A novel experience

Waking up at 5 a.m. is crazy, right?

Waking up at 5 a.m. every day for a month, even crazier.

I mean, it’s not like I had a baby to feed. My kids wake up early, but even 5 a.m. is early for them.

So, what would have compelled me to lose sleep, drink more coffee and wake up before the sun?

One word: NaNoWriMo.

Okay, so that’s not really a word. But it is the reason. I first heard about National Novel Writing Month last year while it was going on, and I was unprepared to participate. It’s been on my radar ever since, so when November approached this year, I created a plan to complete the goal of NaNoWriMo: write a 50,000-word novel from November 1-30.

The plan included waking up at 5 a.m. daily to write as much as I could before the first child woke up for the day.

Some days, I succeeded. Success to me was 1,000 words or more per day. Other days, I failed miserably. And by that I mean I didn’t even get out of bed.

But as of today, November 30, the final day of NaNoWriMo, I’m proud to say that I have written 35,000 words this month. Added to a previous 7200 or so that I’d written before the month started, and I now have over 42,000 words of a novel written.


I knew going into this that I probably wasn’t going to make the 50,000 mark. My kids woke up earlier than usual. The words wouldn’t come. I had other writing projects to finish. My husband needed the computer. But I knew that whatever I accomplished was success because I rarely make writing a priority. How can I? I full-time parent two full-time kids.

This exercise proved to me that it can be done, but it requires sacrifice, namely sleep, but I’m convinced that’s why God allowed coffee to be created. Mmm … coffee.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. What I learned from NaNoWriMo.

Not only did it teach me discipline in making room in my day for writing, it also confirmed my call to write. At the same time, it frustrated my call to write. On the days I got in a good chunk of writing, I felt like a better mom because I wasn’t thinking about writing all day long. I’d already done it. Other days, I barely scratched across 500 words because I was out of the chair every five minutes to grant a breakfast request for my kids or change a diaper or wipe a bottom.

I haven’t gone back yet to review what I’ve written, but I’m in awe of the story that has unfolded. I don’t say that to brag on myself. I am convinced that God has called me to write, and to write this story in particular. Maybe that sounds weird or arrogant, but that’s the best way I can explain it.

Writing a novel is hard work. Duh, right? I think I have as many questions in the margins as I do words on the page. I’m eager to do some research and fill in the blanks. I don’t know if this story will ever see the light of day beyond my computer, but I’ve started the journey and I’ll go as far as God allows me to go.

To all you WriMos out there who made the 50,000 mark — way to go!

To all who participated — you rock!

And if you thought about it but didn’t — maybe next year?

Thanks, NaNoWriMo, for the inspiration.

It’s been a November to remember.


Breaking the rules: A review of Raised Right by Alisa Harris

Everyone knows you’re not supposed to talk about religion or politics, right? Especially if you don’t want to start an argument.

Alisa Harris does both in her memoir Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics. What she writes is sure to ruffle some feathers.

In a world where a vote for president often comes down to the lesser of two so-called evils, is purely partisan and sometimes divisive, Harris’ book is a refreshingly honest and humble point of view on faith and politics and where the two should (and shouldn’t) meet.

Harris was raised in a conservative Christian home in a family that actively protested at abortion clinics and always voted Republican. She believed then that the right people in power could save the country.

Through college and into adulthood, those beliefs were challenged and Harris began to question whether what she was taught to believe about politics and religion was the only way.

Her story navigates the waters where some fear to tread, introducing the idea that people can be pro-life and Democrat, opposed to abortion but pro-choice,   feminists who love their families and conservatives who care about the poor.

“Not all of them are right but neither are they heretics,” Harris writes.

In a time of questioning my political allegiances (and whether patriotic hymns should be sung in church), I couldn’t put the book down. It’s a well-written and wise reminder for Christians that politics does not save us. “We can make political the things that are political and make spiritual the things that are spiritual,” Harris says.

If you’re fed up with the religious aspects of politics, read this book.

If you want to understand the people who are fed up with the religious aspects of politics, read this book.

If you like a good true-life story, read this book.

Want a preview? Click here for chapter one.


As part of the Blogging for Books program, I received a free copy of the book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group.


Do you want free books, too? Sign up here for Blogging for Books.

Would you also take a minute to click on the Blogging for Books link below and rate my review of Raised Right?


Saturday smiles: Holiday edition

Who knew that putting up the Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving could be a mood changer? There’s something about the lights and the change in decor. And the candles. It all just says “home” to me. And “special.” It’s a special time of year, and even though we lost a good chunk of ornaments when our basement flooded in September, we still have the important ones. The ones that tell a story.

Decorating for Christmas — that makes me smile. Especially when the kids are excited and want to help.

They got their own decorations this year. Well, actually, they got them last year but this is the first time we’ve had them out.

