5 Habits for Productivity

Time is a gift from God. He doesn’t owe it to us, yet he gives us days, hours, and minutes generously. Because time is a gift, it is never acceptable to waste it assuming that God will give us more. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:15-17

Over and over again I wonder why I don’t get as much done during my day or week as I would like. It might be because I have 7 kids. It might be because homeschooling 5 takes all day or because the baby is still nursing. But honestly, I probably waste more time then I would like to admit. I’m often hesitant at the tasks God has called me to do on any given day, and I procrastinate.

Several years ago, I asked advice from a veteran mom of 10 on how to best start the day. I was completely overwhelmed with all the children waiting for me to direct them onto the next task and organize their school day, two toddler age children that were only going to cause destruction, and a nursing infant that would wake up at any time. I asked how she started her day, and she shared with me these tips on maintaining sanity. I think these are tips for productivity that all of us can find helpful. Whether we take the children to school or not, whether we still have children in the home or not, whether it’s a large family or not, whether we live in an apartment or a large 5 bedroom home, these tips will make you feel not only sane, but also more productive:

  1. open all the blinds- even in the bathroom

  2. make all the beds- children can learn to make their own

  3. collect and empty all the trash bins- the bedrooms, bathrooms, office, etc.

  4. gather and run a load of laundry- everyday (remember to walk through the bathrooms and kitchen for washcloths and towels)

  5. wipe down surfaces- as many as you can, as fast as you can (kitchen and eating areas)

I realize that most of these can be delegated, and I leave that up to you. The simplicity and effectiveness of these tasks always energizes me and gets me feeling productive. The secret is in doing these small jobs before any meaningful activity has begun. For me, that is first thing in the morning after getting dressed but before breakfast. I’m a big believer in cleared counters before going to bed, but I still give them a fresh wiping in the morning. I guarantee you’ll feel revitalized! So blinds, beds, trash bins, laundry baskets, and wipe surfaces – now take a breath and say a prayer while looking out the windows and get ready to make some coffee. Here’s to a happy day, dear ones!

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do — do it all for the glory of God!”
1 Corinthians 10:31

with love, Damaris

Families Warm The Winter Blues

January so far is anything but dull. Outside my window panes, the meadow and all her barren beauty, offer a frail salute to the new year. The maple trees need a good cold and snowy winter to produce ample sap in the spring. As we inch toward even more snowfall days, I’d say it looks a lot like a good ol’ traditional Michigan winter is underway. Today’s whirling whiteness asserts this winter is wild and woolly.

These days, we find beauty is in the stillness. We’ve settled snug for winter with a few episodes of speeding swiftly and smoothly down the cold, hard snow. Nothing could warm our hearts more than gathering close with piles of new good picks from the library and a whistling kettle nearby.

Today could appear dismal if we had grand eventful plans, but the simplicity of the smell of rosemary, sweet potatoes and apple cider fills me with gratitude for the chance to hold all my loves and keep them close. And when we do have to spend the day out, we relish the delightful consciousness of home waiting at the end.

Some of our favorite things this January are:

  • woolly socks – I wear these everyday

  • peach tea- reminds us that the sun will shine again

  • making candied nuts- recipe is at the end of this post!

  • felt sewing- hard to mess up and easy for kids

  • making indoor s’mores- first time trying, so fun!

  • new picture books for read alouds- we order online and swing by for pick up

  • game nights- this is our new favorite

  • Nathan reads missionary biographies sometimes in our bed and kids pile up- currently reading this one

  • chicken pie- our absolute favorite recipe coming soon!

  • robust soups and this crusty artisan bread

  • fleecy jogger pants- we live these 🙂

Candied Nuts

3 cups whole almonds, or halved pecans/walnuts

1 cups sugar

4 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Set aside. In a large skillet combine nuts, sugar, and butter. Cook over medium heat, carefully stirring constantly for 10 minutes or until sugar melts and turns to a rich deep brown color. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla. Spread the mixture onto the parchment liked cookie sheet. Allow them to cool and the candy will harden. We often fill a pint jar with these and give them as a hostess gift . They are delicious eaten straight or sprinkled on salads.

with love, Damaris

2018, your year for keto?

