In case you somehow missed it, it's been pretty cold in these here parts. Like, seriously cold. Honestly, I didn't mind it at all. I loved the unexpected three days of having the kids home.

Not so much the power going out for almost twenty four hours and therefor no heat except for our fire place, but even that was great fun. It was family time with no technological and electronic interruptions. And we had kind friends who had us over for hot cocoa and a nice warm visit. The kids delighted in playing dark hide-n-seek the evening we lost power and it was hilarious for me to sit by the fire and listen to them play. Sarah, as it turns out, has amazing staying power and does not easily give up her hiding spot even when she hasn't been found for fifteen minutes. Emily declared she had to brainstorm and needed quiet while trying to figure out hiding spots, Abby just quietly pondered and whenever she came up with a spot would go check it out. Samuel enjoyed playing the scaredy cat and Claire would just pace around the living room and ask everyone to go with her to search. I did draw the line at the Gollum  impressions. There's just something creepy at hearing that voice saying, "Come find me, my precious" in the dark.

We put the fire place to good use. Not only to keep us warm but we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows, something the kids have begged to be allowed to do since we moved here. And Sam also got his wish to sleep in front of the fire all night.

Rob kept the home fires burning literally just about all night. It was still cold but we all stayed cozy and fared better than most have in history before all of our modern conveniences, and still better than others today. It gave us an interesting historical perspective on some of our favorite books like Little House on the Prairie and Keep the Lights Burning Abby.

The kids and I went for a walk and even though we didn't get to play in snow since we mostly had just ice, we did enjoy the magical beauty of everything being encased in ice. There may or may not have been some slipping and sliding on drive ways and icy patches of grass, or icicle harvesting from neighbor's mailboxes and garbage cans. Regardless, it sure made the house feel pretty stinking warm even without the heater when we got back!

It was a lot of fun and an adventurous story for us to look back on in years to come that will start with, "Hey remember when..."

As part of our twelve days celebration last month Rob gave me a pair of slippers. More as a joke than anything, they were leopard print and fuzzy. And, as it turns out, warm and comfy so I wore them all the time. I also washed them frequently and needless to say they didn't hold up well so I had to get a new pair. Sadly the feisty print was unavailable and I ended up with somewhat the same style only in pink and not fuzzy. They'll do I suppose but I liked the fuzzy warmth of the other pair and truthfully the sassy print was fun to wear.

I'm not really a good shoe shopper. I know what I like when I see it on other people's feet but I really don't have a great perspective when looking at them on my own feet. Then there is the whole fit thing. Some shoes will be just darling but the hurt like crazy...just uncomfortable. Others are so cute they make me wish I was the kind of person that could wear them but frankly I just look silly in them. Like those high top Converse sneakers. I think they are so cute but I just can't pull them off...they're not me. Or cowboy boots. Love 'em on other people but no way could I wear them without knowing that I was wearing them every moment they were on my feet and they would be the only thing I was thinking about. Then there are the ones that I like and they fit but there's still that initial newness that has to be broken in for them to be a really good comfortable fit. Of course once in a while you find a pair that is the perfect fit and feels like a dream on your feet from the first moment.

Our church is about to do a study on community and friendship. It's already generated a lot of helpful, and somewhat uncomfortable, conversations. I've been thinking that oddly enough finding community can be a lot like finding the right pair of shoes. I've come across some communities that, while I can see how other people fit there, I know I just don't. I'm not comfortable there even though I can see the beauty there. 

Other communities I am really drawn too. I love peeking into different worlds and maybe even stepping into them for a bit but they aren't me. I don't belong there and like the cowboy boots if I try to make a place there I pretty much can't even walk a straight line because I am starring at my own feet.

And then there is the community that does fit. Where I do belong. Only it's not that slide your foot into the shoe and it's like walking on a cloud perfect fit. Because, let's be honest, that doesn't happen all the time. That kind of fit is rare and should be treasured. It's the fit between a husband and wife or that very best friend that is as close to you as it is possible for a friend to be. 

