I have the joy of spending a morning each week with a group of really great moms and their super cute babies. We gather to chat and visit, share food and recipes, stories and laughter. Sometimes we talk about some serious stuff and some times not. It is sweet precious fellowship.
We've had a baby boom recently. We're even missing one of our little friends in this picture.

Once we did the above picture we noticed our little friend setting up her babies for a photo op.
 Besides eating and visiting some of the moms crochet, knit and do other stitching work. I just take pictures and offer food :-)

The kids are really good at playing and getting along for the most part.

They can be pretty goofy.

I'm blessed by my friendship with these young moms. They make me a better mother...friend...they bless me more than they know.

I'll be honest, I just wasn't feeling it. I even toyed with the idea of just skipping it today. I felt uninspired and not really motivated to come up with a picture of the day.

But instead of not doing it...of not pulling my camera out (ok off the desk shelf) I went ahead and made my self do it. I made myself look for inspiration. And I was gently reminded of a great truth. Often times we may think the answer is found in one direction when in reality it is in another. A simple thing like flipping my lens backwards to do reverse macro reminded me of that.

My house still smells like Christmas.

And we bought more lights but that still isn't enough so the oldest is making a Walmart run for more.

Another batch of fudge to go along with the batch of peanut butter fudge from yesterday is cooling on the counter.

Cookies and fudge balls still to be made. Why fudge balls when we have two ginormous pans of fudge already? Because it's a different recipe with a different texture that is perfect for these little fudge balls that my beloved adores. (All the prep is due to the fact that we'll be celebrating Christmas tomorrow with some of my family.)

The other children have moved from putting hooks on ornaments while singing "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas" to seeing who can stand on their head the longest.

I love my life.

It happened our very first Christmas. My beloved, the man I had forever joined my life to, actually suggested we put our Christmas tree in the spare bedroom.



Since then we have struck a balance and tempered each other's enthusiasm, or lack thereof.

But I have to say that he did it this year. He has redeemed himself from that horrible first Christmas faux pas.

He brought home the biggest most beautiful Christmas tree that ever was.

This tree is so big that Santa himself could hide in it.

It's so big and beautiful that I am reasonably sure I clapped my hands and squealed like a little girl.

Growing up I loved decorating our tree. Half squished handmade ornaments and the tinsel! Oh, my goodness that silvery slippery sparkle just delighted my soul. My trees now look quite different. I tried that beautiful silvery sparkle and cleaned up for months afterwards once and do not feel compelled to experience it again as an adult as well as the chief housekeeper. (God bless my dear Mother.)

But tomorrow we'll trim the tree with red and gold and lights. Lots and lots of beautiful sparkly lights.

And each night we'll turn the regular lights off and just sit in the simple glow of this big beautiful tree.

It's the simple things that give so much pleasure. Like the fact that my house now smells like Christmas.

The I-really-want-some fudge-so-I-am-going-to-make-some-and-blame-it-on-the-holiday tradition yielded a mighty tasty confection. It also yielded quite a lot. Like, seriously a lot. So I shared some this morning at my weekly moms group and had a few friends mumble their hatred for my new tradition through a mouthful of fudgy goodness. There's plenty left, and by plenty I mean well over half a pan, so I am taking it for dessert at our church dinner tonight.

This recipe is definitely a keeper but I think it will only be made to give out as a gift or for parties and such. I had no idea it would make so dang much. I guess my friends better get ready because I really want to try a peanut butter fudge. That one I may have to give away for the sake of my own waistline.

It has been a busy day. All chopped up into bits and pieces of time. Not a bad day but that kind of all-over-busy-ness bothers me. The older I get the more uninterrupted I like my days. Which is hilarious because I have five children. There is no such thing.

Regardless of the hectic back and forth kind of day this evening has been pretty calm and rather pleasant. Currently we're listening to A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. It's one of my favorite jazz holiday cd's.

After dinner my beloved lit a fire and we settled in for Advent. I think we all look forward to this peaceful way to wind down our evening. I love hearing the questions the kids come up with. It's a sweet family tradition.

I started a new tradition tonight too. It's called the I-really-want-some-fudge-so-I-am-going-to-make-some-and-blame-it-on-the-holiday tradition. It's a new recipe so I'll let you know how it goes.

It's not that I didn't take the pictures each day ~ I even uploaded them to facebook. It's just the blog was m.i.a for a few days due to a domain renewal snafu. But thanks to my wonderful long suffering husband it's back and I'm going to overload this post with the pictures that weren't shared on their day. (Actually it's not much of an overload just about three or four pictures.)

