Sunday, December 31, 2017

Seventeen in 2017

Here we are at the close of yet another year.  We covered a lot of ground this year . . . both physically and literally.  We took the kids on the longest road trip thus far.  We entered our most challenging homeschool year yet.  I said goodbye to MeMama and, for the very first time in my entire life, no longer have living grandparents.  There were new adventures, like gymnastics and a little book business.  It even snowed the likes of which I can't remember, even as a child.  This was a hard year.  But it was a good year.  And, so, looking back . . .

1.  I'd already decided this year would be defined by MeMama's 100th birthday.  But the Lord called her home on February 7, a mere 50 days before her 100th birthday.  I have to say I was just so shocked.  I didn't see that one coming.  Goodness, I miss her.  She was the best!

2.  Quique, Seth's brother from another mother and country, was in the states for a business trip and spent the weekend with us.  We had such a good time, and the children experienced a glimpse into another culture.

3.  Our oldest nephew, Avery, graduated high school last spring.  He was also chosen by his Youth Pastor to share a testimony and God's Word during their annual youth Sunday worship service.  I'm so thankful we had the opportunity to be there with him that day.

4.  Hannah Kate celebrated six years of dance and Ellie two years of dance at this year's dance recital.

5.  We celebrated the end of our second homeschool year.  That also meant I had a 7th grader, 4th grader and kindergartener.  I must admit this current year of homeschool has been our most challenging.  I'm so thankful that I put a little pen to those thoughts earlier this fall so I can look back and remember God's continued faithfulness through it.

6.  Earlier this year I unexpectedly became a book lady.  I'm a consultant with Usborne Books.  I had the best time with that during the summer and connected with several families who were going through what we went through several years ago when Mason was diagnosed with dyslexia.  It was such a joy to talk to those moms, listen to their stories and send them a few books for their struggling and emerging readers.  I've not had the time since homeschooling began again to devote to my little business, but I'm hoping to pick it back up again in the spring.

7.  We spent a very lazy few days at the beach.  And, right now, I could use a few lazy days in my life!

8.  Seth and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary.  The kids were along for the ride the year and were there only for the cotton candy!

9.  I'd been wanting to go to the Ark Encounter in Kentucky so we made a big road trip out of it.  We had the best time!
 We made lots of stops along the way, including:

Nashville, The National Corvette Museum, Mammoth Cave National Park and the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park

Louisville, The National Slugger Museum and Factory and The Brown Hotel

The Creation Museum

The Ark Encounter

Cumberland Falls and Kentucky Fried Chicken


10.  We gave Mason tickets to an Astros baseball game for his birthday.  That game ended up being the weekend immediately following the flooded aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.  That was a fun weekend!

11.  The Lord opened up the door for Ellie and me to attend Bible Study Fellowship again this year.  I had completed the studies of Acts of the Apostles, Genesis, Matthew, Moses and Revelation, serving as a children's leader during two of those studies.  We missed the book of John last year.  So not only did we get to go back for this year's study of Romans, but I was also called back into leadership.  That has been one of God's biggest and best gifts to me this year.  And such a sweet surprise!

12.  Ellie began kindergarten this fall.  I was so nervous about this, especially teaching her to read.  I'm still not sure how I feel about it or how it's going.  My aunt asked me this question just yesterday.  And I just don't know.  Ellie was very disappointed that she wasn't able to read after the first day.  And then she was no longer interested.  But we kept plugging away, and I kept telling her that everything we were doing was going to help her read and that she would, indeed, be reading one day.  Her response?  "Yeah, well, I don't believe it."  Oh, that girl.  Stay tuned.
And, in case you missed it, we had lots of Ellie-isms this year, including:

Growing up to be a fairy and guts on Hannah Kate

Nationwide on Your Side and walking like a chicken

Pit hair, popcorn and cups (but not the drinking kind)

Hanging out her second story window and yelling at Mason

Jaw knockers

4:30AM alarms

13.  And, speaking of Ellie, she traded in her ballet and tap shoes for the balance beam and uneven bars.  We entered the world of gymnastics this year, but we've done so very slowly.  She takes classes at The Little Gym, but she informed me on her very first day that, "This is okay for now, but you know I'm going to need a bigger gym for LSU."  Sigh.

