Family and Christmas

Christmas is coming!  With the help of our youngest daughters and some of our grandkids, I finished all the wrapping a couple days ago– always an accomplishment with this big crew.  The little ones were sworn to secrecy– we’ll see how well that works!

Way back in September I had the fond idea that I was going to do a lot of the wrapping in cloth gift bags, but that didn’t remotely materialize, tho a few gifts do have cloth bags.  Ah well.  Paper bought on last-January-clearance prices worked nicely too.

We already had a nice early Christmas dinner with John’s family which was lots of fun. We made pulled pork and cheesy potatoes for dinner, along with lots of lovely sides and salads brought by our guests. So that left me time to fuss over the table which was fun.

Above is a photo of the table– all 20 feet of it– before everyone arrived, and another of it full of family.  I think there were 27 of us there.  What a blessing!


I also tried a new fudge recipe that we ended up liking pretty well.  It was much easier than other fudge I’ve made– and sometimes had failures with.  Here’s the website with the recipe.  All I did to get the dark chocolate version was substitute dark chocolate chips instead of white.  I also did a tiny dusting of sea salt for that sweet- salty flavor.

Here’s the family photo we got this fall.  Last year two of our clan were working and couldn’t make it.  This year we were only missing one.  Maybe next year we’ll get everyone!  In any case, here are some of the most precious faces in the world to me– love seeing so many of us together.

John and the girls and I have been watching a Christmas movie or two a week during this month.  Our perennial favorites are ones probably very familiar to you as well: White Christmas, Eloise at Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Nativity, Muppet Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street and The Santa Claus  (1 and 3 are our favorites.)  Though I know lots of people love it, Elf gets mixed reviews at our house — 15 year old Emily can’t get over a grown man acting like a little boy.  Home Alone is not a hit either– 13 year old Julianna still finds it horrifying that the poor little kid got left.  🙂

We’ve also watched a few newer movies on Netflix that I thought might be fun to mention.

Last night we watched Back to Christmas, which gets 1 star for the acting, but there was a bit of funny dialog that brought it up to MAYBE 2 stars for me.  Not a total loss.

Last week we watched A Christmas Prince, which we gave a good solid 3 stars.  This one kinda reminded me of the Princess Diaries, but it was cute and the ending was not as predictable as we expected.  We enjoyed this one.

Last year a new favorite was The Spirit of Christmas. We enjoyed this one a lot and rated this one 4 stars.  It would be a little scary for younger kids, as it is also kind of a murder mystery, but we liked this one enough to watch it twice.

Have you watched anything on Netflix that you’ve enjoyed recently?

Here’s hoping that your Christmas is warm and enjoyable and family-filled!

Just squeaking in with a July update

playing frisbee at the beach

Grandkids helping me peel carrots

Wow, I didn’t realize it had been so very long since I’ve been here. We’ve been busy with all things summer-related including time at the beach, setting up a little pool here in Idaho, attending graduations, weddings and other family gatherings, going to camp, having the grandkids over, gardening, and painting the living room.

Garden ingredients prepped to go on a light summer pizza

Here are a few pictures of some of the happenings.




We decided to paint our Idaho living room Sea Salt since we liked it so much at the beach house. Love it here too!


Napping with auntie


Trying out the new pool




At a family wedding with some of our kids



And hey, I even have a couple of recommendations for you!  One of the things that I’m trying to do more this year is read fiction.  It’s not something I’ve done much in recent years and I decided I have been missing it.  Here are a few of the books I’ve read lately.

~ The Winter Sea  I’m only halfway through, but really enjoying it so far.  It is a story within a story, and is set in Scotland in two different time periods.

~I Am David  I read this in three days flat as I found the story very interesting, about a boy who escaped the concentration camps during World War II.

~A Quiet Life in the Country  This one is a detective story and has clever insights into characters and a delightfully surprising humor.  I borrowed it for free on my Kindle.

Then finally I have a bit of cleaning advice to share, compliments of the ladies in charge of cleaning our beach house between guests.  They lined our oven with this Non Stick Oven Liner   I never even knew these things existed, but I wish I’d known about them MUCH sooner!  Just set one on the floor of an electric oven or on the bottom rack of a gas oven, and it will catch all the spills and be incredibly easy to wipe clean as needed. Have you heard of them?  Do you use them?

Enjoy your last month of summer!!


Perfect for us

Recently I was wandering World Market all on my own, enjoying the peace, when I became aware of a young family also shopping.  Three preschool boys energetically spun around the axis of their slowly walking parents.  My first thought was of how much easier my shopping venture was than this mother’s.  And then I heard the voice of one of her little sons.

