Pumpkin Pond Paddling

Yes, you heard me right. For four years in a row now, we have visited the Pumpkin Festival in Ludwigsburg, Germany. For me, this Kürbisfest is a highlight of the season change, preparing for the cold months we have ahead here in the greater Stuttgart area. But try as we might, I never seemed to be able to organize our visit to coincide with the day they float in oversized gourds on the small pond in front of the palace that dates back to the 1700’s. Okay, a little introduction to this unique vegetable-boat event:

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As you can see from the photograph, genuine pumpkins are carved out on the side to make an entrance to the squash, hollowed out, and then used quite effectively as a mode of travel. Participants race around the two halves of the pond competing for the fastest time, separated in 2 categories: men and women. Visit the Kürbisfest website here to see all the events at this fun fall festival. Now, on to the story of how I ended up in this unique Kürbis race… Continue reading

England Part 2: A Boot Funeral At Jone’s Bootmaker in Hastings

I had confided in Carroll that I was pretty sure during this trip in Hastings, God was going to replace my boots. Oh, my boots…I wish those 14 years ago when I first got my boots I would have had the foresight to realize how meaningful they would be – if I had, I could have captured the moment when they came into my life. But sometimes you just don’t know how precious something can become to you until it’s years later when you know a sad parting is very near.

I’ve known for, oh, I guess a year or so maybe that the time would be coming soon when my Italian boots would have to be laid aside – honestly, I’d been in denial every time my husband told me “you really need new boots, those things are on the way out.” It was probably that trip a year ago through Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Israel in thigh-high water that did them in. Well, maybe it was my tendency to pretend they were snow boots…but really, it’s borderline miraculous they stayed in-tact the 14 years that they did when I think about the wear and tear and abuse my beloved boots endured.

But going back to the beginning when Ralph splurged that night in Vicenza and spent 110 Euro on my boots, it was love at first sight. They became my go-to shoe for all occasions: hiking, dressing up, running out the door for a quick shopping trip. And even though they got a much needed break every summer, as soon as the weather cooled just enough until the end of spring when sheer foot sweat made me pause the donning of the boots, they were my dear old pal and podial companion.

Now fast forward to that day, Monday May 15, at Jone’s Bootmaker. I walked in nervously – partly hoping to find a worthy replacement, and partly wishing no such thing existed and I could walk back out in my well-worn foot gear. The first pair I tried on were actually pretty good – I could have made myself content with them: same height, same color. Not perfect, but they really.. could … do….. until I saw them. They were brown, not black – but they still zipped up (one of my favorite characteristics of my boots). They had adorable buckles on the sides. They…fit like a glove and made me fall in love again. And if you are thinking at this moment that I am ridiculous, you’d better not read a single sentence further. Ridiculous is only about to begin. Continue reading

Goodness Gracious Chocolate Glazed Donuts

So I have a little anecdote/story to share with you from this weekend. It’s pretty personal – and it shows a little of the good-bad-ugly side of myself, so be gracious with me! I hope it does a couple of things – shows you that I’m still learning, just like everybody else; and reminds you to grow a little in graciousness.

GRACIOUS: pleasantly kind, benevolent, and courteous.

I was on my way home from dropping off a friend in the city. We were headed out of town for the weekend to Koblenz, Germany (lovely town, if you ever get the chance to visit). Our purpose was to drop off a friend and crash her parents 25th anniversary party. Good plans, yes? It is about a 3 hour drive from where we live, and I was running a tad bit late for us to get going. I had stopped for gas, and prayed that my family would be gracious with me for the fact we were running late to get on the road.

When I got home, ‘nothing’ was done except a bag of clothes packed for my son. I have to admit, did not act very gracious with them as I began to bark orders and angrily make a quick breakfast (earlier that morning, I had asked my husband to pack a bag for Zeke, make breakfast, take the trash out, and do what he could to help us get out the door when I got back…he heard the first thing at least…I guess). I was sort of ‘over it’ by the time we were halfway to the military base to fill up our gas card funds. We were conversing like normal people and had worked out the fastest way to get back on the road. The hubby ran on the military base (with one simple request from me to please get donuts at the gas station too) while the kids and friend and I waited at the park across the street.

