Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Holiday Kick-Off Recital

Without music, life would be an error. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The Princess was well prepared for the Holiday Kick Off recital. She played a Baroque piece in 2/2 time called "Fantasia" and a Christmas song, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." She did not do her absolute best. In fact, it was one of the worst performances she has ever done.

She was probably distracted by a boy who visited the bathroom and was not that quiet in doing so. The angle of the piano was so that the pianists faced the bathrooms and I watched her eyes twice divert from her music; when the boy went in and when he came out. She did fine during the noise and did not have a problem until a measure or two later, but it was definitely related.

At one point she played a wrong note a few times trying to get it right and then stopped for a just a few seconds—what seems like too many minutes to a mother watching her daughter struggle. She then backed up about two measures, a good starting point, and played it through as it was meant to be played. Mistakes do not frazzle her at all—she is a true performer. She does not get shaky like so many of the children tend to do nor does she show frustration. I am always proud of her, but this day I was proud of her because of her showmanship.

The Princess played the same songs for our church service a week later without any mistakes other than a bit of a shift in the timing, mostly because she started out playing one of them a bit faster than she should have. I don't think anyone really noticed besides myself.

I usually don't compare my child with another but I have to say that recitals are eye-opening as to how advanced she really is. The boy who was about a year older than she is and started six months before her was playing songs similar to ones she had played over eighteen months ago. However, he also has other talents that were put to use as part of the program that day. He was the comic relief doing cute "commercials" written by Miss Trudy, one sponsored by Miss Trudy's dog. The boy enjoys the limelight and was referred by the emcee as Mr. Personality.

I suppose there are no breaks when a child reaches this level in piano, or so it seems. We have picked out one of the two classical pieces the Princess will begin working on for judging in March and the spring recital in April. This will be the first time she has been judged so I am looking forward to seeing how she will do. The piece picked for her is doable, but purposely meant to be difficult. She amazes me how well she reads music now, but then she has had 4½ years of lessons.

~ My Lord, thank you for the gift of music and for this musically-gifted soul you have given to me. ~

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Christmas Tree Shopping

He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree. ~ Roy L. Smith

I really don't know how we manage to do this every year, but we seem to have this uncanny ability to pick the very coldest day after Thanksgiving to go shopping for a Christmas tree. This year was no exception and was one of the coldest.

We have gotten a tree most years from a place on a corner lot. They are nice people and the Princess loves to warm by the fire while sipping their free hot spiced cider, but they don't have the selection they once did. They used to carry at least three or more different species, one being our absolute favorite: the Noble Fir. My husband eyed this Frazer Fir, but had heard of Nobles being available at a well-known nursery just a few miles further.

We got our very first Noble when we lived in Florida and have been hooked on them every since. Grown in the Northwestern United States, Nobles have a beautiful, almost spruce like appearance, with soft blue-green needles on strong branches that are spaced well, almost as if in layers giving a lacy appearance, perfect for heavy and larger ornaments as well as the most delicate being displayed without much trimming needed. Nobles hold onto their needles well, in fact, they rarely shed their needles at all, and have a lighter, somewhat citrus scent. They also are slow growing and have very thick trunks, that peek through the spaces between the branches. Honestly, they just have the perfect traditional Christmas tree appearance. All of which makes them a bit higher priced than the more common Frazer Firs and Douglas Firs.

A few years ago Nobles were scarce. Retailers that had any were much higher in price than they ever had been and we were told that we would probably not see any Nobles for at least five years. Apparently, a drought had affected them profoundly. Then the people, from whom we usually bought our trees, just did not offer them at all anymore and we had been getting Frazer Firs from them for some years. It saddened us not to buy from them this year, particularly the Princess since we have been customers ever since she was born and we are rather a loyal bunch, but this year we decided we would prefer a Noble, if we could find one.

And, found one we did. The selection was limited, but we happened upon a beauty reasonably price. It was much bushier than they usually are and we have to do far more trimming than we have even done on any of the ones we have had in the past, but seeing glimpses of the trunk through the branches made it worthwhile. The base of the trunk just fit our stand. All is well. We brought it in that evening, which is odd for us, but with my aunt and uncle coming, we wanted the tree set up should we decide to begin decorating it before or while they are here. We have a tradition of enjoying the tree in its natural state for about one day and then with lights only for up to a week before we put on the ornaments.

