Wednesday, December 31, 2014

1000 gifts: skating, ballet, and other Christmas fun

My gifts (blessings) from December... this 1000 gifts list is mostly written for myself and for my family. I don't expect anyone else to read all these details, but I decided to leave these posts "public" just in case they might inspire someone else someday to start keeping a gifts list. Keeping this list has changed my life.

969. Eight years of twin bundles of joy

970. Getting two job offers within hours after being laid off
This all happened on B's birthday! We went from despair to praising God within a span of a few hours.

971. a call to make Christmas "reservations" 
For reasons that I wrote in a post earlier this month, the holidays were hard for us this year... I've really struggled with feelings of isolation. After a particularly blue, grumpy, frustrated day (and night), I got a phone call from my friend in Colorado Springs, K.A., asking if she could make "reservations" for her family to stay at our house the day after Christmas and visit. Her call was like an answer to prayer (except I'd been too grumpy to pray, so it was purely a gift of grace).

972. Coming home to a decorated house
While I was at work one afternoon, the girls got out all our Christmas decorations and set up our nutcracker collection, Christmas village, and nativity scene. They even hung the Advent calendar. It was so delightful to come home to a decorated house and not have to do any of the unpacking and arranging. After we got our live Christmas tree, they hung all the ornaments too. Normally I love doing all the decoration, but it was so nice to have the kids do it this year for me for a change, and they loved it too.

973. A written testimony at a memorial
Went to a friend's mother's memorial which was heartbreaking - she died in her 50's from cancer - but also joyful in the respect that she had written her testimony of coming to know Jesus and her walk with God and the pastor read her testimony out loud. It was far more powerful hearing her own words than any eulogy I've ever heard.

974. Interstellar
Blaze came with me to see the science fiction movie Interstellar, which was breath taking, mind-bending, and thoughtful. I loved the space travel, the worm hole, the black hole, and the fascinating plays of relativity and gravity and quantum entanglements. My scientific side loved seeing how gravity is the only force  that transcends time and how gravity was used for communication across time. My romantic side appreciated the parallel of "love is the one thing that transcends time and space." This NY Times article about the movie opened even more paths of thought, too, about how science influences our worldviews; I might have to read poet Christian Wiman's "My Bright Abyss" some day.

975. Blaze and Dreamer got to "steal" gifts at their first White Elephant Christmas party
with bonus fun, because it was our equestrian club party, all the gifts were horse-related. Dreamer got a cute purse with an embroidered horse and a shirt with a horse on it too.

976. The twins' first Nutcracker ballet
The University of Wyoming does a Nutcracker ballet once every four years, and it's affordable so we can take the whole family. And they do such an amazing job for a local production! The party and mouse king scenes were so funny (they always add some Western touches... mice with cowboy hats and six shooters) and the 2nd half was so magical. It was Serious and Starlet's first ballet and though they got a little restless at the end, I could tell that it captured their imagination because they've been doing a lot of twirling and dancing at home since then!

977. Dreamy dancing
The Arabian dance took my breath away because the three performers danced with a giant, billowing silken scarf (like this image, except the scarf was hanging from the ceiling).
They'd wrap themselves in it and then spin out of it, or pull it this way and that, and it would billow out and float above them, and catch the light just so! The Pas De Deux is always so romantic and the minor shift in the Waltz of the Flowers makes me catch my breath, too. They had little kids from the local gymnastic program in Russian fur hats doing cartwheels and handsprings in the Russian dance, how in the world did they keep those big furry hats on?

978. learning how to draw app
Dreamer downloaded this neat app that taught her some wonderful sketching techniques: how to draw expressions on a face; how to shade a body. Her drawing improved remarkably, I was really impressed

979. Dinosaur app and dino story
Meanwhile, Blaze's discovery in the app department is a dinosaur park game that actually teaches quite a lot about dinosaurs... she has learned so many different dinosaurs and facts about them that she sounds like a budding paleontologist. Blaze also wrote me (and illustrated) a 10 chapter story about a girl who could turn into different dinosaurs - with some creative ideas and genuine laugh out loud moments

980. Dreamer's imaginary world
One night while Dream was brushing my hair (how heavenly it is to have your hair brushed! I like it more than a massage!) she told me all about her imaginary world, Horcan, which runs on happiness, and has only one entrance: belief. It's a forest where the trees are hung with ornaments and lockets and keys, and all the animals have houses. Fairies can weave clothes out of water.

981. Dreamer, Serious and Starlet in the church Christmas program
Since this is Dreamer's last year to participate, she finally got a speaking part, and the twins were adorable singing and pretending to be sheep 

982. Starlet: "you wanna knuckle sandwich?"
My littlest girl says this with a grin when she puts up her fists and faces off with her sisters. Another thing she also threatened Blaze with (oh so cutely): "let me squeeze you until all your laziness comes out!"

983. Ice skating with the girls
This was Serious and Starlet's first time skating: they fell about every 5 seconds but loved every moment of it.

984. Friends delivering cookies
We had two different friend's families make us Christmas cookies this year - some of them very fancy and gourmet

985. The delicious danger of jalapenos
B.'s new job had Christmas lunch for the crew - Mexican enchiladas. The Mexican workers teased him about not putting any jalapenos on his enchiladas "it'll put hair on your chest". B.'s response: "it's the hair on my hiney I'm worried about!" 