Enthusiastically stroking the length of a dining table, he said to his mother, “This table would be perfect for us!”

My heart clutched up, just from that one simple word: us.  Back in the hazy-crazy days of young motherhood, that’s how it was with our family too.  A solid cohesive ‘us’ was the center of our children’s lives.  Their happy place.  The place where they felt most secure.

Things change when kids grow.  Our married kids have their own ‘us’ now, created anew with the people they love and chose, and with their own children.  Our not-married young adults have a different version of ‘us’ these days too, more commonly encompassing friends and coworkers and roommates.

The day our oldest daughter headed off as a newlywed

Since our youngest two are still at home, they still use the word ‘us’ in that sweet way, asking what we’ll eat for dinner or when we’ll next go to the beach.  But even with them, things are beginning to change.  Their lives are more outward focused.

Nostalgia has me longing some days for those years when all of my chicks were in easy range, where they wanted nothing more than to be orbiting around me.  When ‘us’ meant they were all tucked into bed at night under the same roof. It was a precious time, in all its crazy chaotic busyness.

It is good and normal and right for our children to move outward and onward. To broaden their support system and welcome others into their closest circle.

Yet still connection also exists with us, and for that I am grateful.  Sometime it’s a skype chat with a son far away.  A late night call from a young adult needing a bit of advice. A Mother’s Day cake made with love.  A sweet note tucked into my lunch box. Texts back and forth about things monumental or mundane.  A visit from the grandkids with their mommas in tow.  A coffee date. Dinner together. A quick drop-by visit that ends up lasting an hour.

Though the moments are more scattered now, they are perhaps even more precious.  Each one represents the choice of a busy young person.  They have so many things to do, so many ways to spend their time.  And yet at these moments they are still choosing and affirming the ‘us’ begun so long ago.

The ‘us’ of years ago was perfect when our kids were small. But you know what? The ‘us’ right now (aside from my occasional momma-heart-twinges) is good and right and timely– maybe even perfect for us — now, in this new stage. We are counting our blessings.


Valentine’s Day

Our Valentine’s Day celebration this year happened a day early (to avoid the crowds in restaurants– we’re practical like that) and included our youngest two daughters.

At 12 and 14 they are totally old enough to be home on their own.  But you try experiencing four kids moving out in the past year (8 altogether moved out in the past decade), and you might understand why we’re feeling a bit nostalgic and more than a little eager to enjoy this time at home with the last two.

They were coaxing us to go out on our own– they had a movie night of their own planned.  But when we enticed them with the promise of Cuban food at Casablanca, and then Lego Batman, they were happy to come along.  It was totally worth it to hear them laughing uproariously beside us in the movie theater.

We’ve got years, Lord-willing, to go out for Valentine’s Day on our own, and only a few more with them home with us.  We’re going to enjoy their sweet presence for as long as we can.

How can it be?

Am I the only one surprised we are already halfway through December?  The girls and I went on a wrapping spree this evening and got the vast majority of the gifts wrapped, so that feels really good.  I have a few last errant things to track down, but mostly my shopping is done too.  But I am still feeling like there is lots to do this next week. Not sure if that is actually true, or if that is just the way I am in the habit of feeling the week before Christmas.

We are having lots of company for Christmas and I am so excited!  Last year, with all the delays in closing on our new home, we ended up doing Christmas at our old house one last time.  It was actually very, very sweet.  But ever since we found our new home way back in October last year, I’ve been envisioning it as the perfect Christmas house.  Here’s a photo of a tiny dab of the Christmas decor so far.


I am really looking forward to packing out the house and seeing how it works. Christmas Eve morning it’ll be mostly the kids and the grandkids– I am crossing my fingers that some of my teen boys won’t have to work, but probably it’ll be somewhere around 18 of us.  (Below is a photo of sweet Wilona having fun playing with several of our manger scenes.)  I am hoping Christmas Eve morning will be relaxed, lowkey…gather up our precious ones and eat breakfast together and open presents.


Christmas Eve evening will be the biggest shindig, since many of my brothers and sisters will be coming with their families.  I am expecting somewhere in the range of 40 or so. My mom and dad will be making clam chowder in bread bowls as usual– yum!  And then everyone else will fill in with sides and desserts.The kids will be doing a gift exchange and the adults will be doing a ‘my favorite things‘ exchange as we have for the past several years.

Here are the favorite things I went with this year: Nivea hand cream, Mrs. Meyers geranium hand  soap, and Mrs. Meyers lavender everyday cleaner.  These are all items I really like, and I think together they’ll make a fun goodie basket.