Day Nine ~ the way every morning starts for me :-)

Day Eight ~

Say Seven ~ 

Day Six ~ This one has garnered a lot of attention. The colors were what caught my eye and there was no way I wasn't going to try and capture what I saw. I drove around the block downtown and looped back to take this picture.

There now. All caught up :-)

A friend quietly suffered a loss.

Another said goodbye to her mother.

Parents lost a child over the weekend and two days ago two children lost their mother.

That's just in the last week of my life, no one else's stories...just mine. Just my immediate world and not around the globe or down the street or across town.

And I am reminded why the Light needed to come. How darkness wants to reign and how the great deceiver wants to make us believe that the darkness does rule.

But the Light that came has conquered darkness and the deceived one and it only seems the opposite when we look at the darkness instead of the Light.

A friend gives thanks for medicine and doctors who successfully performed open heart surgery on her three month old last week.

A long awaited end to a work project is finally on the horizon and a family rejoices.

Still others share stories of grace and blessing from a trip to Haiti.

The Light is there. Spilling across our lives, dispelling the darkness...exposing it's emptiness and lies.

So this week we light the candle of Hope. Not because we're waiting for it to arrive. But because it has.

One of the posters in the facebook DPP group is including a haiku with each of her pictures. It makes for a pretty nice combo as well as some inspiration. I'm not going to try and do one every day because I don't think I'd handle the pressure well but I did come up with one this morning when I saw how foggy it was outside.

I was whining about the icky Florida December weather yesterday and, while it's still humid and kind of gross, the fogginess and colors of the Bradford pear trees has sort of redeemed itself.

gray and foggy morn
fall colors crackle and pop
winter in the south

You know what I really dislike about the time change? That when it's 6:54 pm it is so stinkin' dark outside that it feels like it's midnight. I say that as if there is anything else to dislike about the time change and frankly there isn't. I mean you get to fall back and gain an hour of sleep and what's not love about that?

But man, I really hate how early it gets dark.

I think another part of the reason I am quite the grumpy gus today is that it was almost 80 degrees. I realize I live in Florida and all but still...December should be cold. At least by about 10 or 20 degrees less then what it was today.

My kids don't seem to mind. They came home and still had a cup of hot cocoa. Go figure.

I did manage to sweat my way through putting some more decorations out so at least it looks more like Christmas even if it doesn't feel like it. (It also smells like Christmas since I stopped and loaded up on all the tree cuttings at Home Depot. Do you know they will let you haul off as much as you'd like of the limbs that are left after they've trimmed the trees for free?)

Maybe I should just crank the air conditioner way down and climb into bed with a cup of cocoa and pretend it's cold outside. You know...since it's so dark outside already :-)

I'm only counting the cocoa picture for my DPP. I'm pretty sure these decorative pine cones have been photographed for a previous year.

I forget sometimes, to look for the light in unexpected places...for beauty in the ordinary. I've been busy with editing a bunch of mini sessions I did (a fundraiser for my daughter's jr/sr trip) and I love how they are turning out. The families were all so fun and the pictures are just great. I love doing portraits. Of working to capture that smile or expression that really reflects a personality. And spending time with the families who have become friends.

I'm thankful for the busy-ness and for the friends we had visit over the holiday weekend. But I'm thankful for the timing of this yearly photo project too. Because I need to be reminded that there is rest in the normal things of life like the way sunlight comes in the window in the morning and illuminates the leaves of a house plant that I have managed to not kill or the almost readiness of the first lemon on our tree. I need to be reminded to look for the common grace in the quiet.

Not everything is planned or perfectly arranged...but there is simple joy to be found even then.

For the last several years I have been able to participate in the December Photo Project...a photo every day for the first 25 days of December. Last year I only managed a few days but that's the great thing about the project. The world doesn't end if you miss a day or two...or 12.

I actually have two pictures for today. For years the kids and  I have asked for us to string Christmas lights on the house. And by us I mean Rob. Finally, for the first time ever, he decided we could hang them and a sweet young man from our church came over a few weeks back and cleaned the rain gutters and started hanging lights. He couldn't finish though since we didn't have enough strands but I bought some more this weekend and my beloved finished hanging them this afternoon.

He looks thrilled doesn't he? (He was totally playing up the Grinch-ness here. "Whaaaat? I'm hanging lights and you want to take my picture?!)

In related news he also got my box of decorations down from the attic. I think I'm missing stuff. Or I could be imagining things that I've seen lately at Hobby Lobby but don't actually own and just wish I did. It's totally possible. Either way tomorrow I'll start putting things out around the house. I love holiday decorating, don't you?

