Joy to the World!

Lord, in this holy season of prayer and song and laughter, we praise you for the great wonders you have sent us: for shining star and angel’s song, for infant’s cry in lowly manger. We praise you for the Word made flesh in a little Child. We behold his glory, and are bathed in its radiance.

 Be with us as we sing the ironies of Christmas, the incomprehensible comprehended, the poetry made hard fact, the helpless Babe who cracks the world asunder. We kneel before you shepherds, innkeepers, wisemen. Help us to rise bigger than we are.



After weeks of sacred waiting, the day has come. The promise is fulfilled. The Savior is born. Joy to the world!

Dana and I wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas. May peace and blessings fill your Christmas season.

We’re going to take a Christmas break. We’ll probably still be popping off on Twitter and Facebook, and we’ll be back on the blog January 3. So Happy, healthy New year, too! And thanks for everything.


Dana and Jen

Suburban Mama Goddess: Favorite Things, Eh?

Super excited to introduce Vanessa of Suburban Mama Goddess today. We are reblogging her post “Favorite Things, Eh?” for our Canadian friends. As Vanessa says, we haven’t all met in person, but no matter. We are kindred spirits still. Enjoy!

Favourite Things, Eh

Recently, a friend (I can call her that with complete confidence thorough we have never met in-person because she is the cousin of a super awesome friend in my life. So obviously if I knew her we’d be close in-person too!) posted about her favourite things on her blog, Full of Graces,

In the interest of being honest, I need to fully disclose, I’m not an Oprah fan. No particular reason and no big rant about why. It’s not a thing, it just is.  But as we all know, favourite things, is originally inspired by Sound of Music. And so, without any attempt at poetry or a posh English accent a la Julie Andrews! I bring you, by way of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, a few of my favourite things in no particular order other then the order I remembered them in!

