A Back-to-School Creature

’Twas the night before school,

And downstairs in the house,

Some wild creature was stirring;

Was it a bat or a mouse?


Trapped within the li’l wall

Between girls’ beds and bathroom,

This creature was restless,

Would the school day be doomed?


And Ma still up planning

With her nose in three books,

Sat frozen to her chair

Too afraid to go look.


But Pa with his courage

Went to investigate,

Thumping hard on the wall.

Oh, so what if it’s late?


The girls in their soft beds

Slept on – still unaware

Of the noisy creature

Who was certain to scare!


Early they all arose,

A new school year to start.

With fresh pencils and paper,

Story-writers take heart.­


To library Ma went

Toting students and books,

While the pest man and Pa

Searched the crannies and nooks.


Found still stuck in the wall

’Twas a mouse, not a bat.

Now Ma sits a-wonderin’

If she’s happy ’bout that.

More Random Favorites


Ticonderoga Black Pencils As a writer and homeschool mama, I have become totally snobbish about pencils. I absolutely detest pencils that fall apart as I sharpen them or  — worse yet — have erasers that don’t actually erase! These black #2 pencils are durable, write smoothly, and have excellent erasers. Ticonderoga Pencils are now the only writing pencils allowed in our house, except the occasional mechanical pencil.


Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils My children’s favorite art teacher once encouraged us to buy these colored pencils, and I am forever thankful. Their colors are splendid and so vibrant! These will totally ruin you on ever using inexpensive colored pencils again.


Kleen Slate Dry Erase Paddles and Markers I bought these mini dry erase boards and markers last summer and they are a big hit with my 3rd grader and 6th grader. They are the perfect size for students to handle and they have a nifty spot that holds the marker, which includes an eraser on the end of the lid. Genius! We bought ones that have a graph side and a blank side. The graph side is especially useful during math lessons.


Norwex Enviro Cloth This microfiber cleaning cloth allows me to clean using no chemicals — just water. Silver fibers make the cloth antibacterial. It works great on most surfaces — including mirrors.

Norwex Window Polishing Cloth I use this cloth to polish mirrors and windows after I clean them with the Enviro Cloth. My husband steals it to use on the inside of the car windows. It works well and does not leave behind annoying streaks or lint.

Norwex Microfiber Dusting Mitt To be honest, my daughter uses this more than I do. It is a super-absorbent mitt that works wonderfully.


DaySpring sticky notes Am I the only one who loses entire pads of sticky notes amongst the clutter on desks or countertops? These are such pretty sticky notes, and because they are held together in a nifty 6 by 8-inch folio, they are much easier to find.


Bluecorn Naturals 100% Pure Beeswax Tapers These tapers were recently a gift we received from a dear friend, and our family enjoys having them lit during dinner time. They burn for one hour per inch of length, plus they are paraffin-free and lead-free and handmade in Colorado. I want to try their tea lights next.


Mpix Quality Prints As the granddaughter and niece of professional photographers, I inherited rather lofty expectations in terms of photo finishing. Both my grandpa and my uncle used Miller’s Professional Imaging, which was founded in 1968 and is this country’s largest professional photography lab. Mpix is a division of Millers, and it does an outstanding job with print quality, not to mention the speedy turnaround time. Mpix prints all my 4 x 6 photos, enlargements and canvas prints. It does take some time to upload images and wait for the box to arrive, but the exceptional quality of the end result makes all that worthwhile.

These are a few of my favorite things! What are some of yours?


10 Favorites Made in Minnesota

It’s spring! Or at least it feels that way because the temperature is in the 50s, birds are singing, the snow is melting and the days are getting longer. Never mind that my children are off snow skiing today and folks are still out ice fishing on the lake — with their big trucks parked on the ice. Never mind that. It’s spring!

To celebrate, I am sharing a few of my favorite things. No, I won’t break into a song about raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens. I am so not Julie Andrews. Nor I am being compensated to tell you about these things. I just like them and thought you might enjoy them, too, either for yourself or for someone you love. All items are made right here in Minnesota, but otherwise it’s a pretty random list.


