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Author: Sara Dutilly

Did You Know that It’s Fall?

Did You Know that It’s Fall?

The leaves are slowly falling, slowly changing, and I’m realizing that this autumn season makes me think that other things will change, that autumn is the best metaphor and I want to see all the pretty colors cover my world like a postcard.

But life is not a postcard.

–this is profound, I know.

Can the changing not be left to leaves and temperature, but used for life itself?

–Life doesn’t follow nature’s seasons.

Still, if I’m thinking about my life changing, what would I want to change?

I could list these things, but what is the purpose in listing what I want? Then, I would just be like my children who, without a thought, impulsively speak their desires.

Now, here’s a story:

I’ve been making my kids say, “There is no lack in this house.” I tell them to repeat, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Because they are always (*okay, not ALWAYS. Just a lot of the time) bickering over petty things like [whining-ly] “Can I stir the eggs?!!!!” “No me!!” “NO! I WANT TO STIR THE EGGS!!!”

Sometimes I get frustrated and banish everyone from the kitchen. But, more recently, I have begun saying to my children, “Guys. Everyone can stir the eggs. There’s no end to the stirring.” This is when I make them repeat, “There is no lack in this house. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

My kids act like only one person can stir the bowl of soon-to-be-scrambled eggs when actually, the eggs only get better with each subsequent stir.

“There is no lack in this house,” I say.

–But

is the Lord my shepherd? Shall I not want?

It’s a gift, the unwanting.

A completely miraculous, amazing, wonderful thing, to have a shepherd and to see the world in abundance.

But we shun the shepherd’s abundance. Somehow, we think we know better.

Us adults, we’re supposed to have it all together. We’re supposed to speak well and calmly. We’re supposed to be able to let our kids learn, to let them figure things out, to cherish all the moments naturally. We’re supposed to be able to put together a blog post that makes some kind of sense. We’re supposed to have something to add to the world besides our ramblings.

But ramblings like this, these are the looks of a beginning, like those deciduous trees.

This may be my favorite word: deciduous. Those trees and shrubs who, every year, shed their leaves and go bare-branched into the winter.

But trees are supposed to have leaves, right?

And I’m supposed to have a conclusion.

Soon, the trees will be cold and covered in snow.

We’re sitting on something.

 

Mom, I’m Going to Make a Flower

Mom, I’m Going to Make a Flower

I know this is just a piece of torn notebook paper. I know the tape is rough and the leaves will turn. But my boy made this.

After breakfast, I had -lovingly- shoved my noisy kids outside. They were too harsh for the walls of our home so I sent them where there are no walls.–

Where they can run and jump and raise their voices. Where birds chirp quietly and bugs crawl under our feet. Where wild things live unseen.

Nash took his one-subject spiral notebook with him.–

His red notebook. His new notebook, the one that we only own because it was $0.10. His collection of blank college-lined papers which had been purposeless until paired with a mind for creation.

Nash went straight for our giant magnolia-climbing tree and sat, still and quiet in its shade. He drew. I walked outside with our precious new baby I went to the van, opened the trunk, took out a lawn chair. I unfolded it and I sat in the driveway.

Soon, my children gathered near as if they knew that we belonged together.–

No matter what has happened, no matter how annoyed we have all been with each other, no matter how much complaining we have given into, my children always know, somehow, that we belong together.

Nash found these leaves and picked them off of their plant. He held them between his fingers. He rubbed them on a page and watched the chlorophyll transfer. Then he smiled that kind of smile that speaks for itself.–

That smile that says joy, unspeakable joy. That smile that shouts, I rejoice right now, in this day and always. That smile that exudes a simple gratitude, higher than any words.

“I’m going to make a flower!” he said. “Mom, can I go inside and get the tape?” I allowed it. Well, I couldn’t stop it. He had an idea, and he had to complete it. He worked diligently to make a flower out of five leaves, and then he hung it right outside mine and Neil’s bedroom door. “Where Grace can’t get it,” he said.–

Where it is safe, I heard. Where you’ll see it, right at eye-level, I knew. Where you’ll remember.

