Friday, November 30, 2012

Advent for Normal People

When we talk about the liturgical seasons of the church, I think lots of people are immediately intimidated.  I don't see Advent, Lent, and Pentecost (plus lots of others) as outdated, traditional responsibilities for the church.  Rather, I see them as fresh opportunities to look on my relationship with God and walk with others as they do too.  I can't tell you what colors the altar cloths are supposed to be, what the Biblical texts are for every week, or even how long some of the seasons are.  In fact, this post is fully void of an accurate information or facts - and I'm okay with that.

So why observe them?  Why Advent?  People talk a lot about preparing their hearts for Christmas, but how do we do that?

Have you ever reach December 26 and realized you're surrounded by brown tree needles, broken ribbon, and a fridge full of leftovers?  And that's it.  Nothing has changed about you.  Nothing about Christmas has effected your soul.  The past month hasn't made you more like Jesus.

Advent, of all seasons, should be the time of year when we take advantage of the opportunity to  to grow up in Jesus' love and be filled with his spiritual wisdom.  If there is any season when we should sense the Holy Spirit at work, it should be Advent.  Shouldn't our hearts be turned towards God during this time?

I love the story of Mary and Elizabeth.  I tried to talk about it with our 5th and 6th graders on Wednesday, but they just giggled when I said the word "womb" and all comparisons were lost.  But think about what happens when pregnant Elizabeth sees Mary (who is pregnant with Jesus, but nobody knows):

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:41-45)

Our 5th and 6th graders thought it was hilarious that a baby could leap in someone's womb.  So that's as far as we got.  But when I think about Christmas: God coming to earth, God making himself like us, God revealing himself to us as fully as he could, God giving all of himself for us - shouldn't something within me leap with joy?  No, not a baby.  But something?  My affections, my heart, my contenance?  Shouldn't this season be about a perpetual leaping with joy because of the promise of God being fulfilled?  Our redemption is here.

I am kind of a blog addict.  I used to follow a lot of home decor blogs (and by used to, I mean I haven't checked one in ten minutes).  They were like the gateway drug to other blogs: blogs about life, ministry, babies, crafts.  And I was hooked.  Recently, I have discovered bloggers who are challenging my faith.  Crazy huh?

Jessi of The Naptime Diaries is part of something called #SheReadsTruth.  Bloggers came together to do devotions and share their insights on Instagram and Twitter (which is totally optional).  Starting Sunday, they will be doing a daily Advent reading.  If you have a smartphone, you can download the Youversion app, look up the She Reads Truth plans, and start the Advent one Sunday.  OR you can go to their website and sign up for a daily email with the Scripture and devotion in it.  This year's reading has a beautiful set of daily Advent calendar cards to go with it, which you can buy in Jessi's shop here.  Aren't they awesome??  I'm attributing 80% of their awesomeness to them being designed by someone whose last name is Connolly (even spelled the right way, Mom and Dad)!

I'm so excited to do the reading and have our family follow along with the Scripture cards.


As part of Advent, lots of families are doing a different activity every day so that they will savor the season intentionally.  I love this idea.

One of my big-sister-type heroes talk about putting more Jesus in Christmas and I love her ideas. Jessi talks about what her family is doing here, and it kinda makes me want to be her adopted child.  Another blogger puts a unique spin on this concept. Laura makes a list of random acts of kindness that they will do every day of Advent.  In the future, we hope to combine these two ideas into helping our little family focus on growing closer to God together, and sharing Jesus with others in practical ways.

Don't let Christmas pass you by without letting the greatest Gift of all change your heart.  Over and over again.  And leap with joy because you know the Savior is coming!

Friday, November 2, 2012

High Five for Friday!

I'm linking up with Lauren here.  It's Friday, and I'm glad for it.  Here's what's getting me excited this weekend:

1.  It's November.  I'm super pumped about that.  I love a lot of things, but don't love October 31.  The main reason?  I'm the biggest pansy in the world.  I don't like anything remotely scary, and I'm glad to be able to watch commercials again, and not think about creepy crawlers, zombies, or blood.  Yuck.  And November means Thanksgiving, heavy sweaters, scarves, and Not Your Mama's Craft Market!

2. I got my first Stitch Fix in the mail yesterday!  I'll give you all an update on Monday, but it was definitely fun to see what items were hand-picked for me.  I'm excited to update my profile and get the next box (it's definitely going to take some restraint to hold off on that ...)

3. A few nights ago at dinner, Emmalyn reached out both of her hands, and made Eric and I hold on for a good three-four minutes, long enough for Eric to snap this photo.  We have no idea what caused her to do that, but it was definitely cute!

4. Tomorrow at church, we are having a youth area cleaning day.  This shouldn't be so exciting, but I am so ready to have our stuff sorted out.  It's a little late in the year to say, "we had a busy summer and things really piled up", but I'm still saying it.  Get off my back.  Here's a sneak peek of the "before". (In all fairness, an Eagle Scout is building storage for us and cleaned out our closets and put everything in one room.  Still.  It's a lot.)  What's your favorite thing in the photo?