-The One of a Kind Christmas Show and Sale ( I try to go to this show every year at Christmas. It’s an eleven-day event featuring exhibitors from all across Canada (and possibly beyond, I’m not sure. The artisan website wasn’t as transparent as it should be.) and their original art work ranging from jewellery to butcher blocks and knives. From puppets and superhero costumes to ridiculously expensive shortbread and jellies. From hats,scarves, purses, kids clothes, and baby clothes to wood carved pepper mills and chocolate everything!  There is stunning photography, frozen dips, smoked spices,and every kind of knitted or woven or crocheted garment imaginable.  Mostly I go to look, and to dream of what I would buy with unlimited funds. But I also always buy the duck rillettes from Les canardises; the lobster dip; and the Christmas pudding.  This year, my friend LW went for the first time and it was nice to experience the show with her for the first time “again”.  When I arrived on site she was already there with another friend heading up aisle V. I felt that the ticket process took an absurdly long time, so when I got through the doors I headed to aisle T and zipped through. Then went over to aisle S when I got LW’s text saying she was about to head over to aisle U! Whaaat? It was a good reminder to slow down, enjoy the sights, and artistry and talk to friends while I was at it.  I need reminding of that when I don’t have my girls with me, Anxiety sets in like I’m forgetting something or about to be late for something so I rush around, heart thumping, as if I’ve just mainlined coffee. LW smartly advised I cash in my free drink voucher for a glass of cab-sauv rather then the bottle of caffeine I was eyeing.  Much better!
-Red wine.  An obvious choice, but I was recently introduced to a semi local (Niagara wine region is about 90 minutes away,  Well more like two hours seeing as I have to get three kids out the door and now drive a lot slower given my precious cargo and /or the precious cargo waiting for me at home if I’m alone) baco noir.  It is a Henry of Pelham and lays to rest my qualms that  Ontario reds just don’t get enough sun and heat to fully develop.   Let’s be honest. Red wine, full-stop, is a favourite thing but I’m trying to be Canadian! Yumm!  If you are looking for an Ontario white to try, I highly recommend Cave Springs Reisling.  It’s not as sweet as you think it will be and almost has a bubble to it.  So delicious with curries, or oysters if you don’t want bubbles, or a very large glass pairs quite well with it also.
-Montreal. Oh my gosh, if you haven’t been you must, must, MUST go. The people are so lovely, and quite pretty to look at too. The food is delicious. The core is comprised of unique neighbourhoods and stores reflecting that.  The nightlife-not that I’ve partake in it in…how old is R?…is heavy on the dance music but music and bars abound. I would drop everything to move there with Mark and my girls. Cinq-a-sept is a thing there! Everyone works really hard until 4:59pm and then zoom! Off they jet to the bar for wine or cocktails from 5-to-7. Supper is later. And luxurious. Want Poutine? Go to the local dive. So good. Cider, in its standard form or ice cider, is so quaffable you might become an addict. The perfect escape to somewhere other then here is exemplified in the vieux ville (old part of the city on the water’s edge).  It is a maze of cobblestone streets, horse drawn carriages, ultra modern spas, and churches more than a 100 years old that you can simply sit in and revel at the beauty or kneel and say a prayer of gratitude. Also? Boutique hotels. I made the mistake of staying at Hotel St.Paul ( in June.  I will never be able to stay at a chain hotel again without sighing and moaning in despair.  The best guest services ever.  Toiletries you want to steal extras of but that are handed to you freely. Chocolate truffles on the pillows, a view and a restaurant named Hambar ( where they cure their own prosciutto type meats. I had Mother’s Day Brunch there which included a Caesar served with the aforementioned bacon as a garnish. If you ever go, search here:
-Malepeque Bay oysters.  Briny, succulent, like the sea in a mouthful of meaty deliciousness. I could eat dozens of these.  I have eaten dozens of these.  Just the thought of oysters makes me want to run out and buy some.   In fact, just the thought of horseradish ( and yes,I think of it more often than you’d think) makes me want to go get oysters. The worst thing I ever did was cultivate an appreciation for oysters in Mark because now I have to share.
-Caesars ( when I was pregnant with L and then with C, I drank a lot of virgin Caesars. The juice, the spice, the salt, the vitamin c, the tangy notes of fresh lemon or lime, the horseradish (again! I should share my recipe for a horseradish sauce for grouper fillets). Pretty much all of the things my body wanted. I guess the craving stuck and I seriously can’t get enough of them.
-The farmers market (April to October) Not only do I love my purchases but I love the experience.  I go with my girls every Friday. Before school so R can enjoy it too. I actually have a honey lady, and a venison and sausage family, a cheese lady, and yes, of course, a maple syrup guy. All of them are regular vendors at one of the local farmers market’s. In Ontario we have arguably the best strawberries, incredible wild blueberries (I’d say the best are in Quebec), juicy peaches, sweet corn, and bursting with flavour heirloom tomatoes.  Sadly, all of it must be eaten in season or it just doesn’t live up to the expectations.
And finally, I’m going to offer up something a little corny, a little cheesey, that’s not actually edible: get-togethers.  I love hosting get togethers.  Big or small. Potluck or all my dishes.  Super informal or a little more organized.  With or without the skinny dipping in the summer after the kids go to bed. With kids or without. Mark and I are good co-hosts and we love throwing a party. Our recent wedding (September of this year) was so much fun it was pretty hard not say “getting married” as one of my favourite things.  But then again, it is.

Drummer Boy ~ Jen


This post originally ran on Christmas Eve last year on another blog. We bring it back because we love this song and the message it has for parents. 

The Little Drummer Boy” is my favorite Christmas song. It makes me cry every year, this song about two little poor boys and their gifts. One, with his drum; One, with His endless capacity for love and acceptance. I saw this quote from Leo Buscaglia on a California Baptist University billboard the other day: “Your talents are a gift from God. What you do with them is your gift to Him.” Amen.

Here’s the thing about gifts, though: we don’t always get what we want. And when it comes to gifts from the Big Guy, if your heart and soul are not paying close attention, you may not know a gift for what it is.

In my years as a teacher, I saw this again and again. Not from my 16 year old students. Teenagers have a special and innate ability to dream BIG. Why not? They are at the beginning of their journeys; the highway is long and uncharted in front of them. It is a time of life when the possibilities truly are endless.

But their parents.

I sat in my share of parent meetings. I cannot count how many times I heard  some variation on this theme: “Look at him. He doesn’t care about anything. He’s throwing away his future! He’ll never get into college! He’s going to grow up to be nothing.”

