Jacob's nativity story

Jacob and I spend a lot of time together talking about stories from the Bible, so I figured while I was home, I would read him the story of Jesus' birth from his childrens' Bible. Except his Bible was in the car, and I was cold and lazy, so instead, I told him the story using Mom's Boyds Bear nativity set.

Once I finished moving each piece around and telling him the whole story, Jacob wanted to tell me a story:

"The giants (he moves two tall nutcrackers closer to the nativity set) came to the city and said, 'Don't be afraid! I have good news - Jacob is born!' Isn't that a good story?"

I'll be home for Christmas

I watched Crossroads with Joss Stone and LeAnn Rimes a couple weeks ago, and since then I've been really into Joss Stone. I keep listening to her videos on Youtube while I'm working, and I'm not quite sure why.

Tomorrow morning I'm on my way home to Frederick for Christmas, so I've been finishing up all those last-minute things at home tonight. The last two trips I took, seemed incredibly organized - I was ready to go when I wanted to, and had everything that I needed to. Hopefully this one will be the same.

Two very good friends of mine are firefighters. I admire the work they do, and had you asked me earlier today if there job was dangerous, I would have said, "Of course." But today, a fire at a church in Old Towne Portsmouth reminded me just how true that is.

I heard about the fire at lunch, but as often happens when I get caught up in my own little world, I didn't even put it together that if there was a fire, especially of that size, there's a good chance Hannibal and/or Robbie was fighting it. It wasn't until I read Nick's blog entry, and then later talked to Heather, that I put it together.

In this case, Hannibal was one of a team of firefighters sent into the church, to see if the homeless that often sleep there had gotten out. While inside, they heard the building about to collapse around them, dropped their gear, and got out of there. He's fine, as is Robbie, who was fighting the fire on the next shift today.

Tomorrow I will drive to Frederick to spend the next several days in close quarters with people who can inspire more love and frustration in me than anyone else in my life. We'll celebrate family and each other, and the birth of a Savior who came into the muck of our world to pursue us. Somehow, it seems fitting that today, I'm reminded of just how fleeting life is.

Deck The Halls, part 3 (and done!)

Thanks for the get-well wishes, I'm feeling much better today! And just in time, too, as I'm driving to by parents' house the day after tomorrow.

Here's the last set of Christmas decorating pictures:


I wanted to do a little something in my bedroom, but I didn't want to spend a lot of money on it. I already had this tree, and don't really love the pot it's in (especially because I couldn't keep the tree straight), but I already had it. Maybe next year I'll look for something that's more appropriate to the theme of the room. I used ribbon I already had for the garland and made the ornaments - you can see more details below.


I bought these clear glass ornaments on sale from Michaels, then just added the sand and shells (both were on clearance). This room, once its completed, will have a beach theme, so I thought these were perfect.


This isn't the best photo, even though I lightened it, but this is my bathroom. I bought the snowman stocking holders from Garden Ridge last year and love them, but they're not strong enough to actually hold stockings if you put anything in them. (I found that out when one fell off the mantel and broke). In addition to decorating the window, I added silver bells to the shower curtain rod and bought of cute holiday towels. Next year, I'd love to do more with this room - adding garland, decorating the medicine cabinet mirror, and maybe hanging something from the stocking holders.


This is one of my favorite decorations, a gift from my friend Kate a few years ago. It hangs about the archway between the living room and dining room, and because I loved having something there so much, I ordered a custom sign from Etsy to hang there the rest of the year.

Deck The Halls, part 2

I've gotten sick the last two years at Christmas. Once a stomach virus hit late at night on Christmas Eve, and last year it was the day after Christmas. So, this year, when I start sniffling and my throat felt scratchy literally minutes after everyone left the party, my first thought was that at least I wasn't getting sick on Christmas, and at least it was after this weekend, because I had way too many things going on to be sick any early. Today, after my 2-hour nap in the middle of the day, it finally occurred to me that maybe I was sick because I had so many things going on this weekend.

I don't have a lot planned between now and Friday, when I leave to go home for the weekend, so I'm taking it easy - drinking hot cocoa to soothe my throat, chilling out in front of the TV. At some point, I'll put in White Christmas (my favorite Christmas movie) and have a marathon wrapping session, and I'll store up on alone time hanging out with my dogs until I go to the chaos that is my parents' house.

As promised, here are more pictures of my decorated house.


The window, decorated simply, though I think next year I'd like to add a big wreath in place of the star ornament, and maybe a garland across the top of the window. I love my curtains and the way they set the color scheme for the room. The dining room is, as a rule, my most complete room.


This is a shot of the table, all decked out for the party. The mini trees have lights on them, but they run on batteries and only last a few hours. I made the tablecloth out of curtains from Ikea - there are two matching ones that allow me to completely cover the table when its extended into a square (though, because the curtains are thin and the table is sensitive, I would still use placemats.


I normally store more glassware on these shelves (because I love collecting them), though most of the items were already on the table for the party. I normally have turquoise plates there with quotes, but bought the Christmas plates over Thanksgiving weekend this year. I loved them last year, so when I saw them on sale at Kohls, I went ahead and purchased them.



These are the other shelves, above the sideboard. I bought the wire basket on clearance at Ross a few weeks ago, and I love the way it looks filled with ornaments. For November, I filled it with plastic pumpkins and gourds that I had painted blue.

That's it for now!

Deck the Halls

The party was a great success, and I'm even (mostly) cleaned up. I think this is the first time I've been ready enough for a party that I could easily show off both my office/guest room and my bedroom. Next time, I need to remember to not just double my baked spinach dip recipe, but triple or quadruple it. But for now, I'm just curled up on the couch with the afghan my mom made me. Harvey is beside me (and under the afghan, just like she likes has to be under the covers of the bed at night, because she is a weird dog), and I'm munching on a bit of leftover party food and watching some no-name TV-movie-of-the-week.

Since I was planning to post pictures of my decorated house anyway, I thought I would participate in a little Christmas decorating blog tour.

Christmas Tour of Homes

Once the house was clean and decorated, I took some pictures to post over the next few days. Here are the first:


The front entry is pretty simple, though even this is more than I've done in the past. There are also candle lights, that you can't see, in each window across the front. Between those and the lights of the tree through the living room window, I really like the view when I pull into my driveway at night.


