Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009 (meal #3 post #1)

Every year my in-laws' family gathers at their hunting lodge on the Black River on Thanksgiving. It's the perfect rustic setting for Thanksgiving - see what I mean?

We typically have 100-200 relatives there. And each year the family tree is posted and updated. It goes all the way back to the early 1700s. (PS. We have an early ancestor named "Napoleon Bonaparte Barefoot." I know, right?)

(It takes multiple large charts to post them all.)

(The green sticky notes represent updates by way of marriage, birth or death. They'll be incorporated on the chart before next Thanksgiving.)

I took close ups of our part on the chart but then thought better of posting our full names, birth dates, etc. on the Internet. (Duh.)

Given the size of the crowd, and the possibility of rain, we often rent a large tent to gather in and eat, in addition to the house. But this year the weather was perfect.

The boys always play football.

Some of the crowd gathering by the outbuildings.

Here's the view to the river from the back porch.

My daughter was shocked to recognize the lady in the vest as one of the teachers at her middle school. Remember when you thought your distant relatives didn't have real lives ... like they only materialized out of thin air on holidays? :)

Remember too when you simply could not resist skipping a rock when standing at the edge of smooth water?

I'll post more pics in the next post.

Wine into Water

On the heels of my last post, I came across this article today about a barkeep who partnered with Samaritan's Purse to meet people's needs for clean water.

Jesus turned water into wine to serve some wedding guests, this guy is turning wine into water to serve thirsty third world countries. I think that's pretty cool.

May I be so bold as to ask, what are you doing to serve others?

It's a rhetorical question asked in love, so no need to answer or feel guilty. Just take it in as fuel for inspiration - that's what I'm doing with it.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Serving the least of these

Thanks so much for stopping by today after my devotion A Thirsty Woman. That encounter in that cafe touched my heart deeply, and compelled me to look for more ways I can bless Christ by blessing those "less fortunate" than me.

If you're feeling that tug on your heart today too, here are a few ways you can respond.

Samaritan's Purse is known as the Operation Christmas Child ministry. Each Christmas they gather donations of shoe boxes filled with toys and supplies for poor children. You choose if you want to prepare a shoe box for a boy or a girl, and what age group. And then they use the giving of the gift to the child as an opportunity to tell them about Christ. It's a simple and fun project you could do today. If this interests you, Follow this link.

But Samaritan's Purse does so much more than Op. Christmas Child. Year round they provide for the needs of impoverished communities across the world. They provide everything from food for the hungry and clean water for the thirsty, to medical care for the disabled, and teachers for those who don't know how to read or write. You can choose what you want to donate towards. Following my encounter with the thirsty woman, I couldn't hardly make donations to Samaritan's Purse fast enough! If you're interested in learning more, follow this link.

I attended Regent University, on the grounds of the Christian Broadcasting Network. They have a similar relief ministry called Operation Blessing. Their purpose is to break the cycle of suffering, and you can participate by following this link.

And if you've been around my blog long at all, you've heard me talk about Compassion International. They're a Christian organization that works with local churches through out the world, and donors like you and me, to lift children out of poverty one at a time. With $38 a month, you can sponsor a child of your choosing. I sponsor a little boy in Ecuador. His life will never be the same because of it. Mine is different because of it too --we write letters to each other every couple of months. It's a precious thing. If you've ever thought about sponsoring a child, explore it further by following this link.

If you're like me, you've done quite a bit of shopping this weekend for loved ones. I'm hoping you'll also take time to pause and spend a little time or money serving the needy - and thereby serving Christ. These three organizations I mentioned are all Christian-based, all help the needy, and I've had personal experience with each of them. I believe them all to be trustworthy and effective. But don't underestimate the simple gift of noticing someone around you that needs a hand -- needs you to reach something at the grocery store they can't reach from their wheelchair, or needs you to help them open the door, or just needs a drink of water ... or four.

Sweet Blessings!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thank You Power

Let me say "Hey Y'all" to eveyone visiting from my devotion published today. Glad you stopped by.

The research I referenced in the devotion comes out of an academic journal. However, if you'd like to read more about it, follow this link. I'm also reading a research-based book called The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. It's not a Christian book - a group of faculty from the university I teach at is reading it in a book club - but it's not a typical "self-help" book either. The well credentialed author focuses on the scientific study of happiness. I've found it's findings to be consistent with what God's Word teaches. Plus, I'm finding it quite interesting!

