02 December 2014

Breaking from Blogging . . . for now.

My poor blog has been so neglected lately . . . . although it's not the only thing in my life that has been neglected lately.

So I'm officially putting my blog on break.

November was an incredibly busy month around here, and so far December is shaping up to be even busier, if that is even possible (which, apparently is very possible). Besides all the Christmas festivities, of which there are a lot of, I'm taking a four week intersession class. Sixteen weeks of Literature cramped into four short weeks. Over Christmas. Yikes! So no blogging, unless I'm desperate for some kind of break. Or for that book I promised I would review (but haven't received yet).

I will try to write a Christmas recap post the last weekend of the class, which is also the weekend before regular classes for the spring semester start . . .

Why was November so busy you ask? Well . . . I cooked a lot of food for people, and that was before Thanksgiving even started (my Italian Sausage Soup won best soup of the DMOC!), we had a lot of illness run through the family (them, not me, oddly enough), had some extra doc appointments, and my organization just wasn't up to par. Plus the school work. And Mike and I started doing a Bible study with some friends on Sunday nights, which occasionally involves hosting (which I am really enjoying!), but that means a lot of deep cleaning. Plus the usual activities like Science Camp.

You know, now that I look back on November, I'm not sure what all the busyness was about - it sure felt super busy though! Maybe all that mental busyness is wearing me out. Me and my deep thoughts that never stop . . .

I did complete four Shutterfly projects that I am super excited about! (Cyber Monday is the BEST day of the year to order from Shutterfly, by the way.) I read some books (still not done with the Return of the King, but I'm almost there!). I've gotten into "A Series of Unfortunate Events" and they are really interesting - it's a nice mix up. And they are kids books, so they're super easy to read. Not mindless, but you don't have to think too hard if you're an adult reading them. And the books are fairly amusing.

I've been making lots of new recipes, just trying to mix things up a bit. I have a few small cookbooks, so I've basically been giving them to Mike and telling him to write down the page numbers of the ones he wants to try. I'd say about 75% of our meals each week have been new. The mix up has been good. My trifle has been requested quite a bit recently, so I've made that several times in the past month - I've started experimenting with flavors.

Lemon raspberry trifle cupcakes
Thanksgiving was really great - we had some friends come over and we had a nice, quiet day. The morning was very low key and the family stayed in our pajamas until noon (I worked on Shutterfly stuff), and I started cooking in the afternoon. I made candied yams, deviled eggs, watergate, homemade cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole. One of our friends brought a turkey and pie, and another friend brought a Honey-Baked ham - yummy! All of our kids played really well together too - which was really nice. Overall, it was a really relaxing, wonderful holiday.
If the food weren't there, you would be able to see my counter! That's a huge deal, for those who know me.

Happy Thanksgiving!
I'm in my last week of school (I'm actually procrastinating on school work right now in writing this post) and I've got a few things left to finish up. My new class is already open for viewing, but I'm trying not to let it distract me before I'm finished with my other classes.

Well, got to get going . . . goodbye 2014!

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a blessed holiday season. Stay safe and don't forget the real reason for the season - Jesus Christ! :)

03 November 2014

Out of focus

I had an epiphany tonight - I think my life, my perspectives, have gotten out of focus.

I was doing a little online preview-Christmas shopping, whatever that means, and thinking about what new toys the Stepping Stones might like for Christmas (as if they didn't have enough toys already).  After a little while, I shut the browsers down and decided to look through my photos - I was thinking about a new project-ish and I wanted to see what I had in my pictures (that part doesn't matter).

I clicked on my 2007 photo album, and the very first folder is my mission trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in spring 2007. I clicked on the folder and started looking through all the pictures. At first I was looking for a few pictures that would make great photo magnets, but then I got side tracked.

By the stark poverty. By the bare-footed and dirty children playing in the dirt road. By the lined-faces of the people who work hard just to eek out a meager living. By the one room tin-roofed homes that housed a family of six, or eight, or ten. By the horse-pack laden with fire hooded plodding down the main road that ran by the mission.
The school next door to the mission - children could only attend if they could afford the uniform and supplies (which a lot could not).

