On a Learning Curve

Life may not be easy, but it's always an adventure.

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Dig Out Your Shoeboxes…. It’s that time again!

Are you weary of political talk, political polls, and political speculation? Are you tired of reports of scandalous behavior and FBI investigations? Have any of your Facebook friends threatened to “un-friend” you if you vote for the wrong candidate?

I’m done with this election, and we still have another week to go.

So I’m going to suggest that you ignore the political arena for just a bit and do something that will truly impact someone’s life for good: Go fill a shoebox for a child in need.

Forget about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for just a minute. Forget about yourself, too. Instead think about someone who won’t be getting a Christmas present and forget about our American first-world problems. In short, do something to change the life of a child forever.

In countries all over the world, little children–and their parents–need to know that they are loved. A shoebox filled with gifts of clothing, school supplies, toys, and toiletries communicates that love in a concrete way. But it does more than that, too. It comes with the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the assurance that God loves them no matter where they live, what color their skin, if they have running water, or whether their government is corrupt. That’s why a shoebox is so life-changing; it can have an eternal impact on a child’s life.

H is modeling 2 of this year's shoeboxes. Isn't she cute?!

H is modeling 2 of this year’s shoeboxes. Isn’t she cute?!

Filling a shoebox is simple, and I promise that it will take your mind off our American election woes.

First, find an empty shoebox. You get bonus points if you wrap or decorate your box, but it’s okay if you leave it emblazoned with Saucony or Sperry.

Next, decide if your box will go to a boy or a girl. Choose from 3 age groups, too. If you’re indecisive, pack multiple shoeboxes.

This step is the best part: go shopping and fill your box with thoughtful gifts. Or if you don’t want to leave the house, build your box online.


Action shot!

Don’t forget to label your gift  and to enclose $7 for shipping and handling. Find a drop-off site near you, and that’s it.

A few pointers on the gifts:

  • Start with a big item like a soccer ball, doll, or stuffed animal. Remember to deflate the ball and include a pump.
  • School and art supplies are great.
  • Accessorize with socks, mittens, a tee shirt, hair bows, or a flashlight with batteries.
  • Add non-liquid hygiene items like a bar of soap, toothbrush, or comb–the same things that your grandmother put in your Christmas stocking.
  • Hard candy is a nice gift; melted chocolate is not.
  • Fill as much of the box as possible, but don’t include war-related toys, knives, or toy guns. Duh.

The possibilities are endless. You can make something or include a kit if you’re crafty; write a letter if you have a few minutes extra; or even include a family photo. But the best thing you can do is to pray for the child who will receive your box.


We found Mickey and friends for $5 at Target

Visit Samaritan’s Purse to find drop-off locations in your area. Don’t wait too long though. The national collection week is November 14-21.

P.S. Consider purchasing a tracking label online here. It’s an easy way to pay for shipping, and you get a label that lets you follow your shoebox’s journey. We do this in our home, and we’ve had the excitement of discovering that our shoeboxes have gone to Central America, Africa, and Asia.


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All Is Calm (Just for the Moment)

We were late for church this morning because we didn’t read the bulletin last week. Had we paid attention, we would have arrived at 9:30 instead of 10 AM. We also would have remembered that there was no Sunday school for the little girls. At any rate, we squeezed into the only available pew: the very first pew directly in front of our pastor. Our pastor has a good sense of humor, and he laughed as he saw us slinking conspicuously into our seats. Within the next 10 minutes, the entire pew was full with two more families who were also oblivious to the schedule change.

It turns out that our pastor had this Sunday off from preaching. Instead of a Christmas sermon, we were treated to a lesson on Jonah. The girls were delighted–and actually paying attention–as the twenty-something guest speaker used emoticons in his sermon notes and several church members took part in an unexpected reenactment of Jonah’s journeys away from and to Ninevah.

But the reason I am writing was because of the moment where I looked down the pew and saw our entire family holding tiny plastic communion thimbles filled with grape juice. The girls were listening and paying attention; only one of them was slightly fidgeting; and no one was whining. Instead they were being reverent and participating.

This was one of those moments that moms capture in their hearts, and I knew it was special. This was our family together sharing a moment of faith. This was what Christmas is all about: Christ came to this earth as a human babe so that He could become our atonement. And 2000 years later my little family was sitting in a pew just three days after Jesus’s birthday celebrating his death and resurrection.

Merry Christmas to me.

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It’s Shoebox Time Again

This is my second annual Operation Christmas Child post. If you take nothing else away from my writing, remember this: Anyone can pack a shoebox full of gifts for a child who needs to know that Jesus loves him or her. It’s true. To prove this, here are the 13 boxes that 9 girls packed this afternoon at our house.


