Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How to spend New Year's Eve with kids

Life is Good: we are safe & warm!

Well, it is New Year's Eve! Oh, how I love this holiday, just like all of the rest. I love the dressing up and the socializing and the dressing up and the socializing! ; )

This year, we could not find a sitter from our shallow pool of options, so we invited friends over to celebrate at home with us. I had planned a 2013 scavenger hunt, 2013 coloring sheets, "mad libs"-style "what will 2014 be like" questionnaire and more. But alas, pneumonia hit their house and they are stuck at home. With the weather as frosty as it is here in Minnesota (in the negative teens!), a lot of people that I know are hunkering down so that they can ring in the new year without shivering.

I think anyone who knows me a little, knows that I love a party. I love a house full of friends. I love glancing at people I hold dear talking to other people I hold dear. I love smiles beaming and the rumbling of laughter permeating through rooms.

But I am okay with celebrating this holiday more quietly tonight. Because the truth is, wherever my three dudes are is exactly where I want to be. With them, every day is a party and every moment shared is a celebration. Oh, that sounds so cheesy, huh? But it is true, I am exactly where I want to be. I don't need a champagne fountain or a ballroom full of people I don't know. I don't need a small room filled with people I like or a girls' getaway or anything else to make me happy. These three are all I need.

And if you are reading this, this is what I hope for you in the new year. That you will have all that you need, wherever you are planted. I wish for you to have "enough" and know it. I wish for you to have "plenty" and acknowledge it. I wish for you to be satisfied with who you are and what you have, whether those things are tangible or not.

Thank you for reading this little blog of mine. Like me, it is flawed and a work in progress, but always well-intended. I am not big about resolutions, but I do love fresh starts. I have "grand plans" for organization and cooking and slowing down. I have "brilliant ideas" for play and learning and family time. As usual, I have more ideas than I have time. I don't know what is truly in store for 2014, but I know that with the right attitude, it will be one of the best times of our lives. Because right now really is the best time of our life. And one thing you can count on, I will aim to make it pleasant!

We are about to sit down to lobster bisque and I am wearing sequins. That sounds like a good way to say goodbye to 2013 and hello to 2014, if you ask me! Happy new year!

Life is what you make of it, so make it pleasant! And more! 

May your new year be blessed,

Monday, December 23, 2013

Best Crab Bisque Recipe Ever

Life is Good: so save the crabbiness for bisque!

Today, I made yeast rolls (that flopped) plus frosting for sugar cookie decorating tomorrow. I also made a fantastic apple crumb pie (recipe to follow soon) and I just finished making a delicious crab bisque for after Christmas Eve services tomorrow night. This is the second year in a row that I have made this bisque, so it just might end up being a tradition! The recipe is from Emeril, but I adjusted it a bit. Here is my version:

Christmas Eve Crab Bisque
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup minced onions
1 cup uncooked sweet corn from the cob
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 heaping tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 cups crab stock or fish stock
3 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
4 cups whole milk
4 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoons liquid crab boil
3 tablespoons blonde roux (click for how-to directions)
lump crab meat, picked over for shells and cartilage (I get it already removed from the crab legs. I use about 1 lb. or more of crab meat because we like a lot of crab!)
1 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Chives for garnish

1. In a large sauce pot, heat the olive oil. 
2. When the oil is smoking hot, add the onions, corn, shallots, garlic, celery and saute for 1 minute. 
3. Season with Old Bay and other herbs. 
4. Add the stock, and bay leaves. 
5. Season with salt and pepper. 
6. Bring the mixture to a boil. 
7. Whisk in the milk, cream, and crab boil.
8. Bring back to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 5-7 minutes. 
9. Whisk in the roux, 1 tablespoon at a time.
10. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, whisking until the mixture thickens. 
11. Stir in the crab meat, green onions, and Worcestershire sauce and simmer for 6-8 minutes. 
12. Reseason with a little more Old Bay, if needed. (This depends on your desire for saltiness.)
13. Ladle into a shallow bowl and garnish with chives.
 NOTES: I have made this without roux and it just makes for a soupier soup rather than a thicker bisque. Roux can be tricky, so don't give up if yours doesn't turn out perfectly the first time. I serve this soup with grilled sandwiches such as goat cheese, roasted red pepper, and caramelized onion.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Best Eggless Thumbprint Cookies

Life is Good: what's cookin'?

We have our mom's group Christmas social tomorrow, so I have pumpkin bread in the oven and now I am moving on to the easiest cookie ever. Ever.

