Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Amazed

I didn't know what to expect when I saw my home town for the first time in six months after the tornado. The last time I had seen it (this June) I couldn't recognize streets, houses (there were none left), or anything really. In fact, I dreaded having to see it; it just hurt too much. But when my dad and I pulled over the hill above town on Christmas day, I was amazed.

In just under seven months my town went from being completely flattened and unrecognizable to almost normal. Over 300 homes were completely totaled but there are nearly 200 that are completely up or being constructed. If I didn't know what had happened on Memorial Day weekend, I wouldn't have known that Parkersburg had been hit. It just looks like a new subdivision right now with beautiful new homes and amazing new high school. There is still a long way to go in terms of construction, but I'm amazed at what I have seen so far.

The other interesting thing is that the spirit of my little home town hasn't changed a bit. People are still upbeat and positive. Sure the conversations now are all about the building process, but generally speaking it's as positive as it always has been, and these people lost everything.

It's amazing. I know the people in the rebuilding process, including my parents, don't feel like it's going very fast, but it really is. Consider Katrina... that happened nearly four years ago and there are still so many families without homes. This tornado hit my home town just last May and already a good chunk of the town is rebuilt. Amazing. Amazing. Amazing.

As my mom would say, it really is a miracle.

Needless to say it was extra special to be home for Christmas this year. All of my brothers made it and we all got together at my parents' temporary home. Amazingly enough it still felt like home, it still felt like Christmas, it still felt normal. This is a gift for which I'll forever be grateful.

Now if only my bags would surface... I was one of the many who got stuck in Chicago on Christmas Eve and my bags have still yet to surface... small potatoes, I know, but it really would be nice to have my underwear! :)

Merry Christmas! :)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I'll be home for Christmas...

In just over 24 hours I should be landing at the Des Moines airport. I'm so excited. I'm so excited to see my brothers, niece, nephew, sisters-in-law, girl-friend-in-law, parents, grandma, best friend, and the rest of the clan. I've been waiting for this day for a really long time, and it's hard to believe it's here. I can't wait to be home for Christmas! :)

Merry Christmas to all! :)

Christmas Perfection



Luther College's Annual Christmas Concert aired on PBS last night, and I had the luxury of watching it with my good friends while drinking three rather robust glasses of wine. As the snow fell outside, we were warmed by the music, wine, and glow from the Christmas tree inside. It was no short of Christmas perfection! :)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Santa's Workshop


Today I've been finalizing my Christmas presents. I bought what I had to buy and have been making the things I am going to make. I must say, making these presents really has put me in the Christmas spirit. The hand-made presents aren't quite done yet, but I'm shooting to have them done by the end of the night. I just hope they turn out as I originally envisioned. I guess only time will tell. So far, I know I'd like to be the recipient of one of the hand-made presents... It also helps that my friends are generally good sports about this sort of thing. :)

Anyhow... I'm just waiting for the stain to dry; then I can move on to the next step in the finishing process. In the mean time, I have a nice cup of hot cocoa and lovely Christmas tunes playing in the background.

Life is good; it's really good. :)

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The art of giving a good gift


I have a dear friend who decided he was going to make all of his Christmas presents this year. He's an amazing woodworker, so his gifts were, of course, beautiful. He made some great porch chairs for his friends in WI, a toy storage unit for his niece, and another unit for a friend's daughter. When he showed them to me, I was not only convinced of his character and why I am so drawn to him, but he also reminded of the art of giving a good gift. It's not about the dollar amount associated with the gift or fulfilling some one's wish list; it's more about giving something that is genuine and heartfelt to show how much we care.


Some of the best gifts I have ever received aren't the ones that I was longing or wishing for, but the ones that were the thoughtful, unexpected gifts from the heart... a handmade blanket, a quote book my friend scrap-booked together, a scarf, an inspiring poem with a hand-made border of stamps from a family's heirloom collection, pictures or maps from adventures, a tiny flashlight to help make sure I didn't loose my way, a pair of mittens to keep my hands warm in the sub-zero weather, a quarter that my oldest brother gave me the day I was born. Although some of these things seem trivial, they aren't. These gifts are about so much more than the object itself; they are the things that remind me I am loved and that I love.


