Winter Visitors And a Whole Lot of Photos: You've been warned

There arrival was greatly anticipated.  We were all giddy to have them here, regardless of the wintry weather we were experiencing.  As soon as we saw their hands waving the entire vehicle was all smiles.  Inside and out.  Their cases were loaded quickly and just like that we were off on our first adventure.  Cosetta's for linner. 
Sweet treats
Dessert in the bakery after a filling linner, just couldn't pass it up
Before a hectic school schedule we rested Sunday after worship service, took a walk around Staring Lake and enjoyed a late afternoon footie match for Thing 4.  The week was to be filled with finals for the Things, all four this year, and some day adventures for the grown ups.  Family dinners and games in the evening, in between studying of course.  Maybe an ice cream run or a special meal out too. 
Standing on the frozen dock 
Our first day trip was to Excelsior and Lake Minnetonka.  The chill of the wind surprised us all and we kept our sight seeing to a minimum.  We lunched at Mozza Mia and were able to see fresh pasta hanging in the kitchen.  Yum!
Mom and Me shopping in Excelsior
Freshly made pasta
There was homework and studying and hanging chalkboards and all sorts of family time that evening. 
Pre-drilling holes to hang my chalkboard wall, it was a group effort. 
Husband Jared had Tuesday off work and we were able to schedule a brewery tour at Summit Brewery in St. Paul.  The first stop though was St. Paul's Cathedral.  Standing tall on the hill it is a sight to behold.  Built in the early 1900's the architecture is intricate and elaborate and reminiscent of churches we had visited in Prague.  We walked the hallway of the Saints, stood in awe of the altar and quizzically tried to understand the swan like candelabras.  Haven't figured that one out yet. 

From afar

Dad and Mom in front of the Cathedral

Looking up
Before our beer tasting and tour we headed to Grand Avenue for lunch at Brasa.  Husband Jared and I had dined here with friends a while back and were anxious to try it again.  This time was just as good as had remembered.  Dad's egg and pulled pork with yellow rice topped the list, oh and the plantains, those were my fave.  Bellies full we found the brewery, hidden in St. Paul in an industrial complex.  We watched a short slide show on the history of Summit, it's founders, it's variety of beers and it's commitment to remaining a craft brewery.  All rather fascinating if you ask me.  There was talk of hops and grains and barley and malt and bottling practices and home brews and on and on.  I suppose a beer lover's paradise.  Surprisingly I found the afternoon quite educational and as a bonus, when the tour was complete we were able to sample the local fare. 
In the tap room

Holding tanks in the newly added building
Outside, with the Summit logo behind us, me and my sensitive eyes squinting
We came home to four Things that were preparing for the first round of finals.  They needed some distraction so the Stinson kiddos were  invited over for some fun.  The boys ran around, played Nerf guns and showed Poppi and Nani just how to Rainbow loom.  Also on this night, there were many hands to assist with homework and studying and even house drawing for replica pictures for one Thing's art class.  See photo below, you will not be disappointed.  For the assignment they were not allowed to use any digital help.  So in order to recreate this photo Husband Jared and Nani went to work.  A house drawn on the chalkboard and one house in the background on our tele.  I do believe Thing 1's instructor was impressed with the final result.
Nani getting her art on
Thing 2 and Hailey covered the chalkboard with their art! 
Wednesday was final day and more time with the Things.  Since their was a testing gap in all four of their schedules we picked them up for a school reprieve.  That which included a quick trip to Target, lunch at Lion's Tap, Poppi's fave, and an even speedier run through Costco for dessert and a few essentials.  Yum.  We sent Uncle J a photo of our juicy burgers just to send him into a drool fit.  Oh how we miss all being together.  The Things ran off to youth group for some worship time and then it was back to studying and early bed times for all. 