986. Candlelight Christmas Eve service
We sang two of my favorite: Oh Holy Night and Come Now Our King

987. the old carol, In the Bleak Midwinter
In my earlier December post, I shared how this old hymn had new meaning to me this year

988. Thorin's quote at the end of The Hobbit 
Took Dreamer and Blaze to see the last movie of the Hobbit. While I didn't like all the additions to the story, I did like that they kept some wonderful dialogue from the book, like Thorin's last words: "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world" - and I loved the song during the credits, "The Last Goodbye" by Billy Boyd

989. Biker nutcracker 
The perfect addition to my nutcracker collection from K.A. and her husband, who are bikers and members of biker church

990. Zip line in the snow
Day-after-Christmas fun with the kids up at the Snowy Range Lodge with Heather's family

991. Article on Our longings & God's glory
Heather has been taking a Christian counseling class and shared this article with me, "Who Are We? Needs, Longings, and the Image of God in Man" by Edward Welch. I'm going to write more about this,  because I think "glory" will be my theme word for 2015, but here is a one sentence summary: it is not so much that God fulfills our longings but that we radiate his Glory. The focus is Him, not us.

992. Theological debate with friends
K.A.'s family stayed with us the evening after Christmas and I got some lively (but kind) theological debate with them: they have anti-Calvinist views on the doctrine of election. I'm not an extreme Calvinist; I found my beliefs best expressed in this article Another view on the Biblical doctrine of election. Charles Spurgeon said it best when he called it “Perseverance of the Savior”, rather than Calvin's perseverance of the saints.

993. Galations 6:9 Let us not become weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a reward if we do not give up. 
I admit there's some relationships that I felt like giving up on recently... this verse during our ladies' study of Galatians reminded me to never give up

994.  I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day - Casting Crowns version 
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men

And the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they're singing (Peace on Earth)
In my heart I hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (Peace on Earth)
Does anybody hear them?
Peace on earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep (Peace on Earth, peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men

Then ringing singing on its way

The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men

And the bells they're ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they're singing (Peace on Earth)
And with our hearts we'll hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

Do you hear the bells they're ringing? (Peace on Earth)
The life the angels singing (Peace on Earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (Peace on Earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men

Peace on earth, Peace on earth
Peace on earth, Good will to men

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Two different kinds of Christmases

It's Christmas Eve and I am enjoying this moment to relax and revel in my favorite evening of the whole year, nestled up with my blanket near the fire and the Christmas tree. Earlier we went to the candle light Christmas Eve service and sang favorite carols (including my favorite, O Holy Night) and hugged friends, then came home to sing a few more carols together as a family after dinner and read some Christmas books (the Little Drummer Boy, If You Take A Mouse to the Movies, and the Nutcracker are favorites). We did the last day of the Advent calendar, and the girls helped wrapped a few presents and helped me make Spanish bar cake (for Dad) and peach pie (for B.).

Now the girls are tucked in bed and I wanted write about what's been in my mind on and off the past few days, and really came into focus with the message tonight at church. How there are two very different kinds of Christmas, and I love them both. Technically I suppose there three types of Christmas: the first one I don't like is commercial Christmas. We try to fight this by giving gifts to Angel Tree and Christmas Child ministries and emphasizing to the kids how helping others and making homemade gifts from our heart are the best gifts, not the latest toys and gadgets.

The second Christmas is the magical one: the Christmas classic movies like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman and It's a Wonderful Life and the most magical story of all (in my opinion!) the Nutcracker.  Giant growing Christmas trees and toy soldiers battling mice! A broken nutcracker turned into a Prince and candy and toys coming to life! It's like becoming small enough to climb right into a Christmas tree and be completely surrounded by the magic. I get this same delicious feeling in decorating my own house, and visiting other decorated houses full of twinkling lights and garlands and Christmas cards, and lush Christmas parties with all the fixings.

This magic can be a little fickle, though. Some years (like this year in particular for me), it feels lovely one moment, and empty the next. Can one burn out on all the trimmings? One can certainly feel disillusioned by it.  A death in the family can set all the beloved traditions awry.

B.'s mom died in March and this is our first Christmas without her, and also, because of B.'s new job and limited time off, the first year we haven't been able to visit our out-of-town family for either Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's. One of his sisters and her family was going to visit us for Christmas but they had to cancel. So I've been feeling isolated and blue. Blaze and Dreamer actually did all the Christmas decorating because I couldn't summon any motivation for it. I did get a tree and set it in a stand, but the girls put the lights on it and decorated it. Dreamer asked me when we start doing the Advent calendar together (we have an elaborate home made version) and I kept saying "okay, we'll start tomorrow night" - when I finally joined them one night I was humbled to see that the girls had been hanging all the little figures and their accompanying verses without me for the first 12 days.

The Christmas that always feels real and true, and deeply beautiful (not just sparkly beautiful), is the stark Christmas, the First Christmas where travelers were not welcomed when they arrived (the message at church tonight was about this, how Joseph and Mary were likely rejected because of the scandal about her pregnancy before marriage). Their baby was born in a stable. There were no family or friends, there were no decorations, there was no feast, there was no celebration, at least not on earth.