I'm talking about the kind of community that you look around and see it's good. Solid and well made. Sturdy and ready to help you climb the mountains of life with sure footedness, slog through the mud in the valleys, and dance in the meadows. But there's that slight stiffness up front. Not the kind that comes from an ill fit, but more the kind that comes from being new. It's the give and take as your foot finds it's place and the shoe conforms to it's shape. It takes a little wear to smooth it out and make it the comfortable place that it can be.

It's the kind of community where on the surface there may not be much in common...different walks of life, different stages of life, etc. But there is just good stuff happening. There's love and fellowship that goes deep despite those differences. It's the kind of community that makes you a better person because it encourages and it confronts. It forgives and it nurtures.

It's the kind of community that's worth the work of fitting in.

Titus 2 Tuesday

Good gracious, I haven't posted a recipe since November! I knew it had been a while but not that long. It is what it is though so there's no use crying about it. I'm just going to put this one out there with no promises about a weekly recipe right now. We shall just have to find out together whether I can get into some kind of routine again :-)

This is one of those adaptable recipes that can be a major made from scratch (ha!) delight or a take-some-short-cuts-and-it's-still-a-delight recipes. I've tried making homemade pie crust and frankly I've found the store bought ones to be just as good. (No offense to you homemade pie crust making women...I've just never made one that was so significantly better that it was worth the extra time and work.) I've also made this with fresh vegetables as well as frozen and both work just fine.

What you'll need:
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups boiled and shredded chicken (I use about 6 chicken tenderloins) 
3 cups vegetables of your choice (I have used the frozen mixed veggies for soup and I've also chopped up celery & carrots and mixed them with corn and green beans.)
4 TBS butter
4 TBS flour
1/2 cup milk or half & half
Italian seasoning
double pie crust

What you'll do:
Place one crust in the bottom of a pie plate and set aside.
Add your chicken and veggies to your broth and boil for 15 or 20 minutes.
Turn your heat down and let simmer.
In a small sauce pan melt your butter.
Add your flour, milk and Italian seasoning. (You may need to remove from heat so you do not scald your roux. It should be pretty thick.)
Add roux to the chicken and vegetables and stir until it is mixed in very well.
Pour mix into prepared pie plate. Unroll and add top pie crust, pinching sides together and cutting out small vents.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.

This has quickly become a family favorite and it's a hearty meal that goes far. One pie feeds six of us with enough leftovers for my beloved to take for lunch the next day. I'm excited about trying it this week with shredded beef, mushrooms, potatoes and onions. I'll keep you posted on how it turns out.

When I started the first blog it was easy. The kids were little and there always seemed to be some little story to share. Words seemed to come easier then too and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. Extended silence on Sam's Family was rare but did happen occasionally. And then I got quiet and realized a couple of things.

First, children are a lot funnier when they are little. There are fewer haha moments - that, or they're old enough now that I need to take into account their feelings on whether or not I should share the haha moments.

Second, I've gotten older as well. (More on that in a bit.) For me this means that the words don't come as easily now. I hope this is because I've learned to measure my words carefully and to let what I say mean something. I've come to appreciate the truths found in the tenth chapter of Proverbs: with many words transgressions are not lacking, and nourishment is found in the lips of the righteous to mention a few nuggets of wisdom found there.

When I started this blog my intent was nothing more than to have a place to share my photography. But I quickly learned that I am more of a storyteller than I thought, and I need both words and pictures to satisfy. But I still had plans to be all grown up and scheduled about it. Mondays would be recipe days. Tuesday was for posts on wifery and parenting or Christian womanhood or some other specific topic. I would share an image on Wordless Wednesday. Friday would be some kind of sharing highlighted with pictures, and Sunday would be (and still is) a Scripture verse paired with an image.

My goodness, looking at it all laid out like that seems kind of crazy. And if you just mosey through the previous few weeks you can see that I clearly haven't been keeping that schedule. At first it was the holidays and just being out of the rhythm. Tried to get back to it only to get derailed again this time by my birthday and a long weekend.

Basically, life happens and there isn't always time to blog about it or through it. So I am officially letting myself off the more stressing that oh-good-gracious-it's-Sunday-and-I-haven't-written-up-the-recipe-for-tomorrow or whatever. (Watch, I'll say this and be on some kind of blogging marathon for the next month.)