5. I finished a Beth Moore study this week!  Okay, so I still have some book sessions to do, but we finished the videos.  I did it with some women from church and it felt good to finally follow through on doing a Bible study with other women.  We did her study on James and I loved it.  She came make you laugh hysterically and go to tears in about a twelve-second turnaround, and then mull over the lesson all week long.  Good stuff.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Frenzy-Free Entertaining

This weekend, we were supposed to have a youth group bonfire.  Apparently, 40 degrees and constant drizzles don't make for good bonfire conditions.  Instead of canceling altogether, Eric and I invited the kids over to our house.  Can I tell you how happy this makes me?  There's a lot of reasons why: 1. the fact that Eric instantly agrees to my crazy ideas, 2. we get to hang out with students and it's my job, 3. we have a house where we can entertain students and share it our lives with them, 4. It's something we did at our old church and for some reason we don't take the time to do it here as often (some of our best memories came from just hanging out with students).

We came back from vacation Saturday night, went to the grocery store Sunday afternoon, and Eric cleaned while I did some baking.  We decided to focus on the big stuff and not stress about the rest. At the end of the night, we counted 40 students at our house.  It was awesome.  There were moments throughout the night when I just stood back and was filled with delight. I love these kids and it is such a gift to be able to have them at our house.  In high school, my parents hosted my friends a lot.  They were awesome at making us all feel at home it seemed so natural to them (Instead of going out to dinner one year, 20 of my friends came over and had lasagna before the homecoming dance, making it look like they owned an Italian restaurant and did that sort of thing daily).  My parents taught me a lot about entertaining, especially on the fly (due to having a daughter who liked to spring house guests on them - in high school and even college), and here's some tips.

1. Take shoes off at the door.  We aren't militant about it, but it sure does help. I'm not a stellar housekeeper.  The counters were wiped, and the floors were vacuumed, but I didn't dust or mop before students came in.  They didn't notice, and I didn't either.  But taking shoes off helps a lot with the aftermath of a good party. Students instantly do it once they see  a pile, and adults are welcome to leave theirs on.  Here's just a few of the shoes gathered in our door.  (One time in high school, my brother tied all of my friends' shoes together when they came over ... that made for an interesting departure!)  
2. Keep the food simple.  Kids are just as happy with chips, pop, and pizza.  I usually make something homemade (in this case, ginger cookies) - because who doesn't love the smell of homemade cookies? My mom always made cookies for us and it was an awesome homemade treat.  She also was sure to have a veggie tray and fruit sitting out, and I picked up her cues.  We had a veggie tray on Sunday and it was almost demolished.  We ordered six large pizzas on Sunday night and called for three more - all were gone.
3. Make people feel welcome.  Between my brothers and I, we brought a host of different types of people to my parent's house.  My parents were welcoming to every person who walked in, and never judged them.  My dad masterfully welcomed everyone, and both my parents seemed relaxed.  They never mumbled about loud teenagers, rolled their eyes at us, or got worked up about people trampling through their house.  They made sure our home was a place where everyone was welcome, and all could feel comfortable
4. Have fun!  Savor the gift of teenagers actually wanting to be at your house, and let them have fun.  This is the stuff memories are made of - trust me, I lived it!  We try to keep a balance of engaging with students and letting them do their own thing when we're around them.  We don't force ourselves into their games or situations, but let them know we're not "too mature" to sit and laugh and play with them.

Looking at these pictures, I'm absolutely convinced we could have fit at least twenty more kids in.  Next time! What tips do you have for entertaining teenagers?

One more tip is to start cleaning up as the party is winding down.  Don't leave it all for 10 or 11 p.m. when the kids are gone.  Since our party was from 6-8, I started cleaning things up around 7:45 and students pitched in to help.  By 8:30, there was no clean up left to do, and we could relax for a little bit before the week began.

Perfectly Pumpkin Pancakes

I love pancakes.  They represent all that is good in the world - sweet, carb, homemade, Saturday goodness.  While they beckon to the best of the weekend for most of us, I can't resist a little weeknight brinner every once in a while.  Breakfast for dinner is sure to put a positive spin on any evening.  My mom found a great recipe for pancakes a while back, and a few weeks ago, I decided to eat everything in our pantry.  Last fall, I heard there was going to be a shortage of pumpkin puree out there, so I stocked up.  One year later, I still hadn't touched any of the cans.  So I took my mom's recipe, tweaked it, and wound up with this delicious fall breakfast/brinner/snack:

Wet ingredients:
1 cup milk
3 T. white vinegar
2 eggs
1/4 cup melted butter (1/2 stick)
1 t. vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree (1/2 a 16 oz. can)

Dry ingredients:
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. allspice
1/2 t. ginger

1. Combine milk and white vinegar and set aside for five minutes to "sour". (This is a genius way to make buttermilk - whenever I buy it at the store, I never use the whole container.  And does anyone else store their vinegar under the sink even though they only  use it for cooking?  Or is that just me?)
2.  Combine all dry ingredients and stir well.  Set aside.
3. Once milk is "soured", whisk the egg and butter into the milk, then add vanilla and pumpkin puree.  
4. Whisk dry mixture into wet mixture, making sure to get rid of lumps but not over stirring.  Don't worry, this is a thick batter. I let it sit for a few minutes before putting the batter on the griddle (which works out pretty well, because I generally forget to heat the griddle before I start).
5. Use a full 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop batter onto griddle.  When I do that, I end up with at least 12 pancakes.  You'll know when to flip them as the uncooked side will have tiny bubbles all over the top of them.  Don't flip too early - being that this is a thick batter, you don't want them to be too doughy by flipping early.  
6. Add butter, and pour on the maple syrup and then savor every bit of pumpkin goodness.  At this point I need to tell you something.  Aunt Jemina was not invited to this pancake party, so go ahead and spring for real maple syrup.  You'll thank me later.

