Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas 2014

We kept a fire in the fireplace all day Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, even though the weather was quite mild.  We stayed in our pajamas all day Christmas Eve, cooking, baking, and reading books.

Our grand-neighors sent gifts over for the kids. We are very blessed with the neighbors we have.

My husband's company always sends a picnic basket with a delicious ham, sausage, bacon, cheddar cheese, and maple syrup.  So we used those gifts to plan our holiday menu.

We had a sausage and cheese platter to snack on for lunch while the ham cooked slowly.

Then we had the ham and homemade mac and cheese for dinner on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas morning, we made sausages and French toast with maple syrup.

In all, it was a delicious holiday.

After dinner, we went to church for Christmas Eve service.  After church, our good friends the McCandlesses came over.  They brought a homemade chocolate cheese cake and I shared chocolate delight I had made.  Our friends took this picture of us before we changed clothes.

We always let the girls open their Christmas pajamas soon after we get home from church on Christmas Eve.  In addition to their pajamas this year, we also gave the girls one Christmas-themed Webkinz.  After our friends left, we did our Advent readings and went to bed.

On Christmas morning, after breakfast and our last Advent readings, we took turns opening gifts. Adele loves cars, so she got hot wheels and a ramp.

Because of the generosity of our families, our two oldest girls got Nintendo 3DS systems and some really nice games.  In the photo above, my oldest is helping her younger sister complete a level on her new game.

Our youngest also got this portable, plush castle with several adorable unicorns. She and her older sister, our middle child, really love stuffed animals, so they are delighting in all the new stuffed animals we have gotten this Christmas.

My husband gave me many nice gifts this year, but one of the most delightful surprises was this new-to-me punching bag.  I am not sure where he hid it from me in our house in the days leading up to Christmas, but as I opened a set of heavy-duty boxing gloves, I looked up to see him carrying this up from downstairs.  We put it in my workout room, got the garden hose out of the garage, pulled it in through the window, and worked together to fill up the base. I enjoyed doing Bodycombat at home yesterday, using the punching bag for a few of the tracks on the new release #62.

Later on Friday evening, we went to our friends' house for a caroling party.  We stayed till almost midnight, singing and talking.  It was a beautiful holiday.  I am thankful for Jesus who makes it all possible.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Last Weekend

I got to teach Bodypump 90 on Saturday morning. That was a great way to start the weekend. 

I am spending a lot of my time reading in The Lord of the Rings trilogy right now. These books are so celebrated by so many people that I respect that I made it a goal to read them in 2014 and I should finish by year's end.  

The very least I can say is that these books are not overrated. It almost feels as if all the reading I've ever done has prepared me to enjoy them as much as I do. 

I've already started quoting from them as often as it is possible in general conversation, making me either awesome or obnoxious, depending on how big of a Tolkein fan you are.  For instance, when my husband turned on the light while I was still in bed this morning, I said, "The yellow face! It burns us!"  I heard him chuckle as he got dressed before I fell back to sleep with a smile on my face, too.  

At church Sunday morning, my friend Tricia invited me to meet her for tea later that afternoon.   I wasn't sure who all was going to be invited and then who all would be able to come, but I was so happy to see some of my best friends around the table when I arrived.  Shown left to right is Deltra, Tricia, Kim, Cody, and me.

The restaurant, Tea with Tracy, is actually owned by Tricia's sister and one of her nieces was our sever.  It was a beautiful, warm place.  I asked my friend Tricia to order my tea since she is a real expert and I have learned that it is best to let someone who is passionate about something make that decision for me until I have enough experience of my own.  I ordered for myself some hot soup and pecan pie. Everything was delicious. But the most delicious part was the conversation with my dear friends.  It was an impromptu meeting that was such a blessing.  We all agreed that we hope we can make it a regular occurrence. 

Friends of ours, the Parkers, moved from Connecticut to California about a year ago to live and work on and then buy a mandarin farm. We ordered a box of their fruit and it arrived yesterday.  It's like having a box of sunshine in my kitchen, especially since it was been grey outside for days.  Living in this cold, dreary climate, I begin to understand why kids relished getting fresh oranges in their Christmas stockings once upon a time. It really does feel like a luxury to have access to this delicious fruit in winter.

I purchased some of the tea my friend Tricia ordered for me at Tea with Tracy, it was so delicious. It's called Cream of Earl Grey.  Apparently, it's Earl Grey with cornflowers, bergamot oil, and vanilla. I've been brewing and enjoying that, too, as I read my books.

