Saturday, December 7, 2013

Saturday, December 7

A baker's dozen of my favorite December "Must-Do's." (In no particular order.) 

1. String lights around one tree in your backyard. It's pure magic for everyone who sees that lone tree in the dark.

2. Bake chewy gingersnap cookies from scratch. Your home will smell like Santa's elves have been there.

3. Set up a Nativity scene, have someone move Mary and Joseph around your home each day until December 24th when you place them along with baby Jesus in the manger. Read Luke 2:1-20. Find a church with a candlelight service to attend on Christmas Eve. Put more than a little thought into this season. 

4. Turn the lights down low, add a few lit candles, cushy pillows, blankets and a crackling fire to enjoy the tree's twinkling lights. Play favorite music. Enjoy a glass of wine or spiced cider. Breathe. 

5. Slow down, why hurry through this month? Tune into Christmas music and drive through a neighborhood on the way home from wherever you've been to enjoy the light show. (My favorite memories include loading our pj clad kids in the car, handing them a lidded cup of cocoa or a candy cane and driving around for awhile on at least one night during the season.) 

6. Make sure one of the gifts on your list gifts someone else this season. It might be the most cherished gift you never receive. World Vision, Compassion International or Heifer International are good places to start. 

7. Get neighbors together for caroling, no one has to host a houseful. Ask everyone to share a small plate of cookies on a table outside afterwards. Make copies of sheet music. Dress warmly. Let kids run up to ring the doorbell. Laugh and sing loudly! 

8. Dream BIG like a child again. Look through those catalogs and imagine whatever you want--don't even look at price tags. When you're done circling ideas, you're done. Sometimes the joy comes purely from your imagination and not in the owning of things. 

9. Stop by your local police or fire station with a plate of baked cookies one evening. They will be happy you dropped by.

10. Stop focusing on stuff and MORE stuff. There's more joy in a few well-thought-out gifts than in trying to give a bundle of all that clutters.

11. Declutter. Spend one morning going through rooms with a box or a bag. (Yes. That includes your kitchen and cabinets.) If you don't love it give it away, or take it to a thrift shop. (Or see #12.) Once you see how much you have, it whispers wise perspective into buying more, more, more. You may also remember those little things you'd really appreciate.

12. Host a white elephant party for your child or yourself. Rules are, it <<must>> be a re-gift you no longer love. Yes, you get to go around the room and steal an item someone already unwrapped. I guarantee someone else's give-away will be quite a treasure.

13. Find something simple to make you smile. Every day. Somehow we've made this season stressful when it's supposed to be joyful. <3

Monday, November 11, 2013

November 11

Sit.  Be still. Be quiet.  Listen to that fresh-faced girl with the sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose and unruly brunette curls she tucks behind her ear.  She lost her fourth molar this week.  She worries over fractions in word problems.  She forgot her agenda at home yesterday.  She can't find the homework webpage online.  She wonders if her feet are too big, or whether her eyes might really be hazel rather than brown, if she'll be taller than you.  She wants to be like you, but not just like you because she is her own young self with a life wide open and so many amazing paths to choose from.  Start a conversation, but check all your adult wisdom and years of experience at the door.  It's amazing what she will share when she knows that you are listening with whole heart, not just waiting for a pause to tell her what she knows that you already know.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tap tap tap. (Yes, it's me. I'm tapping on your computer screen to get YOUR attention.) Did you VOTE today? Don't think it really matters...? It does. Put your shoes on. Throw that coat on. Grab your car keys. It won't take long! (I spent less than 5 minutes at the polls. I was only #195.) Vote. It's our right. Someone lost their life to protect our freedoms. Someone is currently far from home protecting our freedoms. This. Is. An. Important. Freedom. Just VOTE. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

November 1

My Josie cat has been very restless this past week.  I was worried at first that she was sick, except that she goes through the same amount of cat food and water at home.  We noticed her buddy, a handsome and friendly neighbor tabby, has been missing in that same amount of time.  Like Mutt & Jeff, if you saw one, the other wasn't far behind.  The two were almost inseparable at my house.  He was friendly to the point of wandering in if you left the door open.  Sit on the front porch and he'd happily join you on the swing.  Build a roaring fire out back in the evening and he'd hunch next to your adirondack chair to watch the flames.  I always smiled when I walked past the front door and saw him staring intently at me, waiting patiently for her to come out.  (If she even happened to be inside.)  They lounged together on my porch, my steps, my patio, my yard.  They chased butterflies, birds, lizards, frogs. They hunched together on the rock wall to watch my fish swim and they'd race across yards to climb tall backyard trees.

I discovered last night that Josie's tabby friend is gone for good.  Seems a new neighbor who moved in recently didn't like him in their yard or on their porch.  They called the police, and then they called Animal Control.  My longtime neighbor went over to talk to them about what she could do and how they might reach an agreement,  She asked another family who loved him to stop giving him treats so he might stay away from their court.  But the new neighbors were angrily adamant: there was no middle ground, they labeled her family terrible pet owners and suggested that Animal Control would be called every time he wandered over.  They were lucky.  Their vet lives on 10 acres and was happy to re-home him.  But now I worry about my cat, Josie.  

We've never owned a cat who wasn't feral.  Let me tell you: feral cats are appreciative and they are little lovers and they are natural-born wildlife feeders.  They know what it is to live hungry, wet, cold, flea-bitten and without.  They desperately love their people who make life easy.  Our first feral cat, Chilly, came from my in-law's barn in Iowa.  Josie came from a summer retreat that encroached upon the sea dunes on the Outer Banks.  What I know is this: once feral, always feral.  You can give a feral cat a home, but you'll never remove feral from their ingrained psyche.  To be sure, they cherish all the comforts of their indoor home, but they desire their wild outdoor home above all.  And collar? I've purchased 25 or more over the years--she wears them for 3-5 days and they're gone.  (I thought I wised up on her one time. I bought one that buckled and had no quick release.  She taught me: I heard her meowing out back and discovered her hanging from it. Into the trash it went.)  

