, shame, and rebuilding.
Finally this is a story of a woman who is given grace anyways.  A woman who burns down her life by her own choices and sees God's redemption full circle.  A woman who is finally healed on the inside.
Edie Wadsworth's memoir is powerful showing the good and dark parts of her.  She is honest about her flaws and yet you love her heart.
This story is about a woman who God loves.  So much.  A woman God doesn't give up on.  A woman God wants to father, to hold close to his heart and heal her fatherlessness. A woman whose life doesn't end when she thinks it will, a woman who God takes His time with.  A woman who wades through deep waters and sees God's full healing and remaking after time.
This is a story of not giving up, because God doesn't give up on us.

I pushed so many of the edges of the pages down in creases to remember pages to revisit.  And I have hung on to this book too long accruing quite a fee at my local library.
There is so much wisdom and goodness in this book, but here are two thoughts I want to hang onto.
"the heart doesn't settle easily for blame-it longs to be redeemed." (pg. 243). Thoughts after untangling the wounds and mess of her life.

I want to always remember these words:
" The only thing worse than the fire was the lingering whisper that this was the punishment I deserved. The accusation came when I was at my lowest, but I had learned not to argue with the Accuser, only to confess and cling to the forgiveness of Christ, which was the only defense I had.  I was learning to live in the open.  I had to refuse to hide or to harden my heart just to keep my secrets safe.  The fire stripped me of the need to protect myself- leaving everything raw and exposed.  The only thing left standing in my life was love.  I had to trust that was enough. " (pg. 278).

In closing this book that I'm sure was very difficult to write shows the complexity of persons. Many times it's easy to categorize people based on things they have done or not done.  Places they have been or accomplishments they rose to. Yet all people are filled with so many experiences and indelibly marked by many moments of the past. All of us need grace and indeed every life is a precious gift that can always be salvaged, healed, and resurrected.  We need not count anyone out.  Not even ourselves.

I hope you enjoy this book!
Edie blogs about her life here :