Monday, December 31, 2012

The State of the Blog - 2012 and my Top 12 Posts of the Year

This is weird. I've never done this before. But since I posted so much less in 2012 than I have in previous years, it wasn't that hard to scroll through and find my most popular posts of the year.

But first, a word about the lack of posting.

See, I've never set out to make money at blogging. I've never really had blogging goals at all. I've just enjoyed the space to practice writing, and I've had the double blessing of getting to know some really wonderful people along the way. You. The people who read here.

And then life crept in. I went back to work. My kids got bigger. And busier. And blogging took a back seat to the rest of my life.

It had to.

I was disappointed in what happened last year because as I blogged less, my readership also fell off. It was inevitable; that's what the so-called "experts" will tell you will happen. Even thought I knew it was right--blogging only when I had time and something worth saying--I was sad about it.

I've thought about quitting, but every time I do I'll get a random comment that keeps me going. Someone will say, "Gosh, I really liked what you wrote last week. It meant a lot to me." And I write some more.

What will 2013 bring around here? I have no idea because I have no idea what 2013 will bring in my life. And that's pretty much what I write about. Life.

What I hope it will bring, though, is better writing, better loving, and better living. Because that's what's important to me.

(Oh, and my friend, Lori, keeps asking for more recipes. So I'll try to see what I can do there as well.)

What would YOU like to see around here in 2013?

* * * * * 

And now, my Top 12 Posts of 2012.

I find this list so interesting and kind of anticlimactic. You'll see why in a minute. But I thought it would be fun to go through and see which of my posts got the most readers this year. Any surprises here for you?

12. Letters to My Daughters: Take a Stand. One of my favorite ideas from this year was to begin a series called "Letters to My Daughters." This is the first of the series.

11. Seeing Rightly: What I Learned from my Cleaning Lady Today. Life, death, and tragedy. It's all about having the right perspective.

10. Homesick. I learn so much from my students.

9. Letter to my 16-year-old self. This was written as a link-up to Emily's book launch, but it turned out to be rather cathartic for me.

8. Aslan's Country. Last year my dear friend, Laura, lost her daughter to cancer and our entire neighborhood lost a very special woman. This was my small tribute to Anna.

7. Deliver Us from Evil. My response to the tragedy that struck our nation just a few weeks ago in Newtown, CT.

6. Fabulous Friday Food: Julia's Soft Pretzels. Is it ironic that one of my top posts, a recipe post even!, would be a guest post by my daughter? I love that she got the most food readers of the year.

5. Top 10 Favorite Children's Books to Give for Christmas. I love these books. And I also love that I learned something from this post--that linking up to blog parties is a good thing!

4. To Work? Or Not to Work? Oh boy! Hilary Rosen's comment about Ann Romney prompted a whole slew of thoughts about raising a family and a woman's role.

3. Letters to My Daughters: Pressure. I linked this post to Richella's blog and got a great response. I kinda liked this one too.

2. Top 10 Lines from Downton Abbey, Episode 6. Truthfully, most of my Downton Abbey posts got more readers than the posts I've listed here, but I thought I'd just link up to one of them. I had so much fun writing these, which makes me especially happy because next week the fun will begin again. Oh yes, friends, I'll be writing my Top 10 (or 5) lines posts again starting NEXT SUNDAY!! Woo hoo! Can't wait.

1. Remember earlier when I said that the list might be kind of anticlimactic? Here's why. This post got twice as many hits as the Downton Abbey post, and, to be honest, I have no idea why. I didn't link it to any blog party. I didn't promote it. It was just a little post I wrote last spring about the warm weather. So weird. But, in the spirit of keeping it honest, here's my most popular post from 2012. Two Camps (or, yes, another weather post).


So tell me, what was one of your most-read posts this year? Feel free to link up to it in the Comments.

Linking to Jo-Lynne's 2012 Blog Recap Carnival.

2012 Recap Carnival with Musings of a Housewife

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Catching Up and some Good Reads


December very nearly did me in.

Truly, I woke up every day wondering how I'd get it all done and assessing how much I still had to do. For most of the month my head felt like it was spinning faster than those Chinese acrobats spin those plates high on a pole balanced on their chin while riding a unicycle. Which is how I felt most of the days of December.

I may have dropped a few plates.

But my reward for all the juggling was the week I just spent in Arizona with my family. I'm so grateful for our time together, and even though we sorely missed two family members, one of whom will be delivering a baby in just a few weeks--yea!--we still managed to have a laugh or two.

Here are a couple of highlights.

Julia, who I continue to insist will NOT be getting her driver's permit this spring, learned to drive. I think she should stick to golf carts for at least a couple of years, don't you?

Some of us took an amazing hike in the mountains overlooking Tucson. And may I just say that I'm kind of proud of myself for climbing 1,000 feet over two miles and not feeling absolutely pathetically sore the next day? I'm tough like that.