Thumbprint cookies! I grabbed this recipe off the interwebs a couple of years ago. I love it because it has very few ingredients, it's eggless so my kiddos can eat it, and it is so simple to put together that the kids can help me make them. Normally. They are fast asleep right now.

I've adjusted the recipe a tad. Here it is:

Strawberry Thumbprint Cookies
Cookie Ingredients:

1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (I use madagascar)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup strawberry preserves*
Glaze Ingredients:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla (I use madagascar)


1. Combine softened butter, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla in bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy.
2. Add flour and beat at low speed, scraping bowl often, until well mixed.
3. Cover; refrigerate at least 1 hour or until firm.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

5. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
6. Make indentation in center of each cookie with thumb (edges may crack slightly).
7. Fill each indentation with about 1/4 teaspoon preserves.

8. Bake 14-18 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Let stand 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to cooling rack. Cool completely. 

9. Combine all glaze ingredients in bowl with whisk until smooth.
10. Drizzle over cookies.

*Substitute 1/2 cup of your favorite flavor jam or preserves.

Advent Thoughts: Mary, Mother of Jesus

Life is Good: let's think about it

We've been very busy enjoying Advent (while trying not to be too busy!). I really love so much about this time of year...the anticipation of seeing loved ones, the excitement in children's hearts, the celebrations and parties. I love driving past Christmas lights at night, decorating sugar cookies and making other goodies. I look forward to each day's Advent activities whether that be drawing a picture of an angel, lacing and decorating a cutout of a gingerbread man, or reading our Christmas books right before bed. I also love the magic and mystery and wonder that surrounds Christmas. And when I think about the wonder of Christmas, my mind goes straight to Mary.

The year that I was pregnant with our eldest, our former pastor asked me to light the Advent candle one week at our church and say something about the season. "What should I say?", I asked. And he replied, "Whatever is in your heart." I look back on that now and realize that those were important words. For so many reasons. I think it is important to share what is on our hearts and to do it at church, especially. I love that he empowered me with and entrusted me with the freedom to speak to the congregation about "whatever was in my heart".

Quickly, the words came to me. It was easy to think of Mary. I was at this pregnant. She had been pregnant at this same time. And then I thought deeper.

Mary. She was just a girl. A girl. About the age of some of the youth at our church that Grant and I would hang out with on Wednesday nights. I considered what it might be like for one of those girls to be pregnant. That was unfathomable enough.

I thought about what it must have been like for Mary. An angel appears and tells her that she will be pregnant. Immaculately. And with the Son of God. What would we do if an angel just--poof--appeared before our eyes? Jump and shriek? Back away? Listen, but then doubt?

And yet, this young girl, this very young girl, we are told, listens to the angel and steps forward, accepting the responsibility, the honor to serve her God. And then she endures. Oh, what she must have endured. She was engaged, but not yet married. The whispers and ridicule she must have been subjected to. The unkindness and judgment must have been astounding.

And the fear, the anxiety of the unknown. Some of the most strong, modern, capable women I know---ones who are mature, well into their 30s, have been made into a puddle by pregnancy. That time in life can be worrisome and anxiety-ridden. There are so many variables, so many twitches and pings. And then to think of a young girl going through this all...

Think back. Do you remember middle school? That is about the age that Mary was when she was pregnant with our Lord and Savior. Middle school. I had a pretty great middle school experience, but it was still the most awkward and insecure time of my growing up. To think of Mary in this way makes her even more of an icon of strength to me. I ponder the faith and resilience and poise she must have had.

And the overwhelming pressure she must have felt. To be told that you will be the mother of the Son of God! The mother of the Son of God! King of Kings, Lord of Lords! The Prince of Peace! And yet, this, most likely, fragile girl of thirteen or fourteen--a teenager--believes.

Belief. So much of the Christmas Story is about wonder and marvel and miracle. And it is all about belief.

I remember being at a party a few years before we had our big kid. I was probably the least educated of the guest list. And I don't consider myself uneducated or without a properly working brain (well, at least I don't after my first cup of coffee!). However, this guest list was full of PhDs and graduate students and scientists and researchers. I walked into the kitchen to freshen my drink and discovered an academic discussion of why a "thinking person", a believer of science could never be a Christian. "There is no scientific fact!" "There is no proof!" I stood there and listened. I think I made a couple of remarks, but I knew this was not a "battle" I was going to win, so I decided to try, instead, to win the "war" with my example.

But for me, faith is not about scientific fact or proof. The Christmas Story is not about historical evidence or absolutes. My faith is about belief. And choice. I choose to believe.