Life gets busy but one of the best parts of my week happens on Wednesdays. Wednesday is moms group. I love it! I love the noise and the little people, the food and friendship. It's an amazing group of women and they all have so many talents and skills. One of them started the neatest project at the beginning of the year. She's crocheting a sky blanket. In preparation she gathered yarn in various shades of blues and grays. Every morning she looks at the sky and chooses the yarn that most closely matches it. She then crochets one row. (Since this is a year long project she'll obviously end up with 365 rows. She determined that half of that would make a nice width so each row is around 182 stitches.) So far it is absolutely beautiful and I can only imagine how lovely the completed blanket will be. And how smart are the safety pins? She has them every so many stitches to help make sure of her counting. This actually really makes me want to learn to crochet.

Okay, so I mentioned that I recently had a birthday. I turned forty three this past Sunday. I told my beloved this morning that I am solidly in middleagedness. He just gave me this sweet smile and told me he delights in my gray hair. How could I not be happy growing old with him?

But still. This has happened.

That's right. I have officially joined the ranks of the straight arm brigade. Without these nifty little things on my face I hold anything I need to be able to see as far away from my body as humanly possible. How does that happen? It literally seemed to happen over night and don't even get me started on the gray hairs. I know, and I am thankful he delights in them, but honest to goodness when did I get so old?

And when exactly will I start to feel like a grown up?

When you live in Florida you have to know one thing about the weather.

It be all cray cray.

One day it's seventeen degrees and three days later we're in the seventies. It's kind of crazy trying to keep up but you just go with it.

When it dropped down into the teens we bundled up and the kids tucked blankets around themselves on the ride to school. We poked frozen water in the birdbaths and checked out the redneck ice sculptures made by some neighbors hooking their water hose to a ladder and letting it run all night. We drank plenty of hot cocoa too.

When it jumped up to the high sixties a few days later we did what any self respecting Florida living beach loving people would do.

We went to the beach. I warned them it was still going to be cold and to bundle up some but they still were not quite prepared so we didn't stay too terribly long. The beach, even for twenty minutes, is still the beautiful beach and worth it.

The sand was still wet and pretty cold from the rain earlier so she had Sam carry her on his back. He didn't seem to mind. Notice that sweet smile?

Don't be fooled by it. He dumped her off right after.

Claire stalked the wildlife.

And Emmie and Ab chased each other to stay warm.

Sarah and Sam were back at it again.

 He escapes though.

And I have no idea what was happening here.

Sarah tried to give Claire a ride on her shoulders. It went well I think.

Love my babies. Days like this will become rare as they grow up. You think about such things when you have a senior in the house I guess. But for today I am just going to remember their laughter, the blue skies and the seagulls as they raced across the sky.

There has been the occasional nudge of sorts lately to put my camera down. To walk away and leave it be. To be done.

Seems odd, doesn't it? When I love it so much.

But I think I have figured out what the little nudging is. I think I've been in this room too long. I've gotten comfortable. And complacent. Settled. So I have a few choices.

I can leave. Meaning I can set the camera down and move on to some other hobby or creative something.

I can stay. I can continue in the same way I am now. Doing ok. Taking pictures the way I've been taking pictures. Settle in on the comfy couch so to speak.

Or I can let that nudge move me to open the door. To see what comes next. To just see more...look a little further...a little deeper.

We are created in the image of an infinite God. There is always more to see. More poems to write. More music to play. More songs to sing. More pictures to paint. More pottery to shape.

In my case it's not a numerical more. But I want to capture more. It's not really something I can articulate. I just know there is more to learn...more to practice. If we create because He creates, and I believe we do or at least should, and because He is infinite then there is always going to be another door to walk through.

Because He is always drawing us ever closer to Himself.

Sharing with Tweetspeak.

I was planning to share a recipe, honest. But Rob has been out of town all week (comes home today!) and we actually ended up on facebook at the same time. And I sort of forgot I had the cake in the oven and totally overcooked it. I'll make it again though in the near future and share it. I bet when it isn't all dried out it's really good :-)

But in the spirit of a food related Monday post I have a few random thoughts on food because of something I've either heard about or read.

