setting goals.

It's that time of year, and I've been thinking about setting goals for 2009. And I think I'm going to take a different approach this year.

Rather than setting one or two large goals for the entire year, I'm listing 29 things I want to accomplish in 2009. They're smaller goals, things that can be accomplished in a couple months' time. They're realistic and measurable. And I'm also being careful to word them in such a way that if I were to fail once, the entire goal doesn't fail. For example, I don't want to set a goal to work out three times a week, because if I fail one week, I've failed completely (at least with the way my brain works).

I've been working on and praying through this list for a while. It makes me feel a bit vulnerable, putting this list out here. I'm tempted to add explanations, but I won't.

  1. Lose 30 pounds.
  2. Read 10 non-fiction books.
  3. Get a stamp in my passport.
  4. Read through the New Testament.
  5. Run for 2 miles.
  6. Save $3000 in a savings account.
  7. Cut out all sweets for a month.
  8. Teach Harvey and Dakota to walk well together on a leash.
  9. Take Harvey and Dakota to the beach.
  10. Walk the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.
  11. See a Grand Illumination (Williamsburg or Norfolk).
  12. Grow out my fingernails.
  13. Try 50 new recipes.
  14. Take an aerobics class.
  15. Refinish dressers (2).
  16. Clean out the garage.
  17. Start recycling.
  18. Entertain once a month.
  19. Watch the sun rise over the ocean.
  20. Get a hammock.
  21. Lead worship at church.
  22. Try 3 new fruits or vegetables.
  23. Post jewelry to Etsy.
  24. Take a training class for work.
  25. Watch Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3
  26. Volunteer at Oasis (food kitchen) 5 times.
  27. Enroll in 401(k).
  28. See 3 live concerts.
  29. Have Jake visit for a weekend.
Update: See the results of my 2009 goals here.

so glad to be home.

I can't tell you how glad I am to be home.

I had a wonderful Christmas. We ate breakfast together as a family, then opened some presents in the morning. After Mom, Dad, and Jon went home to get ready for the family Christmas dinner and the kids left to spend time with their other parents, Katie, Kelli, Vince and I retreated to our own corners of her house for a long and wonderful nap. Then we spent the evening at my mom's house for Christmas dinner. It was fun and lovely and not at all frantic, at least not too much of it, so is a pretty major victory when we're coordinating between so many people.

Saturday night we threw my mom a surprise party to celebrate her 60th birthday - turns out she knew we were planning something, but had no idea when or how big it would be. There was a huge turn-out, and she loved it.

My sister and brother took a ton of photos, so I'm hoping to post some later, once they send them to me. Unfortunately, my camera battery died nearly as soon as I arrived in Frederick, and I didn't bring my charger with me.

On the way home yesterday, I heard this song (How Many Kings by Downhere) on the radio and actually listened to all the words for the first time:


why I give gifts, part 2.

More about my still-evolving policy of giving gifts at Christmas.

It's not about the money.

I'm very careful about how much money I spend at Christmas. I've never gone overboard, and have even scaled back more this year. I count myself fortunate that for all of the people on my gift list, the "perfect" gift (and I admit, that I even put way too much pressure on myself to find it) isn't about the amount of money I spend, but how appropriate the gift itself is. In fact, usually the gifts I'm most excited about, are the least expensive ones of all.

I'm very picky about the gifts I give to the children in my life.

I want to be careful not to be judgemental here, not in the least because I don't have kids of my own. But it's very important to me to choose gifts that encourage play and imagination (which means that I don't give video games, ever). I also like to give things that encourage interaction - games that are played with other people (another reason I don't give video games).

I also know that for most kids who receive gifts from me, they're getting lots of gifts from lots of other people at the same time. So I decided a couple years ago that it made to sense to try to give the best gift, the one that will wow them. That's just setting myself up for disappointment.

why I give gifts, part 1.

Reading this series over the past few days has me thinking about the reasons that I give gifts at Christmas time. Here's what I've come up with so far.

Tradition.

I give gifts every year because it's just tradition to do so. It's always been a part of my family's celebration, and it's a part that I really like. I do it for the same reason that I watch White Christmas at least half a dozen times every year - because at the end, there is a (perhaps naive) part of me that believes that all really is right with the world. And the idea of not giving gifts - well, it really just never occurred to me.

Giving gifts is my love language.

If you've read any of the Five Love Languages books (or ever done marriage counseling, or been around Christian circles at all), you've heard this idea - that there are five languages that people use to give and receive love, and that each person has one or two primary ways that they understand it. Giving gifts is one of my mine - I love thinking and planning the perfect gift for someone, and I love watching them as they open it.

Receiving gifts is the love language of a lot of people on my Christmas list.

It truly is. So if I love my sister, and I know that one of the ways that she best receives and understands love is through gifts, then of course I'm going to give her a gift at Christmas.

this year's christmas decorating.

Most of the time I go a little nuts decorating for Christmas (witness last year, part 1, part 2, and part 3).

Because of how busy I was this year in the early part of December, I scaled way back on the amount of decorating I did. This year I limited myself to the tree and a few other simple things.

And this cute little plate, bought for less than $5 at Ross several weeks ago, sums it up pretty well.

insight.

A couple months ago I accepted Nick's challenge to read through the New Testament by the end of the year. Well, I'm still working on it, though I'm way behind. Like, so behind that there's no way I'll get done in time. To date, I've finished Matthew, Revelation, and part of Mark.

But I'm plugging through anyway, even if I finish after everyone else. I tend to read a chapter at a time, sometimes just a few verses, and dig really deep into that. Reading this way, though, I'm finding a lot a value in the big picture.

Here's one thing I noticed last week, for the first time, that's really sticking with me. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story of the rich young ruler, who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies with some of the ten commandments, and when the man says he has followed them all, Jesus gives him one more instruction. He tells the man to go and sell everything he has to give it to the poor, and the man walks away disheartened because he was loaded.

I know this story, I've read it before, but this is the part that was new for me. In Mark's version, just before Jesus tells the man to sell everything, it says this:

Jesus looked at him and loved him.
- Mark 10:21

How beautiful is that? Knowing that the man was just looking for eternal life, had just claimed to have kept all the commandments since he was a kid (a pretty impossible task), and cared more about his money than following God, Jesus loved him. Not because of anything he had done, not because of what he was going to do, just because.

Jesus looked at him and loved him. It's as simple as that.

Tonight Nathan (Nick and Heather's son) asked me why I loved him. And I had no idea how to answer him, because the truth is, I just do. I love him when he's funny and sweet and giving and when he's talking back to me.

And to know that Jesus loves us like that, but even more - its a beautiful thing.

featured again.

Another of my ideas was featured on Tip Junkie - this snowman from last year's Christmas decorations.

how to keep ribbon from fraying.

One of things I managed to accomplish last week that was not related to work was creating invitations for an upcoming party. I use ribbon a lot in creating invitations because it delivers a big impact without a lot of work. I also use ribbon when I wrap gifts - not the plastic stuff especially for wrapping gifts, but the real fabric stuff.

The problem is, the real stuff frays. I know there are things you can buy to stop it, but I found a super easy trick online that didn't involve me actually buying anything - I burn it. I just used one of those lighters most people use for candles, and held the ribbon up near the flame for a second or so. It took a few tries to get the hang of it, to learn exactly how close and how long to hold the flame, but once I did - so easy!

