Preparing for Advent

Advent Calendar Printable

I often feel anxious. Some days it’s because I feel stressed about work or money. Some days I wonder if I’m doing enough, while other days maybe too much. Some days I’ve just had an extra cup of coffee. Some days I can’t quite put my finger on a reason at all, but I can’t ignore a nagging restlessness that keeps my mind and heart from being still.

Advent is coming. What a wonderful reminder, these weeks leading up to Christmas, that our lives are not about us. We do not hope in ourselves, we hope in a God who makes all things new, a God for whom all things are possible. So we join in the anticipation of the Israelites, of Mary, of Simeon, who knew something incredible was going to happen that would change everything. Advent is more than a countdown to Christmas. It is a time when peace and hope and joy can break through our anxiety. God sent his Son to save his people, and he has promised he will do the same for us.

That anxiety I feel so often, maybe it actually is more than a caffeine overdose. Maybe at its root, it is a physical longing for the peace and deliverance that God promises us through Jesus. A peace that for now feels just out of reach while it is clouded by earthly circumstances and sin in this life.

While we look forward to Jesus’s birth during Advent, we have permission to stop dwelling on ourselves, our stress, our sin and imperfections. Instead we can focus on the Giver of all good things who promises perfect joy and redemption for those who will take it, and with the wonder of a child look forward to His coming.

Advent is a deep breath.


Make Your Own Advent Calendar

Of course no post is complete without a DIY, so I’ve come up with an easy one for you. Print this, cut out the cards, and string/tape them up above the fireplace, on the fridge, down the hallway, wherever you’ll see them. Advent begins on December 1 this year. We’re planning to draw a picture (Alex) or write a phrase (me) from that day’s Scripture reading on the back of each card.

Advent Calendar Printable

I hope this project helps you and your family enjoy a meaningful Advent season.

Advent Calendar Printable


Sweet Skills

Recently I discovered a great website called Skillshare. As the name suggests, it’s a place where someone with a sweet skill can sign up to share it with other people. And most of the classes only cost around $20, so it’s a steal!

Of course the class that caught my eye was one on modern calligraphy. I’ve ALWAYS loved hand-written letters. I remember asking for a calligraphy set when I was in elementary school, and adding all kinds of cheesey block letters to my middle school scrapbooks. But I’ve never really worked at learning the art for real. So now is the time!

Modern Calligraphy Practice |

The instructor starts by having you fill several pages with the basic shapes that you’ll use in letters. It was so helpful to have someone tell me to start this way because this is what I would skip if I were trying to teach myself. It helped me get a feel for the pen and how the ink flows, and to work at keeping consistency in the line weights and spacing.

Modern calligraphy practice |

But then you get to move on to letters! The instructor gives you a sheet of letters to trace and learn the movements. It’s really helpful to practice the alphabet that way, and it’s quite a confidence boost to pull out the guide and see those beauties on your page.

Modern Calligraphy practice, mistakes and all

I’ve only learned lowercase letters so far but decided to practice by copying Sunday’s reading. Was going pretty well until God started sawing everyone… oops.

I’m having a blast learning! Usually I’m all about starting and finishing a project in a day or two. But it’s really great to have something to pick up and practice here and there throughout the week.

Want to join me? Sign up for Skillshare using this link and get $10 off your first class!

This one is called The Art of Modern Calligraphy, but there are lots of classes that look like fun if lettering isn’t your thing.

So granola.

Homemade granola

A new season of Portlandia was released on Monday. Only appropriate to make some granola, right? Maybe some Pistachio, Coconut, and Dried Cherry Granola?

Granola is so expensive that I’ve always assumed it was somehow too complicated or fickle to make at home. Turns out, nope! Probably the easiest thing you could make. Plus there is an immediate AND long-term payoff (when you put some in the freezer).  And who can resist anything that you store in a big beautiful mason jar?

Homemade granola

I tried this recipe because I happened to have everything it called for, but if you don’t, it’s easy to call in some subs. No cherries? Try raisins. No pistachios? Almonds or walnuts. Honey is also a common binding agent in granola, so if you don’t have maple syrup, maybe give this recipe a try (then tell me how it is).

Shelling pistachios

Dave and Kath kept us company while I shelled pistachios and Alex worked on his new website, The Common Vision. (You should definitely go take a look. He’s been writing like a madman and getting all kinds of talented folks to contribute on subjects of faith and culture.)

