Word of the Week – Hands Down

Word of the Week – Hands Down

“It’s the best, hands down.”

“He won hands down.”

“This is hands down the most delicious mac and cheese recipe out there.”

I daresay we all know the phrase…but do you know where it comes from? I hadn’t. But it turns out hands down, which dates from 1855, is actually a term coined in horse racing.

The first recorded use was in The Sportsman in 1840, describing a jockey who was so far ahead of his competitors that he crossed the finish line “with his hands down,” meaning that he let up on the reins and let the horse just cruise to a win, he had so much lead on the others.

That was the report that sparked the phrase. In a mere decade-and-a-half, it became part of everyday speech, applied to other easy wins or times when something was so ahead of the competition that they didn’t even have to try to beat them.

Word Nerds Unite!

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Onward and Upward

Onward and Upward

I’ve been blogging for a lot of years. As in, since my second child, Rowyn, was a baby. I’ve written about the things God has whispered to my heart as I rocked my kids to sleep, as I took them to Story Time, as I watched my two little ones grow and become who they are. I’ve shared reflections on their birthdays and about the different seasons of life.

On my podcast intro, I say that I muse “at the crossroads of faith, family, and fiction.” Well, today we’re meandering a bit down that Family path. Because this weekend, my firstborn baby graduates from high school.

It’s something most families face, right? The age of Littles gives way to the age of Bigs, and then those kids do crazy things like get jobs and boy/girlfriends and start looking at colleges and planning out the rest of their lives. As in, the parts of their lives that will take them away from these four walls we’ve raised them in.

Cue all the emotions. The pride, the joy, the excitement…the disbelief, the sadness, the missing-them.

I remember many, many years ago I wrote on here about how to build independence in our kids, even as we hold them close. Because, I observed, the goal with kids isn’t to keep them kids forever. It’s to help them grow into adults. When I wrote that, I believe Xoe was, maybe, six. And here we are, on the cusp of legal adulthood, and I at once don’t know where the time went and can track its every drip through the hourglass. As the old saying goes, the days were long, but the years were short.

Xoe will graduate on Saturday with her homeschool group. She’ll stand in the front of a church with, I believe, 8-10 other seniors. She’ll receive her diploma. They’ll read the write-up we create, about all she’s accomplished and where she’s heading. As a homeschooler, she was competing with no one but herself. No valedictorians or salutatorians here. Nope. Just a handful of kids having accomplished what we, their families, set out for them to do.

There were some bumps in our road. Xoe has always been a perfectionist–she had to really teach herself over the years that it’s okay if she gets one answer wrong on a test. That it isn’t an indictment of her as a person. That blame doesn’t need to be cast. Even so, that doesn’t come easy. We’ve never stressed grades, but she stresses over grades. Which got a bit debilitating as ADHD dug its claws into her. She can’t focus, she can’t recall things much of the time, she can’t make herself sit and pay attention. That nearly tore my perfectionist daughter apart as the symptoms increased. But she sought help. She insisted on trying different things. She was honest and vulnerable about it. We tried diet, supplements, medication, and strict scheduling and found, eventually, what worked.

I’m so proud of her for that. For being so self-aware, for asking for help when she needed it. She worked harder for this diploma than I ever had to, and having seen the struggle, having witnessed the defeats and the victories, I have to blink back tears. She never let herself settle for “good enough.” She strove for excellence, even when it meant wrestling a bear out of the way each day.

She applied to two colleges and was accepted at both. Berea in Kentucky and St. John’s in Annapolis (where David and I went). Honestly, I expected her to choose Berea. On paper, it ticked all the boxed, even if it’s a 7-hour drive. I thought she’d enjoy the classes in art and English and writing. I thought that was the focus she wanted, and maybe some Asian studies too. Yet when we got back from that visit, her stress was through the roof. She was intimidated, she wasn’t convinced it was right for her, she saw all the things she didn’t want to do, and she didn’t know what to do about it.

So we visited St. John’s. Honestly, though she’d said since she was eight that that’s where she wanted to go, just like us, I thought she’d grow out of it. As ADHD made it harder for her to read, I thought she gave up on the dream of the college whose primary task is reading for four years–and some BORING stuff, too. I thought she applied mostly as a tip of the hat to that old dream. I didn’t think she really wanted it.

Then I saw her there. I saw the way she smiled, how excited she got about the classes and the intramural sports (she wants to take up sword-fighting!), how she connected with the other incoming students. I browsed with her through the bookstore as she decided which T-shirt she wanted. I saw how her eyes lit up when her welcome packet had an SJC window sticker in it. And in my heart, I knew. I knew that this was where she’d go.

Still, we made sure she thought about it long and hard. We had hours-long conversations. We discovered that if she went to Berea, she intended to try to recreate the SJC program by studying philosophy and history and religion–that she had no intention of taking classes on those other things. “Why?” her father asked her. “Because,” she replied, “I know I’ll learn that stuff, just because it interests me. I can do that on my own. It’s the other things I need direction on.”