Warm and gooey.

Doughy and dusted with cinnamon and sugar.

These are absolutely delicious and very rich. Perfect paired with a cup of coffee or hot apple cider, they'd make a wonderful treat for Thanksgiving morning.

The original recipe calls them caramel snickerdoodles, I guess because of the cinnamon and sugar, but when I went to make these I only had crescent rolls so that's why we call them caramel crescent roll bites.

Whatever you want to call them is fine just make sure you call the family in to enjoy them with you or you may end up eating them all by yourself!

What you'll need:
1 can of crescent rolls
16 caramel bites unwrapped
cinnamon and sugar

What you'll do:
Unroll the crescent rolls and cut them into two pieces. (They won't be exact but from the picture above you can see how we divided them.)
Place a caramel square in the center of each piece and roll it up so that the dough completely covers the caramel.
Roll your caramel stuffed dough ball in the cinnamon and sugar.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.

Allow to warm a tad because the caramel will be oozing and hot but then gobble them up because the
caramel will be oozy and warm :-)

A couple of notes:
You probably want to line your cookie sheet with parchment paper since some of the caramel may leak during baking.
These are best eaten warm. Once they cool the caramel becomes slightly hard and not as tasty.

Last week I had the opportunity to sit under the teaching of Douglas and Nancy Wilson at a family conference in Sandestin. It was beneficial for me in many ways, and on many different levels and I am really glad our family was finally able to participate in this annual event. One of the things I realized during the weekend was how differently I would want to parent if we were just starting our family. A different tone and coming from a different place, so to speak.

Since my world is currently overflowing with mamas and new babies I thought I'd share some of my thoughts and observations here. But first let me give a little back story on our early years as new parents. Basically, we were utterly clueless and winging it. We kind of had a vague sense of what we wanted but no idea how to go about it. We knew we wanted obedient children and to get them we knew we had to train them in obedience. Sounds like a good, noble, and holy goal, right? 

It becomes apparent very quickly though that we all want that good, noble and holy thing but there are about a gazillion ideas on how to get there. However, I think there are two broad categories that those gazillion of ideas fall into. There is a "training for obedience" and a "nurturing of obedience". Please keep in mind that I say broad in a very sweeping generalized broad kind of way. This is not a judgement call on any particular methodology or practice but rather is a glimpse in how my own view has grown and shifted over time. 

To be sure, regardless of which category you fall into, there is training that must take place so my preference for one over the other has more to do with the how of the process. I'm sure in the grand scheme of things the difference between the two ways is not as large as it currently seems to me while it is all fresh in my head. But, being at this vantage point of my life, having raised up my children past those early years, and now seeing the fruit born out in the lives of the children who come from both categories (mine as well as those in my circle of living) I do see a notable difference in the sweetness of the fruit and it's aroma.

In the beginning we fell firmly in the training for obedience camp. We were pretty tight in keeping the rules and we had plenty of them. Don't get me wrong. Our home was still happy and loving but we were in training  mode all the time. Everything was a training in obedience opportunity. Honestly, there were a lot of no's.  We didn't move things out of reach from little hands, we trained them to not touch. Everything was out and a lot of it was off limits so consequently we spent a lot of time saying "No!" and "Don't mess with that!". Which really doesn't sound that bad does it? Until you look at how God parents.

God created the heavens and the earth, made this fantastic garden and gave it to Adam and Eve as their home. Think about it. All of creation was at their fingertips, and there was exactly one no in the whole place. It was a garden full of yeses. That no was smack in the middle of the garden but it was the only one. Everything else was a yes. That fruit? Yes. Want to climb that tree? Yes. Go for a walk over there? Sure! Swimming in that pond? Absolutely! What? That tree over there? No child, not that one

I am in no way advocating letting your children run free and wild without any boundaries. I am advocating for the rules to be as simple and few as possible. Instead of having that fragile and sentimentally priceless knick knack on the coffee table where it can dazzle and catch their eye and be used as a training opportunity, why not move it out of reach? Instead of a house full of no's why not a house full of yeses with the only rule be that you obey? Do we really think that without the boot camp obstacle course of off limit things that there will be no way of teaching obedience? I submit that there are plenty of ways and opportunities to train and teach our children obedience that nurtures that obedience in a way that becomes less about rule keeping and more about loving the rule giver.