Now, I know all the things you're going to say to me: they litter your yard, they eat your birds, they're not safe outdoors.  And my reply is: I'm a gardener--I live to dig in that dirt and if I've ever found cat litter, (which I don't recall), I'm more apt to find raccoon, possum, fox, deer and rabbit litter. I'm a bird lover.  I cry when she catches one, but she eats the whole thing, minus those feathers.  I love my koi pond, but the best thing they've taught me is that the Great Outdoors are just way out of my control.  I can fence them in, I can test their water, I can feed them daily, but I'm never going to be able to control their outdoor life.  There will always be something I can't do for them.  

Our feral cats would certainly live a shortened life outdoors if they hadn't "adopted" us.  I live pleasantly alongside mine and she brings such joy to my life.  If I kept her in, I'd deprive her of what makes her tick.  I let her in and out all day long like a dog because she turns her nose up at kitty litter so we don't own one.  (And I know better than to fight that battle with her.)  The thing is, I don't have any real good answers, I just understand why she's suddenly restless this past week.  I'm sad for my neighbor's family, and I'm nervous for my own twelve year old cat.  If you live close and happen to see her of green eyes and pink nose and if she annoys you, shoo her away.  She's mine. But she's not doing anymore damage than, say the deer, voles/moles, possum, or raccoon around here are.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

College Days Apple Bread

It's these crisp overcast days that take me back to the joy of an unexpected college care-package.  It's these fall days with yellow brown leaves fluttering to the ground.  They cause me to remember trips to the post office hoping to turn the dial on my old-fashioned glass and metal mailbox door to discover a ticket to exchange at the window for a cardboard box packed full of love from home.  It's these days when I'm longing for the perfect apple bread because I recall peeling back tinfoil and cutting into the crispy sweet edges and lightly spiced moist apples cooked soft in the center of Mrs. Cantrell's bread.  Rhonda was my roommate all four years at Radford University, on campus and off, and all four years we were blessed with her mother's apple bread a couple of times each fall.

Over the years I've tried this recipe and that recipe but none tasted similar or even came close.  No sugary crisp edges, no moist chunky apple center.  Several years ago I reconnected with Rhonda on facebook. The fall soon after, (when I remembered that delicious apple bread), I sent her a hopeful message asking for her mom's recipe.  Instead of a long remembered recipe, I learned that Mom Cantrell had passed away and no recipe was around.  I was devastated for Rhonda's loss and I was determined to bring that apple bread back to life one day.  For myself and for her and future college students in my life.

This fall, it happened.  The leaves are orange, red and yellow and they're busy fluttering down in the breeze, the air is crisp, the sky is overcast, my coffee is steaming next to me on the counter and I was yearning for a bite of that apple bread.  I stumbled across several recipes on Pinterest.  One recipe's photos looked  just about right but soon another recipe followed and the ingredients read like it could've also been just right.  This morning I pulled out everything I needed to begin.  I was SO excited about trying a combination of these recipes, that I forgot to take a few photos as I carefully peeled three apples and diced thick uneven chunks and stirred ingredients.  (My Ugandan friends, Violet, Mariah and Titus would've been proud of my paper thin apple peels with a paring knife!)  

This chunky batter looked like no batter I'd tried before so I knew I was onto something a little special.  I hemmed and hawed over self-rising vs. regular flour, over the scent of cinnamon versus allspice or both. I eyeballed the cups of sugar: too much or not enough? And in the end this treasure bread is sliced gold.  It's not exact, but it's the closest I've come.  And may I just say, Yummmm?  Emphasis on mmmmm.  If you find an hour to try this recipe, maybe, just maybe you'll want to send it to a college student somewhere whom you know and love.

College Days Apple Bread

3 medium apples, peeled and diced (I had Honeycrisp on hand.)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup milk (I used 1%)
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups sugar
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice

Peel and dice apples, place in large mixing bowl.  Add eggs, oil, milk, vanilla, and sugar.  Stir with a spatula till well-blended.  Add flour, seasonings and stir again till well combined.  (No self-rising flour on hand? Make your own by adding 3 tsp of baking powder and 1 tsp of salt to your 2 cups of flour.) Use shortening and dust the pan with flour before pouring batter in.  Bake at 350 degrees for one hour, or till a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pan for five minutes, run a knife around the edges, then turn out onto a baking rack.  Makes one loaf.

Monday, October 14, 2013

October 14, 2013

There's a real hesitancy when it's time.  He's worked hard filling out and editing an online college application for days and then it's time to finally press Submit.  Hubby and I are the proof-readers. We've combed over and re-saved online pages to make sure questions are answered correctly, everything's filled out to the nth degree.  And when there's nothing left to do but say a little prayer as he sends the application out into dark internet space, we stand back and watch under his shoulder. (We would check over his shoulder but he's closing in on 6'7".)

Tonight a hiccup occurred.  He tapped Submit and instead of a Thank You followed by a page to download for our files, the site responded that he appeared to be 25 years or older and could not apply with this application.  You haven't heard three people gasp or seen three sets of hands go for the keyboard quicker! (Strangely, it turns out we did fill his birth date in correctly, but the site somehow responded in this way to let us know he hadn't waived the right to review any teacher or counselor recommendations.  Age and recommendations... Hmmmm.  Thankfully between all of us we got it figured out in less than 5 minutes before REAL frustration set in.