Have a great day and enjoy your pumpkin pancakes!  

Friday, October 26, 2012

High Five For Friday

1. We are combining vacation with a church meeting this week.  We decided to rent a cabin outside of Lake Junaluska and this is the view from our porch.  Wow.  It's been great (lots of fried food and family time)!

2.  On Tuesday, I scheduled my last seminary class ever.  I'm walking in December, but have to talk one more class in J-Term.  Regsistering for that felt oh-so-good.  I am not nearly as excited about having a masters degree as I am about not feeling guilty when I choose to watch television over read for class anymore. :)

3.  I am missing youth group kids in the midst of the past few weeks as I've put my mind to behind-the-scenes work lately.  I'm already planning to remedy that in the next week, which surely means Starbucks or Chipotle, or at least some homemade chocolate chip cookies.

4. Hot Apple Cider.  I had a cup of it last night.  Why have I not been drinking it constantly?  Making a mental note to replace all beverages with hot pressed apple goodness from now on ....

5.  In following up to my recent post considering my closet, and have major purging plans in mind.  I heard about a company called Stitch Fix  through Blair at Wild and Precious and am seriously considering trying it out to get more A+ items in my wardrobe.  I'm a little nervous, but figure it's a $20 loss if I hate everything, and I don't have to do a monthly commitment.  It could be fun to have someone else pick out clothes for me!  As a person addicted to clearance tags, it may help me to make some purchases that are long-term items for my closet rather than impulse purchases.  If I try it out, I'll definitely let you know. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Cherish Your Closet

I have been thinking a lot about my wardrobe lately.  I am a clearance junkie.  I scour racks for double-extra-redline markdowns in order to find a great steal.  I love the thrill of getting something I love for super cheap.  Last week, I got Emmalyn an adorable Christmas dress for $8 - marked down from $70.  I was thrilled.  But more often than not, I settle for a piece of clothing that I only like because it's marked down.  I would never buy it at full price.  This drives Eric crazy.  When I show him a great deal, he asks, "But do you like it?"  It used to really irritate me, but I'm starting to understand.  Would I rather have a bunch of cheap clothes that I like, or a select amount of clothing that I love.  This post from Young House Love offered a lot of great tips about affordable shopping, but more importantly, helped explain this method:

Say I have ten outfits I love love love in my closet. I’d call them all favorites and on a scale of 1-10 I’d score them all a ten. That makes my overall closet average a ten. Then say that I see a sweater I kind of like (let’s say I’d give it a seven). And it’s on sale, so it’s tempting. The way I completely resist grabbing that sweater – which I’m guaranteed to like less than everything else in my closet – is to think of my closet average. Right now my overall closet average is a ten. If I get that sweater and it’s a seven, it’ll bring my entire closet average down, and I can just picture myself choosing other things on my hanging bar over and over again since it wasn’t something that I love love loved from the start. That helps me hold out for things I really truly love and stops me from grabbing anything I probably won’t wear or appreciate as much. Everyone loves a good closet GPA, haha – and it keeps that dreaded closet-clutter at bay (you know, when you have a bunch of stuff, but feel like you have nothing to wear).

Right now, my closet it as a 2.5 GPA.  Maybe.  I have a lot of clothes that I love, but I also have a lot of markdowns that I bought for the sake of a good deal.  And I don't wear the clothes I love.  I save them for a moment that may never come (I do the same thing with Emmalyn's clothes).  This post on Babble reminded me  again about the importance of wearing what I love.  When I read the post, I thought, "Wait, other people do that too?", "I'm not the only person who tries to save outfits for an undefinable moment in the unforeseeable future?".  So tomorrow, I'm wearing something cute.  Something I love.  What about you?  How would you rate your closet?  Do you save your outfits rather than cherishing them and actually, you know wearing them?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Day 8: Refusing to Settle

When Eric and I were house-hunting, we had a very tight turnaround to find a home.  We were moving from northern Ohio back to our home town, and it was find a home, or move into our either of our parents' basements.  They love us, but were eager for us to find a place as well.  In one Saturday, Eric looked at 17 homes in our neighborhood (I looked at half of those before going to a meeting).  We liked a lot of them, but we didn't love any of them.  We made offers on two houses, but felt like we would have to make significant changes in order to really love those houses.  The next week, we were at our home in northern Ohio, and a new house went up for sale.  It looked like exactly what we wanted in terms of layout.  I drove down to look at the house and immediately knew that I loved it.  I will never forget standing in that foyer and feeling like I was home.  Before we made an offer, Eric drove down to look at it, and the process moved on from there.  I pass by the other houses we made offers on daily, and am so glad we refused to settle.

Lately, I've allowed that feeling to slip.  I haven't been grateful for our home or relished in the details that I used to love.  We worked hard to find this house, and there are so many details about it that I love.  How have I let ungratefulness slither into my life?  I've begun to see our house as a burden rather than a gift.  It's time to reclaim my love for our home - the home that God has given us to live in and to raise a family in.  What suggestions do you have for cherishing your home?  When you refused to settle, how did you continually cherish home?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Day 7: Highlights?

