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Friday, November 30, 2012

Thanksgiving and Lessons in Gratitude

Our Thanksgiving Pie Spread
Thanksgiving is officially Nathan's holiday.  He looks forward to it all year because he can cook without restraint. Here is his Thanksgiving by the numbers:

One HUGE pot of garlic/cream cheese/butter mashed potatoes- enough to serve 30 people
Two perfectly brined and roasted turkeys
Two large pans of sweet potatoes
Two large jars of homemade cranberry sauce with fresh cranberries, oranges, and ginger root
Ten perfect pies: Strawberry Rhubarb (Matthew's favorite! He licked the spoon when the filling was made and sighed contentedly, "Oh man! That's GOOD!"), Peanut Butter Cream, Paradise Isle, Coconut Cream (with fresh coconut grated and fried in its own oil- heavenly!), Cherry (with fresh cherries), Pumpkin Chiffon (what fluffy goodness ), Butterscotch Cream, French Silk (this was gone first- the dark chocolate was so delicious!), Banana Cream, and Lemon Meringue.

Our friends brought the rest of the dishes for the feast.

We were surrounded with 25 friends to share the feast and laugh and play. After feasting on delicious food, we played games for a few hours while our bodies made room for pie. (One of our friends is a professional actress and screenwriter- she was so fun to play games with because she played her game character well and wowed us all with her great ability to speak in any accent.)

We gave each guest several paper leaves to add to our Gratitude Tree. They wrote what they were thankful for before taping in on our wall. 

The Gratitude Tree is watched over by Lexie, our Elf on the Shelf.
I felt such a deep sense of gratitude this year for all the 'little blessings' we often take for granted. 

Earlier this month I felt such sadness as I listened to my children's prayers. The prayers were rushed and mostly thoughtless, filled with requests for blessings but often devoid of gratitude. Sometimes they even forgot to thank the Lord for the food we were about to eat! I was so disappointed. 

My remedy was a Family Home Evening lesson on gratitude. I asked the question: What if you woke up today and had ONLY the things you thanked the Lord for yesterday in your prayers?

The children sat in shocked silence and thought. I whipped out a whiteboard and asked the children to please share a list of what they would truly miss if it was gone. 

This is what they were thankful for:

Bed, pillow and blankets so we can be warm and comfortable at night
Food so we won't be pained with hunger
A house to shelter us from the rain or cold and keep us safe
Animals that bring joy to our lives
The gospel of Jesus Christ so we know where we are from, why we are here, and where we are going
Extended family who love and encourage us
Dad's job so we can provide for our needs
Healthy bodies so we can enjoy being alive
Beautiful trees to climb on our property
Books to read and learn from
The alphabet so we can communicate and read
Running water in our home so we don't have to haul it from a river
CLEAN water so we don't get sick
Electricity so we have light at night
Medicine to help us heal
Musical instruments so we can feel joy as we create music together
Friends and neighbors who love us

Our fall decor
Our prayers have really changed since that night. The children are so much more thoughtful in expressing gratitude to the Lord. 

I feel so humbled when I contemplate the countless ways we are blessed and watched over. My heart pains at the injustice of the world when I see families in abject poverty scraping a living in third-world countries. My heart is full of desire to help them feel the beauty of being alive, but I'm not quite sure how to do it sometimes. 

I've been looking for ways to share our blessings with others and help make the world a joyful place for a suffering soul. I'd love to know your suggestions.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Slaughtering, Service, and S'mores

Unbeknownst to our dozen colorful roosters, the past few weeks have been vocal auditions to see which ones get to stay with our flock. The roos (short for ROOSter) with ugly voices were introduced to our Killing Cone this morning. (That sounds like the Cone of Shame from the movie 'Up'. Yikes.)

Perhaps surprisingly, our blond roo named David Bowie was decidedly a keeper.

Today was the first day we had the children actively assist us with chicken butchering. The boys did a great job catching each rooster for us to slaughter.

Picture them both in black galoshes, tramping through the chicken coop and emerging triumphant with a squawking rooster held aloft by his feet. Daniel was so proud of catching one all by himself. 

They also paired up to cleverly plead for the life of a particularly handsome rooster they caught. They won.

We set up a table on our back patio to serve as our workstation. We didn't bother with plucking feathers today. I hate plucking feathers. We skinned them quickly and cut off portions of meat to freeze: breasts in one bag, thighs in another bag, wings and drumsticks in the last bag. Carcasses were boiled all day in a stockpot to yield rich broth for winter soups. The only thing wasted was the feathers (although we DO always keep some for crafts- rooster feathers are so gorgeous!) and the entrails. 

This afternoon I had the privilege of serving a post-funeral meal to some friends in our ward. An elderly gentleman passed away this week and I was blessed with the opportunity of planning the funeral arrangements  (The Relief Society president was out of town, so I was assigned to take care of the details.) 

