Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Our List of Fun Things to Do in December

This week the children and I made a list of things we want to do in December, a tradition we started several years ago. The entire month feels festive when you have something fun to look forward to almost every day. I try to keep our list simple so it isn't overwhelming or impossible to complete.

Sourced from Pixabay
I love working our way through the list almost as much as the children do. But my love for this tradition is partly because I think we are creating some of those we always moments Gwen Ellis introduces in her book, Simply Fun for Families. We always moments are family traditions that your children speak about with a fond we always. Here are some from my childhood: 

"We always had pancakes with real maple syrup on Saturday mornings."
"We always picked up earthworms in the garden to use as bait at Rice Lake."
"We always played games with my parents on Sunday afternoons."

Many we always memories are not elaborate, but even simple traditions add warmth and sparkle to family life. I want our home to be one of those warm, sparkly places the children want to return to, like my childhood home was for me.  

Things to Do in December
1. Set up our nativity scene

2. Make paper snowflakes

3. Make pancakes and serve them on our snowmen trays

4. Listen to our recording of Handel's Messiah while coloring seasonal pictures

5. Read aloud winter and Christmas-themed storybooks

6. Go Christmas caroling

7. Bake something for the neighbors

8. Send a family picture and letter to family and friends

9. Illustrate the birth of Jesus 
Some years we write and illustrate a book; other years we draw a series of pictures for the wall. 

10. Decorate a gingerbread house

11. Make a seasonal craft

12. Exchange regular mugs in the cupboard for winter ones and have hot chocolate and cookies

13. Go to Woodcrest Retreat's "Journey to Bethlehem" where the story of Jesus' birth is reenacted. 

14. Pray for Christians in persecuted areas of the world who cannot openly celebrate the birth of Jesus. 

15. Draw names and give that family member an act of service

16. Make melting snowmen out of whipped cream to go into hot chocolate
Side Note: Melting Snowmen are an adorable idea, though ours ended up looking more sinister than cute.

17. Decorate cookies with friends

18. Have a snowman-themed lunch

19. Watch Christmas song videos like How Should a King Come? and Angels From the Realms of Glory

20. Have a snowball fight, regardless of the weather
One year in Ghana, we collected trash paper for a month until we had enough wadded up papers for a snowball fight. The children and I had fun by ourselves--then we heard John return from an errand. When he opened the door, we leaped from our hiding places, shouting with laughter and bombarding him with snowballs. I think we surprised him.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Marked by Greatness: Greatest Surprise

I try to keep my eyes open for great moments in my life, but sometimes they sneak up on me and take me by surprise.

Sometimes sisters make you do crazy things like bake 400 whoopie pies in one day when you expected to do a fourth of that amount.

Some days sisters return from a shopping trip, telling you that a complete stranger walked up to them in Goodwill's parking lot and gave them stale, slightly soggy sandwiches, which they ate for lunch. (I am not making this up.) They lived to tell the story, but I have not recovered.

At other times, sisters give you one of the best birthday gifts of your life. 
I got a text at 7:00 one morning saying, "Don't eat breakfast."
Me: "Okay. Am I allowed to eat lunch and supper?"
Them, laughing: "Yes. Just not breakfast."

"Ah-ha!" I told John smugly. "They said earlier that they've been working on a birthday present for me. I'm guessing they are going to show up with the present and bring pastries to go with coffee."

I expedited my morning routine, even skipping coffee (and breakfast) so I and my house would be ready for guests.

But when my front door squeaked open, my niece walked in alone. I looked past her to see if the others were here. They weren't.

Felicity handed me an envelope that read, "OPEN NOW."

The card inside said:

The note on the back of the card told me to go to Laura's house and to bring along a writing project, if I wanted to. Ah, so brunch was at her house! How clever. Laura collects darling dishes and loves to set up pretty tea trays. I supposed I was a lucky recipient of a breakfast tray, complete with time alone which is a rarity for this homeschooling mom. I left my children in Felicity's capable hands and went for brunch.

Except Laura's house didn't smell like food. Both of my sisters sat there idly, talking small talk, and seeming in no hurry to brew coffee.

"Well, are you ready for your present?" they finally asked, grinning.

I was, by now being deeply curious.

They handed me a stack of numbered envelopes, tied together with ribbon. I was supposed to follow the instructions on the enclosed cards and adhere to the times listed on each one.

I entered the first address into my phone, not knowing whither I was going, and left.

Google Maps took me to Courtyard Café. When I arrived, I opened my next envelope and a gift card fell into my lap.

That gift card added extra warmth to my day because it meant
they had driven to the coffee shop with me in mind. 

