Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Weekend 2014

On Thanksgiving-

I taught a special, holiday HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) class on Thanksgiving morning while the gym was open.  Then I came home and helped my husband prepare the house and the food for the guests who would be arriving that afternoon.  We roasted a big turkey, made glazed carrots, baked brownies, and provided the drinks.  Some of our friends from church brought cornbread stuffing, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, and desserts including homemade apple pie and pumpkin cheesecake.  I didn't take time to take any pictures of our delicious feast or our dear friends, so I have none to share.     

 

Black Friday-
My family has a tradition of watching all the Star Wars movies over Thanksgiving weekend. We don't watch it any other time of year, so the kids look forward to this weekend a lot.  I don't always watch every movie and my husband doesn't always watch Episode 1, because he thinks it's terrible.

So after breakfast on Friday, my husband and kids settled in for Episode 4.  That's always the first movie they watch.  Next, they watch 5, then we let the kids watch 1. Then we watch 2, 3 and lastly, Episode 6, if you are interested in the order. For avid Star Wars fans, there is debate about the correct viewing order. Here's an article about the order we use.  Warning: The article has some language.

While they watched the movie, I started a fire, read a little more from The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book in The Lord of the Rings series, and then I traced a map of the United States. My kids and I are learning U.S. Geography in Classical Conversations this year.  Tracing black line maps is a great way to learn geography. I got the idea from one or more of Leigh Bortins's books that I have read.  I think I may trace a map of Middle Earth next.  It's not a real place, of course, but I certainly think it will help me understand the book I am reading. 

After the movie, we collected all the fall decorations, rearranged and reorganized furniture to make room for the trees, and then pulled all our Christmas Tupperwares out of the attic.  The girls asked to set up the little Christmas tree this year, so I let them do that because they are old enough to do it themselves.  I bought this little tree over ten years ago for my 3rd and 4th grade classroom when I was a teacher.  I think I paid $15 dollars for it brand new, so it wasn't fancy then and it isn't looking any better after more than a decade, but the kids always enjoy having it up. They hang all their handmade ornaments on it, make paper chains for it, etc.


The girls also hung snowflakes on the front windows this year.  They had been working on these for a few weeks, piling them up for the day we would be decorating.

 

After lunch, we got all bundled up and braved Kohl's and Target to try and get some deals on things we needed including coats, socks, gloves, and most importantly, Christmas lights. 


When we got home, we finished decorating. I decided to keep all the glass bulbs off the tree this year.  Right now the tree looks very minimalistic.  But as we start adding ornaments every night of December for our Advent traditions, the tree will fill up more.

I also have a big collection of Christmas books that I usually keep under the tree, but this year, I just picked my three favorites and I am keeping the rest in storage for another year.  Less is more with a toddler on the loose in the house.   


Saturday-

After breakfast, while my kids and husband watched another Star Wars movie, I went to the gym to practice Bodycombat 61 for two + hours. The group fitness room has some punching bags, so after warming up, I focused a lot of time and energy on practicing my kicks- side, roundhouse, front, front step, front jump, and back kicks.


The rest of the day was spent doing routine chores, grocery shopping for the coming week, visiting, and relaxing.

My husband slow cooked an ox tail stew with cuts from our grass fed cow.  Both of us took one bite and decided to go out for diner, but not before my husband took the dutch oven to the woods behind our house and dumped all the stew out first.  It was just that bad. I know some people say ox tail can make a nice stew, but our stew was terrible.

Before the kids went to bed, our oldest daughter read the first chapter of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever out loud to us all.


Sunday-

I taught a Bodycombat class at my gym on Sunday morning and filmed it.  I did alright, but I plan to film again on Wednesday.  I think I will do better the second time filming since I probably won't be as nervous. In the photo above, we are reviewing the video at home.  Watching yourself on video is very humiliating, but it is definitely one of the quickest ways to improve as a group fitness instructor.

To earn a Les Mill certification, you have to go to and pass an initial training weekend, then go home and begin team teaching real classes with a mentor. Eventually, you work up to teaching the entire class on your own and then film yourself. You send in your best video and it gets assessed. If you do well enough, you can get your certification and start teaching classes somewhere if you can get hired. It can be a grueling process, but for people like me who really love teaching the classes, it is totally worth it. 

