Archive for November, 2013

Friday Favorites: Christmas Gift Guide for Kids

Friday, November 29th, 2013

Happy day after Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoyed your holiday with family and/or friends. We celebrated with friends this year and had a great time. I had a deep, tryptophan-induced sleep last night, which means I’m up and ready for Friday Favorites.


This week I’ll be focusing on favorite toys my kids have played with over the years. If you’re out shopping on Black Friday–while I’m sitting on my cozy couch with my second cup of warm, french-press coffee–you can use it as a helpful guide to buy gifts for your little ones.


For Babies and Toddlers:

wooden blocks for babies

A Classic. My kids played with blocks over and over again. Jonathan’s beginning to stack them and knock them down. It’s really basic, but necessary developmentally while being a whole lot of fun. These are from Land of Nod.  Lots of cute stuff, especially their whale-themed crib sheets. I’m a fan.

Melissa and Doug wooden fruit set

This Melissa and Doug toy is great for toddlers. The velcro on the fruit slices holds the pieces together well so that when the child “cuts” the fruit, there’s some resistance. Feels like cutting into real fruit. A must have in your collection of kitchen play toys.

kids baby cardiganThis is Just. Plain. Cute. I don’t need to ruin it by rambling on. Jonathan has one. You can find a variety of these bow tie sets at Etsy (of course).

For Young Children:

melissa and doug sandwich game

Another Melissa and Doug favorite. This sandwich-making game is the perfect game for a family game night. We’ve had many laughs as a family playing this relay game together. I’ve also used it for my kids’ birthday parties for a large group of kids to compete against one another. There’s about 20 different relays you can play, but in the end, it’s mostly about who can make the correct sandwich first. I’m telling you it’s a blast. Your child probably needs to be at least 5 to enjoy.

Fezzy Squishable

Abby saved her money all summer to buy this adorable…umm..animal?! We’re not sure what it is, but we do know it’s C U T E. It’s a Squishable- a line of very cute and squishable stuffed animals. This one is Fezzy. Pretty sure it’s the only stuffed animal with a mustache.


For Older Children:

Electronic Snap Circuits

Aidan played with Electronic Snap Circuits a ton between the ages of 7-9. A great learning toy about the inner workings of electricty. We got it a Fat Brain toys which is a great website for not so run-of-the-mill toys.

rainbow loom bracelets
The only way you don’t know about the Rainbow Loom is if you haven’t seen one kid between the ages of 5-10 this year. These rubber band bracelets are everywhere. Kids love ’em. My daughter has a running list of friends who’ve requested her to make bracelets for them. Which is another great reason to get your kids a loom. She’s not just making them for herself; she’s giving them away.

coloring poster

Okay. This is the only one on the list we haven’t tried out already. I love this Artist Collective Poster Kit from Land of Nod. My 9-year-old still loves to color, but she’s kinda beyond My Little Pony, ya know? Could quite possibly be under the tree this year.

For Daughters:

mother-daughter bracelets

I love these bracelets for a mother and daughter set. Getting a little teary thinking about it. Geez. Might be under the tree this year, too.

Enjoy your shopping and Happy (Black) Friday!

Humbled by Snow

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

Snowy House

It’s snowing in Asheville this morning. I can’t help humming the tune of “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”, except it’s the day before Thanksgiving.

While I watched the snow fall this morning, I was struck by it’s beauty, but also by its ability to immediately thwart our plans for the day.  That used to drive me crazy when we lived in Philadelphia. The first storm was beautiful; the second, third, and fourth were miserable inconveniences.

I wrote a post back in 2010 about this particularly poor attitude. Here it is.

I Am Human

Some time last week, after complaining in my heart about the inconvenience of yet another snowstorm, I asked God out loud to remind me that I’m human. Yesterday, the transmission in my car went out while I was driving it. Today, I slid into a snow bank  inches away from a telephone pole.

Is that what I prayed for? Well, yes. I don’t wish harm on myself or anyone else, but He answered my prayers. In all my plans for today, getting stuck in a snow bank was not one of them. But it’s Him who is in control of my life, not me. I have to learn this lesson over and over again. My sinful tendency is to replace God with myself. I realized that as I was complaining about the snow last week. Really, it’s His world. Who am I to say when and how much it should snow? His ways are higher than my ways; His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. He sees all things; I do not. So, even in the midst of back to back snowstorms, His redemptive plan is still at work. He’s weaving a story even while we complain against His mighty acts.