1. Lume Soapworks Butter Bar: I received my first bar of this in a gift basket from a dear friend, and it really does make my skin feel like a million bucks. Physician-formulated, the bar is 20% shea butter and features essential oil scents, including a light lemon scent that is so refreshing. It feels very luxurious on your skin, and it is made in Chaska, Minn. by the sister of my dear friend. The cost is $5.49 for a 3.5 oz. bar or $19.99 for a four-pack.


2. Lume Soapworks Lip Service: This shea butter lip balm, also in that gift basket I mentioned, makes my lips super happy. My daughters love it, too. It includes cocoa butter, castor oil, sunflower oil, Vitamin E, and eucalyptus and peppermint essential oils. I especially appreciate the container’s oval shape, which fits lips much better than the usual circle shape. Available tinted or untinted, this is also made in Chaska, Minn. by the sister of my dear friend. The cost is $3.99.


3. Daisy Blue Natural Deodorant Cream: Scented with lavender and spearmint essential oils as well as rosemary extract, this natural deodorant cream is a mixture of baking soda, shea butter and other oils. It smells wonderful and, most importantly, it really works. It is made in Albert Lea, Minn. The cost is $9 for 1.5 oz.



4. RenPure Originals Brazilian Keratin Shampoo and Conditioner: I have been looking for a while to find affordable, paraben-free hair care products, and I think I’ve finally found a favorite. These products combine coconut oil, keratin protein and shea butter for smooth, frizz-free hair. Plus, they smell fabulous. These are made in Mound, Minn. The cost is $4.99 for a 16 oz. bottle.


5. The Original Carlsbad Oblaten: These delicately crisp wafers are perfect with hot cocoa, ice cream, hot tea or coffee. My family adores them because of the powdered sugar in the middle. The vanilla-almond flavor is our first choice, but they come in many flavor varieties and are made in New Germany, Minn. from a 200-year old recipe. The cost is about $15 for a 6.75 oz. gift tin.


6. TeaSource Georgia Sunshine: Oh, how I love this tea! This loose leaf tea is a fine Ceylon black tea that combines ginger and peach flavors. It’s simply fabulous. The tea is obviously imported, but TeaSource is based in Roseville, Minn. and specializes in importing, blending, warehousing, and sales of tea. They ship tea everywhere and have retail stores in St. Paul, St. Anthony and Eden Prairie, Minn. The cost is $4.64 for 2 oz. of loose leaf tea, which makes about 25 cups.


7. Truffle Hill Chocolates: These hand-made chocolates are quite delectable and make a fabulous gift for any chocolate lover. Their cute little retail store sits atop a hill near Lake Minnetonka in Excelsior, Minn. and they will ship chocolates out of state. The cost depends on how much you love the chocolate-lover.



8. J.R. Watkins All-Purpose Cleaner: What a terrific lemon scent this cleaner has! I mostly use it in the kitchen, and I appreciate that it is non-toxic and ammonia free. It is made in Winona, Minn. The cost is $4.99 for 24 oz.


9. J.R. Watkins Foaming Hand Soap: Fragranced with essential oils, this mild soap is perfect for the kitchen sink. It cleanses and gently moisturizes. It is also made in Winona, Minn. The cost is $4.99 for 9 oz.


10. Broken and Beautiful Mosaic Jewelry: These lovely pendants, ornaments and belts are made by an amazingly talented friend of mine. Each piece is a work of art. Items are available at Uptown MN in the Mall of America, Art 2 Heart in Hamel, Minn., and Unearthed Arts in Waconia, Minn.

I hope you find a new favorite thing. Happy spring!










Meltdown at the Mailbox

Below is my mailbox on Jan. 19, buried in snow.

midwinter 031

Below is my mailbox on Feb. 17, completely swallowed up by something that resembles a glacier.


Below is my mailbox on March 5, somewhat more accessible.


And here is my mailbox today, March 15, looking very official.


