Your Christmas Tootsie


I am entering the Christmas season with a new perspective.

And it is one that will never be Tootsie-less.

You see, my only living grandparent just graduated to heaven this past July.

But, technically, she wasn’t just my “only living grandparent” as I wrote. She is the woman that we named our first daughter after—-Marguerite. Known to all as Tootsie.

She passed at 91 years young. With a full heart. And family by her side.

Not me, however, I was a world away. On the last night that I saw her before flying across the continental US and then the Atlantic, I gave her a kiss on her lips, told her to behave, stay out of trouble, and I would see her in 3 years.

I left fully believing I would see her in 3 years—and fully knowing that perhaps I would not see her in 3 years. A conundrum of the worst sorts.

There is not a day that passes that my heart doesn’t skip a beat thinking about our Tootsie.  Beloved, feisty, kind-hearted, slap-happy, Tootsie.

The woman that ate ice cream for breakfast and caramels for dinner.  It’s a true miracle she even lived to see 91 years.

But as Christmas Day approaches, I want to make sure that my life and the lives of my children are never Tootsie-less.  How do I go about that?

In the following ways…


As a child-bride (1 day 15 and married to the same awesome Papa Charlie for 54 years), I want my children to learn devotion.  Ups.  Downs.  All arounds.  Devotion.  You are never too young to learn devotion, commitment, and how to stick to it.

You can be too young, however, to learn how to cook.  Tootsie asked her mom, one time years after she married, “How come Dorothy is a good cook and I am not?”  Dorothy being her sister.  And her mom answered, “Well, you never stuck around long enough to learn.” Tootsie said after that answer she stopped asking her mom probing questions.

How else do I want to ensure my children live Tootsie-full lives?

By dancing in the barn!  

When my grandma and I were in New Zealand together (yep, she took me to New Zealand with her), we were talking about her life.  She said one of her favorite things to do with Papa Charlie was go down by the border (she lived on the border of Mexico) and go barn dancing.  And then she picked up her pants a little and showed me her footwork.

You know, my Papa always whistled at those legs of hers—and I know why.  Even as she aged, they were hot stuff.

Where am I going with this?  In life, take moments to run to the border and dance in the barn!  Take moments to have fun.  Take moments to embrace the one you love and let him whistle at your legs.  Take moments where you make moments and turn them into life-long love memories.

Yep.  I want my children to one day, with the ones that they love, to dance in the barn!

Eat Dessert First!

Now, do my kids actually get to eat dessert first every morning?  No!  But I have taken to getting them donuts for each Thursdays breakfast.  And they are thrilled.

You may say, “Sugar kills!”

But so do cars.  So do storms.  So do viruses.

There is a lot out there that can end your life.  Sugar being one of them.

But Tootsie lived 91 years strong (only weeks away from 92), and she had the sweetest 4 teeth known to man.  Yep.  4 remaining teeth.  She did have dentures, but she didn’t find them comfortable.  And so, with her 4 remaining teeth, we would always say, “Smile, Tootsie!”  And then she would laugh and laugh and laugh!

You know, in our household, we are all for eating well.  But, and I’ll paraphrase Cheaper by the Dozen II, when the mom of the dozen runs into the mom of her husband’s rival family, “You need a little sugar in your shopping cart!”

I agree and believe it’s true.

Life should include the sweet.  Even if it means eating dessert first.  Tootsie-style!

And, finally, Live in love with life.  Live in love with the Lord!

When I was in the 3rd grade, and we were in the mountains for Christmas as a family, Santa showed up at our door.  He was short and rosy-cheeked and stuffed with all sorts of goodness.  Unfortunately, Tootsie wasn’t there to see him, but we did, and we told her all about him when she got back from her errand.  And she relished the moments of our excitement and stories, with rosy cheeks of her own.

And even though she loved living with us in our hearts and minds of excitement, she never failed to praise God for his goodness—even in the silliest of moments—like winning in dominoes!  Although, in our home, that’s quite a serious moment, too.  Any domino game (smile and wink for all competitive families out there).

You see, she was a top-grandma…Teaching us to fish in the rain barrel, watching Papa chop the head off of a rattlesnake, allowing us to raid her closet-putting on her shoes, bras, and makeup, or teaching us how to make porcelain dolls.

But she lived her life devoted to her husband, her children, and her God.

Her God that got her through the death of two of her infant baby boys.  The death of her husband.  And then the death of her adult son.