Before we left on our tree hunt, we went out for dinner at Steak and Shake (with coupons in hand). We shared one each of their limited-time specialty shakes: White Chocolate and Peppermint Chocolate Chip. Of course, the Princess loves putting together the cardboard cars with all those fancy stickers. Nothing like a cold milkshake to get you really chilled on the inside before going out in the cold! What were we thinking?

~ Thank you, my Lord, for reminding me that every penny spent on Christmas frivolity is still income to people who count on it at this time of year and cannot possibly be measured when compared to the delight it brings to even just one child. ~

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pretty Pink

The very pink of perfection. ~ Oliver Goldsmith

Did I say the Princess' bedroom was pink? It is so pink that it glows into the hallway!!!

I am not done with it, but done enough she will be sleeping in her own bed again. I finally found a new very light pink ruffled bed skirt, although I would have preferred a deeper tone; a skirt was a necessity to hide the trundle. The sheets have a nice tiny rose print and actually fit her mattress because they have deep pockets and we have a memory foam topper on her bed. They were a bit pricey, but I like having better sheets. I went to Ross and found a off-white cotton blanket for $10 and a plush blanket in a dusty rose for $13, saving about $25 on those, so those with the sheets were within my budget. We are using the summer quilt I found for her a few years ago. Although I like changing between winter and summer quilts usually, we have nothing that matches the new pink décor and nothing much left in the budget for it, so the summer one will have to do for now.

I am having more problems with the windows. I made the last drapes myself and I am trying to avoid that, but everything even close to what I have found ends up about $100 more than I planned so....for now she has just the mini blinds.

The mural will not be done until after Christmas. In fact, I am thinking of not painting it on the wall at all. My husband services machines that can print huge things on any kind of medium and they also have a machine to cut it out. Very Cool Stuff! So, I am thinking of doing the graphics on the computer and having the demo room techs do it. That way it will be removal without having to repaint the entire wall. I do like the Celtic knot design in every corner that was done in a gold stencil. It shines nicely in the light, although it looks nearly brown otherwise.

I also have decided that we need a pin up board of some sort so that she can put her artwork up on it, instead of scattered throughout the room. It will still not be enough since she draws, colors or paints every day.

I have repainted the bookshelves, which I did not want to do, but found necessary after removing everything from the shelves. For unknown reasons, the paint just did not stick to the furniture piece well even though I used a primer that makes paint stick to just about anything. Whenever something was set on the shelves and picked up it took some paint with it or the bottoms of the old canvas covered books stuck into it and left part of the book on the shelf. So...this time I waxed the shelves after I painted them and it seems to have worked on the test piece, at least.

Then, it was deciding on the books. Of course, that is not a small task as I am looking over some of the books too easy for her, which she probably does not want to give up, and she has sooooo many books. Her grandmother bought her boxes of Weekly Readers and I have been given boxes of freebies from a former homeschooling family nearby and I have bought a few out of print book sets on Ebay a few years ago.

Problem: I have as many (or more) emotional attachments to many of those early readers. First, I read many of them to her from the time she was still an infant and when she was four, she began reading some of them to me. All those hours of holding her in my lap and turning pages with expectation and giggles. Reading books over and over again until we both had them memorized. I would remind myself that when she had picked a book for me to read for the 536th time that one day she would be reading on her own and these precious moments would be memories that I would never recapture. Now I am there....Now the books that I would have briefly hidden away for relief are now the ones with which I cannot part. They are so dear to my heart.

Solution: I had to find a ruthless way to determine which books would be challenging for her to keep on her shelves, so I was happy to find the AR Book Finder so I could type in the name of the book and see its ATOS Readability Formula and Interest Level without even opening the book and getting all emotionally caught up in those pages. I am keeping all books having a ATOS level of 4.0 and up, with the exception of certain sets of books which are borderline. Then I have two of stacks at least two feet high each. One stack are ones I which to keep and the other those that can go. Yes, it was time consuming, but actually it took less time to do it that way than trying to make the decision on my own.

