Friday, January 29, 2016

Family Surfing Night #15

One of my New Year's Resolutions was to have Family Surfing Night once a month ... January is done, eleven more to go, woo hoo!

If you're new around here, you can read about how we started this tradition }here{.  It's been a while since our last fun filled evening of internet fun and games - I can't believe it was last May.  This is what happens when family life starts happening at the speed of light, I'm here to tell you.  It was fun to spend an evening in the living room together, laughing over the kooky side of the world wide web.

We started things off with my entry ... it's not that I'm obsessed with synchronized swimming ... it's just that it renders such rich opportunity for humor.  This one is priceless:

Next up is Nathan's entry, from Penn and Teller.  Magic at its best:

From Abbie, How to Catch Moles Alive ... seriously!

And from Dan, a bad night for this soccer goalie:

Aaron's submission about microwave popcorn was funny but the outtakes had some content we won't share :)  Ben was at work and didn't get advance notice to text in his entry.  Thus, the votes are in, and the winner is:

The trophy goes to Nate for Penn and Teller's Nail Gun Magic - Go Nate!

Personally, I thought the synchronized swimming was the best, but I guess the magic of power tools can be irresistible.  Have a great weekend!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Checkers and Miracles at the Table

One of my New Year's Resolutions for 2016 is to have a weekly dinner at the table.  As in sitting down.  Together.  At the table.  To be honest, this was one of my resolutions for last year, too, but I kept getting tripped up on trying to coordinate all the schedules first, and that just seemed increasingly impossible. Sitting down at the table used to be an every meal occurrence, but over the past few years we've become more informal while we juggled unpredictable schedules.   With 2016, I've declared Wednesdays family dinner night, and while we may not quite resemble the Crawleys in the Downton Abbey dining room, it's quite the happy occurrence.   Because attendance isn't required, it's up to me to make it an event my people would rather attend than not :o)

To make things a little more officious, I introduce myself as host, welcome everyone to the table, ask that we try to keep to one conversation, and ask everyone to participate in the topic of the week.  What's the topic of the week, you ask?  I printed 100 thought provoking questions from Alexandra Franzen, made them into curly strips of paper and put them into a glass vase.  Each meal, we'll choose one topic to discuss.  I expected a little push back on this, maybe a rolled eye or two ... but my kids were intrigued and engaged and happy to explore each other's thoughts.  With our second dinner, they were asking where the topics were, and the light in their eyes spoke volumes.  Click }here{ for Alexandra's list of questions - these are great for special occasions or ordinary days.

Every special meal comes with dessert, don't you think?  To start our year of Wednesday Family Dinners off in a remarkable way, I pulled out the checkerboard cake pan that came from my mom.

I know Mom planned on wowing her grandchildren with a checkerboard cake at some point but never quite got around to it, so it was nice to include her in our meal in this small way.  Making a checkerboard cake takes no special skill other than having the right cake pans, and I'm here to tell you that even though the bullseye cakes don't look like they'll end up in a checker pattern, if you stack them up right, they do.  I don't have the kind of brain that comprehends how that works, so it's a little bit like a miracle to me when you cut into the cake.

All you have to do is use two different cake colors, pour the different batters in alternating rings, and then stack the cakes so the layers alternate as well.  I used Duncan Hines Autumn Velvets and the cake came out beautiful and YUMMY.

 You can find your own checkerboard cake pan on Amazon for about $15 ... click }here{ for a set from Wilton that's similar to mine ... and you can have your own checkerboard cake miracle :o)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Hello 2016 - Let's Do This!

I'm pretty sure I'm an extroverted introvert.  The kind that loves people and quiet, and parties and solitude.  It's only taken me fifty or so years to recognize all that is rather conflictive.  But finally, for the most part, I've learned to accept and appreciate both sides of the coin at the same time, no matter which side lands face up.

For the longest I couldn't understand why, if I loved my people, did I long so much for solitude?  Rather than coming to a great understanding and then knowing how to walk in it, understanding came in actually walking - or more accurately stumbling along - right through it.

There was a time when I believed my final words in this life would be, "Not so loud, please."  Because that was the season:  Loud.  And I couldn't articulate the need, but so often I longed to pause, to breathe, find perspective, gather strength and just be still.  There wasn't a lot of time for that in the loud season.  It came in snatched minutes of fleeting peace during naptime, and stolen moments of quiet on mornings when the sleeping late wasn't an annoyance but a blessing.  Now I look back on that desperate need for quiet and smile ... what wouldn't I give for those young ones to push the books out of my lap to rock away a sleepy head just one more time?