It’s been so long covered in snow that I didn’t even remember there was a rock near the base of the mailbox. And please note that the grass is peeking through the snow along the curb in the neighbors’ yard. Grass!

Yes, the mailbox meltdown is fully underway, and spring has shipped!

Just Call Me Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison once said, “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

He also said, “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”

Well, prepare to be astounded, ladies and gentleman, because I took a pile of junk food and invented something that astounded myself. I say this with utmost giddiness because I’m a journalist married to an engineer and rarely get to invent much of anything except stories and an occasional logo.

Necessity breeds invention and as a transplant to Minnesota, I’m here to tell ya, s’mores are a summertime necessity. This is a cabin-crazed, bonfire-loving culture. But how does one keep the key ingredients easy to find and easy to transport from kitchen to fire pit when the fire finally reaches its s’mores-perfect status and children begin begging and drooling?

Well, please allow me to introduce…

(insert drumroll here)

The s’morganizer.

smorganized 048d

This attractive caddy holds two bags of marshmallows, a dozen Hershey bars and 27 graham cracker sheets.

smorganized 047c

Don’t worry. I doubt I’ll be seeking a patent. Technically all I did was spend $11.99 on the caddy at Target and then borrow a black Sharpie from my 10-year-old. But let me assure you I’m taking full credit for inventing the word s’morganizer.

Perhaps next year my engineer hubby will introduce the new and improved s’morganizer 2 featuring a cool way to keep the Hershey bars below 86 degrees en route to the cabin.

But until then, I should simply mention that no Hershey bars were consumed in the making of this invention or in the writing of this blog post. That, folks, is the real miracle here.

Happy s’morganizing!

You Might Be a Minnesotan


If you’ve ever been excited that it is finally warm enough to make a snowman, you might be a Minnesotan.


If you’ve ever been envious of Siberia’s forecast in January, you might be a Minnesotan. (Our “high” a few weeks ago was -5 degrees while it was 33 above in Chelyabinsk, Siberia.)


If your 4-year-old has ever lamented that it is too “deep” to play outside, you might be a Minnesotan.


If you’ve ever stepped outside in 6-degree weather and said somewhat casually, “Why yes, I think it does feel warmer,” you might be a Minnesotan.

adventsnow 112005

If you’ve ever considered 28 degrees something akin to room temperature, you might be a Minnesotan.


If you’ve ever had a conversation about the nuances of thermal underwear in an elevator, you might be a Minnesotan.


If you’ve ever devoted an entire blog post to quips about snowy winter weather, you might be a Minnesotan.

Happy February!

A Snowcabulary Lesson

NOTE: We are feeling a little snow-deprived here in Minnesota, which is odd for January. So, to keep things in perspective, I’m reposting this fun blog post from a few years ago when we were buried in much snow.


Drawing on my personal snow experience that has accumulated over 15 Minnesota winters, I’ve compiled this brief snowcabulary list of seven snow-related words — complete with pictures of course!

1. dirty snow: (noun) older snow that has turned any color other than white — usually gray, brown or yellow

Dirty snow is not pleasant to behold, and it often causes Minnesotans to wish for some bright new snow, just to freshen things up again.

2. black snow: (noun) snow that has been blackened by roadway contaminants; usually found along roadsides

We love snow plows, but they do tend to create heaps of black snow along the highways, not to mention the enormous mountains of black snow they pile up in parking lots.

3. snow booger: (noun) a large clump of black snow that collects on the bottom of your vehicle as you drive

Hanging down and frozen to the underside of vehicles, snow boogers seem to defy gravity. Heartily kicking snow boogers off your vehicle helps vent any dirty, frustrated feelings you may have collected toward winter weather.

4. clean driveway: (noun) a driveway with at least 40% visible concrete

When it’s mid February, and you haven’t seen the grass since early November, and you’ve worn your snow shovel and snow blower to nubs, you lower your standards. You just accept those especially stubborn sheets of icy, snowy stuff that clutter up an otherwise “clear” driveway. You just pray they’ll melt on their own sometime in May.