Tootsie lived life encouraging our childhood imaginations and joys—but Tootsie lived life more by encouraging our devotion to God, teaching us, “God remains your constant.  So, go out and continue living!”

And with a mighty slap on the shoulder, coming from a petite figure, you would know that Tootsie meant it.

Live life with God as your constant, and go out and continue living!  And let your children invade your closet.  But NEVER lose in dominoes!  And I mean Never.  Oh, and cheer for the Arizona Diamondbacks!  Always.

You know, Christmas will bring with it many beautiful gifts, all glowing warmly beneath the evergreen tree.  But I hope this Christmas to give my kids the greatest gift.  A Tootsie Christmas. One where I teach them:  Devotion; Dancing in the barn; Eating dessert first; Living in love with life and living life for God.

For those are truly gifts that will last.

Just like my memories of Tootsie.

Now, tell me.  What about you?  What lasting gifts can you give your children this Christmas?

Moving to the land of hot babes and skinny chicks.


Image of Paulina Krupinska

My husband was on the phone with his at that time single brother saying, “DUDE!  You have got to come to Poland.  The women are SO hot!”

And he was like a broken record…or a parrot…saying it over, and over, and over.

I was finally like, “Dude, Richard! I am right here!”  Standing there in my ponytail and overalls.

But he was and is right—Poland is full of hot babes and skinny chicks!

The women are gorgeous.  They are gorgeous on the outside—and they are brilliant and multi-talented on the inside.  The women are a powerful group of individuals in the country of Poland.

The country that I am about to return to…

So.  How will I hold up in a land of great beauty and strong women?

Well, in the beauty department what you see is what you get—I have ditched the overalls for sweats and tanks.

In the strong department—I can learn from them and hopefully inspire a few along the way.

In the skinny department—I’ll tell them how much I admire their physique while drinking my Pepsi and eating my donut.

Don’t worry, though, I do take my dogs on walks.


Life. It’s one big contraction.

So, I was in the Polish hospital a little over a year ago.  I was 29 weeks pregnant with my son, lying in the hospital with the contraction monitor on my belly for hours at a time, eventually receiving a raging, itchy rash from that contraption.

And sure enough that annoying machine was jumping up and down like crazy.  I was having contractions, so I was given something to stop those suckers.

Yes.  Contractions.  I know them well.

Let’s continue with this contracting belly baby named Maxwell and how he loved to cause pain.

It’s still a little over a year ago and I actually made it from 29 weeks to 34 weeks.  Thirty-four painful weeks and my mom and I are watching my belly.

“Oh, look at Maxwell.  He’s so funny.”  And my belly would move and turn and slide and then stop.

Hmmm.  That’s weird.  Oh, wait.  There he goes again.

Well, this became a pattern.  Now, please keep in mind that I do have a 6-year-old daughter, but 6 years is a LONG time to forget about contractions.  Apparently so is 5 weeks, because I didn’t even remember from my 29th week of pregnancy.

Needless to say, I wind up in the hospital just halfway through my 34th week and the doctors decide that it’s time for my bum moon to shine, in a room full of 6 other preggo women, and that’s where they give me a shot—on my bum moon.

Let me also say, the shot hurt.  Did I mention that I was in a hospital room, on a bed, in a gown and there were 6 other very afraid pregnant ladies there with me?!  Yep.

Full moon…Full shot…Full pain…Full hollering.

The nurse looked and me and said, “Oh, now.  That wasn’t bad.”

And I replied, “Nie, straszny!  Straszny!”  Basically, “No!  It was horrible!  Horrible!”

She just chuckled, as I once again hid my big ol’ bum moon, while she left.

The contractions, however, were not impeded by the shot from Hades, and so I delivered my baby just a half a day later.

Well.  If I thought the contractions were bad at 7 minutes apart, I was in for a really big surprise later during the day.

At first, after my water broke, I told my husband who was watching the monitor, “Hey!  Let me know if a big one is coming.”

Utterly foolish.

Because he then became the sportscaster of Team Contractions and would holler out each time he saw it rise, “A big one is coming!”

“I KNOW a big one is coming!”  I would holler back!  “Don’t you think I can FEEL it?!”

The air was tense…he thought his job was fun.  And I was at the point where I thought I was going to DIE.  Literally.  Die.  And here is my husband in no pain watching a monitor yelling, “A big one is coming!”

