Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas letters

Things that made us smile in 2009 (from our Christmas letter):

Blaze (8 years old) went away for her first overnight camping experience this summer. She got to go rappelling, canoeing, and rafting but what she talks about most is the hummingbird that got trapped inside her tent and she got to hold it for a moment before the counselors set it free outside.

Dreamer is 5 years old now and started kindergarten this fall. She keeps us smiling with all the funny things she says. Like demonstrating to her sisters as she’s eating cheese and crackers: “this is how a princess eats a cracker.” One time after watching Sleeping Beauty, Dreamer told us her own version of the story, where the prince kisses the princess in the tower, but the princess doesn’t wake up until Jesus kisses her!

It didn’t make us smile when Starlet (just turned three) broke her arm this spring (she lost her balance while climbing on furniture). But we did smile to see how proud she was showing off her bright pink cast, with her sisters’ and cousins’ signatures on it.

Serious had a couple climbing adventures too. I learned to never leave the horses tied up along the fence after Serious climbed up on the fence and then over onto Rebel’s back all by herself. The twins love the horses and always want to get up in the saddle and have me lead them around.

Stars, my stepdaughter, got to spend a little extra time with us this summer because B. drove up to meet her mom half-way and bring her horse Callie to stay with us for the summer too. We got to see her compete (and practically win everything) at a couple horse shows. Stars competes in Western Pleasure, Western Equitation, Trail, Showmanship, and some English events too. The precision required for some of the show patterns is just phenomenal.

This fall B. has branched from the plumbing/excavation business into cattle. Yes, cattle. As in cows and steers. It has gone beyond just a couple calves for roping practice! We now officially own the “Diamond B” brand and he welded the brand himself and had a roundup and branding.

Here are few more little "moments" that didn't get into the letter, but I'd like to keep a record of them:

Grandpa teases Dreamer that he's going to steal her belly button. Dreamer tells him: "I left my belly button at home!"

Thankful that we live a couple hundred feet above town - twice now I've coasted the car (out of gas) down Grand Ave and managed to coast right into the gas pumps at Albertson's.

When we shared testimonies at our Bible study, Rob and Diane had the funniest engagement story - Diane told her parents before she introduced Rob to them that he was missing a finger and was very sensitive about it so to make sure they didn't offer to shake his hand. Well Rob didn't know about the practical joke so first thing he does when he meets the parents is extend his hand - much to their shock!

Other useful things I learned at Bible study from John Hutcheson: a good prank to play on school principals is release a bunch of crickets in their office, a "Biblical plague." Another good prank: release four goats in the school, labeled "1", "2", "3", and "5". Another term for a chamber pot is a "thunder jug"

We ran into one of B.'s friends at a resturant and B. asked him, "how's your wife and my kids?"

Mom started writing down some of the funny things Dreamer would say while over at their house: "Orange juice makes my tongue spicy" "Sometimes I don't know any everything" "I want to play my music." (Mom: "where's your music?") "My music is my voice!" Dreamer folds her hands and says "My fingers are sleeping on each other." "I have girl power."

Blaze showed me how to blow bubbles through your fingers when you wash your hands.

Some good advice for one when someone swears: "Jesus Christ!" - simply reply "loves you!"

Life was hard for our kitty, Cleo, this year, having to share the house with a new puppy. Especially when B. put her and Remington into the same cage so they could “become friends.” Remie (half lab, half Rottweiler) is about 80 pounds now, but he’s still scared of the kitty. Also in regards to the dog cage, for a while Serious and Starlet liked to play a game with a each other, constructing a "cage" with toys and stuffed animals and telling each other "puppy get in your cage!"

Whenever the girls see a yellow car, they shout out "I see a bumblebee car!" (in reference to the movie, Transformers)

Blaze loves to play the Sparkies CD, which is all verses and Bible songs. She learned all the books of the Bible by listening to the Bible book song over and over again. It about drove me crazy, but I wasn't going to complain!


Taking a moment here and there to write down these moments on my calendar - and then reading them over again when it's time to write a Christmas letter to send out with Christmas - cards - this reminds me that even though it's tempting to remember 2009 primarily as "glad it's over, hope 2010 is better!" - the year was actually full of lots of wonderful things. Thank you Lord!

Christmas at Grandma and Grandpa B's in South Dakota. The usual 9-1/2 hour drive ended up taking over 11 hours because the roads were icy (three turkeys crossing the road in front of me while I was driving just above gave me a heart-attack). But on the other hand, it was one of the most beautiful drives because everything was frosted and sculpted with ice.

We got there just in time for a blizzard, stuck in the house for 4 days, but it was very relaxing, and the kids loved playing in the giant snow drifts.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas preparations and verses

I am late this year with my Christmas traditions - grading final projects set me back, and then I had to pull a few near-all nighters this past week to get ready for CARAT-GIS training at the Pinedale, Wyoming BLM office. Remind me never to schedule a training (or anything else, for that matter) in December. I simply was not motivated to work on it. It was almost agony to force myself to open the program on my computer. Oh thank you thank you Lord that it is over now. Despite a combination of grading and training stress, I've managed to squeeze in most of my Christmas highlights this year. The annual University Christmas tree auction: we can't afford any of the trees but they sure are fun to look at. Here is a picture of me with the twins in front of my favorite tree, decorated in a "cowboy" theme. The day after the Christmas tree auction is usually the University's Christmas Concert, which ranges from jazz ensembles to accapella to a full symphonic and 100+ person choir finale. Wonderful!

Then last weekend we had something new - Blaze and Dreamer were in our church's nativity play as angels. Thank you Mom for sewing their tunics. Sewing and I just don't go together. My pitiful attempt at sewing an Advent calendar for my friend K.A. is witness of this. I have it about 1/3 done, and I'm about ready to give up on it. I envisioned it looking so much better! But I will finish it (though at the rate I'm going it will after Christmas) and if it still doesn't look good, I'll keep it for us and find a proper seamstress to help me with one next year.

Speaking of the advent calendar though, another beloved Christmas tradition I remember from my childhood and now revived again for my girls. I made a paper version last year and the girls were excited to see it reappear this year. They love it because of the candy they get after finding the current day's number and corresponding picture and verse, no doubt, but I love it because the verses help us keep in sight the true reason for Christmas.

A beloved tradition is decorating the house. This is not a chore, and it is not something you do just to have a pretty Christmas house, the process of unpacking and unwrapping and setting up is all part of it, too. The past few years I have started collecting Christmas ornaments and decorations, and I find it simply delightful to pull out the boxes and rediscover everything each year. Because of course you forget a lot of things, and then when they reappear again from their tissue paper wrappings, even little $1 ornaments can be a delight. I especially love the decorations that were gifts from family or friends. And it is all the more special with the kids oohing and aahing over everything too. Here is my ever-expanding collection of nutcrackers (note how they are arranged on top of the piano, to discourage curious three- year-old hands from playing with them). And also a photo of the nativity scene that my in-laws gave us, and Joy showed me how to paint it.

What would Christmas be without parties? Especially white elephant gift parties. I think this is the greatest game ever invented. A free way to have hilarious fun! Our Tuesday night Bible study had a white elephant gift exchange at our Christmas party, and there were some really nice gifts and some really awful (but funny ones!) I started out by stealing a pretty wooden decorative sleigh; got that stolen from me but was able to steal another good gift and keep it - a couple books and a decorative lantern. The funniest gift was a collection of really awful mugs. Boot mugs, mugs with Indian faces, but the best one of all was a toilet mug. I almost, ALMOST decided to steal this just so I could see the expression on B's face when I brough the toilet mug home to him (he missed the party). You know, him being a plumber and all. John H. made a comment about the mug that was absolutely priceless. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time.

"When you fill that mug up with coffee and hand it the poor soul on the receiving end, you just HAVE to ask them this: 'would you like one lump or two?' "

Maybe you had to be there, but that was funny. That was classic John H. funny - he's made me crack up a hundred times but I swear he saved the best for last. (oh how we will miss him! John and Lisa are moving away so he can finish seminary - I've known them 15 years! I can't imagine our church without them!)

As the year is wrapping up, I have a few more memory verses that I want to share from Beth Moore's scripture memory challenge.

