Monday, November 24, 2014


The business of life is the acquisition of memories.” 
—Mr. Carson, Downton Abbey

Our lives are but a story in this book called life.  Wow, that sounded so philosophical and cannedand who-cares-boring.  Let me try that again.  Your life experiences and my life experiences are so incredibly fascinating that they must be shared.  Thats right:  They must be shared.  At this point, whether you believe it or not does not change the fact that it is true.  This book is chocked full of unscientifically proven facts that you will just need to accept.  We can review my credentials later.

I have always been an intentional memory maker and a natural story teller.  Nothing is more satisfying to me than a captive audience.  It doesnt matter if it is an audience of one or one hundred.  I am actually happy to tell a good story to myself.  To be able to engage others through storytelling is powerful.  Words are powerful. The Bible tells us that life and death are in the power of the tongue.  Think about that.  We have the potential to bring forth life through our words or death through our words.  We have the potential to bring forth life through our stories
Stories are birthed in our life experiences.  Those experiences filter through our perspective filters and our belief systems to be categorized and deposited into our memory banks to be withdrawn as needed.  While we may not be given carte blanche on the big scripts of our lives, we are given plenty of creative license when it comes to the story within the story.    

At this stage in my life, I realize the important role that meaningful memories play in the well-being of my family and in all families for that matter.  I am not talking about the kind of memories that are being made on the hamster wheel of life as we now know it.  I am talking about the memories that give us stories to pass down, stories to tell around the holiday table, stories that insist on being retold again and again. 

I have found that those stories are most often birthed in the ordinary moments on the ordinary days, not as a result of well-laid plans or elaborately orchestrated events.  More often than not, my familys best memories are about experiences that happened when we least expected them towhen we seized the moments and capitalized on the opportunities that presented before us.  

Our family has been known to spend the Friday after Thanksgiving fighting the crowds and chasing down the deals.  I am not saying that is memory-worthy, but it is the truth.  This past Thanksgiving, however, we threw out tradition and headed to the Little Cabin on the Trail in Damascus, Virginia.  The Little Cabin on the Trail is the place God gave to us after the accident to heal our hearts.  I will tell that whole story later, but for now I want to share a how a seemingly ordinary day turned extraordinary.

The cabin, located on the Virginia Creeper Trail (a 34-mile bike trail that was formerly a mountain railroad), is quite cozy.  We had spent the last year renovating it and turning it into our home away from home.  It is 600 square feet total with about 300 square feet of area in which to congregate.  In the spring, summer, and fall that is not much of a problem because the great outdoors provides plenty of overflow space.  In the winter or when it is raining, it is a bit more challenging.

Thirteen people made the two-hour drive north on Black Friday with the intention of eating lunch at the cabin and cutting down our Christmas trees at a nearby farm.  It was my sisters and her familys first visit.  The cabin and its surroundings are truly magical, and I was anxious for her to see the progress we had made.  I did not expect her to really experience the full magic of it, however, since it was a bit off season for bikers.

I was totally unprepared for what God had planned. 

We knew it would be cold becausewellbecause we were heading north into the mountains and becausewellbecause we hadnt quite gotten around to having the heat installed.  We did not, however, expect the cabin and the trail to be blanketed in snow, glorious snow.  There is absolutely nothing more beautiful than freshly fallen, undisturbed snow in the woods before Christmas. 
The kids were ecstatic, and my heart did a happy dance inside of my chest.  Even pre-tragedy, this scene would have thrilled me; but post-tragedy it ministered to me deeply.  The tag line on our Little Cabin on the Trail sign is where memories are made and hearts are healed.  I knew that God was healing our hearts once again.

Our group hit the trail quickly, eager to see the transformation the snow had made on our summer and fall playground.  The kids served as tour guides as we pointed out to our guests the place we hang our hammocks, the place we search for creek glass,the bridge we walk the dog to each day, and our own Rock City.  There were snowball fights and lots of laughter and, of course, plenty of photo shoots.  We even encountered a horse on the trailin the snow!  It was perfect.  Some days are like that.  Post-tragedy, I do not take those days for granted.  I take notice, and I give thanks.