And isn't that what we want? To raise up children that not only keep the rules but they keep them because they love the Rule Giver? The great Rule Breaker wants us to believe that we need more rules, that life and freedom is found in keeping a bunch of rules. But the truth is that way back in the garden there was one rule and most of us think it was as simple as, "Don't eat of that tree." But the reality was that the rule was, "Obey God."

What is man bread you say?

Why it is bacon cheddar beer bread, of course. What more could a man ask for in his bread? Or a woman for that matter because to be honest this is just plain old good no matter whether you are a girl or man. It's just that when you rattle off the name ~ bacon cheddar beer bread ~ it just sort of begs for a man to be heard in the background grunting "Arr Arr Arr" a la Tim the tool man style.

Super easy to make and since the beer is your yeast it's also fairly quick to put together. Start to finish is about an hour for a loaf of fresh savory bread. We enjoyed it with spaghetti but I think it would be a nice compliment to soups as well. (We do breakfast for dinner upon occasion and this would be perfect with grits and eggs.)

What you'll need:
3 cups all purpose flour

1 TBS baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 TBS sugar
2 cups of cheddar cheese
12 oz (1 bottle) of beer
6 to 8 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled (We used 8 slices. Okay probably more but I wasn't really counting :-)
2 TBS melted butter (I just used softened butter.)

What you'll do:
Mix all of your dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.

Add in the beer, about half the bacon, and 1 cup of the cheese.
Stir until well blended. 
Put the dough in a greased loaf pan.
Spread 1 TBS of butter across the top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven, brush the rest of the butter across the top, and sprinkle with remaining cheese and bacon.
Return to oven and cook for another 25 minutes.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pan.

It has a great flavor and a delicious crunchy on the outside texture. Next time I think I will double the recipe because our loaf went fast!

He tells us that a wise woman builds her home while a foolish one tears it down. And we smile and nod as we sweep our front porch and think of the ones we've known who have been folly's handmaid. We glance around at our tidy yards and manicured bushes and maybe pluck a weed or two  thinking that this shows our humble piety and willingness to admit our own sin.

Only we're not standing on our front porches being neighborly, we're actually guarding the door hoping no one will want to come in any further. And if they do darken our doorway we have our fancy parlor with plastic furniture covers all pristine and ready for guests.

We don't want to walk them down the hall past the snapshots of every hurt and injustice framed by bitterness that we've hung. And if they do make it to the living room they are sure to notice the major incident that defines who we are and everything we do hanging in it's place of honor above the fireplace. On the mantle sits the vase of dried up day dreams sitting in the stagnant and murky waters of "I wishes" and "if onlys".

Other vases full of our expectations for everyone, even God, teeter on the edge of window sills, just waiting to be knocked to the ground and shattered.

Tiny bumps of our family's rebellion mar the smooth surface of the area rug they've been swept under, causing us to continue to stumble.

Sarcasm dents the walls leading into the kitchen.

Our dishes are chipped and cracked with discontentment as we pile them up in the sink barely scrapped clean. Crumbs of presumption scatter across the counter.

Through the crack of the laundry room door we see the piles of neglect as we ignore our duties and responsibilities. The utility closet bulges and is barely able to remain shut against the unforgiveness and disappointments that we've tucked inside.

There are many ways a foolish woman can tear her house down without it looking like she is.

But Lady Wisdom can throw the windows open and blow through that house. The Spirit of Truth can shine in dispelling the darkness.  We can take down the mementos of the past that shade the present and toss them into the fire place along with the "I wishes" and "if only's".

We can empty those other vases of our expectations for the people in our lives, and more importantly the ones we have for God, and allow Him to push them to a place of security and fill them with the beautiful bouquet of His good and perfect will watered by His sufficiency.

We can stop hiding our sin and take the area rug away and wax and polish a deep shine into the hardwood flooring of obedience. The sarcasm of our speech can be sanded smooth and the vivid shade of a word fitly spoken can color our walls.

Learning the art of contentment despite our situation and circumstances makes for unmarred serving ware. Gratitude can dispose of  the taken for granted crumbs.

We can learn to be keepers of our homes, and joyful ones at that, when we see the provision God has graciously bestowed upon us. We can let go and get rid of all the junk we've been carrying around from house to house and relationship to relationship.

There is a way we can build our home that shows beauty. One that glorifies and is hospitable. And it doesn't mean that we'll never have to clean again. It does mean that the great Creator is also pretty interested in our home decorating though.

Last week my niece was pinning some apple sauce recipes and it reminded me of this bonus recipe I had shared last year. It's so good and since it's apple season I thought I'd share it again.