Granola baking

Once it’s all mixed together, onto the baking sheets it goes. 25 minutes in the oven, a few more to cool, and you’re done. I put half of it in a jar to enjoy this week, and the other half in the freezer as soon as it was cooled. (The one mistake I made with this recipe is using salted pistachios instead of unsalted. The finished product was delicious, but more of a salty snack than a breakfast addition to yogurt and fruit. If you only have salted nuts, leave out part or all of the added salt from the recipe.)

Granola in a jar

I can’t wait to try another batch (or 2 or 4) with new ingredient combinations. (Our first jar is going fast.) Maybe this one with wheat germ and sunflower seeds. Or this one with cinnamon and pecans. Or this one with ginger and honey. If you like granola and have never made it yourself, consider this your invitation!

We can pickle that!

We can pickle that! (Really.)

Have you ever wanted to live in pioneer times? Oh man, have I. I couldn’t get enough of Laura Ingalls and her little house, quilting bees and barn raisings and berry picking. And you better believe that Kirsten was my BFF of the American Girl variety. Well, turns out I’m not alone. My friend Alli (of fame) came over this weekend to teach me how to make pickles! And even though she was a Felicity girl, we had no trouble imagining ourselves out on the frontier, pickling our summer garden spoils to get us through the harsh winter.

They had mandolin slicers, refrigerators, and blogs on the frontier, right?

Alli was kind enough to buy our pickling cucumbers at the farmer’s market. It’s cucumber season RIGHT NOW, so that means they’re cheap and ready for pickling! But first, give ’em a good wash.

Homemade pickles |

Then slice and dice those cucumbers however suits your fancy.

Homemade pickles

Now separate your cucs into pint size mason jars. Fill them up nice and full. The liquid will fill in around them. Oh, and we sterilized the jars first by boiling them in a large stock pot for a few minutes.

Homemade pickles |

Now it’s time to make the brine, the vinegary liquid that works magic on those unsuspecting cucumbers and turns them into delicious pickles. It just requires boiling water, vinegar, and whatever spices you choose. It was so easy and boring that I didn’t even take a picture. The point is, you should just do it, because if you can boil water and vinegar in a pot, then you can make pickles.

We were a wee bit ambitious and made three different kinds. Here were the recipes we used (generally, but Alli is a pro so she mainly winged it):

Once the jars are filled and the liquid is cooled, put them in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Then they’re ready to eat and can be kept in the fridge for 6-8 weeks.

Homemade pickles

Look at all those pretty pickles! Pickle spears, pickle sandwich slices, pickle rounds! Spicy pickles, dill pickles, garlic pickles! AND don’t forget, bonus pickled red onions!

Pickled red onions and cucumbers

This made for an incredibly satisfying project. Ingredients you mostly have on hand, a couple of hours in the kitchen, really easy clean-up, and a fridge full of pretty mason jars showing off your beautiful homemade pickles.

Thanks for teaching me how to pickle that, Al Pal!

Homemade pickles with Alli

Before and After: Mid-century Dresser

Where I live, everyone wants a mid-century dresser topped with an old-timey typewriter and a pair of mini antlers underneath an antique cloche. (I just learned that word.) So antique stores in the city are keenly aware of what they have and what people will pay for such items — a lot. So I can get a little jealous of other bloggers when I read about the treasures they’ve purchased for pennies from their country junk shop (or more probably, junque shoppe).

But when I start to feel those pangs of envy, I just remember this:


Craigslist. $30. It is possible! Even in the city!

We brought this home last summer and it has been hiding in the guest room, embarrassed by scratches and general dinginess. But now it looks like this:

Dresser Portrait

Standing taller and prouder than ever, and looking worth far more than $30.

Dresser After

There are TONS of resources online about cleaning wood furniture (like here and here) and painting wood furniture and getting rid of dings. (My parents on the other hand had to buy VHS tapes to learn DIY techniques. My sister one time mistook “Paint Your Furniture” for a musical which led to a Schmunk family original song of the same title.)

Anyway, since there are so many great tips and how-to’s already on this subject, I’ll just give you an overview of what I did. The moral of the story is don’t be afraid! I thought this project would be way more time-consuming and daunting, which is why I put it off for an entire year. But it went really smoothly and now I can’t stop staring at this mid-century beauty.