I love, love, love the way the living room is decorated. My tree is a collection of every ornament I have, and I love it that way. I don't need a pretty tree - I'd rather have it be full of memories. I've held back so far this year, and only have three new ornaments - an adorable reindeer one from the dollar store, Santa holding two dogs (to commemorate Harvey's first year with me), and one I made at our ladies' Christmas party.


I've used a lot more garlands this year - they just seem to finish things off, and are really easy to use. I still need to add photos to the stocking holders, and I bought them last year! I've got photos of the dogs picked out, I just need to print them.


Last year, I hung these stars on a red bead garland, but I love them on the pine garland even more.


This is one of my projects for this year - I printed each letter and cut them out on Christmas scrapbook paper I already had, using a rubber mat and Exacto knife. I used black and frameless frames that I already had, so the only real cost for the project was a few additional pieces of cardstock. My mom gave me all the pieces to the Nativity several years ago, but I think next year I need some kind of backdrop so it doesn't just blend in with shelves so much.


Another project - I found these white plates at a thrift store and glued the black buttons on. The scarf and Santa hat each came from the dollar store.

I'll post more pictures tomorrow, especially of my dining room (I really, really love how it turned out), but for now, here's my hot spinach dip recipe. Its from Pampered Chef, though I take shortcuts to make the whole process simpler. And I usually double this.

Hot Spinach Dip (or Hot Artichoke & Spinach Dip)

1 jar (6 oz) marinated artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped, optional
1 pkg (9-11 oz) frozen creamed spinach, thawed
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 small garlic glove, pressed or garlic powder
1/2 cup (2 oz) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375°F. Coarsely chop artichokes, if desired, and add to baking dish. Add spinach, mayonnaise, and sour cream. Add garlic and Parmesan cheese, and mix all ingredients together well. Bake 20-25 minutes or until heated through.

For Iris


There'll be parties for hosting...

Its Sunday right after church, and I just got home from our birthday party for Jesus. Ministry with kids is so interesting because, really, so much of what you do is just so corny. But, kids love corny, so that works. We had planned out the day really well, and still, I can't believe how smoothly everything went. Part of it was that we just had an amazing team of people helping - they were just so hands on and involved with the kids, which kept even the little ones involved.

Now, I'm switching mental gears to get ready for my Christmas party. I did a lot of cleaning yesterday, so things are pretty much in order. I'll just spend the next few hours cleaning the living room (the only one I saved to do today), baking, and then getting myself ready. I'm going to try (!) to leave the dogs inside (its cold and rainy outside), which means I need to be just that much more on top of things, so they're leashed and ready when everyone gets here.

So, I'm off to finish last minute preparations!

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style

Whenever I go into downtown Portsmouth, I think that maybe my next house should be there. I could buy a place that had a view of the water from a nice little rooftop garden (though I had better be independently wealthy or make very good friends who likes to garden for fun - and for free, because you know I just don't do that). And how fun it would be to call up a friend and say, let's meet for dinner, or a movie, or whatever, and then just walk there?

But my friend Heather says that all of the basements in Old Towne flood every time it rains, and that flood insurance is just really expensive, even if you can afford it. So, that makes me think buying a place there wouldn't be a really great idea, after all.

My neighborhood isn't very walkable - my walk score is only 42 out of 100. And this is actually very deceptive, because even the places you could walk to, you wouldn't want to, trust me. But some day I'd love to live in a walkable neighborhood.

Welcome to our world

I can't believe its been over a week since I last posted anything.

Yesterday, during worship at church, I read (aloud) an excerpt from Max Lucado's God Came Near. Such powerful stuff. Emmanuel, God With Us - this is something that I've been thinking about quite a lot over the past week. It's amazing, isn't it? God - the almighty, perfect, universe-big God - came to us - broken, selfish, imperfect, self-centered people. I can't wrap my head around it, no matter how many times I hear it, think about it, read about it. I'm probably not supposed to be able to, because I think if we could make sense of it, we would find a way to reason around it.

So wrap our injured flesh around you
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy
Perfect son of God, perfect son of God
Welcome to our world
- Chris Rice

I think I've finally finished decorating my house. I really do plan to take pictures, but I need to straighten up and do a bit of basic cleaning first. My open house is this coming Sunday, so I'll definitely be done by then. In the meantime, I've got a busy week, with something going on almost every evening. At least for right now, though, I'm liking it this way.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...

Except really, I'm not. Its definitely turned colder here, and Delaware last weekend seemed very cold. I don't mind the temperature here - I like that it changes a little during the year. But I don't miss the biting cold, the sleek roads, and scraping snow off the windshield before driving. I might miss the snow days, not that I could realistically claim them when I don't exactly have to leave the house to go to work.

My trip this past weekend was fun, but full, and just a touch insane - spending Thursday night in a hotel in Herndon, meetings all day Friday, my car nearly breaking down in the middle of DC (an area I don't know, at all) at 3:45pm on a Friday, Mom's birthday dinner with the entire family (including potential step-grandchildren to be), spending Saturday night in Frederick while I waited for a part to arrive to fix my car, driving to Delaware on Saturday to spend time with my friend Kate, and back home Sunday night. Like I said, a little insane.

And if I thought our family was crazy and loud before, its nothing compared to what it is when you add two more kids - it really just borders on chaos. Especially when you go out to eat. Jacob had a styrofoam cup at dinner, and while playing with the tiny sword from Katie's drink, stabbed his full cup of lemonade. Since this already created an almost-fountain effect, Vince started to set up something more elaborate - he overturned and stacked glasses, cups and bowls, sometimes dumping their contents on other plates. Should I clarify that Vince isn't one of the kids, at least not technically? No, this is Katie's boyfriend. Who is older than me. Needless to say, I don't think we'll be going back to that restaurant any time soon.

I'm still decorating my house - some of my projects are taking a bit of time. But, I hope to be completely done this weekend, and then I'll take photos and write up a little tour.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

I wonder if I could start every blog post from here through Christmas with a lyric or title from a holiday song. Think I could do it?