Go here for more Works for Me tips.

Meanwhile, I'm going to enjoy watching TV and eating room service from the a big king-size bed in a southern California hotel room. And occasionally glancing out the window to the harbor and the sailboats lit up with Christmas lights.

wake up call.

The problem with traveling in California, is that when people on the east coast don't know you're traveling in California, they call you really early in the morning and wake you up.

I'm in California this week on business, delivering Phase 1 of a project I've been working on for the last year. Its the reason that I've been so busy with work over the last few weeks, and I can't wait until its done and I can take a collective breath.

I desperately wanted to come home to at least some Christmas decorations, so I decided to put up my Christmas tree Sunday night. I have an artifical tree, so I dutifully sorted all the branches into the piles according to size, fluffed them, and started putting the tree together. I figured out a few years ago that if you actually string your lights as you go, the process goes much faster. Its much easier to maneuver this way when your tree is in the corner, and if you wrap the strands a couple times on each layer, you actually end up with a lot of depth to the lights, which I love.

The problem was, 3 of my 4 light strands aren't working. And since it was late at night and I couldn't exactly leave all the piles of branches laying on the floor for the dog sitter, I had to put it up anyway. So, I have a tree. Just no lights or ornaments yet.

behold the lamb.

Last night, I drove to Richmond to see Andrew Peterson, Bebo Norman and several others perform Behold the Lamb live. Its been about the only non-work thing I've taken the time to do over the last week, but it was so worth it.

For the first half of the concert, each person sang a couple of their own songs, then they brought everyone out to do the entire CD, straight through. The music and the musicians were absolutly incredible (the two percussionists each played a ton of instruments, and sometimes more than one at a time). But even more than that, it was just wonderful to be remember exactly what Christmas is about - To remember the entire story, the one that started way back in Genesis. To remember that the entire Bible, Old and New Testament, is about Christ. To remember that in the midst of a dirty, smelling stable, something absolutely miraculous occurred. Emmanuel, God with us.

It stirred my soul.

more on the waiting.

I just read this post about the darkest time in Jewish history - the 400 years when God was silent. It reminds me of the some of the things I was thinking about last week.

christmas decorating.

I've been dying to start Christmas decorating, especially as I'm seeing all kinds of pictures of it lately - in stores, on other people's blogs, on TV and in catalogs.

BUT - in just a few days I fly to southern California for a work trip, to deliver phase 1 of a project I've been working on for the last year. And there are still so many little things to take care for this project, so I've been staying busy with that. I keep telling myself that if I can get so many of these things finished, that I'll actually be free to do what I really want to do.

In the meantime, I've contented myself with burning a Christmas scented candle (Jack Frost by Yankee Candle) and pulling out just a few things that were easily accessible - a new kitchen towel and pot holder, the wire card holder tree I found at a thrift store, and the sleigh I repainted to hold small Christmas gifts.

Hopefully, I can really get into it later this week and start taking pictures.

back home.

Well, the pumpkin pie was a success. And even though Katie told me that she liked it, I really believed her when she ate the leftovers.

Jake and I spent all day Friday together - passing out Starbucks coffee to people at Best Buy who had gotten up before dawn to deal with crazy people, helping Grandma clean out the basement, playing Mario Party and eating pizza. I introduced him to a whole bunch of fun Christmas songs, and we ended the day by seeing Bolt at a really, really late showing - so late we were the only people in the theater.

I'm back home now, desperately wanting to start my Christmas decorating, but knowing that I still have a ton of work to get done to get ready for my trip to California for work next week.

advent.

I love Christmas. If you've read anything I've written, you already know that.

Lately I've been thinking about the years before Jesus was born, of what the Jewish people must have thought as they waited for God to deliver on his promise of a Savior. I was reading through the copy of the Jesus Storybook Bible (which I love and very highly recommend, not just for kids, but adults, too), thinking about some things to read in the Christmas service at The Bridge.

I love this part so much that I just had to record it here - this is from Ezra and Nehemiah and Malachi, where the Jewish people are celebrating the things that God has done for them.

They remembered how God had always, all through the years, been loving his children - keeping his promise to Abraham, taking care of them, forgiving them. Even when they disobeyed. Even when they ran away from him. Even when they thought they didn't need him.

Then God told his children something more...

I can't stop loving you. You are my heart's treasure. But I lost you. Now I am coming back for you...I am going to send my Messenger - The Promised One. The One you have been waiting for. The Rescuer. He is coming. So, get ready!

It had taken centuries for God's people to be ready, but now the time had almost come for the best part God's plan.

God himself was going to come. Not to punish his people - but to rescue them.

God was getting ready to wipe away every tear from every eye.

And the true party was just about to begin..."

From The Jesus Storybook Bible, written by Sally Lloyd-Jones

occ follow-up.

Sunday was the last day for our church to turn in Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, and we showed this video of the kids filling their boxes:



(By the way, I love that song - isn't it just perfect? And you know my obsession with Christmas music.)

Altogether, including many boxes created by Dev and Joel's daughter and her friends at college, we donated 62 boxes.

a different perspective.

I'm visiting my sister Kelli at her (kind of) new place in Baltimore for the night, before heading to Frederick for the rest of week for Thanksgiving with my family. We spent some time walking around Federal Hill, checking out the Cross Street Market and stopping in the only store still open that looked interesting.

It was this little place with a French name and a British owner. We talked for a while about Thanksgiving, about the flowers we had bought for Mom and who was making what part of the meal, when he reminded us that Thanksgiving is an American holiday.

"Of course, we don't celebrate Thanksgiving," he said. "Well, we do, just on another day. July 4th."

Um, you know we're Americans, right?

pumpkin pie.

I'm not a pie person. I'm actually not much of a dessert person, though once in a while I just really, really want some chocolate. Especially if it comes wrapped around fruit, like these:

(Royal Fruit Chocolates, from Harry and David)

But, my sister really wanted a real pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving, made from a real pumpkin (not canned). So, my friend Teresa told me how to cook a pumpkin (and then got me another one after the first one was a complete fiasco, and believe me, that's a lot of work for a fiasco). Then, I baked a pie yesterday as a trial run, then took it to a bunch of people who actually know good pumpkin pie, and will be honest with me if mine wasn't. I think I found a winner - thanks to Robbie, who provided the recipe (even if his wife says that my pie was better than his).

I'll know Thursday if it passes my sister's inspection.

Here are instructions for making pumpkin puree (though I just kind of mashed it up with a potato masher, and it didn't turn out nearly this liquid-y).

And here's the recipe:

Pumpkin Pie

1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1 1/2 cup cooked pumpkin
1 2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cloves
2 eggs
9-inch pie crust, unbaked

Mix all ingredients until smooth. Pour into pie crust and bake 15 minutes at 450°, then reduce heat and bake 45 minutes at 325° or until knife comes out clean.

Note: I actually ended up cooking this significantly longer - almost 30 minutes, in 10 minute increments.

born in bethlehem.

One of my new favorites from the many Christmas CDs I've purchased already this year - Third Day's Born in Bethlehem:

please stop me.

It's not even Christmas, and I've already bought five new Christmas CDs this year. Five.

two things.

I now have my passport - it came today. I feel almost like a world traveler, already. The next step for Russia is the visa application, once we nail down the specific dates.