He decorated the entrance to the place we lay our heads. His one idea, focused until completion, made with the things he saw. Completed all by himself. It’s not the most beautiful thing in the world. But really, it is.–

When an idea comes to life with child-like faith. When the process is more important than the product. When little love-reminders are placed right where we are sure to see them… where we need to see them.

About A Day

About A Day

Because it’s therapeutic just to journal about the day.

Because in the thinking back, we can let go and find the beauty in our mundane.

Because, in an effort to find significance where I am right now. It’s that place where kids are small and messes are big and none of us know what we’re doing.

This morning, I woke up to a seven-year-old who had to go the bathroom and was eager to read The Boxcar Children. He said good morning to my sleeping eyes and then he went to my closet to read alone. It’s a big closet, with the light and space for this boy to spread out.  One corner even holds a pile of his books. I wonder just how many books he has in there, but I have never taken the time to count them. Instead, I often remind my boy that it’s not his closet. I ask him to stack his books neatly. I ask him if he really needs that many books in my closet. He always tells me that he does. I don’t believe him, but then I look at my nightstand which holds at least twenty books. I read them all.

This morning, I stayed in bed with Susan (almost three weeks old now). We snuggled. I went back to sleep until the next child awoke. Then I left Susan to dream, and I showered.

The morning was more hectic than I would have liked. The mornings almost always are. This morning, Susan woke up and and wouldn’t be put down. We were all starving by the time she did. As soon as my hands were free I made oatmeal. I cooked it with maple syrup while my middle two children stood close, blowing holes into the steam that rose above it. I scooped the oatmeal into four bowls and listened to everyone’s requests for toppings. Milk. Honey. Brown sugar. My oldest cried. He didn’t want honey but because I was feeling rushed I had accidentally put it into everyone’s bowls. Screaming rose like the oatmeal’s steam had earlier, but the screaming could not be blown away. The child said he didn’t like honey but I know that’s not true and I told him so. We argued, though I knew that was dumb and futile. I am an adult and these are children, but I often forget about our age gap.

Susan woke up. Eventually, everyone was fed and we were trying to get everyone ready for a play date at the Splash Pad. I was annoyed.

“Seek first the kingdom of God” kept playing in my heart, but my annoyance won anyway. I gave my kids opportunities to listen but they kept failing my expectations. I made sandwiches while Susan lay in a basket of clean laundry and screamed. Her siblings stood nearby trying to calm her with sweet songs and well-meaning kisses. We were an hour late to our play date but we had fun while we were there.

Water shot up from the ground and my kids knew exactly what to do with it. They explored. They played. They laughed and climbed and made memories with their friends. I chatted with my friends–the other moms–making my own memories.

Where are my eyes throughout these days? Am I looking at crumbs or at the tiny hands who made them?

After dinner, after bedtime, I washed dishes and wiped the counters and now I am sitting at the table writing out the day, looking for the meaning, knowing that meaning only sometimes comes how we think it will.

Haiku the Day Away was never about advice or how-to anything. Haiku are small image-driven poems with big punches. Though they seem to be about the images, haiku hold unseen treasures. They show what is in front of us but they are about something deeper. They are like metaphorical x-rays, begging us to look beyond. Again and again, they ask us to seek and keep seeking and they almost always, in the end, reveal more within those things which we have allowed to become mundane. In a haiku, the mundane can actually hold so much beauty.

Consider the Lilies

Consider the Lilies

“What about Susan Joan?” he suggested.

My face crumpled. “I don’t love either of those names.”

“Susan means graceful lily,” he said. “Joan means God is gracious.”

The names have further significance. Both of them are aunts that have played vital roles in my husband’s life, people who continuously shower others with bursting love and creativity. They brighten everything around them.