The angels were the only ones to rejoice and sing, and the star shining in the sky was the only decoration. The shepherds were more terrified and awed than they were full of celebration.

I feel closest to this true Christmas when I have struggled with bleakness. The house is far more bright and warm and cozy when outside the winter is cold and snowy, and Christmas is purer when the need for a Savior's birth is deeper.

Having struggled (not this whole Christmas season, but parts of it) with feeling disheartened and bleak, this old carol I've never really paid attention to before suddenly came to mind. When I looked up the lyrics I discovered it was a poem written by Christina Rossetti. The first stanza is the one I vaguely remembered, but I was startled to discover the rest of the lyrics, how glorious they are.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air -
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshiped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him -
Give my heart.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

1000 gifts: 30 days of thanksgiving

I don't usually share much on Facebook, but I've seen others do the 30 days of thanksgiving in November, and I did it this year too (except the version here on the blog is numbered for my 1000 gifts list). This list is mostly written for myself and for my family. I don't expect anyone else to read all these details, but I decided to leave these posts "public" just in case they might inspire someone else someday to start keeping a gifts list. Keeping this list has changed my life.

938. Dark mornings, but getting to see beautiful sunrises
Getting up while it's still dark, before the time change, is really hard, but I'm thankful for getting to see the beautiful sunrises (that I don't normally get up early enough to see)

939. My sisters-in-laws, who are making quilts for all my girls. 
Thank you Melissa, Monica, Crystal and Josey. This one Melissa is doing the embroidery on for the twins.

940. Snuggles in the morning
Starlet is almost 8, but she still loves to snuggle with me in the mornings before school. Serious got up early this morning to snuggle with me too.  I don't want them to outgrow the snuggly stage!

941.  the teachers at the twins' school that give them so much help and encouragement
The twins get one-on-one help for 2 hours a day to help them catch up with their reading! Our public education system is amazing in Wyoming.

942. "Pitchwars" -a writer mentorship opportunity
This program pairs two writers up with one published or soon-to-be published author so they can benefit from his/her experience. Veronica B. was my mentor and Natalie W. was the other writer I exchanged manuscripts with. Results in 5 requests from agents!

943. thankful for our veterans and our freedom

944. thankful for our cozy wood stove with near 0 temperatures outside

945. all four of my girls taking a break from Minecraft and busy writing stories

946. Getting bumped on a flight - but reimbursed with $500 voucher
This meant B. and I were able to get tickets to Seattle to visit Stars!

947. the deja vu feeling of Stars picking us up at the airport 
after all the times we've picked her up at the airport while she was growing up

948. A library that looks like a cathedral (Suzzallo library at University of Washington)
The students call this the Harry Potter library. Stars also gave us a tour of the beautiful campus. She's starting at a community college (to save money) but hopes to transfer here. Smart plan!
949. sunset from the tallest building in Seattle, the Columbia Center From up there, the Space Needle looked like a miniature toy! (you can just see it in the background of this picture)  It had a breathtaking panorama of the city, Mt Rainier, Puget Sound, all the beautiful lakes and Cascades in the distance. We stayed up there for over an hour, from twilight to full night because Stars said it was worth it to stay to see all the city lights, not to mention the sunset.  

950. Monorail
Another I loved was the monorail train in downtown Seattle with the glass roof. Makes me want to travel by train more.  

951. Huckleberries
Stars is trying to save money and using public transit instead of driving (parking is so expensive in Seattle, too) so we drove her car back to Laramie to sell it for her. It was a two day, 20 hour drive but through some of the most beautiful mountain country of Washington, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. And every time we stopped I couldn't help put splurging on huckleberry treats - huckleberries don't grow in southern Wyoming where I live, and they are one of my favorite treats. Even had huckleberry ice cream! 

952. Meeting friends in Idaho Falls
Amy & DJ's family moved away last year, and it was so much fun to have lunch with them when we drove through Idaho Falls. Miss them and their kids so much.

953. Swan Valley
I've never driven through Swan Valley before, but didn't figure I'd be lucky enough to see swans - but we did! Swans swimming in the Snake River! That drive through Swan Valley, along Palisades Reservoir, Snake River Canyon, and along the Hoback River is stunning! At one point we had to stop because there was a band of big horn sheep in the middle of the road, licking road salt.

954. My parents 50th anniversary!!! (November 21)
So incredibly thankful for them, words cannot express it. I wanted it to be special but Mom didn't want to do anything big, because Dad can't handle much company (due to his Parkinson's disease). We just had a few friends over for hors d'ouerves and champagne. My mom has a gift as a hostess that I deeply admire. My dad was much better than I thought he would be, too. He couldn't hold a conversation for very long but he was able to make a few snappy comments like his old self, such as "Not bad for a guy who can barely count to 50." 

 I wrote to all their friends and family and asked that they send cards and notes and photos and many did which really made my parents happy, especially some they hadn't heard from in a while. 
My parents' favorite car, Ford Galaxy, 1964
Anniversary dinner, 2009 at our house

955. kisses on both cheeks so you don't go lopsided
I love how my mom makes the twins kiss her good bye on both cheeks because if you only kiss her on one side, she'll go lopsided the rest of the day

958. Amazing grace! Jesus became real to me 21 years ago almost to the day.

959. Giant floor map to explore
The Geography Department arranged for this giant National Geographic Map to "visit" the University of Wyoming for a couple days. My girls got to walk all over North America (here they are visiting Baja!)

