Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Musings

The Surprise Gift

Christmas was so wonderful this year. It was a memory making time with family. We had 22 people stuffed into Nana's home enjoying the Eve of celebrating. Stories were swapped in every corner of the house as adults shared over good food and children played downstairs.

This year we were able to do something very special in surprising my parents and Nana with a joint gift. They had an old plasma console tv that served them well for a good 12+ years. It was a great technological piece of advancement when it was new but over the past few months the screen was giving out and giving everyone a headache. The color was almost all black and the picture would flip and shrink in a random pattern that made the viewer feel something was about to implode.

Without their knowing it, we as a whole family pulled our resources together and bought them a new 46" flat screen with a stand.

Blessings and gifts are always wonderful but much of the fun also comes with being able to surprise them and the challenge was on. I took the wrapped tv and stand to my parents house a few weeks ago with a big card on it labeled for my husband and asked them to store it for me so he wouldn't find it at my home before Christmas. My parents, always ready to pull a good one over on my hubby (in loving fun), were excited to be able to be a part of the 'deception'.

Boy were they shocked and speechless when we presented them with the truth written in the enclosed card. Wow! They were overwhelmed.

Thank you God that we could surprise and bless them that way.

Nana's Tree

I didn't think of taking a close up picture of Nana's tree when I was there on Christmas. But I do want to share with you how special this tree is. Nana is so talented and dedicated to her craft. That tree is covered in bells she made from stringing beads together. She has made them for years and we all have her creations located through out our homes. There are so many bells of different colors and sizes. If I had to guess, I would say there are at least 250 beaded bells on her tree. My dad has to anchor the tree to the wall with a wire to insure it does not topple over from the weight.


The Sweetness of Friendships

Last night we had a special treat by being blessed with a visit from some friends. We had met years ago when our children were all in the same martial arts training class at the local community center. At that time we had struck up a quick friendship both in heart and also because I knew that God was doing something special between us. They, being Chinese and native to Taiwan, found my own cultural diversity to be a comfort to them while I completely enjoyed the ease and joy of being with them. There was a pretty big language barrier but we all pushed through and encouraged each other. 

After several months of being together, the time came for them to return to Taiwan and we didn't imagine ever seeing them again. I had prayed for them so very often. I wanted so much to talk with them in detail about God and His goodness......but that language barrier never let us get very far.  We tried to communicate via email for a while but lost contact after a while. At least that is what I thought. It turns out that our girls got back in touch via social networking.

Puddin' came to me a couple of weeks ago saying that the family is now living in California. They would be in our area for Christmas break and could we have them over for dinner. Boy what a question. I was thrilled at the idea.

An amazing blessing of a story unfolded at my dinner table last night as we sat around eating teriyaki chicken and rice. With bubbling excitement (and still pretty broken English) they told us a story of all that we didn't know was happening in our friendship.  They said that all those years ago, they had cravings to know more of God and raise their children in a Christian environment but didn't know how to meet God. They said that God used our friendship to show them a direction. He guided them and answered so many of their prayers by our friendship. There were many of our conversations they brought up last night that I had no idea what was happening on their end. That language barrier may have been keeping me from opening my mouth every time I wanted to say something but God was using it to prove Himself to them by answering their every request as they uttered it in their hearts. 

It was so humbling to listen to them and point at me exclaiming I was an angel to them sent by God.  It was encouraging to see how God works His plan. It is amazing to think of how things mesh together with ripples that affect such change.

Are you wondering about this amazing edible art? Our friends brought these to us for our enjoyment. Oh my goodness! They are from Pix Patisserie.  I know that downtown Portland is becoming widely known for its culinary flair but good golly lolly........I had no idea such treats were available.  They are so pretty. I am scared to cut into them. But they can't go to waste right?

For now, it is after midnight here and my pillow is calling me.
I pray that you have an amazingly blessed week. Know that you are loved so greatly by the God of all creation. He moves mountains for you, dances for you and is overjoyed at the thought of spending time with you because you matter to Him.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Christmas Season....

