Let's Chat: Countdown to Christmas


It's nearly Christmas, friends! I hope you're finding moments of peace in the midst of planning and preparations. Do you have a moment to sit and chat? Let's catch up.

Fall Turns into Winter. It's been weeks since I last wrote, and in those weeks, we've witnessed the transition from fall to winter. I'll admit that I'm a purist with this particular seasonal shift. I always wait until Thanksgiving has passed to put up my Christmas decorations, but as soon as we cross that threshold, it's fair game. By Black Friday afternoon, the pumpkins on our front porch had been replaced with pine garland and a Christmas wreath. The indoor fall decor had been stowed away in a bin and replaced with their Christmas counterparts.

Hallmark Christmas movies? Check. Hot cocoa? Check. An outing to the Christmas tree farm to cut our own tree? Check. If there's ever a month that invites you to get comfortable and cozy, it's December.

And the Semester Ends. Of course, the irony about December is that while it invites us to get comfortable and cozy, it's also quite demanding. Over the final weeks of classes, students seemed to be determined to keep submitting assignments (ones that I had assigned, mind you), which then meant that I needed to keep grading them.

After nearly two decades of working in academia, I have an uncanny internal clock that indicates when I'm at the end of a semester. It works the opposite of a sea turtle's navigation system, though, meaning that I become more disoriented when it kicks in. During the final two weeks of classes, I wake up uncertain of which day of the week it is.  My mind becomes like a bulletin board covered with post-it notes with a high-powered oscillating fan blowing on it. Every thought flaps in the breeze, dangerously loose, capable of being whisked away and eternally forgotten.

Even now that my final grades are officially submitted, final recommendation letters have been written, and final emails have been answered, I'm still decompressing. Just this morning, in fact, I woke up from a dream that I still had 96 speeches to grade, immediately. It took a few moments for reality to overtake my hazy dream panic and reassure me that I'm actually done. No more grading for now.

Regardless, despite the hectic sprint to the finish, it was a wonderful semester with wonderful students. It's also wonderful that it's over.

On Gift Giving. Some people are excellent gift givers. I'm not one of these people. I try. I really do. Regardless, my level of gift giving would more likely be categorized as "meant well" rather than "nailed it." I take full responsibility for this deficiency, while also accepting it might be partly attributed to making roughly 700 professional decisions in the three weeks leading up to Christmas shopping. Each December, I think I'll do a little better, or plan ahead, or pick things up along the way throughout the next year.

The reality is that I'll probably mean well again then, too.

On Hallmark Christmas Movies. I'm relatively new to this genre; I only started watching them last winter during the pandemic as cheerful entertainment. There's something to be said for mindless predictability and familiar tropes. Boyfriends of Christmas Past repurposing the premise of A Christmas Carol? I'm all in. A riff on Back to the Future's time-traveling with Christopher Lloyd making a cameo as the conductor in Next Stop, Christmas? My tired mind and heart automatically know that will be an acceptable two hours.

Granted, even my credulity was stretched thin during Royal Queens Christmas when a prince from some country (Estonia?) ended up in New York City on diplomatic duties, but his secret desire was to play the piano even though his royal parents didn't approve of his piano playing. Cue the obligatory scene where he (literally) runs into a regular, entirely non-royal woman from Queens (of course she was carrying and dropped cupcakes during this collision.) After her otherwise unexplained military service, she now was aimless, yet still running a children's choir, but the choir's annual Christmas pageant was at risk because the original piano player had inured his hand, and yada yada yada, two days later, the pageant was saved (thanks Prince of Estonia for covering the keys!), the royal parents accepted their son's musical talents as a welcome diplomatic attribute (Estonians love princes who play pianos at children's Christmas pageants across the pond in NYC, apparently!), and the regular woman from Queens and the Estonian Prince realized that 48 hours of companionship (including one impromptu snowball fight) were enough to smooth over all differences between their diverse life trajectories and citizenship. What else can I say? Another perfect Hallmark match.

So, yeah, that particular plot was a bit hard to swallow, but it won't stop me from watching more.

On Christmas, for real. The church I attend has been running a series on hope. This feels perfect, not only for the Christmas season specifically, but this pandemic-and-strife-weary world in general. As I put my nose to the grindstone to finish the semester and submit final grades, and then as I rushed across town and scoured Amazon to find presents, I realized I still was keeping the idea of the "ideal Christmas" in mind -- the Christmas where everything goes smoothly, everything is perpetually festive, and life is easy.

In reality, I don't believe ideal Christmases exist. There  always will be stressors, small disappointments, family complications, logistical issues, interpersonal irritations, a badly-timed head cold, or, say, an ongoing global pandemic. Toss in unmet expectations (whether yours or others) and years where there is legitimate grief.

Christmas is beautiful, but it doesn't stop life from being life. It doesn't make hard times disappear. In fact, for those who already are struggling, the holiday season has a way of multiplying struggles.

And that's why we desperately need hope. Not just hope for a good holiday season, but deep-rooted hope of God's presence in the day-to-day grind. This is why we celebrate Christmas: Emmanuel, God with us, came to earth to make us right with Him.

Soon enough, Christmas day will officially come and go. We'll assimilate new gifts into our homes, take down our trees, unstring the lights, stow away the wrapping paper, say goodbye to family until the next time we gather, return the sweater we didn't like, and detox from our Christmas diets as we head into the new year. We'll do all of it, like we do each year, because another Christmas will be said and done.

But the reason why we celebrate in the first place?

Hark the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King!"
Peace on earth and mercy mild, 
God and sinners reconciled.

I'm grateful for this unshakable hope. Dear readers, my prayer is that your hope will abound this Christmas season and beyond. Thank you for sitting and chatting!

Merry Christmas!


