Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Year in Review

I RAN: I ran at least 560 miles this year. This included training and running my best ever half marathon, The Rock and Roll Denver, in 2 hours and 56 seconds.
I READ: I exceeded my Good Reads goal of 24 books by ONE book. My favorite reads of this year would be Cutting for Stone and The Forgotten Garden. I have a goal to read through the entire bible, as of today I have completed through 2 Samuel. I really thought it would be a whole lot more boring to read the Bible, but I am really enjoying it. It's surprising how helpful having read the first 5 books of the Bible has been when reading some New Testament passages...shedding new light on a lot of questions I have always had. Two books that really challenged me to think and grow were Blue Like Jazz and Heaven is For Real.
I (started) GROWING UP: I did a lot of self reflection and resoluting to grow up and get over some of my issues... I have a lot to do still, but it feels good to be opening my eyes to the possibility of embracing change for the better.
I BECAME A BIT CREATIVE: I made a jewelry art piece for my room, canned jam, and convinced my husband into letting me have his grandpas antique stove and used it as a entertainment stand.
I (almost) DIED: discovered the hard way that I am allergic to peaches and now have to cary an epi pen... this caused me some depression, and several dreams where I indulged in peaches, only to wake by trying to make myself puke them up.
I JOINED A GYM: joined Allison and hired a trainer for a few weeks of the summer, who pushed me to do some stuff that is harder than running 13 miles.
I TAUGHT: started my 9th year of teaching, taught a class on standard based grading at a district inservice, and embraced a lot of top down change with the best attitude I can muster... in truth my students are great and make it all worth while.
I GAVE: Anne and I continued to make our monthly meals for the homeless shelter, and this year we took on making gift bags for the ones that would be spending Christmas Eve at the shelter. (In truth ANNE organized it all). But it was great to be a part of assembling and delivering.
I PLAYED TENNIS: Finally Jolene and I signed up and played in the Taco Bell Tennis tournament (we've been talking the talk for a few years). We quickly found out that our 3 weeks of preparation was not enough to hang with the big dogs (old ladies who play every day) and win the whole thing, but we did pull out a few wins and didn't get eliminated immediately.

Madison finished 6th grade still loving school, and started (and continues) 7th grade the same way. She has a great group of friends and is very into the social thing (as evident by her 1400+ texts a month). She started taking bass guitar lessons and is now playing in the school Jazz Band. Madison also took a hunters safety course and earned her hunters safety card, though not in time to get a license this year. She had a Halloween party complete with a haunted house that I had to chaperone (thankfully for me it was cheesy), and at this party they set a goal of saving money to go to Hawaii for their senior trip. Madison got a new soccer coach, and the change in her attitude, confidence, and play is incredible; in fact the whole team did a 180 going from not winning but 2 games, to no losses. Madison also got her braces off, and WOW her smile is amazing! She turned 13, and continues to be a wonderful daughter, growing into a beautiful young woman.

Maddox had a year of milestones... he learned to ride a bike, lost his first tooth, graduated preschool and started Kindergarten. We had our first parent teacher conference, where Maddox sat like a perfect angel, and we were informed he is the model student always tries his best, works hard, is kind, and learning like a sponge. I am a bit embarrassed to say that we were surprise by this, and had been expecting to hear that he can't sit still, is a crazy rambunctious boy. He also started his first season of T-ball, and absolutely loved it. Maddox started his second season of wrestling and in the first tournament he got second place. We celebrated his 5th birthday with an ear infection that delayed our zoo trip by a day, but we still made it and he loved it. Maddox has a strong conscience, and is highly compassionate.

Brian continues to be an amazing dad and husband. He coached Maddox's T-ball team, and his expertise was evident in our teams superior skill and behavior on the field during practice and games. He is also coaching the Palisade Little Dogs Wrestling. He has been working with the older kids, as we have realized that Maddox receives wrestling instruciton better from someone who is not dad. He took Maddox on his first hunting trip, but Madison continues to be his lucky hunting charm and they got a really nice doe that added 80 lbs of burger, italian sausage, breakfast sausage, and steaks to our freezer. He got sick for Elk season, which bummed him out (and me... I love elk meat).

