Women of Valor

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Last year I read Rachel Held Evans thought provoking book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. In it she discusses the Woman of Valor, otherwise known as the Proverbs 31 Woman. I also read an article she had written where she outlines 3 little known things about Proverbs 31. I found it so very encouraging, as honestly, sometimes I felt  like I would just never measure up to such an impossible standard for the ideal wife. Image result for woman of valor images

1. Proverbs 31 is a poem. The author is essentially showing us what wisdom looks like in action. It is an acrostic poem, so the first word of each verse begins with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet in succession. Like any good poem, the purpose of this one is to draw attention to the often-overlooked glory of the everyday.

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2. The “Target Audience” of Proverbs 31 is Men. She explained that she first learned this from a Jewish friend Ahava, who told her that in Jewish culture, it’s not the women who memorize Proverbs 31, but the men. They memorize it, Ahava said, to sing it as a song of praise to the women in their lives—their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, and friends. Ahava’s husband sings Proverbs 31 to her at every Sabbath meal.

3. Proverbs 31 Celebrates Valor. The first line of the Proverbs 31 poem—“a virtuous woman who can find?”—is best translated, “a woman of valor who can find?” The Hebrew is eshet chayil, “woman of valor”. To make this fact even more fun, Ahava explained that she and her friends cheer one another on with the blessing, celebrating everything from promotions, to pregnancies, to acts of mercy and justice, to battles with cancer with a hearty “eshet chayil”! Think of it as something like the Jewish “you go girl.”

For me, this was a revolutionary discovery when I realized, I didn’t need to check off all the traits mentioned in Pr. 31, but rather I needed to embrace it as a new way of thinking…it is a pattern helping us to see that everything we do as women, for the Lord, in this life…is praiseworthy. We are not designed to copy the woman from Proverbs 31, “copying any other woman, even one from the Bible, is always,,, a bad idea.” (RHE) We are free to be ourselves, in Christ.

You see, I believe that we empower and affirm others when we bless them. Often through the year at the Moms Group at our church, I’ve felt like yelling this phrase out to many the women as they shared their hopes, dreams, struggles, fears and lives… but refrained, as I couldn’t explain the context of why I was randomly yelling in Hebrew.

To the ladies of Bethany Moms Group 2016-17…

To me, you are all Proverbs 31 women – women who bless your families with their energy and creativity each day. Valor isn’t about what you do, but how you do it. (RHE)

You stayed home when you were really looking forward to going out… to nurse sick kids?…Eshet Chayil! Woman of Valor!

You hosted your mother in law for Mother’s day when you are like 10 months pregnant?  Eshet Chayil!

You finished your university education? Eshet Chayil!

You got your baby to sleep in her own bed…at night? Eshet Chayil!

You got out of the house with a dish to share, dressed with makeup and a kid or two in tow? Eshet Chayil!

You made chocolate covered strawberries for snack with a toddler and an infant at home? Eshet Chayil!

You aren’t afraid to cry and show the world that your soft heart is touched by so much? Eshet Chayil!

You are shy, but too hungry for more of God to hold back from asking the difficult questions? Eshet Chayil!

You decided to host a community dinner to bless the people around you who wouldn’t get a special dinner? Eshet Chayil!

You gave someone a ride who it was inconvenient and out of your way to drive? Eshet Chayil!

You got your closets all organized! Eshet Chayil!

You learned to make a meal plan, modify a recipe or just simply made dinner instead of buying out?  Eshet Chayil!

You learned to make gifts to give to save money but still be a blessing? Eshet Chayil!

You moved to a new country, city, house or church? Eshet Chayil!

You took on work outside your home to contribute to your families finances? Eshet Chayil!

You conquered Mount Laundry today? Eshet Chayil!

You decided to go back to school and start a new career path? Eshet Chayil!

You didn’t yell when you’re daughter spilled fruit punch on your new pants, at church? Eshet Chayil!

You survived the longest labour in recorded history? Eshet Chayil!

You took your kids to the park and the house was a disaster, but the sun was shining so you just went? Eshet Chayil!

You are walking alongside someone battling cancer? Eshet Chayil!

You assisted a family who is fostering new children? Eshet Chayil!

You fasted during lent, while cooking meals for the rest of your family? Eshet Chayil!

You got up to pray, when all you wanted to do was sleep? Eshet Chayil!

You went for a walk instead of eating cake? Eshet Chayil!

You bought a birthday cake rather than make one from scratch to save time and sanity? Eshet Chayil!

You re-learned grade 7 math so you could tutor your son? Eshet Chayil!

You took care of your kids all week with a sprained ankle? Eshet Chayil!

You keep showing up when you’re an introvert who’d rather stay home and play video games? Eshet Chayil!

You took care of babies and littles while their moms went to a Bible Study each week? Eshet Chayil!

You are part of an amazing team of women who run this Mom’s Group each week, despite having busy families and lives and pray for and plan these amazing mornings?  Eshet Chayil! 

Thank you for reading today, and thank you to all the Eshet Chayil’s in my life… you are innumerable and invaluable and immensely loved.

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Reading List for 2017

After a brief delay including sickness and family craziness, here’s my very, very long and challenging reading list for 2017. In following my pattern, I simply won’t get through all of these but I really really aspire to conquer this list. It’s very diverse, with a few carry overs from last year, and has a lot of challenging classics mixed in, and of course, it always gets added to as my literary friends pass along and recommend “must reads” – especially if they coincide with the general “theme” of my year. I’ll keep you posted on my progress…and I’d love to hear from you. What are you reading this year? Have you read anything on my list, what are your thoughts?  Happy journeys!