My note said: 
"Relax with your book or project while you enjoy breakfast and coffee purchased with the gift card enclosed. Leave at 11:00. Go to 1930 Division Hwy, Ephrata, PA. 
When you arrive at the destination, open envelope #3." 

I loved my time alone in the coffee shop. I drank a latte, ate a lumberjack-sized burrito, and made progress on planning a creative writing class I'll be teaching. 

I noticed that my next destination was in the vicinity of our dentist, so I sent a text to my sisters saying, "I hope you girls know that getting my teeth cleaned does not rejuvenate me."

No need to worry. They gave me a gift certificate and an hour to shop at a bookstore.

If my excursion ended here, I would have gone home rejuvenated and happy. But the best was still coming: Griddle and Grind. 

I loaded my writing projects into my bag and walked down the sidewalk to the crêperie. The fall weather invigorated me, adding splendor to the day. Tilting my face upwards, I thanked God for my sisters. This was a wonderful birthday present.

Just when I neared the restaurant, a good-looking man stepped out from behind a tree and said, "May I join you for lunch?" 

I couldn't believe it. That morning, John took the lunch I packed for him, knowing all the while he would join me at Griddle and Grind.

He told me later that my look of surprise, followed by my obvious delight in seeing him warmed his heart all day. His presence warmed mine. 
Commemorative selfie
We shared coffee and crêpes (that is, I helped myself to his, still being full from breakfast), and we talked uninterrupted for an entire hour. It was marvelous.
Lemon Cheesecake Crepe. Delish!
Warmed clean through by an unexpected lunch date, I followed the course prescribed on my cards, spending several hours browsing Ephrata Reusit, Goodwill, and Scenic View Fabrics. Each envelope held cash and the instructions to buy myself birthday gifts.

When I returned home (with books and boots and fabric), my children bubbled over with stories of their fun day. Felicity brought along a crate of books and read so many stories that her voice was nearly hoarse. 

She also brought homemade bread and had a crockpot of soup on my counter, ready for supper.

Sisters. I recommend them. (And, no, mine aren't up for grabs.) 

I also recommend nieces. And birthdays. And Chili, Chicken, Corn Chowder, warm in the Crockpot. 

Chili, Chicken, Corn Chowder
1/4 cup oil
1 large onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 rib celery, finely chopped
2 cups frozen or canned corn
15 oz. great northern beans
1 cup cooked, diced chicken
4 oz. can green chilis
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. oregano
Salt to taste
1 cup half-and-half
  1. Saute onion, garlic, and celery in oil. Stir in corn, chicken and chilis. Saute for 1-2 minutes. 
  2. Combine all ingredients, except half-and-half in slow cooker. 
  3. Cover. Heat on Low 4 hours. 
  4. Stir in half-and-half before serving. Do not boil, but heat cream through.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Marked by Greatness: Launching a Tradition

I brush shoulders with greatness not because of me but because I am surrounded by inspirational people with great ideas. Here is an annual tradition Rodney and Dawn began with their family this fall. Dawn (my photographer sister) shared the pictures and permission to share them with you.

Family Day Events

  • A special brunch
  • Gather for a time of reflection, of recounting the ways they saw God at work in their family 
  • Recall events that happened this past year, both the good and the bad
  • Share dreams and goals for the upcoming year
  • End the day with a picnic, complete with tapered candles, glassware, and pretty food

The idea of carrying glassware to a picnic spot exhausted me until I saw Dawn's pictures. Some day, when our toddler is big enough to be kind to china plates, I want to do this for my family.

Do you have family traditions? How do you honor and bless your children? 

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Marked by Greatness: Great Inspiration

My blog has been silent, but my days have not. They are full of routines and laughter, love and laundry, vigor and tears. Inspired by the droplets of joy in my days, here begins a series called "Marked by Greatness." Stay tuned for more.

She is ninety-five and has walked with God for more years than I have lived. I pay attention to her words in Sunday school.

She is usually in remarkable health, but one Saturday night a deep, loose cough wracked her body and kept her awake.

Regardless of her bad night, "Ruth" was in Sunday school the next morning, pleasant and participating.

"We need to pray for Ruth’s cough,” the teacher said. Then, turning to Ruth, she said, "Tell the class what you told me. Do you remember?”

She didn’t.

"Well, I asked how you slept. You told me that your cough kept you awake for a lot of the night. But then you said, 'The Lord knows what He is doing.'" 

Ruth brightened. "Oh yes, He does! I feel much better now and am able to be in class. I think God just wanted to clear my lungs so I could enjoy the service this morning."

Perhaps God had me, not Ruth's lungs, in mind. 