Wow, right? Except, in parent speak, what that really means is this: “Look at my beautiful child. I am terrified that he is growing up. He doesn’t understand that I want the very best for him. I love him so much and I cannot bear for him to struggle. I want the best for him.”

You can’t teach a child for 180 days not get to know him. Not on the same level as a parent, but teachers know your kids in ways you don’t. And I would think, Don’t you know what I know? He looks like a hot mess, but have you seen how he draws? Have you heard him play his guitar? Have you read his poetry? Seen him ride his bike? Do you know he can fix my computer? With a paperclip????

A child who has a passion for something, even if that passion interferes with their grades and their college future, is not going to be nothing. The child who draws anime on standardized test forms, who stays out late playing in his band, who breaks his leg trying to skate down the staircase, who skips school to go surfing—that child is a Drummer Boy.

I have known tons of Drummer Boys and Girls. They can be kind of angry. Or they can be really quiet, which is not normal for high school students. Or they grow their hair down to hide their faces. Or they are “that kid” in class who seems like the agent of the devil. I tried to see beyond the front. All that obnoxious noise hiding an artist, a poet, a dancer. I tried to see their gift, to have them play their music, whatever it was, for me.

But like the boy in the song, Drummer Boys and Girls approach their own gift tentatively. It’s all they have to give, and they aren’t sure it’s good enough. It’s the thing that makes them happiest in the world, and for that very reason, they aren’t sure they can trust it. They are surrounded by us, too many grown-ups who hate their jobs, their choices, their lives. These kids, they’re scared that’s what being a grown-up means. They’re scared that their heroes, the ones who do what they love and love doing it, were just lucky. These Drummer Boys worry they won’t ever be that lucky.

They think they have to fall in line. They know that when their mamas tell them that they “can be anything you want, sweetie”, there’s a giant, silent asterisk. Except that thing they really want to be. And society, all of us, are just as guilty. We show them, or we allow the message to be that success equals money.

Some of you are Drummer Boys from way back. You know what I’m talking about: that moment you gave up your dream to fall in line with someone else’s definition of happy, wealthy, successful.

My Drummer Boy wants to be a chef. He has said this since he was two. We bought him a play kitchen and caught some flak for it. But he has never wavered. He watches the Food Network. He cooks Sunday meals with my husband. He’s serious about this.

Once I told him he could be a chef after he went to college. My husband said “College is not going to help him be a chef”. I rolled that idea around in my head for a minute. I envisioned my son living in a dive studio apartment while he earns his chops as a line cook in NYC. I saw myself as the mom whose son did not go to college, after three generations of college graduates. I’ll admit it. I cringed.

Then I got my feet under me. I tell him he can be anything he wants, and I stifle the asterisk. I take the “But” and lock it up in the basement of my mother’s heart and forget about it. We will scrape up the money to send him to cooking school (only the best, of course; which costs the same as Stanford, who knew?). I will save the laundry dollars and quarters and send them off to help pay his rent. In Paris, hopefully.

We will do it because of what happens at the end of the song. The Baby smiled at the Drummer Boy. If my son has a gift and passion for cooking, it did not come from me. It truly is a gift from God. And in this house, we don’t second guess God.

I know we dream big for our kids. We tell our teenagers “No!” when what we mean is “Be safe, be wonderful, be happy”. But if you have a Drummer Boy or Girl at home right now, I want you to think of who else was in that manger that night. Mary. The ultimate example of being guided by God’s hand. If she could say yes and trust the Greatest Plan of all, if she could take it and hold it in her heart, then so can we.

Advent is a time when Christians eagerly await the birth of the Son of God. He was the fulfillment of a promise between God and His people. If you have a Drummer Boy or Girl in your home and your heart, put your fears away. Take a good hard look at the drum your child is playing. Listen to the music. Think of all the Drummer Boys and Girls who have changed the history of the world with their music. Think how brave that Drummer Boy was to stand there in the light of God and make the Baby smile.

Maybe your Drummer Boy or Girl will change the world too.

But first you have to let them play.

Favorite Things #1

Dana came up with this idea, inspired by Oprah, and I was instantly on board because who doesn’t want to be like Oprah? She is a force for good in this world!

So here’s my list. You may notice that they all come with links. That’s because we want our Favorite Things list to be a two way street: we share things we think are awesome with our readers AND support our favorite businesses by giving them love on the blog. Dana and I get nothing but the satisfaction of knowing we brought people together, which really makes us happy. Win-Win-Win!