Needless to say, he was quickly FIRED from that job.  I put him to work getting me ice, getting me a cool head cloth, hand feeding me the ice, getting me the puke bucket, finding me pain drugs, and so forth.

In hindsight—he was an angel.

And eventually the contractions led to the game winning push!  Twelve to be exact.  Twelve devilishly painful pushes that popped us out a baby!


A baby…

And quickly all contractions were forgotten.

And then the world seemed right.  And peaceful.  And perfect.

Those contractions, they gave us a gift.  And that gift is our son.

Life is sometimes like those contractions.  Big and painful.   Often we wonder if we are going to make it through moments in our day or moments in our lives. 

And contraction after contraction is upon us.  Seemingly endless.  And there are people all around shouting—“It’s a big one!”

Exhaustion sets in.  There is no doubt in your mind that this is the most painful experience of your life.  And you are ready to quit.

To throw in the towel.  Kaput with it.  No more.

And then the worst of it comes upon you.  And you unbelievably know that you will.not.survive.

But you do.

And, in the wake of all that was painful, you are given something precious.

It’s called life.

A chance to begin again.

Like a newborn.  Except with experience.

A new day rises before you and you know that you can conquer it because you just survived the most painful experience of your life.

Contractions.  Big ones.  Labor.  Labor that was accompanied by pain.  Lots of it.

But you made it through.  And now.  Now it’s your turn.

Cradle your new beginnings and go to sleep, looking forward to a new tomorrow.  You deserve it.

Totally judgmental…Completely humbled.


Our neighbor’s home is scary.  There are Danger No Trespassing signs all over the property.  There is a sign that says Beware of Dog.  Another that says I Will Shoot Intruders.

His windows are boarded up and only a tiny peek hole exists in his door.

My husband and daughter brought him a Christmas card this past Christmas.  But he didn’t answer the door—let’s just say, Richard was relieved.  He was afraid of what was on the other side.

But today, nearly a year later, at the bus stop, waiting for my daughter to board the bus, the neighbor came out.

He was an old, frail man with tremors in his hands.  My husband had the privilege of meeting him.

We will call him John, and he is an aging and lonely man.  His wife left him for a drug addict years ago.  His son followed in his mom’s footsteps.  John has been left virtually alone, in his little wooden house, on a street that has gone from a horse lane to a speedy car lane.   The world, once his friend, is now full of strangers for this elderly gentleman.

Neighbors that once seemed close, now with his disability, seem far.  Life is hard on him.

And he began to open up to my husband addressing all of the “issues” that we’ve previously had with him.

“My signs,” John states, looking around at his property (about an acre+, mostly dirt), “I put those signs everywhere because people on horses come out and ride on my property.  And I am afraid one time someone’s horse is going to trip in a pothole and someone is going to get hurt.”

Logic begins to replace fear.

Then he took my husband to his garden and with great difficulty pulled some green peppers off of a plant.  “Here, let me give you some of my peppers,” he said extending the peppers towards my husband, his hands trembling violently. 

“Well, at least I shook the dirt off for you,” John says with a smile as my husband humbly accepts his offering…

John then invites my husband in for coffee, but Richard has to get going for today.

But tomorrow…hopefully we will see John again tomorrow.

And, no matter what, today John has taught the two of us a lesson in humility.

So often we see the surface and are quick to judge.  What we fail to do is take the time to go below and meet the person behind the barriers.

The people like John.

Tomorrow I get to talk about Body Image to a crowd…Yes! I am serious.

Tomorrow I have the honor of speaking to approximately 70-100 women at a meeting called MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers).

The theme for the semester is:  Life—It’s a beautiful mess.  And my particular topic:  Body Image.

I am pretty sure that most of you have read my previous blog postings and are wondering…


(If you haven’t, here is a simple link to one that should make you giggle:

Well, it is a FAIR question.

How am I …the most nonchalant and make-up free woman in the world… going to talk about body image?!

And this is my answer.

I was a very skinny kid and even as a young adult (the Johnston metabolism alone gets the award for that).  And then I had my first child.  And with this glorious gift of a baby, I was also given other gifts.

Stretch marks.

Cottage cheese buttocks and thighs, aka my friend Cellulite.

Oh.  I can’t forget the double chin.

Never before in my life had I had a double chin.  I thought that was a gift reserved for old people…You know, not 30-year-old women.