Theology

  • Of the Imitation of Christ                              Thomas a Kempis
  • When I Saw Him                                               Roy Hession
  • Seeds of Hope                                                  Henri Nouwen
  • Abba’s Child                                                    Brennan Manning
  • Searching for Sunday                                    Rachel Held Evans
  • The Return of the Prodigal Son                 Henri Nouwen
  • Reaching Out                                                   Henri Nouwen
  • Misfits Welcome                                              Matthew Barnett
  • The Ragamuffin Gospel                               Brennon Manning
  • A Million Miles in a Thousand Years        Donald Miller
  • Made to Crave                                                 Lysa Terkwerst
  • Where There is Love There is God           Mother Theresa
  • The Fringe Hours                                           Jessica N Turner
  • Baseball as a Road to God                         John Sexton
  • Sacred Marriage                                             Gary Thomas

 Memoir/ Autobiography/ Other

  • Night                                                                           Elie Wiesel
  • A Life Observed – Spiritual Bio of CSLewis  Devin Brown
  • These Are the Generations                                 Bae and Foley
  • Keeping the Feast                                                  Paula Buturini
  • This Time Together                                               Carol Burnett
  • The Sacred Year                                                    Michael Yankoski
  • Quiet                                                                       Susan Cain 

History

  • The Origins of Pagan & Christian Beliefs      Edward Carpenter
  • A Brief History of Christianity                           Bomber Gascoigne
  • Thrones of Blood                                                 Josephus
  • British Kings and Queens                                 Mike Ashley 

Fiction

  • The Seventh Plague                                       James Rollins
  • Killing Floor                                                       Lee Child
  • The Secret Life of Bees                                 Sue Monk Kidd
  • The War Hawk                                                 James Rollins
  • The Silmarillion                                              J. R.R.Tolkien
  • Night Time is My Time                                  Mary Higgins Clark

Classics

  • The Sound and the Fury                                 William Faulkner
  • Mere Christianity                                               C.S. Lewis
  • Emma                                                                   Jane Austen
  • The Count of Monte Cristo                            Alexandre Dumas
  • Selected Poems                                                Emily Dickenson
  • Collected Poems on Truth & Inspiration Keats

 With the Boys in Home School

  • Myth Maker – J. R.R. Tolkien                        Anne E. Neimark
  • On the Far Side of the Mountain               Jean Craighead George
  • The Railway Children                                     E. Nesbit
  • A Child’s Garden of Verses                            Robert Lewis Stevenson
  • A Desperate Road to Freedom                    Bradford
  • The Family Under the Bridge                       Natalie Savage Carlson
  • Stowaway                                                           Karen Hesse
  • The Hiding Place                                             Corrie Ten Boom
  • Paul Bunyan & His Great Blue Ox              Retold by Wallace Wadsworth
  • Hans Brinkler or the Silver Skates            Mary Mapes Dodge
  • Grimms Fairy Tales                                        The Brothers Grimm


 

What I Read in 2016…

 

Image result for pics of reading booksBack in the spring of last year, I shared my reading list here. I thought I’d update it, before the year is done, but alas it is now January! …maybe you’ll be inspired to read more in these cold winter months, when no one can fault you for curling up on the couch for hours on end…

Reality Check…Since more than half of that list were “no-go’s” – here’s an update on what I did end up reading:Image result for pics of reading books

Disclaimer – for those of you who are new to a Whisper of Grace…I am very aware that I read a lot. Furthermore, this list is not comprehensive because I don’t include books I only get part way through, and I haven’t included reference books (because that would be kind of boring and perhaps give you too much insight into my private life – ha) and also, technically there’s only two classics on this list, and lot’s of fiction and memoir which tend to be easy reads…this year I’m hoping to return to reading some great works that are “harder” reads.  I hope this list inspires you or perhaps you’ve also read one of these (or more) and would like to discuss – I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment. Later this week I’ll post what I hope to read in 2017 – at least to start.

WHAT I’M READING NOW:

World War Z by  Max Brooks

My husband gave me this for Christmas and I’m really enjoying it. It’s so completely different from the movie – and such a different writing style and composition. A fictional history on a past world wide zombie pandemic. I don’t use this word a lot, but it’s really cool.

 

 

 

Quiet by Susan Cain

Product Details“The power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” – I’ve heard so much about this book and feel like it’s going to change my way of thinking about myself, the way Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax did about understanding boys, or like Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman did for valuing my own gifts years ago.

 

 

With Open Hands  by Henri Nouwen

Product DetailsI can only say, thanks to a friend, this spring will be for me, “the year of Henri Nouwen”. I read 2 of his smaller books last year and this being one of them and I literally felt my heart growing.

 

 

 

The Calvary Road by Roy Hession

Product DetailsAgain, another little gem that revolutionizes your mind and heart.

 

 

 

 

FICTION                                                                         

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The Bone Labyrinth  by James Rollins 

The Survivor by Vince Flynn

Speaking in Bones Kathy Reichs

These were fun. Kind of like a movie, the kind of book I can usually finish in a night if I’m willing to sacrifice a little sleep. It’s usually worth it.

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Sons of Encouragement  by Francine Rivers

The Last Sineater by Francine Rivers          

The Blythes are Quoted LM Montgomery       

These were more thoughtful. Usually take me a few days. Like thoughtful movies, that leave you thinking a little bit.

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The Undoing of Saint Silvanus                      Beth Moore

I adored this book. It was fun, and moving and riveting – pure enjoyment. It had quirky characters and a fun setting, a great plot with some twists. Beth Moore’s first foray into fiction does not disappoint.

 

 

Product DetailsThe Red Tent                                                  Anita Diamant

After reading – a year of Biblical Womanhood where I first heard about it, I found it fortunate to find this book on a freebie table…and I love love loved it. It reminded me of The Woman Who Named God by Charlotte Gordon – but even better… because it covers the stories of more than just one woman from the time of Abraham. It was fascinating and also empowering.

Non-Fiction

Product DetailsUninvited                                                       Lysa Terkeurst

One of my favs this year, my take away was to savor the gifts of being alone, being set apart (rejected) and silence.

 

 

 

Product DetailsPresent Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

This was not one of my favourites from SN. Not bad, just didn’t blow me away – I didn’t connect with repeated truths as I had in past books like Cold Tangerines and Bread & Wine, but I did take away the value again, of silence…it also happened to be when I was reading Hession and Nouwen – who both addressed silent seasons in prayer…so maybe it was timely afterall.

 

Product DetailsParis  by Edward Rutherford

For me reading Rutherford is like going on a Holiday to fascinating places around the world. Since I’ve actually been to Paris – I loved this one perhaps most because of the connection to the physical city I’ve experienced. It was also interesting to me because we were studying the French Revolution in Homeschool around the same time…really made it come alive for me.

