Joy in the Morning

Joy. I just can’t seem to drop that theme.

Hello, Thursday Morning guests! It’s a fresh start moment. A new day. Glory awaits you.

Maybe it comes in the sunrise. Maybe in the first smile from a precious infant. For me, it’s the glow inside my heart. I can’t lose this feeling, and that’s a good thing.

It started with, “and when they saw the star…”

That was enough to get me started because I knew what followed. They rejoiced with great joy!

The coming of the Savior resulted in joy filling those who understood. Even before His birth, His presence within Mary’s womb filled the unborn John with such joy, he leapt in Elizabeth’s womb.

Okay, that’s joy, pure and simple.

Though our observances of Christmas can result in a temporary joy, gift-giving is a small part of the true celebration.

It’s the gift that has already been given that results in true joy.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” [1 Peter 1:8-9]

This is the season for joy. Maybe it keeps popping up for me because I was struggling. I dreaded the season. I wanted it over. You may feel that right now.

But when I saw the star…

When I read the scriptures and listened to my favorite Christmas songs, joy stirred within my heart. If you concentrate on you and your feelings, you’ll be depressed, plain and simple. So bundle up and step outside on a clear night. Look for the star.

Look within your heart. Lift a prayer to God. Read scriptures that instill joy and peace. Find a devotional to help prepare your heart for the holiday and beyond. These are things I did to get past the “woe is me.”

Once I stirred up the joy—true joy in my heart—peace followed. My prayer for you is that you will find that same peace and JOY and comfort. You are loved.

Note: Check out these devotionals in YouVersion (an online Bible app): A Jolt of Joy, (Carol Mcleod) and Ann Graham Lotz’s Jesus in Me. Or, you can find full versions of these on most bookstore sites.

A Favorite Christmas

Hello, Thursday Morning readers! I’m so glad you stopped by.

So, Christmas is coming, and for most of us, that means busy, busy, busy. Shopping, decorating, baking, partying—you know the routine. Maybe you need to hit the pause button and remember…

Do you have a favorite Christmas memory?

Here’s mine:

Mike, Ed, & Me!

San Diego, California, 1959 -The house we lived in was just blocks away from the San Diego Zoo and the mission at Balboa, so our yard was often filled with exotic sounds like the roar of a lion, the call of the peacock, the trumpet of elephants.

We didn’t have much money, but my mother could always find a way to make Christmas special for us. She made many of our gifts and baked lots of cookies.

Dad had been looking for another place to live, further out from town, so we’d spend the weekend looking at houses. I liked one particular house very much because it had an upper story which fascinated me. There was even a life-sized cardboard cutout of Shirley Temple in one upstairs bedroom.

The former owners had left a pile of trash in the yard. On that pile, I found a handmade doll cradle. It was broken and dirty, full of leaves and rainwater, but to me, it was a treasure. Only rich kids had such things. I knelt down beside it as children often do, to get a better look. In my heart was a deep longing, too innocent to be described as covetous. I wanted a doll cradle like that one.

On Christmas Eve, my older brother and I were begging to stay up. “Just a little bit longer, please.” To no avail, for I’m sure my mother had a million things to do to get ready for the big day. She stubbornly resisted our pleas. Then she received a little unexpected help by way of a stiff breeze outside. The front door blew open about six inches or so. Mike and I stopped our pleading to gaze at the door, then at each other. His eyes were large and his mouth formed an “o”. Chills tickled my spine.

“See there?” Mom said, always quick on the uptake. “Santa is trying to come, but you two are still up. He can’t come in while you’re awake.” There was no more argument. We ran as fast as we could and jumped into our beds.

Early on Christmas morning, we tiptoed out of our rooms to see what treasures Santa had left for us overnight. Oh, there seemed to be so much stuff beneath that tree. My brothers dived in at once, grabbing toys and showing them off to each other. I stood in awe, for there to my great surprise and joy, was the same little doll cradle I had seen on the trash pile. I knew it was the very same one, even though it had received a fresh coat of powder blue paint and was no longer broken.

Mom had made a small mattress and pillow, complete with an embroidered sheet, pillowcase, and quilt. A brand-new doll lay on top of it all. The doll could cry real tears and wet her diaper, but I barely noticed. I was enraptured with the refurbished cradle, even though I knew its last home had been a trash pile.

