Ashley’s Fourth Annual Thanksgiving-a-palooza

Today I’m thinking about how people say they don’t like holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas because sure, they’re days of gratitude and good cheer but we should be living like that every day.

They’re right, of course. So astute to realize that we pick and choose when we want to be happy, gracious, grateful people.

So, that being said, we have work to do, don’t we? If our gardens have been growing weeds of discontent and bad will towards men, we have some new seeds to sow, some ground to be worked, some hoeing and weeding and planting and watering.

In my Thanksgiving-a-palooza, I’m going to try to do some weeding and planting, to weave gratitude into my day.

Yesterday, when our Thanksgiving preparation really began in earnest, baking pies and making cherry-cranberry sauce and making glorified rice (aka marshmallow fluff, as Stella & Brian’s boys call it), and washing lots of dishes. By the time I got home form my haircut, my mom had done most of that. So I used my dish washing skills acquired from four semesters without a dishwasher to help.


I helped with the pies a little bit and made the butternut squash soup for last night’s dinner. But basically, my mom, the powerhouse of a chef, made everything. I can take very little credit.


I’m thankful for my mom, who taught me how to cook and encouraged me to try new foods, when my diet used to consist of even less than it does now.

And now, for the actual day:

8:00am isn’t really sleeping in, but of course, my parents were up and dressed and planning their workout by the time I got to the kitchen at 8:10. My college culture would be impressed that I got up at 8 on a holiday, totally voluntarily. I set an alarm. But my parents are middle-aged, so it’s actually kind of like sleeping in.

Someday, this will be my life.

9:36am found me as the only one not at the gym, drinking coffee and typing my first draft of this post, which Google Chrome promptly deleted when it crashed.

Whatever. This one will be better.

I brushed my teeth then roused myself from my position drinking coffee at the kitchen table to brush my teeth (pictured below to prove that I did it), then to kickbox so I don’t feel like the lazy bum of the family.


And now that I have dressed myself, I’ve been drinking water to stave off hunger and getting ready to go to the Sick’s house.

Photo on 11-27-14 at 11.32 AM #2

I’m thankful for this tradition and looking forward to catching up with their family.


Update: It’s cold here, in case you didn’t know. It was -3° when I woke up. It’s deceptive because it’s so bright and happy looking out there.




It’s all over.

We’ve eaten, we’ve drunk, we’ve eaten dessert, we’ve sat and talked and looked at photo albums and talked some more and divided up all the leftovers. Then we talked some more, and Dad fell asleep, so we took that as a sign that we needed to go home.


There’s a candid for you. This was post-eating, nearly.

2Sometimes pie isn’t enough, so you and your brother decide that you’re going to put jelly beans on the floor and do push-ups to get them into your mouths. Exertion and reward.

Also, when young boys bring nerf guns out, old men become young boys again. Remember, this man has two daughters, precious little of this kind of thing in his life.


IMG_2509Yes, it was a lovely day.

Then we got our tree down from the attic and tried to put the box back in, which resulted in my dad almost getting his head stuck with the box. But it’s all good, because he still has his head, and we got our tree up.

I’m thankful for good conversation today, for people who are striving to live meaningful lives and are likewise impacting mine by their example, for sweet little boys who aren’t really so little any more but play minecraft and laugh contagiously when they are trying not to get shot with a nerf gun. I’m thankful for good food and leftovers and a full fridge.

This will sound callous compared to being thankful for people, but I’m really thankful for cheese. Thanksgiving is one meal of the year that doesn’t really include cheese, and though I get full and happy, I always end up needing cheese later. I’m thankful that I’m not vegan.

Gratitude is always most truly due to the God who saves, which is an active verb in the present tense. I’m thankful for the Gospel, for true relationship with Jesus, and for God’s presence throughout the whole of my journey.

I’m also thankful for my readers, for the people who take time to think with me and laugh with me. I’m thankful that people find at least a portion of what I write interesting and relevant. I’m thankful for the gift of words!

With that, I begin another year of cultivating gratitude. May our gardens be sown with contentment, joy, and cups that flow over no matter how much we have.



Bad mood combat mode.

Last night, Liesel and I found ourselves more tired than when the weekend began, which – though not uncommon – signifies a definite need for a break.