Still, to me, the name sounded harsh. Susan Joan. Not like the beautiful names that sat on my own list: Lillian, Caroline, Elise, Jane. Lily was once a joke, but it had slipped to the top of my list. Lily is a beautiful, fragrant flower symbolizing innocence, purity, and beauty. Consider the lilies of the field, I thought, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. The image of the lily, along with its aroma, can change the atmosphere of an entire room by just sitting in it. Naming this girl Lilian would give her a more adult option later in life.

Female names have always been difficult for my husband and me. Our first daughter, who is currently three years old, is named Grace, and that was the first female name that my husband and I had ever agreed on. He just doesn’t like girl names, but Grace was an important word for us after giving life to our first two children: two rambunctious boys.

Before we knew this child’s gender, my oldest son told us that she would definitely be a girl. “That would make us balanced,” he said. I chuckled because this boy always chooses symmetry. Still, he was right, and when we went for our anatomy scan the technician told us that, though a baby’s measurements usually waver and the due date is an average, all of this daughter’s measurements pointed to the same date. “This is one symmetrical little girl,” the technician said.

Susan Joan. With only a few weeks of pregnancy left, I joked that we could nickname her “Aunt.” For years, she and many others would probably think we were saying “ant” and referring to the insect that crawls quickly on the floor searching for sugar. We laughed together. My husband said he didn’t love the name Susan Joan either.

The option lingered.

Lilian still rang truest in my mind. Even Lilian Joan, a name I thought beautiful and wonderful and worthy of our little baby, honoring the aunt named Joan that plays such a role in my husband’s family. We’d call her Lily for short, and the rhyme of her full name, “Lily Dutilly,” would bring joy to our world.

Now, we are days away from her projected due date and she sits upside down in my belly, nameless, and the name Susan is beginning to grow on me. I don’t believe that everyone must name their child according to the meaning it holds, but for my family, this is an important part of the process.

What if her name were Susan? Susan Joan Dutilly.  Susan means graceful lily, I thought. It fits well next to our first daughter—Grace and Susan—and still the symbol of the lily would remain present in her name. Innocence, purity, beauty. Consider the lilies of the field… they toil not, neither do they spin.

In this famous line, lilies are portrayed as balanced flowers. They toil not, neither do they spin. Lilies are graceful beings who stand in the field, beautiful and balanced, bright and open. It’s a graceful image for a family, for a mother who wakes and cooks and cleans and tries to finish her coffee before it goes cold.

I try to see my children, to hug them often and give them what they need most. Yet I am often torn between allowing space for all of us to be individuals and for removing the space by making close snuggles. Perhaps this motherhood thing is all about finding a balance, knowing that it may never be created but is simply found somewhere within these chaotic days. That in the end, the moments matter but they also don’t. While sometimes I am tipped too far on the discipline side and other days I am lax, in the end a mother balances out and can let go of the moments she thinks she’s failed.

Now, I think, Can I learn to paint a lily? I want to paint lilies all over this girl’s room. I want her to know that this is who we believe her to be. Though she will surely surprise us, as our daughter Grace has, with tantrums and disobedience, and pure human ugliness, can she know that she is first and always a daughter who brought balance to her family? Though she will be a baby and then a toddler, she will not toil in her growing. Though she will grow to be a woman, perhaps a wife and a mother herself, and though life may take its toll as it does on all humans, right now the crossroad lies in her name because her name is her first entrance. My motherly hope is simply this, that the daughter of innocence whom she is right now would remain steadfast as she goes forth: Susan.

 

While Playing Sodoku

While Playing Sodoku

I had forgotten I drafted this post. Maybe it’s been a month. Then I wrote another because this thought lingers.  So, though similar to my very last post, here is another attempt, a continuing exploration.

I’m still having trouble saying the word. I say it slowly, syllable by syllable. So-do-ku. It’s been years since the puzzles entered my life. Though I’ve never been an avid player, I’ve completed enough to know what they are. I should know how to say the word, but uncertainty lingers.

Nine numbers in a row. Nine numbers in a square. Nine numbers in a column. Nine large squares total.