I choose to believe.

And so did Mary. Despite the whispers and ridicule of her culture and her very young age, she believes the angel. She believes in her God. She believes. 

Faith is what is in your heart. You can use all of the words you know--even if you have a PhD or are a research scientist--and you still might not be able to define it. It is ever-changing, ever-growing. It is a willingness to let go of scientific fact and historical proof to let your heart wonder and marvel and accept a miracle.

Mary allowed herself to accept the miracle. So that is what I am doing today. I am thinking of Mary. I am thinking about what this time before Jesus' birth must have been like for her. I am saying praises of thanks for her strength, her belief. And I am opening my mind and my heart even wider so that I might be able to even better accept the miracle of the Christ Child's birth. Today, I'm marveling, I'm wondering, I'm basking in the miracle.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to Pray

Life is Good: say thanks for it!

Yesterday before lunch, the little one and I had a playdough party. He was intent on making fish. And I was truly amazed that he figured out how to make something that pretty much looked like a fish all on his on. These fish were kind of mashed and mangled oval-ish balls with a tail. Er, fin. I continue to be reminded that he is no longer a baby.

Then it was time for lunch. So I asked him if he wanted to pray. We've been doing this since he was old enough to sit at the table. He hasn't always been able to present a coherent response, but we always give him the respect of the opportunity. Now he is speaking in detailed sentences and never refuses the chance to pray. Or talk. About anything! Hmm. I wonder who he gets that from?

Well, this was yesterday's prayer before lunch: "Thank you, God, for PLAYDOUGH! Fish. Mommy. Food. PLAYDOUGH!!! Amen."

I grinned the kind of grin you grin when you are trying so desperately not to laugh. It was funny. And sweet. And as we began to eat, I surmised that if I was giggling inside about that prayer, then God must be, too.

I don't think prayer has to be formal. I don't think you always have to get down on your knees to pray. I don't think you have to be in church or speak in the King's English or recite something that sounds like poetry to pray. I think God wants us to talk to Him in any way we can and about everything. Everything. Absolutely everything. Including playdough and fish and food and more playdough. I think God smiles and rejoices any time we talk to him. Resting on our knees, in the car, in the shower, five minutes before we walk into a meeting, anywhere, any way.

In this season of hustle and bustle, let's take time to talk to God. Whenever about whatever. And if you've never prayed before, don't let that stop you from starting. Even if it is thanking God for playdough. Or those kids who play with it. It doesn't have to be formal. It doesn't have to be anything except what you need it to be. After all, He made you. He made you to be exactly who you are. Talk to him about it.

We humans are a lot like that playdough...sometimes we are smooth and perfectly shaped and sometimes we are smashed and dented and rough around the edges. No matter what form you take today, God loves you. God loves you beyond words, beyond human comprehension. Rejoice in that today! (And talk to him about it.)

                                                     Photo from mommypotamus.com

"And I pray that you and all God’s holy people will have the power to understand the greatness of Christ’s love—how wide, how long, how high, and how deep that love is." (Ephesians 3:18)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Top Ten Christmas Books for Ages 0-5

Life is Good: Christmas is coming!

We are really enjoying Advent around here at the How to be Pleasant house! We've been trying to keep these days before Christmas peaceful and contemplative. One way we do this is by having a tradition of reading Christmas books each evening before bed. During the day, I have our favorites on the coffee table for the kids to look at or for me to read to them. Each year, I buy a new book for each child and give it to them on the first day of Advent. In no particular order, here are our top ten favorites (plus a few more):

1. The Nativity
This one is based on the King James bible, which is the version that my dad reads aloud to our family every Christmas before we pray as a family and then open gifts.

2. Room for a Little One
Nice repetition for smaller kids, this book focuses on a kind ox who invites animal after animal (each other's prey) to share his stable. The culmination of this book about generosity and inclusiveness is the invitation to Joseph and Mary and eventually, Jesus. A simple, but meaningful story, I also like the dreaming visuals.

3. God Gave Us Christmas
We fell in love with this series with "God Gave Us You". In fact, I often give that book as a gift for a first baby. It's message is perfection to me. God Gave Us Christmas begins with Little Cub asking about who invented Christmas and wanting to look for Santa Claus. Instead, Mama Bear takes Little Cub on an adventure to find God in the magnificent surroundings. Indeed, God is everywhere.

4. Little Golden Book The Christmas Story
You can tell that this book was written many years ago. I like the old-school artwork in this book and the fact that they tell the story beginning with who Mary was and who Joseph was and how they came to know that they would be the parents of Jesus.