Then this morning, the raining, chilly, and windy. I don’t mind chilly rain, but pair that with a cold wind and I’m cursing all of nature. Curse you for not being pleasant. The rest of us were trying to be, but apparently some one wasn’t kind to you yesterday, and now you’re taking it out on all of Chicago. That’s not a healthy way to deal with disappointment and hurt, Nature. You should try to be more others centric and kind. Why add more mean and nasty to the world? We don’t need it.
So I’m going into bad-mood combat mode.
Step 1: find a reason to smile…. Right now.
My reason: someone behind me on the train smells faintly of pine needles and nice men’s cologne. That’s a reason to smile.
Step 2: Think of all the possibilities for today (not the possible disasters, mind you, but the opportunities and possible joys).
Mine: I get to help organize my office today. It might stop raining before I go home. I get to start packing to go to Minnesota tomorrow. I GET TO GO TO MINNESOTA TOMORROW. I also have tasty pasta with a sauce I made up yesterday for lunch today. Yay, leftovers.
Step 3: Be friendly. Typically being friendly brightens both my day and the other person’s day. Something about successful, positive social interaction with friendly strangers is a happy circumstance.
Step 4: Rinse and repeat. The rinsing part won’t be hard for Chicagoans today.
Happy Monday, ya’ll.

Friday attitude.

Did you know that attitude is everything? Would you like me to remind you?
I’ve had a full week. Liesel and I spent our lunch time in Tuesday planning out when we were going to do all the things we need to in the next week, while eating pizza. We covered about nine sheets of paper with colorful Sharpies (and inhaled way too many fumes… Well, at least for me. Liesel likes the smell of Sharpies. She also complains that I always mention her in weird contexts here so I should also add that she likes the smell of bleach. Wait, that didn’t help. She cleans for fun? Nope, not that either. She loves pizza. There, that’s it. She gives great hugs, especially on days where I need it. She always hugs me for at least twenty seconds so that we’ll both get a release of her favorite hormone, oxytocin. See? She’s cool.) and posted them on the wall in our living room so we will be on top of all of our tasks.
Being on top of things, though satisfying, makes me tired. It’s like riding a bull to manage my schedule and responsibilities all day. I know I don’t even have as much going on as other people do, but the bull I’m trying to ride is hyper and angry and unpredictable.
So today I had class and work. And then more work. And I wasn’t looking forward to that more work, which I causing interacting with someone about their paper. Then again with another person and again.
I ran home from the train to brush my teeth and get the papers. Hi Liesel. Bye Liesel. Then proceed to spend two and a half hours in the library on a Friday. What else do I have to do? As I walked down the stairs to go to the library, I took a deep breath and asked Jesus to remind me why I love my job, to make it fulfilling.
And now I remember. I don’t always remember that I need to ask to remember (did that make sense?), but when I ask, I receive. This is one thing Jesus seems to grant on the spot, reminders that I’m doing what He has called me to do and that doing it with joy is important.
Happy Friday. May joy in your calling characterize your day.

Second graders and their disinterest in cake.

Most of the time, I love working with my second graders. Watching my Little Buddy start to recognize phonics patterns and hearing her ask, “Did I do it right?” to get a high five and some verbal affirmation makes Mondays and Wednesdays fulfilling.

This Monday started off better than I expected. We were down a few volunteers, so I planned to work with all the extra kids on a Thanksgiving worksheet where we talk about food. Couldn’t be easier, could it? Nope

Except that second graders aren’t predictable. That should be their tagline. Second Graders: You have no idea what will come out of our mouths next.

In the first group, I only had to work with two kids at a time. Piece of cake. They had leveled up, so we worked on their new books together. Hooray for kids who can sound out words on their own. Oh, it’s so beautiful to watch them start to be able to string the letters into familiar words. We’re making meaning, people.

Seconds group, however, I needed to work with four kids. Bolstered by my positive experience with the group beforehand, I didn’t see the challenge.

We had a worksheet where we talk about what we like to eat on Thanksgiving (obviously the entire point of the holiday… yes, I’m being facetious) then write the words on our “menu.” Simple enough.

My sole little boy then brings up Chucky. Yes, Chucky, the scary doll from the series in the 90s. The one whose face looks like a baseball. It’s the stuff of nightmares. My sweet little second graders, bringing up Chucky.

My instant response, “Chucky isn’t on the menu. Did you want me to tell you how to spell chicken nuggets?” Acknowledge comment, distract with better comment. This should work.

The conversation went downhill from there. The sweet girl on my left didn’t seem to know what they were talking about, so at least I didn’t have four students cackling about Chucky and how scary he was. And the leprechaun… what leprechaun we’re talking about, I don’t know. But apparently he is terrifying.

I couldn’t get the conversation back to food. “Who likes cake? Look, cake is on your sheet. What’s your favorite kind of cake?” Insert comment about the scary leprechaun. “You know what my favorite kind of cake is?” Okay, apparently no one cares.

Oh, I hate feeling out of control. And if cake wouldn’t reel them in, I don’t know what would have.

