Tuesday, December 30, 2008

10 Years of Wedded Bliss

For our fifth anniversary we had a fancy dinner at a fancy hotel, stayed one night in their fancy room, and enjoyed a fancy breakfast the next morning in bed. We had grand plans of doing something extra special for our tenth anniversary, maybe a short trip somewhere exotic. Our busy Christmas trumped that, but we're so happy it doesn't really matter where we are. Praise the Lord for the perfect spouse!

Read more about us here and how we met here!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas 2008 in Pictures

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas! We had a very nice, VERY white Christmas! A colossal snowstorm turned our city into a winter wonderland on the 17th, and it has continued snowing off and on ever since!

Drifts on our front porch that first morning. Notice the smattering on our window to the right.

Shovels are made for throwing snow at people, right?

After the plow came through two days later, I shouted, "Let's go shopping!" We were able to buy the last of our gifts, but by evening we suspected I had the flu. Praise God, it was mild, but I still spent much of the following two days resting. I had just enough time to recover before Sunday, when we made more candy, delivered it to our neighbors, and hastily packed for a mini vacation. My uncle had arranged for everyone to spend four nights at The Western Pleasure Guest Ranch. There were nearly 30 of us even though many didn't make it this year. For those who did come, flying in was an adventure with all the delayed and cancelled flights!

We drove to the ranch in a line of four vehicles Sunday night. Three more joined later in the week.

There were several cabins, but most of us stayed in the main lodge. Upstairs were four rooms with lofts.

Our room was one of two downstairs. It wasn't fancy but we were pleased to find it clean and quite comfortable.

Our hosts provided two dinners and three delicious breakfasts. This was our meal the first morning: cinnamon French toast, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, bacon, and fruit.

The inside of the lodge was decorated with mounted animals. I COULDN'T believe the size of this albino moose head! You don't realize how gigantic those creatures are until you see one up close.

The guys spent countless hours playing pool. We also played lots of board and card games including two full games of World Domination Risk. I lost both times. :-(

Two of my cousins at the piano.

Kylen and another cousin with a jumbo search and find book. The large tree behind was wound with rope instead of ribbon! Just to the right is a large fireplace with comfy furniture where we spent lots of time reflecting, chatting and reading.

My brother and cousin returning from sledding. It snowed every single day!

One of the highlights was a real sleigh ride! It was everything you can imagine. Large flakes gently falling, perfect weather, breathtakingly beautiful woods. We sang carols. It was unforgetable!

A bunch of us on the way to the sleighs with the lodge in the background.

Grandma somehow ended up in the sleigh with most of the young, unmarried cousins. Lol!

Our sleigh's driver.

View ahead from my seat.

Greg, Kylen, and me!

The evening of the 23rd we gathered upstairs to exchange gifts and sing carols. The kids got stockings.

Family pictures were taken in an old-fashioned sleigh.

We dimmed the lights, lit candles, and sang two different evenings. It was a lovely experience, especially with all the gifted vocalists in my family.

Three of my talented cousins. They are siblings and grew up performing together in front of audiences. Ben usually sings bass, Holly sings lead and alto, Travis does lead and tenor.

Group pic taken the 24th.

On Christmas morning we scrambled to pack and check out by noon, drove two hours on snowy roads home. By the time it was dark, we were back on the highway headed for Greg's parents. The roads were treacherous. Greg has lived in this area 20 years and doesn't remember ever seeing so much snow in the cities. We ended up in a snow bank and had to wait for a tow truck to pull us out. But we eventually made it for dinner/gifts and survived the trip back. Praise God for His protection!

Yesterday we opened gifts at home, just the three of us. It was a wonderful, relaxing day.

The only thing Kylen really asked for was a Bob t-shirt. I decided to get a Larry shirt for Greg as well.

Our Christmas will officially end New Year's Eve when we will open gifts with my parents and siblings. Perhaps a couple more pics then. :-)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thursday Thirteen: Christmas

This seems like a good time for a Thursday Thirteen!

13 Things We Do During the Christmas Holiday
1. Decorate inside and out
2. Shop for and wrap presents
3. Prepare an advent calendar for our son
4. Watch Christmas movies and listen to Christmas music
5. Make and send cards
6. Purchase gifts for several charities *
7. Make our annual candy
8. Give goodies and sing We Wish You a Merry Christmas to the neighbors on our cul-de-sac
9. Usually add a new holiday themed children’s book to my collection
10. Sometimes see The Nutcracker ballet live (pic below)
11. Celebrate with family and friends
12. Hear the story of Jesus’ birth read from the bible
13. Marvel at the love and mercy of our wonderful God!