Nani and Thing 2 studying
Poppi learning how to cup stack
Thursday us adults were ready for some outdoor activity, cross country skiing.  With the exception of Husband Jared none of us had ever been and we had researched and watched YouTube videos and practiced our form.  All while being mocked by the Things.  No matter.  Only the weather had other plans in mind.  With a below zero wind chill we most certainly were not up to braving the elements and instead opted for entertainment of the indoor sort.  Can anyone say bocce ball?  There was lunch and a little friendly competition, boys v. girls.  I was a tad rusty and it took Mom and I a while to warm up, shall we say, but we ended up even in the end.  Boys with one win and us girls with one as well.  It was good fun and we had lots of laughs while we talked strategy.
I'm sure I look nothing like my Mom, ahem.
Let's see now, we made it to the end of the week!  Which of course could only mean one thing, we were going to be together all day, all eight of us!  The Things were thrilled.  And for our first night together I can't even remember now what we did.  Must have been some night!  Wait, it's coming back to me.  During Friday day we took a little field trip to Ikea and picked up a new dresser for Thing 4.  So, Friday night was spent watching movies, assembling a dresser, moving the old one and trying our hand at homemade tortillas courtesy of a family friend's recipe.  I had never endeavored into tortilla making land and Poppi and Nani assured me that it was ever so easy.  I did agree once we got started.  Although the rolling didn't go just right and the finished product was rather salty.  Well, after clean up and sampling and later in the night we discovered why.  The flour we purchased was not the same brand as the recipe called for and already had the leavening agents and salt added to it.  Needless to say we added ingredients that didn't need adding.  Oops.  A rookie mistake I'm sure we won't make again.  Fun was still had and the tortillas weren't "that bad".  At least we had a good laugh !
Three generations

Poppi giving us a tortilla rolling lesson
Saturday morning came nice and slow, just the way I like it.  Our house guests were up and beat me to the coffee making.  Husband Jared and I lingered upstairs and listened to the sounds of the house.  I couldn't help but smile because in that moment I was filled with gratitude.  The Things came into the kitchen one by one and had their snuggles and time with Poppi and Nani and then we all decided it was a great day for sledding.  Well, almost all of us.  Thing 1 sat this one out.  It was chilly.  We weren't to be deterred.  One by one we slid down on the powdery snow.  Laughing and screaming and holding on for dear life.  Yes, that was us.  There were snow angels made and snow ball fights and one or two of us may have been tackled and had our faces shoved in the cold, wet snow.  Thank you for that Thing 3.
The family that "selfies" together stays together, right?

Poppi and Thing 4 sledding
To warm us up after our play time outside we drove through JJ's for some rich hot cocoa.  And yes, we of course brought one home for Thing 1.  Then it was off for a late lunch, early dinner, or linner as we like to call it at Burger Jones and some sight seeing around Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet.  Burger Jones hit the spot.  The Things introduced Nani and Poppi to cheese curds. Yum! 
Yep, that's a heaping plate of chicken wings, this Thing's favorite!

Oh how we love thee!
Nani and Thing 3 all smiles at Burger Jones
I do believe that we played a new game this night, which has quickly become a family favorite, Big Bowl.  Thank you to the Brown family for teaching us this one.  We were in stitches.  It was
Adults v. Things and I am happy to say that the parents and grandparents won.  You heard it here!  It was riotous and  loud and competitive.  Everything that we strive for our game nights to be.  Then it was off to bed early for the alarm was going to be ringing early for church the next morning. 
And now I finally am able to share my highest high of this visit, cross country skiing!  We couldn't have asked for better weather, forty degrees and the sun was shining.  There were people in tank tops outside.  May be a sign that you live in the frozen tundra, where 30 degree plus weather means it is warm.  I'm learning, slowly.  Anyhow, after all the research and preparation we were on our way to Hyland for their groomed cross country ski trails.  It was a lengthy process for the eight of us to navigate but the Things performed swimmingly and we hit the trail.  Clumsily at first, a little hesitant but eventually we got the hang of it, so to speak.  We followed one another on the loop, a 3/4 mile trail that is perfect for practicing.  Then we decided that we were ready for the lake trail, and that is when it went downhill, pun intended.  There were hills and we could see them and Thing 3 decided it was more than she could handle.  Her and I parted ways with the group, sending them on their way and the two of us left to make some decisions.  Was she ready to call it a day or would we continue on?  Thankfully she wanted to go again and we did, five more times around that loop, until both her and I were confident that we knew what we were doing.  Or at least we felt a bit more coordinated on our skis.  We waited at the top of a steep hill where our fam would meet us.  And that they did. All of them laughing and sharing stories of falling and losing Poppi on the way and everything in between.
The group, minus Husband Jared, he was the photographer for this one

Hanson Six on skis, watch out!