Its snowing in southeastern Virginia before Thanksgiving (and in Nags Head, for that matter). Apparently, its snowing in Frederick, too - because Jacob says its like being inside a snow globe. Love that kid.

russia.

In February I'm going to Russia to visit JB and Iris, assuming we can get all the details of passports and visas and timing worked out.

And believe me, I'm not entirely sure why I'm going to Siberia during one of the coldest months of the year. Just trust me when I say this is very definitely God's timing, and not mine.

Yesterday I went to Walgreens to get passport photos and then to the post office to submit my application. Only to find out that the post office wouldn't accept the photos from Walgreens, since you couldn't see the color of my eyes, so after paying twice as much for photos at the post office, I went back to Walgreens to get my money back.

Passports are not cheap, especially when you pay the extra money to expedite them.

christmas music.

I changed the playlist at the bottom to Christmas music. I know its only the middle of November, but I've been listing to Christmas music and wearing Christmas socks since the day after Halloween. And I'm seriously thinking of decorating before I travel to Frederick for Thanksgiving.

A few days ago I bought two new Christmas CDs, both from Target - the Polar Express soundtrack and a collection of songs from artists from the 50s and 60s. Someday I'll actually figure out how many Christmas CDs I have.

operation christmas child.

For the last few weeks our church has been collecting shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, a program with Samaritan's Purse where you filled a shoebox with personal items, toys, and school supplies for a girl or boy in one of three age ranges. The boxes are then sent to children all over the world, along with a booklet in their native language explaining the gospel to them.

I've participated for many years, but I didn't realize just how powerful this outreach was until this year at Catalyst, where one young woman from eastern Europe shared her story of receiving one of these shoebox gifts as a child. The simple fact is that for many, receiving these gifts will be the first time that they realize that there is a God who loves them.

We spend a lot of time talking to the kids in our toddler nursery about sharing and being kind to others, but I wanted to make sure they had a chance to put this into action. So this Sunday, I asked parents to bring supplies for inside the boxes, I brought the shoeboxes themselves, and we filled eight of them. The kids were wonderful - generous and excited to fill their boxes, but the very best part came at the end, when Kristen sat them all down in a circle and they listened intently to her as she told them what a wonderul thing they had done.

knowing his will.

I've been thinking a lot lately about vision and God's will, partly because this is the topic Nick is currently doing at the Bridge. I read this post yesterday, by Brian Seay. I don't know anything about him, except that he was recently in the Dominican Republic, checking out the work that Compassion International is doing there.

Here's part of what he said:

"...I realized that the whole “God’s Will” thing was maybe something we just made too complicated.

For my life it is the simple revelation that God’s will is most often found when need and ability collide.

It is definitely true that we, as individuals, cannot solve every issue that we learn about or we are faced with. But it is also true that each of us has the ability to do something - it does not have to be everything - but we can do something. I think we get overwhelmed with the seemingly endless road of needs and assume we can’t do anything to make a difference on that road. We do this without ever assessing our own abilities and taking a look at what WE CAN do."

One commenter posted this quote (author unknown, at least to me) as a reply, and I've been thinking about it since I read it.

"Whatever passion you have; whatever burdens your heart and weighs on your mind; whatever gets your excited and revs up your soul. Do it. This is the will of God in your life. Because if you are fully submitted to Him (a daily choice) and you genuinely and whole heartedly seek Him, His face, His heart, and search His word in order to know Him, understand Him, and hear Him… then do what you want. Because if what you want is God, then He has placed in you those specific desires and passions. If you are fully surrendered to Him and He has full reign in your heart, then follow your heart; because in following your heart, you are following Him."

coolest wedding favor idea ever.

My friends Jon and Melissa got married yesterday, and did the coolest thing I've ever heard of for their favors. They included a card at each place setting with a note indicating that in lieu of favors, they had donated money to the missionary fund at our church.

I'm not a particularly sentimental person - I don't keep wedding programs or favors from every wedding I've ever attended (or any wedding I've ever attended, for that matter). I've always thought the most useful favors were food.

But Melissa and Jon's idea - definitely my new favorite.

whatever you're doing.

I just heard this song again in the car today, and I'm loving it.

unpacking catalyst, part three.

At its heart, for me, Catalyst is very much about returning to the basics. The ideas and resources and team strategies are wonderful, and invaluable in themselves, but more than anything else, I always walk away from the conference with a renewed commitment to my personal relationship with Christ. Then, personal ministry flows out of that.

Here's one of the ideas that is sticking with me, from Matt Chandler's talk to Friday afternoon:

The Gospel does not say that you get Jesus and he makes your life better; it is that you get him and he is enough.

politics.

My thoughts on politics - I just wish the ads would stop.

christmas decorating.

I make no secret of that fact that I love Christmas. I was pretty proud of the way I decorated last year - but I like to do things a bit different each time, so I've started dreaming up ideas and plans.

One thing I love to do is coordinate wrapped gifts. I used to display them under the tree, but I'm just not sure I trust the dogs with them when I'm not home. So, this year, I'm going to place them of the large bookcase in my living room.

I've been looking for a sleigh for all the smaller gifts for at least the last year, with no luck, until I finally found the perfect thing at Garden Ridge. I forgot to take a before picture, but it originally was bright gold, with cheap plastic red and green beads threaded onto the sides.

I removed the beads and spray painted it red, and now I love it. I can't wait to see it all filled with little gifts.

blog award.

Idyllic Dreams tagged me and gave me this blog award - how fun!

According to the rules, I need to answer the following questions, all with one-word answers (except I'm going to ignore that one-word part), then tag 7 other bloggers.

1. Where is your cell phone? Beside me.
2. Where is your significant other? Beats me.
3. Your hair color? Blond, I guess?
4. Your mother? Strong, caring, giving, selfless.
5. Your father? Affectionate, funny, crazy about his family.
6. Your favorite thing? The afghan my Mom made me.
7. Your dream last night? Um, no, way too personal, because last night's dream was weird.
8. Your dream/goal? Married with a bunch of kids.
9. The room you’re in? My living room.
10. Your hobby? Making jewelry.
11. Your fear? Touching fish.
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? See #8.
13. Where were you last night? Home.
14. What you’re not? Free-spirited.
15. One of your wish list items? Big, high-quality wood cutting board.
16. Where you grew up? Frederick.
17. The last thing you did? Chalkboard spray paint.
18. What are you wearing? Jeans.
19. Your tv? Friends reruns.
20. Your pet? Dakota and Harvey.
21. Your computer? Work laptop.
22. Your mood? Content.
23. Missing someone? Jake. Always.
24. Your car? 2000 Chevy Malibu LS. It gets me from point A to point B.
25. Something you’re not wearing? Shoes.
26. Favorite store? Depends on my mood - Michaels, thrift stores, Old Navy, Target, Container Store.
27. Your summer? Wonderful.
28. Love someone? Lots of someones.
29. Your favorite color?
30. When was the last time you laughed? A few hours ago, at Christy's description of her Columbia trip.
31. Last time you cried? Friday night. It was a rough night.


The problem with tagging 7 other bloggers is that while I read a lot of blogs, there aren't that many who I actually know, or who would do this. So I'll keep the list short and sweet.

Iris at Мы живем в Россий...
Lori at little pitter patter
Steph at I Surrender All

be the church.