Heard this on the radio last week and it totally blew my mind. How in the world can there be a shortage of Velveeta? Isn't that manufactured pretend cheese?

Speaking of cheese. Mac and cheese patties? First we put it on a pizza. Now we're balling it up and frying it. Is there no end to the desecration?

Also, another weird food marriage that should not have happened:
bar-b-que chicken pot stickers
Why must we westernize everything?

I saw both those recipes recently on pinterest, by the way. Apparently pinterest has a dark side.

As I said a few of these random food thoughts and words not my own but ones I was surprised by. Like the fact that the banana is both a fruit and an herb. It's considered an herb because the trunk of it's "tree" actually lacks woody tissue. And get this! The banana is also in the berry category since it is the product of a single seed.

Weird, huh? Who knew bananas were so interesting?

The highest calorie food item in the world is a milkshake. A large chocolate shake from White Castle has 1,680 calories. I am not even going to google the peppermint chocolate chip shake from Chick-Fil-A. I don't even want to know. But it probably a reason to give thanks that they don't serve it year round. (Total side note...White Castle was the first fast food restaurant in the US. They opened in 1921. McDonald's didn't open their doors until 1948.)

Did you know that honey is the only natural unprocessed food that can last forever if it is stored correctly? Honey stored in vats were found in King Tut's tomb and were determined edible even though they'd been buried for 2,000. I'm just curious as to who stepped up and said, "Sure I'll try some of that!" to find out.

Queen Elizabeth is credited with the first gingerbread men. Apparently she had them made to match the likeness of visiting dignitaries. Also, the first cookie cutter ever made was in the shape of a gingerbread man.

Not directly related to a random food fact but still very interesting...prohibition is the mother of kids meals. It seems that when alcohol could no longer be sold proprietors needed to generate another form of revenue. Until that time children were rarely in restaurants. Also interesting to note is that there was a school of thought that pies, pastries and other sweets weren't healthy for children under ten so rarely were desserts given in the kids meals.

There are over 7000 varieties of rice in the world.

Fig Newton's were the first mass produced cookie. They're also named after the town of Newton, Massachusetts.

In 2004 Singapore banned chewing gum. Apparently the problem of how people were disposing of their abc (already been chewed) gum really irritated the government. It was being found under tables, elevators, and even in keyholes. The final straw came when vandals began putting their gum on the doors of the cars on their metro system causing them to malfunction. You now need a doctor's prescription to chew gum.

There you go. I am one step closer to actually being back into the blog routine I had before the holidays. We'll see what shows up next Monday.

Seems like a weird time to do a blog post about Christmas, doesn't it? For many Christmas came and went almost two weeks ago but for some of us we just celebrated the last day of Christmas this past Sunday.
Last year I shared this blog post that described a little bit how our family celebrates the holidays. It's short and to the point about why we do Christmas the way that we do but I still got some questions this year about a change that we made so I thought an end of the season follow up review might would be helpful. If nothing else I'll have a written record of the first time we started this tradition :-)

In a nutshell, our children receive a gift from us on Christmas morning. Usually this is the biggie, the main thing that they have been asking for. Then they will receive a gift of some sort each day for the next eleven days. Not anything major and sometimes it may be as simple as a family trip to the local frozen yogurt shop. One year there was a shoe day and everyone got a pair of shoes. Another favorite is a trip to Barnes and Noble where everybody is able to choose a book. Last year a dear friend of mine crocheted all the kids hats and scarves. (We did an exchange of services...her work for family pictures. Bartering is the best!) The final gift is always their Christmas stocking.

The last several years have been fun and the twelve days combined with the Advent season has, I think, made our celebration of the birth of our King much more meaningful. But last year we still felt like there was something missing that we wanted to include.

Being a good gift giver doesn't always come naturally. And by good gift giver I mean more than just being generous in the giving department. God didn't just send any old gift to us. He sent the Perfect gift...the One that would suit us, be what we needed, that would bring lasting joy. Obviously there is no way we can equal God in the gift giving department. But we can train up and teach our children to mimic His way in giving.