What were the highlights from your weekend?  Did you take the time to stop and cherish your life and the home you have?

The highlight of my weekend was playing with Eric and Emmalyn as she took renewed interest in her toys.  For the past few weeks, she has seemed discontent with everything around her.  She wouldn't play with her toys, didn't want to read books (except ones with pages she could tear), and found every stack of things in our house to disassemble.  But in the past week, she has rediscovered the things she should actually be playing with - you know, those things we spent money on or were gifted.  It's been awesome.  She hugs her baby dolls, kisses her sock monkey, and dances as she pushes the buttons on her walker.  She learned how to use her legs to push herself on her little wheeled vehicle, and delighted in the fun things around her.  She now knows her 'nose' and can point to hers and ours (along with her belly button).  I love this.  I don't want to constantly fight to entertain her and wow her with things; I want her to be content with what she has and not always search for something else.  I know that this depends a lot on a baby's temperament, but even at a small age, I want to work on instilling these things in her.  A few weeks ago, I did whatever it took.  That meant Youtube videos of VeggieTales, chocolate chips cookies, and Wal-Mart trips to get away from the next disaster.  But this week, it was great to be at home, playing on the floor and knowing that she was content and happy with her surroundings.  I'm going to hope and pray for more of that!!

Um, I also loved some peanut m&ms and scarves this weekend.  So good.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Day 6: Cherish It Now

It's the weekends that get to me.  We have great plans and lists and goals of what we will accomplish.  By Monday, we'll surely have  a new home.  Or at least a homemade meal.  Or at least a home with folded laundry.  Eric likes to start the weekend with a list of things for us to accomplish (today's list included 15 items).  I like to start it with one goal.  His list usually includes practical things: mow the yard, organize the basement, clean the bathrooms.  My goal: make Emmalyn some hair bows.  Oh, I wish I was kidding.  He truly is a saint for being married to me.  But some weekends, our lists and goals go out the window, and nothing gets accomplished.  Sunday night brings defeat.

A large part of cherishing our home is cherishing it now.  We can't wait for every inch to be clean and every project to be completed in order to love our home.  So today, when I had to read for class, I cherished our wonderful couch.  While Eric and Emmalyn played on the floor, I cherished the work that Eric put into our wood floors.  I cherished the space we have for toys and being together in the same room.  I cherished the smell of that delicious mulled cider candle in the next room (seriously - go get one).  I had to stop and remind myself how grateful I am for our home and for the love that we get to spread throughout it.  Yes, there is still a massive unfinished project in our dining room.  Yes, there is still laundry to be folded.  Yes, our bathrooms are dirty.  But today, we actually enjoyed the home we're trying to make (and yes, Eric did cross some items off his list and I made 3 hair bows).

How will you intentionally cherish your home this weekend?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Day 5: High Five for Friday!

It's Friday.  Isn't that awesome?  Eric and I both have been/will be traveling a bit, so the weekend is extra exciting.  Between my masters, his job, and life in youth ministry, we are gone quite a bit.  And we (I) love it most of the time.  But there is something about a weekend without plans where we know we get to spend it at home.   This weekend, we are going to get to cherish our home in all its autumn glory (and I may get around to some fall decor as well).  Thanks to The Small Things, I'm gonna give a high five to Friday about the things around our home that are making me smile:

1. The Mulled Cider candle from Wal-Mart.
I have become a reverse-snob when it comes to candles.  I am cheap, and I love this candle - so Wally World is the perfect answer.  I am so madly in love with this scent that I feel like a cheater just by sniffing another fall candle.  Autumn leaves?  Apple pie? Candy corn?  You ain't got nothin' on Mulled Cider.  Go get one today.  The smell will tickle your nostrils with everything you love about fall as soon as you walk in the door, and you'll instantly feel like it's time for a hayride.

2. Soup simmering on the stove
I'm cooking tonight.  It's revolutionary.  I can't actually remember the last meal I made.  We've eaten at home - tomato soup, grilled cheese, chicken on the grill ... but something that I actually labored over?  Yeah, it's been awhile.  We're having pasta e fagioli.  Not because we're Italian (we're not), but because we love Olive Garden.  My mom found the copycat recipe and we absolutely love it.  So, so good.  Plus, I have applesauce thawing from last fall.

3. A free weekend!
I have a meeting tomorrow morning, but that is the only outside-of-the-norm thing on our schedule.  Woo to the hoo!  We are trying to decide what to do - applesauce making, pumpkin farm, homecoming football game, couch potato-ing, or Eric's most likely suggestion, cleaning.  We'll see how that goes.  :)

4. Fall weather
I'm going to regret this at some point when I'm chilled to the bone in February, but I am so excited for cooler weather.  It's supposed to be in the fifties and low sixties this weekend.  Bring on the scarves and boots, and a Starbucks cinnamon dolce latte please! :)  My brother's birthday is today, so I count October 5 as the official start of fall in my mind every year. (I love my brother and love fall : perfect combination!)

5. Thoughts becoming reality
I have officially blogged six days in a row.  That's crazy - I hope I can keep it up.  Also, Sunday, we are having a youth group meeting for our mission trip to Honduras next summer (and I think some awesome young adults that I miss will be there) and that night, we are serving real, live dinner to students at youth group as a way to build fellowship together.  Both of these things have been in the back of our youth ministry brains for a while and it's super fun to see them come into place!