So taking my friend's lead, I'm doing my best to make sure the gifts I choose this year not only make the recipients smile, but also serve as a reminder of how much I love those who will receive them.

Skiing


I've been skiing for a long time now, since I was five-years-old, and sometimes it just doesn't thrill me like it used to. Don't get me wrong, I still love to do it; I still love the thrill of cruising a top speed on my own two feet. I love seeing the beautiful mountain ranges, and of course I love playing outside. I just don't get up at the crack of dawn to get first tracks anymore or ski top to bottom from first chair to last.


Yesterday, however, I had the pleasure of teaching one of my good friends how to ski, and it put the fun right back into it again. It's funny how sharing something that you've always done with someone you care about can put a new spin on things. It's even cooler when you know you helped someone check something off her "bucket list."


Yay for the mountains. Yay for good friends. Yay for skiing! :)
P.S.
Unfortunately, my friend found out the day after that she pulled her MCL, and yet she still wants to get back on the hill as soon as possible. No wonder why she helped put the fun back into it! Next time, I'll try to take it easier on you, Lisa! Sorry you messed up your knee.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A New Chapter



One of my favorite things is to start something new. Don't get me wrong, I like old things too, but there is just something about the challenge and mystery of a fresh start. A new start is even better when it has the potential to be the start of something really amazing. Let's just say this... over the past couple of weeks one old, tired chapter has finished, and a new and exciting one has begun--and this one is a page turner. Now I just hope I don't turn the pages too fast, but that's a different story for a different time.


Here's to new and happy beginnings! :)


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The wishing basket


A few weeks ago in church there were folks who got up to tell their thanksgiving stories. It was fantastic to hear different perspectives from folks I didn't know very well. I connected to each story in some way which gave me an incredible sense of peace and belonging.


There was one story in particular that stuck out to me. One woman got up and talked about the struggles she faced as a single mom teaching in a private school in the Caribbean. Times were really tough, and she wasn't quite sure what to do. So, she and her two sons developed a ritual. They took a hand-made basket, made by a friend of theirs, and turned it into a wishing basket. Then, each time the family had a need they would go to the ocean, pick out a coral to represent that need, number it, and record it. When a need was met they took that need's coral back to the ocean on a clear and starry night, thanked the universe for its help, and then gave the coral back to the ocean. It was amazing to hear how the universe provided for this woman and her two boys and how they were grateful each time.


I latched on to this woman's ritual. I found a wishing cup, picked up stones for each of the needs I had, and kept track of them in a little book. The interesting thing is, my needs are starting to be met. One by one, little by little. I am so grateful. I am so happy. I am so blessed. The whole scenario reminds me of our parting song at church...

From You I receive;
To you I give.
Together we share;
Together we live.

The universe really is an amazing place. Sometimes it's hard to see it's beauty when it seems to continually take from us. At the same time, though, it always provides in one way or another. There is beauty in both the giving and the receiving; for this, I am grateful.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Winter Wonderland

It's cold-- really cold, fifteen-below-zero cold. Yesterday I was snowed in; today I'm frozen in. I dig it though, as long as I don't have to be outside for very long. :)

The best part of the weekend definitely included the Christmas party I went to last night. It was a house party thrown by some of my roommate's friends. My roommate's band played (once the power came on-- it was out for the first three hours of the night), we chatted by candlelight, I caught up with folks I hadn't seen or talked to in a long time, and I even made a new friend. It was one of those nights when you forget to look at the time and when you do, are surprised that it's five in the morning. It wasn't an over the top party, it was just a good one, even despite the snow and cold. It had good music, good people, and good conversation. What more could I ask for? So yes, it may be cold and snowy here, but I'd still like to think I'm living in a winter wonderland.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells


I was so lucky today. Our high school choir sang "Carol of the Bells" in our hallway this morning. There's really no better way to start out the day than with a full choir rendition of a Christmas tune, especially this one. Needless to say, listening to them not only put me in the Christmas spirit, but I also had a fantastic day.