Everybody sets new goals in January, and at the top of the list are the goals related to eating habits: kicking the sugar craving, beating the bloat, or simply supercharging their diet for overall wellbeing and hopefully loosing a couple holiday pounds. Proper care of my health and that of those in my household is my concern. Making menus or meal planning has helped me for many years in this area because I can clearly see what we’re eating and how often. I also enjoy taking a little time to read books and articles on natural living and nutrition in general.

Over a year ago, we all did a Whole30, and I enjoyed the foods tremendously. The learning experience alone was well worth it! I think we’re gearing up to doing another one soon. So stay tuned for updates on that. Lot’s of folks say that January diets are doomed to fail, but they don’t have to be. If it is something you enjoy and can find a good rhythm for in your daily living, than it can be very successful.

It can be hard to juice, do smoothies, or even enjoy salads when it is frosty outside and the car thermostat reads -4F on Nathan’s way to work. In Michigan, the cold and the gray is relentless, and right now we’re in the deepest, darkest part of winter. Since we need comfort and cheering up, warm, rich foods would bring not just sustenance but satisfaction. Hefty cheeses, thick soups and stews, and creamy, sweet winter squashes help our sun-deprived bodies to survive the dreary weeks of winter.

The ketogenic diet is basically a way of eating that shifts your body from burning sugar to fat for energy. It focuses on eating high fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrates which means lots of nutrient-dense whole foods, without anything processed. Contrary to what many people still believe, fats are not bad for you. This truth is as old as ancient civilizations. Something about adding more fats made us full and we stopped craving and thinking about the next meal all the time.

I count our ketogenic story a success because we continued for weeks long past our 3 week goal. We came to it with no intention to buy anything we didn’t already have or use on a regular basis – no buying special flours, supplements, or prepared specialty foods. We made sure to drink lots of hydrating liquids to make up for the lack of fresh fruits, and we cut out the snacking.

Here’s the do-not list:

– grains

– legumes/beans

– root vegetables

– fruits (except some berries)

– sugars/maple syrup/honey

You may read that the transition will be hard and might feel like the flu, but this was not our experience. We don’t eat a diet as high in grains or sugars as most western diets, which may be why it wasn’t a hard switchover for our bodies. There are many health advantages to eating a keto diet which you can read about here. The main benefits that we could feel on a daily basis were:

  1. A feeling of fullness

  2. Greatly reducing sugar cravings

  3. Eliminating carb dependency

  4. Weight loss

I think the way to sustainably follow the ketogenic diet is by keeping it simple. I didn’t spend time searching for new recipes, but instead we cooked the meals that we already love that are keto friendly or eliminated ingredients from family favorite meals. Remembering that fat is not the enemy will be key. We continued to shop on the same grocery budget and all the meals were kid-approved!

Meals we loved for breakfast:

  • crustless quiches (yummy twist is topping it with sour cream and salsa)

  • fried eggs or scrambled with cheese with bacon or sausage

  • eggs benedict with avocado slices underneath and you won’t miss the English muffin

  • shakshuka (huevos fritos con tomate- is what we called it growing up) This was our favorite breakfast! We switched mozzarella for the feta and it tasted so, so good. Sprinkled with parmesan is the best.

  • full fat plain yogurt with berries (a sprinkle of stevia) and nut butter (this made a great dessert too)

Favorite and easy lunches:

  • hamburgers without the bun

  • quality sugar-free hotdogs without the bun

  • sugar-free ham, salami, or prosciutto (jamon serrano) with a preferred cheese (I love Havarti)

  • tuna salad

  • chicken salad

  • egg salad

  • baked brie and fresh veggies

  • celery and nut butter

  • broccoli and cauliflower florets, cucumber slices with ranch

  • dinner left overs make the best lunch

Delicious dinners:

  • taco salad

  • chicken curry with cauliflower rice

  • meatballs with marinara (same as spaghetti and meatballs without the pasta)

  • hamburgers and roasted broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts

  • chicken alfredo

  • brats and sauerkraut

  • Italian sausages with pesto

  • beef stew

  • baked salmon and asparagus

  • keto pizza

  • lasagna (instead of noodles, we used deli ham slices- so good. Eggplant or zucchini slices would work great too).