From November:

Proverbs 14:1 The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish one tears it down with her own hands.
This is a good verse to remember when I am frustrated/furious at B. and I just want to break free from him. I have had a lot of those moments this year with all the financial stress that has come along with the recession and B's business doing so poorly. I do not want to be a foolish woman. I do not want to react based on feelings, but on the wisdom of the Word.

Hebrews 4:12-13 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

This is an amazing pair of verses, I have always loved this verse and figured it was due time to have it fully memorized. It speaks of miracle of the Word, that it's not just some dusty old historical book. It is living and active! It is life-changing.

For December:

John 7:17 If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of this teaching, whether it is of God..
I have always thought that John 7:17 is an amazing verse to have on hand when an opportunity to talk with skeptics. Unfortunately, I haven't yet had an opportunity to use it, but at least if I have it memorized I will be ready when the time finally comes.

This next verse is Beth Moore's favorite verse, and when she mentioned it I remembered it was one of my favorites too, but one I have forgotten about it. Well, hopefully I won't forget it again - if I put it on my memory list!
Psalm 27:4 One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

I need to really make a good effort to work on learning my November and December verses and also reviewing my other verses for the year. It is sad how quickly they get lost if you don't make an effort every week or two. And it doesn't take long - only 10 or 15 minutes. And the process of learning them and reviewing them is itself a time of communion and worship with my Jesus and my Lord - a time to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

God With Us

If we could condense all the truths of Christmas into only three words, these would be the words: “God with us.” We tend to focus our attention at Christmas on the infancy of Christ. The greater truth of the holiday is His deity. More astonishing than a Baby in the manger is the truth that this promised Baby is the omnipotent Creator of the heavens and the earth!

~ John F. MacArthur, Jr.

If we could condense all the truths of Christmas into only three words, these would be the words: "God with us." I thought that was worth repeating.

Many of us have heard the saying "it's not about religion, it's about relationship" - in fact many of us have said these very words when we are trying to share our faith with others, especially when we hear people say "I believe in God, but I think religions/churches are all messed up".

"God with us" emphasizes the relationship aspect, particularly the part where God initiates a relationship with us, He seeks us, He goes even so far to come to earth as one of us, and not as we would expect - not coming to earth in all his flashing Glory to make us tremble in awe. But He instead He came to earth as a newborn baby, the most helpless state of human being. "The Word became flesh and lived among us." (John 1:14) He wanted to share with us in our human experience, through each stage of growth and experience. So He can relate to us. And we can also relate to Him who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, our temptations, our pains, even our tears - because He experienced them all, too.

I'm not sure if you can have any sort of real relationship with another being if you can't relate to them on some level. We all desire to connect to each other in some way. We want to tell someone our experience and have them say "Oh, yes! I understand! I had something like that happen to me too!"

I believe the closest relationships are the ones where we relate to each other the most. Parents and children, because they spend so much of their lives together. They have so much history, so many shared experiences. Even most rebellious teens, once they mellow with age a little, start to realize they have a lot they can relate to with their parents.

Now husbands and wives, this is a very interesting relationship because it starts later in life, and initially one might find a few things (mainly, hormones!) that you relate to each other on; but you also discover a myriad of things about each other that you don't relate to at all! But you stick with your mate - sometimes only because you made vows and the vows are the only thing keeping you together. But gradually, because you are with each other, more common experiences accumulate that glue you closer together. And one day you wake up and find out that your love for your husband is much, much stronger than it was when you were married. What you thought was love, back then, has deepened into something strong and refined and beautiful, tested by and strengthened by trials.

"God with us" is kind of like the parent/child relationship, and the husband/wife relationship, and the friend/friend relationship, all wrapped up in one, with an additional element that we have no earthly comparison to because God is, after all, God, an infinite and omniscient and glorious being. His ways are above our ways. He is King of Kings, Lord of Lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see (1 Timothy 6:15-16).

On a personal note, I'm so glad I came across this quote and took the time to ponder it, because everything else about December so far has felt rushed and stressed. I am not used to having to work so much this time of year, or having looming deadlines. I'd like to take time to trim my tree, string lights outside, bake cookies with the girls, unearth a few more Christmas CD's to play. But this has made me sit back and concentrate on the MOST important thing. Thank you Lord.

The quote from John McArthur was chosen by the writer of Scraps and Snippets blog. Each Friday a new quote is shared on, along with the host site for the week. Anyone wanting to participate can ponder on the quote and write about about it on their blog, then link your post to the host blog.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The twins' third birthday

It's B's 39th birthday today (for the next two months we are the same age). The twins just turned three yesterday and they didn't "Get it" at all - not even when Linda gave them a couple presents to open. I kept asking them "How old are you?" and I got various responses, sometimes my question asked back at me, sometimes gibberish. I had to prompt them to say "Three!" But tonight we had cake with candles at Grandma and Grandpa H's, and they certainly "got" the candle part - they were so excited they started blowing out the candles before Mom had got all six of them lighted (they each got three candles, but one cake). And they sure had a good grasp that the giant toy horse that Mom dragged out for them belonged to them, too! These pictures don't do the size of this horse justice - it's truly the size of a real live Shetland pony. The twins and Dreamer  can't even climb up on it without help!

I am thankful for... my family. B kissed me goodbye this morning and said, "I love you so much. Do you know how much I love you?" I visited Blaze and Dreamer for lunch today at school and they both insisted on giving me multiple kisses and hugs. Tonight we had a yummy dinner with my parents. I was hoping to see my father smile, at least once, and the ultimate, to get him to laugh. him. I did hear something that almost resembled a laugh from him at Thanksgiving. We had Nicole and her parents, Stan and Carol, over to join us for Thanksgiving. As I was introducing them to my parents, my father and Stan discovered that they both liked to introduce their wives as "my first wife" (just to confound people... they are both still married to their first wives!) Anyway my father definitely smiled at that and sort of laughed. Well, tonight I not only got multiple smiles out of my Dad (especially when Mom brought out the giant pony and the kids went crazy over it), but I heard a real genuine laugh from him. Mom had got a few birthday noise-maker toys, you know the kind that you blow on them and they roll out and make a funny noise. Well, the twins didn't get out to make things work at first, so B. was demonstrating. As B. took a deep breath and popped the paper out with its noise right in Annie's face, she jumped so far back with such a look of alarm - immediately followed by a grin and a giggle - that got my Dad laughing, too! (In fact, I'd say he was almost back to his old self tonight. He even talked quite a bit, and didn't fall asleep on us once!)

A few other random mentions from the past week:

I am going... to have a wonderful weekend going to Christmas tree auctions with the kids and a Christmas concert with my mom. I am also going to be up very late at night getting ready for a big training session next week in Pinedale. And grading final projects. And working on the Advent Calendar for Karen. 'Tis the season for extreme busyness. Lord, help me to stay close to you even in the midst of everything that needs to get done.

I am reading... I had a small break between the end of November and getting my 50,000 words finished for NaNoWriMo, and the final craziness of the end of the semester, so I just finished reading a fun book called "Girl At Sea" by Maureen Johnson - a young adult book (Stars and I went to the library while she was here over Thanksgiving and I never got past the young adult section to get to the adult section). This book had a nice mix of humor, mystery, beautiful places in Italy, romance, and - a nice surprise - very high quality writing. I hope to write a book like this some day! It's only detraction - it wasn't Christian.

I am hoping and praying... that Stars' granny wins her struggle with cancer. I have several other important prayers too that are too private to share on a blog. But you know what they are Lord. Thank you for the amazing conversation I had with Stars  while she was here!

I am learning... that teaching is a lot harder than I thought. I have lots of teaching experience; but teaching University students it a lot different than teaching short "canned" classes to professionals. There is a lot more ground to cover; a lot more complicated subject material; a lot less direct interaction with the students (I had TA's teaching the labs) and the part that I found most confounding of all - test questions are REALLY hard to write! Getting the wording right is crucial.