So I hope, dear readers, that you too have a fantastic day and that you are able to keep a lovely little song in your heart! :)


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Posts to think about...

I was flipping through the blogs that I follow today and found these two really great posts from my fellow bloggers, Peter and Don. I don't think these two guys know each other, but they made a really good point about perspective today. So if you're looking for an attitude booster, stroll on over to these posts ("What about Me" by Peter and "Affirmations: a lightning rod for goodwill" by Don).

I see the moon

(Image from here)


I went for a much needed walk tonight under the nearly full moon (and yes, part of the reason why I needed the walk was because my kiddos are experiencing the full-moon effect!). The night sky was beautiful and reminded me of a good-night song we used to sing at a summer camp I once worked at in Colorado. I happen to like this song a lot because it's so sweet and makes the world feel smaller-- in a good way. Here it is... enjoy :)

I see the moon and the moon sees me.
The moon sees somebody I'd like to see.
So, God bless the moon, and God bless me.
And God bless the somebody I'd like to see.
Good Night!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Diorama Party


I'm very excited about one particular Holiday party that I plan on attending next weekend-- the Second Annual Christmas Diorama Party/Contest. If you don't remember from your grade school art days, a diorama is, according to Webster,

a scenic representation in which sculptured figures and lifelike details are
displayed usually in miniature so as to blend indistinguishably with a realistic
painted background

My roommate and I hosted the party for our friends last year, and it was quite a bash! I even took third in the contest. The theme was "Christmas Vacation," so I made a two-dimensional evening ski scene in a very foxy shoe box. This was, by the way, a small feat for me given my lack of artistic ability-- just ask my students!


Now I'm getting geared up to score big in this year's contest with a "Christmas in Cinema" theme. There are only two rules in the contest: the diorama cannot be a model (we had some issues with that last year from our architect friends), nor can it use pyrotechnics (don't ask!). I pretty much have my idea nailed down; it's just a matter of making it a reality. I'll have to keep you posted.


Let me ask you this, my fellow bloggers: If you had to create a diorama with this year's theme, what would you create?

Outsourced

I seem to be coming across a lot of texts, references, and movies involving India lately. I don't know if that's a sign that I need to go on a trip or what, but I'm starting to become really curious about this culture that I don't know much about. The more I learn, the more curious I become.

Outsourced is the latest movie I've seen that takes place in India. It's a great independent comedy that highlights some of the sad, and sometimes humorous, realities of Western commerce as well as the quirky things that happen when one is in culture shock. If you've ever lived abroad for more than six months or have an appetite for cultural diversity, you'll really appreciate this film. Not to mention that the soundtrack is fantastic! :)


video

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Love Poems From God

My best friend over at grace's birdcage wedding, is doing a blog series on poems written hundreds of years ago and have been republished in a book called Love Poems from God. I've been reading them as she posts and am usually blown out of the water by how the poets understand God and love. It's amazing these were written so long ago and from the perspective of so many different cultures; I guess this further reiterates that the subjects of Love and God are timeless universals. The fact that my friend has decided to post these particular poems with these particular themes is indeed one of the many reasons why she's my best friend. :)

So head on over to Grace's Birdcage Wedding to check out her series of tags on "the poems." I don't think you'll be disappointed. :)

Twinkle, Twinkle


(Photo from here)

I had the pleasure of walking home from a rather festive night on the town Friday night. The walk reminded me just how magical a winter's night under Montana's big sky can be. It's kind of a long walk from downtown and requires hiking up a large hill that overlooks the city, but I was glad to do it.
When I got to the top of the hill, I stopped for a moment to look. There's something special about pausing in the dark to silently watch the city lights twinkle below and the winter stars and moon light the sky from above. I swear time stopped for a just a moment as I paused in this special place between the hustle and bustle of life below and the quiet stillness of the universe above. I whispered a soft and humble "thank you," waited for just a few silent moments, and finished out the last half of the walk with a gentle peace that I haven't felt in quite some time.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Solitude