It’s three Little People nativity sets — the classic manger scene, the inn of Bethlehem and the three wise men. The kids are having a blast playing with all the characters. Isabelle was even telling Bible-themed, theologically sound stories with them today. (She can’t help it, really. Her dad is in seminary and sometimes reads from his texts to her to see if she’ll take a nap.)

Even rearranging the living room and other parts of the house to make room for Christmas makes me smile. Sometimes, change is good.

Taking the time to enjoy a special meal. That’s another reason to smile.

And setting the table with the “nice” dinnerware, placemats, a tablecloth and cloth napkins. Even though it didn’t feel like much of a holiday to us, the little things made it more meaningful. Also, the kids added this touch to the table.

A Little People Thanksgiving set they received in the mail earlier in the week. Yes, our house is overrun by Little People, in more ways than one.

Then, there was the parade, an annual Myerstown event that lines up in front of our house. The entries we see out our window are always about a third or halfway through the lineup, so we walk to church to watch it all the way through.

This year, the kids really got into it. Okay, I know that doesn’t look like Corban’s into it, but he was locked in, taking it all in.

When a miniature car beeped its horn, he jumped like 6 inches in the air. He was startled but he hung in there. He needed my lap later, but watching the parade with my kids was a big smile-maker for me. Especially since Phil had to work and I was on my own. I survived another on-my-own parenting adventure. Woohoo!

Later, everyone loosened up a bit.

This just makes me smile. She’s such a ham. And she loves it. Being the Statue of Liberty is her dream job, I think. That or fairy princess. Or pirate. Or artist.

I’ll let you guess what he’s pointing at. It’s not horses. Or tractors. Or animals. It’s a football on a banner for the town’s league. I motioned to one of the nice young men handing out candy that Corban was a future football player, and he gave Corban two lollipops. (I say he’s a future football player because he seems to have a knack for hitting things with his head.)

Yeah, there’s a lot of kid smiles this week.

Like this moment when they were sharing and playing nicely together.

If we colored one of these pictures this week, we colored half a dozen. They love to color. And that makes me smile.

I cooked a Thanksgiving dinner, mostly by myself, and my kitchen is not the worse for it. In fact, it looks better than it does in a normal week of cooking.

My husband came to our rescue, unexpectedly, while the kids and I were at the tree lighting ceremony in town. Corban had almost fallen out of the wagon on his head (I was literally holding him by the zipper on his sweatshirt) and I was ready to pack it in before the tree lit up when my handsome husband came striding up the street. It was almost like a movie.

A man at church said the molasses cookies I made for the potluck were “just like my mom used to make.” A HUGE compliment of my baking. I’ve found another go-to recipe for gifts.

My best friend said, “I can tell you these things because you won’t think I’m crazy.” And that makes me smile, too. Because that’s a great measure of friendship. Crazy, off-the-wall, hair-brained ideas, and friends say, “Go for it!” (She’s that kind of friend to me, too.)

I had plenty of lows this week, but man, when I look back on the highs, I’m so glad they come to mind more easily and stick in my head more definitively than the lows.

Here’s hoping you have plenty of smiles in the weeks to come!

The trouble with secret family recipes

Maybe “secret” is the wrong word. Closely guarded. Unpublished. Passed down.

Whatever you call it, it poses a problem. Especially for someone who married into the family and lives 700 miles away from the motherland.

We were on our own for Thanksgiving this year, and by “on our own” I mean totally on our own. The past three years, since we’ve lived in Pennsylvania, we’ve done the shopping and the planning, but we’ve had family in to help with the actual cooking part.

This year, it was mostly me, a 3-year-old and a 2-year-old. So, mostly me. (Actually, my husband is a HUGE help, even though he has to work on Thanksgiving. Without him, there would be no turkey carving, and I would be in the fetal position in the kitchen.)

What frightened me the most was not the turkey — we have a good cooking method for that — but the rolls.

The infamous must-have at every Kant (my husband’s mother’s side) family gathering.

When we’ve made them in years past, my mother-in-law (whose sister holds the coveted recipe in her mind) has been around to help navigate the waters of yeast bread cooking. I have little experience with this particular type of cooking, so when I read that I’m to add “7 cups of flour, maybe 8, until the dough is sticky but not too sticky,” I’m left dumbfounded in the kitchen in a heaping mess of flour.

When you just KNOW how to make the recipe because you’ve been making it for years, having to write it down for someone is tricky. Here are more ACTUAL instructions from the roll recipe.

“Fill the green cup three times.” There’s a specific cup. Not a regular measuring cup, mind you, but a specific cup. One year my  mother-in-law brought it with her. I didn’t bother tracking down THE cup. I used a measuring cup.

“Use the ice cream scoop to stir.” THE ice cream scoop is a wooden-handled spoon from Alaska. We have our own now. We don’t have to borrow. I’m not sure what the secret of the spoon is, but I’m not about to mess with tradition.