We Traveled:
We went on our first Caster Family vacation, driving 18 hours to Northern Idaho, 30 miles from the Canadian border; arriving in Priest Lake ID. This was a magical trip, while we were there my soul felt at home, and since we left my soul has longed to return. We also spent almost a week in Steamboat for a soccer tournament, since we travel so much for soccer, we try to make the trips mini vacations; and Steamboat was a nice little get away. We opted for camping out in the pop up at a KOA type campground, complete with a pool and games. I think we all had a great "camping" experience. Another soccer mini vacation was the annual trip to Vegas, the focus was strictly soccer... though we managed a drive down the strip for Maddox, and a dinner in Cesar's Palace. Brian and I took a weekend trip to Ouray, this may be my favorite "him and I" get away ever, complete with a beautiful hike. We also had a mini family retreat with my mom and Dan and all 4 of us kids... they rented a beautiful cabin between Ridgeway and Ouray, that was so massive all 17 of us slept and lived very comfortably. Dan had a great dinosaur dig activity for all the grand kids to participate in, and we enjoyed playing on the lake and campfires at night.

Major Random Events:
Nik and Megan got married in June, the wedding was beautiful, and my kids were perfect, Maddox got hooked on the mother son dance and couldn't wait to dance it again at Brian's cousin, Patricia's, wedding in July.
Brian's grandpa passed away, and we had a beautiful service that surprised me with its huge sentimental impact for me. This spurred a massive house cleaning/estate sale to get their house ready to be sold and Grandma moved into a retirement community.
My brother had his third little girl, Teegan.
My cousin Christa played tennis for the US team in the Special Olympics in Greece, and she came home with some medals too... like silver and bronze... I am so proud!
My aunt Pepper moved to GJ, to live with my grandma. This has been such a blessing for my mom to have her sister close, and between the two of them, my grandma is in good hands!

Here are some of my favorite images from 2011

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Explosive Eighteen

Explosive Eighteen (Stephanie Plum, #18)Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have come to not expect much more than superficial entertainment from this series, and because of that I continue to enjoy them.

These books are always entertain, quick reads, where I find myself chuckling out loud. This one, of course, followed the typical story line of Stephanie stumbling into some major problem while still trying to apprehend some skips (unsuccessful as usual). Lula, who always makes me laugh, finds herself under a love potions spell. I was a bit disappointed with the lack of appearances of Morelli and Ranger. I keep hoping that someday Stephanie will wise up and choose Morelli for good, but until then I enjoy the struggle she continues through. I was also hoping that mysterious Hawaii trip would play a larger part of the story, but it took a back seat early on.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cherished Memories: Christmas Eve

After writing my last post I was flooded with amazing Christmas memories, reminding me how special this time of year is, and how full of love and family my childhood holidays actually were,

My most cherished memory of Christmas is spending Christmas Eve with my Grandma and Grandpa Barron; I don't remember a Christmas of my youth that this night was not shared with them. I loved gathering at her house (her house was the most magical place in the known universe to me). On one special year my cousins from Pennsylvania came out and I remember sneaking out to the backroom where the glow of the Christmas tree was just enough to illuminate the silhouette of some large enchanting castle... or play house... but in the morning it was an amazing puppet stage. There were also these scooter that I remember spending hours racing around on.

The most vivid memory of spending Christmas Eve with my favored grandparents, was awaiting with anticipation that moment when Grandpa would present Grandma with the annual night gown gift. The gowns were always so beautiful and silky, long and flowing, complete with matching robes. It was as if this gift embodied the love that surrounded and held this family together.

I remember the first year this gift did not appear. My grandpa had passed away in September 1998, a few short months later we were all gathered for our first Christmas without him. As we all unwrapped our gifts, there was the unspoken question buzzing in all of us... will the night gown gift miraculously appear? Had grandpa, knowing his passing was eminent, arranged for one last gown? There was no gown under the tree that year, and nary a one since. A piece of the magic that night held had slipped away.