Thanksgiving was good - I spent a pretty long time with my family, and except for a few tense moments at the beginning, I had a lot of fun. I spent lots of time with my family, and had a really good time hanging out with Jacob. I just love that kid.

Now that I'm back home, I've started decorating for Christmas, which means that my house looks like a complete mess! I'm leaving Thursday for a work meeting in DC, then a visit with a friend in Delaware for the weekend, and I had grand hopes of finishing decorating before I left. I'm trying to remind myself that I don't have to do it all, right this minute.

Luckily, I've been in a really productive mood lately. I'm getting ideas and making plans, then actually following through with them. I've done more to decorate my house in the last few weeks than the last few months, I think. And given how many things I need and want to get done before Christmas, I'm glad I'm nearly finished buying gifts.

Once I finish the decorating, I'll take you on a tour. I have a lot of stuff - I go a little crazy at this time of year. But for now, I'm really enjoying having the tree up and decorated and visible through the window when I pull into my driveway.

Christmas Cards

I decided to create a postcard newsletter to go inside my Christmas cards this year. This is the front - what do you think?

Doing the happy dance

Remember last year, when I said that this is my very favorite Christmas CD?

Andrew Peterson's Behold The Lamb Of God

Well, I thought I lost it. And this isn't even the first time I've lost this CD! I couldn't find it anywhere, until today, when I dug out some of my Christmas CDs and realized, opened one CD case, and found it in there!

This is just amazing - I'm singing every word while I'm cooking. I love it!

And Nick, if you're reading this, I think we should do some of these songs in December. :-)


I also got very excited when I realized that the VA would be doing pick-up donations next week, so I don't have to lug everything out to my car and Goodwill. I'm not sure what it says about me that these are the highlights of my day.

Christmas and Why I Like Living Alone

I added a Christmas playlist to my blog. I'm working on a regular one, but figured it was good to start with Christmas. My friend Becky, who lives in China, says that playing Christmas music and putting up decorations early is just a way of prolonging the holiday spirit, and I love that.

Next week will be a short one at home - I'll get home from Frederick Sunday night, and leave Thursday afternoon for a meeting in DC on Friday and a weekend in Delaware with my friend Kate. But, I'm planning to start decorating just as soon as I get home, so I'll post pictures when I'm done. I'd consider starting now, but I have too many things to do and plan before I drive to Frederick on Wednesday.

The last week or so has been so busy, and today, after lunch after church, I found myself just so glad to be home and by myself. I don't usually need a ton of alone time, but the past week or so has just been so busy and full, that I really found myself wanting to stay home and just be - to veg out and catch up on some of my TV shows, to plan out some of the things that are going on over the next month, and to just hear myself think a little. This is especially important, as quiet alone time will be really hard to come by while I'm staying at my parents' house.

Jacob

My 4-year-old nephew Jacob spent the last several days with me - part of me wishes I had taken time to blog about it throughout the weekend, because he just says some of the most adorable things, but the more realistic part of me knows that just spending time with him was far more important. Not that there was much down time anyway, in between the children's museum, hanging out with Heather and Nathan, going to church, seeing the Bee Movie at the Cinema Cafe - yes, I'm definitely the cool aunt.

He loves the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and can sing almost the entire theme song on his own. And now, so can I.

He thinks that when you play "I Spy," that you don't really need to see the thing you're describing. I figured this out when, about 2 hours into the car trip to meet Katie yesterday with a broken portable DVD player, he got very frustrated when I couldn't guess that something that was white and yellow and straight was a snake.

He dropped a tray on his foot Saturday night, which meant that I needed to carry him everywhere (or he would hop or crawl). Until we got to Nick and Heather's and he and Nathan chased each other around their house the minute I set him down.

He sleeps horizontally on the bed and moves around all night long. This meant that the two dogs also sleeping in my bed also moved around all night long. Last night was the best night's sleep I've had in forever.

He can tell you all about space bags and their water-tight seal.

He doesn't know why Pap calls everybody "mobile" (because when Pap calls someone on his voice-activated phone, he says "call Jon mobile").

He tells me he loves me all the time. He says that he wants to tell the people in his family that he loves them every day. Smart kid, huh?

He gives the best hugs in the world.

Challenge update

(Warning - another long post ahead.)

I've been working steadily in my office, hoping to get it (mostly) finished before my family arrives for a weekend visit. That's today that they're arriving, and I'm pretty satisfied with what's been accomplished so far. Looking at these before and afters, I'm not sure how much progress is visible, but it feels completely different to me.


Before - The bed was cluttered with papers and bags to be sorted, and a few items to be donated.


After - There are a handful of things on the bed now, but I'll be taking care of them today. The basket and magazine holders are returns that will go in my car, and the other items are paper supplies that need to be moved to the kitchen. You can see the trundle bed in the corner of the picture, made up and ready for my family's arrival, and the items on the floor between the two beds are items to be donated.


Before - The desk was a dumping ground, full of active projects or things that needed to be dealt with "someday."


After - The desk is mostly cleared, and most of the items left belong there. The few that don't, should be easily sorted. I'm thinking of rearranging the furniture in the room a little, and pulling the desk into the middle of the room. Besides that, the next step is here is to manage the cords (this will be easier once I replace the no-longer-working wireless router). I also still need to go through the two blue file boxes in the corner - I think I can eliminate the need for them.


Before - The bookcase was somewhat organized, but there were still some things that didn't have a home, and the top was cluttered.


After - The folding chairs are still in here for my family's visit - I'll move them to the back room once they leave. I took some time to make a list of everything that needed to be stored in this office and best way to do that. I moved a lot of things around, bought a few more photo storage boxes, and labeled everything. The green tote is for Active Projects (anything on my to-do list that can't easily fit in the file folder I keep on my desk). Still to do here - I'd like to buy magazine holders (sturdier than the cardboard ones I had before) to take some of the weight out of the magazine holder on the wall (I'll need to find another home for the large frames and decorative items currently on the bookcase). I'd also like to paint the nine-drawer cabinet and label the drawers, find a better way to store ribbon, organize the photos in the photo boxes, and finally do something with the large frames leaning against the side of the bookcase.

So, overall, there's not that much more to do in here. My next stop is the garage.