We want our children to be good gift givers. To give gifts for the sake of the one receiving the gift and not for the sake of giving just to be giving if that makes any sense at all. The point to God giving us Christ wasn't just to give something that would fix the mess we had made of the world. He gave Christ for us, for our good and our joy. Now, like I said, there is no way we can match God in gift giving but we can learn to give the way He did (and does). We want our children to give generously and thoughtfully is the biggie...deliberately.

To that end we took five of the twelve days, one for each child, and called it their giving day. They didn't receive any gifts that day. Their gift was to delight in the joy of choosing and giving a gift to each of their siblings. They also got to choose one meal that day and cook it and serve the family.

For our first time doing this, I'd say it went very well. I do think we will budget differently next year for it and also incorporate jobs to earn some money for their purchases so that they can be a little more generous and creative in the gifts they choose. But all told, it went very well and it is definitely a part of our Christmas tradition now.

For the record, we sprinkled the five giving days throughout the twelve days and Samuel may or may not have given two of his sisters bags of coal as a joke before giving them their real presents.

On a different note, our church celebrated the final day of Christmas, Epiphany, this past Sunday with a feast after our worship service. We roasted a whole pig and everyone brought  tons of sides and desserts and we played games and generally enjoyed each others company all afternoon. It was a fantastical end to a wonderful Christmas season.

**2015 Updated** ~ I added some new links to old categories like Parenting, Sam's World and Church Life. I also created a brand new list for post about living in community.
So grab a cup of coffee, have a seat and do a little reading. And then be sure to let me hear back from helps me to learn and grow when you share what you've learned.

About a month ago there was a little glitch with the blog. As in it was gone and I was in panic mode. I didn't realize how much of myself I was putting into it and out there.  Suddenly I was facing the reality that all of the time and effort I had put into this blog for the last eighteen months could possibly be wiped out.

Let me just say that it was a new understanding of the idea of how fleeting and vain everything is. (Can I get an amen, Solomon?) Thought and work had gone into a bunch of the posts and the idea of losing them, and starting completely over, was disheartening to say the least. Thankfully my beloved worked a little cyber magic, and voila! The blog was back from the dark hole it had fallen into.

I don't think I have an over inflated ego, and I know I have not written stuff never before heard of. But several post have gotten some attention and started some rather interesting conversations in the real world as well as online. So to help kind of keep track of different ones that people seem to have the most interest in I've made this post with a topical listing of the most viewed posts. I hope it will be helpful if you want to pin or ear mark something talked about on here or to share with someone.

Husbands and Wives
The Hospitable Wife
Regarding the Wife
Hospitable Grace ~ What Our Husbands Need

Guarding Hearts Part One
Guarding Hearts Part Two
Guarding Hearts Part Three
Some Questions Have Come Up

Just You Wait
Loving God is Best
A Garden of Yeses
To Share or Not To Share
Baby Wise

Living In Community:
Stepping Into Community
Despising the Gift
What We Carry Around
Why I Should Be Critical
The Mess of Community
Room For Forgiveness
The Cost of Hospitality

Godly Womanhood:
What It Means To Be Woman
I Mean It
Pretty As A Pig Snout~Thoughts on Modesty
The Burden of Life
What To Do With Rocks
How Wisdom Decorates a Home
Created in His Image
Story People

House Keeping
Housekeeping 101
Without Shame

Church Life:
Training Children For Worship Part One
Training Children For Worship Part Two
Union With Christ ~ A Few Thoughts on Liturgy
Equal Need

The response from everyone on the posts about our journey with autism was surprising.  I hope they will continue to be encouraging for those who are walking that same path.

Sam's World and Autism:
Sam's World
Our Story
How We Deal With Autism
What We Do
It's Gluten Free
Not What You'd Expect
I'm Not Ready
Self Awareness
A Little Clarification
Sam's World ~ It's Extreme

For a while I was posting a recipe every week on Mondays. I'm not sure I'll continue that in the year ahead because honestly, we've eaten so much over the holidays that I cannot even muster up an interest in food right now. But these are the most pinned and shared recipes.