If the story ended here, it would be good enough.  The memory of it would still bring a smile to my face, and I would be inclined to remind the children of our first snow at the cabinat least every year on Black Friday.  But it gets better.

Returning to the cabin cold and hungry, I began the task of feeding our small army.  I had planned aheadwhich is note-worthyand had a huge pot of corn chowder already simmering on the stove.  I started making grilled cheese sandwiches to go along with the soup.  I want to mention here that because the heat had not been installed yet, we were taking the edge off with the oven, an electric heater, and an industrial blower that kind of sounded like an airplane taking off.  

People were eating at the table.  I mean six people were eating at the four-person table.  Three were eating while sitting on the couch, and one was sitting in the comfy chair.  I was making the sandwiches and two other people were helping me pass out the food.  There were boots and scarves and mittens and chaos.  Just go with me on this.  Do you have the picture? 
Right smack in the middle of all this lovely chaos, someone knocked at the door.  It is not really uncommon for someone to knock on the door of the cabin.  According to Internet sources, somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 people ride the Virginia Creeper Trail each year.  That may seem like a big range, but to me it matters not.  Whether 100,000 or 300,000, it is still a lot of people without cell phone service in the wilderness.  So, just about every time we visit the cabin, someone stops by.  They either need an ambulance, a ride to town, a tire pump, a phone, a Band-Aid, or a potty.  And sometimes they need something to eat.    

That day our guests were hungry; and in their defense, many people have mistaken our fairly large cabin sign for that of a restaurants and have just walked on in.  At least they knocked.  I am not sure why with twelve other people not cooking, I answered the door; but maybe it is because the cabin is really my domain.  I am used to the knocks on the door, and I absolutely love interacting with the people on the trail. 

I cheerfully greeted the young girl at the doorafter all, I was having a great day.  She asked if the cabin was a restaurant because she and her family (mom, dad, and brother) had just ridden the 11 miles down from the top of the mountain, and they were looking for a place to get something to eat.  Really?  They actually rode bikes down the mountain in the snow?  Who does that?  In all my cheeriness, I told her that the cabin was not a restaurant, but that she and her family were welcome to join us for soup and sandwiches.  

Then she said, Really?”  And as if her family could not hear the conversation from where they were standing about ten feet away through the porch screen, she repeated the invitation.  

The mom then said, Really?”  They all exchanged glances, and then she offered to pay for some food.  They must have really been hungry.  Of course, my cheeriness was definitely encouraging them to throw caution to the windor at least to the creek.  Why shouldnt they just lay down their snow-covered bikes and enter a cabin in the middle of nowhere and eat with thirteen people that they had never seen before?

And they did just that.  I told youThe place is magical!

I scurried four people away from the table to make room for our guests.  I think my son, the police officer, thought I had lost my mind.  He had not spent much time at the cabin.  There are different rules there.  Hospitality is king.  And my sister and niece who would normally err on the side of practicality and logistics immediately got caught up in the whole experience, making my new friends feel right at home.  My husband and daughters had already been smitten with the cabin magic, so they did not even flinch.

I served them soup and took their orders for mozzarella or pepper jack sandwiches.  We began chatting.  It came so easily.  It was a divine appointment to take our ordinary day and add the extra.  We were given the opportunity to show some bikers the love of Christ, and we seized ityou know, carpe diem and all that stuffre-affirming what I already knew:  Gods anointing is on that cabin.   They were from Germany, residing in North Carolina.  I am of German decent.  Their daughter was a junior.  My daughter was a junior.  They loved the snow.  We loved the snow.  Back and forth the conversation went with a soothing rhythm.  The daughter asked for seconds, and the mom said that it was the best soup and sandwich she had ever eaten.  She asked how I made the grilled cheese, so I shared my unique technique of taking two slices of bread, buttering them, adding some cheese between them, and toasting them on my George Foreman grill.  I told youmagical!

