Tuesday, December 20, 2011

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree!



Jason and I decided it would be fun to fill our tree with ornaments from places we've been, things we've done, and other ornaments with special meaning.

We started with this ornament on the honeymoon!



We added this leaf from our first East Coast adventure in 2010.



We attended the Nutcracker here in Houston and purchased this ornament to remember the fun evening.



We've added lots of ornaments to our tree and can't wait for the day when it's overflowing with precious memories together!

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At least they aren't pastel!

I make Christmas cards every year. And I do those incredibly corny update ones with pictures and all- and I love it!

Well this year between work and my computer crashing and having to learn a Mac and adobe, I barely got cards designed and ordered.

I waited anxiously for them to arrive, stalking UPS, worried they might not arrive before we leave.

They arrived tonight! And I knew I'd need to fold them. I did not know I needed envelopes!! :-(

A run to two different walmarts at 10:30 tonight, a wonderful and helping husband, and the cards are now stuffed, sealed, and stamped.

I was only able to get white envelopes that are too big for the card. Oh well. If I hadn't gone to the second walmart they'd be pastel colored!


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Monday, December 19, 2011

The Meaning of Advent

Last month I blogged about making my own advent wreath (read about here) and starting a tradition in our family of lighting the candles each week and reading the Word together to prepare for the true meaning of Christmas.

As Jason and I got ready to incorporate this tradition in our family, we realized we didn't know the history of the advent wreath or much beyond the fact that you light one each week and read a passage and prayer along with it. This got our curiosity sparked and I set off to do a little research on what we should be reading each week and what all of the candles represented. I've collected what I found in case anyone else wants to incorporate this beloved tradition in their home.

1st CANDLE – (purple) THE PROPHECY CANDLE or CANDLE OF HOPE – We can have hope because God is faithful and will keep the promises made to us. Our hope comes from God. “And again, Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:12-13)

2nd CANDLE – (purple) THE BETHLEHEM CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF PREPARATION – God kept his promise of a Savior who would be born in Bethlehem. Preparation means to “get ready”. Help us to be ready to welcome YOU, O GOD! “As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.‘ (Luke 3:4-6)

3rd CANDLE – (pink) THE SHEPHERD CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF JOY – The angels sang a message of JOY! “…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:7-15)

4th CANDLE – (purple) THE ANGEL CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF LOVE – The angles announced the good news of a Savior. God sent his only Son to earth to save us, because he loves us! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

5th CANDLE – (white) “CHRIST CANDLE” – The white candle reminds us that Jesus is the spotless lamb of God, sent to wash away our sins! His birth was for his death, his death was for our birth! “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!‘” (John 1:29)

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.’ In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.‘” (John 3:1-8)

The History of the Advent Wreath

As with many long-standing customs, the origins of the Advent wreath are somewhat debated. Some histories of the advent wreath say that Christians simply adapted an even earlier custom from pre-Christian Germanic tribes. Supposedly, then, these pagan people tried to break the darkness of winter with candles and invoke the sun god to return with the warmth and light of spring. In addition, the evergreen wreath would remind them that there is still life and the circle of time would again come back to spring.

According to this viewpoint, Christians later placed new and Biblical meaning to the old customs. Now the candles pointed to Jesus, the Light of the world (John 3:17-21.) The evergreen wreath now reminded believers that our Savior God grants new and everlasting life in Jesus. The wreath was also a symbol of victory, for a garland wreath was often placed on victors in contests or conquests. So naturally, a Christian can think of the crown of life that Jesus has won for us. The four candles in an Advent wreath would then emphasize the four week period of penitence and preparation during Advent, as we eagerly await the coming of the Light of the world to bring new life and hope.

The advent wreath became quite popular in homes in post-Reformation Germany. It seems pretty certain that in many German homes families had a custom of lighting four candles during advent, candles placed in a wreath of evergreens. When these candles were lit, Scripture and prayer was part of the custom and the family devotion time was a time of instructing the children about Christ’s coming. Later, the custom crossed over different denominational lines and other faith traditions adapted its use. Today, you can find Advent wreathes in many Protestant and Roman Catholic churches.

Source: Living Hope: The Meaning of the Advent Wreath



Guess I need to add a white candle before this Sunday!

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Training Update!

This marathon training season has been full of ups and downs - a lot more than my first marathon training season. And let's just say I am not very good at balancing these emotional and physical challenges!!