Slow Sundays and Fall Festivals

The past two Sundays have been marked by slowness, which is how I prefer my Sundays. After a full week with family members going in every direction, we need a day of rest. I imagine that you need this, too. Right now, I'm teaching a large course load and the grading is real, especially now that we've hit the midpoint of the semester. On the home front, we're working to help our kids navigate their own challenges with school, emotions, and life, a process that feels weighty unto itself.


But Sundays? Sundays invite rest. Last weekend, this rest came in the form of a quick afternoon trip to a fall festival. For as long as I can remember, barring the year that disappeared because of Covid, our family has enjoyed this festival for its hayride and pumpkin patch. This year, I attended solo. My only goal was to pick up take-out quarts of their homemade vegetable beef and ham-and-bean soups, homemade rolls, and a few whoopie pies for an indulgent dessert. Dinner should be simple on Sundays.

I was in no rush. I skirted the crowds who waited in line for the hayride, and I smiled at my own memories when I watched parents taking pictures of toddlers who rode the train pulled by a John Deere tractor. Those days with my own kids feel long ago. I walked the perimeter of the festival as an observer more than a participant, taking in the bins of colorful gourds, the barnyard animals, the corrugated metal outbuildings, and the stacked pumpkins.

While I know there's nothing simple or easy about running a farm, as I crossed he grounds in my boots and flannel, everything felt simpler, as if I had momentarily stepped into a scene that -- at least for the day -- was designed to bring comfort to the body and the soul.

And today, one Sunday later, in between the standard tasks of going through my email inboxes, completing paperwork for upcoming school conferences, making a grocery list for the week, and knocking out more grading, I took an hour to visit an outdoor field sale. A dozen vendors had set up booths, displaying their wares like one large eclectically gathered yard sale.


It felt right. It felt right to walk through a field, my hands tucked into my pockets since I'm not yet acclimated to October's crisp temperatures. It felt right to browse the merchandise, decorations, and trinkets. It felt right to chat with a man about his homemade soup recipe, to tell a woman that she definitely should buy the jacket she was considering (it looked great on her), and to listen to the stories from the woman who had displayed several precious old photos of her late mother's classmates from when they had been high school students in the 1940's. I pored over those black and white photos of nameless young women, wondering what the years had brought them. Had they found love? Had they faced loss? Had they married? Had children? What heartache and joys had they seen? What stories could they have told me?

In part, the time felt right because the hour was spent meandering, moving slowly, letting myself take in the scenes, the people, and my own thoughts. Someone had placed a fire pit in the center of the field, like a wheel axle that all vendor booths revolved around, inviting me to stand and warm my hands.


Thank God for slow Sundays, fall festivals, and rest. These festivities and events aren't insignificant or superfluous. In a small way, they're holy, like a brief reprieve from relentless weeks. Slow Sundays are sometimes just what our souls need.


Let's Chat: Breaking Out All Things Fall

I'm not sure how it's happening, but we're flying through the month of September. All the markers are pointing to fall: we're five weeks into the semester, I'm watching college football, I've pulled out my pumpkin decorations, and I'm ready to wear cute sweaters and boots. It's high time to celebrate the new season with an official Let's Chat post!


Let's sit together for a little while! Pour yourself a drink (iced tea? pumpkin spice latte?) and we'll let conversation meander, just like a leaf lazily falling to the ground in the autumn breeze. 

I cut bangs. It's true. After many months of scrutinizing my masked reflection, I concluded that I could use a little extra something. You know, something that would soften my features, or revive youthfulness, or make me appear effortlessly chic rather than effortfully tired. Enter side-swept bangs. And then -- of course -- also enter four straight weeks of 98% humidity where side-swept bangs expand and coil into Mufasa-like proportions. I know I'm guilty of faulty reasoning by suggesting that my hairstyle choices somehow control the country's weather patterns, but the timing here is suspicious.


Classes are still in person. The first week was an adjustment to navigate campus, learn a hundred new names, and remember how to dress professionally, but it's refreshing to teach in real classrooms again. Last week my students completed their first speech assignment (my first round of grading for the semester), and we're all still standing. We're masked, we're resilient, and we're no longer in our bedrooms. Let's go!

I spoke at an event. Late in August, directly after completing the first week of the semester, I shared at a women's event at a local church about overcoming fear and worry. Due to the pandemic it's been over a year since I've spoken at any public event. I had forgotten how much I cherish these opportunities to gather and encourage! As a bonus, I wore cute red heels, so that's a win.


I'm mourning the demise of a cell phone. Okay, not the phone itself, as it held no emotional connection, but I'm mourning the loss of pictures. I thought my photos were backed up, but sadly, as my four-year-old phone blinked its last pixelated blink, several months of pictures disappeared into the ether, never to return. I have two main thoughts about this. One, I should have known better. I've lost photos before when my phone has gone on the fritz. Two, the loss made me appreciate the ability to document life with photos in the first place. Sure, I'm feeling a glaring gap of a few months of missing pictures, but there were entire generations that never had any photos to commemorate their lives. Pity.


This might not be a good idea, but...  I'm trying to teach myself how to skateboard. A few weekends ago I bought a decent longboard at a garage sale on a whim. My youngest daughter and I now practice in our garage and driveway together. I'm in the just-balance-and-try-to-move-forward-without-breaking-any-bones phase. She's progressed to the cruise-some-distance-and-flip-kick-the-board phase. Ah, youthfulness.


It's been a good season for DIY projects. Over the course of the pandemic year, I painted our entire house (read that again, friends: OUR ENTIRE HOUSE), minus one bedroom and the laundry room. Those final two rooms are coming. But even better than painting rooms, I've gotten back into the habit of completing small DIY projects. Given that I vaporized months of pictures, I don't have documentation of summer projects, but my most recent endeavor is a small white table that I picked up at a garage sale for $3. I liked the size and shape, and I knew that I could upgrade the appearance with gray paint and some new hardware.