Plus it has the added bonus of breaking the silence that has been around here lately. Life got a little frantic lately and while I don't look for much to slow down now that the holidays are upon us, I do still want to keep up with the blogging. (May I just say that part of the reason it has been so very crazy is that 4 babies have been born into our church since September? So it's been busy but full of sweetness!) I miss the blog hopping, reading really great stuff and finding some great recipes. Just got to make time for it all.

But such is life for everyone so let's move on to the apple sauce recipe. I originally found this one off the label of a Juicy Juice bottle. Super easy and, besides tasting good, will make your house smell o-mazing.

What you'll need:
6 baking apples chopped into pieces (best apples recommended for baking are Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, and the Pink Lady)
1 1/2 cups apple juice
1/2 cup dried cranberries 
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon 

What you'll do:
Combine all ingredients into a large pot. 
Cook on high heat for about 30 minutes or until your apples are tender.

A couple of things to note:
I don't like super chunky apples sauce so I used my potato masher to break down the larger apple pieces. Also, I don't exactly measure out my cranberries~I just add what looks like a good cranberry to apple ratio. And as long as I am admitting that I don't follow directions exactly my brown sugar wasn't exactly packed down and if measured out was probably a little closer to 3/4 a cup.


Know what movie that quote comes from? Only one of the greatest movies of all time. The Princess Bride has been a family favorite for years and apparently lots and lots of other people think so too. Tons of memes have been created using the phrase and show up all over the internet.

It was the first thing I thought of the other day when Sarah returned home after visiting with my Mother. She handed me this:

It's label suggest a wholesome tasty and healthy snack right? Only that's not what was inside.

These were.

Needless to say my kids were ecstatic. And they will  probably have a very skewed reaction to the suggestion of red grapefruit for the rest of their lives too ;-)

It's that time of year. Leaves are beginning to change colors and fall from their trees. Sweaters and fuzzy socks are closer to becoming the reality than sunscreen and swimsuits. The cooler weather brings about what I call the great Autumn debate and it isn't whether you want a tall or venti pumpkin spice latte. In a few weeks there will be laughing and squealing children in all manner of attire running up and down the street knocking on doors and asking for candy.

That means it is also time for finger pointing and lines being drawn in the sand, pronouncements of self-righteousness and mission mindedness or heaps of condemnation thrown in for good measure.

Trick or treating.


Do we or don't we?

A mockery of a defeated foe or a night belonging to the devil?

We've been on every side of the issue. We've just done it because that's what we've always done. We've turned the lights out and pretended to not be home. We've only passed out candy. We've let the kids dress up but not as anything scary and headed to the local church "Hallelujah" night. We've dressed up and gone around our neighborhood like a Charles Dickens' beggar.

Have I forgotten any position on the subject? We covered them all I think. And you know what I also think?

Who cares?

Now, I know there are people who say it is a big deal and that it should matter. That this is hill worth taking a stand on; one that possibly alienates people and breaks friendships over at worst or at the very least sets up some serious boundaries and restrictions on those relationships. I know others that say get over it already. It's no big deal and harmless; let the kids have some fun and eat candy for crying out loud.

Want to know what else I think about all of this? If you're still reading I am going to assume so and tell ya.

"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

Say what?

If you do indeed feel that it is not right to participate in such festivities then please, by all means abstain. But know that there is a right way and a wrong way to abstain. Imagining that you are somehow more spiritual or holy because you disdain such nonsense certainly gives no glory to God. He is honored by your obedience that is faithful and humble.

If, however, you feel that there is nothing wrong with costumed panhandling for sweet confections then by all means knock on those neighborhood doors. But know that there is a right way and a wrong way to take part. Do not assume that you are somehow living a more enlightened missional calling because you're dressed up like Glenda the Good Witch passing out Snicker bars. God is honored when you enjoy the simple and good things with thankfulness as coming from His hand.

In the above mentioned passage the Apostle Paul exhorts his readers to not seek their own good but that of their neighbor. I'm convinced that whether you abstain or take part you can be a blessing to those around you if you are choosing to abstain or take part for His glory and not your own.

As for our family?

We've chosen to see this time as an opportunity to practice some neighborhood hospitality. We invite any of
our church members to come and eat hots dogs and macaroni  & cheese with our family. Their children are welcome to dress up and meander up and down the street with our own, knocking on doors and getting candy.  While that's happening I'm standing at a table at the end of my driveway passing out cups of hot cocoa and chocolate dipped jumbo marshmallows and chatting it up with people that normally I just wave to in passing. It's what we have discovered through the years that works for us and we believe is a small way that we can display God's great hospitality and generosity to us.

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