Having come through that season, I appreciate deeply how stepping away from life for just a moment to shuffle the edges straight is a gift.  Literal this time, delivered on Christmas morning with a date and a get away plan and gracious indulgence from LtDan.  We went to one of our favorite local-ish hotels and enjoyed a Friday night out on the town and a room service breakfast on Saturday morning, then LtDan headed home and I spent the rest of the weekend in quiet reverie with my books, thoughts, aspirations and goals.  I packed as if I were going to spend a month, not a weekend.  My book bag weighed ten pounds (really - I weighed it), and there were even more books tucked into my computer bag along with my laptop.  I took a scentsy burner, a wireless speaker, and extra coffee.  I moved furniture so I could sit and gaze out the window.  I had pizza delivered just for me.  I got a late checkout time.  It was beyond lovely.

The point of all this alone-ness was to spend some time thinking and planning for the New Year.  And now with all this talk about a wonderful weekend away to do just that, I'm thinking I better deliver on a pretty fantastic year :o)

I used }this{ fabulous workbook from Leonie Dawson to pull all things resolutions together, and it was wonderful to be guided and cheered along, beginning with a Closing Ceremony for 2015.  When the workbook arrived in the mail and I took a sneak peek through it, the review of last year was intimidating - 2015 was an nondescript blur, and I thought I wouldn't be able to fill even a quarter page with memories.  But with time and gentle review, lo and behold, the page was filled with so many things too good to forget.

With Leonie's cheery and colorful promptings, I considered what I wanted 2016 to be.  What resulted wasn't the tidy list of New Years Resolutions that I've crafted in years past, but a body of work that stands on its own.  It's part scrapbooking, part doodling, part dreaming, part planning.  I feel like the year came in a box labeled "Assembly Required" and the satisfying outcome is for real, bright and shiny.

One of the most significant lessons I began to internalize just the tiniest bit in 2015 is that victories aren't in the completion of a thing.  Victories come in behavior, whether it's a drastic change or taking one step and then another and another toward a goal.  If I want a healthier body, for example, the true victories come in taking my vitamins, drinking water, regular exercise and eating more healthfully.  A number on the scale and a size on a dress isn't the victory, it's just a representation of the real thing.  The real victory is in the daily choices and behaviors that bring about change.

My 2016 resolutions reflect a focus on behaviors, then, rather than outcomes.  I'm looking for ways of being as opposed to things to accomplish.  Here are the biggies of what I'm aspiring to in 2016:


Walk 500 miles (I use the MapMyWalk app on my phone)
Count Calories (I use MyFitnessPal)
Eat more vegetables (three cheers for green smoothies!)


Craft projects just for the fun of it
Take more pictures of all of us (look out family!)
Learn to make Bread Pudding (as good as that one 28 years ago in the little cafe on the Waxachie town square)


Celebrate family in all configurations (i.e. less than all of us is still family!)
Host special family dinners at the table once a week (even if not everyone is home!)
Surf the Internet together on Family Surfing Night once a month (even if not everyone is home!)
Go adventuring on more field trips


Cultivate the habit of taking breaks (using the Pomodoro method and the Pomodroido app)
Count gratitude every day
Capture and retain things I learn with better note taking and review


The word "attentive" popped up several times from various sources over the past few weeks, and that's the word I've chosen as my word for 2016.  I regret that so much of my life just slides right by uncelebrated, unenjoyed, unnoticed and unsavored.  I expect being attentive to my life will help me appreciate and experience its goodness more often and more deeply.


As companion to my word of the year, I also chose a Bible verse that echoes the same sentiment: "Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who trusts in Him." (Psalm 34:8)  Obviously, there will be a lot of eating this year.  (just kidding)  When I started looking for a special verse for 2016, I wasn't trying to make my word and verse reflect each other, but this verse is where God lead me - funny how that works, isn't it?  I love that the verse speaks to experiencing God's goodness through the senses, which would be the deepest attentiveness to life possible.

I also learned in 2015 that what the smart kids keep saying is true:  if you want to change something, you have to track it.  By the end of the year I could see that even inconsistent tracking made a significant impact, so for 2016 I upped the ante and identified 16 daily behaviors that will drive me to satisfying results at the end of the year if I just stick to it and do them daily (I'm using an Excel spreadsheet to track them).  To listen to a great podcast from Todd Henry at The Accidental Creative about what he calls The Dailies, click }here{ - it's great stuff.

I'm excited to see what 2016 will bring and will be savoring the "oh yeah, I have this whole thing figured out" feeling for as long as I possibly can.  Probably about five more minutes.

