Christmas Photo Challenge

When Christmas rolls around, I’m always drawn to books or articles about how to simplify the holidays. Christmas was magical to me when I was a kid, but when Ben and I got married, and suddenly had seven different gatherings to get to in the span of a week or two, the holiday lost a lot of it’s charm for me. I love family and traditions and festivities, but I ended up feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, exhausted, and in need of some quality alone time at Christmas.

One of the solutions to this came from book no longer in print, which basically said, “Cut out what you don’t enjoy, and do more of what you love about Christmas.”

As I was thinking about this last week, I tried to remember the most enjoyable Christmas I’ve had as an adult, and the usual things which came to mind were the traditions we’ve established as our own little family, and the days we enjoy at our parents’ houses, or when the gatherings are a little more spread out, with recovery time in between! But what popped into my mind which surprised me most was a spark of pleasure when I remembered the Christmas I did a 31 day photo challenge in December.

It seems silly – taking more pictures increased my enjoyment of Christmas? But it really did, maybe because photography is one of my favourite art forms, and art is always good for the soul.:) Or maybe it was because slowing down, paying attention, looking for the little things that make Christmas special for our family stayed with me.

Whatever the case, I decided to follow the joy, and started a Christmas photo challenge for this year. This is not going to produce deep, spiritual reflections on the birth of Jesus, or anything like that. We’ll see if that post comes at a different time! Nope, this is just to take a creative breather, have some fun, and capture some pretty holiday pictures to look back on in the future:

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Red:

Family:

Lists/Planning:Decorate:

Sweet:

Anika decided to join me, so here are her pictures:

Red:

Family:

Lists/Planning:

Decorate:

More to come! What do you do when you need to take a break and relax a little over the holidays?

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Everett Turns Three

Our sweet boy turns three today!! Three years of wonderfulness, with a lot of spice thrown in.

He is such a sweet, cuddly, playful, fiercely independent, determined little boy, and we are all delighted with him. He’s funny and imaginative, and is more in tune with people’s emotions than anyone I’ve ever met.

He answers to many names – Bud,  Pumpkin, Buddy-Boo, Evvy-Oo, Muffin, Snuggums, Peanut, Snugglebum, etc. But he will not tolerate being called “cute” – he always says, “I’m not cute, I’m Everett.”

Someone said to me the other day, “He must have three mothers.” And it’s true. He puts up with it fairly well, and is very devoted to his sisters. When he gets a treat for going potty, “the girlies” must have one too.

He gives me plenty of opportunities to develop patience, because he is so determined to do everything by himself, whether it’s physically possible or not. I do a lot of deep breathing in the corner, forcing myself to calm down/slow down while I wait for him to eventually figure out that he must give in and accept help.

I often think about how close we were to missing him – how there wasn’t supposed to be another baby, and I’m thankful every single day that God blessed us with the miracle of Everett. He is my constant reminder that no matter how impossible something seems, we really have no idea how it will all turn out, because God has endless amounts of surprises up his sleeve.

And so we celebrate Everett’s birthday today, but we also celebrate so much more, as we think about all God has done for our family. He is so good, and our sweet boy is the best little miracle I could ever hope for.

Photo credit: Morgan Braun

Fruit at Your Fingertips, and Strength When You Need It

This has been my year of abiding. I’ve written about it before – about how Ben tricked me into getting up early every morning, so that I would have time to pray, journal, and read my Bible before my family got up, because I read that when we abide, we give the Holy Spirit the chance to change us in ways we can’t change ourselves. My year of abiding is coming to an end soon, and I wonder how much has changed. It becomes clear how much I need a lifetime of abiding, not just 12 months, and maybe I’m not that different than I was a year ago, except for this: I’m aware of how much I need this time each day. I’ve felt empty on the few days I missed it, because of sickness, or the couple of times when the alarm didn’t wake me up.

So if nothing more, I’ve developed a habit of making time for abiding each morning, and that’s worth a lot.

When I’m finished my quiet time on the couch, I spend half an hour stretching and exercising while I listen to a message, usually from Bridgetown Church (if we ever have to move, please let it be to Portland!). I just started a fantastic series about the Holy Spirit (which you can find here), and it fits well with this year of soaking in God’s presence. It’s a different way of looking at things for me – less doing and trying, and more just being and quietly focusing.

A strange and beautiful picture came to my mind the other day as I was praying and thinking about living my day in the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was as though I was leaning against the trunk of a huge tree, and I could see massive, leafy branches spreading out thickly about my head, loaded with fruit, hanging there ready for me to pick whenever I needed the Fruit of the Spirit (give me all the “patience” apples!!!!). And when I looked down at my feet, it was as though I could see deep roots growing far down into the ground beneath me, giving me strength and depth, securely grounding me in all the power available to me in the Spirit.