A house in the Colonia outside of Tegucigalpha

A typical house. Usually they have no running water, only one light bulb and an outhouse that is not attached, out back. The sink you see on the rock wall was used for anything that might involve water - such as cooking, bathing and laundry. Water trucks delivered water twice a day.
By the beauty of the flora and fauna. By the joy on the faces of the mission workers. By the presence of God in the midst of adversity (when there was near mob incident in front of the mission on one of the days and everyone on the mission team just started worshipping God right there). By the friendship and comraderie in Christ felt by those on the trip and those who work at the mission and those in the colonia. By the joy of God - being in the midst of it yourself and seeing it in those around you - even those who had next to nothing.

Language barriers were not a problem for the two young girls who came on the trip with their moms, nor for the children of the colonia.

Building the walls of one of two houses that our team built the week we were there.

And I wondered - what happened to that person who packed a single backpack and small bag to travel to Central America because God said "Go" and I just obeyed what He said. What happened to that person who left a lot of those clothes at the mission because there were people who needed them more? What happened to that person who just worshipped God with abandon, no matter who was around or what was going on? What happened to that person who was eager to work hard just to please the Lord and not anyone else? What happened to that person who cared more what God thought than anyone else and didn't let anyone get in the way of that relationship? What happened to that person who used to carry verses around in her purse and pull them all-the-time to review them?

I'm not entirely sure. But that I want to be that person again. I want to be alive for Christ like I used to be - not weighed down by cares of the world and able to just live for Him.

Some of the people are angry with the missionaries, some of the people were protecting the missionaries.

In the meantime, a lot of woman gathered together and started praying.

And we worshipped.

The mission feeds most of the children in the colonia lunch - for some, it is their only meal.
One of the ladies who received a brand new house (for her and her ten children).
It's not that I was that person solely during that week I spent in Tegucigalpa - I was like that all the time. And something happened. I have changed into someone I used to despise, caring more about materialism that relationships, things than people. I'm so caught up in the latest project, or who's saying what on Facebook, or catching up on my latest TV show that I'm missing my purpose. And more than that, I'm missing my relationship with Christ. I used to make it a priority and now I don't.

I realize that I've fallen a long, long way down. But now I'm here on the bottom and I'm looking up. I realize what I need to do. Now, I just need to go and do it. Please pray for me.

01 November 2014

Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World by Johann Christoph Arnold

Children are our future, and all too often in today's society, they are ignored, or pushed to be adults before they are ready, and more than that, they face a plethora of experiences that children just should not have to face. In Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World, Johann Christoph Arnold cuts through the noise and distraction surrounding these issues, getting right to the heart of the problem.

Our society views children as a burden, or worse, as something to be owned and controlled, and children are suffering for it. Touching on issues of violence, over-testing in schools, poverty, over use of the medical system to "cure" children, and even the systematic removal of play from a child's world, Arnold writes eloquently, but more importantly, truthfully, about how these issues are a terrible detriment to children. Children do not have time to not play in today's world- and yet they are only children once, and for a short time. All to often, children are being robbed of the very qualities that make them children: innocence, a fresh look at life, the ability to see and touch hearts, and to teach adults new lessons about life.  At the very core of all of this, is the view that life is not sacred.

But what can be done? Plenty. Teachers and parents can advocate for children, we can guide them and we can cherish and protect that innocence. We can not push them to be adults, we can let them learn in their own way - and if we don't know how that way is, we can discover it with them. And most importantly, we can not give up on them - ever.