We have added a collection of horses over the last year, so I am trying to quietly remove some of the excess of things and stuffed animals, but it is really difficult with an only child who sees every one of them as her personal friend. She has different favorites being carried around with her every few days. When she was a toddler still in the crib, she would take an inventory of every one that we allowed in the bed with her and if one was missing she would begin to cry. We had to regulate who and how many because once they were in the bed for just one night, she wanted them there every night thereafter. We could not find one of her latest friends once and it took her three weeks before she could sleep without crying over that one; we finally found it when we changed over from the crib to a toddler bed.

Anyway, now I am in the process of moving the rest of the Princess' stuff from out of the guest room either to go into her room or in one of three bags/boxes for trash, charity, or a yard sale in preparation of a 3-day visit from my aunt and uncle. They are coming in on the Monday after Thanksgiving so we will be waiting to have Thanksgiving with them.

~ My Lord, You watch us grow and delight in giving us gifts along the way as our Loving Parent. How difficult it must be for You who fathered us having similar memories when we think put things away thinking we don't need you, when we begin to make decisions without asking for your permission or advice. It was not until I became a parent that I realized how heartbreaking it must be for You to be rejected in that way. I wish I could only be pleasing to You and give you fond memories of us being together. ~

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Apple Country in Autumn

Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all. ~Stanley Horowitz

It has become a tradition to take a trip to the apple country in northern Georgia. This year we went a little too late to see the greatest splendor of autumn in the mountains, but it was still beautiful. Autumn just is beautiful.

We always visit this small scenic rest stop on the way. This place beckons us with an abundance of playful leaves and trees pleading to climbed by a giggling child. There is nothing there but a few picnic tables, a monument, and the view.

Then we travel further north for just a few minutes towards a town with a funny little name, Ellijay. We stop at a place called Panorama Orchards with its old country charm. Since we went on a weekday this time, it is not as busy and it took less time to look around. We purchased apple sour dough bread, cider, blueberry rock candy (which the Princess tightly holds in her hand until after lunch) and a few pecks of apples of three varieties to make apple pies and applesauce.

Afterward we went on to Fort Mountain State Park. We did not go up to the fort this time, but decided on the playground and picnic area near the lake. There was no one around as it was a school day, just one of the perks of homeschooling, although the Princess would have enjoyed playing with some children at the playground. Usually we run into a homeschooling family or two at this park, but not this time so we improvised. I have to say that it is difficult to keep the camera still when the dog's leash is around my arm and she is interested in testing the boundaries while I am recording!

For lunch, we had crackers with cheese and, of course, apples, then we explored a bit. We stopped at another scenic view spot on the mountain where I took pictures and was intrigued how the hills looked striped with evergreens among the few colored leaves left on bare branches of the deciduous trees.

Autumn is really a wonderful illustration of life. I know that science explains that the chlorophyll is lost so the leaves turn to the colors they would be without this green pigmenting chemical. Sometimes I wonder if knowing how it works takes away from the exquisiteness of autumn. To me, autumn displays the essence of the spiritual life. While the leaves become vibrant, the tree is stripped of its dressing and stands exposed until it is adorn in its new life. We are here to love the Lord, to grow in our faith, to be the radiance of His glory, and in so doing, die to ourselves exposing who we really are so we can be adorned in the Kingdom of my Lord.

Autumn is just truly beautiful.

~ My Lord, thank you for autumn with its colorful lesson about the purpose of life. ~

Monday, November 9, 2009

Full of Laughters

I am full of laughters. ~ The Princess

Whenever something really tickled her funny bone, my daughter would say she was "full of laughters." The phrase has stuck.

Today while we were traveling in the van, we played a word game: Mad Libs on the Road. First, it asks for a list of words based on the parts of speech and then someone writes the words from the list into a story.

One sentence went like this: You will tackle difficult (plural noun) with (adjective) skill and the confidence of a much older (noun).

Now the thing is you don't know the story when you select the words. You are just asked to list nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and so on. Sometimes the sentences make some sense, sometimes they seem silly, and sometimes they are just beyond hilarious.

This one sentence was the winner for our favorite of the day:

You are admired by your fellow diapers for your ability to ignite under quiet pressure.

Think about it....

 Are you full of laughters yet?