14.  Seth, Mason and PawPaw took a guided fishing trip and came back with quite a haul.  I think they all really enjoyed that trip.  They are still talking about it.

15.  Hannah Kate is now double digits.  We celebrated her 10th birthday in a big way!

16.  And . . . I can hardly believe it . . . but my team is playing in the Rose Bowl on Monday . . . just one game away from the National Championship game!  This has been the most fun football season in a very long time!  Seth told my brother last night that he's mellowed out but that I've become a bit obnoxious when it comes to football.  Whateves.  Seriously though, I can hardly believe it!

17.  And then there was that day it snowed!  I mean, IT REALLY SNOWED, and it was something to write home about!

And here we are.  Closing one chapter and getting ready to write another.  I've no idea what's in store for 2018.  I do know it will most likely be defined by a milestone birthday, but that's about it.  I'm looking forward to a new chapter, a blank page and maybe a fork in the road of our journey.  

We'll see . . .

But one thing I know to be absolute truth:

"You crown the year with Your goodness, and Your paths drip with abundance."  
~Psalm 65:11

Monday, December 25, 2017

When I Think Upon Christmas

Finally.  It's here.

"Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples."
~1 Chronicles 16:24

During the past five or so years, the Lord has impressed upon my heart a word for Christmas, as well as a song.  This year's word was GLORY.  And the word always shows up on our Christmas cards in verse.  This year's verse was 1 Chronicles 16:24.

But the thing was, I didn't have a song.  Until last night.  Hillsong's When I Think Upon Christmas was the first song during the Christmas Eve service.  I'd heard it earlier in the season, but I truly heard it for the very first time last night.  And it's my song.

When I think upon Christmas,
words can't express how our Father in heaven
has sent us His best to be born in a manger,
the King in the hay, and creation will worship His Name.

When I think upon Jesus, the King of all days,
I can't help but respond with an offering of praise.
Like the wise men and shepherds, I'll follow Your light;
Like the angels I'll lift Your Name high.

Now I look back in reverence to that holy night.
For the God of the heavens had us on His mind.
Let us sing of His glory;
Rejoice in His Name;
Oh Emmanuel with us always, and forever His kingdom will reign.

For the joy of the world You were born,
bringing peace to us all through the gift of Your love.
Now the darkest of ages are done, for the Savior of heaven has come.

That last line, y'all . . . I just can't get it out of my head!  We talk so often and so much about the darkness in our world today.  The sin.  Oh, the sin.  



The SAVIOR has come!

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined . . . for unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this."  ~Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and  we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."  ~John 1:1-5, 14  

Merry Christmas, friends!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Our ADVENTure: We are ready!

My people are currently snuggled under blankets drinking hot cocoa and intently watching A Christmas Story.  My heart is so full I feel like it's going to burst!  We've celebrated big this Advent season, and we are ready . . . 
It's been a full day of worship, a full weekend.  And tonight as we entered that sanctuary and grabbed a candle, well, I was ready.  It was an incredible time of worship and the balm to a weary soul.

You know, year after year we do the same things in much the same way.  The story . . . it never changes.  It is the same.  All of the familiar faces.  There's Mary and Joseph, angels, shepherds and kings.  There's the manger and the Baby.  And, yet, I find that the celebration, the anticipation only grows with each passing year!  To think that God came near, came to us!  He came because we were so weary, so tired, so lost, dying in sin.  He came to deliver, to redeem, to forgive, to save.

He came.

And, for that very reason, even though it's the same year after year after year after year . . . oh, may we be filled anew with awe and wonder and joy . . . 

Because He came!

It's the greatest story ever told, the grandest birth in all of history . . .

HIS story.

He came.   
I've celebrated MANY Christmases.  It seems that the past few years, my anticipation for the sights and sounds of the Advent season has only intensified, grown.  I'm more excited now that I ever was as a child!  How can that be since it's so familiar, the same story?  How can it be that, year after year, we pull out the same nativity scene, the same costumes and, yet, the story seems so brand new?