One more thing...in my quest to enjoy the little moments, this is what I did after worship team practice last night.

What I Love

I love that my dogs have their own distinct personalities, just like people. I love that my family actually comes to visit me (even when they come right on top of each other). I love that I have so many wonderful people in my life to buy Christmas presents for.

And I love that even when we're dealing with the hard stuff of life, the messy stuff, the stuff that makes you say, why? - that somehow, God redeems the ugly stuff for the beautiful. Maybe we understand each other better, or we walk more closely beside each other, and sometimes we just finally, really get it, and eternity is changed all because God is all about transforming our crap into an amazing work of art.

I really love that.

Progress

I really did want to finish dealing with paper before the weekend was over, but after helping Trish and Billy with their move on Sunday, too, I was just too tired. I came home, sat on the couch and started to watch Cold Case, picked up the first piece of paper to deal with it, and immediately realized that I was too exhausted to do anything other than go directly to bed.

But - I did finish dealing with all the paper Monday night. I also started a list of what exactly I need to store in here, with ideas on how it should be stored, keeping in mind the containers I already have. So, that means I need to go shopping.

Also, today, I read a few entries from Kristin's blog, which is so fun because she's just a really good writer and its so great to read about the stuff she's doing while she's in London for the semester. I love that she's writing about real life stuff, too, like what she's thinking and feeling. And I love that she seems to be really enjoying these moments, and it made me think that I need to be careful to really enjoy moments in my life, too.

Last night, I wore Christmas socks with bells on them. I have a lot of Christmas socks, because I went through this period where I had a kind of sock thing and I bought a lot of them and a lot of people bought them for me, too. I don't wear these outside the house, because I think it would be really annoying for people to hear a little bell every time I took a step and because, let's face it, I'm not that much of a dork. But I like them. So did Harvey - she kept trying to figure out where the sound was coming from.

The best laid plans

I had grand plans to spend a good chunk of time today making major progress on my office - it turns out, not so much. I have plans the next four weekends in a row - family coming from out of town this weekend and next, Thanksgiving at home after that, then a visit to Delaware to hang out with my friend Kate. But, I spent most of the day helping friends who found out just a couple days ago that the house they are renting will be foreclosed on, on two days. Which left them with this weekend, mostly, to pack up everything in their house and move it into a new (but much better - yea!) house. I'm glad to have helped them, and I know they're very overwhelmed right now.

All in all, this is actually a very good thing, because my grand plans to spend weekend days finishing some big project never really work out the way I intend. I work much better in short spurts, finishing one small thing at a time completely until I can move on to the next.

That said, I did make some progress in my office over the last few days. Whenever I needed a quick stretch break from work, I would grab a few things that could easily be put away and take care of them. And at night, I would grab a handful of papers, take them out to the living room in front of the TV, and sort through them. During the commercial breaks, I would toss the trash, quickly file what needed to be filed, and take care of the action things that could be completed really quickly (send a quick email, enter receipts into Quicken). For action items that will take longer, I file them into an Action folder in a file holder on my desk and enter a note into my Outlook task list (which syncs to my PDA). It may not be the most efficient system, but it works really well for me - I can spend several hours working this way, where I might only be able to convince myself to spend 15 minutes straight working through it without some distraction. I'm finding that I really rarely watch TV without doing something else at the same time anyway (though this was more true before my wireless router died and my laptop was chained to my desk).

All in all, I did manage to sort through the newly purchased Christmas gifts in front of the gift closet and make note of what size boxes I needed to buy (and use some that I already had). Later this week, I'll have to go through the visible things and hide them somewhere, so visiting family members don't see them. I've also made it through most of the papers on my desk (I'd take a picture, but the progress isn't quite visible yet).

I'll probably be helping Trish and Billy with their move most of tomorrow, but am going to try and make it through the rest of the papers on desk before I go to bed

Worth quoting

I bought this great magnet for my sister for Christmas, with a really great quote:

"barn's burnt down...now I can see the moon." (masahide)

I love this, and it reminds me of another poem I read for a literature class. (I also thought about this, because I just read an email from Heather saying our next women's study will be on contentment). I like reading, but mostly easy, fluff stuff, and usually not things written long ago. It sounds superficial, I know, but when it comes to my personal reading, I just don't want to work for it. But, I really love this poem, and I even saved it on my computer, I think because it's a great reminder of where my heart should be. The last two stanzas are my favorite.

“Upon the Burning of Our House” by Anne Bradstreet

In silent night when rest I took
For sorrow near I did not look
I wakened was with thund’ring noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
That fearful sound of “Fire!” and “Fire!”
Let no man know is my desire.
I, starting up, the light did spy
And to my God my heart did cry
To strengthen me in my distress
And not to leave me succorless.
Then, coming out, beheld a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.

And when I could no longer look,
I blest His name that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so ‘twas just.
It was His own, it was not mine,
Far be it that I should repine;

He might of all justly bereft
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the ruins oft I past
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast,
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sat and long did lie:

Here stood that trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best.
My pleasant things in ashes lie,
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sit,
Nor at thy table eat a bit.

No pleasant tale shall e’er be told,
Nor things recounted done of old.
No candle e’er shall shine in thee,
Nor bridegroom’s voice e’er heard shall be.
In silence ever shall thou lie,
Adieu, Adieu, all’s vanity.

Then straight I ‘gin my heart to chide,
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope of mold’ring dust?
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the sky
That dunghill mists away may fly.

Thou hast an house on high erect,
Framed by thy mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though this be fled.
It’s purchased and paid for too
By Him who hath enough to do.

A price so vast as is unknown
Yet by His gift is made thine own;
There’s wealth enough, I need no more,
Farewell, my pelf, farewell my store.
The world no longer let me love,
My hope and treasure lies above.

30 Day Organizational Challenge, Day 1

As a rule, I think I'm a fairly organized person. I'm really detail-oriented - give me something to plan, and I will think of almost everything. Still, there are some areas of my house that are either a real mess, or just not as put together as I would like. I get frustrated if things are not just so, so I ignore them and let them go.

All that said, I decided to participate in a 30 Day Organizational Challenge, as a way to keep myself accountable to get these areas decluttered and organized once and for all. I'll start the month by identifying the areas I want to work on and displaying before pictures (warning: this is really, really long), and then post before and after pictures at the end of 30 days. I'll try to update throughout the month, too.