I still can't get over the fact that he's filling out college applications and I am the parent who has the honor of editing them. That I am the second (or third) set of eyes hoping to tweak this just right, or catch that little mistake, or add this bit of detail over here.  Some of the questions keep him on his toes or make him wonder about what they're {{really}} looking for in an answer. (My theme song? Best thing since sliced bread...? My most treasured possession?  Super power I'd like most to have? Gadget that needs inventing?  Biggest little worry?)  These have all been questions he's wrestled a bit with.

In the end I know he will be accepted to and study at the institution the good Lord has planned for him. That, and that alone, makes it easier to watch him press Submit, when the application is finally finished to the best of his ability.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Patience in Thrift Shops

I started reading Sarah Ban Breathnach's Simple Abundance.  Familiar to me only because she's been mentioned by my favorite authors she has name recognition simply because I've pinned a few of her quotes onto favorite boards.

Recently I was scouring a thrift shop's bookshelves, because I just know there are hidden treasures to be found there, and I stumbled across luck when her book's coral jacket design caught my eye.  (Along with Austen's Sense and Sensibility beautifully bound in blue, Zarafa, and new hardback copy of A Painted House.)  That's right, since thrift books aren't placed in any kind of order, the jacket is usually what catches my eye first.

Simple Abundance is a daybook I've come to love.  Devouring a good book is often difficult in my life. Laundry, dishes, making dinner, running errands or helping with homework usually come first.  Time is often too precious to sit and read for an hour, let alone hours.  Daybooks allow me to read a page each day and lift a deeper meaning or curious thought to turn over and over during my hurried day.

Today her entry centered around something I need more of and I love her thoughts:
"Patience is the art of waiting.  Like all high arts, it takes time to master, which shouldn't be surprising, since patience is the knowledge of time.  How to use time to your advantage, how to be at the right place at the right time, how to pick your moments, how to bite your tongue.  Patience is discovering the mysterious pattern of cycles that cradle the Universe and ensure that everything that has happened once will recur.  Perseverance in life is being steadfast; persistence is being stubborn. Persistence is grittier than perseverance.  Perseverance is achievement's perspiration; persistence is its sweat.  The potent alchemy of patience and persistence, which together become endurance...  If you are determined to gather life's honey, to stick your hand into the hive again and again and again, to be stung so many times that you become numb to the pain, to persevere and persist till those who know and love you become unable to think of you as a fairly normal woman, you will not be called mad.  You will be called authentic."

Finding that you love a little of her writing?  Me, too.  Especially when I couple today's thought with the idea that there is a reason I stand in front of bookshelves searching and searching for a little treasure just like this. The wonderfulness is she's not just available in little mom & pop thrift shops, but lovely bookstores too.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Thought for Tuesday

Whence and what, if not God, is this mystery we call “mind”? What is it that thinks, and feels, and plans, and acts?  O, who can deny the divinity that stirs within us?
God is everywhere and is in everything. His mystery is in every bud, and blossom, and leaf, and tree; in every rock, and hill, and mountain; in every spring, and rivulet, and river.

The rustle of his wings is in every zephyr; his might is in every tempest. He dwells in the dark pavilion of every storm cloud. The lightning is his messenger, and the thunder is his voice. His awful tread is in every earthquake and on every angry ocean. 

The heavens above us teem with his myriads of shining witnesses—the universe of solar systems whose wheeling orbs course the crystal dread halls of eternity, the glory and power and dominion of the all-wise, omnipotent, and eternal God.  

Governor of Tennessee, Robert L. Taylor 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Feral Cat Named Josepheline

This week she makes me feel like a superhero. Lately, she's relinquished a half dozen lives after I've made as many leaps and bounds down the deck stairs with hands on hips demanding: Drop IT! when I hear her little meow-meow-meow status as she prowls around the yard.  So, I figure it's time.  Get me that mask and cape.  I've reached superhero status for saving a few innocent wild lives lately.

She's a feral beach kitty we picked up nine years ago from the OBX.  I can still see my kids' three little faces in the rear-view mirror's reflection of the backseat as the van door slid shut and clicked closed.  Seeing those faces, I knew I was in trouble because I didn't want to say goodbye to her and watch her in my side-view mirror as we drove away either.  

That skinny young kitty had spent a lazy summer beach week crunching through our Golden Retriever's oversized dog food each evening.  We fed her from a recycled plastic feta cheese container on the porch as the sun slid silently over the Sound.  She was scrawny but oh-so friendly and comfortable around us.  She'd easily rub her heathered-gray striped tail around our legs or hop onto the porch swing to sit with us, purring loudly and affectionately.  Her tidily notched peach-colored ear told me she'd been rounded up by vets doing good deeds and gaining experience by doing quick spays and releases on feral beach cats up and down the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  And those big green eyes...  How could I say no to an easier life at home with us?

So, open the van door slid, in she hopped, and round-as-saucers went three sets of eyes in delight as she sniffed around her first car ride.  On the way home, she swiped at our dear old Chapman-the-dog once, before resigning herself to curling up on the floor on the passenger side floor. Yawning and licking and catnapping all the way to Raleigh.  

On the way home we talked about perfect cat names.  Just right names, silly names, appropriate feral cat-type names.  The boys were still at the Scooby-Doo cartoon age.  I mentioned Josie and the Pussycats and the name "Josie" stuck.  Beautiful but fun, I wanted her to have a more proper name than a nickname.  So, Josephine it might be.  Or, better yet, Josepheline.  A play on words as exciting as her little personality.  And since the beach would always be a part of her, I added Pearl, but spelled it "Purrl" because her motor was (and is) always running. 

Nine years later, our Josepheline Purrl has shown us she's got more than 9 tough lives. She's made us laugh, cry, hug her tighter, yell in anger, walk away in disgust.  We've carved out a niche in our lives for a feral cat who has seen us through not one, but four dogs. Quietly and cautiously she has tolerated all of them.  She flicks her tail as she sips from our koi pond, hopefully understanding they too are pets just like Caspian our twelve year old green-cheeked conure in his elegant standing cage.  