At first I felt inclined to panic (Where do I even begin? Caring for a mourning family is something I've never done before!) Thankfully, our wise (and experienced) secretary knew what to suggest and gave me directions on what needed to be done. 

It was a wonderful learning experience for sure! 

At the funeral dinner, I learned more about this man. I had never known his story! He was a true hero! He lived in Poland when it was occupied during World War 2 and he was part of the Resistance. He smuggled Jews safely out of the country for a long time. Finally he decided to make his own escape to freedom, but was caught along the way by the Germans. He was sent to the infamous concentration camp Auschwitz  He survived there for an extended period of time, suffering unimaginable things. Finally the Allies arrived to Poland, sending the Red Cross to rescue and rehabilitate the inmates of the concentration camps. He met a lovely Red Cross nurse and they were later married. 

Isn't that an amazing part of his life  story? I never knew this history behind the face of this quiet old man. It gave me a lot to think about this week. I never before pondered his life, and now a rich opportunity is gone forever. I feel remorse for never getting to know him deeper than a quick smile on Sundays while I rushed my children to class. 

I wonder what everyone else's story is. All around me are faces, so easy to ignore while I wander in my own thoughts. I feel a stronger desire to connect with people and dig deeper, past the superficial mask we each present to the world. 

After serving at the church for a few hours, I returned home to my little ones and sweetheart. Nathan and the boys built a campfire in our backyard fire pit after the sun set. They set up chairs around the fire and happily roasted hotdogs while we relished sharing scary ghost stories to make us shiver in the dark. Nathan played his harmonica while the smoke rose to the bright stars above us. I could hear wildlife and dogs singing along with Nathan's music. We laughed together and made extra-gooey s'mores for dessert.

I soaked up every moment with my little darlings. I feel a renewed gratitude for life today. Life really is a blessing!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Steampunk Style

steam punk dandy, steam punk facial hair style, steam punk skirt
This is us in our costumes in our front yard. Oh how I love our trees!
Nathan recently asked me on a date to a steam punk show. 

I had no idea what 'steam punk' meant, but loved the idea of going anywhere in costume, 
so I eagerly accepted the proposal.

After trying to figure out what I had agreed to, my enthusiasm grew.

For a few date nights before the event, we visited thrift stores together. Scouring racks of clothing in search of perfect costume pieces was a fun adventure I really relished. I love hunting for a bargain, and I love creating costumes. 

We found everything we needed except the extra accessories Nathan made himself. (I did alter my brown skirt by gathering the hemline to give it that lovely scalloped look so common in the Victorian era.)

My favorite purchase by far was Nathan's brown frock coat. Ten dollars, baby!

The best part of the costume was Nathan's crafted accessories.

Nathan cut sheet metal and riveted it together to create a solid metal top hat. He spray painted it with 'hammered copper' paint and covered the sharp edges with black screening tubing, so the brim had a nice finished edge. He riveted on a copper band for a hat band and added two large springs with gears in the place of hat feathers (I don't think you can see those in the picture. Maybe I'll post a better pic of the hat later. Tutorial, anyone?)

He also fashioned a monocle (instead of the overly common steam punk goggles) and attached it to the underside of his hat brim with a reclaimed hard drive magnet. He fitted it with green LEDS that lit up a dial that was etched into the glass. It gave him an intriguing, slightly robotic look.

His last accessory was a walking stick with dancing LEDs in the handle. He used PVC pipe and sprayed it with our copper spray paint (everyone was convinced it was a copper pipe. The paint is awesome!) and added some real copper accents, then attached a metal head with a little button he could push and made the lights begin glowing and blinking. 

Steam punk hat, steam punk monocle, metal top hat, riveted hat, unique hat, homemade hat

It was so fun, and throughout the event random people kept asking Nathan to pose in pictures with them. Other people didn't want to ask for a picture, so there were lots of quick shots taken on people's phones. We found some of those posted online the next day.

Our good friends the Kimballs joined us for the day. Check out their costumes:

They score way more 'awesome' points than me- Julie actually sewed their costumes!

Don't they look great?

We browsed lots of little shops filled with steam punk paraphernalia and accessories, then played a demo of a role-playing game with a steam punk theme. 

While we waited for the show to begin, we people-watched and admired the unique (and sometimes bizarre) costumes we saw. We played a game making up colorful histories for each person, trying to explain why they wore each item of their costume. It was actually really fun and we created some really funny stories. It was so tempting to write some of them down. 

After watching an interesting performance of a fictional face-off between Nikola Tessla and Thomas Edison, we headed out for dinner.

Have you ever eaten out dressed in costume? 

Oh it's so fun! We had lots of great stares as we entered. 