Today was Be The Church Sunday at the Bridge. Nick preached what I've heard was a really great sermon (I missed it because I was dealing with hyper kids and bloody noses in the nursery), then we divided into three groups to get a glimpse of what it looks like to be the hands and feet of Christ in our community. One group cleaned up a park, one bought supplies for care packages for college students, and one bought thank-you gifts for young military families.

I was part of the latter group. We bought candy, cookbooks, small devotional books, and board games or outdoor games, then delivered them to the neighborhood where one young military couple from our church lives. We had fun, and what we did was actually pretty simple - the hardest part was ringing doorbells and talking to people. Even that was easier than I expected, which I think actually represents a way that God has grown me over the last few years, because two years ago, I'm not sure there's any way that I would be ringing one of those doorbells.

I'm interested to hear about the experiences of the other groups, and to see what God does with the time we just spent - not only in our community, but in us.

melissa's bridal shower.

Finally, the promised pictures from Melissa's shower.

In general, I think the easiest and most cost effective way to decorate for a bridal or baby shower is to actually use the gifts as decoration. For Karen's baby shower, I decorated with diapers, bottles, toys, pacifiers, and baby clothes, then gave her all of these as her gift. Unfortunately, I didn't plan the decorations for the shower until well after I purchased the gift.

The colors for Jon and Melissa's wedding were black and white paisley, so I tried to use that where possible. And, please don't judge the pictures too harshly - I just snapped them quickly, right before the guests arrived.


To start with, I covered the dresser just inside my door with a table cloth (the ends are wrapped around the back and taped so the table cloth looks more fitted). There are thank-you notes, for guests to write their addresses, a journal for everyone to write wishes or advice, and favor boxes filled with small candy hearts.


A few days before the shower (oh, yes, this was very well-thought out in advance), I asked Melissa to email me a few pictures of her and Jon together. I transferred those into black and white, and put them in frames I already owned (this would have been a great place to use gifts from her registry). The letters are inexpensive paper mache letters that I painted black - I wanted to include the and symbol (&), but couldn't find it.


The centerpiece is pretty simple, too - I already owned the candles and basket, so I just tied them with inexpensive black & white printed ribbon and grouped them together. But my favorite part is actually under the centerpiece - the runner.

I don't use much black in my dining room, and couldn't see buying a runner just for this shower. Instead, I bought an inexpensive black flat sheet from Walmart, and ripped it in half. I used one half as a covering for the sideboard (not pictured), and the other half as this runner. To finish off the jagged, cut side, I just folded the end over and taed it down with packing tape.

I'm trying to think of ways to adapt this idea for Christmas decorations - maybe another sheet painted with white snowflakes? Though I think using iron-on hem tape would probably be a little smoother (and less ghetto).

concert highlights.

Highlights from the Relient K concert tonight:
  • Playing celebrity look-a-like with the band members and road crew in between sets
  • Our response to people pushing to get closer to the front: "We're older, wiser, and have more insurance." (name that movie)
  • We're either cool enough to hang with a bunch of underage kids, or old enough not to care

mojo.

My friend Kelly called me today and invited me to join her tomorrow night at a Relient K concert, so I've been listing to their music online all day. You know, so I won't be the only one there who doesn't know their music. This is one of the few songs I do know - I had forgotten about it, but I used to play it almost constantly.



I've been in a kind of funk for the last couple days, feeling like I have tons of stuff that I could do and should do and not getting any of it done. Between being out of town so much recently and being sick this weekend, my house just needed to be cleaned, so today I finally decided to get up off my butt and get to it. Its amazing what a difference it makes - vacuuming takes what, maybe 30 minutes for the whole house? But now I'm getting stuff done, hitting my stride, making plans - there are lots of cool things going on over here.

So, future projects to come - painting Christmas decorations, tweaking light fixtures, and creating wall art for kids' rooms. And hopefully soon I'll get around to posting pictures of my friend Melissa's bridal shower.

podcasts.

I've been out of town a lot over the past few months, with many more trip to come in November and December. And the one thing I've found that passes the time better than anything else is listening to podcasts. Here's a list of the ones I'm currently downloading:

Nick at the Bridge - I like to stay updated on what I miss the Sundays I'm out of town or in the nursery, especially now, because I think God is doing some neat things in Nick and in our church. His level of excitement for this stuff is contagious.

Steven Furtick at Elevation Church - I loved what he had to say at Catalyst, and have been following his blog since. He just finished a series on Song of Solomon, so I skipped that, but I'm looking forward to the next series.

Matt Chandler at the Village Church - Another speaker at Catalyst - I'm loving his series on Luke.

Andy Stanley at Northpoint Community Church - Just really great, practical stuff.

Dave Ramsey - Because the guy is just funny and practical.

unpacking catalyst, part two.

The speaker (and the message) that is sticking with me the most is Steven Furtick, lead pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte. His bio reads as pretty impressive - with just a handful of other people, he started a church two years ago that now has thousands of people attending every week. This could make for an easy comparison, because the Bridge Church is about the same age, though we're not nearly in the same place as far as attendance. But this story didn't start two years ago - it started over 10 years ago when God made Steven a promise that he would one day be a pastor of a megachurch.

This is what Steven talked about at Catalyst, that in between God's promise and the deliverance of that promise is a process - a sometimes long and difficult process when it may not seem as though the promise will ever come to pass.

As I've been thinking about his talk, I've been thinking about my vision for our church and for our children's ministry. The first thing I'm wondering is, does my vision line up with God's vision? Is this just something that I've come up with in my head, or is this where God is moving? So I've started praying that God will give me a really clear picture of what our children's ministry should look like, that he'll fade out the stuff that doesn't really matter and clarify the things that do.

Thinking about these things is also serving as a great encouragement for me, because we are very much still in the process. In my perfect world, our infant and toddler nurseries would be fully staffed with people who love kids and feel specifically called to care for and minister to them. And, because I think its important to give back by serving where your family is getting fed, I think parents should also help out in the nursery (and ideally, they would be so sold on the ministry to their kids that they would fall into that first category).

But that's not where we're at, frankly. Unless there are several people sitting in church on Sunday morning feeling called to children's ministry and just refusing to do anything about it, we need more people than we have. Which means that I either resort to filling the open positions myself, meaning I'm in nursery two or three times a month, or I beg people to help out who don't really want to. And that's not where I want to be. I don't want to see anyone serve in a place they really don't want to - it's draining for them and me, and it keeps us from doing children's ministry with excellence and creativity and enthusiasm.

But, this is a common theme. We had a few short months where both our infant and toddler nurseries were fully staffed, and that was wonderful, but I feel like I'm always looking for more volunteers. And maybe this is all just because we're still in the process.

unpacking catalyst, part one.

I've spent a lot of time over the past few days trying to figure out how to describe Catalyst using more words than just "incredible" and "amazing." I keep coming up short, probably because I'm still trying to process the whole thing. I want to keep trying, though, because I want this blog to be a true reflection of who I am and the things that I think about.

The thing about Catalyst, is that its geared toward next-generation Christian leaders, and there are over 12,000 people that show up. So you end up with two days filled with amazing worship, spiritual encouragement and challenge and conviction, and practical advice on how to lead and market and work together as a team. And if all of that weren't enough, all of these things create an environment that is just ripe for ideas - so in the midst of talks, I'm flipping to a blank page and trying to capture all the specific ideas I have for the Bridge Church and its children's ministry. Then, I spent 11 hours driving home in car with two people who are just as fired up and full of just as many ideas, and of course, talking to them breeds more ideas...you can see where I'm going with this.