On my mind... the reponse I want to write to a couple comments I got on my earlier post Why Tolerance Isn't Enough

Pondering these words... A quote that Nicole sent me, by a J.R. Miller:

"We dread pain! And yet the person who has not experienced pain has notyet touched the deepest and most precious meanings of life. There are things we can never learn except in the school of pain. There are heights of life we can never attain, except in the bitterness of sorrow. There are joys we can never have until we have walked in the dark ways of sorrow. Not to have sorrow, in some form, is to miss on of life's holiest opportunities. We get our best things out of afflication. I have refined you in the furnace of suffering. Isaiah 48:10

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

about 85% done

I have my third NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) behind me, and my second win. My second novel has reached 100,000 words - roughly 300 pages - that's the good news. The bad news is: it's still not done! I estimate I'm about 85% there. The conclusion is still looming ahead of me... But hold on, that's not all bad news. The main thing is that I am past the Middle (see below for an account of the horrors of the Middle).

Lesson learned from NaNoWriMo this year: writing the second half of a book is actually quite a bit easier than the first half. The characters have already developed minds of their own, and you've created enough sub-plots to keep your creative juices flowing. In fact, in my case, probably TOO MANY subplots, judging by the length. I hate the thought of having to cut anything, but it's a necessary process.

Sit down, and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it. ~Colette

So the following is one of the motivational emails that NaNoWriMo sends out from published authors (I just checked out a book from the library by this gal. Now that it's December, I have time to read again!)

Dear writer,
I have a very good friend who is Australian. I've never been to Australia, so she is constantly selling me on the merits of her homeland and setting me straight on things. For example, I have always wanted hold a koala. She informs me that koalas smell and spread disease. What I want instead, she informs me, are flying foxes, sugar bananas, rainbow lorikeets, mangosteens, and Sydney sunrises. One thing that always impresses me in her descriptions is just how large Australia is—and how empty in the middle. Australia is comparable in size to the continental United States, but almost everyone lives on the coast. So it would be like having Los Angles, and then New York, with almost nothing in between. Nothing except for monsters, that is. Because almost everything that lives out there in the middle of nowhere can kill you. 97% of the snakes in Australia are poisonous. The spiders are the size of washing machines, but it's the tiny ones you have to watch for. It's all teeth and venom out there. So just put a huge "here be dragons" in the middle of your mental map and you'll have a pretty good picture of Australia. The cities are said to be wonderful—paradises of culture and wine and song. It's just that middle 2,000 miles that you have to watch out for.

Perhaps this rings a bell right about now, smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo?Those first few days with your idea... oh, how wonderful they are! How sweetly it goes! And you wander on, past the city limits, into the bush. The signposts disappear, and the creatures come out. You have wandered into The Middle. Thing is, writers spend something like 97% of their time in The Middle. Once you leave those first pages, those first days... you wander into strange land and you stay there for a long, long time. It took me a little while, probably a few years of full-time writing, to fully accept that that middle bit was where I was going to be spending pretty much all of my time. This is the thing they don't tell you. When you see portrayals of writers on television or in movies, what are they normally doing? They're sipping coffee or cocktails, or jetting around to signings, or solving murders for fun. Lies! I mean, these things do happen, but those are the coastal bits. Most of the time we are deep inland—sitting at home, or at the office, or some shed or underground bunker. We eat what we find and slurp coffee from anything that is sturdier than coffee. Often, we are inappropriately dressed for any human interaction. This is because we are in the middle. And in the middle, things are rough. You make bargains with yourself like, "If I finish this chapter, I can have a shower!" Or, "If I just get this paragraph right, I can eat those stale Oreos!"Now, I realize in saying this that perhaps I am not selling you on the writing experience. I'm supposed to be cheering you on! You already know that the middle is a hard place to be. Perhaps right about now you are asking yourself, "What, precisely, is wrong with me? Why did I decide that the best way to spend the month of November would be indoors, strapped to a chair, writing thousands of words a day, alone, friendless, and insane? Why didn't I just agree to come to my desk every day, bang my head on it for a solid ten minutes, and be done with it? That would have been so much faster."

Here’s the thing, though...if you're doing NaNoWriMo, you are a reader, because all writers are readers. Which means that you must admire many authors. Your shelves are lined with the works of your heroes and sheroes. Every single one of them has crossed the wild country where you are now. Every single one of them has been a resident of The Middle. The ground you're treading is full of the remains of their old campsites. And somewhere around you, just out of sight, current authors you admire are making their own way across The Middle. What's nice about NaNoWriMo is that you are traveling with a posse of thousands, all of you making your way over the mountains, through the valleys, across the creeks. You are fighting off the beasties.
And once you've crossed The Middle once or twice and you're lounging on the other side, you'll find you miss it. You'll realize you long to be out there again, under the sky and the stars. The weather changes a lot in the middle. Some days, the skies are dark and it's hard to find your way forward. Those days are long and little progress is made. Some days, it's strangely bright and clear, and suddenly you can see the horizon ahead, and dozens of possible paths present themselves to you. But every day is different, and every day there is a new way to go and a new thing to see. You will be hooked.
-Maureen Johnson

Saturday, November 14, 2009

NaNoWriMo 2009

I wasn't planning on posting anything in November, since I usually cut out all non-essential activities in order to make sure I reach the minumum daily word count for NaNoWriMo ( But things went really well today, over 3000 words - I have reached the half-way mark (25,000 words) a day early. Cruising along through the second half of the novel I got started with last year. The plot is starting to come together, I think that's why I've been able to make such good progress.

It didn't start out very well, though. Last year I was really mentally prepared for starting NaNo. I was eager to start my second novel, and really eager to win, after falling short the previous year.

This year, I did absolutely no preparation. My attitude was completely different. I already had a win under my belt; I was feeling completely overwhelmed with teaching; I hadn't touched this story at all in the past year, except just to share excerpts of it at writer's group. I figured that I would participate in NaNoWriMo this year just for the extra motivation it would give to start working on the story again. I didn't really expect to do a lot with it.
The first night I managed to crank out 1200 words, but it was slow going (especially since I had to prepare Monday's lecture first, which took until midnight. Didn't get started writing until after midnight, by 1:30 am too sleepy to get any more words out. The next night I was even sleepier - because of course not getting sleep the night before. After I got the kids to bed, I sat in the recliner with my laptop on my lap - and promptly dozed off. I didn't get a single word written. Already 2000 words behind. Not a very good beginning. The third night wasn't much better. I got a few hundred words down, but it was painful. One of those nights when you write a single paragraph and you feel mentally exhausted.

However, the fourth night was a "write-in" - a gathering of at least 7 or 8 other local Laramie writers participating in NaNoWriMo. At my favorite writing place, too, Coal Creek Coffee House. I couldn't resist that. So I showed up and met each of the ladies (no men). I was encouraged by their enthusiasm (not to mention that delicious quiche and caramel steamers are a wonderful addition to the overall writing atmosphere and mental attitude). Managed to get as far as 4000 words, still a long way behind, but at least the words were starting flow easier. I was starting to get back into the book. The characters were becoming familiar again, and new ideas started to generate themselves.

I got caught up with the word count by the weekend, and I've really enjoyed writing this week, everything is still coming really easily. However, I know from two years of experience now that the last two weeks are harder than the first two weeks. The "rush" you get from taking off wears off. There is still the very real potential that I could get sick, like I did in the last week of NaNo 2007, and gave up at that point (H1N1 flu is running rampant in Laramie. B has already had and three of the girls. I'm amazed I haven't got it yet).
I still have hope though. For one thing, the class is getting a lot easier - I only have four lectures left to prepare for and I can put off the major part of grading, the final project, until December. Then again, Stars is coming for a week (Nov 21-28), and we are also hosting a missionary family at our house for five days.

One problem with the past week or so, as the writing has been coming really easily, is that I'm not taking the time to pray before I write like I did last year. I am keeping up with my Bible read-through, but my prayer life is scanty. I am making a resolution as of today not to let that continue. I want every word written in this book to be blessed by God. Besides, I doubt I have any chance of winning - getting through the next two busy weeks on track - if I don't have the strength of prayer behind me.