Christmas Day we are hosting John’s family for the noon meal– altogether I am expecting 30 or so of us. By then the majority of our gifting is done, so the focus is just visiting and catching up, since we don’t tend to see each other too many other times of the year.

At both of the bigger gatherings other folks will be bringing the majority of the food, so my main job will be to pull together drinks and tables. (Piece of cake, right??)  I’ve been having great fun on Pinterest looking at tablescapes.  You can see my most recent pins here: Pinterest Christmas.  I’ve been most inspired by rustic-looking decor, so I expect to be doing something with pine cones and candles and most likely canning jars, since I have lots of those. I found some fun flameless candles to put down the length of the table that will probably end up as fun and safe ambience at the beach house also. For the largest gathering we will probably be doing three long tables.  So much fun.  I am hoping I will actually remember to take photos for you.

And of course you can’t have Christmas without dessert.  I have lots of roasted pumpkin in theold-fashioned-coconut-cream-pie_11361 freezer from our fall pumpkin.  (Remember this ancient post?  Wow, that was a long time ago!)  I’m also planning on making at least one or two of these lovely concoctions.  I am a sucker for cream pies— yum!

What are your plans for Christmas?  Are you scurrying around or are you starting to feel ready?


IKEA cabinet adventure

Click on over to the beach house blog to read about our IKEA cabinet adventure. Talk about a LONG weekend!!


What I found in the ‘begats’

When I was a kid and we’d get stuck in the begats in the Bible, I’d find my attention wandering and sometimes I’d wonder why they even bothered to keep track of who was born to whom.  But lately I’ve been wandering there myself.

Mom, me and my granny (~1967)

Mom, me and my granny

On a whim a few weeks ago I checked out  When I found out it was a monthly subscription kind of thing, I decided to spend a month plowing through and finding everything I could, with the tightwad plan to unsubscribe as soon as I got done.  Except– hah– it turns out ‘done’ takes longer than you think when you’re doing genealogy.  One rabbit trail uncovers three more leads, and each of those uncovers a few more.  And far be it from me to leave a stone unturned.

I started with my own family, most of whom were fairly easy to track for five generations or so.  But beyond that, around the late 1800’s, is when most of my clan came from Germany, Norway and Sweden, some of them straight through Ellis Island.  There’s where the tracking starts to get hard.  Names and dates get muddled. Similar confusion seemed to happen around that era when I tracked down John’s family tree, many of whom came from Germany, Ireland and Belgium.


Luggage on Ellis IslandIt’s easy to imagine how exhausted mothers standing in long lines at Ellis Island with cranky children might not quibble with the guy behind the desk who’s just spelled their name wrong or transposed the numbers in someone’s birth date. Half of them are afraid they’ll get sent back to where they came. Some of them might not have read well enough to correct anyone’s spelling anyway. is great about giving lots of hints, and you can make guesses about who begat whom.  But certainty seems to go out the window after a few generations.  It doesn’t help that both sides of the family share a dizzying array of ancestors named Anna Marie, Sophie, Mary, Elizabeth, and John– very funny to me, especially since I have a husband named John, a brother named Jonathan, and sisters named Anna Marie and Sophie Elizabeth.

John Meistrell

John Meistrell with wife Elizabeth, daughter Mary and granddaughter Angelina


For awhile I honestly wondered if the Anna Maria Wessling on my side of the family might actually be the same person as the Anna Maria Wessing on John’s side– both from Prussia, both born in the same decade.  Except John’s relative was baptized in the Catholic church and mine in the Lutheran.  Ah.  Nevermind.

But one branch of John’s family- through his paternal grandmother– is much less confusing. They’ve been in America literally from the beginning. One hosted George Washington in his home. Later that same home was part of the underground railroad. Others fought in the Revolution. One ancestor helped scope out the Plymouth colony the year before the actual colonists arrived. (Yes, really.) Others were some of the first settlers born in the new country, their parents literally having arrived on the Mayflower. Wow.

Back in England they were born in castles and fought alongside kings of England, and married other people from other castles.  I’ve got a whole list of castles that Erika and Jared might want to visit when their European travel sends them toward Great Britain.  Fascinating sounding names like Raby Castle, Leicester Castle, Wolveton House and Ravensworth Castle. I’ve never in my life really been interested in seeing Great Britain, but John has always loved castles, and this obsessive little hunt has me thinking it might be fun to see some of these places too.  Someday, maybe.