Here's the view from the top. So cool.

And here's Julia and me, resting on the way down.

We saw Les Miserables on Christmas Day. I'm not sure I've ever gone to a movie on Christmas Day, but this one was worth breaking tradition for. Oh my! Talk about being wrung out after a movie. And every day since, I wake up with a different Les Mis song in my head. Definitely go see it.

Finally, I just want to say how very grateful I am that the Cousins Christmas tradition continues. It's getting trickier as girls graduate and head off to "real" jobs. This year Kira, my niece, flew in late on Christmas Eve and had to go back on the day after Christmas, but she made it and we all loved being together.

Next year? Who knows. All I know is that when the girls were young they came to us and said that they had talked it over and decided that even when they have husbands they always want to have Cousins Christmas.

I hope it continues.

Anyway, here is the whole bunch of cousins, beautiful girls all, and their amazing grandparents, known to me as Mom and Dad. I love this picture so much!

The Christmas festivities continue on Sunday when we host my husband's family here. More cousins, more food, and more fun!

In the meantime, I've been getting caught up on some blog reading and found a couple of posts I want to share with you. Enjoy these Good Reads!

Goodbye 2012: Living with the End in Mind :: Josh Moody. This is a great post from my pastor, Josh Moody, reminding all of us to live intentionally in the year ahead.

I wish every church said what this church says in its bulletin :: Jon Acuff. Wow. Thought-provoking. Challenging. Convicting.

3 things Zig Ziglar told me at lunch :: also Jon Acuff. Oh, if only we could all remember these three simple truths. Think of how the world would change.

Where Was God in All the Goodness of 2012? :: John Piper. So many of us tend to look at all the bad in the world and ask, "Where was God?" This post puts a different spin on that. A spin I much prefer.

I'll be back on Monday with some kind of recap of 2012 post. Until then, enjoy your weekend!

And now, how about YOU? Tell me something about your Christmas in the comments. I'd love to hear about it.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

For unto us a Child is born,
unto us a Son is given,
and the Government will be upon His shoulder,
and His name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
the Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Merry, merry Christmas to one and all.

I'll see you in January!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Guest Posting at The Scoop on Balance Today

I was set to be festive and fun, upbeat and funny . . . until the Saturday after Thanksgiving when I found myself sitting at my kitchen table sobbing my eyes out while my poor husband sat nearby, not knowing what to do with me.
It all started just a few days earlier as I sat at a coffee shop planning out our December.
Hostess gifts.
Gifts for the kids, husband, and other family members.
Parties, both to plan and to attend.
Papers to grade.
Suddenly I was overcome with the pressure of it all. When would I get it all done? HOW would I get it all done?
* * * * *
Hi there! My sweet friend, Sandy, is one of those people you immediately like. She's funny, just a little sarcastic, and smart. When she asked me to guest post at her place sometime in December, I was thrilled. Little did I know that, after a sleepless night thinking through everything I need to get done before Sunday, I would need to read my own words again today. Pop on over to The Scoop on Balance to read more.

Linking this post to Richella's Grace at Home party at Imparting Grace. 


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Deliver Us from Evil

When I walked into the building where I work yesterday, I was greeted with the most glorious sunrise. I was so struck by it that as soon as I put my things in my office, I grabbed my phone and took a few pictures.

 Little did I know, an hour later, all hell would break loose in Connecticut.

We’re never prepared for these things.

One minute we’re enjoying a glorious sunrise, the next, we’re wondering why.

Within minutes, seconds even, of the horrific news being broadcast, my Facebook feed started filling with accusations.

“It’s the guns. If we only got rid of the guns.”

“See? This is what happens when we take prayer out of schools.”

Times like these bring fuel to the fire that lies just beneath our very thin skin.

Here’s the thing. I’m not on the side of those who automatically go to the “we have to take away guns” response. I’m also not on the side of “our kids need to pray in school.”

I’m just trying to see this horrific situation as it is and to call is just what it is: evil.

We’ve stopped talking about evil in our world, but evil is very, very real. And evil is being unleashed at a terrific rate these days. We see it all around us, but we’re afraid to name it.

I’m not a doomsdayer. I’m not a “Church Lady” who finds Satan around every corner. What I am is a Christian who has read her Bible some, and what I see in the gospels is that Jesus is dealing with evil on a daily basis.

When people had physical issues, Jesus cast out demons. Why? Because Jesus recognized that often our issues are more spiritual than we give them credit for.

Some came to Jesus blatantly demon possessed. He cast them out. Because only He can do that.

When the Pharisees tried to blame the parents of a man who was born blind, asking which one of his parents had sinned to bring about this misery, Jesus corrected them and said that nobody has sinned. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

The works of God displayed in him. In his heart. A change took place and the man was miraculously healed.