What do you think? Do you like the finished product? I love that it now resembles an apothecary table or card catalog. There's something about before-and-after pictures that does my soul good. And speaking of soul...

Even in the waiting. As my husband and I took a walk one evening last week, we talked about our kids, our jobs, Covid, and the general state of the world. I felt a sudden heaviness as I swallowed the realization that things still aren't normal, whatever "normal" means anymore. Quite frankly, so many areas are a mess, and I feel like our youth -- the most vulnerable among us -- are under attack with so much confusion, distraction, anxiety, and mistruth. It's discouraging.

But, thankfully, we can encourage our hearts in the Lord. At the women's event, I shared that when we worry about our futures, we often project ourselves into scenarios without remembering that God will be there. God will be in our futures when we get there. Whether good or bad, He'll be with us. His presence that's sustaining us today will be the same presence that sustains us through whatever we encounter in the future. That's good news. Even in the waiting and unknown, we can trust that God is working.


Friends, as always in these chats, I wish that I could hear back from you to learn how you're doing. Are you eager to start wearing your fall clothes? Do you have any good stories to share? Of course, I'd tell you that your hair looks terrific, because, hey, even if you're wearing yesterday's sweat pants today, you're gorgeous. Remember that. 

As always, thanks for chatting!



Back in the Classroom Again

Do you remember the scene in Titanic where old Rose prefaces her recollections about the fated voyage by saying, "It's been 84 years"? In a roundabout way, that's how I feel about returning to teach on campus tomorrow. For me, it's only been 18 months since I've stepped foot into a real classroom with real humans, yet tomorrow somehow feels monumental.

Over the past few weeks, I've set up course websites and syllabi. I've attended orientation meetings. I've updated my parking pass. I've troubleshot technology. I've tried to recall the many passwords that enable me to access my office, the mail room, and the copy machine. (This task was a tall order. I stood outside my office door facing this keypad, unable to conjure the 5-digit code from my long-term memory, hoping my fingers retained it in muscle memory. They didn't.)


But, more than any other concrete task, what solidifies the start of the semester is when I tour my classrooms, walking up and down each row, praying over each desk and chair, asking God for protection, favor, wisdom, peace, and well-being for every student who will share these next 15 weeks with me. This is when the semester starts to become real. This is when I feel ready to go. This time of consecration settles parts of me that feel unsettled during the transition into a new school year, especially this year, which feels unfamiliar and tenuous. 

I don't know what these next months will hold. Will we remain in person the whole semester? Will we pivot back to online classes if the Delta variant causes Covid rates to surge? How might the influx of nearly 50 thousand university students affect our local town or our local K-12 school schedules?

I don't know. Nobody does. We're still living with more questions than answers.

In spite of the questions, after 84 years -- okay, just 18 months -- I'm eager to meet new students masked face-to-masked face tomorrow. And no matter what happens in the weeks that follow, God goes with me. All will be well.


How To NOT Get Rid of an Air Hockey Table

Friends, this is a recent post, copied and pasted here verbatim, that I shared on my local Buy Nothing Facebook group. It might be the favorite advertisement I've ever written.

We are gifting a large working air hockey table. But before anyone gets excited and thinks, "Oooh, this will add hours of enjoyment for our family, children, guests, and/or dexterous and competitive pets," you need to know a few things.

Namely, when my husband disassembled the table to extract it from our basement, he realized that it weighs three tons, give or take. Neither he nor I have any recollection how we originally got it into our basement. Did we rent a crane? Did we somehow build the house around the air hockey table? Were we actually body builders ten years ago and just forgot this aspect of our identities? We do not know.

Also, given its ample tonnage, we invited (okay, extorted) another person to help us lift the disassembled pieces out of our basement. We now owe this individual a major favor in return. To everyone's credit, there was not one curse word uttered as we finagled it across the basement, around a corner, up a staircase, down a hallway, out a screen door being held open lackadaisically by our eleven-year-old who kept saying, "This looks hard," and into our garage. To our discredit, we needed to set the table down at various points while climbing the steps, which prompted impressive snapping sounds as various pieces came off.

This being said, to our knowledge, all pieces are still accounted for and can be reattached. Our eleven-year-old even sagely noted, "There's nothing that duct tape can't fix" as she looked over all the components strewn across the floor. Clearly, she's wise for her young years.

You will simply need patience, mechanical aptitude akin to assembling IKEA furniture, a large vehicle to transport the pieces, and a strong person who you can invite (coerce?) into helping you carry it into your house. Also, a sense of adventure. And, of course, duct tape. Obviously.

These pictures of the table are all BEFORE disassembly and transport. I am consciously choosing not to post the after pictures of the pieces in my garage to ward off collective discouragement.

Is this gift offering a blessing? Is it a burden? I'm not sure. The jury is still out. Regardless, I thought I'd post it here before we earn the everlasting disdain of the garbage crew during Bulk Trash week this fall.
Addendum: the post has garnered a fair amount of comments. Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, we haven't yet found a person to take it from us. If you're looking for an air hockey table (and a healthy challenge), just reach out.

I'm a Sucker for You

Last week, my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. Our celebration was simple: dinner out, ice cream afterwards, and a relaxed walk through the local arboretum after an otherwise typical weekday filled by regular errands and obligations: picking up our kids' Chromebooks for the new school year, driving our oldest back and forth from her job, fitting in an eye exam, and doing prep-work for the upcoming semester.

In the midst of this, we both forgot about anniversary cards. I had bought a card on time, but I hadn't filled it out. He had picked one up from the store the morning after our anniversary. That next evening -- two decades plus one day -- we both opened our cards to find this:

It's been twenty years, but, clearly, we're still suckers for each other.