My video is due by the end of December, so I am filming this week and maybe next, depending on how well I do. I am hoping to submit a video in time to get my results back before Christmas.  Receiving a Bodycombat certification would be a nice Christmas gift, I think!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

God's Playfellow

I had a dream about Heaven once. 

In this dream, I was worshiping God in the midst of a group of demons surrounding me, clawing at my legs. I had my arms outstretched above me, unconcerned with what was around me. 

God stepped in front of me, brushed back the evil shadows with one arm, then He embraced me, lifting me up, up, up. I could feel his perfect love and communicate my love back to Him.  It was the most fulfilling embrace that I have ever received or given, my first clue that this might be something beyond a regular dream.

Next moment, I found myself flying over a magnificent city, vast and breathtaking. As we flew, air flew around me fast, but it was the sight of the city that was taking my breath away. All the buildings, architecture, and engineering were stunning.  Every detail fascinated me, though I was flying by so fast, I couldn't focus on anything as long as I wanted.  Everything was immaculate and gloriously beautiful.  

This city was so alive! I knew it must be Heaven.  People were everywhere, busy, fully alive, moving about, dressed in white linen. Their movements weren't hurried or stressed, but rather, I sensed that the people were all filled with peace, joy, and true strength of purpose.  

Even the streets were alive, especially the streets.  They looked like they had been paved with gems. As I looked, I saw that they were somewhat transparent, something that looked like running water flowed under the stones or through the stones. 

"There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy dwelling place of the Lord Most High." 

Of all things, the streets had me most in awe and I felt that I must get a closer look at them. All I could manage to do was gather all my strength and will, take in enough air, and ask, "Closer, please."  It was then that I immediately plopped down in one of the streets, right in front of a quaint house. My legs were fat and useless in front of me like a babies legs are when she is sat down on the floor.

So I sat there and took a closer look at the home before me. It was the most glorious Victorian I had ever seen, with all the woodwork, adorning, careful painting, and rich, deep staining.  Somehow, I knew that this house had been lovingly crafted in every single detail. "Whoever crafted this must have done so with such great love."  I thought to myself, "I could admire this home for ages."

Then, almost at once, the home became a chest with seven drawers. This, actually, did not please me since seven is an odd number, so there were four drawers on one side, three on the other.  It was unbalanced and curious to me.  I knew God was standing behind and I knew He knew all my thoughts.

But as I was sitting in front of the chest like a toddler sits in front of a toy house, I knew the home, the chest was intended for me.  Somehow I just knew the drawers were full of endless mysteries and I knew they were there for me to explore. It was as if the Lord was communicating directly to me without speaking.  "I could explore each of these drawers for years and years and never grow bored," I thought to myself. I was thrilled with the prospect of so many interesting and delightful discoveries.

Next, on impulse, I went to touch the house, just touch it, but part of it broke off like a fragile toy in my clumsy hand.  I felt such regret, like a small child might feel if she were to break a precious gift her Father had given her. I felt such overwhelming sadness because I was not capable of handling the house well, not yet.  "I'm so sorry," I said. "I'm so sorry." But for a moment, I had a sense of hope, perhaps given to me from God Himself, that there would come a day when I would be prepared to handle that chest without breaking it.

That's just when I was lifted up. I felt Father God's perfect pity and perfect understanding.  He embraced me, but only for a moment to gently put me back down again. That is when I awoke a moment later and found myself in my bed.

This dream took place almost a year and half ago.  But, more importantly, it took place only a day or two before my first Classical Conversations practicum.  I did not realize the timing of the dream was at all significant then. But, at the time, I did not know what Classical Conversations would come to mean to me.

I remember that it was only days before my first practicum because at that practicum, I learned that there are seven liberal arts. Seven.  The dream was still fresh to me, so when I heard that number, seven, I got goose bumps, grabbed my husband's arm, and whispered, "Seven! My dream! There were seven drawers in that chest in my dream!" That was the another hint that the dream might have much greater significance than I realized, that it might be hiding a deeper meaning I was intended to discover.  

As I have continued homeschooling my children, and now that I am doing so much more effectively with the help of Classical Conversations, I am, in fact, learning so much about all the subjects. Now, I feel certain that the Lord was using the dream to tell me what to expect, years of exploration and discovery. 