Exuberantly, she will dash through a nighttime backyard flickering orange with bonfire light, easily climbing ten feet into a wild dogwood treetop and shimmying carefully back down when she's done showing off her feline talent.  Loyally she trots after us on cold North Carolina evening winter walks for 30 or 40 minutes.  She drags home baby bunnies and squirrels each spring.  If we can't save them, she eats them.  All.  It is sad and perplexing, but deep inside, I know this, too, is a part of her.  When we brought her home we knew she was feral, and you can't remove feral from a cat who deeply loves her wild life as well as her tame family.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hearts Made to Grow

I love my children.  There is nothing and no one who can take their places in my heart or fill me up the way they do.  When my boys were young and I was roundly pregnant I used to tell them that my love wouldn't be spread thin because a little sister was on the way.  I explained that they wouldn't be sharing less of mommy or daddy's love, because a parent's heart was made to miraculously grow so that each child brought into the family had just as much love as before and there was more than enough to go around.

For many years God has presented children to my mother's heart and gently asked if I could share love with them, too. I'm thankful for a husband who has not questioned why or how but who has thoughtfully and prayerfully said, "Yes." Some children arrived for a moment, some stayed for years, a few did not speak our language, fewer still were disabled from birth, a handful of them I may never even get to know, but all them were entrusted to my heart for a reason that I hope someday to understand.  I think I've raised my children to grasp that their mother's love was not being spread thin for them during those times either.  That with each child outside our family, my heart was made full, expanded and there was yet more motherly love to go around.  None of them was asked to share a portion of my love for them.

There are children I've read about and maybe even one or two I've worked with who've scooped themselves a little piece of my heart because life seems especially unfair, overwhelmingly difficult, or downright appalling for them.  When I left for Uganda on a mission trip just a few weeks ago, I knew there would be children who would wrap my heart up.  I fully expected it.  I even tried to make extra room before I met them face to face.  What I couldn't know was most of them would be tween or teenagers.  Holding the babies who weren't afraid of the color of my skin or hair or eyes was wonderful.  Cuddling a toddler sucking her thumb while napping in my lap was bliss.  Holding hands with six year olds who gently pressed on my skin to watch it turn a shade whiter or studied my unpolished fingernails gave me joy.  The teenagers were more stand-offish.  They weren't interested in personal contact.  They wanted, they craved, they needed simply to be seen, to be recognized in the crowd, to share in a little conversation.  They wanted to be helpful.

Of all the children I continue to think and wonder about, Stephen, Betty, and one pretty 15 year old girl in Kato are three who are stuck in my heart and in my prayer journal.  Daily, I am willing, I am begging, I am praying earnestly for God to bend low, to hear to my words and somehow, in some way, make a success story of their lives despite all circumstances.  They are not perhaps any less fortunate than other children who live in their villages.  They just stuck to my heart like glue after we met.  And that heart of mine grew and grew.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thursday May 30, 2013

I threw a pity party for myself this morning because I'm coming down with a summer cold and life just seems to be tossing curves left and right and sometimes I just want to breathe it in, I want to experience sadness and disappointment deeply, I want to wallow in pity for myself real good before I let it all go.  So I went from moping to walking a few miles with a friend in the brilliant Carolina sunshine, even choosing to climb "fat boy hill." (A fond nickname for any steep hill that makes you huff & puff as you struggle up it.)

Drenched in sweat from head to toe, I walked back into the messy kitchen I'd been moping in an hour earlier and surprised my son, and a handful of the varsity basketball team with a scream.  I was expecting a quiet kitchen.  They had caught a ride to our home for lunch and were busily scouring the pantry and fridge looking for a quick meal.  And wouldn't you know...?  There wasn't a simple thing in sight to make for them to eat, but I scrounged up bagels and deli meat and cheese to make sandwiches, I sliced a few apples, added potato chips & finished with Oreo's for all.

And here's the thing I couldn't miss while I kept busy in the kitchen with them talking about finals, about summer plans, about the team, about changes for next year.   Happiness had suddenly settled on my shoulder like a butterfly that I could've spent all day chasing without capturing.  Happiness goes where it may unless you slow down and stand still to receive it where it lands.  It won't be chased, it can't be caught, you must be still to find it and experience it.

And so I made them promise to come for lunch once a week next year and to bring another teammate who was missing. They ate quickly and kept checking the ticking clock for time to get back to school.  Hopefully only I noticed my messy kitchen, the stack of clean laundry folded on the dining room table, a thin settling of dust on the sideboard, the extra-yappy dog, (and later, eek!, the spot of penicillin on the bread), and even if they did notice, even those little things I refuse to add up to further unhappiness. That. Just that. Plain and simple brought me enough joy to get over this current bump in the road.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lifting Back the Veil

It may have scurried over and found her on the dusty playground during recess in a moment of Lonely.  Or perhaps PE when she first felt Discouraged by the way she played the ballgame.  It could've been during math class when she allowed Defeated to take over while struggling with a fractions problem.  Whenever it happened, it circled her, found her to be at a low point, grasped onto a chink, got a foothold, and climbed onto her back, and began to grow in strength as it whispered ugliness into her ear.  What a burden she struggled to carry around all day.

I may have seen the shadow of that gloomy beast when she came home from school sulky and tired.  But I wasn't paying full attention.  We talked, she snacked, and then it was up to her room to mope about in moodiness.  As a mother I should know better.  I should take time to check her out when she arrives home.  I should pay complete attention and put down whatever is obstructing my insight, stop listening to whatever is disrupting truth.  I need to use the mother's heart I have been honing and use it to see what might be clinging to her. But we're entering brand new territory, she and I, and some days I'm completely complacent.  This morning I'm armed and ready.  But it took all of yesterday for me to become aware that a tough thug of a devilish minion had arrived into my home on my daughter's back, all slimey, hideous and conniving.