Best coffee ever! Find it at
Best coffee ever! Find it at

Door County
Christmas Coffee

Listen, I am serious about my coffee. SERIOUS. And I will tell you there is not much good coffee in this world. Most coffee is passable. So when I say this is the best coffee ever, I’m not foolin’. Door County’s Christmas blend is everything good about the holidays. We buy it on October 1 and drink it straight through til New Year’s.  I can also vouch for their hazelnut, breakfast blend, harvest blend and French roast. If you like coffee, try the Christmas blend. You won’t be sorry.

Goat Milk Stuff

We’ve had this company listed on the resources page of the website, but they need a special mention. This is a completely family run enterprise out of Pennsylvania. PJ is the mom and with her husband and kids, they raise and milk the goats, make the soap, cut and cure the soap, run a store and a website, plus multiple blogs and podcasts. They’ve been on the Dr. Oz show and here’s why: their soap is pure and healthy, a giant chemical-free step away from store brands. In our family, using this soap has meant saying goodbye to eczema and acne, and we need less lotion in the wintertime. The bars are huge and last a good 4-6 weeks. I recommend the problem skin pack for first timers, especially with skin issues. But my current favorite is the cranberry spice. And oh my goodness, the lotion stick in Pink Sugary is divine.

Old 2 Chic!
Old 2 Chic!

Old 2 Chic

In the category of “Wish I’d Thought of This”, one of our school moms, Erin Mathews, has started a business finding and refinishing wooden frames and furniture from garage sales in Sun City. This is a stroke of brilliance, because Sun City is a retirement community that has existed for over 60 years. You know, back when furniture was made out of wood? She scores these pieces at ridiculous prices and then turns them around with her chic sense of repurposing at wonderful prices. She made these for me to hang between the kid’s rooms for messages and a place to display their work (so I can find the door to my refrigerator again…).

On Facebook at Radio

Six months ago, I made the full time switch in my car to this nationwide Christian station after Kate was becoming a wee bit too enamored of Taylor Swift and Beyonce. Shea and I enjoy music, so I was reluctant at first. I like Church music as much as the next person, but I can’t do heavy organ and choirs all the time. No fear, this is a rock station, with a bit of pop and hip-hop mixed in. Honestly, who knew? No commercials and no politics, completely listener supported and an 800 number for anyone needing prayer. Love, love, love, especially when my kids are belting out this song.

Shabby Shoe Signs

Disclaimer: Karen and Jim Shoemaker, the owners of this company, are my sister’s-in-law…sister-in-law’s… parents. But that means I can personally testify that they are wonderful people with incredible talent. Their signs are wood, handmade, handpainted and cute as can be. Not MDF. Not canvas prints that look like wood. The real thing. They have lots and lots of suggested signs on the website, but she is very willing to try and accommodate any quote. And the family signs are such great keepsakes. Just in time for newlyweds, new parents, and Christmas.

Think Dirty and Skin Deep

Hold on, now. These companies have created apps for your phone that allow you to shoot the bar codes of your favorite cosmetics, lotions and personal care products. Then the app tells you how “dirty” they are—as in cancer-causing, hormone disrupting, reproductive system affecting dirty.

Think Dirty is located in Canada, with 12,000 products in their database and a way to add products that have not been graded for review. They are iPhone only at this point, but assured me that an Android app is coming.

Skin Deep is a product of the Environmental Working Group here in the US. They have 72,000 products and a way to add info for products that have not been graded. They are iPhone and Android compatible.

This is the kind of intelligent consumer information we should have at our fingertips. I already see women shooting barcodes in Target and walking away from stuff that comes up dirty. If enough of us walk away from products, companies will be forced to get cleaner.

And if you think your Loreal, Aveda, Desert Essence and Herbal Essence are clean, think again. or search “Think Dirty” in the iPhone app store. “Skin Deep” in the iPhone app and Google Play stores.

The Truth About the Nutcracker

Kate’s dance company, Dunamix (Temecula, CA) does a Christian interpretation of the classical ballet. This year’s performance is December 21 at 2 and 6 pm at Temescal Canyon High School in Lake Elsinore. Another disclaimer: haven’t seen it yet. But based on this year’s recital and the rehearsals I’ve been seeing, it’s going to be one of my favorite things right after Kate and I go see it!