The Snow Globes

The month of December is slipping away ever so quickly. It is amazing how time flies by. Before it is gone, I'd like to share with you some highlights of the month that make me smile. First on the list of sharing is our snow globe collection. I won't go into the whole story right now but will instead encourage you to read here for a laugh. Go ahead, I will wait.

I must admit that this year has caught me stopping in the stores to pick up snow globes and ponder the idea of adding to my collection as I watch the snowflakes swirl to life in my hands.

While trusting that you will "link away" to read my previous snow globe story, I do want to take an extra minute and share this picture with you. A couple of mornings ago the sun was shining so brilliantly through the windows that it made everything sparkle to life. Pippin grabbed my camera and snapped a few clicks. This shot made me pause when I downloaded everything. I love the sparkle of the sunlight and am intrigued at the secondary image of the angel in the orb of the sun reflection on the glass dome. I love how God gives us extra delights all the time. He is so very creative.

Now for the Christmas Tree

A couple of weeks back we went to pick out to our Christmas tree. As is usual for us, we made great sport out of the whole thing. Our girls both have a quirky sense of humor and continuously challenge me to "think outside the box". In picking out a tree, they always look for the best oddball in the lot. Their philosophy is why have something in a perfectly full and normal bell shape when it can have its own character of life to proudly shine in our home.

This year they picked out a tree that had multiple tops to it as well as an assortment of extra long branches to stick out and hold our array of ornaments. There was no cutting off of branches to make things uniform, for uniform is boring.

Instead of our angel tree top being perched on the tip top branch that is 'tradition', she is nestled in between 3 top branches perfectly balanced.

 This branch that sticks out to almost touch the china hutch is holding a beautiful crystal ballerina. I imagine that it is as if both ballerina and tree branch are bursting with the joy at the Good News Of the King.


My Unique Elves

These mischievous elves are another oddity in our home. A friend made them for us as a gift a couple of years back. Standing each at a good 3 feet tall, their oddball presence actually brings a chorus of "Mom those are so creepy". I gotta admit that they are a little odd and 'not normal'. Even Kekoa sits and growls at them from time to time. Maybe they wink at him when I am not looking. It doesn't matter to me though. For some reason I think they are so odd and gooney that they are positively adorable and I can't wait to put them out for all to see each year. 

 Our Birthday Celebration

Each year I look forward to a special event in the month of December. Smack in the middle of all the hubbub of Christmas preparations is the joy of being able to celebrate my shared birthday with my mom. Not everyone can say that they have the same birthday as another family member. I have the joy of being able to share my birthday with my mom on the very same day (and actually before her dad went to be in heaven his birthday was also on the same day with us). It wasn't planned that way. It is just when God chose us to be born. 

After Hubby and I retired and moved back "home", Mom and I began the tradition of spending the day together. Family can plan parties and what-not in the evenings and weekends but we get the day for just each other. And in that tradition I get to surprise her with a special new place that she has never experienced. As traditions go, she makes sport out of trying to guess and pull the surprise location out of me and I always invent new ways of being two steps ahead of her in loving sarcasm and whit.
(By the way, Mom made those leis we are wearing)

This year, in honor of her island heritage, I picked a local Hawaiian restaurant that I had heard great reviews on. Oh my the 'ono grinds' (good food) we drooled over. Everything brought back so many memories for her and we couldn't decide which good things on the menu to have.

With the air outside being chilly and wet we opted to go simple and comfy. We started with appetizers of lumpia and manapua.  I could have been happy and content with just that but we got more.

 We both ordered medium 'auntie size' bowls of saimin with char siu pork, fried egg, green onion and cabbage. It was the real kind with home stock and everything. None of that pretend Top Ramen with a billion grams of salt.

Then when we thought we could eat no more, we were presented with birthday candles Hawaiian style. Our waitress had put a candle in our heavenly concoctions of coconut sorbet and mango sorbet. Again, they were the real things with frozen coconut milk in the half shell and frozen tropical island mango served in it's own skin as the bowl.

 It was all such a wonderful day, such a memory filled weekend and I am grateful for every ounce of it.