First, my office:

I got a jump start on this room by organizing the gift closet (I'll post more about that later). The biggest problems here, at least visually, are the desk and bookshelves. I tend to use the desk surface as a dumping around, especially - putting things here when I can't or don't want to deal with them right away. I've cleared it off before, but I think I just don't have the systems in place to handle incoming paper (either that, or I'm not using the systems I do have). Now that I'm working from home, I really need to be able to use this surface on a daily basis. For the bookshelves, I need to purge and containerize what's already there. I'm also thinking about trying to figure out how to rearrange the furniture in the room so that it just looks better. Its tricky, with the dogs, so I need to do some more thinking about that.

This room is also my guest room, and as I'll have guests both the second and third weekends in November, I need to have the room in a fairly stable state by the time they arrive. I don't need everything to be perfect, but I do need to have at least some order in place.

My file cabinet and desk surface - I don't think I should need the file boxes to the right of the cabinet, the surface just needs to be cleared, and the cables need to be better organized (even just for aesthetic value).


More of the desk and the hidden cabinet in the corner.


The bookcase - parts of are pretty organized, but the top isn't at all. I'd like to get some more desk supplies that are just pretty, too - I think that will help me to use them.


The organized gift closet - I could probably use some more containers here, and I definitely need to clean up and organize the stuff in front of the closet.

Second, the garage:

I'm not making any claims to completely clean and organize the garage this month (I think doing that, with everything else, is more than I can reasonably accomplish). But there's lots of stuff in there I just need to purge, and what's left needs to be stored better.

The storage closet in the garage - except for just a couple things, everything else here is Christmas stuff. There's a nice layer of dust. Most of this really is contained well, but it needs to be labeled and purged (I'll do this when I decorate later this month).


There's a great storage cabinet in here, but its hardly being used at all. I need to clean it out and start storing things there (and labeling them).


Most of this is stuff to donate - I'm just lazy about actually taking it to the thrift store or putting it outside for pick-up. Some of it is water-damaged now, too, thanks to the broken washing machine.

That's it - check back for updates!

Random

Just a couple random things...

My custom Etsy sign arrived last night, and I love it! Its going over the archway into the dining room - I'm just waiting for someone else to come over who can help me make sure its hung evenly.


And this? This was the view outside my hotel room last week. And, oh yeah, behind the boats? That's the Pacific Ocean. I love that.


I have a bigger post planned for tomorrow - I've decided to participate in a month-long organizational challenge, hoping the motivation will help me get a couple of areas here under control.

Hello, winter

I can't believe how cold it is in my house! Just Friday I turned off the air conditioning, and this morning, when I woke up, the thermostat read 62 degrees. My house has always stayed pretty cool (which is a wonderful thing in the summer), but it feels like we completely skipped fall.

Yesterday the Bridge church women went shopping at the Yankee candle store and outlets in Williamsburg. That candle store is huge! I've already told Mom that the next time she comes to visit (for long enough), I'm taking her there.

And, while there, I finished buying a few more Christmas gifts. I always buy early, but I think this might be the first year I'm really completely finished before Thanksgiving.

Back from Cali

I'm back from California, after a long day of traveling yesterday. Its so absolutely beautiful there, and I got to do a little bit of sight-seeing, around all the work, especially as we traveled back to the airport via the Pacific Coast Highway. I took a bunch of pictures, but haven't had a chance to upload them yet. I'll post a few here when I do.

You have got to be kidding me

I'm watching TV (instead of, you know, packing. Because that's what I do). And I just saw this commercial:



Seriously? Seriously?

Traveling and other random stuff

I wanted to post about how I organized my gift closet, because I worked on it this weekend and I'm nerdy enough to think that kind of thing is a lot of fun. But, to do that, I would need to take after pictures, upload them to my computer, then pick the best ones and post them. So, for now, I'll just say that I did it, and no, the rest of my office is not clean.

Tomorrow I leave for a business trip (my first). And can I just say it stinks that when I get to visit southern California on somebody's else dime, this is going on? Yucky timing, but then again, at least I get to come home to a house that's still standing, so really, what am I complaining about?

And, for everyone who has told me that I have a Chicago accent, or that I'm developing a Southern accent, I offer this. Let me know if you need help pronouncing a word. Except for Norfolk or Suffolk - I'm still working on those.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

Philadelphia
The South
The Northeast
The Inland North
Boston
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

More Christmas ideas

I think we've already established that I'm obsessed with all things Christmas. Here's more Christmas stuff - I got the holiday Pottery Barn catalog in the mail, and I absolutely love this tree:


I don't think I'll ever do this, at least for a big tree, myself, because (1) I like my tree to be a somewhat messy conglomeration of different ornaments that I love and (2) I can't imagine it staying that neat with two dogs with active tails. But still, isn't it beautiful?

In other news - all Harvey's tests came back with no medical issues, which is good, but that just means that the problem is just behavioral. I can try to start her on some meds, but I need to do some thinking about that first.

And, last night I bought an advent calendar at Bed Bath and Beyond that I'm going to give Jacob at Thanksgiving, to use starting December 1. And tonight I bought the year's first new ornament for my tree - Santa holding two puppies, to commemorate my first Christmas with both Harvey and Dakota. See? Obsessed.

Working from home & Harvey

I've been working for home for a week and a half, and you know what? I think I like it. There are the obvious perks - no commute, being able to work outside if I want, being home with the dogs, starting a load of laundry in the middle of my workday (not that I'm any better at get laundry done). And the things that I thought would be challenges - the distraction and need for careful self-discipline, haven't been issues as yet. I've been keeping to a regular schedule, which is going well.

One of the best benefits I've found to date, though, is the freedom to schedule things like vet appointments in the middle of the day. Harvey was due for another heartworm test, so while she was there the vet implanted a microchip. I also asked them to send blood and urine samples for testing, because her peeing has, overall, not gotten that much better. I can avoid it, mostly, when I walk in, but she does it for almost everyone else, regardless of how much attention she gets and when, or how recently she's gone outside. It may be that its just something I have to live with, but I want to make sure that's my only option before I do. Between all those things and more heartworm medicine, I spent over $300 there. And that's before I even figured out if there was anything wrong. I should hear the results from the test sometime today.