My friend and I even had a good conversation about what these kinds of ‘disappointing situations’ are supposed to teach us. She had her own somewhat similar situation going on with her photographer friend who got the date mixed up for the anniversary party. We talked about how we expect people to be gracious with us, but fail to extend the same graciousness for their failures and forgetfulness. Hm. Then we prayed, and the car pulled in right then to pick us up and get back on the road. I got in, and looked at the box of donuts: they were the wrong kind. They were not the kind of donuts I like at all.

And so began again my frustrations with my husband. Poor guy – those donuts just made me think of how much ‘he didn’t think about me’ (even though I was completely overlooking the fact that he had waited on me to get home, he had packed our son’s clothes, he was trying his best: and he did buy the donuts! No, for me, it wasn’t enough and I was mad. Didn’t he know I only liked the plain hole-in-the-middle glazed donuts? None of this custard-filled chocolate icing crap! I wouldn’t eat one and I wouldn’t speak to him. (yes, folks, this is the point where you can shake your head and say, good grief! this girl is ridiculous!)

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Christmas is over. Now what?

I don’t think I read any blogs over the Christmas season. But with good reason. I had my parents here with us for 2 weeks, and we had a wonderful time with them. Lots of laughs, food, fun, Christmas markets, etc. But Christmas is over. I sat for the first time in weeks to read a few blogs. Two of the blogs I follow that I read this morning I think are wonderful for a ‘re-set’ or ‘re-focus’ after the time off for Christmas. So I recommend you check out:

http://devotedlife.net/2015/12/28/trusting-an-engineer-dec-28/ as he reminds us of the place that God should take in our intellect and faith.

and http://gracemusing.com/2015/12/27/17-lessons-i-learned-from-christian-books-in-2015/  to apply what that means to our lives, and practically live more mature, God-led lives.

And from me? I’m just thanking God for His un-ending goodness, as Psalm 143 spoke to me about on December 19th (here’s my thoughts from that day):

Psalm 143: “Hear my prayer, O Lord, Give ear to my supplication! In Your faithfulness, answer me, And in Your righteousness. Do not enter into judgement with Your servant, For in Your sight, no one living is righteous. For the enemy has persecuted my soul. He has crushed my life to the ground; He has made me dwell in darkness Like those who have long been dead. Therefore, my spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is distressed.”

Lord, before my parents got here, I had been feeling a bit of distress – a bit of darkness. I know You speak to me, but sometimes I feel nothing from You – and I know it’s the enemy blinding me. Please keep me close to You in a way I feel You – so I don’t become overwhelmed, no matter what is going on.

(v5) I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works; I muse on the works of Your hands.”

The days of old – I have my notebook here where I’ve been writing my married life story. It has it’s points in it, coming up, and not yet written, that are saddening to think on. But there are so many other moments, days, journal entries, miraculous events, that remind me of how God is in my life: my Lord, Creator, and Savior loves me and cares for me.

Then I look up and out the window at God’s majestic works of His hands. The silhouetted trees with the carefully detailed grey hills behind – as it slowly climbs out of shadow to a purple/grey hue, fog beginning to lift, and the outline of trees layered behind trees beginning to be visible. And as the sun is slowly climbing, the place where the blackened tree line on top of the hill is now accented by the warmest golden lines that blend into an ever-changing band above of pink, beige, faded purple, and then the light cloud-line that leads to a crisp morning blue. Some of the colors I can’t even describe – or they last just a few moments before the Great Painter has set in motion the next part of the scene of a single day’s sunrise. And this is just one minute masterpiece in an abundance of beauty that the Master is orchestrating in a single moment.

Yes, I meditate on all Your works. I muse on the work of Your hands.

I don’t know what kind of year you had. I don’t know what is in your future, or mine. But I know Who holds the future, and I know He wants to be a part of your life. If after reading the blogs I read, and my own thoughts, you feel drawn to know Him, start your new year with new life: talk to Jesus – it’s simple. Ask Him to come and be the Leader of your life and make you new.