Something else I accomplished last weekend that I want to tell you about is organizing a charging station for my kids' devices.  We didn't have a designated place where my kids could charge all their devices- Nintendo DS, tablets, Kindles, etc. So the chords and devices often got misplaced, causing a lot of unnecessary anxiety and stress.  And I know that my kids are going to be getting even more devices for Christmas this year, thanks to the generosity of our family, so this was a pressing problem. This mesh, three- tier desk shelf was only ten dollars and each girl gets their own shelf.  (I am using the bottom shelf until our youngest is old enough to need it.)  It's not an adorable solution, so I don't expect anyone to pin this picture, but I think it will work well for us for several years at least. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Buster attacked and peed on a snowman when Chloe took him for his walk today, making the neighbor's kids cry. Then Buster peed on the Christmas tree when the girls came over to help Chloe decorate, grossing everyone out.  Buster pees on everything.  Good thing Chloe has pinned lots of recipes for homemade cleaners and deodorizers on Pinterest. She's laundered everything in her house. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Chloe got an acceptance letter to Hogwarts and a package with school supplies. Come to find out that old flower pot in her backyard is a port key. 

Essential Oil for Wellness

Using Essential for Wellness-

I had a sharp ache in my ear yesterday morning. This morning, I woke up with an sore throat and post nasal drip. 

First, I mixed two drops of purification with a carrier oil in my palm and rubbed this on my temples, on my neck under my ears, and on my chest and I took several deep breaths. 

Then I made myself a cup of hot tea with honey and turned on my diffuser next to me with a few drops of thieves oil in it. 

Letting the steam from the tea and the diffuser go into my nostrils, I just sat and relaxed, reading and listening to music.  

And I also drank tons of fresh water all morning. 

The mucus is starting to break up and my throat is much soothed already.

I feel remarkably fresh and clear headed compared to the way I would have felt if I had taken pills to cover the same symptoms. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sherry and Carrie went ice skating at their Uncle Pete's pond.

Later, they had some hot tea flavored with lemon oil in front of a fire made with special sandalwood- scented logs. They made up a parody of "Oh, Christmas Tree" called "Olfactory."  (In honor of all the Tolkien I've been reading, I will actually include their song here.)

Olfactory, Olfactory!
Our nostrils are amazing!
We smell with thee!
We taste with thee!
When you clog with green,
we are so blue!
Olfactory, Olfactory!
Our nostrils are amazing!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Buster's living large in his new home.  The girls even got him his own attachment so they could take him along on their ill-conceived sleigh/ snow mobile rides.

Sherry and Carrie have gone Paleo.

Sherry thinks it helps her get in touch with her character Johnny Appleseed. "John would have hunted and gathered most of his food, you know."

Carrie's doing it because she's gotten into body-building. But the high protein diet is making her a little irritable. Everyone is just steering clear of her until her cheat days when she's civil again. 

Josephina is resting her huge feet on a park bench next to a memorial fountain the city commissioned her to make.  But it's so cold in Buffalo, the fountain has already frozen over. That got Josephina thinking about doing ice sculptures. She's never tried those. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Frodo, The Coat of Mithril, and The Righteousness of Christ

I just finished reading The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time. 

When I read about Frodo's mail-shirt, the one Bilbo gave him, the one made of priceless, rare mithril, I thought the mail-shirt was a great representation of the righteousness of Christ. 

The books says,

"What?" cried Gimli, startled out of his silence. "A corset of Moria-silver? That was a kingly gift!" 

"Yes," said Gandalf.  "I never told him, but its worth was greater than the value of the whole Shire and everything in it."  

Frodo said nothing, but he put his hand under his tunic and touched the rings of his mail-shirt.  He felt staggered to think that he had been walking about with the price of the Shire under his jacket.

As a Christian, I can relate well to this passage.  When I asked Jesus to be my Savior and received his forgiveness for all my sins at the beginning of my faith journey, it was like He gave me a mail-shirt to cover me, only it was not made of mithril. I was covered with the righteousness of Christ. 

Like Frodo, I did not totally understood how precious this gift was when I first received it. I was just desperate for forgiveness the way Frodo was desperate for anything that might offer him protection on his difficult journey.

And like Frodo, I wore Christ's righteousness for a while before I started to realize how precious it was. But, by reading the Bible over the years and by going through trials, I realized more and more of what I possessed through my faith in Jesus.