A new phone arrived for me the other day, and today it snowed. While I love watching the snow, my Florida-self longs for warmth and sunshine. Two kids went outside to play in the white wonderland, and I stayed inside with the oldest. I downloaded Sodoku on my new, faster phone and I explained the game. For forty-five minutes he sat, and I snuggled next to him under a blanket watching his brain and his fingers work out the puzzle.

Homeschooling begs for material things, and though we have plenty around our house, I am caught with one sentence which says, lean not on your own understanding

My understanding is that of humanity. It’s of America. It’s of the culture which loves to show off possessions. So we buy books and we buy lesson plans and we buy puzzles. We stand in front of children and talk, and we call that school.

Yet school is not the goal here, but education. Puzzles are great brain exercises, but another puzzle hangs from the ceiling of my path.

How does one teach? How does one encourage? How does one live the life of a mother and know that what they’re doing is right?

This is a house of peace. I say to my children. Choose kindness. I say. Choose to forgive. Stop fighting. Stop yelling. Stop. Stop. Stop. 

It can’t all be “stop” though. Sometimes, mustn’t we say “go”? Yet when I give freedoms, my children take advantage. They slip up. They spill the eggs on the floor and they walk to the neighbor’s house without invitation or permission.

Sodoku shows every mistake. It begs for trying. It boasts an eraser. Nine numbers over and over. Nine times nine squares. The same numbers shown in different patterns. Different answers for every new game.

Every day we have the same numbers. We have beds and lightbulbs. We have a kitchen holding breakfast. We have a room with homeschooling supplies, windows which let the sun shine brightly, a small library. We have parents and children and enough understanding to distract us from everything real.

We have the ability to realize that what is real is actually not. That looking beyond our visual reality allows us to make the same mistakes, to learn, to rearrange, to fight and forgive and move on.

Not school, but education. Not things, but lessons. Not a bunch of words, but The Word come to life. Can that be our understanding?

Sodoku. Homeschool.
Mother. Wife.
What is true and what is right?
Day by day, we wake and try.

 

To Lean

To Lean

Homeschooling is so strange. And as I write that sentence, I am caught with what may look like simple self-doubt. Surely, there is plenty of that in life without taking on the task of homeschool, and homeschool adds its own level of questioning.

Because I homeschool, I am not only mother but teacher. Thankfully, my children are mostly willing and my husband is always helpful and encouraging. My children are learning to not only choose obedience but to love the learning itself. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that we don’t do a ton of formal schooling. My children have lessons to accomplish, writing books to complete, but sometimes we do none of that and just play games (which lend their own teaching-blessing to the home school. I could be convinced that Scrabble is all you need for the first several years of schooling.)

Sometimes, the sun is just too bright and lovely so we spend our day outside. Sometimes, I am pregnant and too tired to make anyone do anything so we watch a movie and call it a day. Sometimes, I am tired of the routine and need to throw things off course, so we spend a day at the zoo or make too many muffins.

That is the lovely thing about homeschool, though. My only child who is actually school age is motivated on his own to practice mathematics and to read anything he’s handed. He is supposedly learning ahead of the average child his age (as far as the school system is concerned) so taking a day off here and there is no big deal. Even if we weren’t ahead, I have to remember why we homeschool. The main reason is not to create over-educated children but to allow for life to be the teacher.

What am I trying to say here, though? Mostly, I am trying to figure out what I’m doing. I’m trying to find a way. If you homeschool, too, perhaps you know what I’m talking about. I’m doing something that’s never been done, but yet this is something that’s been done millions of times throughout history.

Today, there are so many resources and for that I am grateful. Still, when I look at my home and my children it sometimes seems there are no resources good enough. Our family is new to this world, and no one can tell us what is absolutely right.

Only one can. Only one has.

It is this verse that keeps ringing in my mind when I think about our homeschool: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6. It’s one that I’ve read and heard over and over throughout my life, and yet it has a tremendous meaning for my home right now.