Dresser Before and After

Here were the basic steps I took to clean this baby up:

1. Clean it inside and out with Murphy’s Oil Soap. It was amazing what this step alone did to brighten up the wood, get rid of all of the dust inside the frame, and remove general griminess on the drawer fronts. Here’s the inside of the dresser frame. Left is dusty pre-Murphy, right is clean post-Murphy:

Murphy's Oil Soap

2. Restore with Rejuvenate. In my mind, this step would magically erase all of the dings and scratches. It didn’t. It does however seem to be a good product for overall furniture maintenance, so it made me want to try it on some of our other wood pieces that I’m not so great at taking care of.

3. Sand, prime, and paint the drawer fronts. I learned a few things in my research that I will now summarize for you:

  • Sand first to remove the glossy finish and create a surface that will hold the paint
  • Use oil-based primer because it will cover the wood grain; let dry 4-6 hours (I went with overnight)
  • Use several coats of paint (you can use latex paint over oil-based primer, but not the other way around) and sand in between to remove drips or imperfections

Here’s what it looked like after one coat of primer:


4. While paint dries, “fix” dings with a marker. This actually did work like magic. I just colored over the scratches with a brown marker (!!!) and rubbed it in with my finger to blend it with the wood. Probably wouldn’t color on an heirloom piece, but worked great for this!


And there you have it. A two-day project that is really more waiting for things to dry than actual work. I love the two-tone look, and it’s WAY easier than trying to completely strip and refinish the entire dresser. Ta-da!

Dresser Close-up

Keepin’ My Day Job

I haven’t ever actually written here about what I do all day. As much as I love and am inspired by creativity and pretty handmade things and could spend lots and lots of hours hanging and rehanging the pictures over our fireplace (that post coming soon), this is what I care about the most:

I work for World Vision, a Christian international humanitarian and relief organization. Specifically, I help provide opportunities for average folk to do something about poverty. One of the ways to do that is by running a marathon and fundraising to provide clean water in Africa. Let me explain.

Running for clean water

In Kenya I met a girl who walked 6 miles every single day to fetch water for her family that would inevitably make them sick. Now because World Vision has partnered with the community, they have a clean water tap in their YARD! Rosemary gets to go to school, her family is healthy, and her mom has time to tend a garden that provides food for them all too.


In Kenya, there’s a saying: Water is life.

I believe God wants to see everyone experience fullness of life. Water, among other things, is essential for that to happen.

Which brings me back to running marathons. I’m running the Chicago Marathon with Team World Vision again this year because I always want to have my own skin in the game. It’s one thing to work for an organization and sit at a desk all day sending emails telling people to run marathons. It’s another thing to train for the marathon myself, physically connect with the people we serve, and remember how scary it can be to ask people for money. But I do it because I know the change that happens as a result is real. It’s as real for me as it is for Rosemary.

So, if you’ve ever been inspired by anything on this blog, I hope it’s this. And I’m going to boldly ask you to make a donation today on my fundraising page. $50 provides clean water for 1 person for life! That is $50 well spent.

Donate at

PS: That video above is a preview of a new Team World Vision short film featuring little old me and showing in theaters on June 12 only! 

Go ahead, make my day.

A few months ago I promised you a new series: Absolutely no occasion. In a few words, do this and make someone you love/like a lot feel awesome.

6-pack printable |

So today I bring you…the six pack of love.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Your someone’s favorite six pack. (Alex recently discovered a new favorite beer ne’er to be found at the local grocer. So while he worked today and I did not, I took a trip to Binny’s for this most loved Augustiner. But of course, this isn’t really about the beer. So any variety will do the trick.)
  • Six Pack Printable. Six tags that print on a single sheet of paper.
  • Scissors.

Six-pack surprise supplies

Simply cut out the tags, fold on the dotted line, cut slits in the top portion of the tags, and slip onto the bottle necks. When Alex got home from work today and opened the fridge, he gave me the look of giddy delight that I had hoped for. It works!

Now gents, before you give me the ol’, “My lady’s not much of a beer drinker,” let me show you something else:

photo (5)

Yep, these tags are multi-purpose. They fit perfectly on these tiny vases we had. They also worked on candles and wine bottles. (I saved you the trouble and tried it myself.) And let’s not underestimate the power of Scotch tape to attach these tags to any chocolatey treat.

So go ahead, make someone’s day. Heck, make their week! Take something seemingly ordinary and turn it into a reminder of just how cool and appreciated your spouse/BFF/roomie/boo really is.