If the meal was not impressive enough, my sister had made cookies that the dad deemed something out of a commercial.  My brother, a professional chef, after hearing this story, told me that it is a fact that the right atmosphere makes food tastes better.  I agree, but take note that the right atmosphere does not mean perfect.  We were crammed into a rustic cabin with heat challenges, eating on paper plates.  The right atmosphere totally consisted of the willingness to offer hospitality to four cold, hungry bikers.  They kept saying that nobody in Germany would ever open their door to complete strangers and serve them a meal.  I told them that most people in America would not do it either.   Most people dont own magical cabins.

I joke about the cabin being magical; but what I really am saying is that when God gave it to us, I specifically prayed for Him to use it for His purpose, that He would give us opportunities to serve others like people had served us in the days and weeks following our darkest hour.  I continue to be amazed at how that plays out each and every time we go there.  

As the mom was walking out the door to continue the ride down the mountain, she turned to me and said, We have taken many vacations and have experienced many things, lots of which we do not even remember; but the memory of today will never be forgotten.”   

It was just an ordinary day, a snippet of life with some snow, grilled cheese sandwiches, corn chowder, a few bicycles, and some of Gods children thrown in.  It did not really take that much to make it extraordinary.  A few days later, I received an email from the dad.  He related how he told the people he worked with his familys experience.  They could not believe it.  He said it made him realize how uncomplicated life could be.  His signature was followed by M.D., Ph.D., MBA.  Wow!  The part of me that gets intimidated easily would never have extended the invitation had I known how accomplished he was.  It is a good thing he hid his accomplishments under all of that snow gear. 

His observation about how uncomplicated life could be has really stuck with me.  The more I break down the process of making meaningful memories that result in great storytelling, the more I realize that simpler is better.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
I love gift giving, but I hate gift choosing--especially for the adults and older children.  I have endless ideas for the eight and under crowd.  Oh, why can't they just stay little forever?

After 37 years of mothering and and 15 years of grand mothering, I have given just about every kind of gift possible. There remains, however, a few favorites for the kiddos that I would consider timeless and have purchased several times--and will probably purchase again when the next round of grandchildren arrive.  I guess you could call them my standbys.

TOP PICK:  Lyra Ferby Pencils.  We replaced crayons way back when Tessa was a toddler, and have not had any in the house since.  Once you the child in your life uses these to draw and color with, you will understand why.  The pigment is so dark.  The leads never fall out.  And they do not roll off the table because they are triangular.  There is also a lengthener available so that you can use the pencil right down to the very bottom.  We actually have some that are only about an inch long and would never, ever think of discarding.  

ANOTHER FAVORITE:  Ed Emberley's FunPrint Drawing Book.  Oh, the endless fun a child can have with his/her fingerprints.  Oh, the endless fun a grandmother can have with her fingerprints.  

AND YET ANOTHER FAVORITE:  Wooden Blocks.  We bought our family set years ago at a curriculum fair.  They were a bit expensive, but worth every penny.  The proof is that twenty years later, they still get played with every time we go to the cabin.

Add to those gifts a large cardboard box and a 25-cent bouncy ball from Old Navy, and you will have one happy kid! I promise.

MY FINAL ADVICE:  Only buy things that twenty years from now, your children and grandchildren have a chance of remembering so fondly that they will want to buy the same things for their children and grandchildren.  That pretty much eliminates 90% of the plastic stuff you see advertised on television.  

And if you decide on the FunPrint book, you might consider this one, too.  Classic.

You can click on any of the photos to check prices or  to purchase through Amazon. If you want to save these ideas for later, go ahead and pin them by clicking on the darling face below!


laugh (verb)
make the spontaneous sounds and movements
of the face and body that are the instinctive
expressions of lively amusement

This word was a bit hard for me because I did not come from a very fun or funny family.  There were many reasons why that was so, but the main one is that my parents were not storytellers.  Gut laughter comes from living a fun life and then developing the stories that go along with that life.  That is the whole premise of the book that I am almost finished writing.  

There was no laughing around the dinner table when I was a child.  As a matter of fact, we mostly were required to eat quietly so my dad could hear the news or a sporting event being broadcasted on the television in the next room.  We children were to be seen and not heard.  