Brief update - two weeks ago on Friday I pulled my back and had to skip our 16 mile run. I went to the chiropractor and got muscle relaxers and was good to go that following Thursday. (Note: I had multiple people tell me to be careful with muscle relaxers because they make you super sleepy. I took one and two hours later - nothing. They do NOT make me sleepy. Jason found it VERY humorous that not even narcotics can make me relax...)

I went out that Thursday for a tester 1.5 miles and felt good and ready to run 18 that Saturday. I thought. Epic fail. I had some stomach issues (heartburn) and at mile 4 my left (non knee surgery) IT band started hurting excruciatingly. I made it to our 9 mile turnaround and was forced to walk 4 miles back to where another coach could pick me up. Heartbroken. I spent that 4 miles beating myself up naturally and getting totally discouraged. We were close to a month out. When I got home I spent two hours crying and trying to warm up as Jason held me and encouraged me. (I have the BEST husband in the world!)

I talked to our head coach and he basically said to plan to run our 21 miler the following Saturday (today), but be prepared to turn around early. He also said there's no reason I can't run the marathon if I'm feeling good (with or with our a 21 miler), but I may need to evaluate my goals. It's hard to train for months and then come to the realization that you aren't going to be able to accomplish something you wanted. I spent the week reconciling to myself that just finishing, even if I don't beat my previous marathon time, will be an accomplishment and something I can and should be proud about. I also reminded myself to be grateful that I even CAN run - that the Lord has blessed me with two legs and a drive to challenge myself.

I went in to see the doctor on Wednesday and was able to get a cortisone shot in my left knee. He also gave me a medrol pack to start and said to see how today went - the 21 miler.

So, how did it go you ask? Was I able to run it? I'm getting there...

Last night Jason tucked me into bed before heading to a friend's party. He knows just how to comfort me and I don't think he realizes how much his encouragement and support means to me. He said a prayer for me and when I woke up this morning I had not one, but THREE sweet notes from my hubby.

I found this note on my fuel belt in the fridge -

And this note was on my car window -

Okay, okay so how did the run go Darcy??

IT ROCKED! I was able to finish and felt fantastic! I could have run a marathon today! (But I'll wait until there's a medal for me... ;-) ) I was able to pick up speed at the end and I have not felt that good on a run yet this season. It was SO encouraging.

Every mile my Garmin is set to go off and every mile as I took a drink I quietly said "Thank you Lord for this opportunity." Don't get me wrong - it still hurt. You cannot run 21 miles and not expect to feel a little exhaustion and fatigue in your body. But I was able to run it and run it well.

I now feel ready for the marathon and just need to hold onto the encouragement that today gave me, that my husband gave me, and most of all BELIEVE in myself that I can do this.

January 15, 2012 I plan to run my second marathon! :-)

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Couponing - You Knew It Was Coming...

Ah couponing - a more up-and-coming trend thanks to shows like "Extreme Couponing". (FYI, Jason has designated only the pantry and 3 additional shelves for my stockpile - after that I am finished, according to him. This squashes my true dream of stockpiling enough toilet paper for the rest of my life. :-( )

I have been following coupons for almost two years now, but found it to be overwhelming, intimidating, and difficult to navigate. It wasn't until some friends from church attended a coupon class and shared their knowledge with me that I was really able to start making a habit of couponing. I now coupon regularly and love the savings that I accumulate by just stockpiling and watching sales!

Here are what I would consider the Top 5 Beginner Coupon Things to Know:

(5) Stockpiling is the way to maximize savings with coupons. Grocery stores run in cycles with their sales so purchasing items you need when they are at their lowest price and "stockpiling" them is the way to go. For example, if you buy and eat one box of cereal/month for $4.00 you would spend $24.00 on cereal over 6 months. However, if that cereal goes on sale for $1.50 and you buy 6 boxes then you've only spent $9.00 and saved $15.00 or 62.5%. Simple math.

(4) You can coupon as much or as little as you'd like (assuming you don't have a coupon addiction like the women on Extreme Couponing who spend 30+ hours/week on coupons... in addition to full-time jobs. No thanks.) If you have time, then you can look at sales for multiple stores. If you don't, then you know you can easily pull just that week's sales and shop by the list. On average I spend about 2 hours/week on grocery shopping (including cutting coupons, making my shopping list, and actually grocery shopping).

(3) Utilize the online resources that are already available to make your life easier. There are so many coupon blogs, websites, etc. that will match up the week's grocery sales with all available coupons in the newspaper and on the internet. Find a couple of websites that you like and use them regularly for your shopping (I've listed some below that I frequent). I get coupons on the Internet, through the newspaper, and through various products (peelies, extra coupons inside, etc.)