Thank You God for memories and joys, celebrations, family and friends. Thank You for loving on us and taking delight in creating big and small all the things that make us smile.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Vegetarian Dogs

If you have been here as a reader for a while, you know that I am nuts for my dogs and that each one holds a special place of healing in my heart over difficult journeys. This particular post is about my westie named Kekoa. I try to tell my stories in a short manner but it never seems to work for me. I apologize. So the abridged version here is: Kekoa was very sick and now is much better.  If you'd like to know details, please keep reading.

Back in the end of September, Kekoa had a sudden  acute allergy attack. He ran around the house absolutely miserable. His eyes became so swollen and red. He kicked up his feet like a bucking horse while trying to dig his paws into the carpet with all his might. He would lean up against me and sigh for comfort and then jump like he was being poked in multiple places.  We had been on a walk that day so I thought maybe he walked in something. Giving him a bath proved useless and he acted like the water felt of fire. It took 3 separate doses of Benadryl* before he had relief enough for us all to be able to sleep the remaining hours of the night.

I was at the vet clinic when the doors opened the next morning. The vet agreed that maybe he walked in something, or maybe he swallowed a bee, or maybe it was sheet rock debris from the bathroom remodeling project we had going on, or maybe.......yeah maybe it could be anything because a 3 year old westie can show allergen aversions to anything under the sun. He gave Kekoa a steroid shot and orders for me to do Benadryl around the clock for 2 weeks to give his system time to sort itself out.

I followed orders and we made great progress. The kicking stopped, he slept and we were relieved.
It didn't last though. Every time I backed off the Benadryl he would begin to go after his paws with fevor and his eyes remained continuously red and swollen. 3 weeks later he broke out in hives and looked like he had measles from head to toe.  His demeanor changed as well. Going outside wasn't fun. He didn't want to bark and protect anymore.

Another vet trip and I was giving him a daily dose of steroid. The steroid helped but it seemed every day was a day for monitoring. No matter what, I couldn't seem to find a pattern to solve the mystery. The only thing I knew that gave him comfort for sure was that he wanted me to hold him ALL the time. It broke my heart to see him so miserable. In my arms with his head on my shoulder was his constant preferred position. I could see he was losing weight and his skin lost elasticity. His skin was so red that it glowed under his coat. We cut off all of his hair so we could gain a better knowledge of what was happening. Poor guy was so cold I had to get him a sweater.

Almost 2 weeks ago I began a desperate strategy (with the approval of our vet) and started Kekoa on a vegetarian diet.  After much research online I learned it to be quite the controversy but I didn't know what else to do for him that had hope of offering a solution.
Within 3 meals (a day and a half) I saw changes in him. Within 7 meals he was a new dog and so full of happiness. He had been sick for so long that I had forgotten what he was like well. He had been so ill over that period of time that I didn't realize just how sick he was getting and now I truly think his body was starting to shut down.

The change was so quick that I figure he developed a severe allergy to chicken. (Though chicken is good for us humans, it seems many dogs have an aversion to it.) One day on his road to recovery, I made his food with boiled eggs as the protein source. Bam! His health crashed again in a single day.  I had to really scramble to get him to a place of comfort.

At this point, I don't know if he is allergic to meat proteins in general or if it is a chicken/chicken product allergy. I don't want to test him out on anything for a while. He is doing good with lentils, cottage cheese and soy beans/tofu being his protein source. Our vet is helping me research supplements. There are so many on the market and they all boast of being just what is needed.   I want to make sure though that we are doing all that is possible. A diet lacking important nutrients will lead to cardiac issues down the road.

Now Kekoa has energy, wants to play, Conguito plays with him (that had stopped as well because dogs know), his eyes are no longer swollen and red, he is putting weight on, I can't see his ribs anymore, his skin bounces back, the fire red glow has been replaced by soft flesh colored skin and the hives are gone. He bounces, prances and teases. And even his output has increased with a desire to go out in the yard. He still has times of paw licking but it isn't with the intensity he had before.