She was mopey and a little bit down yesterday, which comes and goes with 5th graders.  The last two weeks of comfortable elementary school is closing in on her, closing in on her classmates.  More and more I hear the news: someone got a new one of those, someone said this to a classmate, someone did this easily and differently, someone is so much smarter, someone sparkles just a little prettier.  And no matter how I've handled her shared thoughts, no matter what my motherly answers, there seemed to be no relief in sight.  I should've smelled the stench of rotten breath as it whispered in her ear.  I should have seen the dirty claws as it dug in tightly around her neck.  The scaley pointed tail as it wrapped around her waist.  But I missed it all.  I let it go and she spent time alone in her room with that evil creature whispering negative ugliness to her.

Last night I finally saw it.  With lights out after prayers, in the dark while I kneeled on the floor tucking a soft sheet corner in around her, she said, "I hate freckles and I hate my frizzy hair. I wish I looked different."  And I saw the trickle of a tear sparkle and slide across her nose as it dripped onto her pillow.  And suddenly, that ugly creature clinging to her was no longer hidden.  With a slant of moonlight shining across it, I could see that beastie scrunched up clinging to her neck, whispering in her ear, squeezing all the joy it could from her.  And the only battle you can do with these little demons is make your child aware that when we lift back the spiritual veil, these beasties are plain to see, and waging warrior-like warfare against is as simple as using one loving word at a time to defeat them. 

I asked her to use all of her senses to think up the ugliest imaginary creature she could muster.  I knew that frustrated her hanger-on to no end, and at first she remained silent.  That creature whispered in her ear and squirmed to squeeze tighter.  Ignoring it, I told her I had an inkling, but if she could describe a thug-of-ugliness to me, it would be amazing.  And slowly as I coaxed her along, it released it's claw from her mouth, and she told me just how terrible it looked, how it stunk, how it whispered, and how awfully heavy it felt.  Her description matched the evil creature clinging to her and I noticed a glint of fear in its eyes as it hissed and glared at me dripping hatred with catlike eyes.  I explained to her that as powerfully pure and beautiful as God's angels are, Satan's minions are just exactly the opposite, though they are just as powerful if we allow them to be.  That's when I first noticed that the beastie had shrunk and deflated, just the tiniest bit. 

I watched as my words caused it to loosen it's grip while I explained that the devil sends them racing to us when we're at a low point because of the big chink in our not-so-healthy self-esteem or our hesitancy to do or say or feel a good thing.  That hairy nasty thing continued shriveling as I told her there's nothing that they desire more than discovering a chink because it's all they need to climb on our back and get a stranglehold.  And before you know it, they've whispered awful stuff right into our very ear.  Stuff that we begin to believe about ourselves and about others.  Stuff that has no basis in truth and that makes us sink right into Sadness, Fear, Doubt, Anger, Haughtiness, or Worry.  In fact, those are a few of their very names!

She listened intently as I told her that if we allow them to stay, they invite other evil critters to join them.  Disappointment, Just Plain Mean, and Snarky are all hoping to catch a ride, too.  And before you know it, you haven't just one little devil weighing you down, you've accumulated a dozen or more.  They come in all sizes and shapes, and they can  grow to enormous proportions in all forms of hideous and slippery.  They're hanging off our arms, dragging us down by the ankles.  We might have them draped around our neck, or wrapped heavily like an itchy cloak around us.  Some are riding high on our head wrapped tightly like a turban while holding claws over our ears to shut out anything that sounds like Goodness, Love, or Compassion.  Some might even appear to sparkle and shine like jewelry dangling from our finger or wrist -- but soon enough we learn how terribly we've been fooled.  All that glitters is not beautiful nor heaven sent.  That devil delights in glistening and glinting with gloom, twisting ugly just so, until it appears pretty or helpful or nice.  (By this time, her little devil was shrunken small and sickly, it's whispers barely audible in her ear.)  It shrunk more quickly now because the power of a mother's love for her child is no match for the devil.

When I asked her if it was OK for this beastly hitchhiker to hang on and demand that she lug him around, and burden her with a free ride everywhere she went, she giggled.  When I impressed upon her heart that she was made in the image of God, that He created her exactly perfect for the plans He has made for her, that He doesn't create ugly, that He doesn't craft junk, another tear slid down her face.  Would a loving Father do that to his precious daughter?  I reminded her that she was the only girl in the world like her. In any era, in any land, not a single girl like her.  Ever.  Imagine that!  There is no other, and never will be another, exactly like her. 

I reminded her that He dotted her gently with every freckle on her nose.  He wove the most gorgeous waves into a glorious shade of brown and spun it with golden highlights like no other head of hair on earth.  He exhuberantly experimented with speckles of green flecks on a velvet shade of brown to create a landscape of intricate pupil.  Lashes just the right length.  A one of kind brain sending neurons flowing through preciously intricate synapses that formed at just the right speed for her to learn.  A strong pumping heart to live with and LOVE with.  A perfectly shaped body with a slight curve here and there, just for her.  Arms strong to hug and hands formed to share.  Long strong legs with muscles powered perfectly for her.  Even fingers and toes shaped like no other, tipped with amazingly intricate whorls.  And in a puff of the tiniest bit of smoke, that lizard of a devil who had once been large and filthy hanging onto my daughter for dear life, gulped with tiniest gutteral groan and disappeared.  She sat up in bed and sighed with a big smile.  I know what she was thinking, and I knew she couldn't put into words... What a relief to be rid of that ugly spirit!  