Experience And EducationAmusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Experience and Education  by John Dewey

Amusing Ourselves to Death  by Neil Postman

These were very intellectual books tackling the subjects of public education and the effects of mass media and technology on society. Both very informative and interesting.

Product DetailsTeaching From Rest by Sarah MacKenzie

One of my favs from this year. I read it three times… and keep it nearby for handy access. It is not lost to me that my word for 2016 was REST and she drove home how to bring it into my homeschooling day again and again. I think this would bless even non-homeschooling families.

 

Ordinary Christianity    by Jonathon Welton

I like reading Welton, because he pushes the religious cultural boundaries – but in a very loving and biblical way – not in a way that leaves you with more questions than answers like some authors do, but with questions and hope, definitely hope.

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A Gracious Space: Winter, Spring, Fall         Julie Bogart

Fav. Homeschool “devotional” – and she’s started a series on Youtube last year, so I can listen to it while setting up school or doing the dishes. Score.

Product DetailsOrthodoxy                                                      G K Chesterton

It took me 2 years to finish this one. Take away…as a society – we know so much and are even more ignorant. As believers we need to listen more and speak less. We need to hold onto our identity in Christ with more passion and more humility. And finally, history repeats itself .

 

 

 

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Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening                   Carol Wall

Reading this book was an emotional experience. Very good, timely for me…healing.

 

 

 

Product DetailsNotes from a Blue Bike                                  Tsh Oxenreider

Great book, but to be completely honest – I get more from her blog and podcast.

 

 

 

Product DetailsProduct DetailsCarry on Warrior    &           Love Warrior                         by Glennon Doyle Melton

I read both of these within months of each other. I was moved, I don’t agree with all she says, but mostly I learned some things about myself and my own faith, and that made all the difference.

Product DetailsAtlas Girl                                                         Emily T. Wierenga

My take on this was Kind of the same as Notes from a Blue Bike. I read a lot of memoirs this year, and enjoyed them all…but they only take you so far. I did like that I was hearing from a Canadian in this one.

 

 

Product DetailsLean on Me                                                     Anne Marie Miller

This was timely for me as I took a step out of my comfort zone and joined a Mom’s group at church this past fall. This book spoke to me about stepping out in faith again, to open myself up to others, to be vulnerable and have community outside of where I was comfortable.

 

Product DetailsSpeak                                                              Nish Weiseth

Another memoire, but lot’s of take away – all to do with Story and sharing and community.

 

 

 

Product DetailsA Year of Biblical Womanhood                     Sarah Held Evans

This one was right in the flow of so many things in my journey over the past couple years really. It was timely, and one I will revisit.

 

 

Product DetailsFor the Love                                                    Jen Hatmaker

This book just made me laugh and laugh – and then hammered home truth like a shotgun when I was exposed and not expecting it…yeah, it was just like that.

 

 

Product DetailsThe Way of the Heart                         Henri Nouwen

OH My – where does one start with Henri? This book discusses silence and solitude and prayer and pilgrimage and hospitality in ways like I’ve NEVER heard. As mentioned above, I literally felt shifts happening in my head and heart while reading this little gem. Kind of like reading Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, but in today’s language…only kind of.

 

Product DetailsAll the Pretty Things                                      Edie Wadsworth

This was an adventure that I couldn’t put down. I’ve read her blog for years, and the book just did not disappoint. The blog kept us posted on her journey in writing it, so it was just great to be along for the ride.

 

 

Product DetailsFrozen Tears                                                   Lina Aziz

Eye opening account behind the doors of one Arab-Canadian family – and grace and salvation.

 

 

 

Product DetailsA Million Little Ways                                     Emily P Freeman

Hands down the best book of my year – it spoke to my heart as an artist, a writer, a woman and as a child of God. Liberating and encouraging on so many levels. I gave away several copies of this one.

 

 

Product DetailsThe Life-Giving Home                                    Sally & Sarah Clarkson

Mother-Daughter team – loved the insight into their writing, their home and family practices, and took so much away from this practically and personally.

 

 

HOME EDUCATION – these were books we read aloud together in School last year.

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My Side of the Mountain                    Jean Craighead George

20000 Leagues Under the Sea            Jules Verne

The Long Winter                                 Laura Ingalls Wilder

The King’s Shadow                              Elizabeth Alder

The Door in the Wall                          Marguerite de Angeli

Jotham’s Journey                                 Arnold Ytreeide

 

I love our read aloud part of the day. It doesn’t happen everyday, but I wish it would – it never disappoints and it’s so exciting to go on the adventures of these books along with my kids.

 

 

 

Someone is ALWAYS Watching…

I’ve been haunted by this phrase for the better part of my life. I don’t remember the first time I heard it, but I do clearly remember my mom pointing to my younger sisters and warning me to be careful in every choice I made from what I did at home to what I did at school, to what I wore, to who I did or didn’t date…

“Now remember, there are 4 little girls watching your every move, the choices you make in life will directly effect them and how they live down the road.” 

In retrospect, I’m pretty sure that’s not true, because as the typical parent-pleasing first born, I put my head down and tried my very best to never make a mistake. There was some safety in this, I avoided many pits that could have destroyed me, drinking, drugs, boys…but I also never really put my whole self out there, I always held a little back – my full voice caught in a vise of fear. Thanks to having a decent singing voice and early lessons, I landed the most of the lead roles in my high school dramas, but I always felt disconnected from my roles. I’m sure the directors wanted me to pull from somewhere deep, but I just couldn’t. I wanted to let my spirit fly, in music, in art, in dance or anything, but I never did, because it’s impossible to try to fly, if your goal is to never fall. Eventually I found a safety net in production – directing others to fly was so much easier and safer than doing it myself.