I am inspired to change, to filter life’s petty troubles through the words of a faith-filled saint: “The Lord knows what He is doing.”

Friday, June 21, 2019

Moving Days

sourced from

Boxes, bundles, bulging bags;
Labels, lists, and colored tags;
Lift and heft ‘til shoulder sags—
The move begins.

Find a spot, a place, a nook,
Fill each shelf with vase or book,
Organize to please the cook—
We’re moving in.

Every room is full of stuff,
Owners cry, “It is enough!”
Donate extra cup and cuff—
The move grinds on.

Boxes gone without a trace;
Table, chairs are in their place;
Settled in our rented space—
The move is done.

Not far ahead –Eternity!
No labelled box shall burden me;
No baggage on my shoulder be—
My Final Move.        
                                          -Sara Nolt

Friday, June 14, 2019

All on June 14

This post is meant to highlight how much can be done in a single day. The following pictures were taken by ten people in four countries, all on June 14, 2019.

7:30 a.m. in Haiti
"This is my view from my room this morning!"
-Barb Stoltzfus
9:00 a.m. Denver, Pennsylvania
Summer vacation's work crew
Photo courtesy of Laura Martin
9:30 a.m. in Sheri, Ghana, West Africa
Gretal attended the baby naming ceremony
for her friend's firstborn son
Photo courtesy of Gretal Ulrich
9:30 a.m. in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Homeschool Convention!
"You'd love this booth, Sara!" -Lysanne Gray

11:30 a.m. in Ohio, USA

Doing someone else's laundry on vacation
-Tamesha Nolt
And dusting!
(Tamesha, please come visit me.)
1:30 p.m. Lancaster, Pennsylvania
"Giving mom style advice at the eye doctor. (No, I did not get these!)"
-Jen Stoltzfus
1:45 p.m. northern Indiana
Strawberry Picking! -Alicia Hoover
2:00 p.m. southern Ghana, West Africa
"Teaching on marriage in our Bible School today."
-Jim and Diane Adamson
3:00 p.m. in Haiti
"I had a national friend over this afternoon to show me
how to do cornrow twists. . .for my first time, I'd say
its not too shabby. . ." -Barb
3:30 p.m. Goshen, Indiana
My baby sister shopped (and purchased!) fabric for her wedding.
4:00 p.m. Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Precious baby, blissfully sleeping, oblivious to the
constant din of the rest of the household.
-Jen Stoltzfus
4:17 p.m. northern Ghana, West Africa
Coloring Fest!
-Gretal Ulrich
5:00 p.m. Lancaster, Pennsylvania
"The CHAP homeschool convention in Lancaster,
packed full of delightful curricula, books,
and workshops by inspiring people." -Lysanne
6:21 p.m. in Denver, Pennsylvania
"Waiting on Luke to come home for supper."
-Laura Martin
 7:00 p.m. in Stevens, Pennsylvania
Unpacking and organizing in our new-to-us house. -Yours Truly
8:10 p.m. EST, Saturday morning in Singapore
"Hashed after 29 hours of travel.
Four more to go!"
-Dawn Nolt
(Note: Picture taken in the butterfly
sanctuary in the airport. How neat is that?)
Note: Introduction updated on July 2, 2019.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Dying to Self

While nursing a bad attitude, I felt defensive in my position until God reminded me of a poem I memorized in eighth grade. Several verses were still easily recalled, and their rebuke cut through my selfishness. The rest of the verses I found online. I'm not convinced that this is the entire poem as I once knew it, but it still holds a powerful message. Perhaps you, too, will be blessed by its words.

Dying to Self
Author Unknown

When you are forgotten, neglected, or purposely set at naught,
and you do not sting or hurt at the oversight,
but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ;
that is dying to self. 

When your good is evil spoken of,
your wishes are crossed,
your advice disregarded,
your opinions ridiculed,
and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart or even defend yourself,
but take it all in patient, loving silence;
that is dying to self.

When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder,
any irregularity, any annoyance;
when you can stand face to face with waste,
folly, extravagance, or spiritual insensitivity
and endure it as Jesus endured it;
that is dying to self.

When you are content with any offering, any raiment,
any climate, any society, any solitude, 
any interruption by the will of God;
that is dying to self.

When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation 
or to record your own good works
or itch after commendation;
when you can truly love to be unknown;
that is dying to self.

When you can see your brother prosper and have his needs met,
and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit
and feel no envy, nor question God,
while your own needs are far greater
and you are in desperate circumstances;
that is dying to self.

When you can take correction or reproof 
from one of less stature than yourself,
and can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly,
finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart;
that is dying to self.