960. Little helpers in the kitchen
My helpers making apple crisp for Thanksgiving. And making silly jokes: Why did the baby ghost cry? He had a boo boo.

961. Skype to see long distance friends and family

962. Another local writer helping me stay going on NaNoWriMo
I had a really hard time getting going with my unicorn story during National Novel Writing Month...there were some nights I just couldn't find any inspiration; or whatever I wrote I ended up deleting because it was so far from the vision I wanted in my mind. But Emily kept asking me how I was doing, and we met several times to write together, and that helped me persevere.

963. Made up words, multiple personalities, and making wands
When you ask Blaze a question sometimes she answers with made up words like "Inkabob!" or "Dooba dooba?" or a couple other oddities... it's starting to grow on me. Dreamer said one day "I have so many personalities!!! I need to write them down to keep them all straight." One of her personalities is a geographer. Another is a geologist. Another is a fashion designer. Another is a singer/songwriter. She designs a new outfit for her doll every day. She also loves making wands. She finds a stick and uses her pocket knife to shape it, then paints it and decorates it with various ribbons, bangles, sparkles,  etc.

964. "The Lord stood near him"  (Acts 23:11) How have I never noticed that before?

965. Psalm 62:5  Find rest, oh my soul, in God alone. My hope comes from Him.
From Beth Moore: "The Hebrew word for hope is tiqvah which literally means "a cord, as an attachment" . The psalmist contrasted the disappointment he often experienced in man with the security he found in his faithful God. His cord or rope was attached to God alone. We're all holding onto a rope of some kind for security; but it anyone besides God is on the other end, we're hanging on by a thread!"

966. A neat study on similarities/differences between Paul and Jonah
(also from Beth Moore's study). They were both messengers of God, both were caught in a storm. One was willing to follow God's calling, even in chains. He was shipwrecked, but gave praise to God, and his life was filled with joy. The other wasn't willing to follow God's calling. He saved the ship by his own sacrifice, was saved in amazing circumstances, but still delivered his message with bitterness.

967. An intense moment picturing Jesus across from me
Had an intense moment where I pictured Jesus sitting by me in my meetings at work, and in my day to day activities with my coworkers, parents, and acquaintances... listening to my conversations. How would a friend feel if I never mentioned him, all day long, except at home or among Christian friends - but never acknowledged him to all the others I interact with? 

968. After 30 days of thanksgiving, having a completely full heart

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What I'm learning, and a dream revisited

What I'm thankful for - I've seen other people post "30 days of thanksgiving" in November on
Facebook, and I decided to do it this year (I'll sum it up in my 1000 gifts list, coming soon). But here are a few highlights: trips to Buffalo and Seattle. Getting to visit my stepdaughter, Stars (her screen name) and old friends.  My parents 50th anniversary.

What I'm struggling with - rising prices, B.'s hours at work cut back, realizing I can't afford some of the things I really want. I love to travel, but it's so expensive! B. and I were able to "piggyback" on my travel to Pittsburgh this fall for a conference for work; work paid for my plane ticket, so all we had to pay for was his plane ticket, a rental car and two nights hotel so that I could revisit my hometown, Buffalo and take B. around to all my old favorite places and visit some old friends. That short trip was a financial strain though. I realized then, we can't really afford to do this anymore.

What God is teaching me - I have this constant debate in my head: should I go back to work full time? I feel so blessed being able to work part time and home school, but it's hard to give up travel, and it's hard to give up little luxuries. For instance, I really want a new winter coat... I've had the same coat for 10 years now. (Good thing it's an LL Bean - it's still in incredible shape! Bean stuff lasts forever!) But other demands always come along: needing to get my daughter a winter coat, for instance. Or having to replace our printer. On the other hand, it's pretty awesome that whenever I really do need something it's always provided. That winter coat that Blaze needed? We found an absolutely gorgeous shearling coat for $10 at a consignment store. And as for giving up travel? Since Stars moved to Seattle this summer, we've been wanting to visit her, but we couldn't afford both the trip to Buffalo and to Seattle. But then the airlines gave B. a $500 voucher because his flight to Pittsburgh was overbooked and he got bumped to a later flight. And guess how much two tickets to Seattle cost? Yup, almost exactly $500. So we got to go to Seattle for a wonderful weekend visit with Stars. I just love how God works these things out.

It's hard as the financial strain increases,  but it's also amazing to see how God not only works it out to provide our needs, but even gives us our "wants" too, above and beyond needs.

Where I am in the Word - After a long stretch where I put aside Beth Moore's studies in order to study the Word on my own (1 and 2 Thessalonians), I'm now back to working through Beth Moore's "To Live is Christ" (the book of Acts).
Acts 23:10,11  And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks. But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, "Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also."
First of all, I'd never noticed before that simple statement, "the Lord stood at his side" and spoke to him. That gave me happy chills! Second of all, Beth Moore really challenged us to think about Paul's calling to Rome. Paul knew without a doubt that he would be God's witness at Rome; the Lord himself had stood beside him and told him! But he doesn't actually get to Rome for at least another two years, and then he arrived in chains. The study asked this question: 

"Can you think of something God revealed to you but that took years to fulfill?" 