Maybe Planting Six Zucchini Plants Wasn't Such a Good Idea

You know when you plant six zucchini plants, thinking that not all of them will survive, but all do survive? And then you leave town for five days and those six zucchini plants explode and produce zucchini that are the size of baseball bats, or moderately-sized clubs, or perhaps large toy submarines? And then you make a dozen zucchini breads and eat zucchini during every meal? And then you sneak spare zucchini onto your neighbors' porches, which you convince yourself is a kind gesture even though it feels like something suspicious you'd do under the dark cloak of night while egging their house or toilet-papering their trees? And you also realize that seven, maybe eight, more zucchini will be ready to pick tomorrow, and there is NO WAY your family will consume that much zucchini without a mutiny.


Yeah, me too.




When In Doubt, Just Get in the Water


Two weeks ago on the day after I finished teaching my summer classes, I drove seven hours to the beach. The trip was planned to be a week-long vacation, but due to complications, I could only stay one day -- 26 hours, if we're being precise -- before I had to drive home again.

Twenty-six hours isn't a long time to squeeze in a vacation, but I milked it for all it was worth. I slathered on sunscreen, browsed magazines, read a novel, and listened to waves as I reclined in a beach chair. I enjoyed a few evening hours at Funland on the Rehoboth beach boardwalk with family. I ate a crab cake.

But the best part, hands down, was when I swam in the ocean. I love swimming in the ocean. The salt, the spray, the feeling of buoyancy, the power of the current, the thrill of a wave cresting -- everything about being in the ocean reminds me I'm alive. I resist getting into a pool that's too cold, lowering myself down a ladder tentatively, holding my arms aloft, standing on tiptoe.

But the ocean? Cold will not deter me.

So I swam. I ran into the sandy froth, clumsily hurdling the low breakers before diving headfirst into an oncoming wave. Every nerve in my body registered the coldness, but I didn't care. I didn't think. All that had been weighing on my mind -- the semester grades I had just submitted, the long drive behind and ahead, the difficult complications that had truncated my vacation from a week to just a day -- were shocked out of my system.

I just swam. I floated on my back, closed my eyes, and spat saltwater out of my mouth when waves lapped over my face. I swam and dove and jumped and splashed -- and after some time, I wasn't cold. I wasn't stressed. I wasn't aware of much except the rhythmic sound of the pounding waves, the salt on my lips, and the sunlight glinting off thousands of swelling tips of wavetops stretching toward the horizon.

When in doubt, just get in the water. The ocean has a way of reminding you that you're alive and alright.


From the Laundry Room Floor

On occasion, I find myself lying on the floor in my closet. It's the only place in my house where I can hide from everyone. There's some desperation in these moments. I enter the closet, maybe with a pillow or blanket, perhaps carrying a box of Kleenex or chocolate contraband, and I immediately prostrate myself on the ground. It's a fitting physical representation of how I'm doing at these points, given that they occur when I'm mentally and emotionally flattened.

I'd like to take you back to such a moment that happened several weeks ago, maybe several months ago. (I honestly can't recall. I still haven't regained an accurate sense of how time passes since Covid struck.) Regardless, in some semi-distant past, I was having a terrible day. Everyone in my household, myself included, was off-kilter, and I was the recipient of the brunt of one daughter's sustained poor attitude. My patience was exhausted. I knew I should address her disrespect and snarkiness, but I didn't have the words or capacity to engage.

I was beyond tired; I was lay-on-the-floor weary and discouraged. So, that's what I did. I had been in the laundry room folding a load of darks, so I simply shut the door, pushed the laundry basket aside, laid down on the linoleum, and owned the fact that I had nothing left in the tank. I was tapping out.

From that prostrate position, I began to pray. I can't recall the exact words, but I asked God to intervene, to work on my daughter's heart, to help her with the myriad of feelings and issues she was experiencing that caused her to lash out at others. I asked Him to bring healthy conviction to her. I leveled with God that I've tried to instill values, teach good behaviors, help my kids process challenges, and model faith through my words, attitudes, and actions, but I was stuck. I'm not unwilling to engage in hard parenting talks and necessary discipline, but in this particular instance, I had no more energy. I had no more words. Even if I did, I doubted they'd be effective if I spoke them to her.

, I asked, would You speak to her?

After some time, I had prayed out most of my angst and anxiety. I wiped my eyes, stood up, finished folding the load of laundry, and went on with my day. Nothing externally had changed, but my soul felt somewhat lighter.

Friends, this doesn't always happen after a come-to-Jesus-from-the-floor moment, but within twenty minutes after I left the laundry room, my daughter came from her bedroom to find me. "Mom," she began, "I'm sorry that I had such a bad attitude earlier."

I hadn't said anything to her to prompt her apology. I had said it all to God instead. At that moment, I was awestruck and humbled. I still am as I recall the story. It had been such a clear and immediate response to my prayers that I couldn't possible miss the connection.

It's a good reminder that before I talk to my kids about their behaviors and attitudes that need to be improved (because these corrections and training do need to happen periodically), I first need to talk to God. Let Him pave the way. Let him guide my words, prep their hearts, or even as in this case, bring them to a place of correction before I try to get them there myself.

Before I talk to them about them, I'm reminded to talk to God about them.


A Lesson From a Leaf Blower

Please, as you read this, do not report me to PETA. With that  disclaimer out of the way, let me take you back a few weeks. It's early spring, and I'm cutting the grass for the first time of the season. Feeling ambitious, I drag the leaf blower from our shed to clean the remaining winter debris from our flower gardens and landscaping. The sun is shining, the heavenly scent of freshly cut grass permeates the air, and I'm going for it with the leaf blower. These leaves don't stand a chance. I've strapped the blower across my body, Rambo style, and feel powerful as the engine hums and I restore order to my back yard.


