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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Giving Thanks

"Oh come, let us sing to the LORD!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
For the LORD is the great God,
and the great King above all gods.
In His hand are the deep places of the earth;
The heights of the hills are His also.
The sea is His, for He made it;
And His hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
For He is our God,
and we are the people of His pasture,
and the sheep of His hand."
~Psalm 95:1-7

As if it isn't enough that He sent His one and only Son into the world to die on the cross for my sins so I could have my forever home with Him, He just pours an abundance of blessings into my life! The mercy and grace and forgiveness and love without condition are really beyond anything I can understand and comprehend. And then . . . as if all of that isn't enough . . . He's blessed me here on this earth in ways that I never really imagined or thought possible. This Thanksgiving season was especially meaningful to me. I am completely on-my-knees humbled every time I look into the faces of my children, every time I drive up in my driveway, every time I hold my husband's hand. They are my dreams come true from a God who grants a thousand wishes and answers every prayer, a God who goes above and beyond EVERYTHING we petition of Him.

This year has been especially humbling for me, and I am so inadequate at praising Him and thanking Him . . . because, truly, it will never be enough.

I haven't posted anything about our new house since spring time. There are several reasons for that. First of all, I just got so tired of all the unfinished projects. Everywhere I looked, something needed to be painted! And, by the way, I did finally hire someone to finish the odds and ends of painting that I knew I'd never get to. That was one of the best decisions I made. The worst decision I made was doing all of the painting ourselves! Anyway, there continued to be an endless list of odds and ends that weren't finished. I was tired of looking at it, and I certainly didn't want it in pictures anymore. So I stopped talking about it.

And then, second of all, it became a pride issue for me. I was to the point that I was nearly embarrassed about our new house. I started second-guessing some of our decisions, my decisions. I mean, was this big ole house with all the bells and whistles (at least to us!) necessary? There are so many people with NOTHING. Should we not have shared something with them? Should we have built something smaller? Should we even have built at all? The Lord and I talked through those questions a lot, and we're still talking. He continues to remind me of my life verse.

"Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." ~Psalm 37:4

He also gave me another verse.

"Yes, the Lord will give what is good." ~Psalm 85:12

It is only because of the Lord and His generous blessings over our life that we built our house this year. It really has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Him. That's what I hope people will understand and know.

I've had lots of people ask about the house and request pictures. I was looking back at my previous posts and realized this is the last picture I posted of the exterior. The last time I even blogged about the house was when the countertops were installed and the tile work was being done. We've come a long way!

Just two weeks ago, we finally hung the shutters and finished cleaning the stickers off of the windows. So - except for landscaping, which I don't even want to think about, much less talk about and a gas lantern that will eventually be placed above the front doors - the exterior is finished.There are still lots of inside projects left to be done. The biggest by far is the fireplace. It's still completely unfinished. Hopefully we'll have the stone work done after Christmas. I think that's going to make the biggest difference on the interior. The rest is just cosmetic. If you look closely at our bedroom on the left side of the house, you'll see an old pair of sheets hanging in the window! My next big project after Christmas will be window treatments. I'm going to start in Mason and Hannah Kate's rooms and then our bedroom and the dining room. I don't plan to do much with the windows on the back of the house because I love looking out over the backyard and to the trees beyond. Just two weeks ago I finally finished unpacking all of our moving boxes. And the only reason I did it at that time was because I need all of the space in the dining room for Hannah Kate's birthday party this Saturday! And the other reason is because I wanted to start using my Christmas china, and it was still in boxes!

So when I think about my life in 2010, I will definitely think about the year we built this house. And what a year is has been! The next thing that comes to mind is something I was absolutely giddy about from the time January 1 arrived. This would be the year that Seth and I would celebrate TEN YEARS of marriage in July. I know. It isn't a big deal to most. But it was to me! I really wanted us to take a trip - just the two of us - but that just didn't work out. The timing was all wrong, especially with Mason also starting kindergarten just a few days later. So imagine my surprise when my husband told me about three weeks ago that we were going to have our trip, and that he'd taken care of the whole thing (well, almost)! We spent several days in San Antonio before Thanksgiving. It was close enough that we could drive yet far enough away to feel like we really went somewhere. And neither of us had ever been.

The whole time I was there, I felt like I was in a dream! The city was just beautiful, and we had the lovliest of times. We spent most of our days walking the RiverWalk and eating the most delish Mexican food ever. We headed north into Hill Country one day and spent the day in Fredricksburg. It was just a precious time and a tremendous blessing to have the opportunity we did. The only thing is that I forgot my camera (I was too nervous about Mason having to get off the bus at MawMaw's house the day we left) so I don't have any photographs . . . but I have the most beautiful of memories!

We returned just in time to spend Thanksgiving in Louisiana with Seth's family. I made several Connell favorites to add to the feast and just enjoyed the day. The best thing about the whole week was that we didn't have to get up early everyday for school! Let's just say I didn't sleep a wink this past Sunday night . . . I felt all over again like I did the night before Mason's first day of kindergarten! I wanted nothing more than to keep him home with me yesterday morning, but, of course, I didn't.