I thought about this for a while, and then I remembered a dream I had about my parents, over 5 years ago.  In a nutshell, we were at a dinner with my parents, and a Christian friend of mine asked my parents if they knew Jesus. And they said they did! Even my father! And in the dream, I knew absolutely that they weren't just saying that; they really believed. They had saving faith. 

Was that dream a promise from God? I can't say absolutely for sure: but I CAN say it wasn't sent by Satan, that's for sure! I still have faith that this wonderful thing will happen: my parents will confess saving faith. I don't know if it will happen like it did in my dream, and I don't know WHEN it will happen... but I am going to stubbornly cling to my belief that it WILL happen, someday, somehow.

But faith can't just be passive. I need to share the Word with my parents. I haven't, for a whole year now, even though that last time I got to share with them was absolutely amazing! (the story of that is here) But it's time again now to put some action along with faith.  
James 2:21,22: But was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 
In September and October, Blaze and Dreamer and I were reading Voice in the Wind, by Francine Rivers. That book is just amazing for raising good things to discuss with the girls about marriage, being unequally yoked, belief and sin, not to mention history (it's set after the fall of Jerusalem, in ancient Rome and Ephesus). It's one of my all time favorite books and I've read it at least 5 times now; the girls loved it too (and are begging me to read the sequel, now). At one point near the end as I was reading to the girls, a conversation between Marcus and Hadassah moved me to tears (pages 426-428, which is based on the story of guards at the tomb in Matthew 28, and how they were bribed). Marcus is trying to prove to Hadassah how useless her faith in her unseen God is. And meanwhile her heart is breaking as she sees how lost and unhappy he is. His arguments were ones my father would approve of: all the reasons why he thinks its foolish to believe in Christianity. To every Biblical defense Hadassah gave, Marcus had a smart and worldly answer. Until Hadassah turns to Marcus's dying father and asks him this: 
"If you stare into the sun and look away, you see the sun, my lord. If you stare at death, you see death. Where does hope lie?" 

His eyes flickered. He leaned back slowly. "I have no hope."

Marcus turned. He saw the dullness in his father's eyes, the pain etched in his face. Marcus was suddenly filled with deep shame. Maybe he had been wrong. Maybe it was better to have false hope than no hope at all.
This broke my heart, because my father is slowly dying of Parkinson's. He does not speak of it, but he must be looking at death: what hope does he have?  I have hope that transcends death, and I must keep sharing it with him. I keep praying for the courage to share, and praying for God to work His miracle, and lift the veil so my father can finally see the truth. 

My plan for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow is to share Isaiah 61:1-3 with my parents:

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, 
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. 

What I'm reading-I haven't read anything on my own in November because it's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I'm concentrating on my writing. But for school, I've been reading Anne of Green Gables to the girls (more about that below). In October I read C.S. Lewis's Letters to Children (I can't let a year go by without reading C.S. Lewis!) and I finished reading the Magician's Nephew to the girls as our bedtime story. (More great discussion with the girls about this story: saving that for my 1000 gifts list, coming soon)

What I'm writing -While I wait to hear back from four agents (!!!!) who requested pages of my science fiction manuscript (thanks to #pitmad and #pitchwars) I am keeping myself occupied by getting back to work on my very first of my four stories, my "baby." Here's what I wrote to my writing buddy N.L.W.:  "I'm really stuck on the Valley. Your first book is your hardest and man this book is hard. I have this vision in my head of what I want it to be, but I can't even fully articulate it much less write it. Good news though: I tried my old trick of journaling out my frustrations and it really helped. Right after that I started to get ideas again."

What's both hurt and helped me this month is that the girls and I have been reading Anne of Green Gable for school. It's hard to be reading such excellent literature (and I do consider it literature!) when you are struggling to write your own; everything I write comes out so weak in comparison. L.M. Montgomery's characters are so dramatic and real; even quiet Matthew shines. Her settings are  magical. Anne's rapturous descriptions still make me smile, and her escapades make us all laugh and make the girls beg me to keep reading! This book is really pushing me to make my book better: to really dig deep, to find my passion and pour it out. To really examine my characters and play their hearts out across the page; to really look at my settings and find not just the beauty, but the mood; and what the beauty means; what the moods mean.

What I'm anticipating - being home for Thanksgiving. I love to travel, but I also love to be at home!

What's inspiring me - Anne of Green Gables and my writing are inspiring me on my creative side. My bible study in Acts is providing spiritual inspiration. My Overeaters Anonymous group provides me with strength and inspiration in the physical realm. We now have 5 regular attendees!  One of them (J) shared last week about how compulsive eating fogs up his mind and puts him in survival mode, where it's all about him and he doesn't have anything left over for other people. But when he's eating mindfully, not compulsively, he finds both clarity of mind and delight in focusing on others. That is so true for me, too. Our greatest fulfillment comes not from pleasing ourselves, but from pleasing the others in our lives.