This was Kylen's first year to attend a real ballet. He was definitely too young! Bored out of his mind! (I had a great time!) But we ALL enjoyed eating at an upscale Chinese restaurant beforehand. Don't worry! He had help with dessert!

*See previous post for ideas. :-)

Christmas Charity Ideas

Each year we participate in several Christmas charities. I thought it might be an interesting post to highlight some of our favorites. If you are like I was and desire to give but are not sure where to begin, I suggest starting out small. Take that first step; perhaps pick out a gift for a child from the giving tree at a store. As finances allow, add something else. God will bless you for sharing with others!

We sponsor two children through Compassion International, and at this time of year we send extra money for gifts. Christmas funds are pooled and divided up to buy presents for all the kids, even those still waiting for sponsors. One time donations are welcome!

A couple of years ago we stuffed ten stockings for a local men's homeless shelter through a homeschool organization. It was lots of fun! We bought most of the items in bulk, which brought down the cost. Wal-mart and Costco were great for personal hygiene items, candy and hat/scarf sets. We included small bibles, wooden puzzles, and Christmas cards with a hand-written note and gospel tract. Everything was wrapped in festive tissue paper, which I purchased in a jumbo pack. We filled the stockings assembly line style with all of us helping, even our son who was around five. This is a good project for the entire family!

Last year we started a new tradition of picking gifts from Partners International, a ministry begun in 1943 that works "alongside national believers to bring Christ's love and compassion to the least Christian regions of the world." They have a nice, full-color catalog with things like: Well for a Village, Cambodia; Training for a Church Planter, China; Milk and Cereal for a Child, Senegal; Small Business Training, Mali. Each item includes a photograph and description. We agreed ahead of time on the amount and enjoyed sitting down together "shopping." There is a wide range of gifts to fit any budget from $5 for medicine all the way up to $6,000 for a village grinding mill. We plan to do this on Sunday.

Greg's company has sponsored 2-4 families for Christmas the past few years. They have fund-raisers such as a silent auction and a pancake/spam feed. There is a Tree of Sharing with the names of family members, or employees can donate money directly. The funds are used to purchase any gifts for any names left on the tree, groceries, and as a monetary gift for the family.

I think this was the most fun charitable thing I've ever done. Greg brought home two tags for a nine-year-old girl. Our son is nearly nine, so I have a good feel for that age. Plus, I always wondered what it would be like to have a daughter (even though I adore our son!). One tag said, "Age appropriate game." I visited a game store and picked out a 550 piece family puzzle and a game called "Apples to Apples Jr." for ages nine and up. We have enjoyed the adult version (offensive cards removed, of course!), but Kylen had trouble joining in due to some complex words and concepts, which we were constantly needing to define. So I think this would be a great family game! In fact, it's going on our own wish list!

The other tag said, "Dress and tights." First, I looked at Wal-mart where we get most of our clothes. They did not have ANY dresses or skirts other than a few VERY ugly ones. So Greg dropped me off at JC Penney, and I eventually found a pretty black dress with ruffles, matching jacket, and black tights. That's when the fun REALLY began!

I had lots of extra time to kill, so I decided to hunt for accessories. Just a few stores down was Claire's. What an awesomely fun, FUN store!! Chock full of inexpensive hair doo-dads, fancy lip gloss containers with delicious names, jewelry (great place for a cheap tiara if you ever need one!), and lots of marvelous stocking stuffers for any girl. I found a cute black purse with glittering silver stars, chocolate chip cookie lip gloss, a small black/pink stuffed animal, black hair decorations, and tiny silver stickers that could be worn on a cheek or fingernail. OK, and I spent WAY too much! But it was totally worth it! And next year I hope to do it again, Lord willing and if finances permit!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Saturday Stirrings

Whoa! I haven't posted for a week! This is our busiest month, so next month should be better for blogging. :-)

Today's recipe caught my eye as I was looking for something easy, festive, and different at myrecipes.com. What could be more "Christmasy" than cranberries? Turns out my husband likes these so much, he ate most of the first batch, bought the ingredients for a second batch, made it himself (VERY unusual for him), and ate most of that one as well. And he has been asking when we are going to make them again. Lol! People who like the combo of juicy, sour and sweet will really dig these.(Hubby's fav fruit is pie cherries, his fav apple is Granny Smith, and he eats lemonade concentrate directly from the can.)