Linking up to Lauren at From My Grey Desk

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Day 4: Collage wall

This is the collage wall in our nursery, the other knock off in the room from Young House Love.  Now that Emmalyn's 15 months old, I'm getting antsy to change it up, but still haven't decided what to do yet.  I made the name sign (upper right hand corner), the chevron "you are my sunshine", the scripture print, and the words that have a glare on them to the right.  The 8x10 photo is from our maternity session and the two baby pictures are of Eric and I as infants (with our first family picture sandwiched between them).

Here are instructions for two of the pieces
The chevron pattern is from vol. 25 and you can download it (and some other cute patterns!) here.  I wrote out you are our sunshine in a font called clementine sketch and printed it on the chevron.  Super fast and easy!

The glare is covering the lyrics to a song that I fell in love with when I was pregnant.  As soon as I saw/heard it on youtube, I started crying .  I wrote the lyrics in a font called artistamp medium, printed them on vellum and cut out yellow hearts to scatter around the page.  Here are the lyrics: when i'm with you

Check out the music video to hear JJ Heller's amazing voice:

Just glancing at those lyrics helps me cherish our girl, and breathe in the sweetness of having her.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Day 3: Mirrors & Memories

The mirror hanging in our nursery is one of the sweetest touches in the room for me.  It serves as a constant reminder to stop and look at the precious face pressed against my shoulder.  During the day, Emmalyn has given some of her best smiles in that mirror, thrilled to see her own reflection or her daddy's silly faces.  But when I trudge up the steps to the sound of her cry, I don't always think of that smiling face.  Sometimes, it's hard to open that door.  And sometimes I'm still overcome by tiredness or distracted as I pick her up.  As soon as I pick her up and she wraps her little body into mine, I remember.  I look in the mirror and see her cuddled into me (something that happens so naturally, as though her little body was made for my arms), and I catch a snapshot of time.  I remember looking in the mirror like that when she was a newborn while she cried for no discernible reason.  I remember looking in that mirror when Eric and I were clueless as to how to help our sick baby.  And just tonight, I remember looking in that mirror and thinking, "I have the best job in the world."  What a divine privilege to get to hold this child and love her back to sleep.

About the mirror:

I have been reading Young House Love since 2009, and was thrilled with the reveal of their nursery for Clara about a year after I started reading.  You can really tell that they inspired some main elements in this nursery (the wall art, and today's mirror).  I saw this mirror at HomeGoods before they posted about it, and loved it.  I didn't buy it because I was trying to be budget conscious.  When I saw the painted reveal of the mirror in Clara's nursery, I started looking for it again at HomeGoods.  Of course - it. was. nowhere.  I finally gave up.  But while shopping with a friend a year later, there she was!  In all her black glory.  I painted her with a sample of paint from Lowe's.  I used a small brush to get in the nooks and crannies, and it took about 6 coats before I gave up.  You can only watch so much t.v. while hunched over with a tiny paintbrush.  People, just spray paint the thing.  Lesson learned.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Day 2: Yellow Striped Curtains

Do you ever struggle to find the right curtains for your space?  I always have the perfect curtains planned out in my mind, and spend hours searching online and in stores for them.  Finally, I find a stunning curtain!  ... and then I realize it's $80 a panel. Um, are you kidding me?  I've learned that ingenuity in the window coverings department is a great way to get what you want - and maybe something better.  Refusing to settle (especially on something expensive) is a great way to cherish what you have.  When I spend a lot of money on something that's just "okay", it leads to regret rather than knowing that I have put myself into something I love.  This curtain panel is just a small example of that. I think it is the perfect touch to bring the room together.

I knew I wanted yellow striped curtains in the nursery, and that something sheer wouldn't do much good.  I found a white grommet curtain on clearance at JcPenney's, and had yellow polka dot fabric on hand.  I measured the length of the curtain, divided it but the number of stripes I wanted and measured away.  I laid out the white curtain on the floor and laid the yellow strips on top (I had already sewed under the edges in oder to get the right width and length. I then pinned the strips in place and took the curtain up to my sewing machine to sew them down.  It was a quick fix to a white curtain, and makes a huge difference in the room.  I think I spent $25 on the entire project.  Below you can see the curtain closed in broad daylight.  Some light still shines through, and I left the blind in place to help with that.  It is a "blackout" curtain, but that only goes so far in white.  So far, Emmalyn hasn't seemed to be affected by it at all, and the curtain still blocks the brightness of the morning sun in her window.

There is a freak-out moment in almost every project I take on (due to my clumsiness or bad math skills or a combination thereof).  As I was ironing the curtain to lay it out perfectly straight, my iron started spitting rust all over the white curtain.  At first I thought I had ironed over crumbs (ha!) and kept going - and then I freaked out when I realized it was rust.  I may have had a little pregnancy meltdown as I thought I had ruined the curtain, but Eric helped me realize that I could just rearrange the stripes to cover the stains.  Good thing his logic is readily available in my projects, and to generally save the day.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Day 1: The Happiest Place in Our Home

This is surely the happiest - and most complete - room in our house.  Ironically, it's also the smallest.  Who says that bigger is always better?  Eric and I decided that we didn't want to know the gender of our children before they were born, but I feared that would make nursery decorating bland.  Looking back, I can't imagine any other nursery.  I had a friend who said that she felt that gender neutral nurseries were destined to be "John Deere" themed, meaning that green and yellow were the only palette options.  Hopefully, we've proved that wrong (I do sometimes wonder if the room would seem too girly if a little boy laid in that crib though)!  It was impossible to get pictures of this room without the main attraction, so you can play "Spot the Emmalyn" in these pictures.  