On the plus side, if there’s no one around to tell me if I’m doing it right, there’s no one around to tell me if I’m doing it wrong.

Thank God for technology, though. When the dough was turning sticky, I had to phone a friend, or in this case my mother-in-law.

“See, MeeMaw? The dough is sticky.” (And yes my daughter is covered in flour and not wearing pants. Your point?)

So, the rolls. Here they are before the second time rising. Terribly un-roll shaped.

And out of the oven.

They are supposed to look like cloverleafs, not muffin tops. 

Sigh. At least they tasted good.

And we had fun, especially when we used the rest of the dough to make these German doughnut-type treats for breakfast. They’re called kuchelas. (Kewk-uh-luh. Nobody knows how to spell it, but my husband’s family has been making them on Thanksgiving morning for years.)

MMM … doughnuts. We sort of go all Homer Simpson on these things. Here’s the boy licking sugar off of his hands.

And the girl with a mouthful of doughnut. She’s chewing, I promise, though I love that she looks like she’s savoring every bite.

We may not have “won” this round with the rolls, but when it comes to trying to replicate family Thanksgiving traditions,  we consider ourselves winners.

Next up: Christmas cookies. But I’ve got that one in the bag. When it comes to my grandma’s sugar cookie recipe, I got the genes for making them just right.

Do you have any family recipes that are MUST-HAVES at your get-togethers? Who makes them? How have they been passed from generation to generation?

Happy holidays! And happy cooking!


It only takes a spark: how a Happy Meal can lead to bullying

Sometimes, I’m embarrassed to be human.

It was a Saturday night, and I had the opportunity to take the kids to McDonald’s for supper. I know. We live an exciting life when a trip to McDonald’s for dinner is a high point.

Anyway, it’s not something we do often, and something I rarely consider doing by myself. But we had been just busy enough that day and I was too tired to cook that it worked out.

So, there we sat in McDonald’s — me, a 2-year-old and a 3 1/2-year-old, –eating hamburgers, a chicken sandwich and french fries when a couple of tweens or early teens walked in to order. I watched them casually because they kept running from the restaurant to the car to ask a question about the order. Eventually, a mom and a young boy came in to pick up the order and raise a stink about something.

I couldn’t hear what the problem was, but the mom was definitely upset about something. I know because I’ve been there. I’m not a directly confrontational person, but if something doesn’t go the way I think, I’ll make a snide comment or mutter under my breath. That’s what this mom was doing. Then, she gathered their food — four Happy Meals — and the kids and hightailed it out of the restaurant, knocking over a display in the vestibule as they went.

I should mention that this mom was short and, shall we say, stout. I don’t make a habit of pointing out people’s body imperfections because I’d hate to have someone point out mine. (They’re painfully obvious to me, so I don’t need a second-party reminder.) But her appearance is important to the story.

At the booth next to us sat an older couple and their granddaughters, who were probably teen-aged and elementary-aged. As soon as the miffed mom left the restaurant, the quartet next to us started making fun of her.

“Looks like she’s had a few too many Happy Meals.”

I would have expected it from the teenager, maybe, but this comment came from the grandfather. And it didn’t stop there.

“I guess she hasn’t been counting calories.” He said this because before the Happy Meal episode, the four of them had been looking at the calorie counts of their  food.

All four of them laughed at his jokes.

I wanted to cry.

I don’t know what officially constitutes “bullying” or how you define it, but this group’s behavior made me uncomfortable. I wondered what the grandchildren were learning from this? That it’s okay to poke fun at someone’s weight if they’re behaving impolitely? That some people are better than others? That some people have more worth than others?

Maybe I’m making too much of it, but regardless of how you define it, isn’t this where bullying starts?

I write those words with a heavy heart because I know that I have failed in the same ways. I have been bullied and I have bullied, though at the time, no one thought to call it that. It wasn’t violent, physical bullying but emotional, verbal bullying, the latter of which can be the worst kind of all.

I remember being afraid to sit in the aisle seat on the bus because the boy who sat in the seat behind me would snap my bra strap. (I was already self-conscious about needing to wear a bra. His acknowledgement of my, ahem, development, only pushed me into further self-consciousness.) I remember the sting of jeers about my weight. (I wasn’t skinny, but I was chubby in my awkward adolescent years.)

And I remember putting other people down to make myself feel better. In one particularly painful memory, I loudly declared I already had the game a classmate had given me as a gift at my birthday party. She was not a popular student. (Nor was I.) Years later, she was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It eventually took her life.

What I also remember about the birthday party incident is my mom pulling me aside and telling me that it wasn’t nice of me to make the girl feel bad. She told me what to say and made me apologize to the girl. I’m sure the damage had been done, but I’ve never forgotten the lesson.