5. Who is Coming to Our House
This was one of the first Christmas books I bought for our big kid. It is really perfect for little ones because of its repetition. A story about animals preparing the stable so that Mary & Joseph can arrive and baby Jesus can be born, now our big kid likes to read it to our two-year old.

6. Song of the Stars
This book has magical artwork and lyrical words. It tells the Christmas story from the perspective of the animal and natural world. Excitement builds as we hear how "the skies shouted it to the seas that thundered it to the waves" and more.

7. Christmas Angels
We have both the hardcover (with pop ups) and board book (shortened) versions of this book. (My mom must have really liked it, huh!?!) We chose to read this with our Goddaughter the other night before we decorated Christmas cookies and opened Christmas gifts together. We like this one because it tells the Christmas story beginning with who Mary was and how she was told that she would be Jesus' mother. It also talks about Herrod and that he was a threat to Joseph, Mary, Jesus. Throughout the book, angels are emphasized for their communication roles. On the final page, it talks about how we don't always see angels, but they are all around us and that the same is true of Jesus.

8. The Story of Christmas
The first page of this board book asks, "Do you know why we give gifts at Christmas?" and answers that it is to celebrate baby Jesus' birthday. It then tells the story of Jesus' birth in bite-sized pieces easy for a baby and toddler to understand. It ends by saying that we give gifts to show each other our love and to say, "Happy birthday, baby Jesus!"

9. This is the Stable
This book has a peaceful, sleepy cadence. The repetition is great for little ones, but it is so much more. Each page addresses a piece of the nativity from the star to the shepherds to the wise men. I really like that the artist chose to show more Middle Eastern-looking people in this one. Jesus was most likely not blue-eyed with blonde hair!

10. Nighty Night, Baby Jesus
This one is great for the under 3 crowd because it uses the sounds of the animals in the stable to tell the story of their discovery of Jesus. But older preschoolers will like it, too, mostly for its cartoon-like visuals.

11. The Crippled Lamb
Not the most "politically-correct" title, but a lovely story about a little lamb with a disability. If it weren't for his disability, Joshua the Lamb would never have been witness to the Christ Child's birth. This story shows that such as the shepherds, God chose some of the least (of the animals) to be the first to welcome His son, proving that in God's eyes, we are all loved and valued no matter what makes us different or "lesser" from others.

12. Humphrey's First Christmas
This is our first year with this book. I got it off of Amazon.com after reading the synopsis. After the first read, I was a bit disappointed. But then, I read it again and realized that this book talks about something that our other books don't: selfishness. I think selfishness is one of those themes that pops up a lot in parenting. Teaching your children to be selfless is an ongoing adventure. And at Christmastime (aka gift time), I think parents need to be especially on top of this. So I am now happier with this purchase than I was in the beginning. Humphrey is a camel who spends a lot of the book complaining and thinking of himself and his own needs. And then he discovers the baby Jesus and becomes enlightened. It is a good book to use as a discussion tool about selflessness and selfishness.

13. The Little Shepherd's Christmas
The other purchase this year, I chose this book for our youngest because the main character is the youngest brother. The little shepherd wants very much to keep up with his brothers. They aren't always kind to him. But in the end, the little brother is one of the shepherds to experience the heavenly host of angels bringing the message of the birth of the Christ child. He is also one of the first to see the baby Jesus. And finally, the older brothers show the little brother love and respect.

14. If you are looking to read about the Christian faith all year round, we really love the Beginner's Bible. It has kid-sized stories and cartoon-like illustrations. Both kiddos like it and our little one requests it by bringing it to us and asking to, "Read God?".

All photos and links are via Amazon.com.

I'd love to hear what your favorite Christmas books are! Please leave a comment or post on the blog's Facebook page.

Merry Advent!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

New uses for old things

Life is Good: my kids are sure to eat their veggies tomorrow night!

I was just spending time (okay, wasting it) on Pinterest and I came across a pin that made me (almost) shout, "Hallelujah!"

Lately, the big kid has been dawdling at the dinner table. A lot of the time goes by with talking, which is always enjoyable and often funny and so of course, we don't discourage it. But dinner time has also become a test of my creative skills. All of a sudden, this kid who has eaten like a champ, adored veggies and all things nutritious, has discovered that there are kids (at school) who actually don't like nutritious foods and don't eat what's given to him. So some nights, dinner is a chore.