I discovered a new tool that may help me get through the challenges of the last week. "Write Or Die" ( - a web site where you set a goal: either a word count or a time goal. You then select the most effective punishment mode for you. The modes are Gentle, Normal and Kamikaze. Until you reach your goal, you will be punished when you stop writing. When you click the Write! button you are presented with a blank text box on a white screen (simplicity is key to the banishment of distraction). Start typing away. When you stop, the consequences kick in. In Gentle mode, a text box pops up and gives you a mom-like reminder to keep writing. If you get distracted in Normal mode, you will be played a Most Unpleasant Sound, in a loop, until you start writing again. If you stop writing in Kamikaze mode, my mode of choice, your screen will fade to red and then your work will start To Unwrite Itself. It will delete one word per second until you start writing again. Once you've reached your goal, you copy and paste your text into your main document.

I tried it, and I wasn't imressed with Gentle or Normal mode. But once I switched to Kamikaze mode, and I saw my words start to disappear if I didn't keep typing, it switched me into a whole new motivational level.

I also discovered this interesting post from the blog by the inventor of "Write Or Die" (who calls himself Dr Wicked). I am including the entire post here, because over time links can get broken, and this is interesting enough that I want to keep it.

Ritual vs Habit
"I am a brain, Watson, the rest of me is a mere appendix"
Those are, as you may have guessed, the words of Sherlock Holmes. To provide some context, in the story The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone, Watson and Holmes's landlady are increasingly concerned about Holmes because he refuses to eat until he solves the case. "What one's digestion gains in the way of blood supply is so much lost to the brain."

I am not advocating an eating disorder in pursuit of your creative craft, but there is truth to what Holmes says. This is the second Monday in my "Monday is creative day" regime and so far it's working splendidly (I know it's only been a week, but optimism is essential). Think about your day, think about when it really starts. For me personally I feel like the day picks up speed as soon as I have breakfast and does not slow down until late at night. This may not be true for everyone, but I would suggest to you that you pinpoint when your day starts and try to get and make your writing time your own.

What we're aiming for is a writing ritual, not necessarily a writing habit. Rituals are a lot easier to start and maintain than habits, which is why they're employed in some form by every religion on earth. Let's take a look at the word habit: the involuntary tendency or aptitude to perform certain actions which is acquired by their frequent repetition.

This would be a very nice thing to have, I would like to get to the point where I write so consistently that it is second nature. I would like this to stop just short of hypergraphia, which would be interesting but also terrifying. On the other hand... the definiton of "ritual" is any customary observance or practice; the prescribed procedure for conduct.

This seems well within our reach. We use rituals to develop behaviours which can turn into habits. We can't aim directly for the habit or we will fail. Only bad habits are easy to acquire.
So when we choose, for example, to abstain from food until we have written, we lend the writing act a significance it might not otherwise have. We also sanctify (literally: to set apart) that period of time, recognizing it, consciously and subconsciously, as important.

I encourage you this week to set apart some time for writing. As always, write whenever you can, on the back of a napkin, in the margins of your newspaper, but also find your own ritual to build walls around your writing time. Perhaps in building your ritual you will acquire the writing habit, but either way, you'll get more writing done.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why tolerance isn't enough

I send this blog out as a challenge. I contend that promoting secular tolerance to achieve world peace - or even just local peace - will not succeed.

The following is a quote that I'm sure many people would agree with:

"I am heartily sick of the type of religion that insists my soul (and everyone else's) needs saving - whatever that means. I have never felt that I was lost. Nor do I feel that I daily wallow in the mire of sin, although repititive preaching insists that I do. Give me a practical religion that teaches gentleness and tolerance, that acknowledges no barriers of color or creed, that remembers the aged and teaches children of goodness, not sin."

It would seem that what the world wants is ethics, not religious truth. It wants tolerance preached, not salvation.

Okay, here is what (I think) would happen, if you replaced religion with ethics, and salvation with tolerance.

Everyone says tolerance is a good thing; we can't fathom why people in some some extremist religions are intolerant of other races or religions. Here's the problem: tolerance only works as long as no one gets hurt. Most of us Americans, who have never experienced someone else of a different nationality, race or religion suddenly appearing and threatening our lives or our livelihood, can sit in our relative safety and prosperity and scratch our heads and wonder why other people just can't be tolerant. But suppose your neighbor down the street suddenly starts harrassing you, threatening you. Telling you that you have to move out of the neighborhood because, say, you voted for someone in the last election that he doesn't approve of. You stand firm. Then, one of your kids gets beat within an inch of his life by the neighbor's kids. How tolerant are you, at this point? Look at the long-standing enmity between the Israelis and the Palestineans. They both claim the same land as their homeland, and over the years there has been too much bloodshed over "the neighborhood" for them to risk "tolerance" anymore.

Now, consider ethics. Ethics is basically the study of morality, or the study of what makes actions right and wrong. It can be pretty much summed up in the Golden Rule, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Or as its put in the quote above, "gentleness and tolerance." Even people who disdain the Bible and the Christian worldview will usually acknowledge that the Golden Rule (straight out of the Bible) is very wise.

The problem is, no one keeps the Golden Rule very well. We may try, yes. Everyone has been hurt by someone else at some point, and has reacted by being hurtful in return. Since human beings aren't very successful at keeping this one over-arching rule, what we devised instead is a whole series of rules and clauses for dealing with different circumstances. For instance, the issue of abortion. If you applied the Golden Rule to this, we wouldn't kill unborn babies because we wouldn't want someone to come along and kill us because we weren't wanted or we happened to show up at the wrong time or too soon or under difficult circumstances in someone else's life. But the Golden Rule is very difficult - especially, say, for a fifteen year old girl that gets pregnant after her boyfriend got her drunk and date-raped her. So we create a new rule for girls in that situation, that it's okay to get an abortion. Well then other people will argue, but what about my circumstances? Shouldn't I be allowed an abortion too, because of this, or that? More rules. Or, a new rule that says that unborn babies aren't really babies with human rights until they are born, or until the third trimester maybe.

So ethics holds up fairly well if you don't mind having to deal with hundreds, or thousands of rules. And if you don't like an exisiting rule because it doesn't benefit your particular sitaution, you can hire a lawyer and fight the rule, or march and protest to hopefully enact change. A lot of religions are also very rule-based, but here's an interesting point: it's the very rule-based religions that are generally called the "organized religions" that so many people are really disgusted with because of rampant hypocrisy not to mention terrible historical events like the Crusades, the Inquistion, and all the bloodshed that occurred following the Reformation.

So if tolerance only works when one one gets hurt, and ethics only works if we burden ourselves with endless rules and laws, why do so many people still hate the thought of the alternative: which is a religion that preaches the need for salvation?

Because it means admitting that we're flawed. That we are lost and in need of a Savior. That we can't operate on our best level or even on a consistently good level without God. The Golden Rule wasn't designed to operate alone: it is the second of two commandments, and the first one is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength". The two rules weren't meant to operate separate from each other. To love your neighbor as yourself (or do unto others as you have them do unto you) you need to first have that deep love relationship with God empowering you to love others, to be able to forgive them even when they hurt you instead of inflicting hurt back at them.

What would it take to bring peace between two nationalities or culture or races or religions that have been at war with each other for decades? Suppose an Palestinean and an Israeli find themselves in a burning building. The Israeli passes out. The Palestinean is almost out of the building, but he goes back and rescues the Israeli, even though it means he gets so badly burnt that he ends up dying. How do you think the Israeli and his family would view Palistineans after this event? The long-standing fear and distrust and hatred would finally be broken. It might just be in one family, but a noble sacrifice has won peace.

The same religion that gave us the Golden Rule, also gave us the only means by which humans can truly live out the Golden rule: Jesus died for us, to rescue us from the burning flames, to set us free, to show us the way to peace.

Here are some other challenges I've made. I love hearing responses and I'm always open to discussion.

Worldviews part 1: the truth is we need help

Worldviews part 2: What about suffering?

Some thoughts on Avatar and why it is so appealing

Friday, October 23, 2009

lemons and lemonade, or, when it's all right to add sugar to your diet

Life has thrown us a real lemon - B.'s truck broke down and he found out that it will cost about $3000 to get it fixed. Ah, just when he finally has some good work for his business, and we were FINALLY going to get caught up on our past-dues, then this has to happen!

