Although our Christmas morning (Dec. 22) actually happened before the real Christmas Eve (Dec. 24), I'm posting both our Christmas Eve (Dec. 21) and the real Christmas Eve (Dec. 24) just to confuse you. How's that? You're welcome.
On the real Christmas Eve, we attended our church's Candlelight Service. We took some pictures before going. They were having three services. We got there early but it was still packed. The four of us sat in two seats and there were still people standing along the sides and back. This was our second such service at our church. We laughed. We cried. We sang. And then we ate prime rib (not at the church). It was awesome.
On our Christmas Eve, we went to a PJ party at Chick Fil A. They had some high school kids singing carols, a lady making balloon animals, crafts, games, Santa Cow, and free kids' meals. The kids didn't know we were doing Christmas early so letting them open their PJs early so they could wear them to the PJ party was perfect timing and a brilliant plan. It was like Christmas Eve without all the excitement and anticipation and childhood insomnia. See? Brilliant! Right?
Did you notice the bare feet? Sort of reminded me of a ski bum. But they played and sang good!
So, I wanted to take a picture of my kiddos with Santa Cow. If you know them at all, you know they HATE anybody in a cartoon-like suit. Santa and Santa Cow included. They know they are just real people dressed in suits. Somehow, they have developed this irrational fear of them, similar to how some adults feel about clowns. How did I talk them into letting me take their picture not just sitting with Santa Cow; but smiling? Here's the thing. I told them if they did, they could open a present the next day. Remember me telling you that I failed to inform them that the next day was our Christmas? Yeah. They figured it all out the next day. Evidently, the evil grin I gave Mac didn't register until the next day. Somehow, though, they found it in their hearts to let me off the hook. Maybe the bribery worked after all! I have to admit; it is getting harder to pull one over on them. They are getting smart to my ways.
The kiddos save most of their pent up energy for Mac. Thank goodness. So when he gets home from his shift at the fire house, one of the first items on the agenda for the day is to wrestle with daddy. They get plenty of horsing around with mom; but it just isn't the same. Although the candid shots are funny, I thought I'd post some of the more "freeze and smile" shots. Poor daddy didn't get much sleep that night but was nice enough to play along anyway!
Tank wanting in on the action...
I always love to hear how the kiddos plan their secret attacks to try and take daddy down. No matter how tired, he still always wins. I wonder how long it will be until the tables are turned?
Little Miss proud of her attempt to tickle daddy.
It still unnerves me watching them get tossed around like rag dolls imagining their heads smacking the coffee table and calculating how long it will take to get to the hospital.
The kiddos had a planned snow day today. Yes. Even homeschool families love and take adavantage of snow days. Our goal: to do only those things we deemed fun. The only caveat: we had to clean up after our messes, feed the animals and wash sheets. It started with Krispy Kreme doughnuts. We moved quickly to cutting out snowflakes. Then they decided they wanted to go sledding which quickly became, "Hey, mom, will you pull us on the four-wheeler?" That definitely sounded like fun so I jumped on board.
Next on the agenda was building a ginger bread house.
Complete with Santa on the roof, snowmen on the lawn and a goat they found in their toy box.
We did some more "sledding" via the ATV until we destroyed their sled. We played Life and Mexican train (dominoes), sat around the fire, had cocoa and generally enjoyed our day. Yes. The house needs to be picked up and there are dishes in the sink ready to be washed. But I must say, all in all, it was a fun, relaxing, non-schooling snow day with my kiddos. The BEST!
Have you seen this little nativity set? I bought this one about four years ago and it is still the highlight of my kids' Christmas experience. I think it is less than $20 and comes in a nice little compact box. I think you can find it at Walmart or Hallmark. You can also order it online at http://www.familylife.com/
It provides a box you can open starting a week before Christmas. It also comes with a booklet with some Bible verses to go with each figure found it the box.
At the end of the week you have an adorable (and durable) nativity set for the kiddos to play with. The last box is a surprise and I won't ruin it for you. It is what God really wants for Christmas, of course.
If you are looking for something that brings the focus of Christmas back on Christ, this would definitely fit the bill. It is also simple and understandable for the youngest in your family. As my kiddos have gotten older, I've had them start reading the Bible verses and little poem found in the booklet. I hope they never tire of this little tradition of ours.