New Years Resolutions are something I completely geek out about (can you tell?), and I'm fascinated when other people talk about their New Years goals.  Did you make resolutions this year?  What kind of things have you resolved?

p.s. all photos in this post are of Leonie Dawson's Shining Year Workbook.  
Aren't they so happy?

Friday, January 8, 2016

Resources for a Bright Shiny New Year

The fresh start aspect of both Back to School and New Year's appeals vastly to me - they're my favorite times of the year.  In September there's new crayons, and in January there are new calendars, what's not to love?

Even when I was a little girl, I was big on New Year's resolutions, and most of the time I take time to line out my plans and resolutions for the year between Christmas and New Year's, but this year I tried to focus on actually taking that time off  ... no surprise: it was lovely :o)

Not having lined out my plans and resolutions by January 2nd would normally drive the perfectionist in me completely crazy, BUT ... for Christmas, LtDan gave me the best gift EVER: a night away to rest and relax and just be still.  Having that night close enough to the New Year to consider it a New Year's Retreat makes me a little giddy, I'm not going to lie. I'm fairly sure LtDan may not really get this part of me, but he's marvelously gracious in indulging it and I love him for it.  I asked for one night, and he gave me two, so there's a date night and a retreat rolled nicely into one spectacular gift.  D o u b l e  YAY!

Here are a few things I'll be working with on my Back to the New Year Retreat:

Leonie Dawson's Shining Year Workbook

When I stumbled on this post from digital strategist Nathalie Lussier, wherein she lists the top ten planners for entrepreneurs, I was in planner heaven.  I poured over each suggested planner, considering and evaluating the merits of each one, but the one that pulled me right over the moon was Leonie Dawson's Shining Year Workbook.

This isn't a planner in the calendar sense - it's a workbook to guide you through planning how you want the coming year to be.  It begins with a review of the past year and gives you a place to remember the great, the good and the won't-do-that-agains, and a place to put it all to rest so you can move on to dreaming up a shiny new year.

Although I do generally make resolutions every year, I would be hardpressed to produce a respectable list of said resolutions from any year gone by.  I'm so excited to use this book for 2016 - it's beautiful and whimsical and colorful and optimistic.  With such a happy place to get it all down, I'm sure I'll be returning to it regularly to keep the shiny dream fresh.  It's such a brilliant idea to make a true workbook for dreams and goals and resolutions, and I'm pretty sure Leonie's workbook will be an annual purchase for me.  I also went back and purchased her weekly planner for 2016.  Because, you know:  planner junkie!

Sacred Ordinary Days 2016 Liturgical Planner

I came upon the Sacred Ordinary Days Planner back in late October and have been using it ever since.  This planner fuses the liturgical calendar, the Book of Common Prayer and a daily planner. Although my own church experience when I was growing up didn't provide experience with liturgy or the Book of Common Prayer, I'm intrigued by them.  

I've been looking for a daily plan to follow for Bible reading and prayer, and this lovely book fits the bill beautifully.  I don't use it as a daily planner per se, but it's the place I'll be writing down what I learn and ponder in my daily spiritual walk.  In the past, I've used various books and spiral notebooks, but I've kind of jumped around and have wished for a regular place to write things down.  I'm excited to finally have a book that I know I'll use consistently.  Click }here{ to read about the KickStarter campaign that got Sacred Ordinary Days started - the print run has already completed and sold out, but you can purchase a PDF of the book }here{.  In my own experience, printing the book pages on my own paper made stepping into the bound book less intimidating.  Anyone else have a hard time writing in a brand new book/planner/journal the first time, or is that just me?


I've always been a journaler, and a big five-subject spiral notebook and a pencil have always been my preference, but I'm slowly making my way toward using a digital journal, and Evernote works well for me.  I'm looking forward to reading back over 2015 and hope to see some patterns and remember things I wish I could remember I learned :o)

Word and Theme for 2016

I've not done this before, have you?  I'm super late to this party, but I keep reading about choosing a single word or theme for the year.  It sounds like a great way to maintain focus, so I'm in.  I'm not sure who had the original ideas, but here's a great post by Laura at the Hollywood Housewife that puts it beautifully.

How about you?  

Are your resolutions already taped to your mirror, or do you get along just fine without any?  

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year 2016!

Did you make it through the holidays?  Are you ready to bring in a brand new year?

In spite of my grappling not-going-to-say-Grinch-like start of December, by God's grace I wrested my heart into resting in grace, and finally relaxed into enjoying the holiday however it came together.  Mostly it was me reveling in the decorating and Christmas Carols, and me doing Elf on the Shelf (although my family seemed amused by my efforts); I watched A Christmas Carol three times, and one of those times the whole family was present.  I think that may have been the ONLY time we were all home together in the evening in the month of December ... it was our own family Christmas miracle!