Desserts we made:

  • berries with fresh whipped cream (with a little stevia)

  • keto chocolate cheesecake (used stevia equivalent and didn’t swirl- I know, so boring 🙂

  • keto pumpkin pie (used stevia equivalent and sometimes no crust)

  • keto custard pie (no crust, full fat milk and 2 teaspoons of stevia- add more if it doesn’t seem sweet enough before baking

I hope this gives you a little flavor for what keto is like and if it might be a good fit for your winter health goals. I’d love to hear your experience with keto and some of your favorite tips and recipes!

with love. Damaris

The Place for Silence – A Simple Christmas Day Challenge

One theme that has stood out to me this Christmas season has been the episodes of silence in many of the accounts and events leading up to and resulting from the birth of Christ. Fitting with the celebration of our Christmas season, we often focus on the singing, laughing, and joy of Christmas. There was certainly lots of that to go around, but at advent there were also very poignant, very personal moments of silence – some self-motivated (think Mary’s pondering) and some imposed (think Zechariah’s muteness).

In the hurried, jingled, tinseled days of Christmas, in the news-cycle, buzzfeed, post-frenzied lives we often slip into;

join me in this challenge:

FALL PRONE & worship.

Read for yourself the accounts of that first Christmas, and let God speak through them.

Quiet the day and ask others to share in your amazement at such a miraculous, mysterious salvation.

Find a moment away and plant seeds of wonder in your child’s heart.

Luke 2:19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Luke 1:18-20 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (19) And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. (20) And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

Matthew 2:11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

When do we shut our mouths in silence at the chorus of God’s majesty? The incomparable wonder of God’s proclamation of redemption smothers my foolish heart and drowns my ignorant speech. “I am undone!” says Isaiah the prophet. I am put in my place – a place of receipt, a place to lie flat and not stand, a place to be silent.

DISCLAIMER: Damaris says that I sound like the Grinch – “all the noise, noise, noise!” Maybe there’s truth to that – Hah!

Let me not forget that this exhale of silence, this moment of awe is effectively a calibration of my spirit – a moment to gather in all the truth of who I really am in the great universe of God’s scheming. A realignment that fits me into my true place – as the creature…then….then…I can sound. Then we can sound the pure ring of praise from mere creature to exalted creator, from freed prisoner to righteous ransomer, from lowly shepherd on a hillside to searing radiance of a glorious God. These responses all have their place and will find their voice as witnessed in Mary’s magnificat (Luke 1:46) , the wisemen’s joy at finding the Messiah (Matthew 2:10), and the shepherds jubilation:

Luke 2:20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

May an awesome silence lead our families to an awesome celebration of the Christ child this Christmas!

a thought from Nathan

We Wish You a First Christmas!

From our family to yours, we wish you a“First Christmas”!

Our prayers as a family this advent season seem to have focused on the desire for God to grant us the freshness of sight of that first Christmas.

Amidst all the festivities of the season, the pageantry, the stockings and growing skirt of presents under the tree, even the familiar carols and Scripture passages; we flail out for rescue. Our hope lies in revisiting His Christmas anew:

May He shock us with His glory like those shepherds cowering on the night hillside.

May He bewilder us with His mercy like old Zechariah.

May He humble us with His favor like young Mary.

May He bolster us with His strength like obedient Joseph.

May He draw us with His inextinguishable light like those searching scholars from the east.

Let us all together flee with desperate need to the overwhelming graciousness of the Immanuel, God with Us!

One recent resource we found that helped our family to these ends was this video produced by VidAngel. It is a fresh, poignant reminder of the tangible need of each of us and our children for God’s divine intervention into our darkened world, and of the welcome light His Son has brought!

a thought from Nathan

Time For Tea and Cookies!

These sugar cookies are a delicate salute to Christmas. Nothing speaks tradition more than cut-out cookies! The hint of citrus keeps this recipe from being anything but dull. These favorite cookies are my mother-in-law’s recipe, which I have treasured since my first Christmas as a wife. The cookies are soft and delicately sweet, and I’m sure you’ll find them to be jolly good! The children and I made this recipe twice this week. They’re so good that the first time we made them, we didn’t even wait to frost them!