Friday, October 31, 2014

1000 gifts: autumn in upstate New York

I'm finally catching up with my 1000 gifts list. I write these for myself and for my family. I don't expect anyone else to read all these details (this month's list is especially long!!!), but I decided to leave these posts "public" just in case they might inspire someone else someday to start keeping a gifts list. Keeping this list has changed my life.

These gifts are from October, and most are from my trip to Pittsburgh for a cartography conference for work, followed by my husband flying out to meet me and then the two of us taking our belated 15th anniversary treat, a visit to my hometown of Buffalo in western New York and beautiful Letchworth State Park.

902. Three days of beautiful maps and inspiration
I wish I'd taken pictures of some of the beautiful/useful/interesting/inspiring maps I saw at this conference (NACIS: North American Cartographic Information Society annual meeting)

903. Dramatic tunnels and bridges of Pittsburgh 
I've never been here before, and it really impressed me! The downtown area is on a small triangle of land at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, merging into the Ohio River. Driving into Pittsburgh is so dramatic: you plunge into a tunnel through the high river bluffs, then out immediately onto a bridge crossing the river. There are at least 5, maybe 6 bridges connecting downtown Pittsburgh. I walked across three of them.

904. The National Aviary
My last day in Pittsburgh I visited the National Aviary and got to see some amazing aerial displays and a huge range of exotic birds up close (even got "buzzed" twice by low swooping birds). Highly recommend.

905. Waiting for my love at the airport
B. flew out after the conference to meet me, and he was going to get the rental car and come pick me up at the hotel, but I was tired of waiting so I paid for a shuttle back to the airport so I could be there to meet him. It was wonderful after being alone all day to look up and see him coming down the escalator smiling at me.

906.  Maximus - our rental car upgrade
B. was really excited when we got a free upgrade for our rental car to a Maxima, which he nicknamed Maximus. It was definitely fun to drive and I really, really like the sunroof! Unfortunately, the motel I booked in Buffalo was a dive, but at least it was the only low point of the trip.

907.  Erie Basin Marina and Lighthouse
One of the first of many of my favorite places in Buffalo that we went to visit. Here I am up at the top of the lighthouse overlooking Lake Erie on one side and downtown Buffalo on the other. Must have climbed up here hundreds of times as a kid.

908. Living on the waterfront for two years
From 1982-1984 my parents and I lived in one of those white condos right on the edge of the marina where we kept our sailboat.

909. Delaware Park
This is the park where I spent so much of my childhood and teen years. I was on the cross-country team for my high school and ran many, many miles around Delaware Lake and also around the golf course part of the park.

909. Japanese Garden
Another favorite place in Buffalo. My high school senior pictures were taken here; here's one with a good friend of mine from high school, Maureen, whom I'm still in touch with. And my beloved golden retriever, Leia (named after Princess Leia, from Star Wars!)

910. My house during my high school years, "Haleigh"
This is where I dragged B. next. Actually, he's been here before, because our wedding pictures were also taken at this house on Morris Ave in north Buffalo. The top picture is of the house as it is today (unchanged!), and me and my dad on the staircase of the house in 1999 right before my wedding. Can't remember exactly where I came up withe name Haleigh, but I thought it was really cool to name a home.

911. my last home in New York, Windwood Farm
Next we traveled about 40 minutes south into the beginning of the hill country, to my favorite home, where my parents moved during my college years (I lived there just short of 2 years).  It hasn't been a real farm in many years, but it is still 40 acres, mostly forested (and a pond right next to the house). This is where I got my first horse, Rebel, and rode him all over the country side. I also visited my friend Sue who still lives on the road behind ours. We used to ride our horses together.

912. My old backyard forest and stream
We hiked back into the woods behind our old house and Sue's house. B. and I scrambled down the steep ravine so he could get this picture of me along the little stream I called "the Roamer." My mom and I loved to stream-walk along here.

913. Viddlers 5 & 10 store
This is my favorite store in East Aurora, one of the  little towns near Windwood Farm. It as a real ol' timey feel.

914. brick roads
I'd forgotten that part of Main St. East Aurora was paved in brick. I love brick roads!

915. Greek gyros at my old high school hangout
After dragging B. all over city and countryside, we met another old friend, Heidi, and her family at our old hang out, Kostas on Hertel Avenue - oh how I miss good Greek gyros! (they are hard to come by in Wyoming)

916. friends for forty years
Heidi and I have been friends for 40 years (almost, just shy a year) - we became friends in kindergarten, 5 years old. Here we are in 2014, and 21 years ago at a New Years Eve party.

917.  Not needing the umbrella I just bought
Our second day in Buffalo, I planned for us to drive to Letchworth State Park and hike around the beautiful waterfalls there... but when we woke up it was raining. We decided to go on the hike anyway, so we stopped and bought a big umbrella - but about 10 minutes later the skies cleared up and it turned into a perfect sunny day!

918. the falls at Letchworth State Park
There are at least 3 big waterfalls at Letchworth, about an hour from Buffalo. I remember when my mom first brought me there as a kid, I was stunned by the beauty of the gorge and the river and falls (this picture doesn't do them justice!), which I think are even more dramatic than nearby Niagara Falls. Nevertheless, I couldn't resist including a picture of B. and I at Niagara Falls right before we got married.