The turquoise paint is Olympic No-VOC and we loved it.  We were covering a neon green wall, but it went on beautifully.  We didn't use this paint in the rest of our house, but I was able to paint alongside Eric without worries this way! I wanted to have a subtle elephant theme, and there are a few of them around the room.  I knew I wouldn't be able to find crib bedding that I loved in these colors, and Eric's mom made Emmalyn the gorgeous quilt you see on our brown chair.  I sewed a simple slipcover for the footstool to tie in more yellow and white.  Almost everything in the room had a little home-made flair to it, and tomorrow I'll be back back to begin details on these things:

We love to sit in this room, and it has worked perfectly for Emmalyn.  Everything in the room is functional, and her little space fits just right.  Maybe I'll just spend the next 31 days sitting in her room and soak up the happiness? (That is, after I empty the diaper genie).

Sunday, September 30, 2012

31 Days to Cherish Our Home

There is little that compares to the feeling of walking through the door and knowing you belong. The tension lifts off your shoulders and you are free to be yourself.  Everything just feels right.  The dog may be barking, a baby tugging on your leg, and a load of groceries weighing you down (six bags up your arm, digging into your skin), but still.  you're home.  It's a feeling that can't be replicated in many other places, and people yearn for home with only one want to satiate their desires.  Homesickness can be ignored, but not cured until you walk through the door and know you're where you belong.  But how often do we really cherish that place?

My name's Kathy.  I'm married to Eric, and we have a beautiful daughter named Emmalyn (she's just about fifteen months old).  I'm a terrible housekeeper but I love a pretty home.  One of the greatest compliments that I can receive is when someone walks in our house and says, "This looks just like you", knowing that our home is reflecting our personality and style. I see our home as a gift from God and what we do with it glorifies him - a place to raise our family, to offer hospitality, and to share laughter with others.  My idea of a perfect evening involves students piled in our family room watching a movie or friends or family around the kitchen table sharing a meal.  Over the next month, I want to take the time to cherish our home.  Sometimes I get so busy thinking about the next project that I forget to appreciate what we already have.  It's time to stop and smell the cider scented candle that burns around the mess in my kitchen.

Thanks the The Nesting Place for challenging me to do this!  Check out the other 31 Days bloggers at .

Friday, September 21, 2012

What is it about laughter?

When Emmalyn started to laugh, it was pure joy.  Eric and I were staying in a hotel after visiting friends, and as we got her ready for bed, she started to full-out belly laugh.  I remember her laying on the bed, guffawing over and over.  She was just three months old, and we were so excited about all of the laughs to come. But the stinker that she is, we really have to work for her laughs.  She is a content little one, so we thankfully have been spared for lots of screaming outrages in the first year of her life.  Along with contendedness, I guess we lose out on extremes on the other side.  She doesn't laugh all the time, so when she does, we both savor it. If she is laughing with Eric or I, the other will almost always come running to see. Usually laughter comes when we throw her in the air or do something ridiculous.  Occasionally, we'll get laughs from tickling under her chin or poking her belly.  Each time, we soak in the joy that comes with that precious sound (maybe even more so because she holds out on us?).  One time on Facebook, I wrote that heaven surely is filled with the sounds of babies laughing.  There is something purely sweet about that sound.

This morning, I was eating my english muffin with butter and black tea (mmm, delicious - the joys of recovering from a stomach bug) at the local hotel.  I'm at Asbury for class, and obviously missing our little family.  CNN was on, and I just didn't care, so I tuned it out. Then, amid the political commericals and mud-slinging, this came on and my head snapped up:

I'll admit it.  I started to tear up immediately.  It was the most precious thing ever.  So Volkswagen, I'm not about ready to buy a car from you, but your commercial absolutely made my day (and made my miss my little laugher all the more).  Thanks for giving us Americans a break from the finger-pointing!  (Smart advertising move too - check out this post's kudos for that).  Laughter is truly great medicine.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Breathing New Life

When I worked for a church in Wooster, Ohio, the youth ministry was not well-established.  The church was full of people eager for youth ministry, but they had been in transition in this area for awhile.  At that church, I walked a tightrope of implementing programs and ministry fast while getting to dream with people about what they wanted and what I thought was best.  It was great, overwhelming, exciting, and fearful.  There was nothing ahead of us - so I knew that almost anything I put in place would be new and the kids would have not experienced it before.  It was definitely an interesting place to be.  The youth pastor who is there now has taken the opportunity he has before him and run with it, doing awesome things in the lives of the students and their church.  I love that he is doing it, and I love the way that he does so with excitement.