It's because EVERY DAY with the Lord Jesus is an ADVENTure.  Every. Day.  Every time I open His Word, it's new and alive and breathing and active.  Every. single. time.  

He came.  

He came to make things new - even the old things, the tired things - and to give abundant life - even out of nothing.  Oh, may we never get over it, no matter how many Christmases we celebrate!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Our ADVENTure: Gingerbread Houses

I spent today - all of it - in my kitchen baking and cooking.  All of my salads and appetizers are ready for our little appetizer/sandwich/salad party tomorrow night.  I tried a new recipe this year - a cranberry pistachio goat cheese log - and I can't wait to try it!  Okay, so I already did.  And I'm sure I could eat the whole thing!  If I had a signature dish, it would be my lasagna so that's for lunch on Sunday.  It's already in the refrigerator.  I didn't do near the amount of baking I usually do at Christmas time, but I did whip up a batch of my mom's pralines (PRAY-leens) for Seth.  I really wanted to make some fudge - it's my absolute favorite! - but I somehow didn't have any condensed milk in my pantry.  I was a little bummed, but it's okay.  I'm the only one who eats fudge anyway, and I do not need to eat the whole batch.  I'm also hoping my mom has some fudge waiting on me in a few days!  

All of me is very tired.  But all I have to do in the morning is make a cheesecake and the dough for our Christmas morning cinnamon rolls.  And then I'll enjoy the rest of the holiday weekend just spending time with my people!

Since I spent the day in the kitchen, it seemed like the perfect time for the kids to assemble and decorate gingerbread houses.  We started this little family tradition a few years ago, and it's something they still look forward to.
But here's the thing.  They were always convinced that they couldn't eat the houses or the decorations.  And I was always totally fine with that.  As a matter of fact, I prefer it that way.  I might've even been the one who gave them that idea to begin with.  This year that all changed.  They realized they could, in fact, eat the houses and the icing and the decorations.  I'm pretty sure it's Seth's fault.  He talked a lot last year about eating the gingerbread, and they remembered that.  The houses are still in tact, but there are very few gingerbread men left.  And I think more decorations went into their bellies than onto their houses.

Here are a few (or many) pictures of their gingerbread house fun.

So my favorite part of the whole thing is opening the boxes, laying out the pieces on baking sheets and organizing the decorations in ramekins!  I'm not even lying.
This guy right here . . . I can not believe he will be a teenager next summer!  I'm thankful he still indulges his mother who wants him to decorate a gingerbread house!

Oh, and did I mention that my people let me listen to Christmas music ALL THE DAY LONG?!  It was just wonderful!

Squeezing the icing bag is hard work.  Her face says it all!
Case in point.  Mason ate more icing than he put on his house.  His fingers were constantly in his mouth. 

And Mason isn't the only one!  This girl would eat junk all day long if I let her!  She's never had this much candy in front of her at one time, and she took full advantage of it!  Case in point, there are very FEW decorations on her house!

Decorating gingerbread houses requires intense concentration.
Mason is definitely not my detail-oriented child.  But I have to say that I think he was the one who put the most thought and the most work into the gingerbread house.  His favorite part was working on the "sidewalk."
And notice Ellie is biting the head off of her gingerbread man!

And here are the finished gingerbread houses. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Our ADVENTure: Tree Trimming