Disclaimer: This is not my photo. This was found on google images.
Now that I got that out of the way...
Mac and I were on our way home from Christmas shopping the other night. It was about 5:30 and getting dark. As we headed up our driveway, we rounded a corner and saw two little mountain lion cubs in the middle of our driveway. I think they were about 2-3 months old and cute as a button. They even still had their spots. I wanted so bad to jump out of the truck and get a better look. As I put my hand on the door handle, Mac reminded me that mama was probably sitting on the rock outcropping just above my head watching and waiting. Was this a trap? Surely no! They were so cute and I wished that the kiddos were with us to see them. As soon as we got home, we told them all about it. They were excited until Ike remarked, "Great. Now we have to watch out for THREE mountain lions right by our house." They wanted me to show them what they looked like and I found the picture above which was the closest to size and look. I'm guessing it was the mama I saw right by our house a few months ago. You can read about that here in Exhilirating and Terrifying. I don't know how common it is to see mountain lions, much less a baby, or a set of twins. I have to tell you, though, seeing twins, the mama, the bear, the mountain goats and then the moose all add up to a very memorable year!
I got a late start this morning. MacGyver had today off and we didn't have to jump out of bed and attack the world. My morning coffee was about 9:30 in fact. But when I bundled up to go out to feed the horses, I was shocked to find that it was already 52 degrees outside and was instantly surprised and excited. We've been putting off getting our tree for several reasons. We've had a hard time lining up several things...time, lack of snow and freezing temperatures, Mac's days off, time (which seems to be short these days), and no agenda or kids' activities. Today seemed to be that day. I almost pushed Mac out of bed. He didn't seem to want to budge. So this is how much I packed into today from about 9:30-7:00. Got breakfast, cleaned house, did two loads of laundry, made 2 roasted chickens, spent 2 hours putting 5 rim joists about twenty feet into the air, wandered around the property and found 2 Christmas trees (will explain below), spent an hour locating and digging out our Christmas trunks from the storage shed, cut and stacked several trees, finished dinner, made dinner for the next night and spent an hour cleaning up that mess. I just sat down to listen to some Christmas music and eating some of my leftover gluten free pumpkin pie which happens to be delicious. The kiddos are playing with the Christmas train and setting up the track. MacGyver is trying to see which of our lights work so he can string the tree. Whew! What a day.
So, the 2 Christmas trees. Our goal was to cut one tree. Unfortunately, the first tree we cut was perfect except for one fatal flaw...the pine needles were just that...needles. Four of the fingers on my left hand were stabbed trying to hold it while Mac cut it. It wasn't until it was cut and loaded on the truck that I began to question the sanity of such a sharp tree when nobody would want to get within 2 feet of it and I wasn't sure it would ever get decorated. Therefore, we continued the hunt for the perfect tree. This time we set out for the touch test before deciding which one was "the one". True to history, we cut a 40' tree and had to cut it down to a size that would fit in our tiny cabin. We cut the rest of the trunk, and some other brush that was evidently bothering my hubby, and he decided to keep going and spent another hour cutting up some of the other wood in our pile. We're planning on cutting up the razor tree for firewood, as well. The second tree is truly beautiful.I think it might just be might favorite one so far. Full, round and soft. Very soft. What more could a girl want?
Being so patient waiting to go cut our tree
Both trees and some extra greenery for the front porch
Cut down to size
Izzy all excited to put the tree up
Ike trying to play it cool
So, dinner. I'm trying to go completely gluten free. I'm pretty certain I've got gluten issues. Izzy, too. I picked up 2 whole chickens that were on sale and decided to roast them so I could cook them at the same time. Normally, I would throw them on the rotisserie in our dual function toaster oven. This is my favorite way to cook a whole chicken. But I knew I wouldn't be around to babysit it. I had places to go, things to do. Plus, I love my retro roaster I picked up for something like $13 at a local antique store, The Barn, in Castle Rock. Love that place! I just love the design on the bottom. Isn't it cool?
Anyway, I tried some new gluten free garlic risotto and made some parmesan green beans, cranberry apple jello and sweet tea. Have you ever made that jello? I stole it from my MIL and I crave it this time of the year. It's just lemon jello, cranberry sauce and diced apples. You can throw in pecans or walnuts if you feel crazy. This stuff rocks. I've seen it with strawberry jello, as well. Good, too.