If I were to write out all these ideas here, this post would be way too long. As a matter of fact, my first draft of this was. So I'm going to break it up in pieces over the next few days.

catalyst.

I got back Saturday night from Catalyst, and I'm still catching up on sleep, TV shows, and cuddling with my dogs. I've got lots to share - photos from a bridal shower I hosted last weekend, and lots of thoughts on the conference to come over the next few weeks.

confession.

Lately I've been listening to a lot of praise music while I'm doing stuff around the house, getting ready for Catalyst. The problem is, I don't have a ton of praise music CDs, and I was really in the mood for something that I could sing along with.

So, I started listening to my Christmas CDs.

Buying and making Christmas presents already (okay, so I've actually been buying them since August) makes me sound either really organized or just a little quirky, depending on your own personality. Listening to Christmas music at the beginning of October makes me sound a little nuts, so I was just going to keep this to myself.

Until someone else confessed, and then I felt I had to.

benefits.

A while back, I asked my friend Nick, who's lost nearly 140 pounds, about the benefits to losing weight, from his perspective. I supposed I could easily come up with my own list, but I wanted to hear what he had discovered were the best things.

It took him a while, but he finally did it:
Part 1
Part 2

Its serving as great motivation for me this week, in large part because its got me thinking about the road so far, and the weight I've lost to date (40 pounds, all in all). I'm working toward my first big goal, and it's close - hopefully only a few weeks away.

praise.

This is the song we sang at the end of the service today that had me in tears:

more jewelry.

First, if I know you in real life and ever buy you Christmas gifts, you might want to stop reading here, or you might see something you'll be getting in December.

Last year for Christmas, my sister Kelli gave me this really great, really long necklace, and I love it. The idea from them is simple enough, so I wanted to try making some. These are my first four attempts - all are long, and most are long enough to double up. At least three of these will be Christmas gifts.





I made this bracelet with leftover beads from one of the necklaces above.

shower invitations.

Lots more creating going on here this week. I've got a couple more pictures of jewelry to post, but first, these are the invitations I created for my friend Melissa's bridal shower in a few weeks.


I've done similar invitations before, with the layering of scrapbook paper and the ribbon as a way to tie it together. But the design on the invitation itself, that I stole from one I saw online. I wish I could remember where, to give them credit.

if i didn't have dogs.

If I didn't have dogs...

...I could go away for the weekend and worry more about gas money than the cost of petsitting.

...I wouldn't have needed to replace shoes, books, or my cell phone.

...dirty floors wouldn't be inevitable when it rains.

...I could take up the whole bed by myself.

...I wouldn't feel just a bit guilty when someone walks in my house wearing black.

But if I didn't have dogs...

...there would be no one watching out the window for me to come home.

...I'd look crazy talking to myself all the time.

...I'd be a lot more selfish and self-centered.

...I wouldn't know the joy of curling up with them in the corner of my sectional, with the afghan my mom made me.

creating again.

Its been a while since I made jewelry, not because I don't enjoy it, but because it was a lot of work to get out everything I needed, and often dangerous with a new foster dog that likes to chew everything.

And, I think I bought too much stuff, and got a little too overwhelmed with possibilities.

But this is the time of year that I start thinking in earnest about Christmas presents, and as I have a rule about finishing all crafting for gifts by the first of December, I knew I needed to get started if I really wanted to get all the gifts I had in mind finished.

Here are two of the most recent projects, both charm bracelets. Please keep in mind that it is extremely difficult to photograph jewelry - I've yet to figure out a way to do it that really shows well.


This first bracelet is a Christmas gift for Ally, my sister's boyfriend's daughter. She's 10 years old and love girly things - hence the pink and purple, and the butterflies and flowers.


I created this bracelet as a thank-you gift for my friend Bethany's parents, for hosting us at their lake house for Labor Day weekend. I tried to personalize it with charms that fit Beth's mom - family, faith, boating, and quilting. Several of the charms are from Charmerz, a great Etsy shop with a huge (and inexpensive!) collection.

i remember.

I think every generation has at least one significant moment in history, one where we can all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we got the news. My mom and dad remember where they were when President Kennedy was shot. And I remember where I was when I first heard that a plane had struck the World Trade Center.

I was in my car, on my way to take the train into Chicago for work. They interrupted Eve 6's "Here's to the Night", so I always think about this when I hear that song. I listened to the radio in the car as long as I could, called my mom, then gathered the rest of the news by the bits and pieces of cell phone conversations I could overhear on the train.

By the time I reached the city, everyone was getting out of the city as fast as they could, because no one knew where the next plane would hit. I remember thinking that I worked in a fairly short building, only 5 stories tall, but there were plenty of tall ones all around me.

Its interesting to me that these moments stick in our minds with such clarity, years or even decades down the road. I think its important to remember, because those moments represented a significant change in our world and our culture.

But there are other moments that its equally important to remember. This is why God instructed the Israelites to build monuments and to choose significant names for places, because it was a way to remember the things that He had done. I need a better way to remember those moments, because its when I forget that I find it most difficult to trust Him.

fostering is like a box of chocolates.

The thing about fostering, is you never really know what you're going to get.

Scooter was energetic but pretty well-trained already. The most difficult thing about him was that he always, always found a way out of the yard - under the fence, through the fence, chewing through a rope and then through a fence.

Skeeter was incredibly timid, but a great dog. It took a lot of effort for him to be comfortable with me, but once he did, he followed me everywhere. He's the only foster dog that I ever let sleep in my bed.

Harley, on the other hand, has been another whole set of challenges. In addition to the infection he developed, he has more energy than any dog I've ever known. He could be outside all day and all evening, running and jumping and playing with Harvey, and still wakes up and wants out of his crate at least once, usually twice, during the night. And he lets me know this with an annoying, high-pitched bark that sounds like it should be coming out of a dog one-fifth his size. He wants to chew on everything - bones, toys, paper towels, tissue boxes, Harvey's collar, my shoes, my watch, my phone, my laptop cord, my comforter, my pants, me. He needs constant attention, and the rare moments that he is actually occupied with something he's allowed to be doing, like sleeping or chewing a bone, I don't dare move for fear of distracting him.

Overall, I still enjoy fostering, and I'm glad I signed up to do it. I think we're going to take a bit of a break, though, after Harley finds a home. Because he wants to play with Harvey constantly, she's getting a little stressed out - she's clingy and would rather than stay inside with me than go outside with the others. And since Harvey pees whenever she's scared or excited, and she's not emptying her bladder as often as she should be, we've quite a few accidents in the house.

focusing on the good.

I have this tendency, when I have a lot going on, to tell people just how crazy my schedule is. I don't know why I do this - maybe its because I'm buying into that warped American culture that says that busy is good. Maybe I want sympathy. Maybe, like last night, I felt like I needed my cold and my schedule to justify how tired I was.

Regardless, the only thing I really end up doing is stressing myself out.

But last night, as I was driving home, I realized that each of those things on my calendar, and every additional item they add to my to-do list, represents a blessing in my life.