Okay, going to try to make lemonade out of this. Praise: at least B. has good work for his business right now, which means we can get the truck fixed, eventually. Praise: in the meantime, a friend of his has let him borrow a truck. Pretty much indefinitely. Praise: a lot less sugar in my diet these days, because I'm using so much of it to make lemonade out of these lemons!

No, the real reason why there is less sugar: a couple weeks ago when it occurred to me that in less than 4 months I was going to turn forty, I decided that turning 40 would be ever so much easier to take if I could shed some weight before the dreaded date. It would be really nice to start my fifth decade in life feeling better about myself phyiscally. So I asked my Mom if she would like to join WeightWatchers with me. Yes, its $40 a month, OUCH! However, the twins are completley potty trained now (another Praise!), which means I'm saving $40 a month in diapers. I was surprised, but Mom agreed.

I haven't really learned anything new at the meetings, and it does feel a little corny clapping everytime someone shares a success, but the bottomline is: it's very motivational. I already know the basic guidelines of eating healthy - lower your fat and sugar intake - five servings a day or fruit or veggies - lean meat and whole grains. However, I am more motivated now to eat a half a cup of berries and nofat yogurt instead of snacking from the vending machine. Also motivated to try some new recipes, and in general spending more time preparing food and cooking, instead of frequently choosing fast (and less healthy) meals.

I was not too sure about writing down everything you eat and calculating points (which can be time-consuming), but I decided to try it for a week, at least. It seems like it would be a lot easier just to go by the principles of hunger and fullness like I always have before. But one advantage to looking up points for everything and writing it down is that it does make me think before I eat instead of just mindlessly grabbing something. The WeightWatchers forms have little checkboxes for everything: did you take a multi-vitamin? Did you get at least 2 dairy servings a day? and how many servings of fruits/veggies? a checkbox for exercise, too (I am exercising more... leaving work a half hour early to go for a quick walk before picking up the girls). Anyway, this week (I'm on my second week now, lost 2.8 pounds my first week), I decided to add a checkbox to the form for "checking in with God" too, because I do still believe firmly in the that the more you involve God in your daily walk, the less food will have a hold on you (food is definitely an "idol" in my life).

Wow, I just read Beth Moore's most recent blog after finishing mine, and it seemed providentially in line with what I have just been writing about: not letting little temptations get the mastery over you: Like slaves in search of little masters.

Friday, October 9, 2009

tearful and beautiful

First, the tearful moment:
A friend posted this picture on Facebook and it yanked at my heart-strings, so-to-speak. The friend's husband is in Iraq; they have three small children. My husband's nephew is away for a five month stint on a Navy boat; he has two little ones. Another dear friend has a husband in Afghanistan for over a year; they have two small children. My heart and prayers go out to them.

I do believe in the necessity of having our troops fighting for the freedom and human rights of people in less fortunate countries than our own, but let us never forget the price we must pay for this blessed freedom. (Nor forget the price Christ paid for our ultimate freedom).

The picture also reminded me of when we were in the Spokane airport (2004, arriving for a visit to Stars' home) when a young woman came hurtling past me and threw herself into an incoming soldier's arms. While they embraced, everyone in the airport clapped. A moment I will never forget.

Less poignant, but no less beautiful: a few times a year God sends a sunset that takes my breath away. You'd think after a while that there just can't be any more variations on sunsets. A beautiful sunset still makes me stop and stare even if I saw one just like it the night before. But I don't think I've ever seen one with quite this mix of colors and textures.

Of course this picture doesn't do it justice - my camera is cheap, and the colors were already starting to fade by the time I got my camera. I was afraid if I tried to find a better "frame" (rather than our round pen and the neighbor's truck in the foregound) I'd lose the colors altogether.

The interesting thing about this view of the susnet is that I took it facing east. (I never knew you could have a 360 degree sunset effect until I moved to Wyoming). It's also hard to see in this picture, but the clouds had "virga" effect - virga is a meteorologic term for precipitation that falls from a cloud but evaporates before reaching the ground, common in desert or dry areas. We occasionally see it here on the Wyoming plains - a curtain of rain that never touches the ground. This is the first time I saw it with sunset colors though, and in particular these very unsual, sort of berry or plum-colored sunset colors. We tend to get very peach and orange-colored sunsets here, which you see in this west-facing photo of the same sunset. You can see how dark the clouds are, almost stormy looking. Besides being dramatic, dark clouds also sometime produce what I call the "golden moment" effect. The sun was blocked by the clouds most of the afternoon, but eventually the sun got low enough that it could "sneak" in under the clouds and get this fantastic mix of dark and rich golden slanting light. I always have to go outside and walk around in wonder in this "golden moment", almost feeling as if I have stepped out of my own mundane world and into a fairytale.
Sometimes you also get this gold piercing the dark effect when you are in a forest and the light slants a partiuclar way through the trees. I came up with a romantic name for this when I was a teenager - the "darklight".

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The toughest things about being a woman

I had another spectacular trail ride this weekend with Blaze and B. and mom. Fall colors are getting close to peak, and the days are still warm enough to be called Indian Summer.

Soccer season started for Blaze and even though it requires a lot more driving around and coordinating schedules, its still fun to watch her run around panting while I am sitting in the folding chair with a cozy blanket and a thermos of tea, cheering her on. Then when we are all sufficiently chilled we get to come home to a crackling fire in the woodstove. I love fall.

Another nice thing about fall is that once all the summer travel has wrapped up, Bible study groups get going again. The Beth Moore "Esther" Bible study has started and boy there is nothing like a good dose of Beth Moore's energy and spirit to get one excited about the Bible and our wonderful Lord and Savior. One of her themes in this study is "It's Tough Being a Woman" and she did a survey to see what women listed as some of the toughest things...

#1 HORMONES! - no surprise there.

#2 yielding. Having to submit - not just to human authority but also to God. In other words - not getting our way when we want!

#3 balance. This would be #1 on my list. Making time for God in the midst of my crazy schedule.

Monday 6:30 Wake up and read the Bible, try to have some quiet time before the day's madness begins. But often this ends up being the time when B. and I relax and talk (uninterrupted by kids) while sipping coffee (him) and tea (me). 7 am. The girls alarm clock goes off. Ten minutes later I'm up there threatening to spritz Blaze and Dreamer with water if they don't get up and start getting ready for school. 8am Wrestle the twins into their clothes and get them off to preschool. 9am-last minute prep for lecture. 10am-11 give lecture to 44 students and try to keep looks of hostile boredom from appearing on their faces. Until 4 pm - try to catch up on everything else at work. 4:30 Get Blaze to ballet lessons then go for a walk (exercise keeps up those endorphins!) 5:15 pick up twins and Dreamer. 5:25 pick up Blaze and rush her to soccer game. 6:30 get everyone home and briefly consider making mac and cheese for dinner tonight but shucks I made that last night, better find something with protein and veggies tonight. Help with homework while cooking and listen to Blaze read. Sit for about a half hour on the sofa while the girls bounce all around me. 8 pm finally get up enough energy to begin the bedtime routine (baths, bedtime story, practice verses, pray... if I remember). 9pm. Ah the blessed peace and quiet of the house all to myself! Unfortunately, I can't pick up that novel that I would like to read, because I was up late the night before putting together a PowerPoint for my lecture, so now I'm so tired it's all I can do to drag myself to bed.

Tuesday - all the same as above, except minus the lecture (replace with grading) and replace ballet lessons and soccer with Sparkies club and then Bible study (for me). Okay we had protein and veggies for dinner last night so tonight I pick up pizza because there isn't time to make dinner between Sparkies and Bible study. Just to make things a little more complicated and fun, once a month on Tuesday I replace Bible study with Writer's group.

Wednesday - all the same as on Monday, except instead of ballet and soccer game, replace with soccer practice then CIA (Children in Action) for the children - keeps them occupied at church so we can have peace and quiet for Prayer Service. I still haven't figured out a good dinner solution to fit in between soccer practice and CIA. And bless her precious soul, Mom helps the kids get their homework done after school before soccer practice.