Obviously, we had a bunch of chicken left over (my plan). I pulled the chicken off the bone and put some of it aside for another dinner and finished boiling the bones to make some more broth. And then I looked at all the leftovers I had, the report for snow tomorrow, and all that chicken I just made and that leftover ham from Thanksgiving. And I started thinking about Brunswick Stew. I start craving that, as well, in the fall and winter. Ever had it? I'm a Georgia girl. It was a staple growing up. It is a barbecue based stew that we used to throw in a crockpot with whatever leftovers you have. I'm sure at some point in my childhood squirrel or rabbit found its way into the pot. I personally have never chosen to eat or cook either of said wild game. This is basically what I put in it but can be substituted with whatever leftovers you have (even squirrel or rabbit if that is how you roll).
Pork or Ham
Lima beans (not my favorite)
(*or bbq sauce instead of the previous four if this scares you or you don't have)
Salt and pepper to taste
I cook it all day and then blend it up sort of chunky with my submersible blender but that isn't necessary. I make a big pot of it and freeze it for another day. Like chili, it just gets better and better. Add some creamed-corn cornbread and you've got a meal made for a...Georgia Girl. Not many people in Colorado have ever had or even heard of such a dish. They just don't know what they are missing! Yum!
I woke up this morning to let the pups out and realized something. I look out the window, scan the horizon, open the door, and scan the horizon before letting them out now. I expect to find the mountain lion. And I don't want the puppies to fall prey to the mountain lion or be an easy scooby snack! It struck me in an odd way today. We live in the wild, wild, west. A very different approach to life than we had in our neighborhood (come to think of it similar in some ways)! There are many things we have to spend time and energy on in a very conscious way. The water consumption has to be managed, as well as the propane. We are constantly in a state of gathering wood, both green and dead, for the wood stove. The road is in a constant state of flux depending on the weather and how much it is being used. And don't get me started on the dust and dirt! It is a daily battle keeping the outside...outside. And then there are the wild animals. I have an awareness that they are always there. Sometimes it is very obvious. Just last night Maggie was growling to the side of the house when I let her out. And this next morning I went out to feed the horses and they would have no part of it. Usually they are all over me and very impatient to eat. But this particular morning they were spooked and would not come down to eat for a good hour. You could just feel it in the air.
I've been learning a lot about the enemy lately. This is how we are supposed to be...having an awareness that our enemy is always there. Lying in wait for us. "With this in mind, be alert" and then use the resources God has given us to fight...the armor of God as found in Ephesians 5:10-18 "so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes" with the Belt of Truth, Breastplate of Righteousness, Feet Fitted with Readiness, Shield of Faith, Helmet of Salvation, and the Sword of the Spirit. We never know where the enemy is or how he will try and launch an attack. Sometimes he even uses the people in our lives at a weak moment. (Like snapping when you are having a bad day or your expectations are not being met...guilty as charged). Sometimes it is the circumstances in our life, or the pride or fear we do battle with daily. We are called to live lives of righteousness and be strong in the Lord. Sometimes we take shots because we are walking with the Lord. Sometimes we take shots because we are not. I just want to heed the words in Ephesians 5:13-14 "and put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to STAND your ground, and after you have done everything, to STAND. " And then in verse 14..."STAND FIRM".
I woke up to this rainbow a few days ago. I guess you could say I'm still in my Wilderness Experience. Maybe I'm not lost deep in the woods, but hanging out on the edge of the forest now. After finishing my 'reading through the Bible phase', I went through a month period where I wondered, "what now"? And so, I am doing a condensed version of a Bible reading plan I found on my amazing phone called 'The Essential 100 Challenge' which journeys through the 100 most significant passages in the Bible, which sort of seems impossible. And yet, it is just simply taking me on a hop, skip and a jump back through the Bible to highlight some things I oddly need to "remember"! The point of all the rambling is to say, "Wow!" I feel like I've been studying for a four year degree in just two short years. And now, I'm in review mode, but I am in a better place to pick up my other book reading. I've never been much of a light book reader. It's usually big heavy topics like: how to have the best marriage, how to teach your kids to love the Lord with all their heart, mind and soul, how to give until it hurts, and how to really become more like God. Somewhat for posterity sake and somewhat to give others ideas on really great books if you want to know any of the books I have read or am getting ready to pick up, as suggestions from my pastor, Bible studies or God-fearing, God-loving friends...here is a not so comprehensive list of "you've got to read" books that have touched me, transformed me and made a definite spot in that scary place called my memory...