I have so little understanding that it’s hard for me to even answer what might be in my head. But trust in the LORD. Submit to him. He will make the path straight. The path of homeschool. The path of motherhood. The path of writing. The path of being a wife. It’s all crooked in this world, but the straight path can be made.

 

The Magic of Novel Writing

The Magic of Novel Writing

I am in the middle of writing a novel.

I’ve been writing this novel for years. It began as a family story. It turned into a short story for a college writing class. Now, I have 30,000 words and I tell people that I’m writing a novel.

It’s true. I am writing a novel, but I’m also mothering three children. I’m teaching them to read and write and count and make breakfast for themselves. I’m teaching them to clean their own toilets and hang up their sweaters. I am a wife, a friend, a homemaker.

The novel is secondary on purpose. My family comes first.

I’ve wondered if I should give up this novel. It’s so hard to write. But then– is it hard to write because aside from the novel itself, the longest thing I’ve ever written was only a few pages long?

Some writers say that they have a hard time writing short pieces, that they just can write and write and write forever, that after a few months, they could have a draft of a novel. Perhaps I’m exaggerating the time frame, but it has always been easier for me to write brief, poetic, flash pieces. A writing friend who has been reading my novel-in-progress recently gave me some glorious feedback that should have made me want to write novels forever and ever and keep going until it was finished. She asked if it was really a first draft. She said she was deeply impressed. She said that my technique and my flow was consistent.

This got me thinking, though. The writing has been slow. Every time I sit down to write another scene (which is not often, mind you) I feel like the words are being pulled out of me like ribbons from a magicians throat. You know that trick? The one where the magician opens his/her mouth and shows some color that should not be there. They yank and a long scarf/ribbon comes out. It’s longer than you would think.

It seems I am unable to just quickly spit out words for this story. Instead, I am transported. The words travel from somewhere deep and perhaps that is why it reads like I’ve been working on it for a long time. It is not a first draft, but it is nearly so. The words that are on the page right now are new because I have re-written the novel a few times. I had begun with a different backstory in mind and when some other friends suggested that I use the real story of my family history, that it would be better, I began again. It’s not that I’ve edited the words so many times, but perhaps that I’ve held them for so long.

Aren’t all great stories ones that grew in someone’s soul for years? Aren’t they always the stories we’ve heard over and over again and then we live them or find them fresh? Aren’t they wrought with themes that we’ve known our whole lives, made new with men and women we are just now creating?

Yes, I am writing a novel. Slowly, surely, with so much fear and truth that tangles and twists and pulls at my guts and makes me want to throw up. But instead I continue to stand like a magician, one who has not trained in magic but finds herself pulling on hidden ribbons anyway.

 

Costco at Christmas: When One Day’s Events are Worth a Lifetime of Teaching

Costco at Christmas: When One Day’s Events are Worth a Lifetime of Teaching

I went to Costco today.

Yes, I know. It’s four days before Christmas, so I might be insane. I almost turned around after it took me ten minutes to get into the parking lot, but we needed groceries and we needed supplies for the Christmas weekend and today was just the day our life fit with errands.

Costco wasn’t actually as packed as the parking lot had led me to believe. There is a 5 Below, a TJ Maxx, a PetCo, and a golf store in the same plaza so perhaps that was part of the mayhem.

Before Costco, we went to a local story time that we love. My kids got some books and we all snuggled on a carpet listening to Christmas storybooks. Before the group reading started, the story time reader asked some questions.

“What are some things that your parents think are good for you to do?” she said.

Immediately, my oldest son (age 7) said, “Praising Jesus.” An involuntary laugh came from my belly. I was a little nervous about the reactions. “Praising Jesus” is not so politically correct, you know, and I didn’t know any of those other moms. Also, praising Jesus is a good thing, but to hear my son answer that praising Jesus is something good that we want him to do – something about that just doesn’t sound right to me. I know his heart is right and that he loves Jesus and loves to worship, but  I have an editor in my brain who is constantly trying to put words together in a better way (good for writing, but not always so good for parenting). I’m still pondering that “Praising Jesus” moment of today. Perhaps another post will come about it later.