I guess that’s what I wanted to see in the booth beside us. Adults being adults and instructing the next generation that it’s wrong to make fun of people just because they look different, even if they might “deserve” it at the time.

A day after the McDonald’s incident, an elementary student told me about a girl at her school who used to be her friend but decided one day that their friendship was over.

“She wrote a ‘p’ on my hand and said it meant I was ‘poo.’ Sometimes, I don’t want to go to school because of her.”

Her words haunt me, and even though she comes from the type of family who has probably talked about this, I’m resolving to tell her mom about it. Just in case.

No doubt as Black Friday approaches, we’ll hear stories of people trampling other people for the sake of a deal. I hope not. Those stories make me sick. It may not be bullying, but it’s definitely not right.

I’ll leave you, now, with this. I’d heard the song before this week but I really heard the words the last time it was on the radio.

Maybe if we start to look at each other through eyes of love, we can restore people’s sense of worth. And end the senselessness of kids and adults alike killing or prostituting themselves (or anything else) because of bullying.

Someday, my Prince will come

At first I was angry.

Well, maybe not angry, but definitely discouraged. And I’m not used to that reaction when I finish a great book. Especially not by one of my favorite authors.

Yes, it was a love story. Christian romance, if you will, though I hate that label and everything it conjures up. It was the second book in a retelling of the story of Ruth and Boaz from the book of Ruth in the Bible. Set in Scotland. Swoon.

I was hooked after the first book and had waited many weeks for a copy of the sequel to become available in the library system. When it was finally my turn, I devoured the book in a matter of days.

I loved it, for what some would say is all the wrong reasons: the Boaz character. The leading man.

If you’re not familiar with the story of Ruth, stop reading this and go find it in the Old Testament. Or click here to start reading. It’s only four chapters. It won’t take you long to read. It’s a love story, too.

Back to the leading man. He was so perfect. He rescued. He protected. He loved. He pursued. He was everything a woman could want in a man.

And there lies the problem.

I know women who say they won’t read Christian fiction because of how the men are portrayed, giving us women a standard for our husbands (or future husbands) that is unattainable.

I’ve never felt that as strongly as I did with this book. When I closed it, I wanted what the leading lady had — this perfect, handsome, all-around great-guy husband who did everything right.

And I was disappointed. Not because I don’t love the husband God has given me but because it didn’t feel like enough.

Then, I realized something.

My husband wasn’t supposed to be the ultimate source of fulfillment in my life. He would make mistakes. He would not love me the way I thought he should. He would fail. Even at his best, he would fall short of perfect.

It’s true that I would not find a man who could live up to the expectation set in this book.

But, when I compared the book’s ideal man to Jesus, something inside me changed. My husband couldn’t love me perfectly but Jesus could. And did. And does.

In the days after I finished the book, I found myself longing — not for my husband to act like the character in the book — but for Jesus. Suddenly I wanted to know more about Jesus. I wanted to read my Bible again. And pray. I could feel His closeness around me. And my heart was filled with a desire to see Him.

Most days, I’m pretty comfortable here on earth. I’m not eager to leave it, nor do I think God wants me to be. But in so many ways, the life I’m living falls short of what I want it to be. The Ruth character in the book loses everything and struggles to survive. Some days, I can identify. And she dares to hope that something better might come her way.

Fairy tales thrive on this longing — someday my prince will come.

I don’t have to merely hope or long forever.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

If I could have everything I wanted the way I wanted in this life, I wouldn’t need Jesus. Longing is part of the path that leads me to Him.

Someday, my Prince will come.

Saturday smiles: the better late than never edition

Time got away from me this week, so here are my weekly smiles, a day late.

I could stop right there, right? Girl+chocolate=happy. She’s learning that lesson early in life.

Other smile makers this week:

  • Six little girls in leotards prancing around the tumbling gym following their teacher.
  • Hula hooping with my daughter on International Hoop Day, the same day as tumbling class.
  • No pants dance party. Let me clarify. The kids weren’t wearing pants. But we were ALL dancing. Like this. In the living room. With the shades open.
  • Getting my Zumba groove on for the first time. I think a Wii is in our not-too-distant future.
  • Food names according to Corban: rock’n’rolly (guacamole), monster cheese (muenster cheese) and hamon (salmon — pork of the sea?).
  • Date night.
  • Passing 20,000 words written in the first two weeks of November. (Go, NaNoWriMo!)
  • Using my imagination. And letting the kids use theirs. We created this a couple of different times this week:It’s a barn for the animals and the Barbies. House/barn party?
  • Grand opening of the Bartelt School of Arts and Crafts. This is so out of character for me, but the kids had a blast, and we didn’t even make a huge mess.















And a few more just for fun. Sometimes I have to make myself play with my kids instead of turning chores into play. I’m almost guaranteed a smile if I play with them. Who could resist?

Not I.