Having working in Marysville for 2+ years, I love that I get to work for my home youth ministry and work with great people in an established program.  It's amazing to already have a budget laid out, know what week we'll go on a mission trip, and not have to re-write the confirmation program.  But here, it's harder to make huge changes.  It takes more time to start from scratch, and sometimes it's easier to do things the way we always have.  For instance, I've been wanting to re-write our confirmation curriculum since I came here; Carrie thinks it's a great idea, but it always gets to the bottom of my list.  Our curriculum now is good but it's not great - so each year, I just settle for it.  It's harder to decide what needs to stay and go, and how the pieces all fit together when that happens.  Even when Carrie and I chose to cancel our monthly CD subscription, it was painful.  We've always had that - even before she came ten years ago. Will our kids no longer listen to Christian music if we get rid of it, even though they never borrow the CDs now?, we thought.  We knew it was a waste of money in 2012 and that sometimes, things need to move aside.  So that's why this article struck me.  I like to ask these questions sometimes, and I know that in my naivete, I don't have all the answers.  Working with a team, though, I think we can answer these questions (actually, this just made me think - and now I'm going to send the MTD post to all of our adult leaders for their answers) and come away with fresh eyes and renewed focus. 

What questions would a new youth worker in your position immediately ask about the youth ministry?
What changes would be a no-brainer?
Who they would do ministry with? 
What programs a new youth pastor would kill with ease?

In my coach training with SLI, we talk a lot about new church plants and churches that need revived.  Planting a church is hard work that I could never undertake (at least I don't think so).  It requires lots of skills that I just don't have, and takes a 24/7/365 commitment.  But at the same time, revival is also hard working.  Letting God breath new life into ministry isn't easy, and requires saying 'no' to a lot of things you hold dear and 'yes' to a lot of things that are scary.  Even healthy ministries need a willingness to have new life breathed into them regularly.  And I would say that healthy ministries especially and eagerly do this.  See the original post here, and be willing to ask these questions.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Restructure Items

General Conference has made some potential changes to the workings of our denomination in order to be more nimble.  As I feared, lots of these initiatives have lost the strength they had when we walked in the door five months ago ten days ago, but that is the beauty of compromise.  A group of people who had two different plans for restructure came together to draft Plan UMC.  This happened after the General Administration committee had no plan to come forward with for restructure because they voted down all three potential plans by a tight margin.  It was definitely an interesting committee to hear about afterwards!  No one got exactly what they wanted, but we have made progress.  Here is what the "restructure" of the church will look like in general.

Taken from
It is more streamlined, and hopefully will make sense in the future.  There was also discussion of having the president of the council of bishops (which already exists) cease from being appointed to an annual conference, in order to serve the whole church better. This petition was defeated.

We also brought to an end "guaranteed appointments", a term that doesn't actually exist in the Book of Discipline.  As you may know, elders in the church are promised an appointment at a local church as long as they are faithful to the the Book of Discipline. Currently, there is no streamlined way to exit ineffective elders in the church.  Annual conferences already can get rid of elders who are doing active damage to the church.  However, the gist of this legislation helps deal with the pastors who are consistently doing harm to more than one appointment (I read in one place that the definition of "ineffective" is having three consecutive churches ask for their pastor to be removed).  In many places, ineffective pastors are placed again and again because they haven't done anything disastrous but they have hurt numerous churches.  We have a regular practice of keeping damaging pastors in the system, rather than gracefully moving them out.  This legislation was amended to add great safeguards in place - the bishop or district would NOT act alone but with a group of people who would work with people around this issue.  Here is a wonderful article about what was done.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Being a Mama at General Conference

In 2004, I attended General Conference as a high school junior.  Mom, Dad, Mike, and I went home during our weekend break (when we got Saturday and Sunday off) so I could go to prom with a really cute guy.  Mom and Dad hosted students at our house for after prom, cooked a huge breakfast for us, and then we packed up and headed back to Pittsburgh.

In 2008, I went to General Conference, headed back to Asbury University for finals, and got married three weeks later.  My amazing family and fiancĂ© cared for details at home while Dad and I attended.

But 2012 is the most unique of all.  This time, I am a mom.  And (sorry male readers), a nursing mom.  Eric is with us and works from the hotel.  Mom is watching Emmalyn all day, and they are cooped up in a hotel.  Poor Mom!  Poor Eric!  They are truly sacrificing so much for us!  Emmalyn has been a huge trooper in the midst of this - all while getting two teeth!  She has tried more new foods in the past ten days than ever before, and she LOVES seeing all of the people around.

As a sidenote, Emmalyn loves any person who has darker skin than her oh-so-pale parents.  When our friend Grace visited from Uganda, Emmalyn was obsessed with her and couldn't stop staring at her (at only three months old).  This has been very apparent this week.  I had Emmalyn at the convention center during a break and while I held her, lots of people were around us.  One of the translators, who is an African woman, came up to us to see Emmalyn, and our baby girl dove out of my arms to go to her.  It was very clear who she preferred in the group!  Throughout the week, we have been spending time with Jorge Acevedo, and Emmalyn cannot stop staring at him.  It's actually pretty comical, and is teaching me to be in awe of the uniqueness with which God has created us.  Emmalyn's definitely a sweet little ice-breaker.

When I was very pregnant with Emmalyn, I was elected to General Conference.  We didn't know what we would do with her when the time came.  I planned on nursing until she was at least six months old, but Emmalyn was not ready to quit and neither was I.  General Conference kept looming in my mind.  Through a combination of pumping, rushing to the hotel during breaks, and meeting Mom here when I couldn't get away, it has been much better than I imagined.  Since I don't see Emmalyn much during the day, it is great to have a few minutes to bond with her and it definitely gives her the mama time she needs during the day. Today for instance, I have been able to get to her during every break and I think it's helped both of us have a better day!