Image result for following the leader pics…and as for the example I set?…my sisters just pointed accusing fingers at me declaring that I set an impossible standard for them, and chose to do as they pleased regardless. So my choices just created a divide between us.  Sometimes I felt very alone in my big family. I must note that I did make mistakes of course, and I grew through them, but I instinctively hid my failures in shame – thus increasing the gulf of separation. AND I never really learned how to fly… In fact I’m still not 100% sure that I chose the path I really wanted, or just what I thought was the best example to set. Regardless, I was on this path and it was a lesson that I would have to keep repeating again and again…

I left home for Bible college at 19 and was recruited in my second year to join the teaching staff in the music department, instead of pursuing university like I had planned. Soon after signing the contract the Dean of Students said,

“Now remember, you have to set an example to the other students, they are watching you and will use you as a bench mark…”

And so I put my head down and tried my very best to never make a mistake…and again, I found myself feeling very alone while surrounded by my peers… trying to grow while striving to never openly make a mistake. The worst part was that I learned that even when you try to not make any big mistakes…sometimes people can’t wait to see you fail…and sometimes they will make up lies about you, to tear you down. They will still misread your choices, and misunderstand situations they see you in and judge you unfairly if they want to. Since it is impossible to live through your twenties without failing, I also stumbled along in  maturing…but again trying to hide my mistakes, the weight of them becoming an increasingly heavy burden to bear.

Image result for following the leader picsI did learn to know what a true friend looked like though, and I did learn to be the kind of friend to others that I wanted to have. I was rewarded with some amazing friends, who would carry me through the next cycle of the very same lesson…

A few years later I was asked to join the staff of a large church staff as a Creative Arts Director and Worship leader… and in one of my initial meetings I was told…

“Now remember, the entire congregation is always watching you…”

This season became one of the longest  of my life. You see some people figured out that this was my currency, and that I could be manipulated through guilt, through people pleasing… and sometimes people used it to get me to put my head down and set a “good example”working hard, sometimes too hard, often too much, pressuring others to work with me… and it worked for several years…but you see, I was leading worship…that’s right WORSHIP… and God tends to show up and talk to you in Worship…Somewhere along the way I learned that trying not to make mistakes was not working…that I needed to try to live… to really live. Not living because people are watching, but because God was…and He was on my side. He wanted me to be true to the gift and voice within me. You can’t really lead others into worship if your most pressing motive is to not fail. True worship is like flying, it sets your heart free – because He is truth and he sets us free.  He lifts our burdens off our shoulders. In His freedom I realized that I would always fail and I would often make mistakes. Worship leading into truth would mean walking this path openly.

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lol – I could not resist…

When we follow Christ, we are setting an example… we show others that when we fail, when we fall – we fall INTO grace, not out of it. How much more powerful would my example have been if I’d been showing this failing and falling all along? How much better would it have been for these people watching me, to see me fail…and then rise up again?

I began to learn that setting an example didn’t have to be an impossible burden of shame, self-effort and being alone…but one of surrender, rest and genuine community.

I’m so glad I learned this before I became a mom… because being a mom is hard. It’s hard because your kids are always watching you.

Sometimes I think being a homeschooling mom is harder still, only because there’s no breaks – no school to send them away to, no job to throw yourself into… it’s just you and them, all day…and you and yourself the rest of the time.

I see my failures every day, sometimes ALL DAY.

I see them because there is no other people or activities to soften the blow. I see it in the tone of our home…in the chaos, in the hurts and in the attitudes, reactions and back talk. I see my selfishness, my failings, I hear my words reflected back at me in my own children. There is no hiding your mistakes from your children. They catch you, every time and they hold nothing back in telling you about it, every time.

Image result for set a good example picsThere’s no hiding and no stepping back from flying either. If I want my kids to fly (and I do), then I realize more and more, that I need to show them how to fly, by flying myself, right off the mountainside and into grace. If I want my kids to worship, then I must truly worship, right along with them, at all times. If I want them to know God, than I have bring Him into each moment the good, the bad, the ugly, and live out grace humbly and openly, failures and all, knowing that they are always watching me.

Hopefully one day they won’t say that I set an impossible standard, but rather inspired them with an example that was impossible to resist following. May my steps be full of grace and their eyes be always watching indeed.

 

 

 

Roller Coasters and Redemption

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A couple months ago I felt like I was living on an emotional roller coaster. Funny, for this year, 2016, my word is “rest”. Since January, I’ve found that it’s a become a trendy word…along with “Being Present, Simplicity…keeping your peace…maintaining balance”… you get the idea. But you know what?…it’s hard to rest on a roller coaster.

Those are wonderful notions and it is absolutely worth doing your best to remain in rest… (Hebrews 4:1-11). My struggle is, how do you remain in rest when the hard things of real life, that you have no control over, happen – smack in the middle of wonderful and good things?

Let me explain…

In the span of 4 short weeks we battled a strange illness that took out the entire family one by one for 24 hours, we attended wedding events for my sister, a baby shower, a commencement for our boys, a 40th wedding anniversary for dear friends, received a diagnosis four our daughter, Mother’s Day, our own anniversary, Father’s Day and three funerals. That’s right, three. Three people we cared about, passed into eternity. The often jarring ups and downs of celebration and mourning has taken me two months to recover from…and I still can’t quite wrap my heart around it all.

Sometimes, you can’t “opt out” of the things that take place in your life…you just have to roll with the punches and take really deep breaths as often as possible.

Eventually things slowed down for us…a little. The rhythms of daily life returned and the liturgy of living filled our days. Yet I’m haunted by the three goodbyes… All three people had full lives, loving families with all that family entails. All three were taken out by disease and all three had to deal with severe disappointments. The kind that rob years from a life. But, the caveat in this is that all three had beautiful stories of redemption in the final years. In the first, a life was robbed of 20 or more years of spiritual fulfillment, because of the destructive words of religion without grace. In the second, an artist was stifled by family responsibilities and many years with a partner who didn’t truly see them…and the third, a hard, hard life – of addiction, near poverty, violence and ultimately the terrible grief in the loss of child and spouse. Sorrow and almost constant hardship.

And yet, redemption came.

Redemption came to the first, the one destroyed by the words of religion, through the grace filled words of God through a son-in-law. Redemption came in the second through a humbled partner, and the flower of the artist began to bloom again. Redemption came to the third, not through one act, but through the realization that every eulogy, every memory, every story shared… revolved around laughter. Her ability to find  and hold onto joy right in the middle of what would have been a living hell to anyone else, filled out the lines of darkness with the most beautiful colours to make a masterpiece of a life.