Solitude is a funny thing. When I didn't have it, I craved it, but now that I have it, I can't help but feel a little anxious. I used to be so good at doing things on my own (living alone in a barn out in the middle of nowhere forced me to be). I was even proud that I was so content being by myself-- after all, it's not always easy. But things seem to be different at the moment, and clearly Solitude and I are out of touch. I'm just not used to those empty moments that can creep in with Solitude. My friends and family have been fantastic at helping me ward off these moments, but there comes a point when it's just up to me. And it is at this point, my dear friends, when Emptiness sneaks in as Solitude's unwanted sidekick.


I've found that one of the best ways to chase away Emptiness is to stay busy, and I've been doing that. I've had cocktail connections, brownie bowl parties, pink pearl snap nights, and the like. The problem is, I'm getting a little weary around the edges. I want to relax and just be. I want to make friends with Solitude again, but I'm afraid Emptiness will sneak up on us. This fear is silly and irrational I know-- fear always is-- but it is what it is, and right now the thought of an unwanted visit from Emptiness is making me a little anxious.


But, as my grandmother said, "this too shall pass." It always does. I am just out of touch with Solitude and haven't had to single-handedly ward off Emptiness in a while. With a little patience, though, my angst will go away. Soon I'll be able to shake hands with Solitude, and together we'll send Emptiness packing. :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cocktail Connection


As a wandering spirit, friendship can be hard sometimes. Because I have a tendency to wander around, my dearest friends and family aren't always close by. This can be especially problematic when life gets hard or frustrating. But thank God for technology (a.k.a. phones and the Internet)!


Tonight I had the chance to have a 3-way-long-distance-cocktail. See, I started chatting with my best friend from college while sipping on a glass of wine, and before I knew it I was also chatting and sipping on wine with my best friend from home via the Internet. We all sort of know each other, so I started sharing what I was hearing from both ends of the conversation with my two friends, and before we knew it we had a long distance cocktail party that joined three very good friends from three very different locations (Kansas City, Montana, and Oregon).


I know this may sound silly, but when you find yourself so far away from the friends who have known you the longest, the friends who keep you grounded, and know you for who you really are without a need for explanation, this is a gift.


I feel lucky. I haven't laughed that hard in a long time. I have such good friends even if we live far apart....


Thank you Lord for amazing friends, the technology that helps us stay connected, and for a good glass of wine. :)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Alpenglow

(Photo of Alpenglow in the Tetons by Ron Niebrugge)

Two of my ultimate favorite parts of the day are just before the sun completely rises and just before it sets. I've always liked this time of day because it's that magical hour that's filled with wonder and reflection. In the morning it's filled with the wonder of what the day will have in store. In the evening, it's a magical hour to reflect on what the day had in store. Being the reflective dreamer that I am, I'm sure you can understand why this is such an important time of day for me.



I didn't know that this time of day actually had a name until I moved to the mountains. Apparently the name for this magical moment is alpenglow, or Alpengl├╝hen in German. According to Wikipedia it is "when the Sun is just below the horizon, [and] a horizontal red glowing band can sometimes be observed on the opposite horizon." In the Midwest, this time of day was more about the feeling for me (mostly because there wasn't much the "red glowing band" could reflect on :) ) But in the mountains it involves more than just a feeling; this is the time of day when the mountains actually glow. The refelction off the "red glowing band" reflects on to the mountains and turns them all shades of orange, yellow, and pink. It only lasts a moment, but if you can catch it, it's one of the most breath-taking moments of the day, especially when the mountains are snow capped and the sky is crystal clear.


Today was a particular special day because I was able to observe alpenglow twice against our big, crystal-blue, Montana sky. I was able to catch it at sunrise while I drove through four different snow-capped mountain ranges on my way to work, and I was able to catch it on top of a hill during my evening run. It was magnificent. It is yet another reminder of why I love the mountains so much. They constantly remind me of how majestic nature can be and how lucky I am to be alive, living out my dream in this most beautiful place.