For instance, did you know that we each have a genetically determined set-point for happiness? It represents 50% of what determines our general level of happiness. It varies from person to person and is the level we'll tend to return to over and over, even after major setbacks or major triumphs.

Even more fascinating is the fact that our circumstances only represent 10% of what determines our level of happiness. How often have we assumed we'd be happier if we could get a better job or a better spouse; a prettier body or a prettier house? Research shows while these things can provide a temporary happy-boost, even those who win the lottery or get total body makeovers return to their happiness set point ... often within a year or so. All life circumstances put together only account for about 10% in how happy we are. Is that as eye-opening to you as it is to me?

But that still leaves 40% of our level of happiness determined by something other than our genetics and our circumstances. Guess what it's determined by? Our thoughts and behavior. And there are several intentional behaviors we can do to boost this 40%. One of them is cultivating gratitude.

Grateful people are more likely to help others, and to build social bonds. They are better at coping with stress and trauma. Grateful people tend to have more positive self-awareness and are less likely to compare themselves to others. And, it turns out, gratitude has the power to dissolve negative feelings like anger, jealousy, fear and defensiveness. All these things result in greater daily feelings of happiness.

Gratitude journaling is a great way to get intentional about developing a mind set on gratefulness. Journaling (about once a week on average) has been reliably shown to boost happiness in repeated research studies. (Particularly for those who enjoy reading and/or writing.)

However, if you count your blessings in a journal every day in the exact same way, you may become bored with it, and it could lose its power. So change it up some weeks. Try calling a friend to tell her what you're thankful for. Try writing a letter of gratitude to someone who has positively impacted your life. Send more heart-felt thank you cards. Buy a gift, create a piece of art, or cook for someone as a way to express your gratitude for them. Giving is a great expression of gratitude. Just don't make it so hard or so involved to pull off that you won't do it.

A letter of gratitude would be a touching, inexpensive gift this holiday season. And likely to be cherished longer than any trinket you could buy. Or maybe you could just purchase them a copy of the happiness book and a blank journal. Just a thought for all of you uninterested in braving the after-Thanksgiving sales crowds. :)

Meanwhile, feel free to start chronicling your gratitude in the comments on this post. What are you thankful for today?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Turkey Dinner #1

I was so hungry by the time I sat down with my plate last night that I didn't pause to take pics of the food. There was tons of food for the roughly 55 international students and roughly 25 faculty that were there. But I did get some shots of the students.

I adored the brunette in the middle of this photo. She's from Finland. We went through the buffet line together and she was asking me what was in all the dishes (well, you take green beans, and you dump mushroom soup over them, and then you cover it with crispy fried onions ...). I was impressed with her willingness to try all the foods.

She also tried convincing me "it doesn't really get that cold in Finland." So of course I asked how cold it gets in the winter. She said minus 25. Yeah, not that cold at all. Riiiight.

Here are some of our table guests. Two beautiful gals from Germany studying business. And one young man from England who plans to become an astrophysicist. Yes, astrophysicist.

Here's my son, plate in hand, headed for the pumpkin pie.

And here's my daughter scoring some chocolate pound cake with whipping cream. Mmmm.

She'll tell you she wants to be a chef. But she's quick to qualify that: a TV chef.

Maybe she'll help me in the kitchen tomorrow, despite the lack of cameras and audience. I'll be cooking Thanksgiving meal #2 here at my house for us and my dad. Then we'll join Rick's family on Thursday for meal #3. That's a lot of turkey. But it's also a lot of opportunities to be thankful - and that I am.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving comes early - like tonight

I haven't put my tree up yet. I nearly did on Sunday but it was just too warm here to really get into the mood. I did, however, start dragging out ornaments and planning what it will look like this year. I tweak it from year to year ... as I previously mentioned, I'm a Christmasaholic.

See them sitting here beside the fall decor? Ahem. Yeah.

I also decided last week its a good time to have my carpets cleaned. That will happen today so I can't put the tree up until tomorrow. But it will be up by Thanksgiving! Anybody posted any pics of theirs yet? Help me feed my sparkle addiction.

Once the carpet cleaners leave, I must abandon my house for a couple hours while they dry. I think that's a good excuse to take the kids and do homework at Barnes and Nobel cafe. Following that, we're heading to a lovely house on the waterfront to help host a Thanksgiving meal for the university's international students. That should be a lot of fun. Anybody know how to say "Happy Thanksgiving" in Dutch? Or Japanese? Or French?

