Christmas 2017



O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.  Collect for the Nativity of our Lord, The Book of Common Prayer, 1979.

Our family has been enjoying a smaller, slower paced Christmas season since adopting the church calendar.  Instead of a monthly run-up to Christmas, we have the waiting and preparing season of Advent.

All our baking, shopping, and cooking are done during the weeks of Advent. This year we did sugar cookies for neighbors and the post office/UPS drivers during week 2. Biscotti and brownies for us during week 3.  Chili, turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing were all prepared on the 23rd.

Our plan for Christmas is:  on Christmas Eve day, we clean the house and finish putting up the decorations.  We don’t put up much, but it seems just right to us.  Chili is prepared and put in the crockpot to be eaten after Christmas Eve service at church. When we return home, we eat our chili and open gifts.  Christmas Day is usually very slow, very quiet, and everybody just does their own quiet thing. Breakfast is waffles and turkey sausage, lunch and dinner are leftovers. We usually watch a movie.

Another of our traditions is to put 12 candy canes on the tree for each person.  Each day of Christmas a candy cane is taken off  — sometimes eaten, sometimes just saved for a later day.  I think this might be Michael’s favorite part of our traditions.

Hannah’s work means that every other year she works on Christmas. This year her schedule had her working a 12 hour shift on Christmas Eve so we opened gifts on the evening of the 23rd and had our chili for Christmas lunch.  Unfortunately that also meant we missed Christmas Eve service.

During the 12 Days of Christmas we will light the white Christ candle during Vespers, eat foods a bit richer than normal, and prepare for Epiphany (which is also Kelly’s birthday).



Some of our favorite recipes —


  • 5 pounds ground beef or ground turkey, browned
  • 5 cans chili beans, mild
  • 3 green peppers, diced and sautéed
  • 3 onions, diced and sautéed
  • 2 – 28 oz diced tomatoes
  • Place all ingredients in crock pot, on high for 4 hours, then low for 4 hours.
  • We put the chili powder in each bowl (to account for some of us liking it super spicy and others preferring a milder bowl).
  • We serve this with Fritos, crackers, rolls, cheese . . .

Katharine Hepburn Brownies

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup broken up walnut or pecan pieces (for better flavor, toast the nuts at 350 F for about 5 minutes)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • Bake 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes



  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
  • In a medium bowl, beat together the oil, eggs, sugar and anise flavoring until well blended. Combine the flour and baking powder, stir into the egg mixture to form a heavy dough. Divide dough into two pieces. Form each piece into a roll as long as your cookie sheet. Place roll onto the prepared cookie sheet, and press down to 1/2 inch thickness.
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. Remove from the baking sheet to cool on a wire rack. When The cookies are cool enough to handle, slice each one crosswise into 1/2 inch slices. Place the slices cut side up back onto the baking sheet. Bake for an additional 6 to 10 minutes on each side. Slices should be lightly toasted


1 1/4 sticks (5 oz; 140 g) salted European butter

Slightly rounded 1/2 cup (125 g) sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

2 cups (280 g) all-purpose flour

1. Put the butter in the work bowl of a food processor* fitted with the metal blade and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the butter is smooth. Add the sugar and process and scrape until thoroughly blended into the butter. Add the egg and continue to process, scraping the bowl as needed, until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the flour all at once, then pulse 10 to 15 times, until the dough forms clumps and curds and looks like streusel.

2. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather it into a ball. Divide the ball in half, shape each half into a disk, and wrap the disks in plastic. If you have the time, chill the disks until they are firm, about 4 hours. If you’re in a hurry, you can roll the dough out immediately; it will be a little stickier, but fine. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 1 month.)

3. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

4. Working with one disk at a time, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is between 1/8 and 1/4 inch (4 and 7 mm) thick. Using a 1 1/2-inch (4-cm) round cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as you can and place them on the lined sheets, leaving about 1 inch (2.5 cm) space between them. (You can gather the scraps into a disk and chill them, then roll, cut, and bake them later.)

5. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are set but pale. (If some of the cookies are thinner than the others, the thin ones may brown around the edges. M. Poilâne would approve. He’d tell you the spots of color here and there show they are made by hand.) Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.

Do ahead: The cookies can be kept in a tin at room temperature for about 5 days or wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 1 month.