 

The Christmas Tree and Memories

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I really don’t know why it’s such a special part of our Christmas celebrating. Maybe because it’s the largest visible item to mark the season? I’m not sure if that’s the reason, but I can say a part of the significance of it comes from all the good memories that surround the Christmas Tree. They come back to me as I sit and look at the lovely decorations collected over the years, my now-5 year old popcorn string (yes, it does keep! I don’t have to string it every year, and my son even stopped snacking on it at least 3 years ago, haha!) So here is my walk down memory lane, if you care to snoop, after we decorated the tree last night:

December 4, around midnight….I’m sitting here watching my sleeping children whom I allowed to drift off as they looked at our job well done on the Christmas tree this year. I’ll carry them to bed later. But now, I’m thinking about our Christmases past, at least the memories that the Tree reminds me of. I laugh about the one year we went and cut trees together with my husband’s family – my mom in law ended up picking the most sparce Charlie Brown Tree you’d ever seen. It was funny. But looked comically great once sprinkled with tinsel and covered in her various decorations. I also remember before that the year my husband was in Afghanistan for Christmas: the kids and I went with his family to cut a tree – with our boxer, Betsy, too. I fell asleep on the way home on my brother-in-law’s shoulder – a bit embarrassed about that when we got home and I’d left a little drool on his shirt.

I remember another year that my husband was home and we’d (well, I had, I guess) picked a ridiculously huge tree – it took up 1/4 of our living room. And my husband even had to cut the branches down in the back so it would sit near the wall enough. And when it came time to take that one down, he opted to saw it up inside the house to make removal easier. Then I also remember the tiny tree we put up in Florida at the vacation home that special Christmas with my mom and dad – and on Christmas day, we all went over to the assisted living for my last year to celebrate the season with my grandparents. Mom and I made lasagna to bake there at the home for a special dinner with them. Grandma talked about that day even up until she passed away in July this past year. She’d still say the same thing whenever it came to her mind: “you remember, Melissa, when you and your mom cooked that wonderful lasagna dinner for Christmas for us in Florida? Those people would pass through the hallway there and smell that good food and just get so jealous of us.” And then she’d smile and laugh. It’s still not come to my heart the full realization that I won’t see them again on this earth. But these memories certainly help.

I remember another year, I think it was last year or the year before, when we had just finished decorating the tree, and it made me think about Jesus’ proclamation that He is the light of the world. The beauty of the tree all glowing and inviting reminded me that Jesus called people to come to His light. So when the decorating was over, we sat together and read that account from the Bible.

I hope this Christmas tradition will continue to draw my children and myself closer together, and closer to the Lord. As I watch them sleeping (I feel I could watch them all night) I also feel the weight and responsibility to raise children who understand the meaning of Christmas and the love of Jesus. And my prayer is that God can use many of these tangible traditions they love to bring life to God’s truths.

So – if you took the time to read this and it reminded you of great Christmas Tree memories, share them with me please!

The Day I Went Out in My ‘Nightgown’

So my grandma, Carolyn Gazzano, went home to heaven yesterday. She will be missed until I see her again. It’s good to know she’s in a better place; she meant a lot to me. Here’s one sweet memory from my last visit with her. I’ll share more over the next few months.

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So I’ve been home from Germany for a few days now to help take care of my grandma. It has been rewarding, contemplative, bittersweet, nostalgic, and fun. Yup, I think that describes it well. But I will definitely emphasize the fun. My 95 year old grandmother still knows how to laugh, how to have a good time, and how to give her grand-daughter a hard time. Which is great, because then it gives me material to write about, hee hee.

Yesterday, my mom and I took my grandma out for Chinese food. She loves Chinese – and since she was having a good day, it was a day to celebrate. My kids were spending the day with my in-laws, so it was just us ‘girls.’ We got all dressed up to have a nice lunch together. But when I came out in my version of all dressed up, my grandma…

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A Little Reflection

So I’ve been needing to start on my vacation tidbits, but honestly, I was allowing the political tone of the world to get me down. So this morning with my coffee, I read this post by my fellow blogger, Don, and was listening to this song I wrote at the same time. Here are both for you. I pray that if you’re down, it reminds you to look up.

The Life Project

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It’s Sunday again; what better day for a little reflection?

Has God been filling your life with blessings?  Has he given you peace in a tough situation?

Well, you see what I mean by reflection…

We spend so much time and energy running ourselves ragged these days, and so much of our lives just rushes by in a sort of blur; we need a moment, so it’s time to seize the moment.  Let’s give thanks to God for all He is doing in our lives, let’s thank Him for all of the ways He’s blessed us.  Let’s recall the great things He has done, like sending His Son to die for our sins.  Let’s take a minute to give Him the praise that is His due for all He is doing in His Body, the Church.  Let’s praise Him for all of those who have come to know Him recently…

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Perseverance can be broken down in First Steps

STEP 1: Identify the first obstacle.