~ Thank you, my Lord, for the gift of laughter. ~

Friday, November 6, 2009

Behind the Scenes of the Church Website

The power of a website comes from the people using it, not the people making it.
~ Chris Edwards

I volunteered to design our church website. There are times I know that I can do something, but I don't know how I will do it. First, let me just say that I truly like designing websites. Well, I probably like the designing of the graphics and layout the most, but it is those little bits of code that make it all work that is the most tedious and challenging part for me.

This all started in 1995, many upon many generations ago in cyberspace, when I designed my first webpage—and I write "webpage" because that is exactly what it was: one long page that you had to scroll down to get to all the information. Back then it was just as expensive to host one webpage as it is to have an entire complex website now, and while you could do some fancy stuff, it was wiser not to because everyone was on dial-up and your website could take several minutes to load. Yes, the Internet certainly has changed and I have done a few websites since that first one, each one more complex than its predecessor.

Now, to make that one page, I first had to learn HTML (hypertext markup language) code, that is the foundation that makes the invisible but necessary formatting of the webpage for those you who are using only WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) composers that are so popular now. HTML code is still necessary to know and is used on most sites, although you don't see it. I still use the "Edit HTML" option the most when writing my blog, because I am used to viewing codes. Oh, and, besides HTML there are several other codes now!

All these codes mean more versatility and complexity. I like more versatility, but the complexity is a bit overwhelming at times. I am not going to bore you with examples and details, but let me just say that the rules that make a code work are rather finite and unforgiving. If you don't do what you are supposed to do, then it does not work like it is supposed to work. If you don't know what I am writing about, be thankful that the technology has advanced to give you the option of WYSIWYG, so you don't have to know.

That being said, a church website can be done in the old fashion way: a simple HTML website. With a few enhancements using CSS (cascading style sheets), there would be greater simplicity of the webmaster and a bit more versatility in the design. However, that makes it so that any time anything has to be added, removed, or updated it would have to be done by the webmaster. There is good and bad in that. The good side is that there is no one else messing with the code so it is less likely to be messed up and the bad side is that no one else knows how update information on the website should the webmaster be unavailable.

Solution? Content Management Systems (CMS). If you are a blogger like me, you have been using one. You can type up your information, press the submit bottom, and wah-lah!—it appears on the blog itself looking quite professional. You basically are just adding content to a shell program that does all this stuff with codes so you don't have to.

Problem? Setting up this kind of wonderful user-friendly system is the complicated part. I have never set up a CMS before even though I have confidence that I can do it given my past experience. However, there is a learning curve for any of the content management systems, but the one most versatile, of course, has the steepest. The beauty of it is, once it is in place, each department will be able to maintain their own updates. I have some very good ideas in mind, like it would be ideal if there is an update on the site that the information would automatically be emailed to the members instead of having to both separately. This is entirely possible with the right modules in place.

The part I am not sure about is the time factor. I have never done well with deadlines, particularly when I am being creative and trying to make it look and work like professional website should. There are just a myriad of adjustments to make from color to placements to spell checking and testing each change and I usually design some original graphics. My husband, who is on the church board, just mentioned it would be good idea to give an estimated date of completion and am sure I must have looked like a deer caught in headlights!

My mind reels with the holidays being upon us, my aunt and uncle are coming for a visit in a month; I need to finish painting the trim in the living room (not sure if this one will get done or not); we need to move the Princess back into her room and get the stuff from her room out of four other rooms; my whole house needs cleaned and decorated for that family visit; my daughter has a piano recital; she and I need haircuts; the piano needs tuned; I need to meet with another (this will be the fourth one) roofer to give us an estimate on our hail-damaged roof so that I can take that information to the Georgia Insurance Claims Department so our soon to be ex-insurance company will have to justify why my roof does not have hail damage when every house in my neighborhood does (a rant for another time, perhaps); baking holiday treats to give as presents; and still homeschooling along the way; an article due in a month; and now the church website....when will it be done?

All I can say is that I am working on it, even though no one can see what I am doing. I am going through that learning curve for this CMS stuff, but for now it is like one giant jigsaw puzzle to me. Eventually, the pieces will all fit together in place...eventually.

~ My Lord, guide me so that I keep Your priorities in my life and help me create the website my church needs. ~

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Are We Standing Firm?