I thought Arnold's book was very enlightening and it was the answer to the problem that so many are raising about their children - how can we help them? The answer is so simple, yet incredibly profound. We can slow down, we can love them more, we can spend more time with them, we can cut back on the materialism in our lives that so consumes us, we can show them that the value of a person lies in who they are, not what they can offer up, as if they were some possession to be owned and used, and most importantly, we can cherish the time that they are children. That time does not last long, and it is certainly worth the amount of sacrifice that we have to give - whatever that might look like in our lives: whether it's one parent staying home and not working, or cutting back on the amount of screen time in the home, or taking a walk when our child asks, instead of saying we are "too busy" with whatever is occupying our time. The Bible teaches us that children are a treasure, an inheritance, and it is time, in our homes, in our schools, and in our society, that we start believing that with all our hearts and then act on that belief.

Disclosure of Material Connection: The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

27 October 2014

Last Minute Get-Away - Trip to the Grand Canyon

The weekend following my birthday I got away from my life for three whole days.

I left my children with a great friend and headed out with the Navigator's group from base to the Grand Canyon, Arizona for a weekend of camping and hiking.

It was amazing. Refreshing. Revealing. Inspiring. Wonderful. Restful.

When I came back one of the first things that kids said to me was "Mom, you look happy!" (That right there told me a whole lot about what's being gone on and how I've been handling the crappy situation in my life at the time.)

The retreat was actually Mike's idea. He said there was a singles retreat that couples were also invited to and he wanted to go. He also said if we couldn't find childcare, I should go by myself and get away for a few days. I was pretty shocked by his generosity. Needless to say I agreed.

In the week leading up to the retreat, things were pretty iffy about going at all. I had a very painful chest cold with lots of coughing and it was looking like we couldn't find a friend who would be able to watch the kids. After I had gotten a round of "no", I pretty much said to the Lord, "If You want both Mike and I to go, then You have to arrange all the details." And I quit trying to do everything possible for us to go together.

Then my great friend Liz called me up and said, "I'll watch all the kids for you. I think I can do it." I was a bit hesitant, but in the end I agreed.

Friday morning dawned cool and the Sandia mountains were flanked by gray fluffy clouds. I dropped Little Man off at my friend Whitney's house for the day, took Flower to Liz's house and dropped Butterfly off at school. Mike was already at the Chapel with our bags waiting; I walked over to the chapel from the school.

The van was loaded up and then we were off. There were nine of us all together from Kirtland - some people I knew, others I hadn't met before. It was a seven hour trip, which made a great time for reading.

We arrived without problem at Grand Canyon National Park and went right to our campsite where we would be joined by people from Holloman AFB, Luke AFB, Davis-Motham AFB, Nellis AFB and Miramar Marine Station - a total of about 80 people. Luke AFB was providing all of the camping equipment. Turned out we arrived first, so we got back into the van and drove the fairly short distance to the Bright Angel Trailhead.

My first view of the Grand Canyon.

It's hard to describe in words. The canyon is immense, colorful and humbling. The beauty is incredible. The nine of us leaned against the rail and gazed into the cut of earth far below us. It's hard to believe that just one river did all that gauging into the rock.

After a few pictures were taken, we decided to hike down a little ways. Leaving the top of the trailhead and descending down into the canyon itself was not how I pictured it would be. Gradually the tan stone walls of the cliff rose up on one side of us as we walked down. There were quite a few people the trail - many more than I expected.

(Actually, I didn't really know what to expect about any of the whole trip, except that what was in reality did not match up with what was in my mind.)

We didn't trek too far down before deciding to head back up and back to the campsite to help set up tents. On the way back to the van, we saw a small herd of deer in the parking lot, just hanging out. There were a few does with their fawns. They had no fear - it was incredible. They looked at us blinking in the sunlight and went back to lapping up water from the recent rain.

Back at the campsite, Luke AFB had arrived and the work began. 80 people needed tents to sleep in, and guess who got to help set up all those tents? Yep - us. And the few Luke AFB people. I had never set up a tent before (shocking, I know), but it was fairly easy. After the tents were set up, each had to have sleeping bags and cots or mats put in.

In the midst of the organized chaos a huge male elk strolled right through our camp. Our campsite was in a forest of pines (not what I pictured) and this elk just walked right through, stopping for a snack and bellowing this deep elk-roar, if that is how an elk call can be described. I had never heard anything like it before. He was loud, he was impressive and he was definitely all male.