I'll be eating Thanksgiving dinner at least 3 different times this week (anybody else?) so I'm going to try to pace myself tonight. I'll also try to remember to take pics and post them tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Search Continues

I think I've clearly established here my love of all things sparkly or scented. (Rick calls me "Scentsation Barbie.") Back in August I mentioned a vanilla scented candle I'm obsessed with, and can't find anywhere anymore. So I only burn it a few times a year, saving it for as long as possible.

EVERY vanilla candle I come across in EVERY store, I sniff. Hoping it will be that one. Alas, it never is. I saw one online recently I think might be similar but it costs $28 for 7 oz to find out. I haven't pulled that trigger yet.

Sara of Charity's Candles & Crafts read about my plight and offered to send me a sample of her vanilla candle by the same name in hopes that it might be a match. Wasn't that sweet?

It wasn't a match for "the one," however it is a very close match for another candle I really like: Chris Madden Home Collection Lavender & Vanilla. I burn this one in my bedroom. I can't get this one anymore either - what is it with my favorite scents being discontinued? But at least I have two full ones to burn before I run out. Then I'll be ordering more from Sara.

Pop over and check out Sara's store. She does personalized gifts too - something to consider for Christmas. And all her candles are natural soy, which is the best kind (when will Yankee Candle ever convert?!). Be sure and read her story there.

Some of her current offerings sound delish: Spiced Apple Cider, Peppermint Stick, Hot Chocolate, Spiced Sugar Cookie, Cinnamon Stick ...

The Face of Christ

The painter Mike Lewis came to our church last Sunday and helped us wrap up a sermon series on Jesus. Here are two of the paintings he did during the service I attended.

The cool thing is that these images of Jesus don't emerge until the very end. Before that he is painting other scenes such as the cross. And then with just a couple brush strokes, suddenly the face of Christ appears. In all His simple yet powerful glory.

I especially like the humility that seemed to drip from Mike Lewis like paint on a canvas. He let Jesus shine. If you are perchance interested in owning one of these paintings (yes, I worked the word "perchance" into a blog post about paintings), my church is holding an online auction for 6 of them this Saturday through Tuesday (11/24). Email me and I'll send you a link to learn more or to bid.

Have you ever tried drawing or painting Jesus? I'm not much of a painter, except walls. I love to paint rooms.

OK, time for a little confession .... when I was like 22 and a new Christian, I once bought a bust of Socrates at a thrift market thinking that it was Jesus. My husband and sister-in-law laughed at me over that forever. But I kept it for years because to me, I saw Jesus when I looked at it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?

Which of these paintings is your favorite? I tend to favor the second one, but then the tear on the first one kinda of gets to me ...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Smell that?

My house smells soooooooo good! And here's why:

While at the luncheon this past weekend in Florida, Dana and her mother had this as a centerpiece on our thanksgivingy-decorated table. It created such a warm, comforting scent that I had to come home and make one. And it's so simple!

Here's what you'll need to try it:
  • 1 medium size glass hurricane candle holder (make sure it has a bottom to it). I got mine for $3.99 at World Market.

  • 1 short cinnamon scented pillar candle. I got a 3" one for $4.99 at World Market.

  • About 3/4 a bag of whole bean French Vanilla coffee.

You can dump the whole bag of beans in, but I'm betting once you smell it for, oh say 6 minutes, you're going to want to grind some and brew a pot of that French Vanilla!

Even unlit the sweet coffee smell is amazing, but lit you get the cinnamon scent too, plus it heats up the beans a bit, making them release more aroma. Mmmm. If you try it, come back and tell me how much you love it!

Modern Day Noah?

I had a great time with the women in Palatka, Florida last weekend. I loved Dana, the event coordinator ... despite the fact that she nearly killed us - twice - coming back from the airport! We had a few navigation problems, and a little trouble with the 5:00 traffic, but we also had a lot of fun on that crazy ride. :) She is so sweet and such a hoot. Not only that, she sounds exactly like my friend Melissa Taylor, which put me right at ease. Here we are:

The food, decorations and women Saturday were all lovely. And the name of Jesus was lifted up as we talked about a few of the Divine Secrets of the Yahweh Sisterhood. Since they moved the date of this event from December to November this year, the nearly 50 tables were decorated with a mix of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I loved that.

Here's me and Sandy, one of the singers. They sounded amazing!

Remember how I found a lizard hanging on my hood for dear life a few weeks ago? Well flying home through the Jacksonville airport, I suddenly felt like Cinderella. Ya know how she was constantly followed by song birds? She'd hold out her arms and they'd help her get dressed? Well I sat down with some Stromboli in the airport only to have 3-4 birds join me at the table - yes, inside. I thought about asking one to get me a fork.