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
~ Ephesians 6:12-13 (NASB)

My friend, Ganeida, wrote her thoughts on Halloween here and I have been contemplating the wide range of views from Christians on Halloween in addition to some of things we covered during our Sunday night study when we talked about what Nazarenes believe—Halloween is inconveniently not addressed at all in the manual, but it is a rather common practice for the churches to have a fall festival or "trunk and treat."

I would be the first to say that it matters more to the Lord what is in the heart of a person. I believe that, absolutely, without any reservation. Yet, there are times when I feel my spirit turns faster than my body possibly could. At times, something within me homes in on the spiritual realm, a state I often find quite disconcerting. Yes, upon occasion, I have detected demons within people and angels nearby as well. It is a sixth sense, some might say, but I say it is the Holy Spirit. I used to think every Christian had things like this happen to them, but the truth is the discernment of spirits, that is knowing what is demonic, angelic, or just human, is a rare gift. There are times I just seem to know when Christians have made decisions based on their understanding of the Holy Bible instead of being directly guided by the Lord. If our understanding of the Bible were enough to really know my Lord and His desires, we would not have so many different sects in Christianity. My Lord always meets us where we are, thankfully; He must for we rarely shed what comforts us to meet Him.

We pick a religion based on our ability to agree with its doctrine. We pick our place of worship if we like the people who go there and for its convenience, which truly is an important factor because it is difficult to be involved if the church is located too far away. We become involved with a church depending on the ministries it offers and how it ministers to us. We do all this based on what is pleasing to us and because my Lord meets us wherever we are.

I am going about this the long way around to say that as people we want it all. We want God to give us favor, but also not give up anything to which we have worldly attachments, even if those attachments are what keep us from what God desires and blessings He is waiting for us to be prepared to receive. I see this in many people surrounding Halloween. People want their children to not miss out on the fun of Halloween, perhaps because they have fond memories of it. Perhaps they were not raised in Christian families. Perhaps they were but their family did not see the harm. If their neighbors are going trick or treating, why can't their children as long as they do not wear scary costumes? It is just for fun. There is no harm in it. It is so far removed from its origins that it does not make any difference. Even if we are walking on the same street as other people dressed as witches, warlocks, fortune-tellers, zombies, devils, prostitutes, monsters, etc., certainly God would not be displeased if my child goes trick or treating in a cute, cuddly teddy bear costume...? Some Christians use the opportunity to hand out tracks or other Christian trinkets so the message gets out, but many have given up on that because it justifies the trickery.

Yes, Jesus went out among the sinners, but...He did not imitate them and He had a God-directed purpose for doing so, a mission. He had a message of God's love to deliver. He was preparing them for God's kingdom. He was out there meeting the people where they were to help them understand God's desire for them, to be with Him in His kingdom, to not focus on the worldly things. Have we set our face away from my Lord so much that we think Jesus would be out there trick or treating too? Are we not suppose to be like Jesus? I think if Jesus went out on Halloween, it would be the same message He has always given to draw us back to the Lord.

The Christians who celebrate Halloween obviously do not see it as a spiritual hook for their unsuspecting guppies. Each generation becoming more desensitized to the spiritual battles. Halloween is just bait. How can we trust our ability to discern between the spirits at any other time if we cannot see the subtle influences seeping into Christianity from trick or treating. Are we so "civilized" that we do not see the workings of spirits? Have we diluted what is spiritual to a lukewarm state thinking we are righteous in whatever we do as long as we bear the name Christian? Why is it that Christians coming from other countries are dismayed by how un-Christian we seem to be here in the states? Believe it or not, I have met a few with a calling to be missionaries here in the U.S. and their mission field is Christian churches! How is it that our missionaries can go to their countries tell them to shed customs and traditions stemming from ancient religions so ingrained in their own culture, which do not glorify the Lord, while we are trick or treating here? I can almost see demons dancing in the hypocrisy.

~ My Lord, thank you for meeting me where I am and for revealing Your kingdom to me as undeserving I am. I pray, my Lord, that all Your children will see the workings of the spirits, both good and evil, for what they are and walk in Yours ways with aching from the comforts of this world. May our desire be only to please You.~