I told her that knowledge makes each of us powerful.  I also explained that unfortunately the little devil would be back to take another look for a chink.  It or another one would linger around, inspecting her, waiting for a moment to close in.  She frowned in the darkness when I told her that we're surrounded by what we choose.  If we choose Happy, if we choose Joy, if we choose to battle Envy, to ignore that Mean Spirit, we can keep the devil at bay, (and every powerful angel God has given command to watch over us will never leave us), no matter what.  Angels do battle first and foremost for us often sending them fleeing away before we never know it.  But when an ugly thought or feeling creeps in, we have to remain aware that it's caused by an awful hairy bug-eyed little demon clinging to our back.  And it's whispering all that ugliness in our ear. 

What's most important to remember, is that those little devils are easily dispersed by lovely words.  Positive self talk, and asking ourselves, "Is this Good?  Is this True?  Is this Lovely?  Is this Building Up?" are the simplest way to handle a little devil. That and your determination to shrink it, and to yank hard and toss it away.  Or maybe even watch it go up in a puff of smoke or remove it's evil grasp with a Smile, with a Laugh, with a Kind Thought.  Whisper Loving and Peaceful thoughts back to it and then deeply believe them yourself, and watch that little devil sizzle and shrink in seconds. 

This morning she got up and was getting ready for school like most mornings: light hearted and a little bit hurried.  Just before she left I noticed a frown and she mentioned frizzy hair, but I was prepared. Immediately I pointed out that I saw something small and scaly looking a bit like Despair sitting on her shoulder.  When I warned her, her eyes widened and she knew just what to do.  She knocked Despair off with a smile and a glance in the mirror to take a second look and lovingly look, not at frizzy hair, but at the golden strands that had slipped out and were curling loosely around her face from her ponytail.  I reminded her to keep her eyes and heart open at school.  Those nasty ugly devils can show up anywhere, but once we know how to battle them, we're fierce warriors forever.  And ever.  {{Amen.}}

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

When They are Really Us

Sunday evening we're watching, (for the first time), The Bible series on the History channel because everyone keeps mentioning it: the ninja angels, that heavy cloaked satan looking just a little familiar, and I am intrigued by it finally. 

Daughter and husband are watching it, even sons wander in and out, taking homework breaks from chemistry, biology and geometry.  It's a fast forward to Jerusalem by way of Jesus' 40 days in the desert while tempted by satan, his baptism by cousin John, his miraculous healings, Matthew walking away from tax collecting to join him, Simon Peter {almost} walking on water, his tears over Lazarus, his feeding 5,000 followers on a hillside, Nicodemus questioning a nighttime trial. It depicts Palm Sunday where cheers follow Jesus into Jerusalem on the donkey, knowing that hateful jeers are just days away.  A nighttime upper room where Jesus institutes communion on Maundy Thursday where  Judas hurries away, desperately hopeful that turning him over to religious authorities might finally propel Jesus to start the revolution Judas believes he has come for.

And that moment when the guard's ear is slashed off in the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus heals it, that moment is when daughter feels queasy and says, "I can't watch what's coming.  It will give me nightmares.  What they do to him is scary."  Her words hit me like a ton of bricks, what "they" do to him is scary, will give her nightmares.  But it's not "they."  It's collective us.  We were right there.  We spat on him, we whipped him, we crushed a crown of thorns deeply into his precious head, we jeered hateful  ugly words at him, we laughed at and mocked him, we lustily shouted, "Crucify Him!"  We {{are}} "they," that angry mob, hungry to see him get what we thought he deserved nailed on that cross on Golgotha.  The series ended promising his cruxifiction and resurrection on Easter Sunday.  Daughter brushed teeth, removed contact lenses and climbed into bed, ready for a tuck-in and bedtime prayer.  And I was still pondering her words carefully.

I sat in the dark on her bed after she chose to recite the Lord's Prayer over "People Prayers." (Where she blesses and prays for people in her life by name.)  And I quietly explained to her that although it's hard to watch, (and oh boy... is it ever), it's visceral, it's vitriolic, but it's vital and if it doesn't cause tears to flow freely, I'm not sure what will.  That cruxifiction is something we Christians desperately need to be reminded of.  Otherwise, how do we experience true joy on Easter morning?  True joy is not a chocolate bunny delivered in decorative plastic grass in a woven basket by a furry bunny.  True joy isn't jelly beans well hidden in a plastic egg in a backyard blooming shrub by droopy daffodils.  True joy isn't in the delicious first bite of honeyed ham and great-Grandma Douglas' recipe for potato salad and great-Grandma Thaxton's decadent cinnamon pecan rolls.  If any of that were true joy, we'd all be lost the minute after it all ended.  Thankfully all of the above is purely simple everyday joy.

But true joy?  True joy is found in the release of comprehending that what he went through is done.  It is finished.  Once for all, forever.  And I explain the concept of "we" being "they" to her.  She is shocked.  She protests that she would never have done that to him, she would never have said those things to him if she had lived back then, had a chance to walk and talk with him.  But Simon Peter did and he was a true friend, a true follower.  He did not once, but three times.  And if he did, then I surely would, we surely would have despite our best intentions.  And there it is right there! I did.  We did.  That was us right there, requesting Barabbas' release instead of an innocent Jesus.  And how great was Jesus' love for us, even knowing he could come down from that cross, but choosing NOT to?  Choosing to remain there and finish it for us.  That gift he gave us cannot ever be scary or cause us nightmares.  That gift has to remain a vivid picture on Good Friday so that true joy can be ours on Easter Sunday.  I remind her that her GOD is strong enough to take all that on: all of our hate, all of our sins, all of that pain we inflicted mightily on him, all of that humiliation we slapped on him, tried to crush and kill him with.