Thursday - same as Tuesday, except the kids don't have any activities (whew) and every other week B. watches them and does the dinner/homework thing so I can go to the Beth Moore study. After the study I go straight to Coal Creek Coffee House with my laptop, to get an hour or maybe even two hours of writing in. Sometimes this is the only writing/editing I accomplish all week. Sometimes I go with a friend, or over a friend's house. If I'm really lucky, we can kill two birds with one stone, e.g. hang out together and solve all of life's problems together, and fit a word war in at the same time so we both get writing accomplished too.

Friday - no work! I stay home all day with the twins. Oops, I forgot that the house needs cleaned after 4 days of complete neglect. And then I signed up to volunteer at the girl's school for an hour (just because I'm not busy enough all ready, of course). Then I give riding lessons to a couple girls in the afternoon if the weather is good (I do this to motivate myself to ride a little too, either before, after or during the lesson. This might be the only time the horses get attention from me during the week). Then I remember the stalls need cleaned. Then off to Mom and Dad's for dinner in the evening, or they come over to our house.

Saturday - soccer game in the morning. Afternoon - all MINE! Oops, that is unless the girls guilt me into letting them have a playdate. Oh yeah and don't forget the laundry.

Sunday - church - am and pm - need I say more? But this is still the best day of the week. I LOVE to worship the Lord. Just wish I was better at it all week long. Which brings me back to balance. I'm really good at keeping busy and getting day-to-day things done. Really poor at keeping God in the center of it all. Oh, and how much did I mention B. in the above schedule? Isn't he supposed to be my second priority, after God? Ouch.

What I listed above is my intended schedule. There is many a day where I have a mini-meltdown and decide that I just need to stay home and watch a movie while cuddling the kids on the couch, instead of going to Bible study or Prayer Service or Sunday Evening Service. I have been known to tell Blaze its okay to skip soccer practice (or even a game) once in a while. And if a really GOOD novel should happen to fall into my hands, all bets are off. No telling what my schedule will end up looking like.

Verses I have been working on memorizing this month for Beth Moore's scripture memory challenge.

Hebrews 11:1,6 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see. Without faith it is impossible to please God, because who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

Acts 20:32 Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Lately I have been fascinated with verses that talk about the Word and how it functions in our life. The living Word! Here are some more verses about the Word that I might try to memorize at some point:

I Peter 1:23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

I John 1:10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

One final note on writing progress:

With the National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) only a month away now, I wonder if I should even try this year. Chances of success (meeting the 50,000 word goal) this time are slim, because of all the extra work I'm doing with this class and work in general. Then also Stars will be here in November for Thanksgiving instead of over Christmas, and I don't want to cut time short with her because I'm behind on my word limit.

On the other hand, anything accomplished is still SOMETHING, and Nanowrimo is a great motivator. I'm just not going to get bragging rights this year for being one of the winners.

I am now working on Chapter 19 and feeling very hopeful that once I am past this chapter, the whole editing process will speed up again. But then I've thought that before, that once I got past a tricky section then things would be smooth sailing. The problem is if you re-write one section, there is a cascade effect of all the other things you have to change.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A really impressive pinata

We have the first few weeks of school behind us now and Dreamer is adjusting well to kindergarten. The twins think school is pretty fun too: Starlet likes to run around wearing Dreamer's backpack - and they both love it when we visit school on Fridays during lunch period and they get to sit with their sisters and the other big kids eating their PB&J's.

Here's a picture of the girls on the first day of school. They decided to wear matching outfits (not like there is a whole lot of variety with the uniforms)
Waiting for the bus. Dreamer's backback makes her look so small!

I'm really bummed I didn't bring my camera to Blaze and Dreamer's school "fiesta" on Friday night. I have to admit I get this bad attitude about school functions, that they are kind of lame and boring. But the girls were really excited about this one and since Dreamer just started kindergarten this was her first school party. So we all dressed up in bright colors and headed off to the school on Friday night. There were a bunch of activities for the kids, including a Mexican hat dance where the kids danced in a circle around a bunch of sombreros on the ground. They were each given red bandanas to twirl and wave around while they danced, it looked like so much fun I wanted to join in! When the music stopped the kids got to pick up whichever sombrero closest to them and see if there was a plastic duckie under the hat - whoever found a duckie got a sticker. Not your traditional Mexican hat dance, I believe, but the kids sure loved it.

But the best part of the fiesta was the pinata. This was a HUGE pinata and the toughest one I've ever seen before - it stood up to over 100 blows by some very determined kids. They started out letting the littlest kids have a shot so even the twins got to go up and take a swing. I thought for sure it would break before the second graders got their chance, but both Dreamer and Blaze got two hits at it and I think a few third graders even had a chance before it finally broke. Then it was also pretty impressive that when the candy finally showered down all the kids actually obeyed the rules and didn't push and shove and everyone got three pieces of candy (you can tell our school takes rules and discipline very seriously).

Here's one of those "life's little moments" that makes me still smile thinking about it. Last night we had Mom and Dad over for dinner at our house and after dinner we played cards. I've taught Dreamer how to play rummy but tonight we decided to play poker since that is Dad's favorite game, and I wanted to get him involved. The doctors seem to have finally adjusted his medicine for Parkinson's so he is steadier on his feet and able to get around more, but he is still clearly depressed - he hardly talks at all these days. His comment when I suggested that we play poker tonight was "well, I know you guys will make me anyway, whether I want to or not" - typical sour puss! But after the first few hands I could tell he was enjoying it (though he'd never admit it).

 We taught Blaze seven card stud and follow-the-Queen and no-peek and finally we ended with a hand of low-hold. I explained to Blaze how the lowest card in her hand was a wild card. So we got to the end of the hand and we were all showing our cards and Mom asked Blaze what her low-hold was. Blaze pointed to a three and said, "this is my youngest card." Of course we all laughed (she was too excited to care because she had actually WON the hand and she couldn't believe all the quarters she was raking in!) I actually saw my father SMILE.

Dreamer was "Star of the Week" this past week in kindergarten and got to make a poster about herself to take to school and show to all the other kids: pictures of her, her sisters, our pets (we sure have a lot of those!) and some of her favorite things. As we started working on her poster I realized I didn't have any recent pictures developed yet, so I promised Dreamer that I would get some pictures printed that night so her poster would be all ready to take into school in the morning. But after getting all the kids in bed I was too tired to make a run to Walmart to buy color ink for the printer, so I decided I would get up early in the morning and get the ink so I could print her pictures. Well, Dreamer woke up before I got back from Walmart and came downstairs expecting to see the pictures on her poster and when she saw that it was still pictureless, B. said she just BURST into tears and he had to hold and her and comfort her till I got back and we could finish the poster for our little "star."
I am so so SO happy Blaze finally made a breakthrough with her reading! All summer long she moaned and groaned about how much she hated reading, and of course that just made me so sad and frustrated because I love reading so much, it was so hard to see her struggle with it and hate it so much. But then my mom talked to my Aunt Connie who is a first grade teacher and she gave us some advice that made all the difference in the world. Blaze's reading program at school (Spalding) is very heavily phonics-based where kids learn how to sound out words based on phonograms. Even though Blaze knows all her phonograms she would just get overwhelmed, I think, having to constantly decode words.

Connie told Mom and I about a different approach. First I would read a paragraph out loud, pointing to each word, then I would read the same paragraph again outloud with Blaze saying the words along with me, and then she would read the same paragraph again herself. She loved reading this new way! She actually started looking forward to reading again, instead of groaning, and soon we would even start skipping the first part where I would read outloud by myself, and eventually when we'd be reading outloud together she'd tell me "stop Mom I can do it by myself." But best of all was last week when it was bed time and I told her she could stay up a little later as long as she was quiet, and she could read a book. AND SHE DID! She started reading an Amelia Bedelia book, and then the next morning she finished it, all by herself - of her own initiative. Oh thank you thank you thank you Lord! (and thank you Aunt Connie!) Now Dreamer is begging me to read a book with her the same way so she can "read by herself" too.