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Because of the celebratory moments that punctuated the days in between each funeral, I was forced to immediately choose joy as well. Joy in shared love, in creating new memories, in the glory of summer nights, good friends, good food and music. Laughter, tears, frustration, hard work and whispered prayer…

The thrill of kids at the beach, cliff jumping into the lake, a dog eager to go for a walk, a canoe trip down a slow river with a toddler who spies a family of turtles for the first time. The thrills of slow rising ups, surprising twists and turns, crazy drops and loop-d-loops… and I remind myself that at least my roller coaster didn’t do this…

roller-coaster-300x297  Yet.

365 Days…revisted

Welcome! This post has been revised from one I posted in 2009 on the anniversary of my dad’s graduation to eternity. Nothing has changed in how I feel, except that the memories and observations are richer with maturity and time. I hope you enjoy remembering him with me today.

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Was it really just a year ago that i was at your bedside saying goodbye?
the dull throaty feeling is gone when I think about you, but it’s been replaced by a shadowy soft sadness that is always there in the background, like a whisper.
    
I think it’s what’s left of the imprint you’ve left on my heart and when I think about you, it’s like a scar, the pain is gone, but I still feel it and the memory is sweetly sad.

there have been so many countless moments when I’ve wanted to talk to you,
When I wanted you to just hold my hand again and mimi…oh daddy i miss you so

With you lie all the memories of my girlhood.

My mind is filled with visions of running through the dewy grass of your fresh-cut lawn, dappled sunshine under your grapevines, watching you eat a tomato like an apple, BBQ dinners on the red and white patio stones, walking at twilight, bike rides and soft ice cream cones from the Cone & Shake Shop…

The grassy beaches of Lake Erie when we were camping, sitting around the fire…

I miss the days of you me, Jenny and the “dinghy” at Rondeau

I miss your story telling, and how we’d always miss the punch lines because you’d already be laughing so hard that we didn’t understand you…

Hearing the explosion of your Ford each morning when you started it and knowing it scared all the neighbour kids

I miss your silly songs and even your lectures about Greece.

I’m thankful that you taught me how to cook and bake all those Tuesday nights when mom was at Bible Study, and I’m thankful for the hours in the pool

That you recorded all of our Christmases, that you would turn the oldies on and dance with mom in the kitchen… that you never turned down a hug or a walk around the creek

That you insisted that every holiday should be spent with family, and that cousins were as important at brothers and sisters…and that many times friends were family.

That every time someone comes over (and the door was always open) you ask them to sit down and if they’d like something to eat or drink…and that you always have to have something to offer them, and to never hold back giving your best.

I know that you’d just love getting to know Lucas, Max and Carter more each day,
especially since I see so many glimpses of you in them, their thirst for adventure, love of being outside, their feisty “know it all-ness”, their fascination with how things work, their big laughs, sense of wonder and inability to whisper and ability to “make a deal”…

(and oh how you’d love Elaina and the other grandkids that have showed up since…)

I wish that I could thank you again and again,
for giving me such a rich childhood and for raising me right
for driving home the values of respect, to love mom and my family, hard work, integrity, loyalty, forgiveness, laughter, faithfulness… and grace

Thank you for sharing your love of history, and politics, economics, Greece and gardening…for allowing us to see you grieve losing your own parents but also for celebrating the small and big things, really well…and for never giving up…on any of us.

and if I could go back and do anything over…

I would make sure that you were as much a part of my early adulthood as you were my early years…

I’d live more like I hope I am now,
with a painful awareness that each and every day is a gift, and that I should make the most of each moment and love the people in my life because here i am, and it’s already been 365 days, and it feels like I just said goodbye yesterday…

I’ll never stop loving you, and I’ll never forget you,

I will see you again, and until then, I know that as you see me from that “great cloud of witnesses” you are full of the Glory of the One who will help me run this race with endurance.

al my love, always

Mimi


 

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This is where my kids’ attitudes come from…does anyone else see it?

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Just before he immigrated to Canada. Wasn’t he handsome?

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One of many days at Rondeau beach. I’m sure it reminded him of the shores of the Aegean Sea, where he grew up, beach days were the best days with Daddy.

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Some of my favourite memories were our trips to Greece especially here in 1997.

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Thanks to my dad, I never wondered how a woman should be treated by her husband, he loved my mom with all his heart. He welcomed Chris as a son, right from the first. Our wedding in 1998.

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With his first grandson – Lucas Christopher in 2004.

Our lives were filled with laughter and music (lot’s of Greek music too) – he loved a good party – here at my sister’s wedding.

The “Chalet”…or… the Miracle in How we Got our House.

 

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One of my favorite “views” in Niagara. I first experienced this view of the Niagara River from the parkway near Queenston Heights when in college. Beautiful in every season, little did I know one day I would live a short drive away from it. It’s my current “think” spot.

 

Hi there! Please go and grab a coffee or a snack, then get ready to settle in, this is a longer post, but I promise you, it’s really great story. I’ve been journeying through the things God has done in my life so far, and this is a great one. I hope it inspires you, it still inspires me. Share it if you think it may encourage someone you know. 


In the spring of 2005 my husband and I found out we were expecting baby number 2. We lived in this lovely older home near the lake in central Niagara. We had enjoyed around 5 years there and most of the memories were good ones. It was a well thought out floor plan that accommodated our small family quite well. It was a quiet neighborhood and we had a large lot that boasted a lovely covered deck and sprawling gardens that included a fish pond and waterfall. The hours I spent in that backyard will always remain in my memory as some of my most peaceful and happy.

My father-in-law lived with us in the basement apartment and we had worked through the difficulties of sharing living space early on in the living arrangement, for the first couple of years my sister and other students lived with us as well as our 2 cats. It was the home we brought our first born miracle home to. We shared many family dinners there, many gatherings with friends, life groups, parties…

We didn’t really “need” to find a new place, we did have enough space to remain comfortable, we would just lose some work space, the baby would have to share a room with his/her big brother…but we thought, “it wouldn’t hurt” to see what’s out there.