It gave me a feeling that’s hard to describe – like the strength was already there, filling me up, and the fruit was so close, right within my reach at any time I might need it. In my mind, as I saw this picture, there was such a feeling of steadiness, security, and relief – I knew I didn’t need to do this on my own, it wasn’t up to me to try to produce patience, kindness, or faithfulness, because it was all right there, ready and waiting to be picked at any moment.

I’m trying to remember this picture everyday. One of my lovely, adorable children has decided to express all anger with screaming instead of words, and there’s often bad attitudes or conflict to work through with three kids in the house all day. I try to picture that fruit right within my reach. I try to remember the feeling of leaning against a thick, strong trunk, knowing those roots are beneath me.

This was the picture I got, but maybe it can be a picture for you, too. If you close your eyes, can you imagine that beautiful fruit, already waiting for you to pick it during those tough moments? Can you feel rough bark, a strong trunk to lean against when the craziness of getting back into the routine of the week is sapping you of all your strength? Do you feel the strength that flows into you because you are rooted in Christ, and He is grounding you, holding you steady, and keeping you strong in every single moment?

Let’s not pretend for a second that this always comes easily. I weathered an hour and a half long tantrum this morning – my sweet child was exhausted by the end of it, and so was I. It’s always difficult for me to be in the middle of a tense situation, and I tend to take on the emotion of people around me. But this morning was different. I kept leaning into that strength, and continued to remind myself to be the peace and calming in the midst of the chaos. I don’t always remember, but today I did, so we celebrate the progress, and know that if things don’t go so well next time, there is still growth.

So whatever your Monday holds for you today, know that you can picture yourself with that sweet fruit of the Spirit in your hand, its juiciness dribbling down your chin, and your feet firmly planted, because you are His, and He’s got you covered.

 

Slow Down Right Now, Just For a Second….

My dad is flying off to Germany today, so I called him last night for a little chat, since it had been awhile. Whenever we talk, he always wants to know that we’re all okay, that we’re happy and healthy and feeling good about life, and if we’re not, then he wants to convince me that things are better than they seem at the moment.:)

So we talked about what the kids are up to, and about parenting, and he said, “We need to be intentional. There needs to be a way to enjoy the moment as much as we can, because it passes too quickly.”

It reminded me of something Ann Voskamp wrote years ago:

When I fully enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here.

Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of time’s river slows, slows, slows.

I’ve thought about that often over the years since I read it – time slows down when I am fully here, in this moment. When I stop being distracted, and stop wishing for anything different than what I have right now. When I use all my senses to savor everything I can about that moment.

And I think Ann Voskamp is right – the moments stay with us in sharp clarity when we take them time to really live them, and become aware to the fullest sense. I can look back over my life and remember times when everything stood still and I was fully there….

The night Anika was born, and I stayed awake all night, even though I was exhausted, just listening to her and Ben breathing softly on either side of me.

Slowly walking through all the rooms of the little house we built for the last time before we moved away to live at camp.

A particularly beautiful sunset at the lake, or a morning when I skipped breakfast and went down to the water because it was like a perfect mirror.

Standing in the hallway of our little house, right where I could see both Anika and Kaylia asleep in their rooms, overwhelmed by the fact that after years of waiting, I was finally the mother of children (plural!!) and my heart was overflowing.

Coming into the room and just stopping right there in the doorway, watching Anika holding Kaylia in the rocker, thinking about all the years she’d prayed for a baby sister.

Walking down the road at camp in winter with my eyes closed, so I could focus on the smell of wood stoves and pine trees, and listen to the snow crunching.

Turning to see Everett for the first time after he was born, hardly able to believe he was here, surprised by how light his hair was and thinking about how he looked exactly like Ben.

Feeling Everett put his little arms around my neck, and thinking how I wanted to remember the moment for my whole life.

Lying on a blanket under the trees in our backyard, and consciously thinking about how the sun felt on my face, the sound of the leaves rustling in the breeze, the feeling of having my little family around me, the luxury of having absolutely nothing else to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

I could go on and on. Beautiful moments, clear memories that are mine to think over, and add to whenever I choose to slow down and think fully about what I am experiencing in that moment.

I’m learning that it can be done in the most ordinary of moments – this morning I stopped myself just to listen to the silence in our house, thinking about my peacefully sleeping family, filling myself up for the loud, crazy day ahead. Everyone is here, and everyone is happy, and someday, it will not be this way. I don’t want to ruin a beautiful day by getting depressed about that, or bring stress into the moment by adding tons of pressure TO ENJOY EVERYTHING and live a life of scarcity.

Rather, I just want to be aware of blessings, and not take them for granted. I want to be intentional with my moments, my memories.

So if you stopped right now, and sat there really quietly, making yourself aware of what you are feeling in your body, anything nice you might be smelling or hearing or seeing, what would you notice? Can you slow the current down right now, just for a second? I would love to hear what you become aware of!