After the campsite was organized we were free to leave for dinner. Everyone was on their own for dinner Friday night, as not everyone had arrived yet. Our group headed over to one of the lodge restaurants that had a plethora of choices. I had chili and a baked potato - the food was very good.

When we emerged from the lodge, the sun had fully set to reveal the brightest and most numerous starry night I have seen in a very long time. By very long time, I would say sixteen or more years. It was incredible!

We just stood there, paused in mid-stride, head tilted up oohing and aahing over the night sky. It was so beautiful and such an unexpected treat. I wish my camera had been able to get a good picture. Eventually we made it to the van without walking into anything. Once we reached the van, we all stood around for a few minutes gazing in wonder at the stars. (If you have only seen the stars from the city, take a drive into the middle of nowhere one night and turn off the car lights and star gaze.)

Enter the funniest conversation that became an inside joke:
"Look at the stars!"
"Get in the van!" - Seth, in a very parental, tired voice.
"But look at the stars!"
"Get in the van!" slightly louder this time.
"Will the sky be the same at the campsite?" - Gerry, completely innocent and filled with child-like wonder.
"Get in the van!" - a little more louder and definitely more exasperated.

So we climbed into the van and I burst out laughing like I haven't laughed in a really long time. For once I wasn't the parent saying "Get in the van!" and there was childlike wonder of the sky in all of us (except for maybe Seth, who did all the driving that day and was obviously pretty tired). The rest of the weekend someone from our group (I admit, usually me) would say "Get in the van!" and we would all start laughing. It was great and very freeing.

I went to bed pretty much as soon as we got back. I was tired. I also felt rather queasy - I don't know if it was the altitude, or I was dehydrated, or what, but it wasn't fun. I didn't sleep the best that night as I was quite cold. We were over 7,000 feet and it got down into the 50's at least at night.

I woke the following morning to the sound of one of the leaders telling everyone to circle up for prayer before breakfast. I had a feeling if I didn't get up right then, I would miss breakfast and I really didn't want to do that. So I stumbled out of bed, last one up, in my pink penguin fluffy pajama pants and joined the group, still rather bleary eyed. I didn't miss breakfast though!

After breakfast, we packed our brown bag lunches and prepared to leave for the days' hike in to, and out of, the canyon. I still wasn't feeling the best, but I decided that I didn't care and I wasn't going to miss what was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity to hike the Grand Canyon (without having to worry about the safety of my offspring!).

The entire group bussed over to another trail head (not Bright Angel) and we all got out. In typical military fashion, everything was very hurry, hurry, hurry, rush, rush, rush and then we all stood around waiting (not sure for what) when we got to the trail head. There was a short safety briefing (again, this is the military), some group pictures, and then we were off!

The initial descent was a series of steep switchbacks hugging the tan canyon cliff walls. Eventually the trail smoothed out some, although still very much descending, and the rock changed to a dry, dusty red which soon layered us in a fine Mars-red dust. We stopped about a mile down at a scenic overlook which offered an especially breathtaking view of the canyon. Really, there was a view the entire time - all one had to do was look to the left and the sheer drop off a few inches off the trail, but when the view opened up to a panoramic 180 degree view in front of us - it was just incredible. Miles and miles of canyons criss-crossing, layers of striated rocks rising up from the floor to meet the azure sky, and somewhere, far below, the Colorado River rushing through.

Another half mile and we reached the half way point of the trail our group was doing - a total of six miles - three miles down, three miles up. There were some bathrooms at this rest point, but no source of water. (We were carrying all the water we would use that day in camel backs and back packs).

For some of us, myself included, this was the half way point. One and a half miles in, one and a half miles out. By the time we had reached this point, my legs were shaking whenever we stopped to rest and I really didn't want to become on the statistics that has to be plucked out of the canyon because of inadequate preparation or pushing myself too hard. I know my limits and I didn't want to push them.