That's why I was so excited to see this pin... It's a Real Simple exercise in 101 new uses for old things: kids edition. The excitement came with #19: rolling dice as a game to get kids to eat that number of bites of their veggies. This is brilliant. My kids will totally fall for this. I mean, enjoy this. We are doing it tomorrow night!

As for the other 100 uses, some were okay...like uses silly bands as wine glass identification, plastic eggs as snack holders, and kid art as wrapping paper (I've been doing this for four years. Very cute.).

Some left me a little "meh" like a baby food jar as an Easter egg dying stand or a used matchbook glued onto a card. If my husband had given me that card before we were married, well, he would be "what's his name" now.

And some of the ideas totally grossed me out. Like using dryer lint for modeling clay. Gross. I am all for recycling and reducing my carbon footprint, but ew. No. Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

Okay. Truth is, after I saw the dryer lint idea, I stopped looking at the rest of the ideas. But you should! ; )

Friday, December 6, 2013

Best Eggless Sugar Cookie Recipe Ever

Life is Good: I smell cookies!

Since our kids have an allergy to eggs (our eldest has a severe, life-threatening one), baking and treat-making is sometimes a challenge. Fortunately, I have my mom in my corner! She adjusted a to-die-for sugar cookie recipe from my church's cookbook called "Betty's Sugar Cookies" and, Betty, I don't know who you are, but you are a cookie goddess! She uses arrowroot as a thickener in this recipe. Eggs do not provide taste in baking, they just act as a binder, so to substitute, you must find an appropriate binder. In this case, arrowroot works like a charm!

These cookies have made our kiddos happy on a number of occasions. They are not a melt in your mouth, super soft cookie, but rather a crisper version of a sugar cookie. They are yummy on their own, with a glaze (powdered sugar, vanilla, and water) or with a thicker frosting (hello...cardboard is delicious with a thicker frosting!).

Here is my mom's recipe:

Elsie's Eggless Sugar Cookies
1 c. powdered sugar
1 c. sugar
1 c. vegetable oil
1 c. butter, softened
4 - 4 1/2 c. flour (use 4 first and add in the last half cups slowly if your dough doesn't seem stiff enough)
2 t. baking soda
1 t. cream of tartar
2 T. vanilla (I use Madagascar)
1 T. arrowroot

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix all ingredients together and allow to cool in refrigerator for at least one hour.
3. Cut into shapes
4. Bake at 350 degrees  for 12-15 minutes.
5. Allow to cool completely.
6. Top with a glaze or frosting.

NOTES: Make sure that your dough is cold. I work in small batches and keep the rest in the refrigerator while I use cutters. This dough will puff up otherwise. This dough does not work well for cutters with intricate designs because of the "puffing up" capabilities. This recipe works best when using a mixer such as a Kitchenaid. However, it can be hand-stirred, too. In case your dough is way too dry, you may add a little milk to it, a teaspoon at a time, to get it to the right consistency. (But use caution and don't get it too wet.)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Quotes about Kindness

Life is Good: don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

Sorry to be vague, but to protect the identity of the innocent (and the guilty), I will say that...I had an experience this week that brought me to this notion:
Kindness and unkindness are both like boomerangs. Whatever you put out there, comes back to you.

I just can't wrap my brain around why some people choose to be snippy, rude, unkind, and mean instead of just being kind. Let me tell you, kindness is easier! It takes a whole lot more thought and energy to be unkind. And my guess is that it doesn't make you feel any better inside either.

And the biggest exclamation mark of all is that I am not talking about a situation involving my five-year old! Nope. I am referring to a(n) adult(s). It seems like such a waste of life. We only get so much breathing time, after all.

I was noodling over this thought when I scrolled down my Facebook news feed and saw this from Momastery:

I LOVE IT! It's true! If you are snarky on Facebook, rude in a text, short in an email, judgmental on Twitter or a whole host of other offenses, you...as Jeff Foxworthy might say... might (not) be kind. Or something like that! And like I said in this post, "Words come out quickly and there is no taking them back. When you put them out into the world, you have no control over what others will do with them. So you better be sure of every syllable." None of us are perfect. But I don't think it is aiming too high when we aim to be perfectly kind.

And then I remembered a couple of quotes I had saved to my pinterest boards. This one is great for not giving too much thought or attention to meanies:

 from withallourhearts.com

This one goes hand in hand with my boomerang idea...

from beyondyoga.com

And this. This is such a great mantra. Don't give awful people your power and don't let them harden your heart either...