I talked to my kids a lot about Costco before we went. “It’s probably going to be very busy,” I said. “You need to listen to my voice above all other noises,” I said. “I have a list of groceries, and that’s what we’re getting.”

I had even packed lunches and had my kids eat on the way to Costco so they wouldn’t be starving on our voyage through the maze of giants’ food.

For me, the problem with Costco is that my kids think it’s a playground. They climb on top of the pallets of green beans. They karate kick each other in the wide aisles. They cling onto the refrigerator doors, feet only half-way on the narrow ledge below. They run at the first sight of free samples and often stick around for seconds or thirds. Since I was the cautious friend as a child, always with creative ideas but hardly ever the one to actually carry them out, I am constantly surprised at my children’s adventurous spirits. Their wide eyes and fast feet are always ahead me.

Today, I walked into Costco breathing deep and moving intentionally, trying to prepare myself for distractions and hiccups. The good news is that I wasn’t boiling with annoyance by the time we reached the checkout. However, my oldest son (the one who said that his parents want him to “praise Jesus”) did throw a significant fit about mashed potatoes. Apparently he didn’t get a sample while we were standing at the table, and his brother had grabbed two. Since this oldest child is often picky about food, I asked his brother to share, thinking that if the oldest liked them he could get his own. My middle son gave my oldest a bite, but this was not sufficient to the oldest so he threw it on the ground and ran, pouting.

He is the logical one, the one who loves to calculate and follow instructions and charts. He is the social one, the one who loves to be around people, yet he is the sensitive one, too.

I sat him down next to the stack of canned tuna. I knelt and hoped that I wouldn’t lose my other children in the process.

It’s as if Jesus’ parable applies to parenting: “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?” (Mt. 18:12)

If a woman has three children in Costco and one is having an emotional breakdown about mashed potatoes, should she not stop everything and focus on that one?

“You need to stop with the, ‘I want,’ with the, ‘He has,’ and, ‘I didn’t get’ stuff,” I said. “You need to stop this fit right now.” He calmed down. Then I said, “What did you do with the bite of mashed potatoes your brother gave you?”

“I threw it on the ground,” he said, eyes down, face splotchy and scrunched.

This child is the oldest. The one who rushes to answer questions, the one who is always right. He threw his bite of mashed potatoes on the ground. I told him I was sorry, but he had made a choice and he was facing a hard truth. I said there would be more samples and he could choose to take them with gladness or to continue to mope about his lack of mashed potatoes.

Sometimes I wonder at the way I speak to my children. I know my thoughts are winding, poetic ones and often come out with the confusion and many viewpoints. I am trying to speak more clearly, to pause and edit before I give my children directions. Somehow, my son understood what I was telling him and he only mentioned mashed potatoes once more.

We walked out of Costco smiling, and to me that means success.

Epilogue

In the parking lot, the oldest son said, “Sorry, mom, for throwing a fit about mashed potatoes. Sorry [brother]. Sorry [sister].” This was not a perfect day, but since no person is perfect, neither can our days be. Still, we praise, as my son said at story time. I recently read a blog on “homeschooling in the grocery store,” including scavenger hunts and math games to give your children. I have considered that side of shopping, but for me, the grocery store is as much a place for character building as it is for mathematics. With or without charts and calculators, we’re learning both every day.

5 Reasons to Build Tiny Gingerbread Houses (With a Free Pattern!)

5 Reasons to Build Tiny Gingerbread Houses (With a Free Pattern!)

Every year, Christmas comes no matter what.

Every year, with joy and lights and wonder. And now that we’re adults, Christmas comes with oh so much more. It’s still exciting and wonderful, but there’s also much to do.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way…

Every year, a list forms in my mind: make ornaments, buy presents and wrap them up pretty, practice random acts of kindness, sing Christmas carols, watch all the Christmas movies, do a Jesse Tree.

These are all things I want to do with my family, but everyday family life is already pretty full. Adding anything extra can make us feel quite busy, and busyness is never the goal. Do you agree?