I don't think that he is completely better yet but I am so very grateful for the progress that he has made. There is no denying that going vegetarian has made a huge difference in him. I think maybe now we are dealing with his body doing waves of purging all of the toxins out of his system as he intakes the healthy vegetable protein and loses the meat proteins that have been stored in his body.

It is simply crazy all that has happened. Remember those "nevers"? When I first started making dog food for 'my boys', I never imagined I would be graduating them to a vegetarian lifestyle. It is certainly interesting. There are some commercialized dog food brands that make vegetarian but making it myself is much more cost effective.
I have been spending much of my free time online researching recipes and daily nutritional health for dogs. I found some long term studies last night that show dogs to live longer on vegetarian foods and even longer on a vegan life style.  For now I am following a basic recipe and supplementing with a multivitamin, omega 3 and brewers yeast. If you are on a health journey for your fuzzy friends and would like recipe guidance, I'd be happy to share what I have found so far.

Here are the boys this morning in their favorite spot. They love to look out the widow and be our protective surveillance. Conguito bounces between perches in the window like he is here and curling up on the sofa while Kekoa uses the arm rest to full advantage.

Thank You God for the joys, comforts and health of my dogs.

*You'd think that because my dog is only 20 lbs he would get an infant dose of histamine blocker. However, according to my vet, because a canine's metabolism is so high, they sometimes need as much medication as we do.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Things I Do......

I have written a couple of times on my struggles with talking myself through cello practice. No matter how much I talk myself along with being at peace, enjoying my time and doing all things in a place of contentedness with God; I still find myself cringing and getting so tense with each wrong note, each scratch of the bow along string like the sound of nails on a chalkboard. My family proclaims the encouraging, "Wow you are really progressing!" while I tell myself they are just saying that because they have to and each note must be making them hold their breath wishing they were some place else.

Despite those struggles, I think I have truly hit a changing point and I am so excited at the shift in perspective.

Where did the change come from? During Sunday evening service, our worship leader shared a God inspired image that made me feel like it was God singling me out in the crowd and reading my mind.

She said it is so amazing that we get to make music for God. God has the perfection of heaven all around Him. He hears melodies and harmonies of angel choirs and the resounding of all creation singing His praise. There are music notes, combinations of sounds and chords that we haven't even discovered and could never duplicate here on earth.  It is like all of that is the grandest symphony ever being played in a gorgeous concert hall. It's a black tie affair and everything sparkles of crystal. And here we come in procession to share our talents, the likeness of a 1st grade Christmas program with bells and triangles in hand.

It conjures up images in my head of memories experienced that I have been to in supporting my children. I mouth each song along with them, tap my foot to each percussion succession, move in my seat to each dance step and shine with pride as if my children are the only ones performing. My pride swells no matter if they miss a beat or not. I clap for them and it is all considered beauty because they did it. They did what was on their hearts and shared with courage.

He is surrounded by such amazing beauty; yet none of that matters when we offer what we can. He sits on the edge of His seat.  He silences everything around Him and with the great pride of being Papa says, "Wait a minute. I want to hear this. Look, she is doing this for Me. I put that passion and desire in her to make her delight. See her use it and it makes her smile. That is one of my many gifts to her and it brings Me joy."

Even now as I write this, I am tearing up and feeling tension leave me. I felt I made great progress in yesterday's practice. I didn't get frustrated. I didn't let the pride of perfection take a stand over joy. I lost myself for a time instead of watching the clock for freedom. I am looking forward to the last sleepy person waking up today so that I can practice more.

Do you know that those things we put ourselves down for, He wants us to jump up and down with in delight? The things we are learning and secretly pushing ourselves forward in, we have that desire because He placed it there to bless us. Don't hide your giftings. No matter what it is that you want to pursue; be it learning to organize, taking on a language, becoming a master chef, going back to school, riding a horse or even jumping out of a perfectly good airplane; those desires are there to encourage and stretch you because He wants you to live in His joy.  Your desire to write a book, speak in front of a crowd, share His love with people who are under the impression they are unlovable; these are all His gifts to you.

Thank You God for Your encouragement, Your joy, Your perfect delight in us.Thank You for Your gifts and that You are always wanting us to increase in all we do.