5. death trap: (noun) an area where thick, relentlessly stubborn sheets of ice gang up with sharp, pointy icicles overhead and ruthlessly threaten to send innocent bystanders to the emergency room

The area in front of our third garage stall is a death trap. Areas like this are the primary reason you can still find Christmas lights up in late March. Nobody wants to climb a ladder here!

6. light-cicles: (noun) Christmas lights that have been vandalized by monstrous icicles

Light-cicles are the secondary reason you can still find Christmas lights up in late March. The intertwining mess begs for a meltdown.

7. snow-verwhelming: (adjective) laden with snow; characteristic of something that has been drastically transformed by accumulated snow 

This snow-verwhelming bush is an excellent tool for elevating young climbers. Never mind what I said about Christmas lights in March; I think my 8-year-old can probably reach to pull them off the house.

And while she’s out there, I think I’ll have her dust the tree tops — just for good measure.

Enjoy your snow-verwhelming weather down south, and don’t drive anywhere!

The Best of 2011

It’s snowing here on New Year’s Eve — gigantic, golf-ball-sized snowflakes — the biggest snowflakes we’ve seen in all our 15 winters here.

Usually snow doesn’t phase Minnesotans, especially in December. Ordinarily we have seen it all by this time of the year. But our state has been in a strange “snow drought” this December. We didn’t have a white Christmas, and that’s a huge blow to Minnesota pride. It’s hard to surrender bragging rights on a white Christmas, especially when you have to endure nine months of winter.

But now this. Gigantic snowflakes spiraling down to us from heaven above, piling up into a fluffy blanket worthy of sleds and snowball fights and such. This snowfall is making our household downright giddy! And some neighbors must feel the same snow thrill because as I type, at 10 p.m., I can hear shrieks of joy and crazy laughter from a few sledders on the hill nearby.

I wonder if the Israelites were ever this thrilled about manna? And I wonder what God-given gifts of grace our family will unwrap in 2012.

In the meantime, since the last moments of 2011 are slipping away, let’s have an award show! Eleven awards during the eleventh hour of the 2011th year! Woo-hoo!

#11, #10 and #9. For Best Movies of 2011, it’s a three-way first place tie between Dolphin Tale, Soul Surfer and Courageous. Somehow I managed to see two of these movies in the theatre (gasp!) with my husband. That’s really the most shocking news here. And the other movie, Dolphin Tale, our entire family just finished watching in the basement a few moments ago. There were tears and sobs and laughs a-plenty, especially from the younger generation. And then after spending two hours completely entranced by Winter the Dolphin, we came upstairs to be completely entranced by Winter the Season. This is the stuff “Remember that time…” memories are made of.

#8. For Best Book, the award goes to One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Here’s my review of it from last January.

#7. For Best Children’s Book Author, the award goes to the late Elizabeth Enright (1909-1968). I read aloud two of her books — Gone Away Lake and The Saturdays — to the girls this year. We all adored them and look forward to reading more of her works in 2012.

#6. For Best Date-Night Destination, the award goes to Freeziac, a do-it-yourself frozen yogurt shop. Think TCBY 1980-something, except you get to dish up the cold stuff and top it however you like it. Marshmallows, nuts, hot caramel, hot butterscotch, and a few dozen other toppings. You pay by the ounce. And with comfy seating and board games, it’s the perfect destination for a fulfilling yet inexpensive evening hanging out with someone you dearly love. Truth be told, we’ve only been to Freeziac as a family. But I’m thinking this post might inspire a certain someone I know to set up a date night. Soon. (I’ll let you know if he gets the hint.)

#5. For Best Strangely Lovable Four-Legged Animal, the award goes to the llama. Most significant contributors to the llama’s new-found popularity are Chocolate Chip and Carmella, which we met and hiked with this fall on a homeschool field trip. Also factoring into this election are the book Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney and the movie The Emperor’s New Groove, in which the emperor turns into a llama.