In fact, I was so sure that my 50 pregnancy pounds were going to melt away once I delivered Adelyne that I brought normal clothes to the hospital until my sister sweetly informed me that I was still going to look 7 months pregnant after having said child.

Well—she was wrong.  I still looked 9 months pregnant after said child.  Because I am PRETTY sure I only lost 8 ½ pounds at that hospital.  And, yep.  That’s how much Adelyne weighed.

Anyhow, that is when REALITY quickly hit me.

I may have been a stick my entire life…But once I had that baby, I was no longer a stick but a fluffy piece of cotton.  Okay, who am I kidding.  I was a stuffed bear.  All squishy and cuddly.

And, you know what, that was okay.  Because I had a baby to cuddle in that fluff…And, eventually, some of that stuffing went away.

Did it go away because I refused to drink soda?

Heck no.

Did it go away because I refused to eat bread?

Heck no.

Did it go away because I turned down desserts?

Um…Do you even know me at all?


Some of it eventually went away because I ate proportionately.  I ate well.  I went on walks with my daughter and husband.  And because I did not stress.

I never even wore a girdle or those Spanx things, although perhaps I should have?

Sure, there were the times when my muffin top looked a little too realistic.

But that was okay.  Because my muffin top was simply a reminder that I had baked a muffin. 

And I much preferred my muffin to my Size 4 jeans (which have long, long, long ago been donated to our clothing closet in Poland).

You know…Tomorrow I will go and speak on Body Image.  I am the least qualified to talk on the subject.

But I am greatly qualified to talk about Life…It is a beautiful mess.

And our body image. Truly, it should not be defined in Size 4 jeans.  Or muffin tops.  Or double chins.  Not even in cellulite.  We should rest in who we are in the Body of Christ.

And that, my friend, should make us BEAUTIFUL.

1 Samuel 16:7

…but the LORD looks at the heart.


Before Pregnancy


After Delivery…Looking 9 months, baby!

Hidden Bookshelves: Poland…And when we first arrived.

When we first arrived in Poland, it was evening.  Our director picked us up in Warsaw and then we took the very long and torturous ride 7 hours back to the city where we would be living, Poznan.

The thing is, Warsaw is technically only about a 3-hour-drive from Poznan.  But back in 2001, the roads were mostly 2-lanes and big lorries and lots of small cars that it didn’t matter how rich or important you were (no, we were not rich nor important), it was going to take you 7 hours to drive approximately 195 miles.

And so we arrived to our first “home” in Poland around 3 in the morning.

I remember it very clearly.  We drove down a very dark street and went through a very dark tunnel and emerged into a very bumpy parking area.

Huge gray walls surrounded us on all sides.

On the building closest to us a large spray of art was decorating the walls with the very colorful language “F (you can spell the rest) the Police!”

We took it all in.

We were 25 years old and full of great spirits of adventure.  In fact, we probably thought—Awesome!  We live in the ghetto.  Can’t get any better than this.

Again—25.  No kids.  Full of adventure.

We grabbed all of our luggage and followed our director to a broken door that we entered through.  If we thought the outside was scary-the inside was just as uniquely dangerous.

We tried to find the lights.

Finally successful in our search for light, we began the trek up the stairs to our first apartment—4 flights up.  We had to stop and hit the lights at every level because they kept going out on us.

And then we came to our door.

Our door was just as run down as the rest of the building, so we didn’t hold out too much hope for the other side.

When we entered, though, it was lovely.

It was old.  It was about 100 years old (the building).  But the inside of our new home “flat-mieszkanie-apartment” was pleasantly warm and inviting.

I am not sure that the decorations had changed since the days of Communism.

Our phone was large and stationary and orange.  And it didn’t ring.  It went “Grrrrr.  Grrrrrr. Grrrrr,” when someone would call.  The first time we heard it, we had no idea where the noise was coming from or if we should be concerned.  But eventually we followed the noise to the large orange box that turned out to be a telephone.

Again—even the smallest things, like phones, were adventures!

And, four flights up we had a piano in our flat.  A piano!  We later asked our landlord how he got a piano up four flights of stairs into our flat (you would have to see our stairwell to know that it was not possible to get the piano up that way—picture Ross from Friends and his “Pivot!” couch.  Well, this was even more of an impossibility).  He said that they had to take out the windows and then pull it up.  Four flights.

Another adventure!

And then we had huge curtains that hung from the floor to the ceiling.  And behind them were hidden bookcases.  I was informed that “banned” reading materials used to make their homes on the bookshelves behind what appeared were merely curtains for the windows.