Knowing God by J.I. Packer
How to Listen to God by Charles Stanley
Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby
Fields of the Fatherless by Tom Davis
Walking with God by John Eldredge
Crazy Love by Francis Chan
Wild at Heart by John Eldredge (a man's heart)
Captivating by John & Stasi Eldredge (a woman's heart)
Just as I Am by Billy Graham (and franky anything he writes is fantastic)
My favorite Christian female novelist:
Francine Rivers and the books I love by her. I love the way she uses stories of the Bible and weaves them into something easily tangible and indentifiable is incredible!
Mark of the Lion trilogies ***MUST MUST READ***
The Lineage of Grace series (5 women of the Bible I call the "un" series)
-Unveiled, Unashamed, Unshaken, Unspoken, Unafraid
The Sons of Encouragement series (5 men of the Bible)
-The Priest, The Warrior, The Prince, The Prophet, The Scribe
My favorite Christian male novelist:
Max Lucado. I love the way He 'gets' the Bible and paints a beautiful picture for us. He must have a million books out there. You could close your eyes and point and not go wrong. Here's just a few:
It's Not About Me
Six Hours One Friday
No Wonder They Call Him the Savior
God Came Near
And the Angels Were Silent
When God Whispers Your Name
I haven't read any of Francine River's or Max Lucado's latest books. I've been a little busy but plan to do some catching up but have quite a list of other authors I'm planning on working on.
Right now I'm reading JI Packer's Knowing Christianity. He's bringing up the point that we know of God what He shows us. And that a part of knowing God is knowing ourselves and how much we need Him to really know God. Very good book. Highly recommend it. Small but packed!
And next on the agenda is Thomas Keller's Prodigal God, Reason for God and Counterfeit Gods.
Although, I just saw at the library today, Phillip Yancey's book Prayer and think I might interject it in there somewhere.
And still on my list of "gotta read"...
Extraordinary Women and various Bible studies by Beth Moore
Idols for Destruction by Herbert Schlossberg
Unexpected Adventure by Strobel
God Wants to be Wanted by AW Tozier
Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Your God is too Small by JB Phillips
Suburban Spirituality by Dave Getz
Politically Incorrect Guide to American History by Thomas Woods
I get several daily email devotions if you are in need of some daily direction, renewal, and growth (like me):
Girlfriends in God
Our Daily Bread
I have a heart that desires to walk with God and to teach my kiddos to learn His voice. I heard a quote somewhere that says "God whispers to His friends and shouts at His enemies". I want to be quiet enough to hear His whisper. It takes time, practice and discipline (which I sorely lack all of). Even coming out of this one on one time I spent with Him these past two years, it seems it is easier to get caught up in the moment of the here and now so-called emergencies and dole out a few minutes here and there for Him. We are prone to wander as the song goes. Don't I know it! But I want more of Him and less of me. And for that reason, I keep coming back to Him for rest and so that He can finish the good work He started in me.