Long after I outgrew playing with dolls, that cradle sat in my room. When I was finished with it, Mom (who seldom threw anything away) used it as a planter. Every time I saw it, I remembered that special Christmas. It became one of my most cherished memories.

It’s not always necessary to spend a lot of money to make Christmas special. Sometimes a little imagination and a whole lot of love can bring the most joy to someone’s heart. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

 

Originally posted December, 2009

 

Unwrapping a Novella

Hello, Thursday Morning readers! A couple words about the weather: Hot. Dry.

I’m not complaining, but rejoicing that our A/C unit is working. I do love Fall, so it will be missed. 🙂

It’s hard for me to admit, but I’m kind of a scrooge when it comes to Christmas. I love some things about the season itself, but honestly, I like Christmas to occur in December. What makes it such a special season (to me) becomes not so special when it goes on for months, or even all year.

But, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Sandra Ardoin’s Christmas novella, Unwrapping Hope. It was not over-the-top Christmas-y, but I definitely absorbed the feel of the season as I read. Ardoin’s historical fiction is authentic, drawing the reader into the era, as well as the season.

The main character, Phoebe Crain, lives under a dark cloud of pain and mystery. Even the reader doesn’t know her past until it surfaces near the end. Phoebe is flawed, but I came to appreciate her strength as she casts her pride to the wind in order to make Christmas special for her daughter.

I like flawed characters. I enjoy reading a story that brings their deepest flaws to the surface, but doesn’t heal the flaws or even make them go away. A well-told story shows its readers how love can accept and encompass those differences. That’s so much more realistic and for me, oh, so satisfying.

My only complaint about Unwrapping Hope? It’s short! It is a novella, after all. So, I was pleased to discover that this story will open a series called “Widow’s Might.” I like the name and the implications behind the name. That’s another part of the story I enjoyed—this character didn’t wallow in her misfortunes—she joined together with other widows to help bring relief where needed.

Click-to-Tweet: Unwrapping Hope by @SandraArdoin is not your typical cookie-cutter Christmas tale, and it earns an easy five stars from me. #BookReview #NewRelease


A Bit About the Book – Unwrapping Hope

Phoebe Crain, an accomplished pianist, lives in near poverty to protect her five-year-old daughter from scandal. When Phoebe receives a handcrafted cigar box by mistake, her desperation to give the child something special for Christmas drives her to suggest a trade with Spence Newland, a man she views as no more principled than her daughter’s late father. But the more time she spends with the department store heir, the more Phoebe struggles to keep up her guard against him.

Spence believes the cigar box will help him gain a reclusive investor’s financial support for his proposed five-and-ten-cent stores, demonstrating his ability to manage the family fortunes. Yet he hesitates to bargain with a widow who mistrusts him for no apparent reason…until he meets a charming little girl at the train station who awaits the arrival of a prince.

Will a betrayal in Phoebe’s past and Spence’s unraveling plans derail their hope for happiness and keep a child’s fairy tale from coming true? [Release Date: Oct. 15]

Click to Preorder

About the Author – Sandra Ardoin

As an author of heartwarming and award-winning historical romance, Sandra Ardoin engages readers with page-turning stories of love and faith. Rarely out of reach of a book, she’s also an armchair sports enthusiast, country music listener, and seldom says no to eating out.

Visit her on her website. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and BookBub. Become a member of the Love and Faith in Fiction community and discover what’s upcoming, and learn of specials and giveaways.

Holiday Breakfasts and Brunches

Welcome to a special edition of my blog – I’ve joined a holiday blog tour with my good friend, Tracy Ruckman, and a few of her wonderful friends, to help celebrate the season with memories and favorite recipes. Christmas is a lovely time to celebrate friendship. Here’s my offering—

Breakfast is always a great idea around our house. We love breakfast. On Christmas morning, it’s extra special. When our breakfast table was filled with growing boys, it took a couple of days for this momma to prepare the special foods for the Christmas breakfast. Homemade cinnamon rolls, bacon, a large breakfast casserole, a big bowl of fruit salad, freshly-squeezed orange juice. We feasted!