I felt as if I had traveled back in time.  Except—we were there 12 years after the Wall had actually fallen.

We heard stories—so many stories.  But I’ll share more of those another day of what it was like to live through the times of Communism.

Our respect for Poland and the people of Poland intensified a hundred-million fold.

Standing in line for hours, as a child, to simply receive a pair of shoes that may or may not fit…It was something inconceivable to me.  And yet, it took place merely a decade before.

One friend told us that it didn’t matter what was being distributed.  If there was a line, you dropped what you were doing and stood in it because, even if you did not need it or could not use it, you could use it for bartering or trading with someone that might.

One of my most vivid memories of stories told was when our director told us that during the Christmas season everyone would wait for the announcement on the radio that brought the great news…No, not of the Savior’s birth!  That was already known—but the news that the boat was making its way with fresh citrus to arrive in time for Christmas.  Oranges.   Fresh oranges.  And how precious that cargo was.

From the moment I arrived in Poland, I realized that my spirit would not only learn to become humbled or more content…But I realized that I had a lot to learn about appreciating everything.  Even the smallest of items.  Like an orange.

A funny story we were told, and of course it was shared jovially with us, was that during one season toilet paper became scarce.  And so they said you could always tell who had or had not according to their gait.

And, of course, we all laughed as stories were being shared.  But I knew that every story told came with the history that at the time of the actual event, it probably wasn’t funny.

It made me appreciate the country even more.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Moving to any country as a foreigner is very difficult.  And so we were not always whistling joyful tunes in Poland.  Often times we were also stumbling around with angry pouts because it was so hard sometimes to even accomplish the simplest of things.

But that’s part of adventure, right?

The neighborhood where we lived didn’t have a grocery store nearby.  Only small skleps (stores, except I added the s at the end…I English-ized sklep ;)).  Our shopping took place like this:  meat store for warm meat.  (Dear Lord, please keep us healthy after eating said meat)  Bakery for fresh goods.  Little spozywczy for other necessities and butter and yogurt.  The store, however, was so small that it was impossible to maneuver through safely.  I am not a large woman and yet I would always manage to hit a yogurt or a jar of pickles or something and knock it down.  And, of course, get charged for it.  Forget the fact that the yogurts were stacked 12 high and to even take the top yogurt had the “Jenga” effect…Would it topple?  Would it not?  Every time I went shopping I wondered how successfully I would pull items from the shelves.

More often than not, I was not successful.

But it was even at these small stores where I was able to witness the beauty of simplicity.

You see, like oranges, chocolates were also special during the days when the Wall separated the East from the West.  And it was on one of my many shopping trips that I saw a little babcia (grandma), probably in her 80s, buying a simple chocolate bar.

And then she asked the shopkeeper to wrap it for her.

You have to understand that the neighborhood we lived in was not under any circumstances a wealthy neighborhood.  People lived very simply and had very, very little.

And to watch this precious babcia buy a candy bar, I knew came at a great expense to her.  After all, we are only 12 years after the fall of the Wall.  That is not a long time, folks.

And the shopkeeper was so happy to help her.

She took the candy bar and found some wrapping paper and took her time wrapping it as if it were the most priceless item to be found.

And the babcia put her treasure in her little, worn handbag and pulled out her coin purse, dumped the coins in her hand, and the shopkeeper counted out the coins owed.

The babcia left with her treasure and a huge smile on her face.

I left shopping that day with a warm heart and an even greater appreciation for simple joys.

Yes, when we arrived in Poland, in the dark, through the daunting tunnel, into the pot holes and dirt lot with the graphic writing on the walls, I had no idea that it would be in this same dirty neighborhood that I would see such beauty.

And that beauty is called contentment.

And that beauty is called simplicity.

And that beauty made up for the lack of anything we thought we may or may not be missing.

And that, my friends, was one of the most profound lessons I have learned in my life.


Our first neighborhood in Poland…

No, we didn’t take a photo in front of the “decorative” poetic  wall


Believe it or not, at one time we actually had 5 people in a little Maluch-

4 of the 5 were guys!  I was the only gal stuck in there.


More coal living…Except I didn’t have to shovel this coal. 

It was brought down to the basements and then was shoveled throughout the day

so that the apartments in the building would have hot water and warm radiators.


Don’t worry, I’ll come back with more experiences at a later date.  There is still so much to share.