"But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood--to be received by faith."  Romans 3:21-25

It was when I read passages like this one in Romans that I had moments like Frodo had, where I would gasp, touch my heart, and be moved to tears by how precious the grace of God is, this grace that covers me.  And like Frodo, after experience and trails, I came to realize more and more how very safe I am covered by His grace like Frodo was safe because he was covered by the shirt of priceless mithril.

Of course, I still don't claim to fully understand the value of all I have through faith in Jesus, but I trust this gift of God more and more everyday.  My experiences teach me to depend not on my own strength or virtue, but in His righteousness, that same righteousness that He imparted to me in the very beginning. 

When I fail, it's like I am Frodo, driven against the wall by the spear of the troll in the deep, dark places of Moria. And if it weren't for Christ's righteous, I'd be doomed. I'd be doomed now and when I have to stand before God at the end of my days.  But, like Frodo, I will stand up again and again, not because I am worthy, but because Jesus is worthy and He gave His perfect life to cover me.  By grace through faith I am safe. Now. And forevermore. 

Bodycombat Certification- I passed!

I opened my email this morning and Surprise! I passed my Bodycombat assessment video! Now I am certified!  I shouted for joy. The Bodycombat certification process was definitely harder for me than the Bodypump certification process.

Before going to Bodypump training, I did Bodypump for a long time at home with the Pump DVDs, taught a freestyle barbell class for a while, and took Bodypump classes.  It's not a ton of experience, but it was definitely more than I had with Bodycombat and it helped. 

With Bodycombat, I did the Bodycombat DVD that came the Pump DVDs several times, but I only ever went to one or two live classes before training. So I had almost no experience in the format before I went. That lack of experience made the whole process from initial training to video much harder. 

And even though I am certified now, I still have so much to improve on before I feel really confident with Bodycombat.  But I am grateful to be given the "pass" that will allow me to start the journey!

My goal right now it is improve my fitness, my technique, and when I am given the opportunity to teach, to always do it well enough that I wouldn't mind coming to my own class if I were a participant.

Now I also get to download and learn the next release!  Yay! 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

More dare devil pull-behind sledding. It's like these girls think they're indestructible or something.

Then they went back to Zoe's flat for what I can only guess are Jello shots?? (My kids think they're ice cubes.)

Really, Lego?

Chloe's newly rescued pup Buster, true to his name, wrecked the party when he stole a big hunk of gourmet goat cheese off the kitchen counter. Zoe had that cheese imported at great expense!  Someone's going to need to rescue Buster from her!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sherry is staring as Johnny Appleseed in a play called "An American Christmas" that she wrote, directs, acts, and sings in herself.     

Chloe got a rescue named Buster.  They like to play Frisbee. (I think that's a Frisbee.) 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Fill Our Lives With Music

My husband and I went to see The Piano Guys in concert last night in Wallingford, CT at the Oakdale Theater.  I bought the tickets as a Christmas present to my husband, though it is still early in December.  I usually ask him before I do anything like this, but I know he is the sort of very frugal guy who will talk himself out of spending any money on himself. I also knew he really likes The Piano Guys and he didn't even know they were going to be in Connecticut, so if I bought the tickets without asking, it was going to be a total surprise.  So I got them and then quickly told him I was taking him to the concert. That way he was surprised, but he also knew and he wouldn't make plans to go to dinner with someone for business or something.

The concert was a beautiful experience. We were both moved by the glorious sounds. Our hearts were lifted toward the divine. And I was surprised to be so moved by the feel of the music. Now I know, there's nothing like sitting in the same room with live instruments. Hearing instruments is wonderful, of course, but feeling them play really can't be beaten.

Earlier in the day, I was praying and I felt led to ask God to "fill our lives with music."  As the words came out of my mouth, I was really surprised by them.  But, sometimes, when I am praying, I become aware of things I don't even realize I am lacking and I am led to ask the Lord to fill that gap or meet that need or add that blessing.  Neither my husband or I play instruments and we have often thought about giving our kids music lessons, but so far, we have found it impossible for practical and financial reasons. I am also not entirely sure we understood why music was valuable enough to invest time and money in.  So I prayed about it and then forgot about it. I wasn't even thinking about the concert as I prayed, believe it or not.  

But, as I sat in the concert later that night, the prayer came back to my mind and I chuckled to myself because it felt like the Holy Spirit was saying, "I am already answering your prayer. I will answer it.  I was already answering it when you prayed it." And as we were walking to our Jeep after the concert, I was not at all surprised when my husband said, "We need more music in our lives. How can we make that happen?"  I laughed and I told him about my prayer and we talked about it.