The meeting that's taking up my time this evening is for a church that I love, and that I'm thrilled to be a part of. The meal planning and grocery shopping and bed making I'm doing this week is because my family, that I love, is coming to visit me. Even the upcoming work deadlines reflect the fact that I actually have meaniningful work to do.

There's not much of anything on my schedule that I'm really dreading, that I'm not looking forward to. But taken as a whole, I still paint them in a negative light.

Instead, I'm resolving to focus on the blessings. Yes, I'll be busy, but I'll be busy doing things that I love, with people that I love. Now I just need to kick this cold.

september.

Do you ever suddenly look at your schedule for the next few weeks and realize its bordering on insanity? I'm not quite sure what happened to summer, but September just blew up.

I'm finishing up last minute packing and straightening so I can drive to Frederick in an hour, because I'm meeting friends tomorrow to go see Les Miserables at Wolf Trap. So excited!

Last night was a frenzy of activity, but today, I'm oh-so-prepared. I've now bought all the presents I'll need through the next three months (birthday party, housewarming, 2 bridal showers, and 2 weddings), and half are already wrapped. I bought the materials to make the invitations for the second shower (as I'm hosting it). I'm almost ready with the games for the first shower, this weekend (and will be done by tonight). I bought enough food to last me through the beginning of next week and have already started on my grocery list for Katie, Vince, and Jacob's visit next weekend. I chose the song I'm singing at Emmanuel two weeks from Sunday and made arrangements for someone to accompany me. And I found a great denim skirt that looks really cute (I've been looking for one, off and on, for a couple months now).

See? Prepared. Now I'm actually excited about September, instead of stressed out.

what a weekend.

I just got back from what was, hands-down, one of the most fun and entertaining weekends I have had in a long, long time. My friend Bethany emailed me last Sunday to say she was putting together a last minute trip to her parents' house on Smith Mountain Lake, and she invited me to come, too. It took a bit of last-minute frenzy, but I managed to find someone to care for all three dogs.

And, oh, wow, was it fun. Swimming, boating, good food (including s'mores), friends, and a ton of laughing. I even swam in the lake twice. Where there are fish. This is a very big deal.

Quite frankly, I mostly survived it by pretending that they weren't there. And kicking my legs constantly to scare them away.

And I so wish that I had a video of my (failed) attempt to jump off the super bouncer (kind of an inner tube/trampoline), not only to share, but to see it myself - because as funny as it was to me, I think it must have been that much more hilarious to watch.

featured.

Most of the people who know me in real life know that I love to give gifts, I love to decorate my house, I love to organize anything, and I love to entertain. Tip Junkie is one of my favorite places to get ideas on all those things. And after months of subscribing to it, I finally found something to contribute - this post on Karen's baby shower from March.

And it was featured! Check out my five seconds of fame:

Oh Baby! Cute Baby Shower Ideas

these are not the new experiences i want.

There are some things that I never thought I would do.

But poor Harley (Petfinder listing) developed a really nasty infection after his surgery to get neutered.

So besides antibiotics three times a day, pain pills two times a day, and pills for sedation as needed, I spend at least ten minutes a day holding an ice pack between his legs.

Or, to be more accurate, its actually a bag of frozen peas.

Still.

feeding the homeless.

I've been wanting to post for a while about all the things that I learned through our Crazy Love book study, but some things are just harder to articulate, you know?

One thing the book focuses on is just how insane and extravagant God's love is for us, and how extravagant our response should be. This is a theme over the last couple months, this idea of being extravagant in my response to God.

I came away from the book ready to do something big, waiting for God to show me what that is. Until I was reminded of the power of considering each day, and the tasks to be completed that day, as an opportunity to love God. I think our lives are rarely made up of big things, but rather small decisions and small chances to love God and love others.

Sometimes I feel this overwhelming desire in my life to matter. To know that God has used me to do something different, to make someone's life better or easier, to point someone back to Him. I get so caught up in having one single, grand life purpose that I forget that at the end, our lives are more a summation of lots of little things, that, when taken as a whole, point to our Creator.

So the last few weeks, I've been on a journey to figure exactly what that looks like on a daily basis. I've been trying to get out of my comfort zone just a little, and see what happens when God meets me there.

Today I joined my friend Teresa and her daughter Heather to serve breakfast at a soup kitchen. And it was not nearly as scary as I thought it would be.

harley.

This is Harley.


He's a 1 1/2 year old Australian Kelpie (we think). He looks kind of like a small German Shepherd. I don't think this picture does him justice, because he is absolutely gorgeous.

(And can I pause right here to say, what's up with the name thing? First Scooter/Skeeter, and Harvey/Harley?)

He's pretty energetic, though I'm hoping he'll calm down a bit as he settles in. He was just neutered yesterday, so I haven't been letting him run off energy in the yard, as I would normally. He seems to like chewing things - my hand, my laptop cord, my furniture. I'm trying to distract him with a bone.

Dakota and Harvey aren't too sure yet what to think of him - he definitely wants to play with them, and they like to ease into things a little bit.

help - i need tomato recipes.

My friends Dave and Mary dropped off a bag of tomatoes on their way out of town - tomatoes that needed to be picked from their garden and that they wouldn't be able to use since they would be gone for a week.

But, I need ideas for ways to use them. I don't like raw tomatoes, so I only buy them for a specific recipes, and usually that means one or two! I've got at least dozen - any ideas? Can you freeze tomoatoes?

from the mouth of a child.

I spent the afternoon at the beach with Heather, Nathan, and Seth.

Nathan: Miss Kristy, do you have a boy living at your house?

Me: No. But someday, kid.

big project.

Last week, while dropping donations off at the CHKD thrift store, I noticed this dresser. Its solid wood, lots of storage, and it was $50. So I bought it.


I'm going to paint it, or stain it, or something. Something dark, because I love dark furniture, and I'll replace the knobs. I'd also like to do something kind of different to it, to dress it up a little - maybe something kind of design on the top, or something on the drawers. Something with words.


I really have no idea what I want to do with it yet, so I'm going to live with it for a little while until I decide.

link change.

In order to keep the address of my blog consistent with its name, tomorrow I'm going to change the URL to slidingdownthestairs.blogspot.com.

For all two of you who read this on a regular basis, if you're using a feed reader, please update your links.

quick change.

I bought this entertainment center when I first moved into this house, two years ago.


I love it - its the perfect size, and I think the color is beautiful. There's just one problem.

Harvey was very into chewing things when I first got her, and she chewed these knobs.


Every now and then I think about buying something to replace them, but I never remember that plan when I walk into Home Depot.

But yesterday morning, as I was sitting in my bathroom (don't laugh - I do some of my best thinking there, along with the shower), I realized that this ugly cabinet has big silver knobs that would definitely work on the entertainment center.


I hate this bathroom, and it will only exist as long as it takes me to save up the cash to have it gutted and a new, nicer, bigger bathroom put in its place (with a walk-in closet). So, I stole two of the knobs for the entertainment center.


Not a huge difference, but at least these don't come with teeth marks.

word clouds.

I love word clouds - I think they're the coolest thing. Two years ago, I gave Nick a mug with a word cloud from his blog. Loved that gift.

Wordle.net is the same idea - except you can customize font, color, orientation - all kinds of fun things.

Here's mine:


Apparently, I've been talking a lot about food lately.

And this is what Nick has been talking about for the last month (Philippians):


For the record, I didn't do anything special to this - just pasted in the text.

baptism.