A friend of ours, Nathan, was just starting out in real estate and we thought we’d give him a try… we mentioned to him about what we were looking for, price range, size – a little bigger, an additional bedroom, more property – but we still needed an in-law suite/ apartment for dad, and we still wanted a quiet neighborhood…we needed easy access to the highway to reduce the amount of drive time to work…

Nathan pulled together a few viewings and we set out to ‘look and see” – when we pulled up to what is now our home, we looked at each other and said – “ya…no” – It had several marks against it in our book – it was in Niagara Falls – after having lived in St. Catherine’s for over a decade, we knew there was a stigma about the Falls…that it was less classy… and the house was HUGE.

Not just a little bigger, but way TOO BIG. It was beautiful though, a chalet style cedar home with gorgeous hardwood floors throughout, and unique hand-designed plaster ceilings. The owner had custom built the home for his multi-gen family after a trip to Switzerland inspired him. He joined us on the tour, showing his pride in the details…Every inch was well planned and used for storage and use. It had a fully enclosed apartment upstairs with 2 huge bedrooms, a loft a gourmet kitchen and 2 balconies…

The ground floor boasted 4 large bedrooms, a full bath and a large formal living room. But no kitchen, he was willing to put one in…the unique home wasn’t selling as quickly as they’d hoped. The basement boasted a full kitchen another 3 piece bath and a full family room. There was a giant 2 car garage and separate shed and a bachelor pad above the garage. All of the bathrooms were bigger than any we’d ever had in any house previously. The décor was from the 80’s but the bones of the house were just unmatched – wood and ceramic floors throughout, oak cabinets, vaulted ceilings… There was giant vegetable garden with a makeshift green house and fruit trees and a brick oven…plus there were fig trees in the sun-room, which reminded me of my dad… and yes, it had a sun-room. It backed onto a hydro field and a reservoir so there wouldn’t be any neighbors building behind us, on the outskirts of the city, we were close the border and national monuments/ parks than the actual city of the Falls. The neighborhood was definitely quiet…but who were we kidding? this house was too big for our family of 4 even with dad… and WAY out of our price range. We laughed about it, Nathan said he had brought us just to get an idea of what kinds of things we liked in a home… it was a fun tour… and we moved on, looked casually at other homes and didn’t really think about the house again.

Consciously that is.

Turns out both Chris and I were having dreams about this house while we were sleeping. But we both just brushed it off… it was too unique, and too big…and too much.

Then we had kind of decided to not move. That we were fine where we were, we would make due until the circumstances were better for moving… we were content where we were.

But then the owners of that house had asked their agent to call Nathan and ask him to ask us (that young couple with the little boy and another one on the way) to put an offer on the house…any offer, nothing would insult them…Chris and I just laughed…no… No! What we could afford would indeed be insulting. We wouldn’t even consider it…we respected them too much.

But then, the still small voice of the Holy Spirit gently asked…”Why haven’t you asked me whether I wanted you to have that house? Would you consider it, for Me? Maybe you can’t afford it, but I can…”

Dumb, dumb, dumb…I felt so small.

Later that day, I told Chris what I’d heard, and immediately we both repented.

In the New Testament, the word translated as ‘repentance’ is the Greek word metanoia literally meaning “after or behind one’s mind“. ‘Meta’ meaning after or with; and the verb ‘noeo’  meaning to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing. Together they mean: ‘to think differently after’. Metanoia is therefore primarily an after-thought, different from the former thought; a change of mind and change of conduct, “change of mind and heart”, or, “change of consciousness”.

How small minded had we been? So we were content…but maybe He wasn’t. Maybe He had things he wanted us to do, that would require a bigger house and more land and easy access to the sights and the border. We were approaching His provision from our small human mindedness, and He was trying to get us to see it from His perspective… from an eternal one. We were limiting Him.  We’d been taught to store up treasures in heaven… that real relationships were more important than bigger, better homes and filling them with stuff…and that’s still true, they are…but we soon found out that when you have people stay with you, live with you, share life with you… that relationships can go deep. We had learned that small and simple was good… and it still is, but sometimes, sometimes bigger means you can do more. That God can do more…for everyone.

Repentance in this instance, meant that we needed God’s help in how we approached the whole situation…we looked at it like this: perhaps we were supposed to have this house, but perhaps God just wanted to get us to think differently in general… regardless, we felt liberated. True repentance always brings liberty.

First we examined our own hearts and minds… what the limits had we put on our own thinking… we explored everything from the overly proud, to the overly humble thoughts – we didn’t want to insult family members who had smaller homes (who did we think we were?); were we trying to “keep up with the Jones’ – we had wealthy friends who could indeed afford a home like that, but we knew we couldn’t…we’d made mistakes in investing already… would we just repeat them? We didn’t want to be “house poor”…but would we be? How would be explain it to our friends and family when we clearly didn’t need so much room… We began to realize that we were more worried about what people thought than we realized. We needed to change our perspective. Then we changed our thinking on finances and what was available and possible to us. Then we made sure we kept listening.

Sometimes when you have something that you know it was impossible for you to get in your own strength, then you never quite look at it as your own, but that it’s really HIS and you really are just a steward…and you are more willing to say yes…to anything. Also, we have found, that when it was impossible for us to get it on our own, we are more likely to keep looking to the One who provided it, to sustain it for us, to help us “keep” it…as long as it’s needed…and hopefully, to let it go when we need to.

We went on another walk through of the house… this time with dad and a few other family members, but also with open minds, eyes and hearts. The owners asked us to sit for a coffee. It was a short but nice visit. We could see ourselves in this house…we could see glimmers of what God might do here…

We contacted Nathan, and put an offer in that we hoped wouldn’t be too insulting. They counter offered. Our parameters were really small. We put in our final offer, thinking it would be rejected. It was. We were OK. We were free, our minds had been liberated, regardless, and that was worth it all.

That night, Chris had another dream. It woke him up…he couldn’t sleep. He felt like God told him to write them a letter. In it he thanked them for even considering our offer, for their time and that we were thankful for the experience. He explained briefly about our financial limits, but that it was fun even dreaming about it for awhile. He wished them all the best. I read it the next morning, it was beautiful.  (and I thought I was the writer in the family – ha!) We sent it via Nathan, not expecting to ever hear back from them.