It’s not all grand and exciting though, even in castle-land. Judging by John’s relatives, people back then were lucky to make it to age 50. Adulthood began young too.  In timeline after timeline girls were married at 12, 13, or 14.  Some were even as young as 10 years old, though the ones that young made me hope the birthdates listed were wrong. Who could stand to marry a daughter off at age 10?  My heart breaks.  They were still babies.

And then speaking of babies.  so many mothers died of childbirth. Many babies didn’t live past the age of two. One girl married at 12 and was widowed at 18, at which time she was already a mother of two.  So very sad.

And then there were the life-changes immigrants must have experienced moving to the New World. One ancestor living in the Plymouth Colony married 5 times in 10 years, with husband after husband dying off, leaving her with an ever-growing number of children to feed.

One young guy was born in a castle in Ireland, immigrated to America, and ended up working at the train station in Chicago where he held the ignoble title of alternate snow shoveler. He wasn’t even the main snow shoveler.  He was the alternate. Hopefully he was born with a lot of spunk and was able to withstand that dramatic change in circumstances with fortitude.  Or who knows– maybe he shoveled snow at the castle in Ireland too?

Censuses taken in America showed people living together with other families in one house.  (I wonder how big the houses were?)  There were widows living with many children after husbands died young.  There were mortgages on farms, and homes that were worth $1100 owned free and clear.   My mother in law tells the story of her dad’s family, with so many children of so many different ages that (with people going to school and jobs) that the only time they ever remembered being all together was once, for a single photo.

Of course this genealogy adventure gave me only the barest snippet of a view into the lives of all these relatives of ours. It was just a flyover.  But I was left with an overwhelming admiration for those souls who went before us, and a feeling that — whether we live in a castle with servants or a tiny house with two other families– we’re all just doing our best through the struggle to take care of the ones we love.

For all our different circumstances and beliefs and life stories, we’re all so much the same, aren’t we?

Toddler tantrums and baby diapers and feuding relatives and illness and moves and ever-changing life circumstances — those are the things that make life challenging no matter the size of your house.

And the things we long for most as humans don’t change at their core either: happiness and health and freedom and opportunity and unity with the ones we love. And hope for a brighter future.

One opportunity in particular felt very clear in my mind.  Though much in life can be out of our control– where we were born, or who we get for our family, or what joys and heartbreaks we will experience–  we all have a choice as to how to respond to those things.

No matter how restrictive or free our government.  No matter who gets voted into office.  Whether our job in life is to make pizzas or to shovel snow or to mow lawns.  Whether we’re programming computers or helping people have babies or cleaning their teeth or teaching their children, or ‘simply’ raising our own children to be people of honor and character— we get to choose our attitudes and our responses to it all.

The guy shoveling snow at the train station could have been bitter at what he perceived as downward mobility in his life.  Or, shovel in hand, he could have opened doors for struggling mothers, and whistled as he worked, and been a friend to the people around him, then gone home to love his family, secure in the belief that God has his future mapped out.  And it was all good.

Every person has that choice.

The man sitting in the photo above was on John’s side of the family, an ancestor of his maternal grandmother.  In his obituary he was described as ‘kind, considerate, and lively to the end.’ What an inspiration he must have been for those who follow. That’s the kind of person I want to be too, no matter what the future brings. I want to be an encourager. A doer. A life-bringer. Following in the footsteps of ancestors before me.  With the hope that our children will see that in me, and want that spirit of faith and courage for themselves as well.

It’s a wonderful life.


Lots has been going on around here lately, things that are good and timely and affirming of all the work we have done as parents over the years. Exciting for the kids, and yet also so very wistful for me.  After many years with a whole houseful of kids we are now down to three at home, a number which may soon shrink to just two.

In September after a fair bit of apartment hunting, Josh and Lidya and Zeytuna found an apartment which they are renting together.  They are 18, 21, and 18 respectively, capable and ready to be out on their own, so this is an exciting venture for the three of them.

I am more than a little happy that during this first foray of theirs out into the world they will still be with each other.  I think that among the three of them I’m sure they will be able to sort out this new journey and take their first steps out into the world with confidence.

Ben, also 18, is apartment-hunting with two good friends. And if the most recent lead on an apartment comes through, he also will be out into the big world very soon.  Which means we may possibly have four kids moving out in just a month.

It’s quite an adjustment for us still living here at home, one that honestly I am trying to not dwell on a whole lot. (The feelings— eek.  Might be safer to let them just trickle in as they must, rather than opening the door wide and wallowing just yet.)

Basically it is a whole new phase of life, ready or not.  It’s a big adjustment for Emily and Julianna too, our youngest girls and soon to be the only ones still home at 14 and 11.  Last night we played dominoes on the living room floor, talking as we played, mostly about how strange it is to have so few people living here.  We talked about how lots of families only have two kids ever.  That’s their normal and they survive just fine.  But for us, so far, it definitely feels abnormal.