And yet, he continued to love us.  Not to merely like us luke-warmly, but love us deeply like a tender shepherd takes care of each and every one of the sheep in his flock.  That is the God I want on my side.  That is the God I want to protect me.  That is the God worth waiting on -- for answers, for blessings, for healing, for comfort, for strength, for everything I daily need, in his time.  If he is for us, who or what can frighten us or give us nightmares?  Definitely not satan.  He can try, but he cannot succeed.  If Jesus is for us, we can be assured of true joy.  Not just today. But tomorrow and yesterday too.  Not just when we remember to ask, but always. 

She and I had tears at that point on her bed in the dark.  His pain is painfully poignant, and if doesn't cause tears of undeserved peace, comfort and joy, we need to watch his cruxifiction again this Easter week.  To be reminded of his boundless love on Good Friday and every day.  So we can experience the neverending true joy he extends to us on Easter Sunday and every day.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bang-Bang Shrimp Recipe

I recently pinned a recipe for Bang-Bang Shrimp that we were just drooling to try. It was well worth the time & effort and simply delicious. We easily found the Sriracha garlic-chili sauce and the Panko bread crumbs in the Asian food aisle (at the Food Lion next to the YMCA for my Holly Springs' friends), see photo below for easy recognition.  :)

While making the originally pinned recipe in our kitchen, we took notes and made adjustments. After enjoying the mouth-watering shrimp, my adoring taste-testers, (hubby and teenage sons), sat down with me to do some tweaking so it was even closer to the authentic dish we all dearly {{LoVe}} from the restaurant.  They suggested a little more of this and absolutely none of that. In the end, I think this version is even closer to the original! 

{{Please}} do yourself a favor: Read through the ingredients and the directions before starting. I provided a shopping list at the bottom to copy and paste for your convenience. The directions may look long, but don't be intimidated, I tried to include extra information for first-timers. You'll be making it with just a glance the second time around!

*My advice?  Buy medium-sized raw shrimp. I know what you're going to think because it was my first thought too... If Medium shrimp are good, then Large must be incredible, right? Large end up taking longer to fry and are quite a mouthful. I purchased a 1-lb frozen bag of medium raw shrimp and they worked just fine. We felt they must be the size the restaurant uses.
Use real mayonnaise.  Don't scrimp on taste, texture, to create a really good coating: without real mayonnaise you just can't provide the right flavor, thickness or adhesion.
Do use Japanese Panko bread crumbs. It's their light texture and crispness that you love at the restaurant, so don't scrimp here.

Here's our beloved rendition of the well-loved recipe:

Bang-Bang Shrimp

1 lb Medium Raw Shrimp (Peeled shrimp saves time)
1 carton of Buttermilk (Enough to cover thawed shrimp)

Mix SAUCE ingredients and immediately chill in your refrigerator:

5-6 tsp. Sriracha Sauce, or to taste
1 tsp. white vinegar or rice vinegar
1/2 cup real mayonnaise, (Not Miracle Whip, not olive oil, not reduced fat.)

Mix BREADING ingredients in a large bowl:

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder

If using frozen shrimp, follow thawing directions carefully, and place shrimp in a large mixing bowl. Cover with buttermilk for 1-2 minutes, then pour shrimp into a large strainer. 
Pour seasoned flour over shrimp and coat each shrimp carefully!  Refrigerate dredged shrimp for 20 minutes, don't skip this part, it helps the coating stay on the shrimp while frying. 
Pour a cup or two of oil into a large skillet (I used a cast iron skillet), carefully allow oil to heat.  (When water flicked onto the surface sizzles, you're ready to fry.) 

Place shrimp in hot oil by hand, (do not crowd them), and fry 2-3 minutes -- and flip.  The key is they should have golden edges, think crispy, or you'll be sorely disappointed with your limp shrimp.  It may require 3 or more batches to fry all shrimp.  Place fried shrimp in a large metal bowl. (Metal because it will conduct heat & keep them warm while you are frying the next batches.)

After all shrimp have been fried, take your well-chilled Sriracha-Mayo sauce out of fridge and pour over hot shrimp. This is important: the chilled sauce over the hot fried shrimp.  Gently fold with a spatula till well-coated. Serve over a bed of chopped romaine lettuce. Sprinkle with chopped spring onions if desired.  Best eaten with chopsticks. :)

1 lb of medium shrimp serves 4 as an appetizer.

Shopping List:
1 lb bag fresh or frozen {{Medium}} peeled shrimp
1 carton buttermilk
1 bottle Sriracha Asian Garlic-Chili Sauce
1 tsp white vinegar or rice vinegar
1/2 cup real mayonnaise
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup Japanese Panko breadcrumbs
1-2 cups vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 head of romaine lettuce
1 bunch spring onions

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

This is a long list but well worth considering. So, grab a cuppa joe or a mug of tea and enjoy.
The 45 Best Lessons that Life Teaches:
1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good. 2. When in doubt, just take the next small step. 3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. 4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch. 5. Pay off your credit cards every month. 6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to... disagree. 7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone. 8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it. 9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck. 10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile. 11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present. 12. It's OK to let your children see you cry. 13. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about. 14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it. 15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks. 16. Take a deep breath It calms the mind. 17. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful. 18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger. 19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else. 20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer. 21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special. 22. Over prepare, then go with the flow. 23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple. 24. The most important sex organ is the brain. 25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you. 26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words :'In five years, will this matter?' 27. Always choose life. 28. Forgive everyone everything. 29. What other people think of you is none of your business. 30. Time heals almost everything. Give time a little time. 31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change. 32. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does. 33. Believe in miracles. 34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do. 35. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now. 36. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young. 37. Your children get only one childhood. 38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved. 39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere. 40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back. 41. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need. 42. The best is yet to come... 43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up. 44. Yield. 45. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift." ~compiled by Regina Brett