(2) Be prepared when you hit the store - know the store's coupon policies, have your coupons organized, pulled for that shopping trip, and double checked for the items/expirations. And if there is an error after you've already been rung up, simple go to the Customer Service desk and talk to them. I have found the representatives to be kind and helpful if I am kind and respectful.

(1) BE ORGANIZED! Have a coupon box/notebook with different categories. This will greatly reduce the time you spend gathering coupons on a weekly basis. It will take some initial setup time to get your system together, but it's worth it!!

Here is my coupon organizer -


Here are some of my most top shopping trips -
*Spent $13, saved $70
*Spent $32, saved $129
*Spent $36, saved $133
*Spent $14, saved $72
Now here's what I call extreme couponing!! (They were wet - I saved them and dried them so I could use them.)

If you are interested in getting started couponing, then I would suggest using some of the following resources (below are all links to the websites):
Southern Savers
The Grocery Game (requires a $5/month subscription - this is the one that I use the most)
The Krazy Coupon Lady

Online coupon sites (below are all links to the websites):
Smart Source
Coupons
Red Plum

Here are some other tips/tricks -
*I recommend starting a separate email account for couponing. A lot of products send recipes, coupons, etc. and you don't want them to fill up your regular email inbox.
*Sign up for newsletters, etc. with your real mailing address. I get a lot of (high value) coupons in the mail that I wouldn't otherwise.
*You can print up to two coupons per computer by using the back buttons on your Internet browser.

This is just a small bit of my couponing knowledge/experience. If you decide to start couponing or already are and have questions, I'd love to answer them! Just use the "Contact" button at the top of this webpage to send me an email. :-)

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Ready for a new week!

I posted last week about my four lows (computer, car, car, and garden). I was ready for a turnaround weekend as Jason and I got ready for our church retreat.

As I was walking to the car I turned to Jason to say something and then cried out in excruciating pain. My lower back was strained and hurt so bad! We stopped and got ice and headed to the retreat.

I felt like the pain was subsiding as the evening went on. That is until 1:00 am Friday night/Saturday morning when I woke up an had to go to the bathroom.

I. COULD. NOT. MOVE.

I literally crawled out of bed and army-crawled my way to the bathroom where I was fortunate enough to have a handicap wall rail and my husband to pull myself onto the toilet. (TMI, I know). I emailed the coordinator for Katy Fit, who happens to be a chiropractor who owns his own business. Very fortunate.

The next morning was the same but worse. Jason had to drag me by my feet to the bathroom. (I told him you could tell he hadn't pulled any dead bodies lately because he had no idea how to hold my feet. I attribute this comment to watching too much Criminal Minds- but at least I was trying to joke! And I'm sure if I hadn't been in so much pain, and if it hadn't hurt so badly to laugh, I would have been cracking up at how pathetic I was!) It took a good 45 min for me to be able to stand on my own. Ridiculous.

Doc Scott responded to my email and said he would squeeze me in and to head over there. So I left the retreat to make my way to his office and I *almost* got pulled over for speeding. (I am going to blame this on my pain, my absence from driving a stick, was in Jason's car, and the fact that it's a turbo engine.)

Fortunately I was able to brake and stick to the speed limit while the sheriff followed me for a few miles. (And yes I stuck to the speed limit thereafter!)

My right hip was higher than my left and I was definitely out of whack. I got an adjustment and instructions to alternate ice/heat and skip my 16 mile run the next day.

I headed back to the retreat and took it easy and followed my recovery instructions. Let's call this #5 on my second set of bad things come in 3's. (Today I am doing better but still very sore and cannot sit for long periods of time. A bad thing when you are an engineer with a desk job...and it only took me 15 min to be able to stand up today!)

Saturday night I got what I am calling my sixth and FINAL one. As I was sitting at the dinner table visiting, I all of a sudden felt my lower lip on the right side start to swell. I looked at Jason who confirmed it's growth...

Now this has happened to me twice before and I struggle to pinpoint any common factors in the now three times it's occurred. Different foods, no food, etc. It's always my bottom lip on the right side and fortunately goes away in just a few hours. I was lucky and this one went down in just an hour.

I can only come up with two common factors. They were both at night and after being outside so maybe mosquito bites?? However I've been bit and not had it happen so I'm still lost. And I haven't been bit on the lip...(Any suggestions of what it might be are greatly appreciated!)