Several years ago, after complaining about “all the snow” (this time in D.C.), a friend of mine gently rebuked me and said, “Snow slows life down. It’s one way that God chooses to quiet our busy schedules.” Or something to that effect. (Thanks, Melanie!) I always remember that when I’m tempted to complain about the weather, as if there is not a larger story going on around me than my petty inconveniences.

Over the past two weeks, our family has been meditating on Psalm 34. Verse 7 says, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and He delivers them.” The Lord delivered me today as my car careened head first into a telephone pole. He guided me safely home yesterday as my transmission failed. Even if He had not chosen that outcome for me, the angel of the Lord would still be busy setting up camp around me. Not to be morbid, but even in death, the angel of the Lord brings us to Himself, which is the ultimate place of protection.

His will for me is best; He’s in control, I’m not. Remember that when it snows AGAIN. Or when it doesn’t snow and you want it to.

Job 38:28-33

28 Does the rain have a father?

Who fathers the drops of dew?


29 From whose womb comes the ice?

Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens


30 when the waters become hard as stone,

when the surface of the deep is frozen?


31 “Can you bind the beautiful [a] Pleiades?

Can you loose the cords of Orion?


32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons [b]

or lead out the Bear [c] with its cubs?


33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?

Can you set up God’s [d] dominion over the earth?


I am human. Praise the Lord.



Friday Favorites: Christmas Gift Guide

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

T.G.I.F. You know what that means. Friday Favorites is here again.



Thanks to Pinterest, lots of unique gift ideas are on my radar this year. Here are my favorites from around the web, in no particular order. Have fun as you “window shop”; think of the people in your life you’re excited to give to this year.

Coffee Shelf

A coffee shelf! I know a particular coffee snob in my family who would love it! : ) This shelf comes from a website called It contains a variety of items handmade by artisans.

States Necklace

I love these states necklaces from an Etsy artist, of course. They’re great to showcase where you’re from or love for where you live.

Night Owl Paper

Night Owl Paper Goods. I’ve loved this company forever. Letter pressed stationery on paper and wood.


I just found out about the Fairejour clothing company.  They scour the planet looking for clothing made by independent, eco and ethically conscious designers for truly one- of-a-kind pieces.

City Prints

Creativity abounds on Etsy. I love these city prints. Buy one for your favorite person in  Chicago or New Orleans or Paris! Multiple city options available.

Enjoy and Happy Friday!

We Become Our Mothers

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

It happens when you least expect it.

We become our mothers. This truth hit me hard during a recent conversation I had with my 3 oldest children. It went something like this:

Me: If I ever find out that you used that kind of language with your friends at school or your friends at church, you will wish you were never born.

Them: [speechless, deer-in-the-headlights eyes]

Me: Do you understand?

Them: [shaky voices] Yes, ma’am.

I walked away with a rare feeling of success.

I also had an out-of-body experience. Did I just say that?

Often, I still feel like I’m that 18-year-old girl who just graduated from high school. Or the 7-year-old who just finished her first dance recital. But, in reality, I have crow’s feet around my eyes and I’m saying things to my kids like: “Oh, moms have a special talent for finding things out.” Or this little gem: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Really? Has it come down to that? Ugh. Listen, I take time to deal with the deeper issues in my children’s hearts, but sometimes  glib phrases are the best thing my little brain can handle when I’m cooking dinner, feeding the baby, and managing conflict for the umpteenth time.

Something else happens, too, during these brief out-of-body experiences when I realize I’m just like my mother. I see her through the lens of grace. It’s a shame that it took this long. Now that I have my own children, I understand why she didn’t want to answer the tenth question from me or why she fell asleep on the couch at night or why she told me: “Mothers have a special way of finding things out.”

A friend of mine from high school recently posted the same sentiment on Facebook. While her 9-year-old daughter was riding her bike away from the house, she yelled out from her front porch: “Make good choices!” She humorously added that it was now time to put her mom-jeans on. May it NEVER be so, but you can bet those same words will roll off my tongue in the next few days, heck…hours. Just like my mother.

We Become Our Mothers

My mama and me. Isn’t she per-tty? **Who remembers Olan Mills?!

How have you become like your mother? What phrases do you pull out of your back pocket?

Friday Favorites: Top Ten Picture Books for Kids

Friday, November 15th, 2013

It’s amazing how fast the weeks fly by. It’s Friday again which means it’s time for Friday Favorites {insert applause here}.


I’ve been looking forward to this all week. I think it’s because we’re in a different stage of parenting now. Picture books merely decorate the bookshelves now or they’re boxed away to make room for all the chapter books. We’ve graduated to things like Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and Tuck Everlasting. Nothing wrong with that, but there’s something about curling up on a couch with preschoolers and flipping through endless pages of picture books.