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Living Well With A Teenage Daughter

I found this online and changed it up, adding quite a bit more wisdom--though I'm sure I won't always be wise while I'm going through it this stage in her life. (We all make mistakes!)  Now keeping right here for daily reference maybe later. Living Well With A TEENAGE Daughter :)

 1) Never engage in a shouting match with her. If she screams, bite your tongue, lower your voice and speak in a voice only slightly above a whisper. If you can’t manage that, tell her quietly that your will discuss the subject with her when you are {{both}} calmer.
2) D...
on't allow her to reduce you to tears. If she's behaving rudely, she needs time alone. Send her to her room or deprive her of a privilege, but don’t allow her to defeat you. You are her mother, not her friend. You will become friends when she becomes an adult. She is not yet an adult. She needs you to guide her by being firm, yet loving and fair.
3) Let her know you love her. Tell her the next time she rages at you that there is nothing she can say that will cause you to stop loving her. You may not like her behavior, but she is your daughter and your love for her is unconditional. (There will be times when she is difficult to love, but remember, you are not lovable all the time either and forgiveness is part of learning how to be an extraordinary woman.)
4) Touch her often. This is important. The power of a loving touch is exquisite. When she’s glued to the TV, a book, her phone, homework or the computer and you pass by her, reach out and pat her. Touch her arm in conversation. Place your arm around her when sitting next to her. Give her lots of hugs every single day and never be put off if she groans or pulls away. Just smile and remember, your love is given to her without any conditions.
5) Try not to criticize. Suggest if you must, but don’t be on her back about every little thing. (She is your daughter, you must allow her to reserve secrets for friends--there are things you share with your friends but would never mention to her. This is part of learning about having and maintaining healthy relationships!) Save your “nos” and “don’ts” for biggies, and see them through, make them stick, don't give in.
6) Listen to her, let her voice her opinions, her thoughts her musings on life. (As unique as a snowflake, she is herself, not a mini you.) No matter what she says, all she wants is for you to love her for who she is.
7.) Pray for her, everyday. Without ceasing. You and her father can not raise her well without your Father's help. He will guide you, comfort you, aid you, because He gave you the gift of her.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Dare Greatly

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcomings, who knows the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the high achievement of triumph and who at worst, if he fails while daring greatly, knows his place shall never be with those timid and cold souls who know neither victory nor defeat. ~Theodore Roosevelt
Wonderfully pleasant weather so we pushed windows down a little last night before bed. Peepers and crickets and toads chorused us off to sleep. There is probably nothing sweeter than lulled into dreamland by those nighttime noises.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Well Hello Again, Guac!

I LOVE guacamole. But Mr. and I are the only ones who'll eat it in our house. (So far.) It doesn't keep well and it's a lot of effort to make for just the two of us, so, I was only making or buying the delicious green guacamole when a crowd was over. UNTIL. I discovered you could snip a tiny corner off a store bought bag. (Like..., Trader Joe's!) And squeeze it on a chip or 5. And it keeps for a WEEK. Or MORE in the fridge that way. Well.... Helloooo, GUAC! Now available just a handful of chips at a time in our house. :d

Of Fish and Frogs

This morning I thought a heavy stick had landed on the protective netting over the koi pond, weighing it under the murky, icy water. I went out to remove it, and discovered not a stick but a frog the size of my fist desperately bouncing on the trampoline-like netting looking for a way in, with two fish watching. (Amused or encouraging?) I rolled up the net & let frog in. (Took 5 minutes of a little cooperation.) Finally in, both fish and frog disappeared into the dark bottom. I came outside to enjoy a little sunshine this afternoon and there are two big froggy eyes surfacing occasionally to spy on me... Wouldn't you love to hear their thoughts?

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Occasionally our Caspian makes a heroic cage break, (always during cage maintenance), and flies through our home making an awkward landing in an unexpected place and then sitting quietly while we look and listen for him. This is his best "hiding spot" since he started this game. ♥


Friday, January 25, 2013

Attention Kiddo:

Attention Kiddo: There will be no more climbing the kitchen cabinets using knobs as toe-holds to hoist yourself up. This is a direct order. I spent last week google-image-researching for the matching replacement knobs. Mr. UPS Man delivered them in the sleet today. I just replaced them tightly with a screwdriver. If you can't reach it, ask the Tall One to retrieve it for you. If he's not at home, ask Medium Tall. If he's not at home, slide a kitchen chair over. Signed, Your Loving Mother <3

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Our airline reservations are made. Cheryl marked today as #168 before the mission trip to Uganda. My heart skipped a beat and I had to just breathe it all in. There are pancake suppers, birthdays, SAT's, banquets, yard sales, First Communions, proms, graduations, lifeguard certifications, and middle school beginnings yet to mark time till July 11. Currently alternating between "the anticipation" & "the trembling in my boots." :)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Nests = Home

Daughter discovered this little nest upside down on the ground while we were out walking Piper. She knows how much I love these delicate natural works of art, so she carried it home carefully cupped in her hand. Along the way she asked why ...I like empty bird nests so much... and it made me think. Because I said, they remind me that no matter how much I love my home-- the nest that I carefully wove all cozy and tucked in with wonders I've discovered along the way-- they're only temporary. Empty bird nests remind me that homes themselves are temporary but the love that happens in them goes on forever. ♥

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy Birthday Girl...

✿ Eleven years ago a precious baby girl slipped into our world on a Raleigh morning dusted beautifully white with fluttering snowflakes. Since her arrival she continuously astounds us, confounds us, and surrounds us with ✩JoY and GrAcE✩. Happy Birthday, dear Ashleigh Grace! ✿