My typical approach to getting the house ready for guests over the years has been to act like a lion-tamer with the mess, chasing it from room after room, until finally it's contained behind the door of the master bedroom.  That's worked to get the house clean and tidy, but then walking into our bedroom was like walking into a war zone.

This year I did things a little differently and started cleaning with the master suite, and the affect was AMAZING.  Even though no one else went in there, it was a quiet source of contentment to know that my room was tidy, and slipping in there to grab wrapping paper or a coat was a source of peace rather than shame and chaos.

Starting the house-clean in our bedroom also put a different spin on cleaning the rest of the house; it helped me remember that as much as we were preparing the house for our guests, we were also preparing and cleaning and tidying it for ourselves.  In the past, I always felt there just wasn't time to give this private gift to myself, but I won't neglect this one, ever again.

My sister invited us for a Christmas Eve dinner party, and served our family-traditional menu, oyster stew complete with oyster crackers.  She thoughtfully supplements the meal with amazing hot sandwiches for the non-stew lovers.  For dessert we all made our own mini-pies, using a plethora of candy filling choices and sweetened condensed milk.  While the pies were cooking, we each decorated our own Christmas ornaments.  It was so much fun to have a few moments of spontaneous creativity together at the table.  This is one of my very favorite meals of the whole year, both for the mouth watering oyster stew and the pleasure of sitting at my sister's beautifully set table.

We hosted Christmas day for both our families, and served Christmas dinner for eighteen.  Although this is customarily considered to be the most pressurized meal of the year, I've done this meal so many times in partnership with my sister and sister-in-law with support from my mother-in-law and sister-in-law from out of state, that believe it or not, for me it's probably the easiest meal of the year.  The cajun spiced turkey coming from Dickie's is the centerpiece, which makes it possible to focus on all the yummy side dishes and desserts.  We all have our assigned specialties and nothing on the buffet is neglected - every dish is completely wonderful!  We set up four tables in the family room and after the meal my favorite thing happened:  everyone lingered past seconds and over well-cleaned plates to visit.  The room hummed with great conversation and laughter and lots of love.

After dinner, our tradition is to have a White Elephant Gift Exchange.  One of the greatest things about a White Elephant Gift Exchange is that it's the perfect chance to offload unwanted gifts.  For years, I've been tripping over the snare drum Ben used in 8th grade drumline class.  I finally put it into the bag to take to Good Will, but pulled it out when I needed to round up extra White Elephant Gifts.  Imagine my surprise when my brother-in-law delightedly snatched it up (and the stand!  and carrying case!) - White Elephant gold, for both of us!  I scored a very nice Pierre Cardin pen and pencil set, but my favorite gift were the fake snowballs made of felt that my sister and brother-in-law picked up somewhere on the Arkansas/Texas border.  The snowball fight erupted as soon as they came out of the bag.

Our kids are of the age where they're a little hard to buy for - I always want to choose the just right gifts for each of them (ah, Christmas perfectionism, you joy killer) and I wasn't sure if I'd come close this year, but I think everyone was pretty happy.  My brother, eternal kid at heart, gave us a real deal popcorn machine, just like at the movies - it's SO CUTE and after years of microwave popcorn, I feel like I've discovered a new delicacy.  My sister-in-law gave me a sign to add to my winter decor and an adorable penguin Scentsy diffuser that makes me chuckle every time I look at him.  If you ever feel depressed, you must watch March of the Penguins to the end.  And then ever after, even on your worst of the worst days, you will tell yourself, "At least I'm not a penguin" :o)

In late November, I bought myself a Christmas gift, the sweetest book, The Art of Holly Hobbie.  I left it in the package until the day after Christmas, when I curled up on the couch and had the most lovely afternoon pouring over her whimsical artwork and words, while everyone else indulged in long winter's naps.  Oh, those rosy cheeks, those graceful hands, the intricate and whimsical detail, the delicate coloring ... nothing takes me back to my childhood like Holly Hobbie.

We rang in the New Year with good friends and January 1 has worked its magic on me ... the idea of planning and resolutions and goals completely geeks me out.  I make resolutions every year, and for several weeks, maybe a few months, with great luck nearly all year - some of them motivate me to work on refining me and my life.  Every year I know this will be the year I'll accomplish all of them :o)

Wherever you are and whatever your 2015 was, I hope that 2016 is a year full of sweet moments, true contentment, and deepest growth for you.  I thank you so much for stopping by my corner of the internet every now and again.  Let's fill 2016 with heaps of joy!