#4. For Best Tea I Finally Tried, the award goes to Tazo Organic Chai. After years of refusing to try chai tea simply because it seemed entirely too trendy and creamy for my taste, I tried and fell in love with this tea, with sugar and without milk, mind you. My daughters adore it, too.

#3. For Best Garden Display in Minnesota, the award goes to the rose garden at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

#2. For Best Garden Display in My Backyard, the award goes to my backyard peonies. We came home from vacation in June just in time to savor this delightful display of pink blooms.

#1. For Best Gift in My Thousand Gifts List, the award goes to number 718, Linnea’s baptism.

11 Questions on 1/11/11

Last year I answered 10 random questions for 2010. I thought it’d be fun to go back and answer them again for this New Year. To change things up somewhat, I added a question and modified some of the original ones just a tad. And despite what WordPress’s clock might lead you to believe, I’m publishing this in the 11th hour of 1/11/11. 

1. A Verse (or three):
What are a few verses of Scripture that you are meditating on lately?

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29

“All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16

“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard so that you may also have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3

2. A Voice:
What are two quotes that have inspired you lately?

“When we speak, it must be with the realization that God has given our words significance. He has ordained for them to be important… God has given words value. So we must do all we can to assign words the importances Scripture gives them.” -Paul Tripp

“Every conversation we have with another person carries this marvelous potential of passing on the grace of God.” -Carolyn Mahaney

3. A Laugh:
What are two things that have made you laugh lately?

Yesterday the girls were playing with homemade paper dolls. Linnea had made a mermaid outfit for one of the dolls. She kept referring to the top as a bra. “It’s a bikini top,” I cringed as I corrected her. A few hours later when the girls were again playing with the dolls, I overheard Linnea correcting Laurel. “It’s not a bra! It’s a zucchini top!”

Also, Dave Barry’s review of 2010 totally cracked me up earlier this month. 

4. A Food:
Link us up to a favorite online recipe!

Shortcut Stroganoff – We had this last week for the first time in quite a while. It’s so yummy!

5. A Flick (or three):
What movie(s) do you recommend renting?

Oh, I can’t list just one, which surprises me because I’m not a big movie-goer. Letters to Juliet and Ramona and Beezus were my two favorite movies of 2010. PluggedIn Online offers helpful reviews of both movies. I also really loved the HBO movie Temple Grandin with Claire Danes (also available on DVD). Temple is quite an amazing person. I helped edit some of the articles she wrote for BEEF magazine when I was on staff there. Plus, I was thrilled to see issues of BEEF magazine show up in the movie! Yay for BEEF and yay for Temple!

6. A Family:
What’s your best home-building tip?

Don’t reserve special meals just for times when company is coming to dinner. Treat your family to the extra-special stuff, too! Lighting candles, lowering the lights, using the fancier napkins and playing soft background music during dinner makes everyone feel especially loved.

7. A Chore:
What’s your best house-cleaning secret?

Pretending to be Cinderella’s step mother allows you to (A) amuse your children (B) get away with speaking in grouchy voice while ordering your children to do housework and (C) share the house-cleaning workload with those small people you love. (If only it worked with my husband, too!)

8. A Shop:
Sell us on one of your favorite online stores!

I am totally digging Two Peas in a Bucket — mostly for their digitial scrapbooking kits and fonts. Love them! (Thanks for the tip, Kate!)

9. A Prayer:
What’s one thing that you’d like blog-readers to pray about today?

Pray that we would fix our small eyes on Jesus, that we would allow Him to transform us, and that we would look for the beauty of enormous things in 2011.

10. A Product:
What’s one great product that you’d like to tell the world about?

For Christmas I got a Savvycents wallet, and I LOVE it! Its super-nifty tab dividers make me feel so organized! Dave Ramsey may or may not agree that it’s fashionably frugal, but I’m willing to bet his wife would agree! (Thanks for the tip, Alice and Chris!)

11. A Song:

“What Love Really Means” by J.J. Heller inspires me to love my loved ones simply for who they are.

May God go with you in 2011!