Sugared Cranberries
4 cups granulated sugar
4 cups water
4 cups fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cup superfine sugar

Combine granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring mixture until sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer; remove from heat. (Do not boil or the cranberries may pop when added.) Stir in cranberries; pour mixture into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Drain cranberries in a colander over a bowl, reserving steeping liquid, if desired (we kept ours and used it for making a second batch). Place superfine sugar in a shallow dish. Add the cranberries, rolling to coat with sugar. Spread sugared cranberries in a single layer on a baking sheet; let stand at room temperature 1 hour or until dry.

Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to a week.

18 servings (serving size: about 1/3 cup)

Don't worry if they split. Ours did, and they were still great! Here is the description that was with the recipe:

    Because of the contrast between the tart cranberries and sugary coating, the flavor of this snack pops in your mouth. The berries are steeped in hot sugar syrup to tame their tangy bite. When entertaining, serve these in place of nuts. For gift-giving, package in parchment-lined tins. If you can't find superfine sugar, make your own by processing granulated sugar in a food processor for a minute.

Click here to see how Carol is hung up on apples (her words, not mine!)! Hee-hee!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Saturday Stirrings

As promised, here is the delicious, easy, perfect-for-cold-winter-months soup from our fall party! Take a guess where the recipe came from. Hint: Look at the ingredients!

I couldn't find frozen onions and peppers together, so I subbed half a bag of frozen onions and half a bag of frozen peppers. This is the first recipe I've used frozen chopped onions and peppers. We always buy them fresh. But I was quite pleased with skipping the prep work of chopping, and the results were yummy. I might use frozen onions/peppers more often! And I've read frozen can actually be more nutritional than fresh if the fresh has been sitting at the store long or traveled from afar.

Easy Italian Stew (Soup)
Serve with buttered rolls or Ritz crackers

2 Tbsp. KRAFT Zesty Italian Dressing
1 lb. bulk Italian sausage
2 cans (14-1/2 oz. each) chicken broth
1 pkg. (16 oz.) frozen stir-fry vegetables (white onions and sliced green, red and yellow peppers)
1 can (15 oz.) cannellini beans, drained, rinsed
1 can (14-1/2 oz.) Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup elbow macaroni, uncooked
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (optional)

HEAT dressing in large saucepan on medium heat. Add sausage; cook 8 to 10 min. or until done, stirring occasionally to break sausage into small pieces.

ADD broth, stir-fry vegetables, beans and tomatoes; bring to boil. Stir in macaroni; simmer on medium heat 8 to 10 min. or until macaroni is tender, stirring occasionally.

SERVE topped with cheese.

Let's see what Carol is cooking in the kitchen today!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Finding Home -- Book Review

Among the publications I read to broaden my knowledge of spiritual things is literature from Focus on the Family. A few years ago the organization's president, James Dobson, stepped down in order to give his attention more fully to other ministries. Jim Daly was chosen as his successor.

A few days ago I turned the page of one of their magazines to see a picture of Jim’s family, and my eyes began to fill with tears. A result of reading his book Finding Home: An Imperfect Path to Faith and Family. Knowing all that this man suffered and seeing the immense joy on his face surrounded by loved ones, especially the protective embrace around his two little boys . . . One of the things he most wanted growing up was a father figure to look up to, one that would love and support him. Now, he is giving to his sons what he missed out on.

Finding Home is a straightforward summary of Jim’s troubled childhood and his journey to Christ. Most of the book lays out the details of his life in plain, easy to understand language. It is neither poetic nor spiritually profound, but it is sincere and touching. I think this would be an excellent way of introducing sinners to Jesus. They will not get bogged down by deep spiritual truths, and it is a quick read that could be finished in an evening. I am thinking of inmates, drug addicts in recovery, perhaps even new baby Christians. A nice book to leave in the guest room or someplace where it can be easily seen and accessed by people who are not completely open to reading overtly religious literature.

Most of the spiritual content is concentrated in the final chapter where Jim briefly reflects on lessons he has learned. I will conclude with a quote from there on suffering:

    Sometimes I wonder whether we make a mistake when we try to save others or ourselves from experiencing brokenness – as if having a broken spirit was like having the plague. Our culture is bent on experiencing “happiness” and being “pain-free” no matter what the cost. In fact, if the truth were known, billions of dollars are spent annually medicating pain in our society.

    Certainly it’s tempting to mask our pain – whether physical, relational, emotional, or spiritual – through distractions: entertainment, work, or sports. Pain hurts, and who wants that? Yet, in spite of our best efforts to avoid brokenness, for many people, it seems to be a prerequisite for
    coming to a relationship with God. I know that was the case for me.

    What’s more, the purpose of pain is often to develop our character, yet we run from it because pain is the gift that nobody wants. I believe that we rarely understand or perhaps overlook the benefits that pain can bring, not the least of which are the qualities of patience, obedience, and
    dependence on God.