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STEP 2: Face the fears that the obstacle brings up. How do you face fears? Well, the best way is biblically. For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind. The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps. 27:1)

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STEP 3: Keep climbing over the obstacle, despite the difficulties.

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STEP 4: Do that again.

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See, Perseverance is all about ‘keeping on.’ I get knocked down, but I get up again, you know? Pressing on doesn’t mean victory every time. It means going through the wins and losses and moving ahead. By the way, you can’t keep going if you don’t know where you’re headed. Maybe I’ll write about that one day.

all photos were taken one day we spent up on White Wash in ABQ NM. great day with the family 🙂

Pressing On

This will be two-part, as I want to dive into the tie-in that this can have with my last post, Admitting Defeat. If you didn’t read that one, please do so either before or after you peruse these thoughts.

DSCN0303So the thoughts I’m going to share today might at first seem to be a retraction of what I wrote previously. They are not. This is simply the other side of the coin. But let me first define some words to help us be sure that what I wrote before still holds true in my thinking in light of what I have to say now…

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE WORDS QUIT AND DEFEAT:

Quit mean to depart from, leave; to have done with, to forsake. This word is something we choose to do, it’s our reaction to situations.

to [be] Defeated: to [be] beat; victory won over [you]; to [be] prevented success. This word is something that happens to you. But notice with me something interesting: in order to experience defeat, it implies that a person would have to have been trying, fighting, and going for success. And trying against some kind of opposition. You usually aren’t defeated by nothing (that should be defined as quitting). And admitting defeat does not have to follow with quitting. The two can be separated.

So what do we do then after we’ve had to admit an area we’ve been defeated? We try again. We press on. And we do so in better ways: learning from the past lost victory, and moving forward.

Let me go back to that tiny incident that prompted me to write about defeat in the first place: my sprained ankle that is still not better (as I’ve heard is quite normal). What did I do the next day? Did I give up and sit on the couch all day long? No, I learned from it. I learned my limitations, and I tried again inside those limitations. I attempted a very small workout the next day, and it went well. When I had some swelling, I stopped and put my foot up for a few minutes with ice.

When we’ve been physically defeated, we need to admit it, evaluate it, and try again with gained knowledge how not to lose. When we’ve been mentally defeated, we need to take time to reflect, pray, and go at it again with a different mind-set. When we’ve been spiritually defeated – ah, that’s the tricky one! – we need to admit it to God, and try again, in HIS strength, not our own.

Press on, my friend, but not in a stubborn way that doesn’t change from the first time. Let the little defeats be admitted (that’s called humility) and learn how to try again (that’s called pressing on, or perseverance).

Admitting Defeat

I am not good at that at all. I will fight to the bitter end before I admit I am done. Nothing gets me down! I will not stop and say ‘okay, you’ve got me, I’m done in!’

Which can often be my un-doing. It’s probably better just to admit when I’ve been beat. Which is what I fought doing today…

I write tonight as I sit with my foot propped up and throbbing still from a five-week old sprain. I almost admitted the need to sit back and rest. At least, I told the dance teacher at Irish step dancing that I’d have to put my account on hold for a while. But then I came home, still not ready to throw in the towel and mowed the lawn. Yes, now it is throbbing.

Jacob was also a man who didn’t want to admit defeat (read more about that in Genesis 32). He had his fears, he had his moments of admitting many other things. But when he wrestled with the Angel of God, he just wouldn’t give up. “NOT UNTIL…” he said, as he clung to His feet.

What will it take for me to give up? Not until I’m dog-tired, broken, and incapacitated? Not until the argument is won even though the friendship is lost? Not until I break down and cry it out and realize I can’t do it all? Not until I’ve burned every bridge in an attempt to prove that I can do it myself?

It takes more than courage to come to the place where you say, okay I cannot. I’ve given it my best, and I am not adequate. Then, a door opens, and there is room for Someone to step in who is: is what? Is adequate, sufficient, capable, and kind. That moment that we ‘give up’ and let God, that’s a much better moment than any victory won at all costs.

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(took this photo at the Pumpkin festival in Ludwigsburg October 2014)