21 Entertaining Things Said (or Done) in 2010

I just reviewed my Facebook status collection for 2010 and compiled this list of entertaining things said (or done) by my children in 2010. Hope it makes you chuckle, too!

1. Laurel, age 4, laments that it is just “too deep to play outside.” Never mind that the windchill is 4 degrees.

2. Laurel got up from her afternoon nap sniffling and said, “Mommy, my nose is all stuck up.”

3. Setting the table at dinner time, Laurel carefully covers each fork with a napkin. Then she announces, “Ssssh! The forks are sleeping.”

4. Laurel at the Arboretum: “Stop, Mommy, I think I have a piece of nature in my shoe.”

5. Here’s a new, summery way to mop the kitchen floor: Shut only the screen door while your 7-year-old waters the flowers on the patio. She’s never been a wild child, but give her a garden hose with a spray nozzle and WATCH OUT!

6. Linnea, age 7, was folding laundry and saw me set up the ironing board. Looking utterly shocked, she said: “Mommy, there are CLOTHES you have to iron?” I guess she thought we only had an ironing board to accommodate her fuse bead craft projects!

7. While we were babysitting 5-month-old John at our house yesterday evening, Laurel asked, “Do we have to give him back?”

8. Shortly after I put gel in my hair this morning, Laurel comes in and exclaims: “Mommy! You smell good. You smell like Benadryl!” Yep, that was so the fragrance I was going for today.

9. Laurel’s table manners must have drowned in the pool this afternoon. At supper after swimming lessons, she kept wiping the jelly on her fingers on her clothes, in her hair, and seemingly everywhere else but her napkin. Ick! “Don’t wipe it on your dress!” Michael yelled. Big sister Linnea chimes in, on Laurel’s behalf, “It’s actually a skirt, Daddy.”

10. I tried to be discreet when I tossed the decapitated potty-training baby doll into the trash can. But as the garbage man drove off this morning, Laurel came running inside, sobbing uncontrollably. “The broken baby doll is going to get all burned up at the dump!” Thank you, Toy Story 3. Sigh.

11. Laurel, while eating goldfish crackers for an afternoon snack, says: “Mommy! I need some water to drink so my fishes can go swimming!” So the chocolate shake and the iced tea I had already given her didn’t do the trick?

12. Michael just came home with half a dozen ears of fresh sweet corn, and now the girls are begging to help him “shuffle” it.

13. After quiet time yesterday afternoon I found Laurel in her bed, obviously just waking up, and I asked how her nap was. She replied: “I didn’t take a nap. I was too busy resting.”

14. Praying at lunchtime, Laurel says: “…And thank You, God, for creating the animals so that we can have animal crackers to eat…”

15. Laurel read her first sentence today: “See me eat.” She was so proud of herself she sprung off the couch and bolted into the next room to tell Linnea the exciting news.

16. How clever is Laurel? At the drug store this morning, she stops in the candy aisle and says very seriously, “Oh! We HAVE to get some raspberry chocolate candy for Sassy.” Sassy is her teddy bear.

17. Our breakfast conversation this morning — Laurel: “I just don’t like cannonballs.” Me: “Huh? What do you mean? Jawbreakers?” Laurel: “No, you know, cannonballs — people who eat other people. Why DO they do that?”

18. This morning as Michael was scrambling eggs and pulling the tortillas out of the refrigerator, Linnea asks, “Daddy, are you fixing a breakfast pinata?”

19. While I was helping Linnea fix her hair this morning, she sniffed and said, “Mommy, you smell good. Like jellybeans!” I guess that’s an improvement over Laurel’s thinking I smelled like Benadryl a few months ago…

20. Thinking about Advent at the dinner table this evening, Linnea says, “So, tomorrow is…” And Laurel quickly chimes in, “the last day of not getting any presents!”

21. In the middle of a Costco shopping trip this afternoon, Linnea wonders, “Mommy, what is ‘scratch?'” After I reply with a bewildered, “Huh?” she clarifies, “You know, scratch. You always say that you make pies and things from scratch. What is it?”