Homeschooling is difficult work, yes, but it is also a gift to me since I am learning so much.  But, even as it was at the end of my dream, I know that will never be the master of every subject. Anyone who is a real learner, I think, just keeps realizing how little they actually know.  But the dream was a confirmation and a promise to me.  I am called to learn and I am doing that by teaching my kids well.  
Since the dream, I have approached a good friend who is a scholar, professor, and expert on the Bible. I asked him if there is any real significance to the number seven.  He tells me "Yes! Certainly!" and that the number seven often stands for Heavenly mysteries or for God Himself.

With that in mind, my philosophy of education deepens. God is the chest. All mysteries, all subjects, all truth has it's origin in God Himself. He holds it all.

"In Him we live and move and have our being."

"He is before all things and in Him all things hold together."

Everyone who has ever learned anything, believer or not, Christian or not, has been given grace from God to learn it. Learning is grace from God and it is spiritual in that God allows it to happen.  When we learn anything, God is revealing something about who He is or what He has done or what He does in this world that He made and sustains.
        
What joys lie before us all, now, and in the ages to come.  We never have to grow bored.  We should always be discovering.  By God's grace, someday, we will always find ourselves in awe of Him forever.  That is what Heaven will be like, I think.  We will have a continual joy of discovery there, always fully engaged in our work, in constant wonder and awe.  We will have the God of infinity to explore and enjoy for eternity.  Think of it!

The Bible also says, "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.  It is the glory of kings to seek it out." So God wants us to learn.

Not long ago, I came across this quote by Francis Bacon. As soon as I heard it, I felt it gave me even more insight into my dream. Bacon said, 

“Nay, the same Solomon the king, although he excelled in the glory of treasure and magnificent buildings, of shipping and navigation, of service and attendance, of fame and renown, and the like, yet he maketh no claim to any of those glories, but only to the glory of inquisition of truth; for so he saith expressly, 'The glory of God is to conceal a thing, but the glory of the king is to find it out;' as if, according to the innocent play of children, the Divine Majesty took delight to hide His works, to the end to have them found out; and as if kings could not obtain a greater honour than to be God's playfellows in that game.” 

Truly, like a child set before a chest of mysteries, we are invited to play. The game is to seek God, to know Him better, through learning.  So I set myself to the task of teaching my children and in doing so, I am learning.  I feel so very incapable and unfit to the purpose, of course. But I delight in this game of learning that the Father has set me down to play. Clumsy as I am, I intend to play with all my heart for my Father God is at my right hand, looking down upon me, smiling.  

It is Him that seek. And He that I will find forever.

Winter Begins


Today will be the first big snow of the season, five to eight inches over the next twenty-four hours.

I am a seasoned New Englander now, one can tell this by my new waterproof, insulated boots. 
  
For the last eight years or so, I have worn the same pair of cowboy boots all winter.  Back when I bought those boots, I was still quite new to New England, having gone through only one or two winters where I didn't get out much. And coming from South Carolina where it hardly ever snowed, I really thought they'd do. 

I loved those leather boots. I wore them till the soles split and then kept wearing them, actually. But for the last two or three winters, on the coldest, snowiest, slushiest of days, I would covet my friends' insulated, waterproof boots.

Today I got to wear my new boots for the first time to work at the Y.  Morning classes were still on in spite of the weather, though afternoon classes have been cancelled now that the snow is coming down in earnest.

One may wonder why I didn't get better winter boots sooner.

We were/ are always on a budget and it always seemed to be a choice between me getting another pair of boots or doing with the ones I had and getting the kids the right sized snowsuits, boots, coats, etc. I'm not tooting my own horn, just keeping it real.

These are the kinds of decision parents have to make all the time. I know this now that I am a parent and I have to make those kinds of decisions all the time.  I'm not special. I'm just a mom. And there is only so much money to go around when you don't use credit cards and only one spouse works full time, even when he or she has a good job.

So, today my feet were warm outside for the first time ever.  It was kind of transcendent. I am so thankful. 

As I look ahead toward the winter, which is quite long in New England, I am actually filled with great joy. That might also be a first for me.  The joy comes, mainly, from having a relationship with the Lord and knowing in my spirit that God wants me to live here.  With the Lord's presence, anywhere is bearable and even pleasant. And my desire to be where God wants me to be outweighs my desire to be on the beach... most days.

I have also found ways of making the winter manageable to me- a lot of fires, one almost every evening, actually, chess games with my kids, lots of silent reading and reading aloud, heaps of fresh green vegetables to keep me alive, hours and hours of vigorous exercise to keep me out of hibernation, gallons of hot tea, and, of course, coffee.