Without warning, I see something peculiar when I blast a tight clump of leaves. Something tiny and furry flips and rolls in the air current. I immediately fling the blower off my shoulder as my heart sinks; I've hit a hidden nest of newborn bunnies. 

I've literally blown a bunny out of its nest, watching it tumble head over tail until it flops to a stop. Immediately, I shift to gears and kneel to assess the baby bunny for any harm. It looks fine. I gently scoop it into my gloved hands, carry it back a few feet to its brothers and sisters, settle it into the nest, and carefully arrange a layer of leaves on top, as if I'm tucking them all in for the night.

For the next week or two, I check on the bunnies daily. They're growing perfectly, getting slightly bigger each day, all tumbled together in a fuzzy nest of adorableness, so I know their mother is coming back at night to care for them. One day when I visit to peek at the nest, it's empty. They've gone. (Or they've gotten eaten by a predator, but this is a feel-good story, so I'm banking on the fact that they hopped away to live happy lives. Trust me on this one.)

I've thought about these bunnies a lot these past few weeks because the situation reminds me acutely of parenting. I've had times when I've metaphorically blown things up in my own house, watching my kids get swept up in my blasting current, having my heart drop with worry that I've done irrevocable damage, quickly followed with the the desire to make it right and tuck them back into the nest. 


The wonderful thing is that our kids, like these baby bunnies, are rather resilient creatures. 

Fellow moms, I hope you're having a fabulous Mother's Day, one filled with sunshine, good take-out food, and maybe even flowers or a necklace made from macaroni. But, in the far recesses of your thoughts, if you wonder today whether you've ever blown up things too much with your imperfections and humanness, take this to heart: your kids are resilient. You haven't ruined the nest. 


Those kids of yours? They're growing well. That love of yours? It doesn't need to be perfect for it to be consistent. Every single day, that love tucks your children in, soothes the rough edges, and helps them grow up until one day, they actually will leave your nest. They'll be healthy, strong, and ready to face the world.


Take a lesson from the leaf blower: we all mess up, blow up, and tumble a bit. That's a byproduct of living, not just yard work. You love your kids. Your kids love you, too. That's what counts.

Happy Mother's Day, dear ones. I hope it's a great one.


So I Don't Forget This Pandemic



I regret that I didn't write more to document daily life through the pandemic. The camera roll on my phone captures my year rather well, given that it's comprised of pictures of my family wearing sweat pants and a fabulous collection of screenshot memes about quarantine, but sadly, I rarely wrote.

There's a paltry total of 14 posts in my 2020 blog archives. This year, 2021, hasn't been more prolific. It's not that I haven't had thoughts (just ask my husband about my habit of launching into them while he tries to fall asleep), but these thoughts rarely trickled down to my fingertips in the form of coherently written sentences. 


This disappoints me, but it isn't surprising. Given that so much energy was devoted to new mental and emotional loads -- whether processing continual emails from kids' teachers and principals, or balancing additional concerns about everyone's mental, physical, academic, and social well-being -- it made sense to lack energy for creative outlets. Frankly, I struggled to stay on top of the mind-numbing alternating school schedule for my kids ("are you in-person or remote tomorrow?"), so I clearly didn't possess the necessary mental dexterity to publish sensible blog posts. Plus, after teaching on Zoom for several hours most days, whenever I had a chance to get away from my laptop in my makeshift bedroom office, I bolted.

Still, I don't want to forget everything about this pandemic year.


I want to remember the emotional highs and lows. Those times when I walked through the house, aware that my kids had been on devices for absurdly long stretches of time -- hours, days, maybe weeks straight, it seemed. These moments made (and still make) me feel impossibly inept. I don't want my kids to waste their lives on screens. I don't want them to forgo legitimate hobbies or fall into sedentary lifestyles. At the same time, when you endure months of quarantine when everyone is fatigued, edgy, and has "nothing to do," you don't always have the wherewithal to fight the screen time battle.


I want to remember one fall afternoon when I was teaching on Zoom, leading an unremarkably okay-ish class session, and a loud rhythmic pounding emerged from my youngest daughter's room. Again and again, thump, thump, thump, whack!  I blinked hard, thinking the noise was bound to stop, but it didn't. My oldest yelled from her room, "Whoever is pounding, stop! I'm in class!" My middle daughter began shouting, "This is impossible! Stop it! Just stop! You're driving me crazy!"


My youngest yelled back, "I can't stop. I'm in music class. I'm the drummer!" 


I asked my students to disregard the background chaos and I tried to keep teaching. Still, I momentarily put my head down on my desk, a brief indicator of defeat, as if offering a concession, "This is it. This is my actual life now."

I want to remember the days when I didn't care to get showered, the long stretch when I was depressed and numb, and how I would sit in my car in our driveway to get away from everyone. I wondered whether my kids (or I) would be normal, functioning people after quarantine. Those were dark, low days. I want to remember, a few months later, when I slowly began to complete more house projects. For the first time in recent memory, I felt pleasure again from crossing items off my to-do list. I was proud of myself for creating to-do lists in the first place.

I don't want to forget the evenings when my husband was home for dinner. For most of our married life, his job has required him to be miss multiple dinners every week. This wasn't the case during quarantine. Each night I was able to set five plates, not four, on the table. I want to remember how he and I moved around the kitchen after meals, shuffling around each other, the kitchen island, and the open doors of the refrigerator and dishwasher as we cleaned up together. 


I want to remember how even though I tried to incorporate one or two new recipes most weeks, it still felt like we ate the same food continually. I'm convinced that I fed my family approximately 37 times every day. 