In closing, here is a Daguerreotype version of our steam punk portrait. 

elegant steam punk, steam punk dress, metal top hat, steam punk monocle, steam punk gentry

It was a memorable date night for sure! 
So much more fun than dinner and a movie.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Birth of a New Day

One morning we rose early to watch the sunrise over the beach.
 (There goes another item crossed off my bucket list. Yay!)

The predawn beach was so incredibly peaceful. 

It felt slightly mysterious in the darkness.

There was no sound except the birds morning music and the rhythmic waves washing ashore.

We had the beach to ourselves as we held hands and watched the sky lighten by subtle degrees as sunrise inched closer.

Here is a beach sunrise in an instant- no waiting on the sandy shore for an hour:
See the sun just barely peeking out from under its covers? 

It's so cute! (Yes, I really do mean the word 'cute'.) 

It reminded me of a newborn baby blinking its eyes blearily as it wakes up. 

It felt so new and fresh. It even felt innocent- it was a clean slate ready to be filled.

It was so neat to watch the birth of a beautiful scene.

While we waited for daybreak, we took lots of pictures (the sunrise did take an hour after all....).

We danced on the beach.

We held hands and reclined on the sand.

We discussed ways to improve our parenting and teach our children better.

We walked along the beach collecting sea shells. (Which happens to be another bucket list item)

We played in the surf watched crabs scuttle across the sand.
It was a perfect morning. 

I couldn't stop humming the triumphant song, "The Morning Breaks" as the sunrise burst onto the landscape, cheerfully brightening everything in sight. 

I felt full to the brim with pure joy and gratitude.

I thought about all the millions of people around the world, most of whom would be missing this gorgeous sunrise today. So many people were likely rushing to work or otherwise busy 
and taking this free work of art for granted.

I wondered what beautiful moments I had missed back at home 
in my routine dash to get through my 'to-do' list everyday. 

I do try to stop and enjoy the beauty around us on our farm, but today I realized
 there is still more to be appreciated if I just take a moment to do so.

The world is such a breathtaking place.

The Lord is indeed generous with His gifts to us!

I hope you are able to enjoy God's free gifts today as you celebrate Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

More glimpses of our anniversary

Here is our angel mom-in-law reading her famed pop-up books to the children while Nathan and I were out of town. This is our kids' favorite thing to do with Grandma. Her pop-up book collection is extensive and our children are delighted every time she reads to them.

This was the one thing our kids requested: pop-up book story time.

(Regular readers may remember that she faithfully read her books to our kids during the week she helped us move in. She even read to them at midnight the day we actually moved, even though she was exhausted after spending 12 hours loading and unloading the moving truck.) 

Back on the island:

Nathan and I visited a great birding sanctuary and looked for the resident alligators in the marshy pools. We didn't find the gators, but did enjoy getting close to a plethora of wildlife and watching the pelicans soar over our heads.

We played on the beach (again) and caught this shot of the surf dancing around our feet:

We were surprised to discover a prankster in our hotel. Check out this plant in the lobby. 

 See the stowaway?

Each day the hiding toy changed to something new. One day it was Mutant Ninja Turtles, the next it was Hello Kitty. It gave us a good laugh throughout the week.

We also visited a Mexican ice cream shop for a cold treat.See the orange and red striped ice cream below?

Care to guess the flavor? 

It's mango ice cream with red chili sauce. 


I didn't taste that one, but Nathan did and thought it had merit.

We ended up choosing Coconut Almond ice cream (words are helpless to describe how refreshing the flavor was!) and Dulce de Leche ice cream (my new addiction....the flavor exploded in my mouth! Too bad they don't sell this at home!)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bucket list- Lighthouses and turtles

Nathan enjoys a sunset on the beach.
I'd always wanted to climb to the top of a lighthouse, so we visited the lighthouse in Laguna Madre. 

It was surprisingly scary to me. I don't like heights, and the inside of the tower is one big spiraling iron staircase. Without any sort of handrail or barrier to keep one from slipping off the stairs and falling down the middle. Yikees!

The view from the top landing was quite lovely. Check it out:

We enjoyed yummy seafood for lunch and picked up some shark tooth necklaces for our kids from a local craftsman. In the shade of a palm-topped bungalow, we found a man playing with several parrots. 
He let us play with his birds for quite a while. It was really fun- I love playing with animals!

We also visited the sea turtle hospital, where injured or sick turtles are rehabilitated and released. I always wanted to get close and personal with majestic sea turtles. It was delightful to lean over their tanks and watch them swim right next to me. They were so beautiful to observe. 

This baby sea turtle was so cute to watch bobbing around in the water.

This adult loggerhead turtle was swimming laps for us and waving his flippers in the air. Gorgeous!

I felt in awe of  God's beautiful creations and deep gratitude that I could see and enjoy them. I'm so thankful I'm not blind!!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bucket list- Sea fishing and Dolphin watching

 I'm posting this as a story without words. 

I'm busy prepping for Sarah's birthday party and have no spare time to type. 