We're still not sure how it will come about, but we know it is something the Lord is doing and that makes us really hopeful.  Music is such a gift.  God made the wood and metal that we use to make instruments.  He made the plants that make the air that sound waves travel through.  He made our ears with the tiniest of bones to pick up pleasing vibrations.  And perhaps most importantly, He told mankind to "Sudue the earth." Music is one way we do that.

Like everything else, music is often misused and it can reflect the evil in the world as often as it reflects the good. But, in itself, music is a glorious, good thing. No wonder it surrounds God's throne.  No wonder we long for more of that sort of thing in our lives. And no wonder our good God is happy to inspire and then answer prayers for more music.

There are so many good Piano Guy songs I could share, but this is one of my favorites right now. 

The girls raised money to support the pet hospital where Chloe works. This project gave Zoe and Jo several chances to get to know Josephina, so now she's hanging out with them a lot more often.

Note: Zoe and Josephina talked things through and they got past their cocoa fiasco.  Really, it's not even an issue now that Jospehina is in the furniture business.  

Chloe and Josephina used the money to buy a box full of supplies like dog biscuits and flea shampoo.

Zoe's quiches are such a hit, she needed to buy an industrial-sized oven. The friends all cheered when it arrived and Zoe asked, "Who wants quiche?!"    

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Jo wasn't selling any bows in Buffalo. She had to close her stand and she was feeling discouraged. To show their support, Zoe and Chloe started wearing bows more often.  They also encouraged Jo to open an Etsy shop called "Jo's Bows." That turned out to be a great idea.  Jo's online business is going really well. So well, in fact, that Chloe and Zoe secretly hope they can stop wearing their bows soon. 

Zoe is trying out some quiche recipes for her coffee shop, so she invited Jo over to try some.  Well, Jo sort of invited herself over.  Jo is starting to think it's great fun that she and Zoe match more than shirts and scarves now. They get tons of attention when they're together in public and Jo loves that, but Zoe is starting to see red... or brown or black... any color besides blond!  

Chloe and Josephina met at church.  Chloe invited her sledding and attached a pull-behind sled to hers.  But that's got "emergency room" written all over it.  Good thing these girls are made of tough stuff. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Josephina has been making custom altars, lamp stands, and tables for the churches in and around Buffalo.  All her creativity and skills come together to create these beautiful, yet functional pieces. Sometimes she will go to a church service and sit quietly, watching how individuals and the congregation as a whole put her pieces to work in their worship. She finds it deeply satisfying to help facilitate so much corporate and personal culture and faith.  When her pretentious, artsy friends criticized her for taking these jobs, she told them, "Orthodox is the new eccentric."  For that, she was unfriended on Facebook by a whole lot of them.  The struggle is real, you guys.

In addition to coffee and espresso, Zoe added frosted brownies and milk to her hot chocolate stand. Obviously, now she has the most popular after-dinner (and after-breakup) stop in town.  She always smiles and talks to the happy couples. But if she sees a girl that usually comes in with a guy come in alone in yoga pants, that's how she knows. "My job is so much more than selling coffee sometimes, " she says.  Zoe also finds her work deeply fulfilling.  And she dyed her again.  But Jo's none too happy about this as you might have guessed. She cherished being the only blond in their little group.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Weekend In December

On Saturday-

Pea Pod
We had our groceries delivered early in the morning.  Have you ever heard of Pea Pod?  It's awesome to have your groceries brought to your door!

I was on rotation to teach Bodypump that morning, so I chose to do the latest release 91.  I've done that release several times with other instructors or at home, but it was the third or forth time I got to teach it.  I finally felt really, really comfortable with the material for once, so I had a lot of fun.

With technical help from my husband, I put together my Bodycombat 61 assessment video, complete with an introduction stating my name, address, etc.  I am submitting it today.

A friend from church offered us three, free tickets to our church's musical Saturday evening, "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe." So my husband took our two oldest girls while I stayed home with the baby Saturday night.

On Sunday-

We went to church in the morning as usual. Here's a link to the sermon we heard yesterday, if you are interested.  After church, while I was talking to my friends, I found out many of them were going to be attending a Women's Advent Tea later that evening. They exerted some healthy peer pressure on me and I decided to go to the tea, too.

But, first, I had to get lunch and do some shopping.  Even though we go to church every Sunday, we don't put a lot of emphasis on having nice clothes. (We would have to spend a lot more time at the stores and a lot more money on clothes if we did. I am not willing to do either of those things.)