You can skip softening your butter. Whether you make cookie dough in a stand mixer, with a hand-mixer or (my favorite) in a food processor, you can save time by cutting your cold butter into chunks and letting the machine bang it together with the sugar until soft. It will be bumpy at first and you’ll need to scrape a few times to make sure no nubby cold bits remain but within a minute or two, the butter just right for the rest of the ingredients. It doesn’t just save time, it makes for a cooler, firmer dough that’s going to take less time to chill.

You can skip the refrigerator chill. And…

You can skip flouring your counter. As soon as my cookie dough is made, I roll it out between two large sheets of parchment paper to the desired thickness and it’s a total breeze. No flouring (which can toughen the dough). No pre-chilling (which takes so much more time). No fighting the cold dough flat (which makes us grumpy). Then, I slide this onto a baking sheet and pop it in the freezer for 15 minutes (or a day, or a week, or months until needed), until firm and cut the cookies in clean, sharp shapes from this. I then use these parchment sheets to line my baking sheets. (No waste!) Extra dough scraps can be easily rerolled and re-chilled the same way, with no erosion in dough quality because it doesn’t absorb extra flour. Bonus: No floury mess to clean up.

A couple extra tips: As you roll your dough between parchment sheets, some creases will form; pull the sheet loose so they don’t etch into the dough. When you remove your “board” of dough from the freezer, gently loosen/peel the sheet that will be the underside of the dough before placing the dough back on it. This bit of air ensures that your cookies, once cut, will come right off with no “peeling” needed. (Although even if peeling is needed, it too is a cinch with cold dough on parchment.)



Advent marks the beginning of the church year.  It comes at the darkest time of the year, surrounding us with hope, peace, joy, and love.  It invites us to anticipate the arrival of Jesus and the light he brings into the world.

Advent gives us a chance to step back from the cultural norm of gift lists, shopping, a frantic pace, decorations that overtake the house, and an expectation of “more.”  Advent, for me, is not just a time to count down to Christmas, it is a time to prepare my heart and my home for a deeper connection to the Christ.

Our Advent traditions are pretty basic because I like to keep it simple.  My first step is always to clean the house and look for things to donate.  While I’m cleaning, I put away all the knick-knacks that normally sit around our house. I usually buy new cloth napkins (white and blue, see a thread?) The advent wreath is given a place of honor.  I really like to use blue candles and I’ve contemplated using all white candles.  This year I’m using 3 purple, 1 pink, and a white Christ candle that were part of an Advent activity at my church.

Each night during my Vesper devotions, I light the appropriate candles, say the Vesper service, and read the scriptures (I use the Book of Common Prayer for my daily reading) and finally I conclude with the week’s collect from the BCP.  This adds less than a minute to my normal Vespers routine.





My favorite definition of housekeeping is: the replenishing of good things and the removal of unnecessary things.

I like this definition because it acknowledges that we need good things and we need to remove other things. One way I implement this definition is the “one in — one out” rule. If I buy one pair of socks, another pair must be ready for either the garbage or Goodwill (depending on why it is being removed). When our electric teapot dies, then I can get a new one. I don’t bring one into the house “just in case.”

Replenish the Good Things
I have monthly lists set up on Amazon, Akamai, and Grove that help keep our cleaning supplies, dog food, pen refills, 3-in1 bar, skin fuel, toothpaste, kitchen towels, etc streamlined. It takes about 5 minutes a month to double-check the lists and make any changes necessary.

This means when I go to the grocery store it is for food. I don’t get distracted by the other aisles and my grocery money doesn’t get spent on household needs. They each have their own line in the budget.

I keep a running list in the Notes app on my phone of clothing sizes, needs, and preferred colors/brands for each member of the family.

Lately, I have been bringing home plants or flowers to green up our indoors and provide some much needed cheer and color. We have so much green outside during most of the year, but late fall and winter can seem pretty bleak. It surprises me that I have such a hard time keeping indoor plants alive. I don’t know if I overwater or underwater or what other mistake might be at play. There is definitely a learning curve!

Removing the Unnecessary Things
This might possibly be my favorite part of housekeeping. Weird, I know.

There is always a bag sitting on the bench by the front door for donations. Sometimes it takes a week to fill, sometimes a month. Our current bag has been there for 4 weeks and still isn’t full. We are in a pretty good place stuff-wise since we undertook this journey mindset.