We may or may not have had our Christmas decorations up since before Thanksgiving.  But we did get our tree the day after Thanksgiving since we put a real tree in our family room.
The kids were THRILLED.  I mean, their faces say it all, fake smiles and everything.  When I was a kid, one of my most favorite things to do was go pick out a tree.
But as soon as I said, "Hey, kids, hop on the truck and hang out the doors for a picture," they perked up.  There's just something about a red truck hauling a Christmas tree.  Kind of reminds me of all those nostalgic Christmas pictures floating around this time of year.
And, I have to admit, I have a love hate relationship with the next part of tree trimming.  I'm VERY particular about the light placement on my tree.  So it's just best that I do this after everyone, including Seth, goes to bed.  It takes me two or three hours and sixteen strands of lights.  It's my least favorite part, yet I absolutely LOVE it!  And once the lights were strung, the tree stayed just like this for a week, which is just fine with me.  (And notice Rudolph right there.  Hannah Kate painted him two years ago.)
We finally got all of the ornaments out and ready to hang on the tree.  I don't do fancy theme trees anymore.  Our big tree is full of the ornaments we've collected over the years.  Each and every one of them is full of memories, and we talk about each one as it's hung.  Even though the ornaments are the same year after year, the memories seem to only get sweeter.  It's almost like they're brand new all over again.
We try to pick up an ornament on each family vacation we take.  We came back with several from our Kentucky road trip:  ornaments from the Louisville Slugger Museum, Abraham Lincoln's birthplace and the Ark Encounter.  What a fun trip we had this summer!
And, of course, we have our little collection of ornaments from our Disney trips.  The last time we went, Seth said we didn't have to go back.  I kind of agreed with him.  But now I've changed my mind!  Ellie and I are both ready to go back!
And, of course, these ornaments will ALWAYS be my very favorites!  My grandmother and great-grandmother used to make their own ornaments.  Grandmother had nothing but these ornaments on her tree.  I used to sit and stare at that tree and those ornaments as if I'd never seen it before, even though it was the same year after year.  Grandmother had a tremendous collection of styrofoam balls, pins, sequins, ribbons, trim and all kinds of things neatly arranged and organized into old baby food jars in her sewing room.  My eyes get wide just thinking about it.  One summer she had a Christmas ornament making bootcamp for all eight of us grandchildren.  All of the ornaments I made that summer still hang on my parents' tree.  Grandmother gave me these when I got married.  I'm looking forward to one day having a tree full of nothing but her ornaments.  These really are among my greatest treasures.
The very first ornaments that were hung this year were those from Pop and Mimi.  Every year, Mimi carefully selects a brand new ornament for each child and mails them to us.  This year Mason's is football themed.
Hannah Kate got this little nutcracker mouse.
And Ellie got a gymnastics girl!  Boy, Mimi really knocked it out of the park with this one.  Ellie was so excited when she opened her ornament!  She gets aggravated because the big kids have more ornaments than she does (I mean, they've had a few more Christmases than her!), but she was beside herself with her ornament this year.
Even though no one else is allowed to string lights on my tree, I do let the children hang their own ornaments.  And I don't even move them!  Of course, they've learned ye old trick of "stepping away" from the tree to find empty spaces, too.  And I fill in afterwards. They really did a great job this year, and it was a perfectly lovely afternoon of trimming the tree, all the while listening to Christmas carols!

And let's also take a moment to remember the day it SNOWED!  For the very first time in my life, I had a white Christmas!  Trust me . . . the fact that we decorated the tree while wearing shorts and then turned around a couple of weeks later and took a picture of the tree with snow on the ground outside isn't lost on me at all!
The kids also decorated the trees in their rooms.  Mason's is full of fishing lures, footballs and basketballs.

Hannah Kate's little pink tree had seen better days so she picked out a new tree this year. She chose gold!

And, of course, Ellie's tree is white because that's really all you can do with a hot pink room!

I love getting up early in the morning before the sun rises and plugging in the lights to our trees and garlands.  I also love staring at the lights late at night after everyone is in bed.  There's just something about a Christmas tree.  And look at this one!
My Mama surprised me with it earlier this week, and I had the very best time decorating it.  I love everything about it, even the colored lights (it came with the ornaments and lights)!  It sits in my kitchen, and it definitely makes my spirit bright every time I see it.  You can also see our Advent tree in the background behind it.  That's the same tree we've been using for several years now.  The kids colored those ornaments, one for each day of Advent, four years ago.  So by the time Christmas Day arrives, there are so many ornaments on that tree that you can't even see the lights or greenery anymore!

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree . . . how lovely are your branches . . .