This is getting to be pretty long but I feel bad writing so much about Blaze and Dreamer and so little about the twins, so here's a little bit about Serious and Starlet. They sure do have different personalities.
Serious (older by just one minute) is the "boy" of the family. She likes to take things apart. She likes to grunt and she'll get really mad over the littlest things, like not being able to get her shoes on (B. calls her his mad little Chinaman). She doesn't care what she wears and she is the first to get dirty.
Starlet on the other hand is all girl. She will change her outfit at least three times a day. She loves to play dress up and preen and walk around like a model showing off her outfits. Starlet is also the devious one. She is a thinker and a planner and a manipulator. She knows how to work her expressions to get the most out of Grandma and Grandpa (whereas if Serious wants something she'll just grunt and grab until she gets it). One day at Grandma and Grandpa H's when Starlet discovered a basket of clean clothes in the basement, she decided to play dress-up. Mom and I found her prancing through the house with one of Grandma's silk panties draped over her!
Serious does this thing with her hands that I call her "happy hands". When she gets excited about something, it's like she's trying to clap her hands but she is too excited to actually get her hands close enough to clap, so she just shakes them. I haven't seen her do this in a while now, and I miss it, just like I still miss Starlet's warbling stage - she used to make the cutest little noise before she started talking. They are both getting out of the toddling stage, too, they can actually run now but I miss the adorable way they used to waddle when they tried to run. I keep thinking Serious's outgrown though is falling out of bed, but just when I think we are safe, I hear another loud thump and howl in the night!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Einstein's Dreams

Teaching GIS two days a week this semester is a lot more work than I thought - not sure I want to admit to how many hours I spend preparing for each lecture. But it is a new challenge for me and I really like it. It does not feel like "work". It will be interesting to see what kind of GIS projects the students come up with (there are 45 of them).

Last night I finally got back to my much neglected writing, thanks to the busyness of fellow writers getting me motivated. N.L. has made a wonderful start to her second novel, The Gift of Remembrance, a story about genies and jinns that I have been bugging her to write for years. Now that she is finally passing me sections to read I am not disappointed. It is wonderful even in rough draft.

Also, we have several new people in writer's group this fall. I was very impressed by the short story one young lady shared. She said she spent an entire semester working on this story in her advanced creative writing class. Now she is putting the final polishing touches on it and has a literary magazine she plans to send it to - I would be very surprised if it doesn't publish because it is excellent writing, a compelling story, striking images... made me sigh and wonder if anyone will ever say such things about my writing. Not unless I keep working at it! So I am back to working on chapter 17. It is a good day to write because after a glorious stretch of hot sunny days, it finally turned chilly today.

I am also starting to think about what I will do for NANOWRIMO this year, which is coming up fast - less than 2 months away.

There are several new Bible studies starting at our church this fall too - I am really looking forward to Beth Moore's study on Esther.

I am also including some excerpts from another great book recommended by Heather. I have this fascination with time, especially time travel or stories about twists in time (this is why the Time Traveler's Wife is on my list of favorites, and then I have my own back-in-time story that I'm writing, too. Though this book was a collection of essays rather than a novel, it offered some fascinating takes on time. Not to mention some beautiful writing.

Einstein's Dreams, by Alan Lightman

One description a variation of time:
On this late afternoon, in these few moments when the sun is nestled in a snowy hollow of the Alps, a person could sit beside the lake and contemplate the texture of time. Hypothetically, time might be smooth or rough, prickly or silky, hard or soft. But in this world, the texture of time happens to be sticky. Portions of towns become stuck in some moment of history and do not get out. So, too, individual people become stuck in some point of their lives and cannot get free.
Here is another poetic fantasy of time:
When clouds form faces, the faces stay... painted balconies exposed to wind and rain become brighter in time. The sound of thunder makes a broken vase reform itself, makes the fractured shards leap up to the precise positions where they fit and bind. The fragrant odor of a passing cinnamon cart intensifies, not dissipates, with time...In this world, the passage of time brings increasing order. Order is the law of nature, the universal trend, the cosmic direction.
Suppose there was a place where time stood still: where as you travel closer to the center of time, it slows down, until a kiss can last forever, where you can never grow old, or have to see your children grow up and leave, or fall out of love. "Some say it is best not to go near the center of time. Life is a vessel of sadness, but it is noble to live life, and without time there is no life. Others disagree. They would rather have an eternity of contentment, even if that eternity were fixed and frozen, like a butterfly mounted in a case."A world in which time is a sense, like sight or taste, a sequence of episodes may be quick or slow, dim or instense... orderly or random, depending on the prior history of the viewer... some people are born without any sense of time. As consequence, their sense of place becomes heightened to an excruciating degree.

Suppose time is not a quanitity but a quality, like the lumnisence of the night above the trees just when a rising moon has touched the treeline. Time exists, but it cannot be measured.

Time is a visible dimension. Just as one may look off in the distance and see houses, trees, mountain peaks that are landmarks in space, so one may look out in another direction and see births, marriages, deaths that are signposts in time, stretching off dimly into the far future. And just as one may choose to stay in one place or run to another, so one may choose his motion along the axis of time.

This one is my personal favorite, though it is sad:

Time is a flock of nightingales. Time flutters and fidgets and hops with these birds. Trap one of the nightingales beneath a bell jar and time stops. The moment is frozen for all people and trees and soils caught within. In truth, these birds are rarely caught. The children, who alone have the speed to catch birds, have no desire to stop time. For the children, time moves too slowly already. They rush from moment to moment, anxious for birthdays and new years, barely able to wait for the rest of their lives. The elderly desperately wish to halt time, but are much too slow and fatigued to entrap any bird. For the elderly, time darts by much too quickly. They yearn to capture a single minute at the breakfast table drinking tea, or a moment when a grandchild is stuck getting out of her costume, or an afternoon when the winter sun reflects off the snow and floods the music room with light... on those occasions when a nightingale is caught, the catchers delight in the moment now frozen. They savor the precise placement of family and friends, the facial expressions, the trapped happiness over a prize or a birth or romance, the captured smell of cinnamon or white double violets. The catchers delight in the moment so frozen but soon discover that the nightingale expires, its clear, flutelike song diminishes to silence, the trapped moment grows withered and without life.
One last one:

A world in which cause and effect are erratic. For instance, one day for no accountable reason a young girl's "heart soats, she blushes, she paces anxiously, she becomes happy... days later, she meets a young man and is smitten with love. Are the two events not connected? But by what bizarre connection, by what twist in time, by what reversed logic?... in such an acausal world, scientists are helpless. Their predictions become postdictions. Their equations become justifications, their logic, illogic... but... in this world artists are joyous. Unpredicability is the life of their paintings, their music...they delight in events not forecasted, happenings without explanation, retrospective.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

tons of tomatos

We spent Labor day weekend with B.'s parents in South Dakota. Here are the girls getting pulled behind the tractor by Daddy.

All FOUR of Grandma's dogs got in the tractor (you can only see three, but there is Cloud, Star, Chewlie and Rowdy in there) with all four of my girls.

Grandma planted a huge garden this summer, and has hundreds of jars of tomato sauce, salsa, pickles, green beans and jams. We were crazy about her salsa. She said if I would help her, she'd help me can some to take back. Here is the "before" picture (this isn't even ALL the tomatos)

Here is the neat little machine that you run the tomatos through to get rid of the seeds and skin (the girls loved squishing the tomatos in)

Here they are with cousin Breana (what a helper she was)
Here is my sister-in-law Josie bravely cutting up the jalapenos for the salsa. She said her hands burned for hours afterward.

And here is the finished product. Yum! My first experience with canning. We brought home 12 jars of salsa and 12 jars of spaghetti sauce, plus some pickles and jam. Oh yeah and a whole box full of potatoes. There is nothing like fresh garden veggies!

Monday, August 31, 2009

more to do with horses

During August we have been having lots of fun with our horses!
These are some pictures of Blaze riding up at Vedauwoo, a forest recreation area near our house. This was her first official trail ride with us (other than just short rides around our house). She did wonderful! My mom went along with us, too, riding Rebel. Rebel is 27 years old now and he's starting to look his age, but he doesn't act his age at all! Mom was constantly having to slow him down and circle him around so the rest of us could catch up. Those two are real pair... Mom doesn't act her age, either (she is still riding horses, skiing, roller-blading,etc!)
Vedauwoo is one of my most favorite places to ride, with some cool shady aspen forests and lots of big open meadows for running. The fantastic rock formations make it very scenic.