Procrastination (or maybe its just some computer/TV addiction?)

I just read this post, and can't help but write this, because I do the exact same thing! Even now, as I'm sitting here, my desk is such a mess that even though I've been working from home for the last week, I'm still sitting at my dining room table. There are dishes to do in the kitchen, the dining room table is cluttered, the bathroom needs to cleaned (really cleaned), there is dog hair (of course) all over the floors, and I wanted to have a whole bunch of stuff sitting outside for the donation pick-up today.

And I need to do laundry. I hate laundry. I feel like I always need to do laundry. (I think this is because laundry is never done. Even if you wash every single item in your house, the clothes you're wearing are dirty.)

So, instead of just doing these things, I kept thinking about how I really need to organize the closet in my guest room, which primarily serves as my gift closet (especially in anticipation of all the Christmas gifts I keep buying online). I wanted to go to Home Depot and buy paint, and go to WalMart and buy hanging organizers and bins. But, since there were so many other things that I should be doing, especially considering small group is here tonight and people will actually see the inside of my house, I didn't organize my gift closet, because I would have felt guilty doing that when there were so many other things to do.

I didn't clean my house either. Nope - I sat on the sofa, watched whatever was on TV, and poked around the Container Store online looking for ideas on organizing the gift closet.

Oh, and I did some more Christmas shopping.

Christmas Gifts

I've got Christmas presents and stocking stuffers on the brain, probably because I've been listening to iTunes in shuffle mode while I'm working and I have a lot of Christmas music. (Even as I write this, I'm listening to "Someday at Christmas" by Remy Zero from the Victoria Secret's Christmas Morning CD - I told you that CD set was one of my favorites!) Here's a few of the things I'm buying for gifts this year (none of these for people that actually read this):

I bought myself an inexpensive travel jewelry case at Target's One Spot a while ago, but I love this one from the Container Store. I've bought some jewelry to go in it, as well.

I've bought a bunch of these personal toiletry bags from L.L. Bean for gifts already, and they're a favorite among my family.

Can you guess who this is for? Jake is totally crazy about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and wants to be one for Halloween). This Pez dispenser (Leonardo, of course) is from PezCollectors.com - I had no idea there were that many out there.

I bought some of these pocket mirrors for stockings (and one for me!) I love Etsy - you can find anything you can imagine (and lots of stuff you probably can't imagine, too).

Lastly, I love these quote bracelets (and I love that you can customize them!) I'm looking into getting a gift certificate so the recipient can be choose the quote they want.

One more

One more thing I love:
  1. Jewelry - the chunkier, the better. If I didn't have it all hanging on my wall, I'd definitely need one of those big standalone jewelry armoires.

Loving the little things

Some of the things I love:
  1. Soundtracks - Some of my favorite songs come from soundtracks. I have too many to even remember - My Best Friend's Wedding, 30 First Dates, Dirty Dancing, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Touched by an Angel, Sleepless in Seattle, Footloose, One Fine Day, Hope Floats, Grey's Anatomy, Party of Five. This is what I think of when I watch a movie - whether I want the soundtrack.
  2. Christmas, especially Christmas music. I realized this today when I was listening to iTunes as I worked and heard a whole bunch of Christmas songs. Give me anything from Bing Crosby and Judy Garland to Nsync and Jessica Simpson. My favorite, as crazy as it sounds, is the Victoria's Secret 2-disc set. I hate the cover, but the CDs are a mix of old and new stuff - Eartha Kitt, Dean Martin, Beach Boys, Brian Setzer Orchestra, and one of my favorites, Fountains of Wayne's "I Want an Alien for Christmas." Another thing I love about Christmas - ornaments.
  3. Glassware - Especially stemware and individual serving dishes. I have about five different types of dishes I could serve mini trifles in. I collect it to display it on shelves in my dining room. And I'm out of room.

Catalyst

I spent the latter part of last week at Catalyst in Atlanta with several other leaders from our church, and it was just amazing. I don't know how to sum up a time like that, or how to put it in words, but I can try.

The worship was just incredible. I mean, over the top amazing. There's nothing quite like worshiping with that many people. I realized how lucky I was to have even experienced something like that before, and yet, there was something so amazing and real and authentic about experiencing it with literally thousands who have been called into church leadership of some kind. And it was so wonderful to share it with people from my group, people who I call deep, close friends. I think worship on Sunday morning the day after we got back was the best its ever been, and I think its a direct result of what we experienced in Atlanta.

With the speakers there were a mix of practical, leadership ideas, and inspirational messages. The two that have stuck with me the most, Francis Chan and Craig Groeschel, seemed to be just honest men with an authentic love for Christ above all else. More than anything, they encouraged me to just get serious and stop playing around.

And most of all - it was just fun! The people I traveled with are all people that are very dear to me, and to just be with them for so long was wonderful. I have never laughed so hard for so many days straight, and both my sides and my cheeks hurt.

Now that we're back, and have been for a few days, I'm continuing to process all of the things that we talked about, but what I'm most surprised about is that coming home, I'm not feeling an emotion let-down as I settle back into my regular life. Every other time I've been to a large-scale conference like that, I've felt almost depressed after I got home, but that's not the case here. I think, in large part, that its because Catalyst wasn't just an emotional experience, or even mostly an emotional one. And, maybe its just because I'm getting older.

Theme song

I like buying a new CD just before I'm about to take a road trip - it gives me something to look forward to when I'm in the car, and I know I can take the time to really listen to the lyrics. Saturday night I needed to pick up some accompaniment tracks at the Christian book store, so I bought Casting Crowns new CD. Having heard "East to West" on the radio, I thought it would be my favorite song, but I'm really loving "Somewhere In The Middle." I love these lyrics:

Fearless warriors in a picket fence, reckless abandon wrapped in common sense
Deep water faith in the shallow end and we are caught in the middle
With eyes wide open to the differences, the God we want and the God who is
But will we trade our dreams for His or are we caught in the middle

It reminds me of a quote that I love:

There is a God we want, and there is a God who is. They are not the same God. The turning point in our lives is when we stop seeking the God we want and start seeking the God who is.
- Patrick Morely, The Seven Seasons of a Man's Life

All the last minute details

I've spent the last couple hours trying to finish up all the last minute details for the next couple days - laundry, packing, cleaning up the kitchen, stuff like that. There are just so many little things to do.