Hidden behind the two front boxes is evidence of my love for Saucony running shoes.

It took them somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes to fill these boxes with soap, toothpaste, wash cloths, stuffed toys, coloring books, markers, crayons, Play Doh, playing cards, stickers, temporary tattoos, and various Hello Kitty products. In the process, they turned my dining and school rooms upside down and littered the tables and floor with bits of Christmas wrapping paper, Scotch tape, and scraps of paper.


One of the boxes we packed for a little girl. There’s a lot of pink in there!

But the well-ordered melee wasn’t the result of a spoiled child opening too many birthday presents. (Oh, come on. All of us have been to those kind of birthday parties.) Instead, the girls were sharing Christmas with children they will most likely never meet in countries they will most likely never visit. And not a single child cried or yelled, “It’s not fair!” I did not hear the refrain of, “That’s mine, not yours!” And I did not witness a single act of fighting. For 45 minutes. And yes, there were three sets of sisters involved.


We managed to scrounge up just enough non-pink items to fill a box for one boy.

No, the event did not go off without several glitches. I seem to have lost my voice this week thanks to a well-timed case of pharyngitis; a few guests canceled at the last minute for legitimate reasons (Don’t tell my friend Stephanie that you’re going to clean your room and hope that she forgets about it.); and almost a third of our guest list never RSVP’d.

But in the end, it was perfect. We’re donating the leftovers from this afternoon–including a green and purple inflatable dinosaur–to the mean mom who grounded her children for not cleaning their bedroom. (Just kidding. She isn’t the meanest mom in the world; that’s a title my children have bestowed on me.) And next month 16 children somewhere around the world will discover the joy of Christmas.


All that was left after the lids were on the boxes. See the inflatable dinosaur in the background? Who wouldn’t want one for Christmas?!

Before I close–and I’m already 20 minutes past my deadline–I need to thank my next-door neighbor Timea. Earlier this year I wrote about H’s favorite friend Sofia and her brave battle against brain cancer. While Sofia was in the hospital, friends from all over the country showered her with countless toys, art supplies, and gifts–to help brighten her hospital stay and to let her know how much she was loved. After Sofia passed away in June, I volunteered to help Timea find a home for 10 boxes of books and toys. With Timea’s permission, we saved two boxes for this afternoon’s shoebox packing party.

Even after her passing, Sofie’s life continues to make a difference. Thank you, Timea, for blessing the lives of others. Before I get too teary to write, I’m going to leave you with a video from Samaritan’s Purse, the organization that sponsors Operation Christmas Child. If you still haven’t figured out how or why to pack a shoebox, watch this video or just read the instructions I wrote for the girls.



It’s a New Year, and I Don’t Know What to Write

It’s a new year. 2014. I have writer’s block. I start posts all the time, but I don’t seem to finish them. Perhaps that because life is busy right now, and my focus is not on writing.

Christmas was wonderful. We invited our elderly neighbor–Mr. Ted, as the girls call him–for dinner and then hosted two more neighborhood families for dessert. I even took out the good silver, china, and crystal. We spent a day relaxing at home and then headed to National Harbor last Friday. My very sweet in-laws gave us tickets to the ICE show at the Gaylord Hotel, and the girls loved the experience of walking through 9° to view ice sculptures. They also loved the snazzy blue coats that the Gaylord provided for its visitors. Look at us in all of our blue!

I'm driving an ice taxi!

I’m driving an ice taxi!

This week my focus has been on packing up Christmas decorations and putting them away. That means that I’m also cleaning out drawers and closets, organizing shelves and cabinets, and purging unused belongings from our home. It’s not just post-holiday cleaning though. We’re a military family, and we’ve been living in our current house for more than 3 years now. Since we don’t have orders or plans to leave the area, the next best thing is to clean out the house.

I’ve also been trying not to think about the end of our Christmas break. It’s been 2 weeks since we closed up our notebooks, and tomorrow it’s time to be productive again. Just in time for the first real snow of this season. That means I’ll be the horribly mean homeschooling mom who makes her kids do schoolwork on a snow day! Just kidding. (Sort of.) Homeschooling means you can get your work done and still have plenty of time for sledding and making snowballs.

Who needs snow when you can have ICE?

Who needs snow when you can have ICE?

Or perhaps it’s because Ryan is getting ready to deploy. It’s been a long time since he’s deployed for any real length of time. 9 years almost. Life has changed quite a bit since then. We’ve added another child to the family, and there’s the whole homeschooling aspect to consider. While we’re used to Ryan’s constant comings and goings, our youngest child has never experienced a lengthy deployment. H loves adores her daddy, and it’s obvious from her recent behavior that she senses that change is coming.