That night, Nathan called us, laughing…his excitement palpable… they wanted to give us the house for our final offer… WAY WAY WAY below list price…probably below market too. He shared how at the final meeting he had given their agent the letter who gave it to the owner, and then owner asked him to read it to the room…he said at the end of the letter not an eye was dry… and then, the owner had said… “These are good people, a young family, they will love my house, they will be good for the neighborhood”…and then after a pause…”let’s give it to them.”

The whirlwind of moving while in my third trimester is a story for another time, as well as many of the challenges we’ve encountered after saying yes to the house. But I want to give you a brief glimpse, of how God had used us through his/our house to be the blessing He knew was needed…

Little did we know that we’d have not 1 but 3 more kids and a couple dogs, and that we’d eventually be homeschooling, and use every inch of the house in that adventure alone…we knew so little of what God had need of.

That very first fall, just weeks after we moved in, a sister got married and all the extra rooms were filled with family members who had traveled to come to the wedding. Then another and another sister got married and we filled the rooms again and again. Chris’ dad lived with us until he passed away, we shared many happy memories with him, including our last Christmas together, in this home. We’ve had several people stay with us in the bachelor apartment – many recovering from divorce or financial ruin. We’ve had women and children in crisis stay with us, large families needing an “affordable” place to stay while on vacation, and about 25 long and short term students board with us from Asia, Europe and South America. We’ve been able to host missionaries on furlough and we’ve had family and friends that needed a place to crash following loss or just needing a temporary home. We’ve hosted large scale celebrations and countless small ones. The second kitchen and family room has been great for holiday gatherings and summer retreats from the heat… the yard has hosted chickens, a large veggie garden, tents for the kids and their cousins, the fruit trees have fed us in the summers and winters from preserving… The extra room and ability to take in borders has sustained us through financially tight seasons, and the closeness to the border made it possible to get cheaper gas and sometimes groceries with ease. The lower mortgage has been a blessing, and while we’ve not always had lot’s of cash to bless people with, we’ve been able to share all that we do have – a place to rest, something to eat, somewhere to be loved with God’s love, to everyone that comes through our doors.

We have incredible neighbors who’ve become good friends, and when we go for walks at night, sometimes it feels like we live in the country. We’ve grown to love Niagara Falls even more than St. Catherine’s, especially our little corner of it and take great pride in showing visitors our lovely part of the region… we know that our season here is far from over, but we learned a long time ago to not put limits on what God can do with the space you make for Him, as well as the space you let Him make for Himself. If you ever find yourself in Niagara, please don’t hesitate to call, we just may have room for you!

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circa 2009 Jodi Taylor Photography

 

A Father’s Hands…

Today was a day that reminded me of a  really bad day I blogged about a few years back.  I’m not sure if it’s the full moon, or what, but I needed a reminder that I’ve had worse days and just like then, today was “handled” – once I handed it over. Today it took a trip to the dog park, but it really did turn around too. I hope you enjoy today’s post from back in 2013…
Yesterday was one of those days.
It started out ok…
Then quickly spiraled down and out of control.
The oldest boy had ATTITUDE.
The middle boy was EMOTIONAL with ATTITUDE.
The youngest boy was WHINY.
They were all fighting, running in the house, making wrong choices.
The baby was cranky…teething? diaper rash? fussy?
All of the above.
Even the dog was annoying.
That morning I’d been reminded of a few personal setbacks…
Waves of  worry, fear, doubting self, doubting God…
Feeling like the little we had, would never be enough to meet the need.
Feeling unsettled, words in my mind wearing away at the Peace
That usually keeps me calm in the midst of these storms.
Feeling pretty ugly inside and out.
So I kept losing my cool…
yelling…
threatening…
lashing out…
probably worse,
I’ve blocked it from my memory.
We were all ready for a change of pace, a change of scenery.
I remember driving to the organic farm to pick up the veggies
On the verge of tears.
At the farm, the dear farmer sensed my duress.
She made me laugh.
A moment outside of the moment.
She encouraged me like only a mama of mamas can.
We drove home in almost silence. A hymn was playing on the radio.
The quiet was needed…appreciated.
The baby had fallen asleep.
The boys were not fighting, not even talking.
I pulled into the drive.
Thinking about what to make for dinner.
Giving instructions for unloading the veggies…
The middle boy was not in the van…
 Momentary panic.
Call the farmer.
He’s there. Relief.
Drive 25 mins back there to get him.
Beat myself up most of the way.
After all…how could I not notice he wasn’t in the van?!
Sigh…
I really felt like crying on the way home again.
Decided, that the day was basically lost now
A lost day…
When I should have loved my kids better…
When I should have been gentle, and kind.
 And now it was half hour to bedtime…
No time to make dinner…
MacDonald’s it is.
At least the boys were thrilled.
I beat myself up for not providing a healthier dinner.
In the drive-thru…I had to dig into the recesses of my wallet to pay.
Tucked inside a pocket, was shoved one of these.
I haven’t seen one in years.
(for my American friends – we have dollar coins here)
For some reason, it reminded me of my dad.
How his hands hardened by work, would always offer to give me money.
When I was around 9 and first allowed to ride my bike to the corner store.
When I was 16 and driving the car and needed gas.
When I was visiting home from college and always in need of a little extra cash.
How on a day like this, he would have put his arms around me…
And the world would have felt better again.
Sometimes we’d just sit in the garden, quiet.
I thought about how much I miss those hands,
How that final goodbye felt a few short years ago…
How much I wanted my daddy at that moment.
Mercy, the tears would not stop…
I almost had to pull over the van.
Then the kindest whisper…
A reminder really.
That there was another set of hands…
Readily available…
Hands that were not only work hardened…
But pierced.
For me.
Hands, eagerly waiting for me to surrender the day
Ready to provide,
Ready to take fish and bread, and meet those needs and more.
Restoring peace, reminding me of Eternity
and how my earthly daddy lives there now, with Him.
Redeeming the day, in a moment.
Making the world feel better again.
Oh how wonderful to to fall into my Heavenly Father’s Hands
To be enveloped in His grace and mercy.
Psalm 31:14
But as for me, I trust You, oh Lord,
I say,”You are my God”
My Times are in your hand…
 
And as the day came to a close,
Kissing soft cheeks, whispering thanks
whispering “I love yous”
Watching the steady rise and fall of little bodies at rest.
Peace…I am still.
Knowing the day is saved, and a new one is at hand.
A new one, that is in His hand,
As I am.