In the passing of Christmas Eves from that year on, traditions have changed, new traditions have sprouted. I have a family all of my own and we are making our own Eves special. I can only hope that what we make of this night will be magical for my children, that they will find a tradition that embodies the love that surrounds and holds this family together.

Learned: How beautiful a memory of love and loss can be.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Anxiety

I am pretty sure as a kid I loved the holidays, that time from Thanksgiving through New Years where we stuff our faces with ungodly amounts of food and sweets, stay up late, sleep in, and act like crazy people running around shopping centers throwing our money around. I am not quite sure when the tides changed from childhood wonder to adult distain. I don't think there is a defining moment, one singular incident, rather a gradual knot that twisted its way, binding my heart to beat "bahumbug".

Growing up in a generation where 50% of marriages end in divorce I was not alone in having split my time among several families throughout the Holiday season. Throw in step parents and their families, and it's a wonder that I could even waddle out of the last house on Thanksgiving. I remember one year consuming no less than 5 full thanksgiving meals. At every house there was always a favorite dish I had to partake in, and I remember feeling like I had to eat so as to not offend the host.

For Christmas we had a pretty good routine down. Christmas Eve was spent with Grandma and Grandpa Barron. The first few hours of Christmas morning were spent at home with my mom and Bill, in a flurry the paper would be off the gifts, the stalkings would be dumped out, we would just begin to play and it would be time to go to my dad's. Most of Christmas day would be spent with my dad and his family. There were quite a few years we drove up to Rifle to spend the day with our cousins sledding and traipsing in the snow. Christmas night often ended back at home or at Bills mom's home.

So what's the big deal? Reflecting on this I remember how much fun I had with all the cousins, how loved I felt by all the family. When did this change to dread? At some point, most likely those unbearable teen years, I was forced to continue in the routine and it all just became too much. I began to despise being yanked from one home to another.

And this has continued now that I am grown up with a family of my own. Every year for the past 12 years we have been pulled out of our home in the early hours of Christmas day to go somewhere and do something with someone else, and I felt I had no choice in the matter. I think that is key, choice...

Just yesterday I discovered the other deeply seeded cause to my holiday anxiety, gift giving. This has stressed me out every year, and I didn't know how to put words to it, so I just attributed it to not liking Christmas being commercialized. And maybe I don't like that, but it isn't the cause of all this anxiety, and it wasn't until I saw the same trait in my son that I could put words to it myself.

Brian and I always let the kids decide on a gift they would like to get each of us, and Maddox is finally old enough to make this decision with little to no guidance from us. When asked what he wanted to get Madison, Dad, and Mom, he started to panic and get frustrated and cranky, finally just throwing his hands into the air as if to say "I give up". At that precise moment realization was birthed in me... that's exactly how I feel... I get completely overwhelmed when it comes to picking gifts for my family and friends.

But why?

How can a material gift even begin to communicate how important a person is in your life and how much you appreciate them? It can't... but I want each and every gift to do just that, to be absolutely perfect, one that caters to the likes and interests of the person, one that is so special that the gift is no longer the physical item but literally how much thought was put behind it. It may come as a surprise to discover that I never seem to find that perfect gift, nothing is ever good enough, and that brings me great distress.

This year I have had much more difficulty in putting on the pretty face of a mom who loves the holidays, and have had a few complete freak outs. The guilt that comes with these is almost unbearable. I do not want my kids to come to hate the holidays because their mother is a complete wreck, so something has gotta give... I've gotta make a change.

Knowing and being able to put words to what causes my anxiety has already helped me. I think that I can let myself off the hook, and begin to see that no matter what the gift, it's just a little piece to let them know that they are an important part of my life.

As for my second issue: This year I was given the choice of what to do and where to go for Christmas. Knowing that I wasn't expected to parade all over town, hop from one house to another, made the thought of doing just that completely bearable. I was able to rationalize beyond myself and see that maybe I could do what I have come to hate, IF my kids enjoy it. But in the end I am getting what I have always wanted, Christmas at my own home, for the entire day. Maybe next year I can choose to go.