Over the years, our crowd has dwindled. We have the big family celebration on Christmas Eve. My guys are at home on Christmas morning with their families. Our day is peaceful. Mom is usually camped out in our guest room. My husband sleeps late. Mom and I linger over our morning coffee, enjoying the day and the company. Breakfast has become brunch.

Late morning, I start the meal. I still have a menu, but it’s a lot less work-intensive these days. Sometimes, it’s orange-cranberry muffins (made ahead), and sometimes it’s easy-peasy cinnamon rolls. I have a friend who grinds her own flour, makes the yeast dough, and creates some truly wonderful breads that are quite good for her family. My easy-peasy rolls are not like that. I pop open a can of crescent rolls. It takes about ten minutes from start to oven.

While the breakfast casserole has morphed into an omelet, a couple things have remained the same. Bacon has always been present at our Christmas breakfast/brunch, and the table setting. I’m not fancy. At all. But here, nostalgia holds a place. I serve up the food on my blue English ironstone plates. It’s not my best china, but I love it. I bought those, one place setting at a time, when I was a teenager. For my “hope” chest, later dubbed my “hopeless” chest (by me), but not for long.

I’m glad I held onto them, because they help make the meal special. But Christmas morning brunch is special anyway. It’s a time to remember all the blessings over the years. Though our table is smaller, I can still hear a distant echo of children’s laughter. Now, I treasure the moments spent with Mom. This is her 85th Christmas. I thank God for every holiday spent with her. Maybe this year, I’ll make her favorite mixed berry scones for brunch. She’ll like that.

Orange-Cranberry Muffins

½ cup softened, unsalted butter
½ cup sugar
¼ cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
½ cup plain yogurt (I use Greek)
2 tsp vanilla
Orange zest from 2 oranges
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
2 Tablespoons orange juice
2 Tablespoons milk
1-1/2 cups fresh cranberries (rinsed & drained)

  1. Preheat oven to 425. Spray a twelve-count muffin pan (or use cupcake liners).
  2. In a medium bowl, beat the butter on high speed until smooth and creamy. Add the granulated and brown sugars and beat on high until creamed. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, yogurt, and vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute, then turn up to high speed until the mixture is combined and uniform in texture. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Then, beat in the orange zest until combined.
  3. In a large bowl, toss together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and slowly mix with a whisk. Add the orange juice and milk, gently whisking until combined and little lumps remain. Fold in the cranberries with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared muffin pan, filling them all the way to the top. Top the batter with an additional cranberry or two, for looks if desired. (I like the pop of color on top of the muffins in doing this.) Bake for 5 minutes at 425F degrees, then keeping the muffins in the oven, lower the oven temperature to 350F degrees and bake for 18-20 more minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The total baking time will be about 23-25 minutes.
  5. While the muffins are cooling for a few minutes, make a glaze by whisking together a cup of confectioner’s sugar and 3 tablespoons of orange juice. Drizzle over warm muffins. Allow to briefly cool before serving.

*Recipe adapted from https://sallysbakingaddiction.com

Easy-Peasy Cinnamon Rolls

1 can Pillsbury crescent rolls
¼ cup softened, unsalted butter
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg (if desired)
1/8 tsp ginger (if desired)
2 Tablespoons chopped pecans (or English walnuts)
1/4 cup of dried cranberries or raisins

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Spray an 8- or 9-inch cake pan (you can also use a cookie sheet). In a small bowl, whisk the spices into the sugar and set aside. Chop the nuts and set aside.
  2. I carefully unwrap the crescent roll dough. Don’t break it into sections. It will look a little like a rectangle. Lay it flat on a sheet of parchment paper, or you can use the countertop dusted with flour. You may need to pinch the sections together so they don’t pull apart when you roll the dough.
  3. Carefully spread the softened butter evenly over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle with the sugar and spice mixture, followed by the nuts and fruit.
  4. Roll up lengthwise (starting on the long side) and cut into 1-inch sections. Set the rolls in the prepared cake pan or on a cookie sheet, close together to keep their shape.
  5. Bake for approximately 10 – 15 minutes (ovens vary) until they’re evenly brown and fragrant.