919. lizard road crossing 
While I'm generally known as being horse crazy, I also have this odd soft spot in my heart for lizards, so I simply had to take a picture of this snake and lizard wildlife crossing sign at Letchworth State Park!

920. sugar maples, hemlocks and giant old oaks
My three favorite trees that I don't get to see in Wyoming. I'd forgotten that it's the sugar maples that turn really bright red during eastern autumns.

921. autumn scent of fallen leaves
I could have lumped this in with gift #920, but I think it deserves a spot of its own

922. Mood rings
We stopped at the Letchworth gift shop and bought a souvenir ball cap (for B) and mug (for me) and I bought mood rings for the four girls; I remember loving the changing colors of these rings when I was a kid and sure enough, my kids loved them too when we got back home. (Many thanks to my parents for watching the kids while we were gone)

923. Route 20A
I think this is one of the most beautiful roads in western New York, between East Aurora and Letchworth.  Even the giant wind turbines that have been built on the hilltops couldn't detract from its beauty.

923. Names of places where I grew up
Meadowview Place, Medaille, St Josephs, Depew Avenue, Harbor Pointe, Erie Basin Marina, Morris Ave, Buffalo Saddle & Bridle Club, Delaware Park, Nottingham Ct, Amherst St, Buffalo Zoo, Parkside Lutheran, Voorhees Ave, Starin Ave, Hertel Ave, Bob & Johns, BQuick (now Dash's), East Aurora, Colden, Mill Rd, Falls Rd, Bleistein Rd, Hayes Hollow Rd, Maple Rd, Center Rd, Blanchard Rd.

924. Buffalo wings
Our last night in Buffalo we stayed with my college friend, Dianna, and her family, and feasted on Buffalo wings... couldn't miss out on this most famous food from Buffalo!

925. Perfect weather for visitors and Indian summer riding
Then we flew home again, but we brought Dianna's two daughters, Corally (15) and Kalyn (11) with us to hang out with us for a week. We had perfect weather and took our visitors horse back riding almost every day. After a rainy, cold August/early September, all of October was warm and sunny, a perfect Indian summer.

926. wood hauling team (with ice cream afterwards)
Our two visitors were so helpful! They even helped us load firewood and I dare say hauled a lot more logs than my four girls combined.

927. Riding in the back of the pickup
Of course the pickup was full of wood on our way out of the forest, though at one point some of us chose to get out of the pickup and walk (there was one stretch where the road was so steep and narrow, I was too scared to be in that heavily loaded truck with its equally loaded trailer, esp. when another vehicle came the opposite direction and B. had to squeeze pass them. But the road had stunning views of the Centennial valley, so I didn't mind walking for a little bit).

928. Playing dominos
The girls must have played a dozen games of dominos together (Mexican train dominos is one of our family favorites!)

 929. Doing home school with friends
Kalyn and Corally are also home schooled, and it was interesting to see what they do for school (I got some good ideas). They were a pleasure to have, very polite and helpful, and I was amazed at how they tackled their school assignments on their own, without any prodding from me. Much more motivated than my girls! They were bookworms too, and such strong Christians - great examples of faith to the girls. They were even keen to come to church with us.

930. Sketchbooks
Last but not least I loved that our visitors both brought sketch books with them; whenever they weren't reading they were usually sketching, and they were both extremely talented. It got Blaze and Dreamer motivated to draw more  (wish our friends' reading habits had also spread to my girls too)

931. Starlet crying when Kalyn and Corally left 
Too sweet not to include. We all hope the girls can come back again!

932. Wanting to keep awful uncle Andrew as a pet
Finished reading the Magician's Nephew to the girls, and we completely cracked up over the part where the Narnian Talking Animals are trying to figure out if Digory's uncle is alive or not, and what sort of animal he might be, and then they decide they want to keep him as a pet!

933. October tomatos
My mom grew some tomato plants in her backyard, but we had such a cold summer (and such an oddly warm October) that she didn't harvest them until mid-October. Only in Wyoming! (but oh my, they were good!)

934. "But Tuffy and I are one!"
Again, October was so nice that we got to ride out on the cross-country course for practice. This was Dreamer's first time jumping the beginner jumps on this course, and she and Tuffy did great, all except for one moment when Tuffy spooked at a stray grocery bag  that was caught in a bush. Dreamer handled it just fine, until she saw B. and I laughing, which upset her. We told her we were laughing at the horse spooking at an empty plastic bag, not her, she exclaimed, "But Tuffy and I are one!"

935.  Halloween horse show (riding in costumes)
There was a costume class where the girls all got to ride in their costumes, even the twins. Dreamer also got to jump Tuffy at her first real horse show. Tuffy gave her some trouble at one of the fences but she didn't give up and kept bringing back around to the jump until she got him over it. So proud of her. Also proud of Blaze as she and Spring competed over the biggest jumps they've yet jumped (3 footers!) - and their first timed jump-off.

936. Sailor girls, flapper girls, ninjas and pilgrims
I loved this year's set of costumes, even though Blaze opted to wear the same costume as last year. Next year I'm going to try to get her to dress up either in a viking girl costume (like Astrid, from How To Train Your Dragon) or a Maleficent costume.