There have been moments when I have felt like I am doing a dis-service to General Conference by skipping out on worship or showing up five minutes late after a break.  But thankfully, I don't believe I have missed any votes.  I am sure that people have judged me sneaking out a bit early at times, and a few nights ago, that wore on me as I walked out before the end of worship.  But as I left the convention center at 8:30 p.m., I saw a woman pacing on the sidewalk.  She was on her cell phone and I thought she was talking in a different language until I realized she was singing.  She seemed a little embarrassed, and I wondered why she would sing on her phone.  As I got closer, I realized that she was singing a lullaby to her child on the phone.  It was so precious to me and affirmed that my primary responsibility is, even in the midst of General Conference, to be a mom. What a great privilege that is!

Monday, April 30, 2012


Anyone who is a member of a United Methodist Church can write a petition to go before the General Conference of the United Methodist Church.  As you can imagine, this draws a lot of petitions to us!  To the right is a picture of the petitions we received in preparation for General Conference - that's 1850 pages of petitions! They are compiled in books called the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate. Because of the sheer mass of petitions, we have to have a system to go through them.  The petitions are filtered to the  legislative committee to which they best fit, and we act on them in our committees (sometimes starting in sub-committees).  Committees then make a recommendation (often with amendments) to the floor of General Conference and that is what we act on.  The first week of GC is spent in legislative committees, the second in main plenary. Here's an idea of the space in a legislative committee:

 There were about seven-five seated delegates in the room, with a chair, vice-chair, and secretary.  This is the view from my table.
This is the view behind me.  If you see the black line, that separates the delegates from the visitors who can watch us throughout our sessions, but cannot speak.

When we are done with our legislative work, it still needs to be voted on by the entire body.  Any petition that was approved with less than ten dissenting votes is put on a consent calendar - allowing us to approve a number of petitions at once.  There are lots of ways that a petition can be pulled off the calendar to be considered separately, and that often takes up the bulk of our work during week 2.  Each day, we receive a list of all the petitions that are going to be considered, along with our schedule, and the consent calendars we will approve (this is called the Daily Christian Advocate).  Here is an example of a printed consent calendar:

Pray for us in week two as we wade through petitions and hear debate on the floor.  If you're curious to see how the process looks in real life, check out the live stream on our church's website at anytime throughout the week.

Psst.  As a side note, Emmalyn loved playing with my Advanced Daily Christian Advocates (the petitions we received before hand), and still does.  Look at her considering these petitions:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Deep Change in the UMC

One of the biggest discussions at General Conference is about restructuring the church.  This matter needs our prayer and deep attention.  In a previous post, I outlined my review and summary of the Call to Action report that was distributed in the past year.  Here, I want to talk about why the comments I’ve heard at General Conference that lead me to support it still.  I am very aware that this is a radical change for our denomination.   The more I learn about change that sticks, the more I understand that transformation does not come through rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic or even a boat that hasn’t sunk yet!  Deep Change shaped my understanding about this, and I highly recommend the book to anyone in the midst of change.  When deep change is proposed, lots of people aren’t going to like it.  In fact, lots of people flee from it.  But for organizations on the decline, it is the option.  Incremental change is just a stepping stone to death.  Deep change is crucial.

One of our leading pastors, Adam Hamilton, shared about the need our church is in.

In the past five years, our membership has declined by 5.3%. However, attendance has declined by 8.6% (that’s 291, 600 people we’ve lost in five years)!
-       We would close the NW Texas, New England, Dakota, Pacific Northwest, Florida, Kansas West, and Redbird Conference to equal this number!
-       We will last less than 50 years at the current rate of decline
The key indicators for our future are baptisms of children/confirmation for teens
-       These have declined 21% in the past five years. 
-       At this rate, in 25 years we will no longer have children or youth in our churches
-       Back in the 70s, people left because they didn’t like us.  Today, they are graduating from this life to heaven.  Over half of our members are over the age of 60. 

The primacy goal of the Call to Action is to create a more effective way of doing connectional ministry.

Here is the heart of the plan:
1.     Create/sustain congregations
2.     Allow annual conferences to reorganize
3.     Form a more nimble structure to respond to challenges and act
4.     Raise up 2,000 next-generation clergy

In an earlier presentation, Bishop Goodpastor shared these thoughts with us.

Our council of bishops approved the general direction of this with only two dissenting votes.  This was an astounding statement to me.  While our bishops are a diverse group of people, they were able to see the need for radical change and came together in support of it.  This speaks volumes to me, and highlights the urgency of where we are as a denomination. 

The council asked “what will best increase the number of vital congregations worldwide?” and responded to that.

Here are some challenging questions he shared with us:

Do you long for the church to live on just as it is? Or do you long to see a revival of witness? 
What if we were moving forward?

One of our African bishops shared this thought about ministry in Africa with us, “In the heart of ministry, we put the mission of the church, making disciples of Jesus Christ.”  This is where we need to return.

I was warmed and challenged by these words that Adam Hamiltons shared:

What do you dream for the United Methodist Church – do you dream for her? Do you pray for her?

May we be a praying and dreaming church!  Please join me as we continue to hold on to hope for God’s bride, the church.