Friends, may we be frank? May we see evil as it truly is? There is a spiritual dimension to our lives, and, yes, it’s much more pleasant to talk about the good work that Jesus has done in our lives than to focus on the battle that is waging for our souls. Every day.

I don’t believe that this tragedy was punishment on the people of Newtown, CT. I don’t believe it could have been prevented if people had just prayed more. I don’t even get it much at all, but what I sense is that Satan is having a field day out there, and we Christians aren’t doing much to stop him.

And it’s not just in Newtown. This evil wants to stamp out our own hometowns.

Our churches.

Our families.

Our marriages.

This isn’t a gun problem or even a public prayer problem. It’s a heart problem that we seem to want to ignore. Until hearts are changed, evil will continue to run rampant, Satan will continue to be unleashed, and the spiritual battle will rage.

Praise God that He wins in the end and that He doesn’t leave us helpless. The truth will prevail, and the truth is that God loves us. He loves the people of Newtown, CT. He loves our own broken lives and hearts enough to come to earth to die for us.

The picture is so much bigger than guns or prayer in schools.

What can we do? Ironically, we can pray. At home, alone or with our families. In our churches. In our hearts.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He reminded them of the evil that’s in this world and instructed them specifically to pray, “Deliver us from evil.” There’s power in that prayer.

We can also do what the sick and the lame did in the days when Jesus could be felt and touched and seen—we can lay ourselves on His mercy. We can come to Him, touch His robes, fall to our knees and beg for mercy. We need it more than ever.

Our children need it.

Our marriages need it.

Our country needs it.

We need it.


Monday, December 10, 2012

I Interrupt this Holiday Season to talk about . . . Twinkies

What is it about Twinkies?

Seems like everyone has gone crazy over Twinkies . . . now that they can’t get them anymore. Even in the past week, long after I thought that Twinkie fever and mourning over Hostess’ demise would have died down, I saw a piece on the news about some Chicago dive, Baby’s Cheesecake and Lemonade, that actually bought up the last of the Twinkies—10,000 of the sweet, gooey cakes—and was giving them away for FREE.

When a reporter asked the owner if it was worth the investment, he replied, “Every penny. It brought you in, didn’t it?”

Smart man. Growing his business on the back of Hostess.

Personally, I don’t get it. I am not sure I’ve even bought ten Twinkies in my lifetime, let alone ten thousand.

But let me tell you, even though I probably played a small part in throwing Hostess under the bus—I bought Twinkies exactly twice—Twinkies and I have a history.

The first time I bought Twinkies was when I was pregnant with my second daughter. I knew she was a girl even before the ultrasound confirmed it because I craved sugar like nothing else. With my first daughter I craved sugar, too—Dove ice cream bars that time—so I just knew she had to be a girl the second time around as well.

With my second, I craved Twinkies. Usually my “craving” consisted of a fleeting thought every day. “Hmmmm, I haven’t had a Twinkie since I was a little girl. I wonder if they’re still good.” “Gee, a Twinkie sure sounds good right about now.” “O.K., I think I just have to have a Twinkie before this pregnancy ends.”

Finally, one day, that small craving became a full-blown obsession. I was at work, teaching young minds, pretending to be interested in modifiers and parallel sentences. But all the while I kept thinking, “Twinkies. Must. Have. Twinkies.”

My students never knew.

I hope.

After work, I drove as fast as I could to the Jewel. I parked my car. I ran as quickly as my chubby ankles would allow, straight into the store. And there I stood, in the middle of the store in the ready position, just like a football player on the line of scrimmage . . . only I was wearing a huge maternity tent dress.

I was like a mad woman.

I finally grabbed a checkout girl by the shoulders, looked deep into her eyes, and screamed, “Where are the Twinkies?!”

It wasn’t pretty. But she directed me to aisle 3.

I quickly purchased the beloved gems—No, I don’t need a bag, thank you—and I ran to the car. I opened the cellophane. No, I tore the cellophane, and gobbled those Twinkies like a starving person who hadn’t eaten in a month.

Thirty seconds of glory, it was.

Worth every calorie. And every ounce of humiliation.

My second encounter with Twinkies actually took place sometime during Kate’s first grade year. She must have heard kids talking at lunch, filed away the information for later, and came home just bursting to ask me a question.

“Mom, what’s a Twinkie?” I think she might have been hopping from one foot to another.

Seriously? That was what she couldn’t wait to ask me? I just had to laugh. Out loud.

And then I asked her to repeat the question.

“What’s a Twinkie?”

Because that was the moment when I realized that I had succeeded as a mom. You see, it took six years—SIX YEARS!!—before my daughter even knew that such a thing existed.