Sometimes second graders laugh maniacally (while the poor other students are trying to read) and won’t listen when you grab their arms and tell them to shush, their friends are trying to read. Then one of them just looks into your eyes and tells you the leprechaun is going to get you.

God bless all the elementary school teachers.

Oh, God bless every one of you. You, with the classrooms full of small, individual, crazy, wonderful children. You have the patience of a saint, I’m sure.

I hope your kids don’t know about Chucky.

22 ounces plus.

FOREST CREATURES & WOODLANDSI used to drink one cup of coffee everyday. Just one. I was fine with that. I drank it in the morning then sometimes in the afternoon. It rarely even required any discipline to limit me to that one cup.

I think Europe ruined me. Or junior year did. Something took away my one-cup habit and turned it into a how-ever-many-cups-I-crave habit. The Keurig at my internship is just too accessible, and our one cupper at home is so easy to use… Coffee is within reach at all times. And unless it’s after 4:00, I rarely turn down a cup of coffee.

Usually, if I drink more than three cups of coffee in one day, I’m a nervous wreck with jitters and super fast talking and strange comments. But I know something has changed because today, I drank that entire French press of coffee at 12:30pm, which is a 22 ounce French press, by the way, and I didn’t feel any different.

I assumed I’d get home and Liesel would notice some strange behavior or twitches or speech, but apparently I am acting normal to those who know me best, too.

This is a problem. 22 ounces of coffee should affect me more than increasing my trips to the restroom. Should I detox? Well, coffee isn’t really toxic. I mean, I’m experiencing no ill-effects as of right now. I suppose that could change around bedtime, but I’m not anticipating that. I’ve even yawned a few times in the past two hours.

I should probably just cut back. I should probably deny myself that third, 3:00pm cup of joe. I should switch to tea. Water. Something else.

I never thought my coffee tolerance would be this disturbing. I feel like a real college student now. I drank an entire pot of coffee and still didn’t get a caffeine buzz! 

I’ll let you know how that cutting back goes. Monday’s tomorrow, so maybe I’ll start on Tuesday.


If I wasn’t certain of it before, I am now. Not only am I human, but I am a bookish human. The word “bookish” seemed offensive to me at some point in my life, because it seemed flat, like oh, well, you’re bookish, so you’re like a book. You sit on a shelf and only get down when someone specifically requests you. You smell like paper and feel smooth and flat, and people have to care to read you. 

Now I’d like to redefine “bookish”. I currently have eight books sitting on the floor beside my bed. Three of them I am currently reading, and five of them I anticipate starting in the next few days.

Then there’s the bookshelf at the end of my bed: half full of books I’ve read and loved from all stages of life and half full of books I have yet to read. Venture to the living room to “my couch” (apparently Liesel and I have our own couches… we naturally gravitate towards different ones), where two other books sit. On the bureau, there are two more books.

In the quantity that some people keep boxes of tissues or lip balm or air fresheners, I have books. And they are as useful as lip balm, tissues, or air fresheners, though for different uses.

Bookish: (adj) sees books as a portal to living a meaningful and full life, possibly wishes for glasses in order to look more intelligent, feels at home in a library or bookstore, may quote books or paraphrase interesting readings without prompting or invitation.

I’m bookish. Man, college really is a time of self-discovery.

Certainly human.

Tuesday started with rain and will likely end with snow. That also means that it will start with coffee and keep going with coffee. Cloudy days = more caffeine required.

Is there anyone out there who can learn life lessons in a way other than the hard way? I mean, is there anyone who reads the self-help books and the advice columns and the “10 mistakes not to make” articles and actually avoids that?

I always have to learn by experience. Maybe it’s because I’m stubborn (thanks, Dad) or because I’m determined to see things through to the end (thanks, Mom). I have to make ridiculous mistakes before God can finally hit me on the head with a two-by-four and let me sit in stunned perspective. Oh, that’s why that wasn’t a good idea.

I had one of those moments this morning. There was a two-by-four, and now there’s a headache and severe determination to not need to be hit on the head again.

It’s part of the human experience, I think, even more so than puberty or mid-life crises (which, my roommate has informed me, are proven to not be any more common than a crisis at any other phase of life. She’s in lifespan psych right now, so we should trust her.) to make mistakes and finally come to the conclusion that would have helped us initially had we known it or paid attention to the voices that already knew it.

At least I’m certain I’m human.

Smooshy season.

It’s that time of the semester where I get all smooshy about my family and home. It is now a perfect place where everyone basically hugs me all the time (I’m hug-deprived, especially family hug deprived) and there is lots of coffee (not coffee deprived, but it’s always better when my dad makes it) and love and conversation and happiness.