937. Blaze asked me to read the Bible to her before bed
Blaze confessed she'd watched a scary Halloween video on YouTube, and she was so scared she couldn't sleep in her own room but back in her old room that she shared with Dreamer until this summer when she turned 13 and moved down into the basement room. (I wouldn't want to sleep alone in a basement room after a scary movie either!) But even sharing the room with her sister couldn't get her settled. So she asked me to come up with her and read the Bible with her before bed. We took turns reading the first three chapters of John.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Simply sitting in a beautiful place

This post isn't a book review, it's really how a book helped me discover something about myself I'd almost forgotten. And it also provided refreshment for a time when I've been struggling with doubt. I was warned that there would be seasons of doubt with home schooling, and this fall has certainly been one.  I'm struggling to balance my part time job and school (feel like I'm always rushing from one thing to the next!); struggling with finances as the cost of everything continues to increase (and our wages decrease!); struggling with a teenage daughter that argues with me about everything I ask her to do (at least, it feels that way). 

But there are good times along the way, too. Some days we have great discussions about books we've read or about science we're learning; some days I get surprise hugs;  some days I'm blown away by the connections the girls make with things they're learning presently and what they've learned in the past. Some days, I discover a wonderful treasure like Pocketful of Pinecones, by Karen Andreola. This book was a wonderful reminder that you don't have to travel far or attempt great things in order to find delight and wonder in the world, or to help our children see it either. 

The book is "a teacher's guide to nature study, cleverly disguised as a heartwarming story written in the form of a mother's diary" (set in 1935-36). I didn't feel like I was being taught about different home school techniques; I was simply reading a story... and learning along the way.

Before the great busyness of marriage and motherhood took over my life, I used to constantly be out hiking and camping, looking things up in my nature guides as I went, or just simply sitting in a beautiful wild place. I didn't sketch anything, as this book recommends, but I was always journaling, writing about everything beautiful that caught my eye, or my heart (I called such inspiration "Skya" - and when it fired up my imagination to write stories, I called that inspiration "Akina," a "keen urge to write"). The book reminded me of my own great love of learning about nature through simply being outside in the midst of it, soaking it up, and taking time to observe all the details. 

I have missed that stage of my life so much, but immediately after beginning this book I took the morning off from homeschooling, picked up two sketch books and a pack of colored pencils, and drove my girls and I up to the nearby Medicine Bow National Forest. How often have I appreciated that we can be from the city into the wilderness in just a 15 minute drive? Into beautiful places like the beaver ponds off of Happy Jack road, or the amazing rock formations of Vedauwoo. The girls sketched trees, stumps, acorns, birds, and squirrels. I sat on a rock in the center of a tiny creek and watched golden leaves float past me, listened to hawk calls and felt moss under my fingertips and smelled sun-warmed pines. My ten year old asked me to carry some pinecones she’d found in my pocket, as her pockets were already full. That made me smile – a Pocketful of Pinecones, indeed. 

We go to Happy Jack and Vedauwoo quite frequently, but it's been a long time since I've slowed down to really soak it in. To take time to notice all the details. For some reason this also reminded me how at the beginning of the school year I taped up a pretty piece of note paper on my cupboard door where I keep my tea cups, so I would remember to look at it every day: it's a simple list of things I want to remember to do. Like remembering to sing a song to my girls when I tuck them in at night. Remembering to share my favorite verses with them. Remembering to be a help-meet to B. Every morning I open that cupboard and get a mug and a teabag, and stand there waiting for the electric kettle to boil. I just stand there... but how often do I remember to look at my note? It's right here in front of me! How easy it is to miss what is right in front of you! 

A bit more about the book: the fictional diary of Carol begins in 1935 in New England, as she begins to teach her two children about nature study in city backyards and parks, and transitions to the countryside later in the book. She writes a little about Charlotte Mason and her philosophy and methods of home school, which seem simple and yet wonderfully wise. The diary includes good days and bad days, happy days and sad ones, wash days and canning days, snowshoeing days and sleigh ride days, shopping days and simple stay at home days. Carol writes of many things that would worry a mom in the 1930's and that continue to worry moms in the present.

Some of my favorite parts: 

My students have a lifetime ahead of them in which to observe and discover – to become self-educated in their leisure, so to speak. My job is to allow their feet to walk the paths of wonder, to see that they form relations with various things, so that when the habit is formed, they will carry an appreciation for nature with them throughout their lives.

When asked about why she’d taken her children out of school: 

I don’t know how to fully explain my desire to teach my children at home myself. The classes in the school are so large and Emily was labeled as “slow” in reading and arithmetic, but it’s more than that. Don was losing his sense of wonder. He was bored. It seemed that his lights were going out, for lack of a better expression. Emily and Dan were losing a spark of curiousity and a love of knowledge that they had when they first started school. I wanted to get it back. And I think I am getting it back by homeschooling....
Another quote: 
I wrapped my shawl around my shoulders more tightly and stood in the doorway of the children’s bedroom, brooding over them while they slept. I sometimes do this at home when Michael works late. It gives me comfort and it’s easier to pray for them this way.
 Ah, thank you Lord for a good book to remind me to simply sit and soak up the beauty you put everywhere: whether in a golden autumn forest, by kitchen cupboard, or outside my children's bedrooms late at night.