So I have reasons for my scattered thoughts. Tantrums, for example, are distracting. Did I mention that H has really perfected the art of throwing tantrums lately? In fact, she threw such a bizarre tantrum last Sunday–she refused to wear any pants except for the pink leggings that were in the washing machine–that she missed out on a special family dinner with my parents, siblings, and nephews.

On that note, I’ll leave you with a few pictures of the aforementioned family dinner. It took place at–drum roll, please–Islamorada Fish Company in Ashland, Virginia, which is conveniently attached to Bass Pro Shops. Dinner was surprisingly good, and the entertainment provided by Bass Pro Shops was spectacular. This was my first visit to the retail chain, and I was mesmerized by the number of taxidermy displays, aquarium offerings, and the way that families descend on the store in droves. Dinner did not require formal dress, but it did require pants–camouflage was optional.

Look closely and you'll see the bear behind us. This is me with my sister and brother (and the bear).

Look closely and you’ll see the bear behind us. This is me (R) with my sister (L) and brother (and the bear).

My parents (& the bear). Married for 43 years. How cute are they?

My parents (& the bear). I think this should be their Christmas photo next year.

Christmas Is Coming!

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The sound of crickets has filled my blog lately, so it’s time for an update. I’m sprinkling pictures throughout this post, too, so that there’s proof that I’ve decorated for Christmas.

No room for your Nativity set? Hang it above your garage door! (Snapped this photo of my in-laws' neighbors.)

No room for your Nativity set? Hang it above your garage door! (Snapped this photo of my in-laws’ neighbors.)

After our whirlwind Thanksgiving celebration/Great Wolf Lodge visit, we spent the week visiting the Emergency Room, checking blood glucose (BG), cramming in some schoolwork, doing laundry, and packing for our annual trip to Washington state. I’m exhausted just by typing. Next was a full day of traveling–first to Reagan National, then an extended layover in Denver due to some nasty weather (-3º when we landed), and finally into Spokane at 12 AM (or 3 AM if you’re on EST)–so that we could spend 8 wonderful days with Ryan’s family.

How do you amuse yourself in an airport? Create a book all about trolls, of course.

How do you amuse yourself in an airport? Create a book or 2 all about trolls, of course.

The girls would like me to note that it did NOT snow while we were visiting Spokane. That’s actually a first. Not only was it insanely cold–less than 10° most mornings–but no snow during a full week in December is just unfair, un-American, and unusual, according to the girls. (Not to mention the extra suitcase we took that was full of snow pants, snow boots, hats, and gloves.)

Proof that yetis do exist! Here are the girls with Sasquatch outside Boo Radley's in Spokane.

Proof that yetis do exist! Here are the girls with Sasquatch outside Boo Radley’s in Spokane.

G with me at Spokane Falls. We were cold!

G with me at Spokane Falls. We were cold!

It’s always a good week when you spend it with people who “love you madly,” including a father-in-law who enjoys making me lattes that are on par with anything Starbucks brews.

The girls and their beloved Grandma.

The girls and their beloved Grandma.

The trip home went faster and easier. I addressed our Christmas cards, so that felt like a major accomplishment. Also, there were no storms to battle, but we have been battling the transition back to EST since Saturday. Poor G has been trying desperately to fall asleep before 10 PM each night, but it’s just not easy for an 11 year old! I’ve been letting her sleep until she wakes up, so most mornings school is starting at 10 AM or later.

I love a good skinny tree! You can see all of the ornaments on the front and the back!

I love a good skinny tree! You can see all of the ornaments on the front and the back!

That brings me to the next point: We completed our final day of school for 2013 today! For S, this means that she is now a 4th grader! For G and H, it means they are halfway through 6th and 1st grades, respectively. For me, it means I can breathe a little easier.

What's wrong with this picture? Can you find Rosie, my in-law's cat?

What’s wrong with this picture? Can you find Rosie, my in-law’s cat?

Now I can start baking the neighbors’ Christmas treats. This year I’m avoiding anything with the word “fruitcake” in the recipe. Last year’s attempt at fruitcake biscotti was disastrous. Baking scones is tomorrow’s project. I’ll post the recipe later.

How to hang stockings when you don't have a fireplace: on the railing! Nana crocheted my stocking many years ago.

How to hang stockings when you don’t have a fireplace: on the railing! Nana crocheted my stocking many years ago.

Since I need to put some dinner in the oven–and eventually on the table–I’ll leave you with some pictures. Here’s how we’ve decorated this year. Merry Christmas, everyone!