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This Year’s Family Photos

You guys, every year I think I love our latest family pictures the most. I didn’t think it could happen again this year, because last year’s were my favourite by far, but our friend Morgan was amazing, as usual, and I love them! We explored a little part of Winnipeg I’d never actually been to before, and the fall colours made everything feel just a little bit magical.

And the last one I’ll share is kind of fun – when Kaylia was the age Everett is now, Morgan took this picture of our family:

We saw some steps and decided it was time for an update!:)

All the family feet, complete!

And now I have to somehow choose my favourite for our Christmas cards! I can’t wait to start receiving all the happy Christmas mail with everyone’s family pictures – it’s one of my favourite Christmas traditions.:)

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Around Here Right Now

It’s a rainy, cold afternoon while I’m writing this, and we’re all cozy inside. Ben’s making apple crisp, and we’re hoping for snow. He made the mistake of telling Everett we’d go to the cabin when the snow melts – he meant in spring, but Everett is just pumped, because the first snowfall is disappearing, so he’s ready to pack up and go to the lake. We’ve been trying to explain the situation to him, but it’s not making any sense to him, so it would simplify our lives quite a bit if we’d just get more snow!;)

I always have a running list of things our family is currently enjoying, and when it gets long enough, I do one of these posts to share our favourites with you! (Affiliate links are included for your convenience) This month’s offerings are about as random as they get, so hopefully there’s a little something for everyone!:)

What We’re Watching: Timeless

Ben and I have really been enjoying this show on Netflix for the last couple of months. Sadly, there’s only one season, and the show was cancelled in spring, but fans raised such an uproar that season two will be filmed in 2018!

The story line involves a stolen time machine, and the bad guys are trying to go back in time to change American history, so the good guys have to take the backup time machine to chase after them, and do whatever they can to ensure history stays the same. Every episode covers a different event in history, from Lincoln’s assassination to the first landing on the moon to the Lone Ranger to the Hindenberg disaster. Because something always goes wrong, and small details of history end up changing in each episode, it’s making us look up these different historical events to brush up on the details. There is some violence, but for the most part, we’ve been impressed with how clean the show is.

Also, if Lucy could please just shave her head and make me a wig with her hair, it would pretty much be my dream come true. I think I commented on her great hair almost every single episode, and Ben was wondering what was up with this hair obsession.

But now we’re finished season one, and I’m sad, and it’s a long time until season two comes out!

What We’re Learning: Historical Fiction

Speaking of history, Anika has been lost in library books for the last week. She came across a historical fiction series called “The Royal Diaries” at the library which includes many of the famous princesses from a wide range of time periods. There are 23 books in the series, and she’s enjoyed every one she’s read. My favourite thing about it, besides just seeing her enjoy good stories, is that it’s reinforcing everything she’s learned in history.When Anika talks about her favourite characters in history, and gets excited about books which shed more light on the background and context to these stories, it makes me happy to see how learning can be fun, and come naturally and enjoyably, instead of just being about dry textbooks.

What We’re Eating: Stir-fry That’s not Stir-fry

I love eating stir-fry, but I don’t like making it. Does anyone else out there feel that way?! I like meals I can stick in the oven and forget about while I clean up the kitchen. While browsing Pinterest for some meal planning inspiration this month, I came across this delicious-looking picture:

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I suddenly thought, “Why on earth have I been dealing with a frying pan?!” I love roasted vegetables, so I’ve ditched the stir-fry, and do this instead. Easiest meal ever – I get out all the veggies that need to be used up in the fridge, chop them up, spread them out on a cookie sheet, drizzle avocado oil over everything, and stick it in the oven.

And then I’m free to get the kitchen cleaned up before the meal, so afterwards, all we have to do is put our dishes in the dishwasher, and pack up the leftovers for lunch the next day. So easy, and very delicious!

What I’m Reading: The Whole-Brained Child

I’m slowly working my way through “The Whole-Brained Child”, and it’s really good! I don’t have tons of time for reading, but this book is a great fit, because the chapters are pretty short, and the principles are easy to apply. A friend recommended it to me, and her description had me intrigued. She said it was a book about helping your child learn how to deal with strong emotions, and bridging the gap between explosive emotions and logical thinking. Because children’s brains are not finished developing, it does not come naturally for them to think logically and use reason in the midst of an angry tantrum or hurt feelings. They get swept away in whatever emotion they are experiencing in the moment, and so this book provides helpful tools for connected the right and left sides of the brain, or the “upstairs/downstairs” parts of the brain, as they refer to it in the book, helping to bring about more balance and feelings of calm and control.

Even though I’m not very far into the book, I’m already helping it very helpful, and highly recommend it! While getting this blog post ready, I stumbled across this “Refrigerator Sheet” which summarizes some of the helpful points, in case you want to check out a bit of what it has to say!