Good, of course, for the just-grown kids. I honestly am rejoicing that they’re working hard and doing well enough that they can head out and have their own adventures. We raised them all along with the intent of getting them to self-sufficiency.  This step is normal and will doubtless continue to mature them, in ways that wouldn’t be likely at home.

But it is going to take awhile for it to feel normal around here.  Till then we will work and homeschool and play dominoes and read stories (this one was FABULOUS!!) and do all the normal life things that have been happening in our home for decades.  When it gets too quiet we’ll invite the grandbabies over to inject some noise and commotion back in.  We’ll zip over to the beach every few weeks to keep tabs on the new fun that’s happening over there.

girls at the beach

And eventually we will get back to a new normal, one that will be rich and good in a new and different way.

But right now I’m walking past empty bedrooms and sighing a little.  Grabbing favorite treats for the just-moved kids to help stock their new kitchens.  Texting them to check in on their new lives. Hugging our youngest two with a little more intensity, determined to enjoy every minute of our time together.

Oh, and making an arts and crafts room for our youngest two girls out of one of those empty bedrooms.  We’re thinking an easel and a chalkboard wall, and cubbies for all those art pens and paper and other supplies.  Maybe even a place in a corner to leave my sewing machine set up all the time.

(To which my 11 year old says, “Mom, you hardly ever sew.”  Well, I might just do it more often if I’ve got my space set up all the time.  We’ll see!)

Because change….it’s not always easy.  And sometimes adding in a bit of fun (both long-enjoyed and new) eases the way when the changes feel big.

September happenings

I can’t remember if I mentioned to you that our oldest son and his wife are having an adventure this fall. They took a leave of absence from their jobs and are traveling Europe for several months. If you would like to read about their adventures, their blog is here:

Just for fun, here’s a picture of my garden at the beginning and end of the season.  As you can see, things went kinda nuts.  We’ve had all the tomatoes and cucumbers that we can eat, as well as a fair number of peppers, both hot and sweet.  We’re still waiting for the rest of the watermelon to ripen.  Here’s a video to see the rest of THAT story!  🙂

Beginning and end of summerThe biggest problem of the season turned out the be the dog taking a liking to both tomatoes and cucumbers.  I am thinking of installing an invisible fence next year, since that seems like the best way to keep her out but still allow us access.  Not sure how much those things cost tho….maybe we will end up with some kind of mesh fence…

Finally, if you haven’t seen what’s up with the beach house, go check it out!  We have WALLS, and are planning a trip next weekend just in time to see the roof going on.  Woohoo! You can subscribe in the pop-up to get updates on the progress.

August happenings

waterparkWe’ve had a busy, interesting week. Last night we went to a Family Force 5 concert that was held at our local water park.  It turned out to be a fun choice of venue.  The stage was in front of the wave pool, and the weather was perfect for an evening at the water park– hot enough we were glad for the water, but not so insanely hot that we burned out feet walking between rides.  And as always, Family Force 5 put on a really fun show.

I finished a really interesting book last week.  It’s called A Million Miles in A Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story. The book is funny, thought-provoking and just great writing!  I’ve been recommending it to everyone in sight lately because I enjoyed it so much.

This week I’ve also slowly been painting our master bath, trying out the Sea Salt paint that I’m considering for some of the bathrooms in the beach house.  John and I both love the light, calm muted green of the paint.  It’s a winner!

In other house news, we got our building permit this week for the beach house!  The very next day our contractor got the hole dug for the beach house, with foundation-pouring happening within the next week or two. I put up a couple new posts, and we can’t wait to go see some actual honest-to-goodness progress in a few weeks!

Emily, age 14, is helping with Vacation Bible School at our church next week, and will be playing the part of an oLittle-octopusctopus in the daily skits. She and I got brainstorming about what she might wear to look like an octopus, and we decided some sewing was in order. Luckily there’s Pinterest, where almost any craft you can dream has already been attempted by someone else.

We based our project roughly on this tutorial and I think it turned out fun. You add elastic to the tends of the tentacles to get that fun curl.  Still thinking about headgear, but here’s our adorable Ali modeling the legs.  It took most of an afternoon to sew, but I think it turned out really fun, and will be interesting for the kids watching the play.

Hard to believe it is already August.  With as busy as we’ve been lately, I think we won’t be jumping back into school til September.  We’re still having too much fun with summer!  How about you?  How’s your summer going?  Are your kids going back to school soon?