Here I am saying goodbye to one of my lunch companions - he was sad to see me go.

And last week I was driving along and noticed a lizard on the back windshield of the car next to me. Its a bit blurry and hard to see; we were both driving.

If God hadn't promised - famously so with a rainbow - that He'd never flood the earth again, I'd start wondering if I'm a modern-day Noah. Oh, and on the flight home I sat next to an actor from the hit show One Tree Hill. We chatted it up. Unfortunately, no pictures to show for that, but thankfully, no animals joined me on the flight either.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Journals Get Me Every Time

Does anybody besides me have a journal addiction?

I'm not obsessed with writing in them nearly as much as buying them. I just can't resist a gorgeous journal. I'm constantly finding older ones around the house that I bought, wrote 1/2 way through, then abandoned because I'd bought a new one I couldn't wait to use.

The other day I found a beautiful journal I'd kept while in grad school. I use the term "kept" loosely because apparently I only "kept" it long enough to write in the first 5 pages.

I'm pretty sure this behavior is listed as a sickness in the American Psychological Association's handbook of disorders.

I wrote notes and quotes from a book I was reading at the time called The Skillful Teacher by Stephen Brookfield. Here's a sample of my scribbling:

"Teaching is frequently a gloriously messy pursuit in which surprise, shock and risk are endemic."

"The most significant and transforming learning episodes are often experienced with pain and trauma ... students, therefore, may not see you as a good teacher for months or years to come ... after the pain has passed, and after the student evaluations are written."

"Those students who struggled in their own learning may be much better at understanding and assisting students who are struggling themselves."
(reminds me of 2 Cor. 1:4)

So are you a journal writer? What do you write in yours? Notes from books you're reading? Experiences from your life? Bible verses? Prayers? Do tell!

You might want to pop over to P31's She Reads blog today and enter for a chance to win Bonnie Grove's new novel Talking with the Dead. And get a load of this - Bonnie is also giving away an iPod Nano loaded with songs she listened to while writing her novel. How cool is that?!

I'm banned from winning this giveaway, and I'm bummed about that. But that means your chances of winning are greater. I'm off to write some more in my grad school journal. Rediscovering this journal was almost as good as buying a new one!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Noshing and Painting

Hey y'all. I'm flying to Florida today to have lunch tomorrow with 3 or 4 hundred women from Palatka, FL. You know I'm excited! ... just a party looking for a place to happen.

Please pause and pray for this outreach event.

I'll be home in time to attend my own church this Sunday and I'm excited about that too. We're having that guy come who paints to worship songs, or the telling of the story of Christ, and when he's done you see that the evolving painting has turned into a portrait of Christ. He's been all over YouTube - have you seen it? (somebody post a link for me) Anyway, I'm looking forward to this weekend: noshing with some girlfriends in Christ, and watching this guy do his thing.

When I get back I just might put my tree up! Anybody got theirs up yet?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wordle Fun

Being a "work geek," I thought this was super fun.

My editor extraordinaire, Susan at David C. Cook publishers, just sent me a
of my book manuscript.

At she put in my whole manuscript and it created a collage based on the frequency of words used. The more I used a word, the larger it appears on my wordle.

Click on the brown word "wordle" above to get a sense of my new book coming out next year. Then click here to see another worlde version of it.

Play around on wordle yourself. You can enter the url of your blog and it will create a wordle of your blog!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Weekend snapshots

1) So I'm on the treadmill Friday when I spot a huge spider on the ceiling. The vaulted ceiling. Which means I can't reach it to kill it. I'll have to throw something at it. I don't want to smash the spider against the ceiling (I can't reach it to repaint it), so I grab a soft tank top and take aim. Ya'll I must've thrown that tank top at least 12 times before I hit it.

I throw like a girl.

It fell some place I didn't see -- probably because my method was to throw and run so it wouldn't hit me. I do not run like a girl. While I sprinted, it hid. Which means its still alive somewhere in my house, but I don't know where. It was last seen near my bedroom. Which makes me want to scream like a girl. Somebody please assure me that it won't join me on the bed tonight. If you've read the P31 devo book (pg. 130) you know I have irrational fears of spiders. Sigh.

2) Caught a TV interview with Micheal Buble (boo-blay) this weekend. He's the singer dubbed "the Canadian Sinatra." I love me some Sinatra y'all, but love me some Buble even more I think. (Because I'm just geeky like that.) Anyway, he also performed his new single on the show.