So now I'm done. Both sets of "bad things come in 3's" have occurred. I am determined to change my outlook and have a better week!! I think the Lord knew that I needed to make that thankful list last week so I'd have something to remember and reflect on when this week happened.

I am blessed, I am thankful, and I will have a better week! We are having trends over for dinner and got our beautiful CHRISAs tree put up and lit the candles on our homemade advent wreath. Things are already going better if you ask me! ;-)

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Maybe bad news comes in 4's...

Oh and add to this week's wonderful events that I came home yesterday and saw this when I went to check on the garden...

I really hope all our beans plants aren't dead. :-(

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This isn't my week...

As wonderful as last week was with Thanksgiving and my birthday, this week is horrific. It started with my computer crashing. I reached out to the one person I knew could help me - ConocoPhillips IT Support. My co-worker took a look at the computer and gave me the worst news. It was a mechanically failed hard drive which can only be recovered with a forensic machine in a clean room.

UGH.

I got the contact information for data recovery services that ConocoPhillips uses. There is a $65 diagnostic fee and they will tell you what they even can recover and a cost estimate. It will range from $700-$2000 depending on the damage to the hard drive (not the amount of data on it).

A system restore will not work on a mechanically broken hard drive. And even if it did, I still wouldn't have July-November of pictures, documents, etc. There is a possibility that I could buy a new hard drive and run the system restore on it, but again - still won't have July-November. I think at minimum Jason and I will send the hard drive in for diagnostic and then evaluate after that the path forward, but I know that if we are able to get everything up through July recovered somehow that we probably won't be able to justify the expense for the data recovery, even at the low end of $700. Now is EVERYTHING is gone, that a horse of a different color.

Add to that disaster Tuesday night I get a call from Jason that his battery is dead, he's stuck at work, and he's got class and a group project he needs to get to. This my friends is an example of the different ways men and women think. As I drive over to his office I am thinking of possible solutions to this problem - could my friend Leah give me a ride home or to church or drop me off near church so I don't miss Bible study, or can my friend Erica do the same, could Jason drop me close on his way to school and someone from church pick me up, etc.

I arrive and ask Jason what he wants to do. His ideas do not coincide with mine. He wants to go get a new battery. So we drive over to a place and I ask him, "Did you call ahead, make sure they have it, and ask them to pull it off the shelves so we can grab and go?" "Um, no I didn't." "Do you need the old battery?" "Um, I should be fine without it."

We go there and buy a battery, drive back to Jason's office, and attempt to install the battery. I say attempt because the battery did not fit. It was too long to rest inside the hood. Epic fail.

On to plan B - Jason drops me off on his way to class somewhat close to our church and a friend comes and picks me up. The following day I catch a ride with a co-worker and Jason is able to get his battery repaired and so after dinner with some friends we head to his office to retrieve the car.

We get the car and as we head home, I hit a pothole that I didn't even see and become fearful as the check tire light comes on and I can tell the car is pulling to the right...I continue on home, pull into the garage and tell Jason we need to check the tires.

Sure enough the front right tire is flat and the garage now smells of burning rubber. He goes to put the spare on and checks the back tire. It's ripping at the seams between the hub cap and tire. Awesome.

We check the road hazard warranty (because they are still pretty new tires) and see that if the treads are worn only 8-30's (??) then we are good. We measure them. They are 7-30's. Still, we need to do something. So this morning my co-worker follow me while I drop the car off at Discount Tire driving 20 mph with my hazards on and almost getting run over (Houston is not kind to slow drivers...) They agree, the warranty at Tire Rack wouldn't hold and there's no point in shipping the tires to them.

We were also afraid that we would have to buy ANOTHER back tire because it's not good to have a new one and an older one on the back. Why don't we just rotate the tires you say? Because Lexus rear tires are not interchangeable with front tires. Discount Tire checked and said that they weren't worn too badly and it wouldn't be a big concern. Phew - the first good news of the week.

Discount Tire was incredibly nice and helpful - we will be using them from now and and never using Tire Rack again. Discount will match the Tire Rack price AND they will cover warranty on-site rather than having to ship the tires to Tire Rack for warranty. They have one tire on-site and should be able to get the other tire at their store today before lunch meaning I might be able to get the car back today. The second good news of the week! (Houston is NOT compatible to carpooling or public transportation.)

They say bad things come in 3's. We should be covered then so here's hoping the rest of the week is less eventful and that we are able to enjoy ourselves at our church retreat this weekend!

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