What I’m Saving $ On: Restore

Last year, I shared about this fantastic product our family uses on a daily basis. It restores gut lining in a way that’s far superior to any kind of probiotics out there, because it doesn’t just put probiotics into your stomach, it actually helps your body to start producing them on it’s own. All of us noticed a dramatic improvement in our digestion when we started taking it, and our girls’ issues with gluten have improved to the point where they are able to enjoy gluten occasionally, although we don’t want their digestive systems to get out of balance again, so we make it more of a treat instead of the norm.

In the past, we ordered Restore from the Restore4Life website, which ended up costing $130 with exchange, tax, duty, and shipping. A bottle lasts for about 1 1/2 months for our family of five, so it’s pricey, but something we feel is important to keep taking.

This last month, I was extremely happy to find a site that sells it for only $100! I felt rich with my $30 savings, so I wanted to pass this info on to you, as I know some people have been ordering Restore since I shared about it on my blog last summer. You can get a 5% discount using this link.

If you’re interested in learning more about it, there are some great videos available here, as well as pictures of what cells look like before and after using Restore.

What We’re Anticipating: Mother Daughter Camp

I’m so excited to share that I’ll be speaking at Mother Daughter Camp at Red Rock Bible Camp in January! It’s been a long time since we’ve gone to camp in winter, and it’s such a great retreat, so I’m really glad to be part of it this year. I’m also very excited about the sessions I’ll be doing, and will have more to share here on my blog as I prepare for the retreat.

To find out more about Mother Daughter Camp, head over here.

What I’m Listening to: “Overwhelmed”

I listened to this fantastic podcast on the weekend. I was feeling discouraged on Saturday, because we’ve had a ton of sickness at our house, and I haven’t been feeling completely healthy for about two months now. My naturopath is trying to get me back on track, but in the meantime, I’ve been struggling to keep a good attitude at all times. I realize there are many, many people with bigger problems than mine, but I also know that wherever we’re at in the moment can feel huge and consuming.

This podcast was exactly what I needed – super encouraging, and such a gentle reminder that when we focus on Jesus, our circumstances might not change, but our perspective always does.

 

 

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Anika’s 14th Birthday

This weekend was Anika’s birthday. Ben was trying to put words to the significance of the occasion, and said, “You’re the only 14 year old daughter I’ve ever had!”

Anika responded dryly with, “I’m the only 14 year old daughter you’ve ever had.”

Ben replied, “All the others only reached their 13th birthday…”

Not his best joke, but he always tries.

We’re delighted to have a 14 year old. I’d have to say our first year with a teenager has gone very well.:) There have been some bumps along the way, but looking back, I can see how those were the times when Anika’s growth and maturity really developed and came through, and I love seeing the person she is becoming.

Life is such a weird thing – how can I not remember what life was like without her, and yet so clearly remember the first day we brought her home from the hospital?! I can still feel the panic inside when Ben put Anika’s car seat down inside the door of our little house, and went to get something from the car, leaving me standing there, wondering what in the world we were going to do now. We were responsible for A BABY, and for the moment, she was quiet, but we didn’t have a clue what we were doing! It all seemed very strange and overwhelming, and a little bit scary, but I loved her fiercely. I got nothing done for weeks – I just watched her sleep and cried over how beautiful she was!

Slowly, we figured things out, and everything was okay because she was our baby – we knew her, and she belonged, and we figured out what she needed and liked, and her little personality began to show in all kinds of delightful ways.

For years, we’d hear other parents talking about the teenage years with dread, and I felt a little uneasy about it, but mostly I blocked it out, thinking we’d deal with it when it was time.

We’re only one year in, but I’m already glad for all the time I didn’t spend worrying about it, because it’s not unlike the feelings I had when we were first learning to be parents: we don’t have all the answers, but she’s our teenager – we know her, she belongs, we’re figuring things out as we go along, and the person she’s becoming is showing through in all kinds of delightful ways.

She’s smart, creative, imaginative, wise, motivated, strong, self-aware, capable, discerning, level-headed, funny, and determined. This was the year she started setting her alarm early in the morning, so that she can finish her schoolwork in the morning, and spend the rest of her day writing. She’s pumping out books at a rate which makes me jealous, and dreams big dreams about all she will do with her future.

She always amazes me with her ability to cut right to the root of a problem and determine the solution. I will forever love our long talks, and this last year she was finally able to graduate to the passenger seat for our drives to the city. She spends most of the time drilling me with questions about Myers Briggs, and wants to figure out everyone’s personality types, in real life as well as all the characters in her books. The rest of the time, we talk about boys.;)

14 years of loving her. I’m so glad we get to celebrate our Anika!

photo credit: Morgan Braun

 

 

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