That impressed me to no end. In part because it was the same thing I’d said at her age, though I never told her that. “Why should I go to a college that has a creative writing program?” I’d said. “I know how to write, or can learn what I don’t know. I need to learn what great books are. I need to learn how to think.”

When our Deadline for Decision Day arrived, I hailed her as she ran by in the morning and said, “So? Have you decided, or you do need the rest of the day?”

She replied, “I mean…I want to go to St. John’s. And it’s all your fault, you know. You raised me this way. How could I not love it?”

She has a point, LOL. (Though her brother shows no such inclinations, and I raised him the same way!) And it’s exciting, I admit, to have “a legacy Johnnie,” as the school calls second-generation students. But more than that–more than what it means to me–is what it means to her. It will stretch her. It will be difficult. There will be things she doesn’t like. But she’ll grow. She’ll meet new people. She’ll have amazing conversations. She’ll learn more about herself, about God, about the world, about humanity.

As a mom, I don’t really like thinking about the hole she’ll leave in our house when she goes. I mean, sure, I have plans to take over her desk and get out of the kitchen for my work while she’s away, but that certainly won’t make up for the absence of her delightful sarcasm, witty observations, and sweet nature. I will likely forget my phone every time I walk out the door, without her here to remind me to grab it.

But at the same time, I’m so excited for her. So excited to see what she discovers, who she meets, and what future begins to unfold before her. I know we’re standing in the same place in life that most families stand at some point. I know so, so many moms have felt this same jumble of emotions. And I take comfort in that, in knowing that others understand–or will understand in a few years. In knowing that this particular season of life is one familiar to so many.

It wasn’t all that long ago that my author bio said “she homeschools her two small children.” Xoe was the one who told me when it was time to take out that “small” bit, LOL. And now I’ll have to tweak it again. She’ll be flying out of my nest, though she’ll come back plenty. I’ll be down to one homeschooled teen. Then he’ll be off too, out discovering his own life. Am I ready? Um…LOL. In a way, of course not. But you  know, in another way, yes. Because I can’t wait to see how they keep on growing, stretching their wings, and exploring. I can’t wait to see where they go.

Onward and upward, class of 2023. The whole world awaits.

New Recipe: Hollandaise Sauce in a Blender!

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Hollandaise Sauce in a Blender

Hollandaise Sauce in a Blender

Hollandaise Sauce in a Blender!

Hollandaise was once the most temperamental of sauces…but that was before blenders made it quick, easy, AND delicious!


8-12 servings

Prep time:

5 minutes

Total Time:

10 minutes

Good For:

Dinner, Breakfast, Side


About this Recipe

I’ll be honest. I hadn’t had Hollandaise sauce until a couple years ago…when I was inspired by my own writing to try it out, LOL. In The Lost Heiress, Brook is facing down a moody chef at Whitby Park, and he chides her for interrupting him when he’s making Hollandaise, the most temperamental of sauces. Which I chose by looking up “most temperamental dishes” or something like that. Back in the day, one whisked this sauce by hand, and you literally couldn’t stop or it would separate.

Well, thank heavens for blenders! Seriously. You can now make this “most temperamental of sauces” in half a blink, just by tossing it into a blender instead of using a whisk. Woot!

The recipe I first tried called for a tablespoon of lemon juice, and I found that to be WAY to sour for my family’s taste. I dialed it back to a teaspoon, and my husband said, “Yeah, little more than that, please.” So my instructions say to start with 2 teaspoons, but add more to taste. (I liked it with only 1 teaspoon, LOL.)

It’s also very important to note that the temperamental soul of the sauce is still there. You MUST drizzle–don’t pour all at once!–that melted butter into the egg base WHILE the blender is running! If you don’t, you’ll end up with a mess. (Ask me how I know.)

Serve over eggs benedict, aspargus, chicken, pork, or anything else that needs a jolt of salty, rich deliciousness! This recipe makes A LOT, so you’ll have plenty to try on a variety of things. 😉



  • 10 tablespoons salted butter
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons – 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Dash of cayenne
  1. Melt the butter in a spouted measuring cup.
  2. Put egg yolks and lemon juice in a blender. If using unsalted butter, add ½ teaspoon salt to it. Blend on medium high speed until the egg yolks lighten, about 30 seconds.
  3. Turn blender to lowest setting. While running, slowly dribble in the butter. After butter is added, taste for salt and lemon juice, adding more of either if needed.
  4. Transfer to a container you can pour it from and keep it warm (not hot) until you’re ready to use.

From the Books

Hollandaise Sauce is specifically mentioned in The Lost Heiress, when the Brook interrupts the chef while he’s making it and he’s none too happy about it.

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Word of the Week – Lullaby

Word of the Week – Lullaby

When we think about a lullaby, we immediately remember soft, soothing music meant to encourage rest and sleep. But…why that word?

My husband and I were wondering about this at bedtime one night, and as I pondered it, I said, “Surely it’s related to lull.” But was I right?

As a matter of fact, I was. 😉 Lull dates from the early 1300s, from the previous form of lullen, which means “to calm or hush to sleep.” It’s thought to be a bit of an onomatopoeia word, based on the wordless lu-lu-lu (or as we spell it now, la-la-la) song that a parent would sing or hum to their child to soothe and calm and put to sleep. Swedish, Dutch, German, and Sanskrit all have similar words!