The group around the lake
This one, proud of herself for not wasting her time  with the hill, she walked up the stairs!

Could they be any cuter?! 

The hill, yes that bald man is my Husband Jared, love him!
Thing 3 and me, happy that we didn't give up!

      Thing 4, this guy could have skied for days!
Our fun filled adventure didn't end here, we raced home, warmed up, had Punch pizza and watched an American football game.  The entire game.  This one might just go down in the record books.  Thing 4 was full of questions and commentary.  Eventually the girls and I left the living room for finer entertainment in the form of Downton Abbey.   I'm not ashamed to admit it. 
It was a bittersweet night for sure, much like the next day.  As always when we know there's an airport trip in our future.  Never easy saying goodbye.  The day began with a trip to OPH for Poppi's favorite.  We sat at a large table in the center of the restaurant and laughed and talked about highs and lows and when our next visit would be and all the memories we made in ten short days.  Because it's inevitable we all said how shocked we were that it went so fast.  Always seems that way, done and over in the blink of an eye.  To say it was a great visit seems cliche and not enough.  It was and we are already looking forward to next time and the possibility of an episode of "Cheryl Stuck, The Bird Whisperer".  Hopefully in warmer weather!  We love you Poppi and Nani!
 This is how we spent our last minutes together, silliness!

The March

This past Wednesday, January 22nd, to be exact, my girl Things and two of their friends were excused from school a bit early.  We drove to the state capitol to participate in the March for Life. 
My intent here is not to be controversial, simply to share a moment in our lives. 
An afternoon I won't soon forget.  The girls were filled with anticipation.  One, not to be named, went so far as to ask if we were being rebels.  Yes child, yes we are.  Rebels in the very best way.  Peacefully.  With love and with action. 

We were there for the unborn.  To make our voices heard.  Sharing Jesus.  His hope and His love.  And waving signs and singing and praying in efforts for our legislative leaders to hear our cries.  I don't have numbers to report or statistics to share.  What I do have is this picture ingrained in my mind.  You see the weather was not cooperating and with temperatures below zero we were forced to be indoors.  Inside the rotunda of the Capitol building.  A place I had never been before.  It was breathtaking.  Seriously.  When we entered the doors, grabbed our signs and looked up it physically took my breath away.  Tears rolled down my cheeks.  All three levels were filled.  Bright signs being waved.  Amazing Grace instrumental in the background.  Children.  Teenagers.  Young people.  Old people.  Women holding signs that read, "I regret my abortion".  Forgiven women.  Redeemed by Love.  I could not help myself.  I was overcome.  So were the teenagers I was with.  I closed my eyes and thanked the Lord for this moment.  To be there with them.  Seeing it all through their eyes.  It was the oldest Thing's idea to go.  I was going on my own and she asked to be a part of it.  I am so very thankful she did.

We walked up the marble stairs to the second level and waited.  Since there was no marching outside the people filled the rotunda.  I closed my eyes and took it all in.  The weight of the moment bearing down on me.  It's significance maybe not yet understood.  Together we were there, sharing glances, listening to the words of legislators and standing for life.