The girls' tree, aka a Norfolk pine, holds the ornaments they've made and received from ornament exchanges.

The girls’ tree, aka a Norfolk pine, holds the ornaments they’ve made and received from ornament exchanges.

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Cyber Monday Ideas

Today is an important day for online retailers. It’s Cyber Monday. (Doesn’t that sound better than Black Friday?) Maybe you’re finishing your shopping before the kids arrive home from school, or perhaps you have plans to curl up with your laptop after dinner tonight. Or maybe, like me, you’re finishing your Christmas shopping from the comfort of your bathroom floor while your pathetic 9-year old hugs the porcelain.

So what do you give to someone who has everything he needs? For someone who doesn’t want anything but appreciates that you’re thinking of her? Or how about a gift that blesses the recipient and empowers the worker who created it? Here are 3 suggestions for today:

1. Shop with Samaritan’s Purse. This is the organization that flies Christmas shoe boxes around the world to underprivileged children. They also do a pretty amazing job of helping out in times of disaster. Did you know they have a Christmas catalog, too? You can give the gift of domestic animals, emergency relief supplies, clean water, and much more. We ordered chicks one year for each of our nieces. I think their mothers were pleased that we did not actually give the chicks to our nieces.

2. Drink coffee. Do good. If you–or someone you love is a coffee junkie–you know that Rwandan coffee is exceptional. Instead of purchasing beans from your not-so-friendly warehouse store, consider purchasing Land of a Thousand Hills coffee. Shipping is free today! I promise you that this is delicious coffee. There are plenty of bean options available, including Haitian varieties, as well as gift merchandise.

Christmas in a Cup Flavored Coffee Gift Set

3. Don’t forget the Philippines. Donations to disaster relief typically ebb when the disaster is no longer front-page news. Damage from Typhoon Haiyan is going to take many years to repair. Click on the button on the right side of my blog to donate through Compassion International. Compassion International has been working through churches in the Philippines since 1977 and has a vested interest in restoring island communities.

Whatever you choose, don’t forget that the true meaning of Christmas. It’s not about the gifts we give each other. It’s about the greatest gift we’ve be given: a helpless baby who came to earth to be our Savior.

And in case you’re wondering, I’m still in the bathroom. Round 2 seems to be over, and my relief should be home in the next few hours.


Got an Empty Shoe Box? Fill It Up!

It’s that time of the year. Shoe box time.

When we arrived (almost on time) at church yesterday, I noticed a familiar sight in the foyer. On a table sat two shoe boxes overflowing with school supplies, toys, candy, and personal hygiene items. Operation Christmas Child brochures, stickers, and prayer cards surrounded the boxes. I made a mental note that I needed to go through my pantry, round up empty shoe boxes, and make a shopping list when we returned home.

After lunch, the girls and I pulled out the stockpile that we had amassed over the past year: markers, colored pencils, and crayons bought during the back-to-school summer sales; a 6-pack of socks found on clearance; a tiny Beanie Baby bear, two elastic bracelets, several notepads, and a mini Etch-a-Sketch all stashed and forgotten at some point earlier this year.

We pulled out 4 empty shoe boxes, hunted for 2 more, and then got to work separating, filling, and evenly distributing our stash. Then we made a shopping list: wrapped candy, Hot Wheels for the 2 boys’ boxes, 6 tubes of toothpaste, and 6 bars of wrapped soap.

After a quick trip to Target, we finished our packing. How easy was that? We like to wrap our shoe boxes, but that task remains for a later date–mostly because the 4 of us don’t wrap boxes very well together. (I’m just being honest here.)

A boy's box: same art supplies, hygiene items, and candy + toys.

A boy’s box: art supplies, hygiene items, socks and candy + Hot Wheels!


One of the girls’ boxes: same art supplies & hygiene items with purple socks, Play Doh and hair goodies.

If you still have no idea why we filled up 6 shoe boxes yesterday, watch this video below. Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, the international relief outreach headed by Franklin Graham. (It gets a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.)

See how simple that is? If you have kids–or if the voices of Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber don’t make you cringe–watch this how-to video. Don’t forget to attach your label and include the $7 shipping fee. Or you can follow your box around the world by paying online and downloading a special tracking label.

I think I packed my first box more than 10 years ago. Now we routinely pack 6 boxes each year. (That’s one box for each of our children.) In past years, our boxes have reached Ecuador, El Salvador, Georgia, Guatemala, Ukraine, and Zambia. What an amazing way to share the love of Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas with children all over the world. I can’t think of a better way to spend $7.

National Collection Week is November 18-25, so that gives you about 2-3 weeks to pack your boxes. So go pack one or two…or even more. What’s stopping you?