Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Home again, home again, jiggity jig

Well, they say there's no place like home for the holidays, and we couldn't agree more. Kev and I haven't been up to Chico since we were married 4 1/2 months ago, and boy was it a delight (all except the chilly weather that is)! But the weather was no match for the lively company, the delicious food, the festive decorations, and the rich conversations (marked with bouts of non-stop laughter) that we had. Just joyous! About 500 times did I find myself thinking about how blessed I was to just ENJOY my family, and for Kevin to enjoy them as well. Kev has become like another son to my father (he even let my dad deck him out in cycling gear for the big ride!), and a brother to my brother Peter! It's fun to see how easily he fits into our family, and how we all adore him (me the most!!).

I could go on and on, but i'll let the pictures tell the stories:)

Before we arrived in Chico, I called my grandparents to see if there was a night that Kevin and I could come out and spend the night at their house while we were home. They were SO excited, and my precious grandma replied "Katie, there is no better gift you can give us than your time!" And it was true...a special gift of amazing time. My grandparents live in a huge farm house where my dad grew up in a little Swedish farming community. It was SUCH a treat to sit and chat with them for hours...my grandpa got on a roll about "the old days" and Kev and I couldn't believe some of his stories...singing in the quartet in the Navy during WWII, walking a mile to school on muddy roads (that were not paved till the late 1930's)..evidently his dad got his buggy caught in the mud one winter and it stayed out there the WHOLE winter until the spring came and he could pull it out, only swedish church services, his mom crashing the old model-T car, cute stories about my dad...it was great. As we cuddled up that night we grinned ear to ear- there's nothing like story time! In the morning my grandma made breakfast, and we sat around in the breakfast nook taking in the beauty of the rice fields, birds, and mountain range. Good start to a great vacay....

Next was the annual cookie baking day. And I must say, the men of our family really got at it this year. Dad, my crazy uncle Pat, brother, cousins and Kev really showed some tenacity with the sprinkles and frosting:) Kevin's great feat was a sweet camel and santa claus, nice work babe!
Christmas Eve is certainly one of my favorite nights of the year, if not my favorite night:) My whole big hilarious Swedish family crowds into my grandparents home and eats food you've either A)never heard of or B) only seen at Ikea and wondered what the heck they were...we also always drink A&W rootbeer. No, that's not Swedish but my grandpa said they've been doing it before he was born so it's kind of a big deal (only day of the year I drink soda!).
We also participate in a gift exchange that never fails to get a little out of hand. Popular gift items include "as seen on tv" gifts (like the infamous shake-weight, or the always-lovable snuggie). This year I cheated and bought a gift I wanted. I picked it, someone stole it, and then I proceeded to steal it back!! I know, I know, that's not the point of a gift exchange, but you would want my gift too..."1000 places to see before you die". See, I told you it was worth it!
At some point in the night people get a little loopy. This year that "point" was a toss up between my aunt susan busting out in song with her newly gifted singing Elvis dog (500 too many times), and when all the parents were trying to convince us kids that they were yoga professionals and could do headstands. If you don't believe me, see the evidence below (yes, both my parents are upside down in their Christmas clothes having a "head-stand off") Merry Christmas to me.
Moving on...Christmas morning is really the most magical day of the year! Siblings and parents take turn exchanging gifts...sitting at the "seat of honor" on the fireplace hearth. We had a lot of fun...dad modeling his new attire, Kenny G Christmas jamming in the background, the boys making us the traditional Christmas morning meal of ebelskivers (round pancakes!) with lingonberry jam. Yum! I also love that I get to stay in my PJ's all day.

My mom does an amazing job of making the house look so festive and beautiful. That night we had an incredible Christmas dinner of risotto, tri-tip, italian sausage, salad, garlic potatoes. We also learned how to play a SUPER fun game called Smart-Ass. The name probably wasn't the most PC game to play on Christmas (as my G-ma pointed out a few times with a smile), but Kevin and I were killing it, so fun!
The day after Christmas we spend with my momma's side...and it's a guaranteed riot with my Aunts around. If only I knew how to post videos on this thing, i'd let you preview my Aunt Julie's Michael Jackson moves (with glitter glove and all!)
Thankful and more thankful! Merry Christmas everyone!!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Reason for the Season...and no- Jesus is not from New Jersey....