I know that untying the bahumbug knot, retraining my emotions and feelings, will be a process, and it is not likely to be easy. But it is time to let it go, it is time to appreciate, and truly celebrate Christmas.

Learned: Getting older is inevitable, but growing up is a choice; a choice to seize positive change, even when it hurts, even when it is difficult... change that sacrifices the selfish nature of youth for the altruistic embrace of maturity.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Heaven Is For Real

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and BackHeaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit that even though I am a Christian, I typically trod a bit sceptically when it comes to peoples accounts of heaven. Call me jaded, call me gun shy; I don't lack in faith in God, just people. But as I read, some scepticism began to fall away and I was pulled in to a beautiful revelation of Heaven.

Through out the book my heart was captivated; as a parent I ached at the thought of going through what this family had gone through with their son. As a Christian I was intrigued at the completely child like clarity this boy described Heaven, and how each of the things he shared matched perfectly with what the Bible says about Heaven, from what Jesus wore, to who sat in the throne room of God, the absence of darkness, and the melding of time past, present, and future. Time and time again this young boy astonished me (as well as his parents) about his knowledge of Heaven and the people there. I loved that his parents were hungry to know everything about heaven, as many Christians are, but they were patient.

I didn't have to read this book to believe in Heaven, or reaffirm my faith in God, but sometimes it nice to read something that sits right with your spirit, and gives you just enough to keep going in a world that continues to drift further and further from God.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

The Red Tent

The Red TentThe Red Tent by Anita Diamant

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I could either hate this book or like it depending on how I approach it. If I think of it from a biblical perspective I hated it, if I see it from a fictional story of life at that time I like it.

The part that I had a difficult time with was how the family of Jacob, son if Isaac and Rebecca, grandson of Abraham and Sarah, saw God as just another god, more powerful and foreboding than their other gods; and they kept idols and paid homage to these other gods. I guess this is true to the big picture of what happens in the bible...God rescues his people, they worship him, time passes, they forget His wonders, turn back to their old ways, fall into despair, and God rescues them again. So it really isn't that big of a stretch that the wives would have kept and worshiped the idols of their family.

If I see it as a complete work of fiction depicting life during that time, it is a wonderfully woven tapestry of the bonds between women, of coming of age, love, loss, and finding purpose and happiness. A story that celebrates the beauty of womanhood, and our ability to create and sustain life. I loved how the tale came full circle in the end bringing closure to the life of Dinah, daughter of Jacob.

I am not sure if I would recommend this book or not, but if you choose to read it, know that it is a work of historical fiction, where an author took many creative liberties to paint a picture of life during the time of the sons of Jacob.

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Crossed (Matched, #2)Crossed by Ally Condie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the first book of this trilogy, and thought the second would be just as amazing. I was mistaken. I liked it all the way up to the final page... then a total let down that almost ruins the book. It's as if Condie just put in a thoughtless ending, reminiscent of my partially proficient students who write "and that's all I have to say about that" as the conclusion to their papers, to meet the publishers deadline.

Through the whole book you're in pursuit of these young lovers finally being reunited. There is adventure, mystery, suspense, and finally they find each other. Together perusing a rumored civilization with hopes of joining the rebellion. In this effort Cassia and Ky decide to separate, knowing they will meet up in a few day. Cassia reaches the rebellion first and is immediately sent away to her assigned mission. Ky makes his way just as she departs. And that's it... the end.

All this hard work to find each other and the rebellion, is met with a complete cop out... there is no emotion, no fighting the deployment, no cries of love lost, no final moments together proclaiming their everlasting love that knows no bounds of time or space, no speeches of "though we will be separated, we are fighting to ensure a future that can be spent together freely"... it just stopped.

There are great elements of foreshadowing... finding out that Xander joined with the rebellion early on in the first book, the cave of samples, Ky's lack of desire to join the rebellion, and Cassia's strong desire to join, will all make a great conclusion of this series... hopefully.

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