I don't want to forget how my family members were always there, always in places where I wanted to be. There were no discernible boundaries between work and school and life. I'd hear the filtered voices of my daughters' teachers and classmates over Zoom as I moved throughout the house. At some point, my oldest daughter routinely set up her classroom space at our kitchen table, not her bedroom. Each day she'd grow irritated when someone used the kitchen for actual kitchen purposes -- you know, like getting food. Instead of even engaging her in a conversation about this bad logic, l learned to make my lunch quickly and walk away. 

I want to remember the evening when I got so angry at my kids' terrible attitudes and behavior that I responded with my own terrible attitude and behavior and threw a plate on the kitchen floor, feeling frustration and shame when it shattered and I had to sweep the shards. I don't want to forget the many times when I laid on the floor in my closet and prayed, asking God to help my girls process everything that Covid had flipped upside down in their young lives.

I want to remember how my emotions -- whether happy or sad -- always felt closer to the surface. My eyes teared up the first time I wore a mask to get groceries because everything felt and looked so foreign, so strange, like I was walking through a science-fiction, not real life. I cried at every episode of Some Good News. I cried, yet again, one random day when I drove past a full bike rack on an otherwise empty campus because students had left for spring break and never returned. That physical sight -- a line of locked and unused bikes, standing idle at attention -- reminded me of how the world had flipped so abruptly.

I don't want to forget how conflicted I feel when students reach out and ask me for letters of recommendation because, out of all their professors during the last year, I'm the one they "got to know the best." In my heart, I'm touched each time I hear this sentiment, yet troubled because I only know my students in the most basic and fractional ways now. Our relationship is stripped down to faces on screens and faltering conversations as we perpetually mute and unmute ourselves. I mourn how much they've missed during their college experience.


I want to remember how my family shuffled downstairs on Sunday mornings to watch church services, with the kids still in their pajamas and everyone laid out on couches. And how when we adopted our cat, Peanut, for the benefit of our girls, I quickly realized how much her calming presence also benefited me. I don't want to forget how I sometimes browse my closet, running my hands over my professional clothes, wondering if I'll ever wear skirts, dresses, and cute shoes again. 


A part of me doesn't want to go back to doing things or going places. I really don't. My social battery depletes more quickly these days. I like sitting at my kitchen table five minutes before my classes start, knowing I only have to walk up the stairs and click a link, not drive to a parking deck and trek across campus. Between classes, I like tossing a load of laundry into the dryer, taking a quick walk around my yard, or chopping vegetables for dinner prep. You can do these things when you work from home. I enjoy not being expected to show up anywhere.

Part of me wonders how it will feel when I'm expected to show up everywhere again.


I don't want to forget how the pandemic forced us to roll with the punches, let go of expectations, and become more flexible. Or how, in spite of it all -- all the fatigue, confusion, frustration, loss, uncertainty, and disposable masks -- we still tried and trusted God. We attempted back yard picnics, family game nights, and doing our best to make some moments special, even if nothing was normal. We socially distanced. We masked up. We kept putting one foot ahead of the next.


I might not have written much, but I hope I still remember. I don't want to forget this year.


43 Reasons

Guess what? Today marks my 43rd birthday! People, I am halfway to 86! Being safely situated in my 40's not only has brought a few strands of gray hair and the inability to read text without first carefully adjusting its distance from my face, but also greater gratitude and wisdom. I like my 40's.

Today, in honor of my birthday, I'm commemorating 43 reasons I'm grateful -- one for each year I've lived on this earth. Some are more profound than others, but this year has reinforced that it's fitting to give thanks to God for even the smallest things that bring joy. What a gift to recall the gifts in my life! Without further ado, here are 43 things I am thankful for.

1) I intend to enjoy a milkshake today. I'm not especially partial to cake, birthdays or otherwise, but I'm a hardcore fan of milkshakes. If I have to place a candle on top of my milkshake to make this an official thing, so be it.

2) My husband.
Joel and I have been married for nearly 20 years, and after two decades, he remains my favorite person. He is steady and kindhearted, funny and smart, generous and positive. I love him dearly.

3) My youngest daughter. She's finishing elementary school and growing up beautifully, yet she's still young enough to play and to let me tuck her in some nights, which I love. Yesterday, we took a walk in the woods to observe signs of spring, and then we traced chalk outlines of each other on the driveway. Her most notable attribute: a genuinely happy disposition. She overflows with joy, spilling it onto others!

4) My middle daughter. After years of perseverance, she's developed into an avid reader. As a seventh grader, she currently enjoys YA dystopian novels, and we bond over the books and then spend mom-daughter evenings watching the movie versions. I love hearing her predict plot lines, analyze characters, and draw out themes. She's artistic, creative, insightful, and clever!

5) My oldest daughter. Next month, she'll turn 16 and get her driver's permit, but for now, we've spent hours over the past few months taking "Covid drives" with me at the wheel. I'm continually impressed with her growing maturity, deft humor, and sweetness. Something about a drive when you're headed nowhere in particular draws out conversation with teenagers. I smile, nod, ask occasional questions, and say, "Tell me more." She does. The future is wide open for her. How exciting to be alongside of her as she explores!

6) Both sets of our parents. I have a wonderful framed picture taken on Fourth of July a few years ago when Joel's parents (who live locally) and my parents (who live over 1,200 miles away) laughed in our backyard during a picnic before fireworks. It remains one of my favorite photos ever. I'm deeply grateful for them all!

7) Good neighbors. You might have good neighbors, but I'm going to be bold and argue that I have the best neighbors. We've seen each other through the ins-and-outs of daily life: picking up each other's mail, picking up each other's kids, and picking up each other's spirits.