That is probably why we all loved it when the greatest storyteller of all time, our Uncle Tom, would get going.  He was animated and expressive, and we all fully expected his eyes to pop right out of his head.  

He was a Pittsburgh policeman who worked as a beat cop in one of the highest crime areas of the city.  He interacted with lots of interesting people who became the characters in his masterfully told and probably a bit exaggerated stories. 

Many times we would laugh until we cried.  And many times we would beg him to tell another . . . and another.

I realized early on how much I love to laugh--long before I knew that "laughter does good like a medicine."  I actually crave laughter, and am thankful that I inherited the storytelling gene.  It has enabled me to tell myself a good one when I need to.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


I love to shop my husband's warehouse for "stuff" that I might get a vision for.  When I first saw this old bedspring, I knew that I could use it for a display at a wedding I was working on.  After the wedding, I really could not part with it.

And just like that, it hit me.  Since rearranging daughter Tessa's room a while ago, I've been searching for the perfect thing to hang over her bed.  The search is now over, and the best part is that it cost me absolutely nothing.  

full shot edited


vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in 
such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, 
and expression of emotion.

I do not come from a very musical family and that has always made me so sad.  I love music and wish that I had been blessed with the gift that brings so much joy personally and to others.  My mother's singing voice was actually the worst one I have ever heard--and I've watched a lot of American Idol. 

On the other hand, my grandmother had a beautiful soprano voice and my earliest memories are of her rocking me and singing to me in German, specifically O' Tannenbaum.  
Grandma Mahr with me in March, 1958

My Grandmother was everything good and kind and loving.   She called me Dolly Dimples.  I miss her every day.

All posts from the 31 Words project can be found here.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


It really is the best holiday.  What's not to love about a day that focuses on family, food, and gratitude?  Even the colors of the season communicate warmth and love.
This dough bowl was an impulse buy that has left me dealing with some serious guilt.  I am the bargain-hunter type, so when I make any purchase over $100, I usually feel sick to my stomach--for a while.  The only way I could recover from this purchase was to make sure that I found a way to decorate with it each season--I mean really decorate with it.     Then, and only then, could I begin to justify the purchase.  This fall is season three, so I think that I am just about over it.

The mantle got a bit of a makeover, too.  Here's the before fall.

And here is the after.
I love how the nature prints lend themselves to each season, and I have no regrets about painting the mantle.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014


I wanted to decorate the cabin last year, but without having the heat installed, it seemed unlikely that we would actually go there in December.  This year we have heat which means I will definitely be spending time there, so I added just a few things to put us in the holiday mood.

I made garlands out of pompons (Target $1 bin) and by stringing drinking straws and plastic beads (Hobby Lobby).
Next, I wrapped lights around a metal cone that I have been moving around for a few years waiting for an idea of how to use it to hit me.  I placed the cone on a log that I dragged in from the woods.  Because we are not here all the time and our space is tiny, it has made the perfect tree.
I kind of think that Donna at Funky Junk would be proud of me.

I am really hoping to add some decorations to the outside next week when we come to cut down our Christmas tree.  Last year we enjoyed a little bit of snow when we went, and I am praying for a little this year also.

I would love to decorate a bike--if I could find an old one--and put it outside.  

I would also like to add a few decorations to the camper which is now right outside the back door.

Hopefully, I will be posting some more cabin photos next week!  In the meantime, I have some more garland to make.  You should go make some, too!  Kids love it, and it's easy-peasy!


When I volunteered to help with my granddaughter's homeschooling this year, I knew that I needed to create a space that allowed us to focus and work with the least amount of distractions. 
I knew that the room at the top of our stairs would be perfect.  After rearranging the furniture a bit, I painted one wall with Rustoleum Chalkboard Paint in coffee. It took about three coats and had to cure for three days.
Then I chalked the whole wall (according to the instructions) using sidewalk chalk   That did not take as long as I thought it would, but it sure made a mess.  Now I use Prang Hygieia Chalk because it is not nearly as dusty.  Every now and then, I wash down the whole wall using a flat mop.

We absolutely love our space.