Yesterday was our first baptism service at the Bridge Church.

There's something absolutely wonderful to me about a baptism service outside of a sanctuary. I was baptized when I was 11 in an in-ground pool, because the church my family was attending didn't have its own building. The church I attended before moving here from Frederick, Mountain View, used Lake Linganore.

Last night, as we all stood around the poool and watched our friends make a public declaration of faith, there was a sense of casual celebration that fit us, and I think, honored God.

Then we had a party - we talked and ate and spent time together and celebrated. It was a good way to begin the week.

how to eat healthier without counting calories.

As I've mentioned before, I got home recently from visiting my family. As we were very busy cleaning out their house to get ready for a move, I did a really lousy job counting calories. Which is to say that I really didn't count them, at all.

But, I still know that I ate well and made healthy choices, because I followed my rules. I think counting something (calories, Weight Watchers points, whatever) is the best way to lose weight, but when I can't, these rules are definitely working well for me. I kept losing, even while I was there, and if you know my family, you know that in itself is a minor miracle.

So, all that said, here are my food guidelines:

  • Never drink your calories. - The only exception to this, for me, is smoothies - and I consider those a treat, like dessert. Or I have one in the place of breakfast. And whether I'm eating out or making one at home, I opt for low-fat, no-sugar-added choices.

  • No fried foods - I actually thought this would be hard to do, but it hasn't been. Honestly, right now - the thought of something greasy and deep-fried makes me feel a little sick.

  • Think twice about chocolate, candy, and dessert - And then think again, because if I'm going to waste calories on it, I better really want it and I better really enjoy it.

  • Use low-fat or fat-free options whenever possible - I don't drink milk but cook with skim, I use fat-free butter spray, I eat low-fat cheese and fat-free yogurt, and I buy baked or reduced-fat chips and crackers.

  • Use whole-wheat options whenever possible - I eat lite whole wheat bread and pasta. The calorie and fat content is often similar to the white equivalent, but you're getting a lot more fiber and protein for it.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of the choices that I'm making, but when I don't have the time to really count calories, they're working for me.

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For more great ideas, visit Rocks in My Dryer for Works for Me Wednesday.

bruschetta chicken.

I love this chicken recipe - its become one of my go-to favorites.

I should mention this is my personal adaptation of Kraft Food's Grilled Bruschetta Chicken recipe.

Bruschetta Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
fat-free Italian dressing (or other marinade)
1 can diced tomatoes
mozzarella cheese
basil

Marinate chicken in dressing or other marinade for at least 30 minutes. Broil chicken breasts, 20-30 minutes, turning halfway through, making sure to completely cook chicken.

Meanwhile, drain tomatoes and mix with mozzarella cheese and basil, to taste. Add mixture to the top of the chicken during the last 5 minutes of cooking time.

Note: In addition to fat-free Italian dressing, I've also used McCormick's tomato, garlic and basil marinade mix, and its really good, too.

For more healthy recipes, visit Honey I Shrank Myself for Watchin' What We Eat Wednesday. This week's theme is beverages, but I make it a rule never to drink my calories unless I'm enjoying them as dessert, in which case they're in a smoothie. And I never follow a recipe for that - I just dump crushed ice and whatever fruit and yogurt I have on hand into a blender.

highlights.

Someday, I will actually remember to blog when I visit my family. As that didn't happen on this trip, I have lots of things to say all at once:

  • My parents are selling their house and moving to an apartment or condo, so we did lots of cleaning out and organizing. We stuffed Mom's CRV with things to be donated to Goodwill and I lost count of the number of trash bags we filled. And I came home with a few (very few!) nice things, including a brand-new, still-in-the-box, really nice pan that someone will be getting as a wedding or shower present.

  • Vince and Katie are trying to buy a house, probably a fixer-upper. Vince wants to flip houses someday - I told him (jokingly) that we should go into business together. Kelli wants in on the action, and they somehow decided that they should make the decisions while I put up the cash. Right. Because I typically have no opinions. Especially about how people spend my money.

  • Dad is donating an old pizza oven to Summit Grove Camp, so we needed to load it into Dad's truck to be transported up there. It looks kind of like this, only half that size and with just one drawer. It weighs a ton. And I helped Vince lift it from the ground to the bed of Dad's truck. Its because I've been working out. And I now understand why people grunt while lifting weights, because did I mention that thing weighed a ton?

  • I bought a Dyson, and I think I just fell in love with a vacuum. After 30 seconds of using it, I knew I would have paid $400 for it - I liked it that much. Except I only paid $200 for mine.

dc / frederick.

Since I needed to drive to DC for a work meeting Wednesday and Thursday, I decided to spend the rest of the weekend with my family in Frederick. I'm going to attend my cousin's baby shower, hang out with my sisters, help my parents clean out closets, and try to advance my position as Jake's favorite aunt.

Last week's yard sale wasn't incredibly successful - I got a couple small things, but nothing I'm really excited about. Skeeter did really great, though (I took him with me to work on socializing him).

7am.

Notice the time on this post.

That's right, folks. Its 7am, and I'm awake.

Those of you who know me well might assume that I've just stayed up really, really late, because although that would be insane, its rare that I'm awake and killing time because I got up early.

I don't get up early. In fact, I usually get up late.

But, I'm going to yard sales with friends this morning, so I'm working off their time table. Except I was planning to be at their house at 7, and I would have actually been on time, but they called at 6:50 and said to get there between 7:15 and 7:30.

I hope I find some great stuff. Because there had better be some good returns on getting out of bed anytime before 10am on a Saturday.

easy snack food.

Believe it or not, I do actually make complicated recipes. I love cooking and baking, and I really love doing it for other people, and I love to try new stuff. Maybe its just that most of the healthiest recipes I know are also the simplest. Regardless, this is a really simple snack food that I love.

Homemade Tortilla Chips and Creamy Salsa Dip

tortillas
cooking spray
8 oz cream cheese, softened (I use fat-free or 1/3 less fat Neufchatel)
salsa (about 1/4 of 16 oz jar)

To make the tortilla chips, cut into eight wedges, then lay out on a baking sheet or stone. Spray lightly with cooking spray, then bake at 400° for about 5 minutes, or until very lightly browned.

Stir salsa and cream cheese together until well blended.

For more healthy recipes, visit Honey I Shrank Myself for Watchin' What We Eat Wednesday.

go big.

Our church has been helping a young mother recently diagnosed with stomach cancer. They discovered the cancer while she was pregnant, and started chemotherapy as soon as she had delivered her son. He's less than two months old now, and she has a 3-year-old daughter as well. She's a Navy nurse with very little money, and hardly any support system in this area.

Among other things, she needs formula for the baby. So, on my last trip to buy groceries for myself, I bought two cans of formula and walked away feeling proud of my generosity. Until I found out a few days ago that the baby goes through one can of formula in just three days, and the $50 I spent won't even last them a week.

As I was thinking about this yesterday, God told me to buy more, and gave me a specific amount. And frankly, its an amount that hurts a bit.

I'm sharing this not to congratulate myself, but as background for the things that I've been thinking about lately. I think we have tendency to just give a little, and to say, that's enough. I started thinking of other ways to help this woman, and though, "maybe those are too big, too much."