Sure, she had had McDonald’s fries before she turned two, and Teddy Grahams had pretty much become a food group in our home, but my darling six year old didn’t even know what a Twinkie was.

My first Twinkie incident might have been my most humiliating, but the second became one of my proudest Mommy Moments.

And because my poor daughter had been so deprived for six long years (talk about a death sentence!), I bought the child a box of Twinkies on my next trip to the Jewel.

She carefully opened the cellophane, took one long look at the soft yellow cake with its three holes poked in the bottom, and said, “Is this all it is?”

She ate it, satisfied that she had at least taken a stab at the American cultural icon. But then a funny thing happened—the box I bought for her sat . . . and sat . . . and sat in the pantry until one day I finally threw the Twinkies out.

I guess my girl preferred my homemade treats over the ones wrapped in plastic.

My second proudest Mommy Moment.

Now tell me . . . what do YOU think about Twinkies? What’s your favorite Hostess treat? (Mine is the Suzy Q, and I will miss her.)


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Letters to My Daughters: Persevere

Dear girls,

When you were very young, we used to drive to Texas every summer.

With your cousins and your grandma.

Without your dad.

I’m sure you remember those road trips well. Destruction on wheels, I think it was.

The first time we did this, Julia wasn’t even born yet. I think I had four little girls under the age of 8 in my car (Kate, Caroline, Kira, and Paige). (With Grandma. I don’t want to discount her—she was a huge help.)

I do remember a few trips that got a little hairy, but overall, I was really glad we made them. It was one of the few times I could see my sister every year, so it was worth it to pack you guys up, strap you into car seats, load you up with books and snacks and anything else that might help keep you quiet. This was, after all, in the years before we had a DVD player in our car.


Funny thing was, when I would tell people that I was driving my three very young girls (and sometimes their cousins and grandmother) all the way to Texas—by myself!—people looked at me like I was crazy.

“Why would you do that?” they would ask. Like they’ve never imagined doing . . . anything.

Others would simply say, “I would never do that.” Like I was crazy or something.

Over Thanksgiving I had to make the trip by myself again. (And, well, with the three of you.) No Dad.

Now, granted, you are all much older and much more well-behaved in the car than you used to be. And you could help me out with the driving.

[May I just stop here and say that back then, in the mid-90s, I could never, ever begin to imagine the day when you girls would help me with the driving. How did I get here?]

Even before we left for Thanksgiving, knowing that your dad wasn’t driving home with us, I dreaded the trip with every fiber of my being. But the point is, I didn’t let the daunting trip stop me. It was too important to me. To all of us.

And I think there’s a lesson here.

Yes, Texas is a LONG drive from Chicago (16 hours back when you were little). And, yes, it’s HARD to take three little girls on a road trip that long by myself. And, yes, sometimes I didn’t want to do it.

But in the end, I was so glad I did it because the reward of being with family was so worth it.

My dear girls, is there something in your life that you want really badly? Maybe it’s a job. Maybe it’s an experience. Maybe it’s just to get through whatever difficulty you’re going through right now.

Whatever you want, here’s what I have to say: Go for it.

Don’t let the doubts of others stop you.

Don’t let your own doubts stop you either.

And certainly don’t let the anticipation of a long, hard journey stop you.

Because those naysayers? They’re just life-suckers, out to suck the joy or the fun or the adventure out of your life because they don’t have any in their own.

Don’t listen to them.

Just put one foot in front of the other, take it one step at a time (or one mile at a time, to continue the analogy), and you will get there.

I guess if I were to sum it up in one word, I would say: persevere.

One day, after lots of your own small—and large—accomplishments, you’ll look back and see that you were in the driver’s seat all along.

I was just the navigator cheering you on.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Good Reads

A few favorites from recently.

Secret Somethings: 10 Gift Ideas for Cultivating a New Tradition :: MODsquad blog. This is where I post once a month--great blog that you should definitely have on your reading list! I loved Elisa's idea here--it's such a practical way to look at gift-giving.

No pictures allowed :: It's Almost Naptime. Missy and her family are in Africa, in the process of adopting a daughter. This post is about the pictures that the government WON'T let you take, but Missy paints the picture for you. All I can say is, wow.

At Last :: The Gospel-Driven Church (at the Gospel Coalition blog). Such fun photos of grooms seeing their brides for the first time. And great advice from the writer's dad about what happens if you fall out of love with your spouse.

Cheddar Tailgating Bread :: Tasty Kitchen blog. Oh my. Yes!

Don't Undersell Your Commute :: Desiring God blog. Sometimes my "commute" is walking the dog. Other times I'm in the car, waiting to pick up kids. Here's a great post challenging all of us to spend our commuting time differently this week. I'm in. Are you?

Now tell me . . . what were some of your favorite posts from this week? Feel free to share a link in the Comments!