I'll give just minimal notes, okay? 

Yup. I'ts alive. I threw it in the sea right after this pic was taken.

We fished for 4 hours on the bay and brought home this:

We actually only caught 3 of them- the rest caught by the captain and first mate.

Most of what Nathan and I caught were inedible saltwater catfish.

We still had a blast and the sea was peaceful at night.

We held live rays, fish and starfish during the dolphin tour..

We also enjoyed feeding Sunchips to seagulls while the boat chugged around looking for dolphins.

The birds ate out of our hands. That was really exhilarating.

Less-than-flattering picture. I was trying not to gag. Try doing that and smiling sometime. 

The starfish feet were groping wildly in the looked surprisingly gross.

 We had a great time. We spotted a few dolphins and a calf with its momma. It was pretty cool, but hard to catch on film. We stopped trying to catch a shot of the dolphins and just enjoyed watching them. 

Ooo- we ate seafood all week at different restaurants. (that's a big deal, because I really don't like seafood of any kind. Not even lobster.)

For the first time, I enjoyed eating shrimp. I never liked it before, no matter how many times I tried. 

The Gulf shrimp we ate was super-fresh and monstrously huge. 

It took THREE BITES to eat one shrimp. 

They were delicious! There's a first.

It was an adventurous day. 

I felt so incredibly blessed to be alive and able to enjoy the wonder of God's creations. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bucket list- horses on the beach

This was definitely the highlight of our trip for me.

I've always wanted to ride horses on the beach, haven't you? 

We unexpectedly canceled our snorkeling plans.
 (After learning about the resident sharks, alligators, and sting rays in this area 
my enthusiasm for snorkeling quickly became subdued.)

So instead of snorkeling in the bay, we opted for horseback riding for the afternoon.

I think Nate was pretty nervous- he'd never ridden a horse before. 
(Don't worry though, he did a great job and drew compliments on his horsemanship skills from the guides.)

He was always amazingly supportive of anything I wanted to do on this trip though, 
and I found out later that he had been completely uninterested at the thought of snorkeling and 
never mentioned a thing about it to me until after we canceled. 
He was so relieved we didn't do it!

This trip was something I saved up face painting money for months to finance, 
so he was adamant that I could choose everything we did, 
especially since he knew many of our planned activities were 
fulfilling life-enriching dreams I had harbored for years.

I was touched that he was so encouraging in my plans even when he was uncomfortable with the activity. 
What a nice guy I have the privilege to share my life with!

Let's get back to the horseback riding.

It looks so romantic in movies: 
the breeze teasing the horse's manes into the air, 
the surf dancing along under our feet, 
the breathtaking view of the ocean spreading out before us, 
splashing our horses into the foamy surf, 
and the pure magic of being astride a beautiful horse.

(Here I give a blissful sigh with dreamy eyes.)

It was everything I'd hoped it would be. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sand Castles for Fun

Nathan and I left all our responsibilities behind for a few days while we ran away to South Padre Island (on the southernmost tip of Texas, right next to Mexico) to celebrate our 10-year anniversary. 

(I know- our ten year anniversary was technically last year. We couldn't run away at that time though- Diego was still too little to be left behind. So technically this would be our 10.8 year anniversary. Don't bog me down in little details like that.)

One of my focuses on this trip was to see how many items I could cross off my bucket list. 
(Just in case you're wondering, we did a dozen items on my list. Yay!) 

Hidden among my bucket list was to build my first sand castle on the beach.
(Did you know I had never built a sand castle before?).

Check out our first try effort:

We worked on this baby for a looooong time. 

Are you impressed?

Do you notice anything wrong with the picture below?

Look closely.

Did you catch the impossible problem?

There's no way he could be stepping on those two towers. 

One tower is from the back wall and one tower is located on the front wall.

Not happening.

You're right. It's a trick. 

 Here is the true perspective on our sand castle:


That's what we get when our only building tools are a plastic dixie cup, a spoon, and our smuggled ice container from the hotel room. (No worries, the ice box was safely returned home and was not harmed in the making of our castle.)

The trick photography was really fun to arrange though.

I really loved living near the beach for a week. The ocean has its own captivating magic that entranced my heart and made it so hard to leave. 

We missed our children dearly (we were constantly saying, "Oh, the kids would love to see this!"), but I was secure and at peace knowing they were being watched over by my angelic mom-in-law. She's a much better mother than me, so I knew the kids would scarcely notice my absence for a few days. 

(Did I mention that she is in the middle of moving across the country, but she dropped everything and came to serve my family? Words are useless to describe her. She's unbelievable. Everyone who knows her adores her. If I can just become like her I would consider my life a success.)

I have so much to share about our trip and the thoughts I had. 

 My spirit was full of joy to spend all my waking moments with my best friend.

It was wonderfully rejuvenating.