Top 10 Picture Books

SO here’s my list, not necessarily in order of importance. Caveat: I am not including Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon, or We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. They’re the best of the best and worth being read over and over again.


What child doesn’t love monkeys hanging from tress yelling, “Tsk, Tsk, Tsk!” We’d point our fingers and yell along with the monkeys every time we read this charming little story.

Hippos Go Berserk

I can’t say enough about Sandra Boynton books. All of her books are great, but Hippos Go Berserk is my favorite. It’s a great little counting book for younger children. But it’s so funny that we read it well after the kids could count to 20.

Madeline and the Gypsies

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived 12 little girls in 2 straight lines.” Ah, Madeline books. They are all SO good. I just love this one, though.

One of Each book

This book is so great. It’s all about the art of making space for friends by not keeping things just to ourselves. Great for teaching about sharing but even more about the importance of friendship.

oh the places you'll go

Oh, geez. I almost cry every time I read this book to a child. It’s ridiculous.

May I Bring A Friend?

I especially love the art work in this book. When my kids were little, I wanted to decorate their rooms with prints from this book, but couldn’t find any. Alas, it is too late unless I can convince Jonathan. : )

Frog and Toad

This book and the next two walk a fine line between picture book and easy readers. Well, they don’t really walk a fine line at all. They’re easy readers. BUT, they have pictures AND we read them to our kids before they could read themselves. SO, they count. Frog and Toad- just so delightful.

Little Bear

Three by the Sea 2

Great ending to this story! Do it up BIG.

Click Clack Moo

Witty animals subvert the natural order of farm life led by the wittiest of them all, Duck. Get ready for one angry farmer. It’s hilarious.

Now, get on the couch and read to your kids. Even more than the stories, you’ll have fond memories of giggles and tears.

And, let me know what your favorite picture books are to read to your kids. Leave your thoughts in the comment section. Happy Friday!

Interview with a 1-Year-Old

Monday, November 11th, 2013

So, yesterday my friend Sarah suggested that my first guest post should be by Jonathan, my 1-year-old. I thought that was hilarious in a dismissive sort of way. But then, we kept talking about it and we decided I should interview him and post the conversation. Brilliant. So without further ado, here’s quite possibly the first ever interview with a 1-Year-Old.


Me: So, hello Jonathan. Welcome to onNeutralGround.
Jonathan: Um, hi Mom.
Me: Hi. So, people are dying to know right off the bat: What is your favorite toy?
Jonathan: The dishwasher.


Me: I’m sorry. Did you say the dishwasher?
Jonathan: Yes, you heard me.

Me: So, you have all these neat and interesting toys and even though I know you’re the 4th kid, you actually have some new ones. Yet you still want to play with forks and spoons?
Jonathan: Yes. That is what I’m saying.


Me: Ok. Well, you know what they say: “By the 4th kid, you’ll let the baby have the pacifier out of the trash can.” that how it goes?
Jonathan: I didn’t say anything about dirty pacifiers. Where are you going with this?
Me: Uh, nowhere. Nevermind. Jonathan, what do you like to do in your free time?
Jonathan:Well lately, I’ve really liked driving the kids to school. After I drop them off, I like to check my inbox, I reply to a couple of emails, and then I practice my piano. Then I like to climb on the dishwasher.

checking email

Jonathan Driving

Jonathan on Piano

Me:You seem really advanced for a 1-year-old. You know what they say about the 4th kid…
Jonathan: No, I don’t. What do they say?
Me: Um, nevermind. Jonathan, what do you do when your mom is busy blogging?
Jonathan: See the attached picture.


Me: Oh. Yes. I may need to work on that.
Jonathan: Probably.
Me: Ok, last question. And you can just whisper your answer in my ear. Who’s your favorite person in the family?
Jonathan: Mom, I’m not falling for that little game.
Me: Ok, ok. Well, Jonathan, it’s been nice talking with you.
Jonathan: Mom, I don’t really talk. You know that, right?
Me: Yes, right.

Friday Favorites

Friday, November 8th, 2013

Happy Friday, everyone!

Friday is usually everyone’s favorite day of the week. It’s mine, too, although it’s in a tight race with Sunday.  Duane is off on Fridays which is one of the reasons I like it so much.  On a day when when we should probably be getting a ton of house projects done, you can usually find us traipsing around the city instead.  So, in honor of Friday fun and my husband who loves taxonomy (the art of list making-don’t worry, he had to tell me what it meant, too), I’m starting a Friday Favorites series. Each Friday, I’ll post a list of my favorite things starting today.