Five Year Trip

I just received an email from the Compassion team informing me that this is the fifth year anniversary of their blogging trips.  That is, for those of you that are unfamiliar, a group of "popular" bloggers that travel to Compassion centers and share the experience via the world wide web in order to bring hope to children with less than.  These gifted writers share their time with Compassion, typically they meet one of their very own sponsored children and then they bring it all to life here, for their readers to see.  To feel.  To be a part of. 
And that's where you and I are able to play a part in this story.  For the first time ever they are posting a sponsorship goal for this trip.  The group will be in Uganda January 27th-31st and they're asking us to come along.  Join the team.  Pray them to Uganda, through Uganda and back home.  Consider sponsoring a child.  Or two.  Maybe even three.  I've made it simple for you.  Just click on the banner on the side of this page, or on any of the highlighted links throughout this post.  It will take you to the faces of Compassion.  The children waiting to be invited into the centers.  Waiting to hear the hope of Jesus.  A man who died for them and loved them first. 
I have written about Compassion before in this space.  Shared our journey as a sponsor of one young man in Nicaragua.  The gift that he has given us is far greater than the $38 we send monthly.  His letters are kept in a special place, his photos pinned across our bulletin board in the center of our home.  His name whispered during prayer time at our table.  His drawings hanging on our fridge next to those of the four Things.  He is a part of our hearts. 
I may be lacking in my ability to tell the Compassion story.  To truly share the essence of the work that they do.  The way they become the hands and feet of the Body of Christ.  How they bring the Kingdom glory, daily.  But these bloggers that are traveling to Uganda, their words will do it justice.  I am confident that they will be raw and vulnerable and in their experiences their words might just shed some light for you.  I encourage you to follow them.  When  you click on their sites say a prayer for them.  For the Compassion centers they're visiting.  For the villages that surround.  For the lost.  For the children. 
Lord, I pray for this trip.  For the team on the ground, leaving the States, for the team in Uganda, awaiting their arrival.  For the lives yet to be touched.  For the love that you gave first so that we could love.  For all the plans that you have.  I pray a hedge of protection and that you go before them all.  I pray their words be Spirit filled, bringing revival and hope and sponsorship in your Son's precious name. 

Thankful "Saturday"?

Well why not?  I'm a little late this week but there is much to be thankful for.
6 foot tall snowman that Things 1, 2 and 3 helped make
5023.  no more sleeps, Nani and Popi arrive today
5024. adventures planned
5025. goals and dreams and reflection
5026. mercury glass on the mantle
5027. warmer temperatures this weekend
5028. new music to listen to
5029. silly singing with the Things
5030. new work to be done
5031. late night reading next to each other 
5032. hot coffee in my favorite cup

Cousin Weekend

We have a cousin living here in Minnesota.  She's visited before and we absolutely love spending time with her.  Last weekend the stars aligned and she was able to spend a few days with us.  The festivities started off with a bang.  Thing 4 had a footie match in the dome and she tagged along.  The Stinsons also joined the cheering section.  Thing 4 had quite the fan club!
 Michael and me being silly
Everyone on the pitch, after the match
After a successful night for Thing 4 and his team we headed home for chili and games and movie watching, oh and footie pajamas for the girlies.
Love these faces!
We had an extra treat on Saturday morning.  One of Thing 2's friends from TN was visiting another friend that had recently moved to the Twin Cities.  She asked to spend the morning with us and we said yes without the blink of an eye!  Abigail joined us for breakfast and the girls spent the morning catching up and laughing over cinnamon rolls and coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice that they helped make. 
Just look at those sweet faces!
Thing 4 and Eden opted for hot chocolate to start their morning!
For this afternoon together Husband Jared and I had scored some wristbands for Nick Universe so we surprised the Things and Eden with an adventure to MOA.  They were excited and not only did they ride the rides, we had dinner and Things 1 and 2 found dresses for their upcoming dance. 
Successful night full of ear piercing screams and belly laughs!
The girls and Sponge Bob! 
Sunday morning began with church and a little sadness knowing that Eden would be heading home today.  We rallied and made the best of it and crafted, played Just Dance, Catch Phrase and began planning her next trip out!  Thanks Eden, we love you!  Until next time. 