I feel a download coming on.

3) My very own lead singer (Rick plays in a cover band made up of professors from the university called The Schoolboys) played Saturday evening at the college for the opening of basketball season. He even dedicated a song to me: Some Kind of Wonderful.


4) Also on Saturday I went present-shopping for my son. His birthday is right before Christmas. My daughter's birthday is right after Christmas. So lots of presents to buy in the next 4 weeks. I'm starting early and pacing myself.

Still resisting the urge to put up the tree by the way.

5) Today I've been to church twice (2 different ones), to the grocery storey twice (same one), and cooked two dinners (at once). Feeling productive.

Tonight I have a short treadmill jog planned, followed by a gingerbread-scented bubble bath (less calories than the real stuff), and then perhaps I'll crawl into bed with my Kindle. After loudly announcing the spider is not invited.

Overall its been a good weekend. Next weekend I'm off to Florida to speak - looking forward to that. But on the flight back I'll likely have Buble's song "Home" playing on my Ipod.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Christmas comes early

You're thinking I've put my tree up, but I haven't yet. I'm still showing restraint. A bit of Christmas came early at my house in a different way.

My husband is a professor, the kind that likes to implement new technology in the classroom. A couple years ago he instituted a new technology in class that gives each student a clicker. It allows them to electronically "sign into class" each day, allows them all to answer quiz questions posted on a screen (paperless testing), and allows him to instantly show test/poll results from the class on the screen. So he can find out on the fly whether or not his students are "getting" the lecture. It's cool stuff. And since Rick used it in his classes, including a large lecture class with 200 students in it, he was able to test pilot the technology for the university.

Today Rick heads to the Marine base in Jacksonville to show them how to use it. Rick is a civilian, but works for the Marine Corp periodically as a "master teacher." Basically, he teaches their trainers how to teach well. Hence, he's introducing this technology to them. (Maybe we can learn to click our way out of these wars!)

So anyway, the next problem Rick is looking to solve for his students is the textbook problem. Textbooks cost students hundreds of dollars every semester. Plus, its a lot to carry around from class to class. So last night he comes home with ..... drum roll please .... something I've been wanting for a year ... an Amazon Kindle. He and a few other profs are going to test pilot these babies for the university (meaning the school paid for it) and see if they can be used effectively for teaching purposes. But that means I also get to play with it. I'm so stoked! Christmas just came early for me.

So you tell me, what book (besides the Bible of course) should I download to my Kindle to try it out? Nominations? Ideas? Anybody out there got tips for using Kindle for me?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hi, my name is Rachel and I'm a ...

So I woke up this morning, November 1st, stared at the clock (trying to figure out what time it "really" is after converting from daylight savings time) and thought, "Hey, I could put up the Christmas tree today!"

I'm a bit of a Christmas tree fanatic. Hi, I'm Rachel, and I'm a Christmasaholic.

Actually, the rest of the holiday decor I can completely live without. But not the tree. The tree is sacred in my mind. It transforms my family room into sacred space ... into an alter of sorts. Its little white lights somehow light up my heart, beckoning me nearer to the Light of the World.

Before you think I'm waaaay off base to think of Christmas the day after Halloween, just know that Kohl's has been thinking about it for months now. Other retailers are starting to leak info about deals they'll offer on Black Friday. And my kids have started their Christmas list because the toy catalogues hit our mailbox last week. I also started shopping for things to send to my sponsor child Mauricio - have to get international packages in the mail before Thanksgiving.

Plus, today I found the Sounds of the Season channel on my digital cable package playing Christmas songs. WOOT! Shhhh, can you hear it? Its Frank Sinatra singing "Mistletoe and Holly."

The only holiday thing besides a tree I can't do without is Christmas carols. They never lose their ability to capture my heart and hurl it heavenward. I've already heard one of my all time favs: The Little Drummer Boy. My weepy devotion to that carol has been well documented here. I realize it tells a fictional story, but at the same time it tells the story of my soul.

None of my family is in the house at the moment so I've got the carols on. I didn't put the tree up yet. I'm showing restraint. But I might have to sneak and get the mistletoe out. Its never too soon to get the love flowing in my opinion.

So I'm off to the attic to search for the red and green plastic bins that contain sparkly Christmas goodness. Any other Christmasaholics out there? Come on, please speak up and make me feel normal. Anybody else plan to put up their tree in November? (Post pics when you do please!)