A couple of Fridays ago we went to the Local Joint in Fairview for breakfast. So I thought I’d start out the series with some of our favorite spots in Asheville for Friday feasting.


1. Local Joint. In the little town of Fairview. Apple cinnamon pancakes. ‘Nuff said. And it’s just a really cute place, too.




Local Joint door



2. Moes BBQ– Let the BBQ wars begin! This might possibly be the best pork bbq I’ve EVER had. And I’ve had A LOT of bbq. It’s quite possible you’ll run into me there TODAY.

3. White Duck Taco– I can’t say enough about this place. Most frequented place on the list. It’s cheap AND it’s good. My favorite taco is the Bangkok Shrimp taco.

4. Wicked Weed– Not a big surprise for anyone who lives in Asheville. Best beer in town. Try the Zealot IPA. It’s my favorite. The food is almost as good as the beer. Which means it’s outstanding.

5. OverEasy- A great little (and I mean little) breakfast place downtown. Worth the wait in line. Bring a travel mug to sip on while you wait.

For the size of Asheville, it’s got an incredible amount of really good restaurants. Enjoy your Friday and Bon Apetit!

Getting It

Thursday, November 7th, 2013


I had a bad week last week.  Not an everything-went-wrong kind of week. My dishwasher still works, my car didn’t break down, and at least 2 out of the 3 kids brushed their teeth.  It was a how-much-more-can-I-handle-emotionally kind of week.  In one day, a good friend told me a harrowing story from her past, another friend filed a police report against a boyfriend, and I witnessed the immediate aftermath of a car accident with my children in the car.  These events happened in chronological order; that’s significant because by the time I saw the accident, I was undone.


We watched as chaos unfolded at the scene of the accident. People scrambled out of their cars to help the accident victim. She frantically carried her baby across the street, while she screamed for someone else who was still in the car.  I assume it was her other child. That was it. My heart broke. It is too much for anyone to see a mother screaming for her child.  I took the next turn, barely able to see through the tears. I pulled into the driveway and leaned my head onto the steering wheel and cried over all the stories that happened that day.


Then, from behind the driver’s seat, my 9-year-old daughter leaned in and asked me if she could pray.  She prayed for the family in the car accident. She prayed because she understood the severity of the situation. She prayed because I could not speak. She got it.


Abby went to Jesus for me. She went to Him with me. In that moment, I knew. She’s not just my daughter. She walks this life alongside of me. I got it.


Something was different when we got inside. Instead of the incessant questioning that usually starts full force as soon as we open the door, they walked upstairs without a sound. I heard them playing together quietly.  They knew what we had just seen had no words to describe the sadness. They didn’t demand or make any requests. They knew I needed time.  They got it.

One Big Family

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013
Ok, I confess. I made them hold hands.

Ok, I confess. I made them hold hands.

I grew up as an only child. No siblings to fight with or sisters to share my jeans. My stuff was mine. I have 4 kids of my own now- you can laugh, it’s okay. I often marvel at the amount of bickering that goes on over who didn’t close the door, whose book it is, and who forgot to flush the toilet. “It wasn’t me!”- it’s a constant refrain in our house. The joke around here is that one day I’m going to end up in the loony bin, then Duane gently reminds me that I’m already there.


But here’s the thing. When they get along, there’s almost nothing more beautiful. Last night Stephen and Abby were doing a google maps tour of the last neighborhood we lived in. They followed the little google man up and down familiar streets and exclaimed together: “Ooh, there’s our old house! There’s the school! Let’s see if we can find the pool!” Then Abby said, “Stephen, isn’t this cool? We don’t even need a car to see our old neighborhood!” As I cooked in the kitchen listening to their chatter, I smiled to myself. I wanted time to stand still in the joy they had sharing life together.

A friend of mine recently told me that she thought I was brave to have 4 kids, especially since I was raised as an only child. I had never thought about it that way. I don’t feel brave, it’s more like a flat-on-the-floor kind of feeling. It was a grace-filled statement. When she said it, l felt okay to be overwhelmed at times.

Duane and I often look at each other in bewilderment wondering if what our kids are doing is “normal.” I’m pretty sure it is. This is where you chime in and say: “Yes, it is.” But then I remember why we had 4 kids in the first place: the joy. The absolute complete joy we had as each one made their entrance into the world. The joy that we still have as we live life alongside of them each day, even though they break our hearts some times. And sadly, we break theirs, too.

But God is writing a tiny story of redemption in this little family as a shadow of His really big story of redemption in the world. Hope and heartache, peace and bickering, joy and sadness. It’s a privilege to be in the story, even when it looks a lot like the looney bin.