Spit Spot

A quick post for y'all, because I have a few minutes of quiet and some time to tap on the keys.  The Things are back at school after two rare "snow" days in these parts.  Although they weren't actually snow days because there wasn't any snow.  I mean there's snow on the ground but we were home bound due to the Polar vortex that surrounded our state.  If you haven't heard the temps were close to fifty below, that's with the wind chill.  Let me tell you, it's every bit as cold as it sounds. 
We didn't venture out at all, with the exception of a minute or two for Polo to take care of his business.  If that dog could use the toilet I would have forced him to in order to spare myself.  Husband Jared missed out on the pajama day that was Monday because someone had to bring the home the bacon and that was him.  With the threat of cars not starting and people being stranded on highways and such he was all man and took one for the team.  The Things and I declared the day a win!  We watched Harry Potter, never changed from our pjs, baked banana bread, painted canvases, played Xbox and Just Dance, there may have been some reading and journaling and maybe even a little knitting.  There was plenty of snuggling and music and disbelief at the ice that covered our windows.  Because Husband Jared loves us he brought Chik Fil A home for dinner in the form of a nugget party tray and that just may have made the day for the Things, well that and the fact that school was cancelled for Tuesday too! 
Tuesday didn't hold all the promise that Monday did.  I actually had to dress and leave the house for work.  I missed out on the morning pj party but participated just as soon as I was home for lunch.  Whew!  More of the same for Tuesday and only one Thing that was going a bit stir crazy.  Thing 2 and I ran a few errands and scored some earrings for her upcoming school dance.  That was a win! Not to mention that it eased her discomfort of a full forty eight plus hours at home in her pjs.  Go figure.   That brings us to homemade potato soup last night, a little Bible series watching  and some planning and preparing for the school day today. 
It was bittersweet.  While we were all ready for some order and routine the lack of alarm clocks and plans was just what was needed for these six.  And now, with the temps still hovering in the negative ten range the Things bundled up and filled the car with their half hearted smiles and attempts to make this a great day.  After all, we are still breathing which means there is work to be done.  Speaking of, I had better get to it.  I am sitting in my pjs still, finishing my last cup of coffee and I can hear the treadmill calling my name, taunting me!  Time to go.     

The Eve of 2014

I would be remiss not to post at least a brief review of our NYE celebrations.  The day, that is the eve of the New Year was uneventful.  Things were home, snug in their beds until the late hours of the morning, the Husband and I both worked and the afternoon brought preparations for an evening that was to be filled with friends and laughter.  Easy enough. 
The wee Stinsons joined us with their Mama and the Brown family as well.  Games were planned and Just Dance competitions and staying up until midnight.  That we did, or at least until New York's midnight as it was referred to around here.  We learned a new game, Big Bowl, played an old game, Heads Up, and laughed and mimicked and questioned each other endlessly.  We witnessed the ball dropping and some inappropriate Mariah Carey moments.  There were awkward photos taken and plenty of food inhaled.  Savory and sweet alike.  All the people were telling stories and circled around the kitchen island.  Just as it should be. 
It was, in short, a wonderful start to the new year.  Here's to 2014 and all that awaits! 
The only group photo of the night, some of our people, in the kitchen of course! 

Oh and this one, where I didn't know what to do with my hands and we had been laughing so hard I was crying after playing Big Bowl with the teenagers!   Love this friend of mine.


There it is, the word for 2014, BECOMING. 
I had this lengthy post and even a copy of my journal entry declaring this the word of the year and I decided to scrap it all.  My intent with choosing this one word is to simplify.  And yet to simultaneously encompass all the possibility that a new beginning holds.  With only one word and not lists of mostly unattainable goals I am not beholden to specifics.  Or timelines.  Or expectations;  The ones set by myself being the harshest most unforgiving. 
So there it is.  My word for 2014.  Let me explain, briefly.  Rather, let me list in an attempt to define this word for you and me. 
The woman He created me to be
All the roles I have been given, those yet to be.  I desire to become what it is He created within me.  There is discovery and a deeper intimacy necessary for this to come to fruition.  And being gently woven throughout is the beauty of the process.  An entire year ahead dedicated to becoming.