Lullaby had developed as a noun to describe this singing by around 1580, a combination of lullen + by. But…where did that “by” come in? That’s a little less certain. Some etymologists suggest it might be borrowed from goodbye, but others think it’s just a meaningless extension, tacked on because it sounded good.

As I was musing on the word at bedtime, I observed that rock-a-bye sounds very similar as is a lullaby. This is from the 1800s and combines the act of rocking a baby to sleep with that -by ending of lullaby.

Anyone else ready for a nap??

Word Nerds Unite!

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Life-Giving and True

Life-Giving and True

 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown away like a branch and dries up; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in Me, and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read that passage from John 15. Countless. Dozens. Lots. 😉 It’s one of those that I’ve contemplated before, and I had my takeaway that I always recall when I read it.

For me, the emphasis was always on how we must be pruned by the Father to bear fruit in the Son. That we have to let Him cut away not just what’s dead–sins, bad habits, flaws–but also what will detract from the fruit He wants us to bear. In pruning, perfectly healthy branches are trimmed and cut back, because that’s how the branch can bear bigger, healthier fruit–by focusing all the goodness into a few places instead of many.

That’s a valid lesson, and one I’m dwelling on even now as I contemplate it anew. Because you know, sometimes it feels like God cuts us back to the quick. Sometimes it feels like He’s gone a little overboard on the pruning, right? And regardless, it hurts. Not an easy process! At least, not when it’s in process. No one likes to have something cut from their lives or from their person or from their heart.

But when the fruit begins to grow, we can see how it was necessary. We can rejoice in what we bear for Him. We can appreciate the careful work He’s done.

All that’s just bonus insight today. Because today, I want to focus instead on another side of the passage. It isn’t just about how we are made into healthy branches–it’s about the miracle and archetype of being grafted into Christ. Through our relationship with Him, we not only gain access to, come under the care of the Vinedresser, let’s say…we receive LIFE.

What is a branch before it’s grafted onto the vine? That’s an interesting question. We, as Christians, tend to say, “It’s dead wood! Useless! Worthless! Without the vine, you’re nothing!” Which is sort of true…but not totally. Because you don’t graft a dead branch onto a vine. You graft a healthy, living one FROM ANOTHER VINE. That is what happens when we become Christians–we cut our branch off from the world, which is its own vine, though I’ll go ahead and say an inferior one, and graft it into Christ. This is how we become reborn. Re. We were already born. We existed. We were alive. But if we want to live forever, we need the vine that is eternal. That’s Christ.

And then…He nourishes us. That’s pretty amazing, right? Honestly, it’s amazing just in a horticultural sense. How in the world does it work to take a branch from one vine or tree, attach it to another one, and have it GROW? How does that work?

Interesting question. I’m not an expert, but I know it involves cutting the host tree/vine too, so that all the life inside it can get into the new graft.

We feel only our own pain when God takes the pruners to us. But Jesus was cut so that He could receive us. He bled. He died. So that His precious lifeblood could become our own. We partake of Communion so that His flesh and blood can become our flesh and blood. Because that’s how a graft works–the branch must take on the “blood” (obviously not blood in a plant, but the equivalent) of the vine. If it doesn’t, it dies. It’s pruned away. It’s cast off, into the fire. Jesus feeds us the good things we need to sustain us, and that’s how we flourish. That’s how we grow. That’s how we bear fruit. Through Him and with Him and in Him. He literally gives us life.

This sort of relationship should be pretty natural for us to understand–because it’s also what defines the best earthly ones. Think of your parents…your children…your best friends. The people dearest to us aren’t just there. There aren’t just pleasant. They’re life-giving. Sometimes literally, when you consider parents and children. Sometime spiritually. Emotionally. Mentally.

My family gives me life. They sustain me, body and soul. They give me a reason to be. My best friend does the same. I know that when I need support, encouragement, advice, I can go to her, and she’ll have it. That’s what the Patrons & Peers group has become, and why we all love it so much.

I also know that these Most Important People in my life aren’t just letting me grow wild. They’re checking me. Pruning me. Letting me know when I’m taking on more than I can handle, when I’m losing my focus on what God has really called me to, when I need to cut back on even good things to make room for the Best Things.

In a way, we’re all part of many vines. Our families, our communities. We give life to them, we take it in return. That’s the beauty of the plant analogy. Each branch is working not just to produce fruit, but to return its portion of sunlight and rain to the vine, the trunk, the roots. A tree can survive without any one branch, but not without any. We all play a role, we TOGETHER play a role, in making healthy that to which we belong. This is true in our families, our groups of friends, and the Church itself.

That ought to make us stop and think. What vines are we part of? From what do we take our nourishment and give back to it? Are we planted where we should be, or are we partaking of things that aren’t ultimately good for us? And of course, the truest test:

Are all our little vines rooted in Christ, the True Vine? Because apart from Him, we can do nothing that counts for eternity…and in eternity, that’s all that counts.

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