Garbage is another area where we are removing the unnecessary stuff. We sort ours into burnable (paper, cardboard, etc) and non-burnable. Our family of 4 adults fills two thirteen gallon bags per week. It is mostly plastic wrapping from frozen vegetables, fruits, vegetables, and meat trays. We have been trying for years, with varying degrees of success, to eliminate plastic from our lives. There are still days when the can seems full of strawberry bins and mixed greens bins. All I can do is sigh, break them down into small pieces, and wish for an easier solution.

Food scraps are another area of removal. We compost all that can be composted, but there are still bones, food with grease/oil, and other things best left out of a compost pile. Those end up dumped into the garbage bin. In fact, if it wasn’t for this bit we could probably get a way with paper bin liners instead of plastic. Those scraps bring raccoons and neighbors’ dogs from all around to the outdoor garbage can if we don’t have them wrapped in plastic.

I could go on and on about removing the unnecessary things, but perhaps that is another blog post for another day.

The Basics, Part II

Preface:  When we made a decision to live small so we could journey, I  knew I was going to have to cull my possessions to Fitting Life in a Suitcase or Living Small parameters.  As I work week by week, I’m finding it very helpful to think in terms of a foot locker or large duffel bag for the bulk of my “stuff.”

I’m going to start a list of Essentials, not for the sake of counting things, but so I can really evaluate what I think is essential.  First world problems, I know, but I do want to be mindful and careful moving forward.

Moving on to the bedroom (and the bulk of my personal possessions).


  • Bed + Pillows
  • Nightstand
  • Matching cabinet (made by my dad)

Bedding and Personal Possessions:

  • Sheet Set
  • Light Cotton bedspread
  • Duvet & cover (for winter)
  • Quilt (made by my sister)
  • Light cotton throw blanket
  • Fan
  • Bible + Book of Common Prayer
  • Journal + Command Journal
  • Sleeping bag
  • Carry-On suitcase
  • Backpack
  • Toiletry/Organizer bag
  • Green Side Effect
  • iPhone (+ stand, charger)
  • iPad (+ charger)
  • Kindle paperwhite
  • Solar charger for phone, tablet, and kindle
  • Expandable Baton
  • Salt stone lamp
  • Yoga mat + strap
  • Servant sculpture (gift from church)
  • Turtle (Kelly’s mom made)
  • Angel (my Aunt Gayle)



  • Bookshelf my uncle made
  • 3 photo albums (small, curated collection)
  • 25 books that I would rather not part with.  I have a one in – one out rule for them.  All other books are on my Kindle.
    • Harry Potter (x 7 hardback)
    • The Road Back to You
    • Episcopal Books (x6)
    • Celtic theology (x5)
    • The Crystal Cave Series (x3)
    • Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God
    • CNA Edge (x2)

Things I’m considering:  Most of my “stuff” fits easily into a footlocker (not the furniture), but the books, oh the books.  They don’t.  I’m thankful that I already did the hard work of donating 3000 books to a Christian school library. I’m thankful these books take up one smallish bookcase.  I thankful for Kindles, so that my library can expand without taking up valuable Living Small space.


Cleaning Routines

One benefit to living small is that housekeeping and cleaning is much simpler.  Let’s define these terms.  Today’s focus will be on cleaning. Although, I will define housekeeping towards the end.


Cleaning: To me, cleaning means: sorting, putting things in their proper place, wiping down surfaces, sweeping, laundry (wash, hang, take down, fold, & put away), and doing dishes. I call the above list “Tidying Up.” Then there are the deeper cleaning needs like: toilet scrubbing, shower scrubbing, changing sheets, dusting walls, dusting baseboards, washing curtains, washing windows (switch plates & doors), cleaning the stove/refrigerator, cleaning out the cupboards, etc.

When you have less stuff, tidying up can take only a few minutes a day. I spend about 30 minutes a day tidying up. That includes 3 loads of dishes (we hand wash) and laundry.  We use clothes lines and racks for drying all our laundry.  I set aside another 15-30 minutes for cleaning. Each area has its own day.  Monday = bathroom, Tuesday = bedroom, Wednesday = Free Day, Thursday = Living Room, Friday = Kitchen.

Each room also has an order in which the tidy-up or cleaning gets done.