Yet there is one Christmas tradition that I truly love, one that is scattered trough my childhood memories. It’s the gingerbread house. It’s the mixing of dough and the rolling it out and the cutting of shapes. It’s the handiwork, the teamwork, the using of all my senses. We would pack on too much candy and by the end of the night everyone would feel sick because we’d all eaten way too much sugar. Perhaps what I really love, though, is simply the smell of gingerbread. Put molasses and cinnamon in anything, and I am game! Yum!!

My oldest son asks every year if we can buy a gingerbread house kit. It starts as soon as they hit the shelves and it never stops. While I know this would be the easiest way, I am a stickler for the homemade and I tell him no because we can make one at home with much better ingredients. This year, I got to spend some one-on-one time with him measuring and cutting and creating our pattern (a tiny architecture/STEM lesson wrapped up in the most wonderful aromas!)

Here’s a little peak at the house pattern all cut out and taped together (just with a little bit of tape, since we would be disassembling it to trace onto our dough):

I had plans to try out some healthier gingerbread house dough, but when it came time last Friday to actually make the stuff, I used my trusty Joy of Cooking recipe. (I’m sure that if you want to make your dough, you can use whatever basic cookbook you have, or use the first basic recipe that comes up on google. Perhaps this one from King Arthur Flour. They never let me down.)

One thing I decided to do this year was to cut out enough dough for each person in my family to make their own personal gingerbread house. This would ensure that no one was fighting because someone was messing with their design or because someone’s hands were in the way or whatever.

We gave each of our children a paper plate and a little bowl of candy and we let them decorate their own houses. We sat down alongside our children and decorated our own houses too. Of course, I don’t have photos of our process but hopefully the last two sentences gives you an idea of how we did this.

So, I had the idea to build tiny, individual houses but I wasn’t sure how it would work out. Truly, it was great.

5 Reasons to Build Tiny Gingerbread Houses:

1.) Individual Creativity. No one fought over what kind of design to make because everyone was allowed to do whatever they wanted to their own house.

2.) Fairness. My husband had the brilliant idea to ration out the candy into individual bowls (I used washed yogurt containers, which I always save for things like painting and to-go lunches and now, for building gingerbread houses). This way, everyone was sure to get the same amount of goodies and no one complained that “So-and-so ate all the peppermints.”

3.) Preventing Candy Hangovers. Everyone got an appropriate amount of candy and could do with it what they wanted. Our smallest child ate most of her candy while the rest of us were decorating our houses. We had figured that would happen, but in the end it was fine because she had the same as everyone else.

4.) Structural Integrity. I seem to recall gingerbread houses being finicky, and the roof caving in or the foundation cracking. However, my idea to build tiny gingerbread houses had the added benefit of lighter-weight pieces. Therefore, the house itself wasn’t so complicated to put together and it was absolutely structurally sound.

5.) Easy Icing Glue. Because our tiny houses were not so heavy, we were able to use a simple powdered sugar + milk icing to build them. That’s right, no egg whites! We just made sure the icing was kind of thick so that it would dry faster. We sat down together to build the houses, went downstairs to watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and came back upstairs to do our decorating. That 45 minutes gave the frosting enough time to dry so the candy could be applied without any collapsing. (Note: Because our children are so little, my husband and I basically put the houses together. We applied the icing and helped the kids position their pieces so that everyone would actually end up with a house and not a big pile of crumbs.)

Simple Steps:

***Things you will need to make your own gingerbread houses: Dough, candy, powdered sugar and milk, bowls, paper plates.

1.) Print my FREE TINY GINGERBREAD HOUSE PRINTABLE . Cut out your pattern (I made my pattern pieces with an old cereal box. You can make your pattern pieces with paper, but something heavier will be much easier to work with.)

2.) (Optional) Build the house using your pattern and a few pieces of tape. (While unnecessary, I found that this helped my son and I both see what we were about to do with the gingerbread and to make any adjustments we wanted.)