8) Our new adopted cat, Peanut. In January, we brought the sweetest and prettiest cat into our home from PAWS. She periodically assists me with my work by standing on my desk, looking cute, and walking across my keyboard to type things like "akhadfzvuzzzzas." I've never had a pet before. I've been missing out!

9) I'm nearly one year into remote teaching. March of 2020 was characterized by an overwhelming barrage of emails explaining Penn State's emergency pivot to remote teaching and learning. One year later, I've learned so much. I'm better at Zoom. I've developed new skills with various online platforms. (Plus, my commute is roughly three steps from my bed to my desk.)

10) Memes. Seriously! Thank God for the comedic relieve from memes throughout 2020 and beyond. Humor is such a gift!

11) Creative endeavors. Occasionally I lose touch with my creative side, but when I rekindle these passions, whether in the form of a a simple craft or an elaborate DIY project, I feel genuinely refreshed. Plus, with the weather getting warmer, we're headed into the season when I can spray paint. Bring it!

12) Peaceful rituals that bring a rhythm to typical days. Whether it's my devotional reading in the morning as I eat breakfast, or sipping mint tea in the evening from my favorite mug, the older I get, the more attuned I've become to the rhythms that make up the nuances of my days.

13) Organization. After floundering for, oh, I don't know, roughly 7 months, I finally hit the stage in the pandemic when I organized All The Things in my house. When I say All The Things, I mean all the things -- drawers, closets, the pantry, the garage. I even offered my Marie Kondo-ish services to my neighbor and helped her organize her closets and bookshelves. I'm not sure if it's weird to derive such delight from a perfectly organized spice rack, but I'm thankful for the aesthetics of well-organized spaces.

14) Freshly painted rooms. In addition to organizing All The Things, over the past months I've also painted All The Rooms including my entire main floor, the master bedroom, and the upstairs bathroom. Bonus: the paint colors are spectacular, which is a gift because you never can perfectly project what a whole room will look like from a tiny paint chip. My favorite is our bedroom: Essex Grey by Sherwin Williams. Isn't it gorgeous?

15) Sunday trips to Goodwill. Each Sunday, our local Goodwill, which is just a few minutes from my house, has a special tag sale when clothes are reduced to 79 cents and housewares to 39 cents. It's a combination of Christmas + a treasure hunt + sustainable living + an opportunity to brag to my family (or strangers, really) about the bargains I found. What a fun way to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon!

16) The basil plant on my kitchen windowsill is thriving. Every time I wash dishes, I realize how fond I am of my sweet little basil plant.

17) A batch of graded assignments. The past week of work was a doozy with grading, but I'm nearly finished with another batch of assignments. It's hard to maintain pre-pandemic levels of efficiency and motivation now, so each time I finish a challenging task, I'm proud. Crossed off items on my to-do list are hard earned, and I give thanks for times of productivity and effort.

18) Full bookshelves. Our house is filled with bookshelves. I love this! Currently I'm reading Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan for the second time (hilarious!), It's Okay Not to Be Okay by Sheila Walsh (healing and encouragement for the depths of your soul), and the Maze Runner series (see number 4 above).

19) My mother-in-law shares her magazines with me. Every few weeks my mother-in-law, who lives one town over from us, drops off her stash of magazines: Good Housekeeping, Women's Day, Real Simple, and HGTV. While the content is mostly the same (tips for better sleep, more organized life, cute home decorating ideas, recipes for chicken that I think I'll try and clip out, then forget to try and throw away), I never tire of happily flipping through them.

20) Garage sales are coming. I can feel this in my bones. I'm awaiting the day when I see that first bright poster board sign hanging from a telephone pole off in the horizon.

21) My husband won a Roomba in a raffle. Do you own a Roomba? Last year my husband's impressive skill at guessing how many jelly beans are in a giant jar made him the recipient of a free Roomba. My life hasn't been the same since. Oh Roomba, I love you.

22) Cozy pants. Pandemic. Sweatpants. Enough said.

23) Grocery stores. Based on the number of times that I need to head to Walmart because I "forgot something" makes me unabashedly thankful that I don't live during the Little House on the Prairie era when you took one annual trip to the mercantile to buy flour, sugar, tacks, and a bolt of gingham fabric.

24) The Office and Parks and Rec. These shows LITERALLY have sucked away many hours of my life. What a happy suckage of hours it's been.

25) When my children hear a song from the 80's that they're familiar with.
Me: flips through radio channels while driving and stumbles upon "Take On Me" by A-Ha.
Kid (sweetly, yet ignorantly): "Wait, Mom, you know this song? How do you know this song?"
Me: "Ah, young grasshopper.... there's so much for you to learn." 

I love these moments.

26) Modern medicine and caring doctors. After seven horrible months at the onset of 2020 dealing with a serious autoimmune condition, my middle daughter has found great relief and healing through regular biologic injections. During those same months when I struggled to find emotional equilibrium, I've found greater balance through a mild anti-depressant. I'm grateful for caring doctors and modern treatments to help people reach physical and mental wellness.

27) This video by the Holderness Family. Go on, take three minutes to watch this. I've viewed it multiple times and shown it to every member of my family. I can't help laughing the moment he dumps the contents of his backpack on the floor. Classic.

28) Photo albums and journals. Having a record of important people, moments, and experiences, both in visual and narrative forms? Priceless.

29) Sleep. Oh.my.goodness, what an underrated daily gift. I love going to sleep!

30) Mobility. Two years ago I injured my shoulder. After months of physical therapy and cortisone shots, I have nearly full mobility restored. I've even reverted to my favorite sleeping pose: on my stomach with my head turned to the side, one leg bent and the other straight, with my right arm extended above my head. Sure, it resembles the chalk outline of a victim in a crime scene, but I'm happy I can extend my arm again!