Heather and I spent some time walking around the art & craft vendors at Neptune festival today. I always have fun wandering through different booths, and its nice to just kind of stroll along, but Heather's right, it does seen like the same vendors are at every craft show in the area. My main goal was to find part of Kelli's Christmas gift, and I did.

I'm watching the House episode from this past week, and it references a case of mistaken identity. It reminds me of the mistaken identity case of two Taylor students from last year. I wondered how long it would take for that real-life story to make its way into TV.

Hello, fall

Fall is definitely here. Although I don't go to school, I don't have kids, I don't even do Young Life and run off that school schedule, I can still feel things change in September. Summer seems to have such a sedate pace, but in fall, life gets busier and everything just seems to be in transition somehow.

As for me, life certainly is getting busier. Life groups started last week, though this was the first week we actually met. I'm going to the Neptune festival on Saturday with Heather, then Sunday I'm driving to Frederick to spend the night at my parents' house before a work meeting near DC on Monday. And, Wednesday, I leave for Catalyst in Atlanta with a bunch of friends from church. We'll be back Saturday, and I think by that time, I'll be grateful to have Monday off for Columbus Day.

The biggest thing going on, though, is that after Friday, I won't be returning to my current job at the base. My contract expires at the end of September and isn't being renewed, so starting next week, I'll be working on other things for LJT (hence Monday's meeting). I'm not sure yet what I'll be working on or where I'll be working, but at the moment, my philosophy is just to wait and see.

Everything's a dollar

The problem with dollar stores is that its really hard to deny yourself anything, since everything is so inexpensive. I went in to buy something really specific, and bought three picture frames (one to give as a gift) and my first Christmas ornament of the year. At least it was only a dollar, right?

I bought this cabinet from a thrift store a couple months ago. It's originally from Target, and the perfect thing to hold paper supplies in my office. At some point I might paint it, or decoupage paper to the front, but for now it works. The only problem was, the box didn't contain the handles that were supposed to come with it. I had planned to call the company and ask they be sent to me, but just didn't get around to it, until I finally figured out this weekend that I could just enlarge the holes and use ribbon for handles. I wish I could take credit for the idea - I got it from my super-talented friend Kristina. I just can't believe it took me so long to think of it.

Poor little bunny

Dakota killed a bunny yesterday. This is actually nothing new (she killed a bird a few months ago) and, I know, just comes with the territory when you own a terrier mix. I didn't really feel bad for the bird, just kind of freaked out, but I felt sorry for the bunny.

Then today, Dakota was going a bit nuts at the fence, because there was a rabbit just out of reach on the other side. It occurred to me that it was probably the mom bunny, looking for her baby, who my baby had killed. That's when I realized that my dog is like all those evil villains in children's fairy tales.

The hunter from Bambi, the big bad wolf from The Three Little Pigs, T-Rex from The Land Before Time, and Dakota.

Remembering

I forgot that today was the anniversary of 9.11 until I turned on the radio in the car this morning. Then, I remembered quickly - exactly where I was and what I was doing (in my car, driving to the train station for my commute into downtown Chicago), the song that was playing on the radio (Eve 6's "Here's To The Night"), the first person I called (my mom, at work - my dad was in class and I didn't think I should interrupt him).


And I remember the emotions I felt that day - shock, a lack of comprehension, uncertainty as to what would happen next, relief to know my family was safe, and a need to be with them and to help in some way.


What I think about now, though, are all those stories of heroism - flight 93, the firefighters who died when the towers collapsed. I'm reminded that those stories aren't limited to that day, that there are heroes still today. I'm lucky to count among my friends two firefighters, and another who wants to be. I've never seen them rush a burning building (and I hope I never have to), but I know them, and I know their hearts, and I know they would. They're the kind of guys you can count on.

Favorite season

I said a few weeks ago that summer was my favorite season. I just realized though, that I don't think that's actually true. There are things about most every time of the year I love.

I love, love, love Christmas. While walking in the mall the other day, I noticed that the Hallmark store had their Christmas ornaments out, so of course I had to go take a look. I rarely buy any there, except during the after Christmas specials, just because they are so expensive, but I love to look at them. I would actually be happy to get mostly ornaments for Christmas gifts every year.

And I like the feeling of a new start that comes in the fall (and at the first of the year, too). I don't get really excited about the leaves changing, or all the deep colors that show up in September or October, but I do like that the laziness of summer gives way to a busier season.

We suspended Life groups for summer, because with summer vacations, they just don't work, but we're getting ready to start them up again in the next couple weeks. I'll be leading one called S.H.A.P.E. - its about figuring out how your unique talents, gifts, and desires combine in serving people and the church. We went through this study last summer, but I'm really excited to do it again, especially with a new group of people. Its the follow-up to Starting Point, the study I led last spring.

New favorite

I'm really loving this song lately - its one of my new favorites. I made a CD for Nick of some suggestions for special music (because I think special music is most effective in a church service when it fits the sermon), and included this song.

Dog training

I scheduled a meeting for Bridge Kids volunteers at my house for tonight. Normally, during a meeting like this, I would leave both dogs outside. But I realized a few days ago, that Harvey and Dakota will never learn how to behave with people if they're never around people, so I put Harvey on her leash and left them both inside. Jenni put Dakota on her leash when she got here and we started the meeting, and after the initial excitement (Harvey peed several times, of course), they both did really well. And apparently, being good makes them very tired, because they are currently sacked out and have been since almost right after everyone left.

Bridge Kids

So much for daily updates. :-) I guess I just don't have something to say every day.

We've started a bunch of new things for our Bridge Kids ministry this summer and fall - we now have a class for school-age kids, and we're implementing curriculum for the younger kids. This past Sunday was the first week of the new curriculum, and it went even better than I expected. I've scheduled a volunteer meeting for next week, so hopefully we can go over everything then.