And now . . . we're entering the season of celebration for perhaps the first of God's great gifts to us, the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ . . .



Thursday, November 18, 2010

Embracing Culture

When I arrived in Louisiana in 1999 as a summer missionary, I knew it was a different place. The culture, the food, the atmosphere, the accent (not that lazy southern drawl I was used to) . . . have I mentioned the FOOD?!? For nine weeks, I pretty much immersed myself in the lives of folks living along the Atchafalaya (pronounced a-chaf-a-LIE-uh) Basin. I struggled hard to pronounce their last names and, at times, understand their language. I also ate their food. I'll never forget a comment my Uncle Charles made to me after I returned home to Georgia. I went to visit him and Aunt Gail to tell them about my trip. He said, "Well, you look good. You finally put some meat on those bones." I did gain several pounds that summer. The thing about these people and food is that they have a very personal relationship with it. They live to eat! I was used to eating to live, especially as a college student in a dorm room with a tiny frig and electric pot that I could boil water in for a quick pasta topped with Prego. We'd be eating one meal, and they'd be discussing what we were going to have in the next meal!

I'll be honest though. Although I did fall in love with the people, I did not fall in love with Louisiana. As a matter of fact, in one of my letters home to a friend, I told her that I just didn't understand how anyone could live here! I also said I'd never live here . . . imagine that. I also didn't plan on falling in love with my then future husband either.

So when we married in 2000, I moved to Louisiana. It was more out of necessity though. I had just finished college, but Seth had two years left. So it made sense to move here so he could continue classes and graduate. I just figured we'd then move to Georgia. Well, of course, we did not.

During those early years, I really didn't like living here. At all. I hated my job. I missed my friends, my family. And at first, I didn't even try to make the best of it. Right around the time Seth graduated, I did Beth Moore's Believing God Bible study, and that began to change everything for me. I started looking at Louisiana as my promised land instead of my wilderness. Speaking of which, if you feel like you're wandering around in the wilderness of this life, I encourage you to spend some time with Beth's Believing God.

My husband is a Louisiana boy through and through. I'll not tell you what they call them around here. In Georgia, we'd call them a redneck. But here . . . well, it begins with coon and then ends with a dirty little three-letter word. And, being a new wife and in love, I wanted to make my husband happy. You know what they say . . . the way to a man's heart is through his stomach . . . or something like that, I think. I can remember growing up . . . my Mama put a home cooked meal on the table for us EVERY NIGHT. And I intended to do the same. My culinary skills were a bit rusty and quite untested at the time I married. So imagine throwing a roux (pronounced roo), gumbo, jambalaya, etoufee (pronounced eh-too-FAY) and sauce picaunt (there's no way my pronounciation can do that one justice!) into the mix.

Growing up, we ate a lot of mashed potatoes and sometime rice. Well, I think my husband has probably eaten rice at least two days a week every week since he entered this world in 1976. And there was something quite peculiar about the rice that I'd never seen before. Everyone had a rice pot, and that's how they cooked their rice. Well, I'd never seen a rice pot before; I didn't even know there was such a thing. Mama always cooked the rice on the stove. So I knew I just had to have a rice pot. I was given a gift card from one of my friends as a wedding gift. I told her I was going to use it to by a rice pot. She asked me what that was, and I told her it was a special pot for cooking rice. She then asked me if I had ever seen the boil-in-a-bag rice on the shelf in the grocery store. I told her she didn't understand; if any of that was ever spied in my pantry, I just might be arrested and thrown into jail or something. I also have to mention here that I never could get that darn rice pot to work just right . . . the rice never fully cooked . . . so it was donated to the Goodwill shortly thereafter . . .

Anyway, the first week we were married, I planned a meal one night that included rice. I don't even remember now what the meat was or what else we had. But we had rice. Seth and I sat down at the table and served our plates. And then he looked at me and asked where the gravy was. What? Gravy? Again, I don't remember what meat I had cooked, but whatever it was, gravy didn't go with it. And that's when my husband lovingly, yet firmly, told me that he does not eat rice without gravy. Well, that was news to me! We'd just put a pat of butter on top of our rice when I was growing up, and we were good to go. To this day, that's still how I eat my rice. So . . . lesson number one . . . don't serve rice without gravy. Now, have I mentioned how hard it is to make gravy?!? Or at least I think so!

After we'd been married a year or so, I decided to try my hand at making a seafood gumbo. Seafood gumbo to me is crab and shrimp. A lot of folks put oysters in their gumbo, but I just can't stomach those nasty little things. And to my husband, gumbo is not okra. The first one I made was just . . . tasteless. It was a lot of work (you have to stand over the stove stirring the oil and flour together over low heat for as long as 45 minutes to get the roux the right color . . . because if the roux isn't the right color, it isn't gumbo!) and ended up as such a disappointment. Seth told me it was my stock . . . I needed to make my own stock out of fish heads or shrimp peels or something. So I very vividly remember the second time I made seafood gumbo. It was in the fall . . . football games were on TV . . . and it too me ALL DAY to make that gumbo. I bought fresh head-on shrimp and peeled them. I put all of the peels (or do you call them shells?) and the heads into a pot to make my stock. And then came the roux. And then the trinity (onion, celery and bell pepper). And do you know . . . after all that work . . . it was tasteless again?!? And not only that, but our little apartment smelled like seafood stock (really, it smelled more like rotten fish) for nearly two weeks after that! That was 2002, and I haven't made seafood gumbo again! I actually made chicken and sausage gumbo a couple of weeks ago, but I didn't stir the roux long enough so it wasn't the right color; it was too light. Yes, that's a big deal regardless of how it tastes!