Another favorite place to ride is on Mear's Morgans Ranch, along the Laramie River. We took our young horses, Jewel and Folly, here a few weekends ago to get them used to crossing water. While we were working with the horses, the twins and Dreamer had a blast playing in the river.

Here is B. on Folly, trying to get her to cross the river the first time, and Blaze trying to get her horse across the river for the first time. Both horses are doing the typical "dancing" at the edge of the water - not sure if they want to get their feet wet!

Finally B. switches to his regular horse, Ally, and leads Blaze across.

After a while, Blaze is able to get her horse to cross by herself. Though he is still looking a little uncertain, here.

Meanwhile I was working with my horse, Jewel. Once Jewel figured out that the water wasn't going to eat her alive, she started having fun with it. She started pawing at the water and even tried to lay down in it (with me still on her!)

After playing in the river for a while, we practiced jumping Jewel and Ally over some of the little log jumps down by the river. There are a lot of huge jumps, too - Mears Morgans hosts a the "Windy Wyoming Event" every year - but our young horses have a long way to go before we start tackling the whole jump course.

Another weekend we took Blaze to a horse show in Cheyenne. Here is Blaze and Dreamer with a miniature horse at the show.
Blaze rode Ally in two events, Western Pleasure for rookies (other kids just starting to show) and she got 2nd place, and Western Equitation, which she got first place! It started to rain and thunder like crazy soon after she finished, so I never did get a picture of her up on Ally with her ribbon.
My friend K.A., who used to live in Laramie but turned traitor and allowed her husband to move her down to Colorado Springs (grrrrr) was here a couple weekends ago and here is a picture of her and her son Daniel feeding Jewel (Jewel is always the first horse to the fence to see if anyone has goodies) and another horse that B. is training right now for extra money.

We're hoping to have a lot more fun with horses yet this fall. Blaze is 8 years old now so she can join the 4H club for horses. B. will probably go hunting again this fall and he usually takes the horses at least once or twice. And I hope to get a few more mountain trail rides in, during my favorite time when the aspen leaves are changing.

A quick add-on to do with writing progress. I seem to only be able to find time to write once a week, if that. However I did finally finish re-writing chapter 16 (though I'm not happy with it... sent it off to S.W. to see if she can help me with it at all) and got a good start on chapter 17. Now that the first week of school is behind us, hopefully I can get settled into the new schedule and start writing/editing more regularly.

Beth Moore's scripture memory challenge continues to be a blessing for me - I have all 22 verses of Psalm 34 memorized (now I just have to keep reviewing it). Here are the last few verses I worked on, in August:
Psalm 34:17-22
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them
He delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted,
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
A righteous man may have many troubles,
but the Lord delivers him from them all.
He protects his bones, not one of them will be broken
[a prophecy about Christ]
Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems His servants -
no one who takes refuge in Him will be condemned.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

a mountaintop experience

Last weekend B. gave me Saturday "off" from kid-duty so I could go on a hike with a bunch of friends from my church, Laramie Valley Chapel. Treva has started a women's outdoor ministry, informally called the "BMW's", or Burly Mountain Women (though I called it "Barely Mountain Women" - referring to myself, of course. Treva really is a mountain woman - she has climbed mulitple Fourteeners in Colorado. I affectionately call her Gear Girl).

August 8 was the day to tackle climbing Medicine Bow Peak, the highest peak in Wyoming's Snowy Range at 12,013 feet. Meeting at the church at 6:30 am on a Saturday caused some grumbling, but leaving early was soon rewarded because we saw these three moose on our drive up to the trail head. (This has definitely been the summer for moose sightings! A couple weeks ago a young moose trotted right by our church, and then two days later B. saw two moose in our backyard and followed them through our neighborhood for a while. He said they were so big they didn't jump fences, they just stepped over them.)

Here we are just starting off on the trail, hiking around Lewis Lake.

The wildflowers were magnificent. Though everyone grows columbine in their backyards in Laramie, the domesticated flowers are never as beautiful as the wild ones.

Here we are taking a break to catch our breath. The lady beside me, Sophia, is 55 years old. I hope I am still climbing mountains at that age! The trail starts out nice and flat, but it quickly gets steep. Though only 1.8 miles from the trail head to the top of the mountain, it's a 2000 foot gain. We had to stop every 10 minutes or so for a quick breather. Near the top, I started to feel light-headed. Sheila and I standing at a magnificent overlook - Lake Marie at the base of the Snowy Range.

Here is Treva scrambling over boulders, near the top. At this point the trail completely disappears - it's just a boulder field, with rock piles or cairns to mark the direction.

Bouldering is hard work! Treva and I decide to take the easy route along a ridge of snow.

At last! Despite Sophia's claim that someone kept moving the top of the mountain back, here we all are finally at the very top! I did this climb about 12 years ago with my dear friend Karen, but I had forgotten how amazing the 360 degree view was! We also lucked out this time that it wasn't even very windy.

Standing (from left to right): Treva, Michelle, Heather
Sitting: Sheila, Kim, Sophia, me, Mehrnoosh

This mountaintop experience was more than just a great view and feeling of accomplishment. Before we started, Treva had given us each a card with these verses for us to memorize and meditate on during our trek.

1 Corinthians 15:1-5

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

While we sat around on the boulders at the top sharing trail mix and other goodies, some of us recited these verses from memory and then Treva talked a little a bit about how important the Gospel is, but how we are tempted sometimes to try to "dress it up" to make it more appealing as we try to share it. But really it is powerful all by itself.

It started a great discussion with Sheila's friend Mehrnoosh, a Muslim from Iran who is a graduate student in Engineering here at the University of Wyoming. She is very smart, a real thinker. She shared that she has many misgivings about Islam, but she couldn't see that Christianity was all that different. She sees Christ as a prophet, and so views him the same as the Muslim prophets. We tried to explain how Christ was different from the other prophets because he was both 100% God and 100% man - basically God becoming man, just like us, so He could experience what we experience. Because He was a man like us, he encountered all the same temptations we face, but because he was God he was able to overcome these temptations and never sin. And because he never sinned, He was therefore able to a "perfect" sacrifice for our sins, so that when we believe in Him we are saved - rescued - from the penalties of our own sins.

She also asked us how we could believe that what our Bible says is 100% true, because she feels things have been added to the Quran over the years to corrupt it for specific purposes (suppression of women, for one. I was pleased to hear that Iran does allow women to vote, but of course their last election was completely bogus. Mehrnoosh was very upset about that). So then Treva gave this truly inspired description of how the Bible was written by over 40 authors over a thousand years and yet none of it contradicted and all the prophecies about Christ came true. And to top it off, the another hiker came along and overheard our conversation and then proceeded to add additional arguments. He was a believer too. (Praise You, God for sending him along too right at that moment!)

Treva also asked Mehrnoosh if she remembered the story of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice Isaac. She said yes, this story is in the Quran too. Then Treva said, "do you remember how at the last minute God told Abraham to stop, and that God provided a ram as a sacrifice instead? and she said yes. "That's Jesus," Treva said. "the sacrifice was Jesus."

I don't know if that made any impression on Mehrnoosh, but we were all thrilled that we got to have a discussion with her about the Gospel and "plant seeds." I don't think she felt threatened by us - even though there were 7 of us Christians and only one of her - I think everyone was respectful to let her share her own beliefs and doubts. I think she is probably the first Muslim I have ever met that I've had a chance to really talk to. We had all sorts of questions for her about what life in Iran is like and it was fascinating to hear her answers. I asked what she thought was the strangest thing about Americans, and she said that we eat so much fast food! But she also said that she was surprised by how family-oriented Americans are. In her country they have spread propaganda that we are anti-family.

The hike back down was harder for me than going up, as it always is - hurts my toes and my knees something fierce. But we were well rewarded back at the trail head because Treva provided lunch for all of us! Sandwiches (garnished with fresh veggies from her own garden), hummus and chips, cookies and fresh peaches. My mouth is watering just writing about it. Simple food becomes a feast after a hard workout like that!

Photo credits all go to Heather. many thanks!