I can't control other people's actions. And I certainly can't make sense of it when those actions come from a place of darkness. But I can choose my own "weapons" carefully. And I choose kindness. Every time.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Gratitude for Hope

Life is Good: we always have hope


Month of Gratitude, Day 30

Well, last night after the kiddos were all snug as a bug, I sat down at the computer to write my final "Month of Gratitude" post. It could have been an easy one... I'm grateful I don't have to write a post every day for an entire month starting tomorrow! ; ) Indeed, it has been a lovely exercise to write about my blessings and especially to focus on the little and simple things. However, trying to carve out time to write each day has not always been so simple. I've enjoyed the process...thinking and writing. I have loved the feedback from friends I know and new internet friends I have never met. It's been good for me to sit down and be quiet. It's been good for me to save some thoughts for my kids and share what is on my mind. But to be sure, this mama has a full load and so I breathe a sigh of relief at the idea of writing a post or two each week moving forward.

So as I said, last night, I sat down to write. It had been a good day and I was grateful. We had begun our Christmas celebrating. We had spent the morning downtown at Macy's. On their 8th floor, they have a "Day in the Life of an Elf" display that is really adorable. They have several scenes of animated elf dolls doing their daily tasks like making candy and other goodies.

We met a close friend and her kiddos that, like ours, are 2 and 5. It was fun to watch the kids delight in the magic.

They bounced around from scene to scene. Literally. The excitement took over their little bodies. It is no surprise that people call it the "most wonderful time of the year". These kids were reveling in it.

Later, we watched "Moose Crossing", the puppet show in an adjacent room on the eighth floor. It was cute and for four bucks a person, it was a real bargain. Our kids loved it. It was a mixture of real puppets...

shadow puppets...

and marionettes...

 After the show, the puppeteers brought out some of the puppets and let kids try them out. What an extra special treat. We were the last ones to leave, so we even got to peek at the back of the stage.

We came home to lobster bisque (yum!) and then set off to see Santa at a local photographer's studio. The kids got 15 minutes to talk with Santa about toys and the North Pole and anything else that was on their minds. And we got a cute picture for their memory boxes.

It was the most relaxing, enjoyable Santa visit of our five and a half years of Santa visits. Thank you! But if you are wondering why our little ones aren't sitting on Santa's lap, it's because the wee one is far too discerning for it! That is as close as he would get. And that was okay with us. He sat on a stool next to Santa and said, "Merry Christmas!" No tears. Success.

It was a good day. A very good day. A day full of fun and frolic and magic. And I was grateful.

Before I wrote my post, I decided to check my accounts. And when I did, I learned that a friend's father had passed away. Tears filled my eyes. My heart ached.

Allyson and I forged a friendship over conversation. Like my friend, Pip, Allyson is older than I am. I grew to adore her and admired her for many reasons (I wasn't a teenager yet, but she was one of the most real teenagers I had ever met, wise beyond her years, and just a really good-hearted friend) and I think I valued her friendship in a different way because, unlike the girls my age whom I had been friends with since we started school, I felt Allyson had really chosen to be my friend. We hadn't just always been friends, but rather, she picked me to be her friend. Even though I haven't seen her in a long time, our friendship was very special to me and I look back on those years with such warmth.

So I put my post on hold. I couldn't think about anything but Allyson and her family. I called my mom to tell her. She gasped. We felt the sadness together. I prayed. And prayed. And prayed again. I asked for comfort and peace for their family. I thought about Allyson's children. In a correspondence with her, I told her to hug them all tightly. I felt so glad that she had them to hug and hold on to.

I awakened this morning thinking about Allyson again. I thought about what a great day our family had together yesterday and all the while, hers was saying goodbye to her beloved father. Our hearts were bursting with enthusiasm, their hearts were breaking. And still, I began thinking about this being the first day of Advent and why we celebrate it--the anticipation of our celebration of Christ's birth. The Christ Child. The King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace. The little, tiny baby that brought hope to our world.


This is what connects us. Each day, some of us will experience happiness and some, sadness. Others of us will be somewhere in the middle. But whatever spot we are within that, we all have hope. The hope that Christ's birth brought to the world. The message his birth gave to us all. A light unto our paths. The gift of love, the gift of hope.

Carl Sandberg said, “A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on.” It started with the greatest gift of all, our Savior, Jesus Christ. He lives in us. That hope lives in us.

So on this last post of Thanksgiving and on the first day of Advent, I am grateful for hope. In all its glory and innocence, its enthusiasm and kindness. And for the One who brought it into our world to us so that in our finest moments, we have gratitude and in our darkest moments, we have light.