On a tidy-up day the bathroom gets a wipe down after my shower. I spray the walls of the shower with vinegar and let it dry naturally, I use the washcloth from my shower to wipe down the sink and toilet. I grab all the laundry and put it in the washer before heading out to take my walk.

On Monday (Bathroom Cleaning Day), I start by emptying all the laundry into a basket just outside the door.  Then I drain the toilet basin, and spray down the inside, seat, lid, and sides with an environmentally and septic friendly cleaner.  That sits for a few minutes while I start the laundry.  I sprinkle a bit of baking soda on my toilet brush and scrub away. Next I wipe all the surfaces of the toilet, and give it a flush.  After my shower (first thing in the morning) on Monday, I sprinkle baking soda on the walls and floor.  After finishing the toilet, I use a bristle brush and scrub down the shower walls and floor.  Next up is the easy part.  Just a bit of the multipurpose cleaner on a cotton rag and I wipe down the mirrors, switch plates, counter top, and sink.  Followed up by broom and I’m done.


On a tidy-up day, I throw the blankets back to let the sheets air while I’m doing bathroom stuff.  Then as I leave the bathroom (heading for the laundry room), I spread up the bed, return empty hangers to the closet, and put away anything not in its proper place.

On Tuesday, I completely strip the bed (folding the heavy blankets) and pillows and carry both the laundry and linens to the laundry room.  I start with sheets and cotton throw blanket on Tuesday, because they need lots of space on the lines. Then I return and sweep the walls, baseboards, and floor.  I dust the windowsills and windows, top of my cabinet and nightstand, check to see if the fan needs cleaning (it usually doesn’t). After that, I put new sheets on the bed, put the blanket/s back on, and sweep.  Done.  The sheets I washed today will get folded and put into the family linen cabinet for the next person who wants to change their sheets.  I do me, they do them. I only wash the heavy blankets/quilt and curtains when they need it.

Living Room:

On tidy-up days, the living room is mostly a case of returning things to their proper places, sweeping, and straightening up blankets and pillows.

On Thursday, I carry all the afghans and blankets with me when I go to the laundry room. They get washed first and hung up to dry.  (Except in winter when I wash them in the afternoon and hang them by the wood stove so they are warm when we sit down together in the evenings).  All the plants get watered (this is a new step), I sweep the walls and baseboards, every surface gets wiped down (including the knickknacks, stained glass pieces, switch plates, and electronics), the windows and windowsills get dusted, furniture gets moved around so I can sweep under everything, and finally I sweep it all up.

In the winter when we’re using the wood stove, I have to dust more often and will probably have to water the plants more often.  Wood ash leaves a fine coating on most of the surfaces on days we clean out the firebox.


On a tidy-up day, the kitchen still gets a thorough cleaning.  I have a very specific way I move through the kitchen and this is done after each meal. I make hot soapy water while cooking.  After I eat, I clean off the table.  Everything gets put where it belongs and dishes are stacked beside the sink.  Then I use the hot soapy water to wash the table, the stove, the refrigerator door, and all the counter tops.  Then I wash the dishes and use the hot soapy water to wash the counter where the dishes were stacked, both sides of the sink, and the faucet.  The dish pan gets rinsed and placed over the drying dishes.  Then I sweep. After sweeping I take a walk (which isn’t technically part of cleaning, but it is part of my routine) . . . when I get home, I put all the dishes away and put the draining towel in the laundry room.

On Friday, the kitchen gets the same daily routine plus I sweep the walls, wash the wall behind the stove, sort through food left in the fridge and pantry, use more hot soapy water on the cabinet doors and pantry shelves, add items to my grocery list, and mop with super hot water.

Housekeeping: I use this term to mean the running of the household.  This is things like paying bills, making a grocery list, making a shopping list, reconciling the bank account, bringing in flowers, caring for plants, planning, cooking. . .

More on housekeeping coming up later.



The Basics, Part I

When we made a decision to live small so we could journey, I  knew I was going to have to cull my possessions to Fitting Life in a Suitcase or Living Small parameters.  As I work week by week, I’m finding it very helpful to think in terms of a foot locker or large duffel bag for the bulk of my “stuff.”

I’m going to start a list of Essentials, not for the sake of counting things, but so I can really evaluate what I think is essential.  First world problems, I know, but I do want to be mindful and careful moving forward.

So let’s start in bathroom.