Over the years, I have learned that aesthetics don’t improve the taste of sugar cookies. So I brought out the frosting for the children to have their creative way with the shaped cookies while I sat on the kitchen bench and read ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.

I’m also sharing with you a delicious spiced tea that is sure to keep you warm and feeling all festive. Not to mention how cozy your house will smell! It makes quite a bit, but it keeps in the fridge for a long time. I make a large stock pot of it, and serve it for two different gatherings warmed up in the crock pot or simmering on the stove.

Sour Cream Sugar Cookies

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1/3 cup butter, softened

  • 1/4 cup shortening

  • 2/3 cup sour cream

  • 1/2 t lemon extract

  • 1 egg

  • 2 2/3 cups flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375F. Cream the butter and shortening with the sugar with a mixer. Add the sour cream, lemon extract, and the egg until incorporated. Roll out the dough on a well dusted surface (powdered sugar or flour both work well) to 1/4 of an inch thick or less. Cut into desired shapes and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake in the middle rack for 7-8 minutes or until the bottoms have just a hint of gold. Allow the cookies to cook on the pan before handling. Frost the cookies and decorate to your liking!

Winter Spiced Tea

  • 5 cups of water

  • 5 tea bags

  • 1/2 cup honey (sugar works fine)

  • 1/2 cup lemon juice

  • 5 cups apple juice

  • 5 cups cranberry juice

  • 2 cinnamon sticks

  • 2 star anise

  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds

  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves

  • 1 teaspoon cardamom pods

Make an aromatics bundle with the coriander, cloves and cardamom: wrap them in a piece of cheese cloth or a coffee filter tied with food safe cord (butcher twine). If you don’t have a way to make a little bundle, just add all the spices right into the pot (we do it this way most often and serve it with a few seeds that settle at the bottom of the cup). You can use other spices that you might have on hand. Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Turn the heat off and add tea bags. Stir in the honey until dissolved and remove tea bags after 5 minutes (when steeped). Add the remaining ingredients including the spice bundle. Garnish with a slice of orange or lemon. Enjoy it both warm or cold!

with love. Damaris

Winter Wonder

Mid December is snowy and bright with predictable bitter cold nights. We make attempts to combat our drowsiness by playing Christmas music all day and allowing ourselves to fade at 4:33. All the candles in the windows light up, we light the lamps, and we light the oven. It smells like beef stew, and the large emerald Dutch oven’s fullness reminds us of our empty stomachs. Barn chores already done, Eva lights the candles on the long table. This farmhouse’s glowing across the frosted snow offers a welcome and speaks of rest. But this evening, I am not in step with the ambience. My heart is all undone, stretched thin across the many things that need my attention.

While dusk dims the rooms, I feel my heart wax in the frustration of bad piano practices and forgotten laundry baskets. Regretfully, I lash out short answers, scolding remarks, and impatient commands. I can’t blame this on the winter blues – this is my lack. Why is it so much easier when Nathan is home?

In preparation for the busyness that we all know this season brings, I had committed to go through December with complete enjoyment. Making things beautiful and special during the holidays is rewarding far beyond my effort, but now it’s obvious to everyone around that I need to take time for some peace. I know that my body and mind need a little rest. It’s not a bubble bath, a TV show, or calling a friend that can soothe my undone heart and mind. I will take a few, unusual, before-dinner moments to be with God. He will remind me that He came to be my Counselor, my Prince of Peace.

These are some of my treasured verses about God’s peace that I pray encourage you too:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 14:27

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.


And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:15

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.

2Thessalonians 3:16

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6,7

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

1Peter 5:7

Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.


May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Psalm 29:11

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

Isaiah 26:3

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

Isaiah 54:10

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

with love. Damaris

Christmas Simmer Pot

Few things have been bringing me more joy these blustery winter days than listening to Handel’s Unto Us A Child Born from the Messiah masterpiece. My kids surely think my heart will burst as I sing along with my eyes closed for focus. To perfect the moment, this simmering pot has been steaming for hours now on the stovetop, adding warmth and sharp aroma to a day spent at home. Just like the world outside my windowpanes, the simmer pot is delicate and woodsy. It’s is all the smells of the season in one pot. The amazing aroma also looks lovely. There’s no better combination than citrus, spices, and some springs of nature. This simmer pot is a beautiful way to enrich your space with homemade Christmas scents (in lieu of pricey candles) and also adds a little needed moisture to the dry winter indoors. If you’re feeling restless on this very still Monday, a simmer pot will undoubtedly warm up your senses.