Feta Dip
Brussels Sprouts
Homemade Apple Sauce
Coffee Punch
Sweet or Savory Scones
Lemon Brownies aka Yucky Bars
Avocado Salad
Ooey Gooey Nutella Cake
The #1 most viewed (over 800 views) and the most pinned recipe:
Hawaiian Sweet Roll Ham and Cheese Sliders
Pineapple Casserole
One of the things that I love about blogging is the online community that you can connect with through linking parties. A linking party is where one blog will provide a place for other bloggers to link a particular blog post on a particular subject. One of my absolute favorite link parties happens every Sunday and it's simply people linking up a photograph with a Scripture verse. I love scrolling through early in the morning with that first cup of coffee and seeing the beautiful images people have paired with a Bible verse. Some of them are truly stunning and encouraging. Here are a few of mine that people seemed to like. (You can find some of mine and some from other people that I liked here.)

Sunday Mornings:
Numbers 6:24-26
Job 38:4-11
Psalm 119:103
Psalm 30:11-12
Proverbs 4:23
Proverbs 3:13
Isaiah 40:8
2 Corinthians 5:17

So there you go. A not so comprehensive list of things I've blogged in the last year and a half. I've no idea exactly what direction the blog is going to take in the year ahead; it certainly doesn't look anything like I thought it would when I started. But whatever it looks like I hope that God is pleased by it and you enjoy it.

They will be all over facebook. All over the blogs. They'll sprinkle conversations.

For the next couple of days all you will read and hear about is the new year's resolutions. I'm going to eat better and exercise more. I'll be kinder. I'll be more frugal. I'm going to stay in touch with this person or that. I'll read my Bible more. Pray more. The list can be endless...even if we're just adding that we resolve to resolve nothing.

I tend to fall into that last category. Only out of cynical self reproach though. I have a tendency to get caught up in the glorious planning and fall woefully short in the follow through department either because my imagination is greater than my will, I'm actually lazier than I admit to, or because I just don't think through it enough and actually resolve things that need resolving in my life. Like the times that I've resolved to eat better, exercise more, and loose twenty pounds when really what I needed to resolve is self discipline is sorely lacking in my life and that should change. And the honest painful truth of the matter is that if it's missing in one area of my life it is probably missing in all areas of my life even if in varying degrees.

Or I say I want to pray more but I don't really want to. I don't want to understand prayer. I don't want to pursue a prayerful life because that would mean studying His word more; knowing and praying His thoughts more and what if they don't match up with mine? I just want God to hear me.

Really I'm not anti resolutions. The end of one thing and the beginning of another is a good time to contemplate where you've been, who've you been, where you want to go and who you want to be. I think, however, as CS Lewis says, we're content with too little. We resolve too little. We're only willing to die a little to find a little life.

I started 2013 contemplating time and this is what I learned. We live the life we create. We reap what we sow. We live the life we have cultivated and nurtured, weeds and all. Look around you. Look at your life. What are you frustrated over? What pains you? What thorn pricks your side? Now look past that. Dig down and follow the stem down into the dirt and look for the root. For me at least, that usually reveals something I did or didn't do. Some sin or behavior that I didn't till up, either in my own life or the life of those around me.

Oh, that will give us pause won't it? The sin of someone else's life? I'm supposed to dig around in their dirt? If we're truly living in community than the answer is yes. A true friend is an enemy to your sin, a true friend is an enemy to my sin. But we don't want to go into the garden of our friend's heart anymore than we want to go into our own and do weed pulling. Because that is an open invitation for them to enter our garden. To take a hoe and turn up the soil of our own sin that we've neatly patted down and planted a few short rooted flowers over so our lives look all manicured and well tended.

I'm ending the year meditating on wisdom. I want to study wisdom, and what the Bible says about it, in the coming year. But I don't just want to know about wisdom. I want to pursue her. I want to answer her call. I want to have her as my sister and find in her a treasure greater than gold or silver or pearls.

So what is my resolution? What do I want from this shiny new beginning that starts on January 1st?  I want Lady Wisdom to grasp my hand and introduce me to insight and understanding. I want to move out of the shallows of my own wisdom and understanding and go deeper, to something beyond myself. To Someone who says that death, all the way living death, brings more Life than I can possibly imagine.

Titus 2 Tuesday

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