Also, I’m dying to get a haircut. My head is starting to resemble a Christmas tree, which is not the goal, believe it or not.

Nostalgia sets in. My family has been cleared of all faults or annoying habits. They are perfect people, whom I miss so much. I’ve got a countdown til I see them again. 17 days, just over two weeks. Then I’ll remember that though they are wonderful, they are imperfect, and it’ll be lovely.

Either way, I get lots of hugs then.

College provides so many opportunities – interning, learning around every corner, new people, new things to be involved in, growth galore, independence, but it doesn’t include much family for me. There’s a few phone calls per week and some “I love you! I miss you!” texts in the mornings, but it’s a poor substitute.

The farther I go and the longer I stay away, the more I’ve realized that home is where my heart is, and my family holds my heart.

Absence does make the heart grow fonder.

Failure to vote.

I so badly wanted to vote. It’s one of those activities that makes me feel productive, democratic, free, and adult at the same time. But with all the other adult responsibilities in my life lately (like trying to get this youtube video to go viral so I can be Taylor Swift’s friend and managing my new job for which I am vastly under-qualified), I forgot to request my absentee ballot til last week.

Then I couldn’t find a witness. Darn misplaced Minnesotans, all going abroad.

But then I found a witness but had forgotten that Minnesota needs those absentee ballots back by election day. That’s kind of a “duh”. But I just wasn’t thinking because November is sneaky, and election day sneaks right up since it’s at the beginning of the month.

So now I have no voice. I’ve got political laryngitis. And I can’t complain if Minnesota elects somebody I don’t like.

I suppose I can still write letters and make phone calls, but it’s so much nicer to just put the people you want in office.

So, I’ve failed in my democratic duty.

But I’ve succeeded in buying my first pair of sweatpants since high school today, in being responsible with a group project, in keeping up with my emails, and I even washed some of the dishes (Liesel and I can dirty dishes like nobody’s business).

I hereby pledge to never do this stupid forgetting to vote thing again. I will plan better next time to avoid political laryngitis. You are all my witnesses.

Anchored in bad weather.

So, I’m a little frustrated right now. Partly with myself for  neglecting to blog from October 22nd til now, partly with myself for not just doing it, and partly with technology for deleting the blog post that I just wrote without even asking me.

Maybe this is Jesus’ way of steering me in a different direction. No, Ashley, no one needs to hear about what you’ve been doing instead of blogging. They don’t need to know who you were for Halloween or what you ate for breakfast this morning.

I’m sure there was something on my mind this week. Actually, I can remember being in the thick of busyness at multiple times this week then thinking something profound – hey, I should blog about that – then forgetting before I could get to a writing implement.

There must have been something going on between brain synapses. Join me in a moment of silence for all the potential brilliance/thoughtfulness/humor lost because I’m forgetful.

I could have thought up the idea for the next great American novel, but because I’m too busy to pay attention, I won’t write it.

Yesterday was about the yuckiest day you could possibly imagine. Sleet, rain, snow, and hail, paired with bone-chilling wind and gloomy skies. It doesn’t get much worse, especially if you have places to go and people to see on those days. It was dark and unmotivating and scummy.

And today. Oh, today. Today is chilly but bright and clear. The clouds are quickly clearing out to make way for the blue, and the sunshine is pouring onto my couch.

The weather is so often a picture of the human soul. I’ve been thinking about where I was at this point last year and how far God has brought me out of it today. This time last year, I had just starting taking my antidepressants and had gone through a week of intense, unwarranted anxiety. It was part of the process of getting used to the medication.

This year, I’m juggling two part-time jobs, an internship, a social, life, sleep, and my classes, and I’m capable of handling it. I’ve come out of five months on my own in a foreign country, where God kept pushing light into my life, into a world of bright shiny things and unicorns and glitter and wonderful, fuzzy feelings….

Did you catch the hyperbolic sarcasm there?

I’m tempted to make the comparison of darkness into light. God has brought day into my night. And I suppose, in a way, He has. My heart is lighter, my thoughts are clearer, my life makes more sense. But I think a more apt metaphor uses the weather. Storms come through and batter the soul. And sometimes the storms rage on and are followed by more storms. And the storms will come back. We are assured of that. Storms mold us and shape us more permanently than most teaching methods.

I think darkness is static. As a Christian, there are shadows in my life, but because I’m in Christ, there is no part of me without light. Storms are active. There are times when clouds veil the sun and produce shadows and sleet and winds so cold and biting and powerful that you might blow away into the abyss. But you don’t.

(c) Ashley McDonald 2014

So when the winds blow and the storms rage on and we’re pretty sure that our world will never see sunshine and warmth again, we are anchored.