Winter begins.

And so begins my enjoyment of it. 

Thank you, Lord. 

 




Monday, November 24, 2014

Bodycombat Certification- Update


I am preparing to film my Bodycombat 61 assessment video in just a few days.

Right now, I am taking a break from rehearsing my script with the music to post this little update. 

At this point, I've done the entire workout so many times that I have lost count. I know the choreography and I can make it through the workout physically though it is still very challenging.

I've also taught all the tracks at least once to a live class, so I feel confident I can handle the level one coaching and cuing. At the very least, I can get people moving, kicking, and punching in the right direction on time.

But I am such a Bodycombat novice that I am still learning the basics like side kicks and roundhouse kicks even while I am trying to perfect this particular routine for my video.

The hardest part for me is recalling and adding the level two coaching cues, the explanations that help participants get more out of the workout and perfect their technique. So I am looking closely at my script to find the best places to sneak those kinds of advanced cues in.

I know becoming a decent Bodycombat instructor is going to be a long process that will likely take years of teaching and intentional practice on my technique, so I am not surprised that I am struggling right now.

I used to struggle with perfectionism.  I don't struggle as much now that I realize some of the most worthwhile journeys are those that will take me a while.  Becoming the Bodycombat instructor I want to be will definitely take me a while.  It feels daunting at times.  But, at the same time, it is refreshing and even exciting to have so much improvement in front of me. 

I love the physical challenges of teaching Bodycombat.  Once again, I am reminded I am in the right profession for me and I am really excited about getting a certification in this format.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Gollum, Our Sin, and Jesus- The Fellowship of The Ring

I have started reading The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I am already being affected by this epic story.

One, short portion, not far into Chapter 2, is already working on my heart and mind.

Gandalf explains to Frodo the affect the Ring has had on Gollum and he says,

"All the 'great secrets' of the mountains had turned out to be just empty night: there was nothing more to find out, nothing worth doing, only nasty furtive eating and resentful remembering.  He was altogether wretched.  He hated the dark, and he hated the light more: he hated everything, and the Ring most of all."  

I thought this passage explains the affect that sin can have on people's lives.

Any sin, however small, can become precious to us, can become our "Precious," if we chose it above God. 

It can then lure us out of the light, out of right relationship with people around us, with God, away, away, so we can be comfortable with our sin.

Like Gollum, we are enticed into greater and greater darkness, deceiving ourselves into thinking we are going on some truly fulfilling adventure.

But, once we've had our fill of our sin, we find ourselves wretched and miserable and stuck, if we still cling to our sin, unwilling to repent of it.

We don't want to go back into the light that we came from, because light will expose us and our deeds as evil.

But we hate the darkness we are in.

Most of all, though, we hate our sin, that Precious thing that so dominated our lives to lead us away from everything that was good and holy, God and everything like Him.

Who can give us the power to separate from our Precious?

It is Jesus Christ.

His Holy Spirit gives men and women the power to conquer the sin in our lives.  

In my own life this has been true.

I can't and won't go into detail about my private matters in this public place, but if you catch me one on one, I will always be frank with you.

Behaviors, desires, etc. that once ruled over me and made me, eventually, despise myself for being ruled are gone from my life to the praise of God's grace.

I have nothing to hide now.

I chose Jesus over my Precious.

I choose Him again everyday.

So now I walk in the light, as He is in the light.

I have fellowship with God and through God, I can have healthier and healthier relationships with everyone else. 

And when I fail, Praise God, the blood of Jesus, His Son, continues to purify me from all my sin.

This is why Christians sing, "Oh, precious is the flow that makes me white as snow. No other fount I know. Nothing but the blood of Jesus." 

Surprisingly, this one passage in The Fellowship of the Ring has made it so that I can't wait to see what happens to Gollum. As I read on, I hope He finds freedom and redemption in his world for I know I have found it in mine.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lego Advent Calendars- Thanks, Uncle Donnie!


My big brother sent my kids Lego Advent Calendars in the mail.  The girls will have a little something to build everyday of December leading up to Christmas morning.  Thanks, Uncle Donnie!

Note: My brother gave us an Advent calendar a few years ago and to show him what pieces were inside, I started making up a little story with the Legos my kids got everyday and posting it here on my blog.