31) The snow is nearly melted. Just yesterday, I scraped at the few lingering piles that had crusted along the side of our driveway, breaking up the ice and tossing shovelfuls onto the road so they'd melt more quickly. Grass! We see grass again!

32) Simple comforts: Every day I have access to comforts like hot showers, clean sheets, and temperature control.

33) Modern conveniences: Life still is busy, but what a blessing to have access to incredible conveniences like a washing machine, dishwasher, and safe water from a tap!

34) Before-and-after pictures. Some people have show pictures of their grandchildren to strangers. I show people before-and-after pictures to anyone who will look. DID YOU SEE THIS THING THAT WAS OLD AND UGLY, BUT NOW IS NEW AND AWESOME?

35) Meals when every family member likes what you served for dinner. If you cook dinners, you get this.

36) The Covid vaccine.
Have I mentioned that it's been nearly two years since I've seen my parents? I miss them. I'm so grateful that we'll be able to see each other this summer.

37) Dreams of future road trips. As the world begins to open up, I'm daring to dream that we might again hit the road for a small trip. It doesn't need to be anywhere special, mind you, but the promise of future travel feels hopeful.

38) Daylight Savings Time. Sure, we lose an hour of sleep, but the infusion of energy from extended daylight makes up for it.

39) Neighborhood walks. At the risk of sound extraordinarily middle-aged, I've come to really enjoy my walks around the neighborhood.

40) Happy closure on the swing set era. For a decade we've had a swing set stationed in our back yard. It had been a gift from my brother-in-law after his daughters outgrew it. Every week when we cut the grass for the past ten summers, we've painstakingly mowed around the swing set. This year, our youngest announced that she's ready to part ways. It's time: the swings are too short, and the slide (which once has been exciting) appears dinky next to her length. It's been a great run, and now we can pass it on.

41) Positive influences in my children's lives. I think of the teachers who have poured into my girls' learning, the elementary school principal who consistently offered motivation and life lessons, the youth soccer coaches, the Girl Scout troop leaders, the children ministry teachers, and the Young Life mentors. All of these kind and helpful people have generously given their time and talents to support the academic, social, physical, emotional, or spiritual growth of my kids. Thank you!

42) Friends who love, accept, and understand me. You are my people.

43) God's grace. Every item above points to a blessing -- whether people, experiences, lessons learned, humor, or daily comforts. These gifts and pleasures all point back to a loving God. 

Blessed be to the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits! (Psalm 68:1)

And, dear reader, I'm thankful for you today, too. It's an honor that you join me here!

With love,



That One Warm Day In February

There always seems to be one day in February that's surprisingly warm, a day when everyone happily loses their minds because a sliver of sunshine appears as a promise of spring after a long winter haul. Today, my friends, was such a day.


I spotted my neighbor wearing shorts. I literally could hear snow melting. I went outside to spray paint since we surpassed the critical 50 degrees temperature threshold. People smiled. I think I saw someone frolic.
I know winter will fight back and we're not entirely through yet, but I'm thankful. A warm day in February always gives hope.

Mirror Mirror (Finally Hung) On the Wall

I write with good news: I've reached the stage in the pandemic where I'm tackling house projects like a boss. This wasn't the case last March when the world initially shut down and we pivoted to remote teaching and school. I mostly block those months from my memory.

Although I completed a few projects last summer, like painting my front door and painting my daughter's room, I never fully caught my DIY stride. But now I'm riding a wave of motivation, eking out these early weeks of the spring semester (still fully remote) when my grading workload is lighter. Over the past month, in fact, I've painted the entire main level of my house, removing years of hand prints, smudges, and miscellaneous scuffs from our walls.

One project I'm especially proud of -- and what I'd like to share with you today -- is task that took me only 35 months to complete. You see, a small lifetime ago, back in March 2018 when we were naive puppies who never had heard of Coronavirus or wore masks, I discovered an old farmhouse six-pane window at a Habitat Resale store. It was a simple beauty, and I knew I could create something special.

I lightly sanded the frame, then freshened it with a coat of crisp white paint. As a finishing touch, I bought an inexpensive replacement mirror at Lowes that a helpful employee cut into six identical rectangles so I could secure each individual mirror onto each of the glass panes.

Now the old window was something really special! But sadly, this was the point when the project reached a standstill. I loved my new farmhouse mirror, but I didn't know where to hang it. Eventually, I moved it into our basement storage closet and there it sat, largely forgotten, for nearly three years.


Fast forward to several weeks ago as I'm folding laundry and listlessly gazing at the empty wall in my laundry room. The pieces slid into place like a puzzle: my basement held an awesome mirror that I previously believed had no place to be hung, and my laundry room had an empty wall that was the perfect size for that mirror. 


It took me 35 months, but people, I hung that mirror.



Since I was on a roll, I also refinished a three-compartment organizer that I found at Goodwill for under a buck. At first glance, it wasn't much to look at, but the potential was evident.


After a fresh coat of gray paint and new hardware, it's the perfect place to store laundry room odds-and-ends, like loose change found in pockets or clothespins.


As an added bonus, I added a small tray, which was another DIY project, to corral a faux plant that brings a touch of greenery and a pretty white canister that holds my Oxyclean detergent. (True story: I found the canister on the side of the road during our town's bulk trash week. While I question why someone would throw it away, I was happy to be the recipient!) 

I'm not sure how these past few months have treated you, but I hope you've found joy in simple things, like I have with my recent influx of projects. In several ways, they feel symbolic of better times ahead. As I've completed each project, I've experienced a swell of purpose and accomplishment -- feelings that were relatively dormant this past year. 


Matters that have been stuck or tucked away finally seem to be getting unstuck and brought back to life, right down to the farmhouse mirror now perfectly hung on my laundry room wall.

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