Until God reminded me, that when he wants to communicate something, he often does it in a big way. When he freed the nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt, he didn't just whisk them away in the middle of the night, he held back a wall of water, then sent their pursuers drowning in the Red Sea. When he told Joshua to take the city of Jericho, he didn't make the Israelite army just strong enough to win, he told them to sing his praises as they circled the city, then he sent the walls just crashing right to the ground.

And when he put in motion his plan to save us, he didn't just send his son to die, but to experience the most horrific, tortuous death man could come up with.

With God as our model, why shouldn't we do things to the extreme? Give big, love big, dream big, sacrifice big?

skeeter.

This is Skeeter.


He is the most adorable little guy. I'm telling you, this is the one that going to break my heart.

We're not quite sure how old he is - the intake paperwork said 10 months, but a vet looked at his teeth and said 6-7 years. I'm told he was used as a hunting dog before he was taken to the Gloucester Humane Society, but I think he must have been abused - he's way too skittish and timid to be otherwise. I've had him for two days, and he's slowly warming up to me and the dogs.

fruit makes everything better.

One thing I know about food presentation - you add fresh fruit to anything, and it makes it look fancier.


These are mini cupcakes I made for a Fourth of July party this afternoon. I used a cake mix, and topped them with fat-free whipped topping and either strawberries or blueberries (no pictures of the blueberries).

I forgot to pick up eggs on my way home last night, so I looked online for a substitute that would keep me from getting up early to run to the store this morning. I found out that you can use 1 tsp cornstarch, plus 1/4 cup water, instead of 1 egg in baking. It worked - the cupcakes were great, and I didn't even notice a difference. I'll definitely be using that one in the future.

these are the easiest recipes i know.

These are seriously the easiest recipes I have ever used.

Chicken Goop
4-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 8-oz container sour cream (I use fat-free)
2 cans cream condensed soups, any variety (I use 98% fat-free cream of chicken and cream of celery)
rice
salt & pepper to taste (optional)

Mix sour cream and soups together. Place a layer of soup mixture in the bottom of the crockpot. Layer with chicken breasts, and salt and pepper as desired. Continue layering soup mixture and chicken breasts, ending with a layer of soup mixture. Cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 8 hours. Serve over rice.

Pineapple Angel Food Cake

1 box angel food cake mix
1 can crushed pineapple, in juice

Mix box mix and pineapple, including juice, and bake according to box directions.

Salsa Chicken Tacos

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 jar salsa
1 can corn, drained (or use frozen)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
rice (I use instant)

Add chicken, salsa, corn, and beans to a crockpot and cook on low for at least 6 hours. After cooking, mix with rice, and serve with tortillas.

For more recipes with five ingredients or less, visit Rocks in My Dryer for Works-For-Me Wednesday.

For more healthy recipes, visit Honey I Shrank Myself for Watchin' What We Eat Wednesday.

crazy love.

Several weeks ago, Heather and I were talking about our church's women's ministry, and our plans for the summer. I mentioned that I was missing the women's small group we had in Frederick - there were several of us, in all different places in our lives, and we talked about hard stuff. We used books and workbooks that required homework, and a lot of the subject matter was intense stuff.

So we decided, for the summer to plan a 6-8 week small group, and really delve into our relationships with God. We chose to read Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Each week, participants would be asked to read 1-2 chapters and come ready to talk about them, and then we would break into groups for accountability.

Last night was our first meeting - there were 8 women there, and I know of at least 4 more who will be joining us and just weren't able to make it the first night. And it was incredible.

Our discussion was great, and I think most people felt very comfortable to share (even though many of them don't know each other at all). Heather set up our accountability time well, and from what I've heard both groups went really well, too. I can't wait to see what God is going to do over the next several weeks.

unexpected.

For two months, I've had an empty curtain rod hanging in my bathroom (and had the rod in storage for many months before that). I just never found quite the right thing to hang there - until Saturday. I love this, even if it is just a bit narrow. The picture is a little dark, but can you tell what it is?


It's a pillow sham.

cheap storage.

Since I started making jewelry, I've been playing around with a lot of different ways to store beads. Because let me tell you, as little as those suckers there, they sure can take up a lot of space!

At first I used bead organizers - those clear plastic boxes subdivided with little compartments. It worked for a while - but now that my collection has grown, its just not practical - its too difficult to keep like items together.

For my birthday, my friends Kristina and Hannibal gave me a great tote filled with old baby food jars (the labels have been removed and the tops spray-painted). These have been working really well, and Kristina has since given me more old jars to use - but I still need a place to put them. I was keeping my eyes open for a low bookself or storage case at thrift stores, until I went into my shed to pick up some things for church (that's about all that's stored in there right now), and saw this:


This is the cleaned-up, primed version. It old, cheap, and rickety, but it was free! A little spray paint, a few cute plant holders I picked up on clearance at Ross (I love these things!), and its a great solution!

weight loss challenge (the results).

Our extreme weight-loss challenge concluded today. I didn't win, but I lost 10 pounds, and five inches total in my chest, waist, and hips. In six weeks. So I'm not sad, because who would be sad about that?

my favorite way to eat salad.

When I lived in Frederick, my hands-down favorite place to go for lunch was Panera. I ate there at least two or three times a week, and almost always ordered the same thing - half Frontega chicken panini with either chicken noodle or broccoli cheese soup. Not quite healthy, at least the sandwich, but so, so good.

Panera was also the first time I ever saw anyone put fruit on a salad. It seemed a little weird, especially with chicken too, but after a while that became my favorite way to eat a salad.


This recipe is adapted from Southern Living's Baby Blue salad, though I've changed it a bit to suit my taste.

Summer Fruit Salad

1 bag spring mix salad greens
1/2 pint strawberries, quartered
1/2 pint blueberries
1 orange, peeled and sectioned
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Mix all ingredients together and serve with your favorite salad dressing.

There are lots of salad dressing options for this - most any vinaigrette tastes really good, and Panera serves theirs with a poppyseed dressing. I often leave off the dressing all together - I've found that the juice from the orange and strawberries is almost enough for me by itself.

Also, vary it by adding whatever fuits you like. I've added dried cranberries, and I've always thought bits of apples or maybe grapes would be good, too.

For more healthy fruit recipes, visit the Watchin' What We Eat Wednesday - Fruits Edition.

back on track.

So, despite my bad day, I'm back on track. Tonight I worked out on the elliptical for one hour.

One whole hour.

keeping it real.

Yesterday was a tough day, diet wise. I mentioned that I'm doing this weight loss challenge - Thursday night I asked my friend Kelly to take my measurements, since she had the original records from the start of the challenge. My weight wasn't quite down as much as according to my scale, but I'm chalking that up to the fact that we were doing this much later in the day, and that my scale is cheap and not perfectly reliable.

But, this is the thing that killed me - though my hip measurements were down 2 inches, both my chest and waist measurements were up 1 inch! And given the way I've been working out and eating, I just don't see how that's possible. It frustrated me enough that yesterday, I ate ice cream, instead of opting for a low-fat smoothie.

Today is much better, though - I decided a couple things.
  • I'm going to follow Nick and Heather's suggestion to get a complete physical, given that I'm talking about losing a significant amount of weight here. That way, I'll know up front if I'm dealing with any issues that might affect my weight loss.
  • Also, when Kelly does the final measurements in a week, I don't want to know what they are. Maybe this last measurement was a fluke, maybe the first set was off - or maybe, inches just isn't the best thing for me to track.