But, alas, the Lego Saga was never completed to everyone's satisfaction before the finale. Like all the best shows, it was cancelled, frustrating many (half a dozen) and causing outcry from the masses (my immediate family).  But rumors abound that this blog's producer may decide to try another run this year.  With two or even three times the Legos, this could be epic.  Stay tuned in December!  
 

What does reading Scripture have in common with eating salad? Well, alot, actually...





As I sat down to eat a salad today, I realized something.


Eating salad is like reading Scripture.

Sometimes you do it, not because you are in the mood, but just because you know it's really good for you. 

I haven't had the cleanest diet for the last few days.

I've got two words to sum up my indiscretions- cannoli pie.

When my diet is compromised like it is now, I have to be a lot more deliberate to get back on track.

At times, I have to almost force myself to sit down to a salad or to prepare fresh vegetables.

But once I've done that for a while and continue doing it, I know I can retrain my palate to appreciate and enjoy simple, wholesome, nutritious foods again. After that, I am less likely to even desire the foods that I know aren't good for me.

It's like that with reading the Bible.

Bible reading is a spiritual discipline in much the same way clean eating is a physical discipline. 

I'm not always in the mood to sit still and read and then think about the things of God and talk to God and worship, but once I have done it, I am always glad I have.

And, like eating well, once I have read the Bible everyday for a while, it becomes easier and more enjoyable to continue making time to deliberately seek God.

And, in time, I can always see the results of my decisions.

Physically, if I eat well, I lose weight, see my muscles pop out everywhere, and feel my capacity to preform increase when I need or want to exercise. 

Spiritually, if I have a daily diet of Scripture, prayer, worship, I end up with more peace, joy, and a greater my capacity for doing what I know is right when I am given opportunities to bless my kids or my husband or my friends.

Good, healthy, wise choices, whether they be physical or spiritual, are always worth the effort.   

Monday, November 17, 2014

Update

Life is really busy right now, busy, but abundant.

I love everything I am doing and I am grateful to the Lord for all the various, interesting, and fulfilling works I am involved in these days.

I thought I would just write a quick update so that my family and friends who are interested will know what's going on (and why I am often too busy to post on here these days.) 


Bodycombat-
I am working on my Bodycombat certification.  Bodycombat is a mixed martial arts cardio program.  I really enjoy learning how to punch and kick.  I am team teaching as often as I can, practicing a few times a week before I film and then submit my certification video in the next few weeks. I hope to teach a Bodycombat class somewhere in the future. 

Bodypump-
I am still on the Saturday rotation at one of my gyms and I also sub as often as I am needed for other Bodypump instructors who need coverage.  I am gaining experience and I am learning my releases by heart. My ultimate goal is to teach two or three Bodypump classes every week somewhere.

Freestyle fitness classes-
I am still teaching freestyle classes each week at my other gym- one cardio/muscle class and a freestyle barbell class for the general population, and one senior's class.  I still enjoy my freestyle classes because I have the opportunity to create my own choreography for them.   

Classical Conversations-
My daughters and I have been in this home school program for one year and we love it. I have been homeschooling for a long time, and I have to say that this program is an answer to prayers I am not even sure I knew how to articulate. It will provide my kids with the education I started homeschooling in order to give them if the Lord allows us to stay in it through the Challenge (high school) levels.  I am going to begin working as a professional tutor for our Classical Conversations group soon.  I'll be learning more that way, redeeming my own education as I teach my kids, and I'll be earning money.  Read more about our Classical Conversations experience here.

Peapod-
I had my groceries delivered for the first time last weekend.  Have you ever done this?!  It will be a game-changer for us!  Now I can spend the few hours I have each weekend on other errands, like keeping these growing girls in clothes and shoes that fit or getting all our hair cuts, etc.

Church-
We are no longer hosting or leading our small group, but we still attend our small group as often as we can.  But we have started hosting and teaching a youth Bible study at our house once a week.  When I was a teenager, I went to home Bible studies just like this, so it is very satisfying to be investing in a group of young people in much the same way my mentors invested in me when I was a young person. 

Reading-
I have read almost all of C.S. Lewis' books this year, but I am taking a break from Lewis for now.  I just finished the Harry Potter series. It was delightful. Now I am starting the Lord of the Rings. I am going to try to enjoy this epic responsibly.  I told my husband he has to stage an intervention if I go beyond regular enthusiasm for these books and start trying to learn Elvish or something