A bulk of the group, Mike included, continued on with the rest of the hike. Those of us who were heading back up ate lunch, explored a rock outcropping jetting out above the canyon floor, took pictures and then began the ascent back up. I found going up to be much easier than going down. One of the ladies who was on the hike was 29 weeks pregnant, so we stopped quite a bit so she could rest - which I was completely okay with. It took maybe twice as long to reach the top of the canyon as it took to get back down.

No one was in danger of falling in this picture.

When we arrived at the top, we had been resting for a few minutes when the first of the guys from the other group arrived - apparently they had run the entire three miles up and out of the canyon (very hard core - and so young - definitely military warriors. I was impressed.) Anyway . . . they rested and some of set out to do some exploring around the rim of the canyon.

We vanned back to one of the main, historic lodges. I explored the small museum there, which paid tribute to the architect of the lodge. Then it was on to the gift shop (oh the temptations!) and finally I got a really great hot dog at the little café. I found the rest of the group and we sat on a rock wall on the edge of the canyon, ate our snacks, tried to keep the squirrels from stealing our food right out of our hands, and admired the view.

Then it was back to the campsite to hit the showers. The showers were indoors and you paid a few dollars to get eight minutes of hot water - it was heavenly after the hike! It felt so good and my body was tired. When everyone was sparkling clean, we made our way over to the little grocery store and looked around.
There were elk everywhere!
Then it was back to the campsite for nap time. Not kidding. I took full advantage of that hour before dinner. Mike arrived back with the rest of the group sometime and he also rested.

Dinner was a wonderful treat - BBQ chicken and typical BBQ sides - all the food was catered by Luke AFB (except the previous night's dinner). After dinner, during which point it had started raining, and the male bull elk strolled through camp again, we made our way over to "auditorium" - a collection of logs facing a central area, where the speaker from the Navigator's gave a message. Two guys, including one of the Chaplain's that had come on the trip, shared their testimonies. We had some really great praise and worship time as well.

By the time we had finished, the rain had ceased, and the camp fire was roaring. (Apparently the camp fire was going the night before too, but I had missed it). Mike and I enjoyed standing around the fire, making s'mores and new friends. It was a really wonderful evening.

The following morning, our last day at the canyon, I woke up while it was still dark (still surprised I did this!) and prepared to go see the sunrise over the Grand Canyon. We departed around 5:30 and vanned over to a spot which was apparently idea of sunrise watching and hiked out a little ways to a rock outcropping. The light was gray and cast shiftless shadows over the top of the canyon and the canyon itself.

The few of us that went (Mike opted to sleep in) sat or stood on the rock outcropping watching the light over the east canyon wall shift from pale pink, to oranges and vibrant, hot pinks, with streaks of purples. Finally the metallic sun peaked out over the ridge of the canyon before disappearing into the overcast skies. It was incredibly beautiful and peaceful - the start of a brand new day.

Every day the sun does this, but I have always missed it. A sun rise is a sight well worth seeing, especially in such a magnificent and humbling place.

Then it was back to the campsite for tear down, then a fabulous and yummy breakfast, and then the morning's sermon under the pine trees as a slight breeze whistled through the tree tops overhead. It was a wonderful end to an amazing weekend.

The van ride back was pretty fun too - there was lots of laughing and talking (and a little reading). At one point, just before hitting the New Mexico border, we drove through an amazing "field of rainbows". There were double rainbows on either side of the van, shifting as the rains completed their journey to the earth and the winds shifted. Sometimes the rainbow was over the highway in an incredible arch, sometimes it was on the right, or the left. We actually stopped on the side of the road so that we could all get out and take pictures - it was absolutely incredible. An amazing and wondrous way to end the weekend.

The kids were, of course, super excited to see us, and then it was back to life as usual for our little family. I am so thankful for the opportunity to get away and enjoy being out in the Lord's absolutely magnificent creation - the Grand Canyon is absolutely stunning - definitely a must see for everyone, at least once in their life. And if you can hike into it, even better - the views are more stunning from the inside out, then from the top. So glad Mike and I could go.