  • one sliced, whole orange

  • a large handful of cranberries

  • a couple cinnamon sticks

  • a few bay leaves

  • rosemary sprigs (or cuttings from your Christmas tree)

  • a large pinch of whole cloves

Fill a large pot with water and add all the aromatics in. Simmer for hours and hours adding water as needed. This makes a fun kitchen experiment when you switch things up by using what you have or choose your preferred winter scents.

with love. Damaris

If It's Not Too Late…A Shopping Guide!

Over the last twelve years of parenting, we have purchased or crafted many presents, and found that some toys ended up in the trash broken or in a donation box a few months later. I’m sure we’re not the only ones who have felt the frustration of wanting gifting for children to be both fun and valuable?? Of course, add into the mix the opinions of what is ‘valuable’ to a 9 year old, and it really can get exasperating! hah!

All these items below our children own – still own, and they use again and again. Isn’t that what we want them to do with all the well-thought-out and purposeful presents we gift them? Nothing makes me more happy than to watch them use these toys and tools over and over, year after year!

This guide includes presents appropriate for our seven children – from the little toddler to our oldest who is 12. You’ll notice that the guide includes many simple gifts that are practical, useful, and for their enrichment. For example, our girls use their donut pan and cookbook while having conversations with me and each other, and learning the importance of cleanliness, precision, and proper temperatures, and how materials can be blended and mixed to create new textures, aromas, and tastes. Most of all, they will understand that mistakes can be quickly forgotten with the next batch of donuts!

For our boys, carving shapes out of wood or simply reducing a stick to a single toothpick (or knife) has been a popular pastime for centuries, and could sometimes be a necessity. Carving teaches them about the properties of wood, taking proper care of tools, and using proper techniques for safety in addition to experiencing the pleasure of handling one’s own smooth, carved creation. I hope you’ll find an idea or two for some affordable gifts that enrich your children, enhance their skills and build their creativity! Obviously, I didn’t attach pictures, but each item does have a link- I hope this is helpful for your family!

Girls –

Boys –


with love. Damaris

Holiday Bucket List

Is anyone else feeling behind on all the holiday stuff? Presents, decor, tree, wreaths, outdoor lights, cards, family pictures, BREATHE! But really, all we have to prepare for this Christmas is our hearts. Daily advent readings are such a cure for all the distressing about to-does! You can find readings for your simplified advent here.

When I begin to feel the overwhelm, I try to see it all thought the eyes of a child. When our hearts are full of wonder, it’s easier to delight in the small things – we enjoy what we already have and are more ready to share it with the loved ones that surround us! When we celebrate the simple things, we can find rest and even recharge during the holiday hullabaloo. Since I’m a list-maker extraordinaire, I’m sharing today our Christmas bucket list! We plan to enjoy these favorite activities during the school/work break of the holidays. Most of these we do every year and anticipate them for weeks, but some activities are new additions which may well become a special tradition. Here it goes… our holiday bucket list:

  1. playing board games with a mug of hot chocolate

  2. sleeping “under” the tree

  3. baking wheels of brie

  4. making bread loaves for all the neighbors on our road

  5. going to Panera for coffee and bagels

  6. making chocolate bread pudding

  7. trying our hand at a lattice apple pie

  8. eating croissants and chocolate for breakfast

  9. watching special Christmas movies

  10. baking and frosting cut-out sugar cookies (recipe in an upcoming post!)

  11. Cracker Barrel brunch and sitting by the fire to play checkers with Dad

  12. making monkey bread

  13. Christmas caroling at neighbors’

  14. making cream puffs

  15. taking the kids treasure hunting at a nearby antique mall

  16. enjoying huge cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning

There you have it! It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

with love. Damaris