Not only did I say I'd never live in Louisiana, but I also said I'd never come back if I ever got out of here. Then came our move to Mississippi. After that, I decided that perhaps living in Louisiana wasn't so bad after all. I even actually wanted to move back! And then I ended up living west of the Mississippi, which is yet something else I said I'd never do! I know. Never say never. I still haven't learned my lesson . . .

Anyway, during the almost two years we lived in Mississippi, I really began to appreciate the culture (and definitely the food!) of Louisiana. I still don't eat crawfish though. I also think the swamps and bayous are mysteriously beautiful. I've even come to love the Big Easy and her jazz music and wrought iron balconies. Louisiana has such a rich, intriguing history, culture and way of life.

Several weekends ago, the Atchafalaya Basin Program hosted a Swamp Life Expo at the Grosse Tete Visitors' Center. A Cajun band provided music; jambalaya, crawfish etoufee and pralines were served; and several local artisans crafting everything from oil paintings to crawfish traps to wood carvings and picture frames were on hand.I absolutely love this carving of one of Louisiana's famed plantations. It was carved out of wood completely by hand and then painted. But . . . the most exciting part of the festivities . . . were the Swamp People! I don't know about ya'll, but the Swamp People have taken us by storm. Just in case you've never heard of them, they are featured on the History Channel's new series about present-day Cajuns who hunt alligators in the Atchafalaya River Basin, the largest swamp in the United States. Two such swamp people are Junior and his son, Willie. They live in Bayou Sorrel, which is about 30 minutes down the bayou from where we live. Junior and Willie were at the Swamp Expo signing autographs and answering questions. I can assure you that everything you see on TV is the real deal. And, of course, we got an autograph that I'm planning to frame for Mason's room.
I can honestly say . . . drum roll, please . . . I love Louisiana!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

At the Zoo

Well. There are several things I've been wanting to blog about . . . but right now I'm trying to play catch-up.

A few weeks ago, Mason, Hannah Kate, Connor and I went to the zoo with some of our friends. It was much fun . . .
Yes, I made these pants . . . I'm addicted . . . !


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Eight

Abbie is 8 years old today!
We celebrated Abbie's birthday a couple of weekend ago. Last summer she attended an art camp at LSU. It became very obvious that Abbie is rather talented . . . she created a number of very creative, extrememly well-done pieces of artwork and sculptures. So this year she decided she wanted to have an art-themed birthday party. She invited several of her closest girlfriends, and they each painted a canvas. Afterwards, they created another canvas with their hand prints for Abbie's playroom.

The night before Abbie's party, she spent the night with us. And Spiderman, of course.

Happy Birthday, sweet Abbie!



Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Another Give-Away

That's right, ladies and gentlemen . . . my ever-generous, always-spirited son participated in another give-away on the school bus last week. At least this time there wasn't any World's Finest Chocolate involved.

I was waiting near the end of the driveway, as I do everyday, for Mason's arrival. When the school bus came to a stop, the bus driver motioned me to the door. I already knew this was potentially not a good thing, but I couldn't imagine what it could possibly be this time. So Mason is making his trek off the bus, and I see one of the other students behind him. She is holding in her hand Mason's school pictures. The first thing I notice is that they are NOT in any sort of envelop or package. The second thing I notice is that one of them is MISSING.And that would be when Mason smiles at me that big ol' melt-my-heart smile and says, "Mama, I gave Mr. Lewis one of my pictures!" He was so proud. And, of course, Mr. Lewis is smiling, too. There's nothing for me to do except swallow my sigh, grab the remaining pictures and fake a smile. It's at this point I realize how really good Mason's school pictures are, and I'm aggravated at myself because I ordered only a small package. I just wasn't sure whether or not he would smile or what his hair would end up looking like (you have to understand I was having flashbacks of one of his Daddy's school pictures), not to mention the big purple Barney uniform shirt . . . but they were really good! And now I have even less pictures than I anticipated to begin with. I guess I should be thankful that only Mr. Lewis was given a picture! I mean, it's a wonder that ANY of those pictures made it home.

When I told Seth about the latest give-away, he asked Mason if Mr. Lewis got pictures from any of the other kids. Mason said he did not. Seth also asked him if Mr. Lewis specifically asked for a picture. According to Mason, he did not. So now I'm wondering . . . what exactly did Mr. Lewis do with the picture anyway? Is it taped to the inside windshield of the school bus? Is it stuck to his refrigerator? Or is it proudly displayed in a frame on the mantle next to the pictures of his grandchildren and neices and nephews?!?

Oh, and if you don't get one of Mason's kindergarten school pictures, it's because Mr. Lewis has yours!


Monday, November 01, 2010

The Day We Dress Up