And to that end, if you have a list of "gotta reads" that I can add to my list, I'd love to know what your favorite Christian books or authors are. I need all the help I can get (and a little extra reading time would help, too)! J
So, I've been on a journey, of sorts. It's been going on a couple years now. God gave me a verse a few years ago. I didn't understand it which made it hard to receive. I committed it to memory thinking that was His point. I'm sure that was just His first point. There would be many others. He, unlike me, is just not that simple-minded. Nehemiah 8:10 "For the joy of the Lord is your strength". He gave it to me at a time in my life that I was struggling with my health. Eventually it would be given names...Surgeries, low estrogen, low thyroid, B-12 deficiencies, Iron deficiencies, and Vitamin D deficiencies. Needless to say, I was T-I-R-E-D. And as a result, everything and everybody around me struggled. I kept asking Him what it meant. I needed His strength. I meditated on the strength part because it seemed I needed a LOT of that. I couldn't get through my days without His help and strength. Thank you Lord, for being my strength. I felt happy so it must be strength. And one day He showed me...I had lost my joy. I wondered if I had ever had it. I sort of felt punched in the stomach. What happened to my joy? He eventually showed me the times in my life in which I had joy, but first He showed me the areas I had lost it and then He led me up and over the mountain, into the valley and then beside quiet waters. His first order of business was to show me how much He loved me. I thought I knew. I've known His love all my life. I was raised with it, I spoke it, I taught it to my kids. I accepted His saving grace and love as a child. But it wasn't enough for my Heavenly Father. And looking back now, I think this point had to get through. He knew I'd never be able to love others the way He wanted me to until I first loved myself. How do you love yourself that way; God's way? He has to become your filter by which you love yourself, see yourself, forgive yourself, feel worthy of that kind of love. For someone who had been abused, abandoned, left behind, neglected and forgotten as a child, really receiving that kind of love had to be the hardest, most difficult and treacherous road I've traveled yet. The first step was to really see that I didn't fully receive it. I think that was my biggest battle. Evidently, my enemies knew that and really fought hard to keep me from hearing, receiving and truly wrapping my brain around that. Letting God's love permeate every part of me somehow made me feel like I had to air all my dirty laundry and keep asking him, "what about this" and "did you forget about that" and "how could you love this"? And then I got angry at Him. I know. I can be pretty stubborn. I just could not understand how I wasn't "getting it". What do you MEAN? So, I kept asking Him, "How do you love me? Show me plainly so I know it is You". It sort of reminds me of the children's book I used to read to my kiddos that is answered, "Let me count the ways". And that is precisely what He did. Every day for weeks He did this very thing. But I had to learn to have His ears and His eyes so I didn't miss all the huge and miraculous ways but also the mundane, everyday things I miss. But each time He showed me something, I felt overcome, overwhelmed and unworthy to receive such blessings. Oh! The stories. I learned to write them down, too. Because at the same time (yup, this has truly been an epic journey and has felt like a wonderful lifetime of experiences in just a few short years) He was showing me over and over the word "Remember" which I then asked why, how, what, when, where...you get it. Him revealing His mysteries is no easy task...I struggle through it and go back for clarification, revision, contemplation and beat a dead horse until I KNOW I have it right. He truly does love me. :) I know for a fact He does. Nobody else would have that much patience. And He showed me in so many ways. Still does. But I had to learn to receive it, let it get into me and make me over. As I was doing "battle", I began reading through my Bible. Not just read it. But digging into it. And then something began to happen. I couldn't get enough of it. Every time I picked it up, He was speaking directly to me. And then someone would say something in passing that confirmed what I had just read. Or someone would be struggling with something that directly related to what I was reading, or I'd just have to share something to my kiddos and then they would bless my heart with their precious hearts and understanding of the Lord. Every day was like this for two solid years. I can't even began to describe what was happening and didn't dare. It wasn't until we moved into the mountains in a valley beside a bubbling stream that the Lord showed me I was in His own version of a Wilderness Experience. And there I am. To some extent, I feel like I've joined the real world again a few months ago. I finished reading through the Bible. And then I heard this quote from A.W. Tozier, "I didn't read through the Bible, it read through me". That is it in a nutshell. The Lord has restored me, renewed me, given me His joy and drawn me closer to Him all at the same time. He is just that awesome!