But we do try and dress up twice a year, usually on Christmas Eve and Easter.  I always save dresses and dress shoes and reuse them whenever I can, so this year, my two younger daughters are wearing dresses I have saved from previous Christmases.  We only wear the dresses for very special occasions on and around holidays, so they stay in beautiful and in near perfect condition.

But this year, I still had to find a Christmas dress and sweater for my oldest daughter and I needed the right size tights and Christmas shoes for my oldest and youngest daughters. I was grateful that I got all this nuanced shopping done in one place for very little expense on the same afternoon. That felt miraculous.  The Lord knows I don't relish shopping at all. (No offense to those who enjoy it, but I would almost rather clean my house or rake my lawn than shop for clothes.)

Advent Tea
Right when I got home from shopping, a friend who is also a neighbor surprised me by picking me up for the Advent tea. She stood at the door and said, "Hurry Up!" So I rode with her, which made the whole evening even better, actually. As I chatted with her on the way, I was grateful that I am involved in a church. Believe it or not, I can be quite an introvert and I am keenly aware that I would probably be alone most of the time if it weren't for my friends at church calling me to be social with them. "It's not good for man to be alone," God said. I was grateful for my friends being such eager friends to me this weekend, razzing me to go, giving me a ride, etc. I needed them, though I didn't realize it till I was with them.  I laughed so hard all evening.  People are definitely God's best invention.    

Hand Bells
There was a hand bell choir at the Advent tea and after their performance, they passed out some of the hand bells to let us try them. If you saw a circle around a word in your hymn book, that's when you were supposed to ring your bell. If you saw a line under a word, that's when you were supposed to stop the bell by placing it on your knee, etc. I can't read music, but I can read circles and lines easy enough, so I thought it was great fun.

I came home to a roaring fire in the fire place and after we put the kids to bed, I read from The Fellowship of the Ring for an hour or more, until I started nodding off. But it seemed wrong to abandon such a beautiful fire, no matter how tired I was. I didn't want to go back to my cold bedroom to sleep horizontally.

My husband agreed to pull our huge mattress off the bed, down the hall, and into the living room, so I could sleep all night in front of the fire. I helped him as much as I could. As much as I work out, I am still not as strong as my husband is by nature.  It's kind of unfair.

And don't get the wrong impression.  We weren't planning anything romantic in front of the fire. We have floor to ceiling windows in the living room and no curtains, so that would be impossible.  But, I was able to lay down with my feet toward the fire and a view of the flames as I dozed off.  Turns out that crackling fire is the best white noise next to rain.  And, in the night as I woke up and opened my eyes, I could see the moon moving across the sky, shining down on us.  It was like glancing at the clock to see how much of the night was left, only it was much more calming and natural.  I don't think my husband had the best night of sleep that way, so I don't imagine we will be doing that again soon. But I thought it was divine

Josephina is pleasantly surprised by all the furniture orders she has been getting these days. Knock on wood- She hopes to start an LLC soon and call it " 'Phina's Furnishings."  She always imagined herself going against the grain as a female sculptor, but she knows she wasn't really cut out for that.  Wood is really shaping up to be her medium of choice.

Now that Zoe's got the only hot chocolate stand in town, business is going good for her, too. She has plans to add coffee and espresso to her menu, so she asked Jo and Chloe to meet up at her house to sample some new brews.  But, when the girls realized their hearts were racing and they could no longer sit or even blink, they decided it was time to stop taste-testing for the night. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Josephina decided to try her hand at carpentry.  She does well enough with that to pay rent on her flat.  


Not to be outdone, because she can't stand being outdone, Jo opens a booth to sell handmade bows and monogrammed accessories to Buffalonians.  She may as well try convincing Chloe to eat refined, white flour. Puh-leeze! She'd have better luck getting Sherry and Carrie to take some Tylenol! 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Meet Sherry and Carrie, proud purveyors of essential oils.  They've got an oil for everything and if that annoys you, they've got an oil for that, too.


Friday, December 5, 2014

This is Josephina's latest piece of sculpture called "No Man," a faceless snow man with a hole in his chest.  It's moving art. But it's also heavy, so no one can actually move it. Josephina hasn't been able to sell this sculpture or anything else for weeks. 

To make some extra cash, Josephina got a permit to sell hot chocolate at the public ice skating rink.  Little did she know, Zoe has been selling hot chocolate at the same rink for years.  You can just tell by looking at their body language, things were tense.  This is not the way to make friends in a new city, Josephina.