I’ll Always Wonder…Season of Sundays Part 2

Hi there! FYI, this post is a continuation of the post from last week entitled A Season of Sundays.  The recipe I mentioned in that post, is at the bottom of this post.

This is a tribute to one of the most beautiful ladies I ever had the privilege of knowing. Believe it or not, I began writing this on the anniversary of her passing, way back in February, but it’s just not been easy to relive all of it. She is missed to this day. She was one of the great ones of a generation the world has not truly understood their value. To me, she had a gift for hospitality that was unmatched, and I hope to one day be even remotely as “Great” as she was.


The last Sunday dinner Great Aunt Fern hosted was bittersweet. We gathered together as family had done countless times, knowing it was the end of an era. However, we also knew that it was a celebration of a lifetime of loving. Yes, she was ready to turn in her oven mitts, but we needed to be too. As always, the table was set with a table cloth, but she let us set the places this time, and bring the food to the table…over a simple chicken dinner, we shared stories of the best dinners and many of the bloopers over the years. The faces of cherished loved ones who are no longer with us etched in our memories, that night, and still. Their laughter faintly echoing in our hearts. That night, for our last dinner, she let us “younger ladies’ do her dishes for the first time, while she rested in a nearby chair.

Not long afterward, we gathered to help move her into a nearby residence. She was excited to be joining friends, and to socialize with people each day in person (and not just over the phone)… born in 1912, she had lived through both World Wars and the great Depression. She knew how to economize space – and how to “ration”. It took hours to deal with the saved plastic containers and rubber bands, stacks of paper and buttons. We packed up her lovely tea cup collection and other prized pieces of decor, each holding memories for her, but also for each of us. I carried her recipe books close to my heart, as if I were entrusted with the crown jewels. She had jotted notes to me over family favourites, entrusting me to “take care of her boys”, and to this day, it’s one of my prized possessions.

She spent several pleasant years at the residence. Chris recalls a humorous visit when he walked right past her in the foyer. He had never seen her in “slacks”. She had giggled a reply saying they were for her exercise class, so the “gentlemen wouldn’t try to get fresh with her”. We would try to visit every couple of weeks, usually on a Sunday. It was difficult to take 2 young boys into a nursing home and not develop hypertension – there are just so many red buttons begging to be pressed! But we did our best, and she was always at her best for us.

Slowly though, her sparkle started to fade. She mentioned that it was hard to get close to people, when you weren’t sure if they’d be there the next day, and they lived in a state of fear of viruses wiping out entire “wings” of the residence. When Chris’ dad passed away suddenly, it hit her very hard. He was the one person who called her everyday, sometimes more. She made it clear to us that she did not like “outliving” everyone.  However, the announcement of another pregnancy, our 3rd boy, seemed to help her rally. She loved those visits especially. It was precious to take her “treats” and she always hid some cookies and juice for the boys, that she had pilfered from the snack cart. Even in her tiny room, she was the consummate hostess.

A few more years passed and slowly her sparkle began to fade again. She was hit by a number of illnesses that she just couldn’t shake. Our visits became restricted for her sake – but really, I think not seeing the boys made it worse for her. Her wall became a photo gallery of her loved ones.

She turned 99 in September of 2011, and in that last year, I had decided to visit her every week, with and without the boys. I wanted to hear her stories, I wanted  her to know she was truly loved, I wanted to say thank you, by just being there. In those visits, I realized she had become reconciled with her own death…she gave instructions on clearing out her room, her will, her wishes for burial…she began to speak of eternal things – her “new” suite-mate had spoken with her about setting her affairs in order, and she told me she was ready to meet God. She told me she did not want to live to be 100, that while everybody else told her it was great, she said she was embarrassed and didn’t want the attention. She wanted quiet…and rest. That Christmas she caught a bug…and never recovered fully, it took root in her lungs and her breathing became challenged, she needed a machine to help her breath. She hated every step of losing her independence. Her niece would visit every day.

That February, Chris struggled with the decision to leave on a work trip, but she assured him he should go. So did the rest of the family. He and Aunt Fern had already said everything that needed to be said…two nights later he called and asked me to go be with her, she had declined quickly, the end was near, he wanted me to be with her…My mom stayed with the boys, I grabbed my purse and my bible and drove down the highway to her…praying. When I arrived, I realized that in my haste I had grabbed an old hymn book off the shelf instead of my Bible…

It was quiet and dimly lit, she was resting, she hadn’t spoken to anyone for quite some time, the sound of her struggled breathing engulfing the space. I pulled up a chair and sat down beside her, opened the book and quietly began to sing every hymn that I knew through my tears. Her breathing steadied…and at one point, when we were alone, she opened her blue eyes and very clearly asked…”no more babies?”. I hesitated…” she couldn’t know…I didn’t know…the whisper of uncertainty… I had just wondered that very morning about my cycles…maybe?…knowing she might rally if I said yes… but what if I wasn’t?.. It would probably carry her passed her 100th birthday… I blinked and whispered quietly,  “no, I don’t think so”…she sighed and closed her eyes again, barely squeezing my hand in hers.

Someone entered the room then, and we sang some more hymns together for another hour or so…I don’t know if she “woke up” again after that…but was reassured she wouldn’t be alone… I had to get home to my boys, I got the call early that morning, that she had quietly slipped away  in her sleep. Later that week, I took a pregnancy test… it was positive…our fourth baby, a girl, was born in September, a couple weeks after what would have been Aunt Fern’s 100th birthday in 2012…I will always, always wonder…what if I’d said yes?

…and the only reason we didn’t name our Elaina, after Great Aunt Fern, was because way back when I’d been pregnant with one of the boys, she had told me to NEVER name a girl (should one come along) Fern…or Muriel -her middle name. She emphatically told us we did not have her blessing to saddle a girl with those names…but to this day I still think about adding Muriel onto her birth certificate…I’m pretty sure she inherited some of Aunt Fern’s sass and spunk so it would be fitting I think.


Finally, as promised, here’s the PDF to the Butterscotch Cake I mentioned in last weeks’ post.

Butterscotch Cake

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