3.) Make gingerbread dough and roll out to about 1/4″ thickness. I used one recipe of gingerbread dough and we made 5 tiny houses with it, and we had leftover dough that I froze for later use.

4.) Using your pattern, cut out enough pieces of gingerbread to make as many houses as you need. You will need 2 pieces of roof, 2 pieces of side, and 2 pieces of front/back per house Basically, my printable makes one house.

5.) Bake the pieces of gingerbread. When transferring your shapes to the baking pan, be gentle because they will stretch a little (another benefit to tiny houses: if the pieces aren’t perfect, the icing will still be able to hold the house together!)

6.) Once the cooked dough is cool, mix together a few cups of powdered sugar with a little bit of milk (remember, you want the icing thick, so don’t add a lot of milk. A good rule of thumb is to add one tablespoon at a time until your icing is smooth and spreadable.) Now you’re ready to assemble your house!

7.) Once your house is assembled, get out your candy and have at the decorating!

8.) Take lots of pictures and let me know how your houses came out!!

 

 

The Ship’s Run Aground

The Ship’s Run Aground

A dear friend gave me a book last week. It’s Cultivate Vol. IV: Creativity Unlocked, a book created by Cageless Birds, designed to do just what it says: unlock creativity.

It certainly does.

(Please note that I am not getting paid to write this. I am simply sharing my life here.)

The book is a kind of devotional. Most entries end with prompts that aim to help unlock creativity in those who dare to take the journey. The first prompt speaks about creativity, ability, and risk, and though my answer quickly turned from the original prompting, I think it valuable to share my answers with you.

Creativity: What is inside yearning to get out. The desire to make. Not to critique, but to make in the first place. To make new. To make aground. To make live.

I later explored that word “aground” because when I reread my words I was unsure that it fit. Below is what came from my exploration.

The word “aground” refers to a ship in shallow water, a ship that is on the ground has “run aground.” This ship is not where one would expect to find it, and likely not where it expected to be found either, but it is where it can be seen fully. If I were a ship run aground, I would be seen fully, and therefore would be in a vulnerable place. Creativity is vulnerable. And it’s not just about painting and so-called artistry either. “To be creative,” as Justina Stevens (author of this first devotional in Cultivate Vol. IV) says so eloquently, “is to problem-solve, to come up with ideas during your day, to find a way to relate to a stranger, to try a new seasoning in your stir-fry. It is a drive to live, to make families, to take risks. … Your calling as a human is to live a creative life.”

Ability: What I am given. What I can do. But more than that, what I am graced for. Ability is uncovered in the process. It is not shown immediately, but allowed to be dug out. [Or, allowed to run aground.]

Risk: Scary, yet exciting. Risk is uncertain, but necessary. Without risk, life is flat. Sometimes an act may seem risky, but if prompted by the Holy Spirit, risk is life-giving and wonderful. If we prompt our own risky situations, they are likely to devastate. With the Holy Spirit, risk will always turn to good, will open our eyes, will raise our faith and give us stories that glorify God. Though in the beginning of any risk, fear may creep in, when we are with God He is with us and in His love He gives wisdom where we may see a void.

Oh, these Cageless Birds have me excited. I know very little about them, but just the words “cageless birds” paired with a drive to unlock creativity. Wow.

Cageless birds are those birds who fly in freedom, who belong to a flock, who peer into clouds and touch the line where heaven and earth meet. They are those birds who are not fed, but find themselves sustained. They are not tied to humans, but are allowed to soar.

“Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description but careless in the care of God. And you count far more to Him than birds.” -Mt. 6:26 MGS

We see birds in the sky as V’s. The birds, wings spread, look just like those pointed lines. They fly in formation, together with others. Caged birds are provided food and scenery, but the universe is a grand gift. Life is unpredictable and risky. Life requires the ability to explore.

Birds are unconcerned with blemishes. They do not wallow in the fact that they are depicted as the twenty-second letter of our alphabet. They just fly on because this is their instinct, nay their calling.