A Time of Sacred Leisure ~ Jen



Did you know that the four weeks of Advent were originally known as the “little Lent”? And that the season was marked in the same ways: prayer, fasting and preparation? It was a joyful time, but quietly joyful. No parties, no feasts, no overindulgence. The Christmas tree wasn’t even decorated until December 24.

And let me introduce you to this little gem: Sacred Leisure—“According to an ancient (and practical) tradition, by Christmas Eve the house is to be thoroughly cleaned, all tasks finished or removed from sight, all borrowed items returned, and no task allowed to be begun that cannot be finished by nightfall” (

Friends, Sacred Leisure is God sanctioned quiet time.

Why did we ever give that up for what we have now? A holiday season that starts October 1 and marches on through the New Year, fueled by cleverly manufactured stress and anxiety. Here’s what I have already noticed this year: if you ain’t got Elf on the shelf, you ain’t got Christmas.  At $24 a pop, that’s pretty brilliant marketing.

It aims right at the desire of lots of moms to “make” perfect Christmas memories for their kids. So we don’t go to Lowe’s and buy a tree. We drive everyone an hour down the highway to cut one down. We don’t take pictures with the Santa at the neighborhood party. We dress everyone up in matching sweaters and pay way too much money for the same picture at the mall. We haul our kids to every single Christmas parade in a 20 mile radius, book into every single Santa breakfast and accept invitations to an endless number of cocktail parties, gift exchanges, cookie parties and Secret Santa extravaganzas. And we Facebook and Pin it all to keep up with our other mom friends who are furiously Facebooking and Pinning their own made-up perfect Christmas memories.

What in the world are we doing?

Christmas has gotten loud. Bright. Expensive.  But it’s not holy. I know I am not the only Christian mama who wants to turn the children’s faces away from the man in the red suit and towards the humble manger. And I know I am not the only mama who’s ready to throw in the towel on the Christmas mompetition.

A few years ago, Shea and I decided to make a change. We need our kids to understand what this season is really about. I’m sharing how we do it, not to increase the mompetition or make anyone feel like they are doing it “wrong”. But sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to get off the merry-go-round. So take it or leave it, for what it’s worth.

First, we under-schedule December, which means we don’t commit to much. If we wake up and decide we want to spend the day at Disneyland or ice skating in Old Town, then off we go. But we aren’t obligated to be many places.

Then I finish shopping before Advent begins. This year I finished before the Thanksgiving week sale juggernaut. I still got everything on sale. Shopping is fairly easy for us. The kids pick two presents from us and one from Santa. Only the grandkids and the grandparents get gifts, so the list is fairly small and has a dollar amount attached to it. Mostly. Sometimes grandmothers and great aunties are hard to control.

We have an Advent calendar. A real one, not those Santa countdowns they sell in the stores that have nothing to do with Advent. We have a wreath that lives on the dining room table for the season. Every Sunday we sit down to a small but formal meal with a group of friends and the Advent candles. We have a scripture reading, say a blessing and sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”.

As we get closer to Christmas, we focus on the giving. We shop together for our Giving Tree family.  I take the older ones out alone so they can purchase gifts for their siblings with their allowance money. And the week before Christmas, we clean out our stuff, making three piles: trash, recycle, donate.

In between these things, we bake and make home-made gifts for our friends and listen to Christmas music and drink hot chocolate. We get our tree from Lowe’s. We do a Santa picture, but on a whim, and in casual clothes. We already did it this year, for free at Disneyland.

This will be our fourth year of really focusing on Advent and these years have been some of the most calm, reflective, loving celebrations in our home. I’ll be honest, the first year I felt like maybe I was missing something as I watched our neighbors and friends Facebook about performances and cocktail parties and parades and Santa breakfasts. That’s because we’ve been programmed to believe that we have to go-go-go from Halloween to January 1.

But we don’t. The only thing we have to do is prepare our hearts and gather round the candles to wait for God to send the Light into the world.

Prayerful quiet. Joyful anticipation. Sacred Leisure.

Advent resources:

About Advent

Manger Advent Calendar:

Advent wreaths

Advent prayers