  • Turkish towel (not shown) + 2 wash cloths
  • Akamai — 3 in 1 Soap, toothpaste, skin fuel
  • Salt Stone
  • Harry razor and extra blades
  • Mascara
  • Tinted Lip Balm (Hurraw!) and lipstick
  • Contacts, solution and case
  • Comb
  • Toothbrush
  • Nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Glasses
  • Small cup to hold things upright

My goal here was for everything to fit in my Organizer/Toiletry Bag.  It all fits and leaves plenty of room for my “travel laundry system.” Well, truthfully, the towel doesn’t fit, but I didn’t expect it to.

Things I am considering:  I am wearing my glasses more and more these days.  I still love the freedom of contacts during the bulk of the day, but I have to wear reading glasses if I have in my contacts.  So I’m wondering about getting prescription sunglasses and seeing if I can go without contacts.  It would be a huge shift for me, but I have never even considered it before.





Germany; 1992-1993

Germany: June 1992-April 1993

Our move to Germany happened very quickly. Shortly after Christmas 1991, I told Kelly that I wanted to get away. Family visits over Christmas had been emotionally charged and difficult.  I wanted a fresh start where our little family didn’t have to fit into anyone else’s pattern. So in late February, Kelly put in the paperwork for an “accompanied, overseas, extended long” tour of duty. We left the location open so that we’d be at the top of the list for “send them anywhere as long as they go as a family.”

In late April, Kelly called home at lunch and asked how I felt about Germany. I loved the idea.  “When?”  Six weeks!  By the time he got home, I had the bathroom and part of the bedroom ready.  We sat down and talked about the base. It was a base closure assignment: short-term and then you can choose your next base.  He signed the paper the next morning and the merry-go-round started immediately.

Passports (on rush), shots, medical clearance — all in the first week. Spouse counseling, international driver’s licenses, and loads of paperwork — week 2.  Movers for bulk shipment (by boat) — week 3.  More paperwork, more shots, and finish up all stateside business — week 4.  International bank account and movers for express shipment (by plane), pick up passports and exchange some dollars for DM, and say goodbye to Ohio. — week 5.  Visit Kelly’s family to say goodbye, fly to Atlanta to say goodbye to my family, and finally board the international flight from Atlanta to Frankfurt Germany — week 6.

We got to Germany and stayed in a hotel for a week and then we moved into a base apartment. Germany was an amazing experience. We spent our weekends exploring the country around us. We found our favorite places (Trier, for one) and picnics on the Moselle River (which was quite near our base). We traveled rain or shine and even in the snow.  We knew our time there was short and we made use of every free moment.

Germany was also the place where my kids got chicken pox, ate from street vendors, climbed over ruins, and learned that friends don’t always speak the same language.  We went to church where German, Croatian, Russian, English, and Sudanese were all spoken.  We had earpieces for the Sundays when the sermon language wasn’t English.

One Monday in early April 1993, the movers came again and packed up our express shipment (which went by air from Germany to the US and then on another plane from US to Turkey).  On Wednesday and Thursday they picked up our bulk shipment (which had to go from Germany to the US by boat before going by boat to Turkey).  Friday we took a shuttle from our base to the airport.  We spent the night in a hotel, and early Saturday flew to Turkey on a C-130.

When we left Germany there were piles of snow and it was cool (45-50 degrees).  When we landed in Turkey it was green and brown and 85 degrees. We knew we were in for a huge change.


Ohio, June 1990-June 1992

June 1990 brought a second addition to our family. A little girl with some trouble breathing entered this world on Fathers’Day. She came with nothing but her beautiful blue eyes. We spent the first four days in the NICU and several weeks after carefully watching her chest rise and fall.

Two kids in 18 months will tax any system put in place in a home. My home was no different. Suddenly there was at least twice as much of everything a kid needs. Or rather, what our society says a kid needs. We had beds, a walker, an indoor swing, an outdoor swing, push toys, pull toys, dolls, blocks, strollers, carrying slings, diaper bags, etc. You name it and we were probably given it.

What we weren’t given was twice as much “mom energy” and I realize how much of my energy had to go into maintaining our home and constantly putting things away. They helped from the time they were old enough, but still most of the “doings” fell to me.

Looking back, I would do things much differently. I would follow the Montessori principles much more closely.

By June 1992, a major move was on the horizon. I had no way of knowing how completely it would change our family.