We had a family stop by after church today. They are trying to decide which puppy they want. They spent an hour or two hanging out, talking, and of course snuggling with all the cute pups. When the family left, we decided to put in an hour or so clearing scrub oak from our over-grown ATV trail. That stuff grows fast, tall and thick right before your eyes. Izzy and I grabbed some loppers, Ike grabbed a hand saw and MacGyver grabbed his trusty chainsaw. I jumped on the ATV and the kids jumped into the back of the truck and we headed into the woods. We cleared about 1/2 mile in about an hour and a half. Not bad. Along the way we spotted several piles of bear scat, some elk scat and some assorted pieces of skeleton. A leg bone here, several back bones there and we even found a piece of the jaw bone with about 12 teeth in it. We think it may be a bear after looking at the teeth! And the kiddos contemplated. What kills a bear? Other bears. What else? Moutain lions. I noticed the kids stayed a little closer after that. A little less adventurous. A little less wandering. We cleared brush, rocks, and even bones out of the way and made it up to the third meadow. Then we decided we were all hot, thirsty and getting hungry. We headed back down the mountain and back out to the road. Izzy jumped on the back of the four-wheeler with me and Ike jumped into the truck with his dad. They went up the road a bit to turn around and decided to take some pictures along the way. Izzy and I didn't wait around; we just headed home. I knew there were hungry pups that needed to be fed before we headed into town for dinner. As we were heading down the hill, I got about 100 feet from the cabin and thought I saw Tank sniffing around by the camper. I slowed down trying to make sense of how Tank had gotten out. Did the kids forget to put him up? About that time I realized it wasn't Tank. This thing was twice Tank's size. It was the mountain lion. And Maggie was headed straight for it! I called Maggie back but it decided we were too close for his comfort (or maybe Mr. Elusive just didn't like being seen) and started mosying right past our cabin into the pasture right in front of our house. Now by this time, my adrenaline was in full swing. I had stopped the ATV but was just sitting there sort of shocked. Izzy was holding on for dear life and hiding her head between my shoulder blades and my strong, protector of a husband was nowhere to be found. Remember? He was taking pictures? Eventually he made it down the hill and pulled up to me sitting in the middle of the road waving my arms like a madman. He had no idea what in the world I was doing, much less saying. I was trying to show him the mountain lion hanging out in the pasture, just standing there. As if. He hops out of the truck, looks and realizes it is still there. He reaches back into his truck to get his gun, right? Nope. The camera. What? Are you going to throw it at him? Who reaches for a camera? And then he takes off after it trying to get a shot, ooh, wrong choice of words...a picture. OH MY GOODNESS! And guess who follows? Maggie, me and both kids. Yes. Insane we are. Insane. All of us. I whispered to the kiddos to grab some rocks and instructed them if we saw him again to stand your ground, yell and scream and throw rocks at him. I think I saw Izzy's lip quiver. Wow! Supermom, I am. It eventually disappeared behind the barn and into the woods, but not before shaking up our nervous systems! Wow! Equal parts terrifying and exhilirating! We called the DOW guys that have been out here researching, tracking, studying their behavior. I couldn't tell if he was "their guy" or even if he had a radio collar on. My senses were on overdrive and I was definitely not taking notes for questioning later. He suggested we might have a fresh kill site, or that he was stalking for the next kill site. He said they will hang around for a day or so if they get a deer or up to four days if they get an elk or llama. Woah. It took us several hours to talk out the "I can't believe it...Ooh, that was scary...Do you think he'll be back...We saw the mountain lion...Do you think we should move the cat food...maybe we shouldn't leave cat food out for the little or big cats" and finally realized that was pretty scary. In broad daylight! And moved onto...I think he is stalking our dogs. They were all out just an hour and a half prior, running around, playing, doing pretty much what dogs do. And I'm sure he was just licking his chops watching and waiting for us to turn our backs. Shiver. Plus, when the puppies get going, they sound just like an injured animal with their high-pitched squeals. We set up outdoor kennels with lids just because of this very reason. It makes me feel justified. It's not out of the realm of possibilities. In fact, I think the stakes just got a little higher. I'll be double checking the gates as we close them up. I'll be more careful before I open the door and walk outside. Or let the dogs out. Or worse, send my kiddos outside on an errand or chore. Shivers. A friend of ours saw one sitting on his barn where he was heading to feed his horses. Another came home to find one asleep in his driveway sunning himself. The ranch behind ours raises cashmere goats. She's seen a mountain lion haul one of her goats over a ten foot fence. No kidding. And after tonight, I realize they are much bigger in person than I ever realized. Our new motto...Noone left behind. Catchy, huh? We stole it. It just isn't worth the risk to leave anyone out there alone or let the kids go and do whatever it is kids go and do in the woods...Freaks me out. And cool, all at the same time.
I want to see if any of the pictures turned out. Unfortunately, we left the camera in the truck and I am NOT about to run outside to get it. Not tonight.
The pups are now 5 weeks old and their play drive and personalities are starting to shine through. AND they get cuter every day. I've got my eye on 5 of the 8 that could be good potential working dogs. We'll see...