Sometimes, doing this job, I feel very out of element. I like kids, and really do enjoy them, especially pre-school age and younger. And I can organize and administrate anything you need me to. But teaching kids, trying to figure out what they can and can't do, is hard. It helps to have a curriculum to follow, but what I'm relying on the most are those who are really good at teaching kids, to give feedback and suggestions.

Books and Babysitting

I rearranged the books on the bookshelf a few weeks ago. I like displaying them in different orientations, but I really like that they are now organized by author, and, if applicable, by series. Its really incredibly anal.


I watched Nathan for about an hour this week while Nick and Heather visited someone in the hospital. I've given up trying to stop him from sticking his tongue out for Dakota kisses, and decided to capture it on film instead.

Summer Livin'

Summer is my favorite season. Actually, to be accurate, my favorite time of the year is late spring/early summer, when the weather is warm enough to roll your windows down while you're driving, but not hot enough that you hate being outside. When its warm enough to go the beach, but the water is actually a bit cold still. When there's something going on outside every weekend - festivals, barbecues, just walks. I love it. As long as I'm not sneezing.

I've been working on ways to eat more vegetables, because its healthier and helps with the whole weight-loss thing. One of my pantry meals (you know, those recipes with ingredients that I always have on hand) is simple spaghetti. I've made it healthier by using whole wheat pasta and limiting how much I eat, but the other night I sliced zucchini and threw it in with the water as it was coming to a boil and cooking the pasta. It was really good!

Walking

I'm discovering that sometimes its really hard to find something to say every day. I could talk about work today, but that bores me. I could talk about finding out what's wrong with my car, but that's boring, too.

So, instead, check out this site: Walk Score. You plug in your address, and the site generates a score that tells you how walkable your neighborhood. Mine is a 42 out of 100 , which makes this the most walkable neighborhood I've ever lived in. Not that I would really feel comfortable walking half the places on my list.

A picture is worth...

I love quotes, and I love candid black and white photography. In fact, I'd like to find a way to incorporate more words and quotes into my home - still thinking about how to do that. I have been working for a while, though, on a project for the empty living room wall. I used birthday money to buy three frames with pretty large mats, and have written one of three quotes on each:

It is the sweet, simple things of life, which are the real ones after all. - Laura Ingalls Wilder

In the end, what affects your life most deeply are things too simple to talk about. - Nell Blain

Where thou are, that is home. - Emily Dickinson


These are the three photos I'm planning to use, though I wish I had better photos for the individual ones of Dakota and Harvey. I love, love, love the one of Harvey and Jacob.



Firsts

It's been a day of firsts for me:
  • Riding the Roman Rapids at Busch Gardens (which is really just another way to say that I went to Busch Gardens this morning with Heather, Nathan, and Kelly - and rode Griffin again. In the front.
  • My first pedicure - wow, that's pampering. And apparently, I have the most ticklish feet on the planet.
  • Going to a movie by myself - I've been wanting to see No Reservations, so I did. Good movie, and a really fun treat for me. I don't know why I haven't done it before.

Weighing In

I've been having a hard time lately getting back on the wagon with losing weight. I haven't gone crazy, and for the most part, I'm still watching what I eat, but I'm not tracking it like I should, and I'm not working out. I've found, in the past, that the best way for me to lose is to literally track the points value of everything I put in my mouth. I do okay during the day at work, because my food intake is fairly simple and planned out - I eat what I take to work to eat, plus maybe a handful of pretzels from the community snack area. Its at night that I start to lose track.

I went through the food in my refrigerator and pantry and threw out some stuff that just isn't healthy, mostly things left over from the baby shower. And I finally went grocery shopping and bought a bunch of healthy options - bananas, frozen strawberries, and diet fudge bars for when I want something sweet, low-fat crackers and pretzels for when I want something salty, pudding cups for when I'm craving chocolate, things like that. Its helping.

The biggest thing I need to start doing, though, is working out again. I tried telling myself to commit to just one 15-minute walk a day with at least one of the dogs. I thought that would be a small enough goal that no matter what else was going on, I could accomplish it. But its been so crazy hot here that I can't even fathom being outside a second more than I have to. Maybe I need to start going to the Y on the way home from work.

I also started looking for diet blogs, hoping that adding them to my regular reading list might keep me motivated. Its hard to find good ones, but I found two that might have potential.
There are a lot of different blogs that I read regularly. Some belong to real-life friends, many are about decorating or organizing or other home things, and there are few that just really don't fit into any category at all. I used to use Bloglines to read them, but switched to Google Reader when I started using iGoogle. All in all, I've subscribed to 76 blogs (at least currently), though there are many on that list that are hardly, if ever, updated.

On one of these blogs, I read about a idea for your blog called an encyclopedia of me (I read about it here, it started here). The idea is that the first day in August (or whenever you start), you write about things that begin with the letter A. The next day, you write about things that begin with the letter B, the next C, and so on until you reach Z.

Its a neat idea, and one I might consider doing in the future. It did get me thinking, though - what if I were to post something here on my blog every day? If I wrote about whatever was on my mind that day, rather than waiting until I had something on my mind that I just had to write, what kind of picture would that paint of my life and the things that matter to me?

So, I've decided to try it, as an experiment, for the rest of August, starting with this post for today. Each day, I'll post about whatever I'm thinking, or doing, or planning. And we'll see what happens.
Whew, what a weekend. First, a wedding on Saturday, complete with prep work, tear down, and lots of last-minute drama making things crazy. Then, a surprise baby shower on Sunday right after church, which was a ton of fun. I made these cute little chocolate chip cookie lollipops, and they looked really adorable. By the time most people left my house on Sunday, I was ready to crash and do nothing but fun stuff all day.

Heather and I went shopping at Ross, and I bought small cute glass mini-trifle bowls (I love, love, love glassware) and a really pretty platter for the kitchen, which got broken the next morning (I seem to be very clumsy over the last few days - this is not the first thing to break). It was only $8 (that's the good news), but as much as I like it, I don't think I'll be replacing it. I just don't have enough counterspace that I like leaving things on the counter, and the platter was too big to fit onto the wall. I do think, though, that I'd like to get some things like it - maybe smaller plates or a rectangular platter that could fit above the doors or window.