You can top these with a quick glaze of your choice, or dust with confectioner’s sugar.

It’s Christmas morning at your house—what foods will you enjoy? Do you have traditional favorites, something besides pop tarts with red sprinkles? 🙂

Next stop on the blog tour is: Holiday Main Courses – Sheryl Holmes

FRI, Nov 30: Holiday Appetizers – Tracy Ruckman
SAT, Dec 2: Holiday Beverages – Rachel Hartsfield
MON, Dec 3: International Holiday Foods – Peggy Cunningham
TUES, Dec 4: Holiday Breakfasts & Brunches – Betty Thomason Owens
WED, Dec 5: Holiday Main Courses – Sheryl Holmes
THURS, Dec 6: Holiday Sides / Potluck / Buffets – Tracy Ruckman
FRI, Dec 7: Holiday Sweets – Rachel Hartsfield
SAT, Dec 8: Holiday Recipes Master List – Tracy Ruckman

Doing Nothing Well

I’m really good at nothing. Hello, Thursday Morning friends! I’m so glad you’re here. I’m thinking again. Uh-oh. Right?

You know when someone asks you, “What are you thinking about?” and you say, “Oh, nothing”?

Is it even possible to think of nothing? Or to be thinking of…nothing?

You might think I’m being negative when I say I’m good at nothing, but you’re wrong. I am really good at (doing) nothing. In fact, I excel at it. If not for ole guilt, I’d spend a lot more time doing nothing. Thinking of…nothing.

But guilt keeps me going. Doing everything but nothing. The problem is, I tend to take on too much. You know the feeling? It’s a problem for many of us, especially this time of year. If you’re a mom, it’s magnified. Everything has to be perfect. You want your life to be a Hallmark movie. Or at least a little bit like one.

The Hallmark movies are like reading the condensed version of a novel. You see only the high points and low points and they wrap up quickly into forever love. All the extra stuff that goes on gets cut out. Life is not that predictable.

Yes, there are moments when you get to relax and breathe and enjoy relaxing and breathing. But those moments are B-O-R-I-N-G to everyone except self. Personally, I love those moments of nothing. Maybe because I know they are only scattered here and there throughout my busy, busy days.

But I’ve noticed something very important. If you’re too busy, if you say yes too many times, you may become overwhelmed. And then you’re really good at the negative nothing. You don’t have the time or the patience to be really good at anything. Or, if you do manage to accomplish all those things on your list and/or calendar, you’re probably going to be too tired to enjoy your accomplishments.

Then you’re going to DREAD the holidays because they represent negative things like failure and disappointment.

My advice to you, right now, before it’s too late, is to take a breath. Pause between the question and the answer. “Can you volunteer to do the decorations for the dinner?” “Will you head the committee to spearhead donations for that?” “Oh, and by the way can you also (insert task here)?? You’re just so good at that!”

Take a breath. Pause. Think it through. What will you remove from your list to make room for whatever you’re being asked to do? Maybe the more important question is, what’s your immediate gut reaction to the request? Is it a cringe? Go with that. Don’t wimp out. Say the word. “NO.”

Yes, the holidays come once a year. With good advance planning, you will survive them. If you haven’t made a plan, it’s not too late. Almost, but there’s still time.

Make a list right now, of THE most important things you need to do in order to have the kind of Christmas you really want for your family. Now, include your church family, or those outside your family with whom you are connected.

Next, go back over the list and prioritize the most important things. Keep the little ones in mind (if you have them). What will make their Christmas memorable? Hint: it’s not things. It’s probably time with you. Time, and a smile on your face.

I’m not slapping hands here. I’m reminding myself. My calendar is full and I have regular work and tasks to deal with on top of those. I’m dealing with a sense of dread. It’s too tempting to curl up on the couch with a hot beverage, a blankey, and a holiday movie. I have to remind myself that’s okay once in a while, but not all the time.

Well, coffee’s ready. I’m going to spend a few moments sipping, breathing, and contemplating nothing.

My calendar is full today. And tomorrow. And the next day. But, I’m keeping my eye on the prize of a stellar Christmas celebration.

Have a splendiferous weekend. May you find time to breathe and kick back, if only for a moment.

Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.–Luke 6:35-36 MSG