The Sunday after Thanksgiving, Kev and I started our first Christmas tradition as a married couple....claiming the Sunday immediately following Turkey day as "CHRISTMAS DAY" (clever, I know). We booked the whole day to prepare for Christmas...tree, decor, cookies, music, the whole 9 yards! (however the "cookies" part was evidently a little over-ambitious, but we did do the rest!)

Here we are at the Christmas tree farm. We cheated- we went to the farm to take pictures and smell the trees, but in 90 degree heat chopping down a tree and paying a premium price for it just wasn't sounding too attractive. So we opting for the cheaper tree at Home Depot! Sorry Pellisier farms, we used you for your ambiance!

{ taking in the Christmas spirit in 90 degree heat...seriously sweating...which turns out is not conducive for holiday snuggling and drinking hot beverages. Kev was so hot we actually had to turn on the AC while we set up the tree. Visions of cuddling and hot tea did not happen, but I'm not complaining...I LOVE the sun!}

{Me pretending I was in a serious christmas tree forest up in Washington! }

When we got home, we set up the tree and unfolded all the ornaments we've (or shall I say "I") been saving for years. Seriously, i'm like the biggest pack rat. My mom found a whole box of ornaments I got on a 75% off sale at Target 8 years ago (no joke, they've been sitting in cupboard for 8 years). Grandma Cook also gave us her reject ornaments (which, proved to be a bit hit and miss...the clown ornament scared the living day lights out of me for obvious reasons).

{I feel like this picture makes our tree look like the Charlie Brown tree, but I swear it's adorable and cute! }

We also found a SWEET nativity set on our honeymoon in Mexico. Now being a bit of a bargain hunter, I was over the moon discovering that the set was on sale. However, 4 months later when setting it up in our new place, I was reminded of the little fact sale items are often defective. Case in point...A NATIVITY SET WITH NO MARY AND JOSEPH!!!! Unthinkable right? Well, being the resourceful woman that I am, I borrowed an extra Angel to play Mary, and i'm pretty sure our new Joseph is a middle-aged Shepherd with white hair. But needless to say, it's still beautiful!

So, as Kevin and I were decorating our house for Christmas, our 7 year old neighbor Kasey came by. His eyes lit up when he saw our tree- excitedly asking if he could help us decorate. With a smile, I handed him an ornament, and soon Kevin was hoisting him up so that he could top our tree with our golden sparkling star. With two feet back on the ground, Kev asked Kasey if he knew why we put a star on the top of our tree. Kasey shook his head no. The magic of the Christmas story danced off Kevin’s lips, but Kasey crinkled up his nose, quizzical. Finished, Kev asked Kasey if he knew Jesus. “Does he live in New Jersey?” a small child’s voice responded. “No Kasey, Jesus lives in heaven with God, but we celebrate Christmas because it was a time when Jesus came to earth to teach us how to live and love, and how to start a relationship with him. He loves you Kasey”.

{Kasey putting the star on the tree}

And this is why Kevin and I feel called to be missionaries in our own neighborhood. Because the love of Christ is available to all, but there are so many who have never heard His name. Some who might think Jesus is a man that lives in New Jersey. Kevin and I did not move to Topaz Lane because it was a great complex, prime real estate, “safe” neighborhood or because it had a great school district. We moved to Topaz to dig deeper with our neighbors, to love them and be loved by them, and to share the beauty of our Savior’s unconditional love.

Every day for the last 2 weeks (since we put up our tree) Kasey, and his younger brother JT come and play at our house. We play cards, and share stories, and hug them, and laugh. One day Kasey came over, and because I was working, he sat and played with our nativity for 30 minutes. Finished with work, I walked over and was able to mimic the Christmas story using the nativity set. I pointed out baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, the angels and 3 wise men. Yesterday when JT came over, Kasey held up baby Jesus and said "JT, this is baby Jesus, Katie told me so!"

{I caught him playing with the Nativity...so precious...warmed my heart! }

Christmas is SOOOo wonderful for so many reason, but this season I'm reminded that the GOOD news is really good news, and is worth talking about each and every day!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

girls group- the prayer, the treasure, the community

{ The girls and I after an intense Dance sesh....}
{ LOVE this girl }

{ My hero Vane }

I love my neighborhood, and as i've mentioned before, I feel like I started really living once I moved here. I mean, i've been alive for 27 years- blood pumping, senses alert. But hearts beat for community, and so in moving I began to live and breathe relationship in a new way.

Last year, I participated in a program called Our Children. For a few months, I became part of a special group of 4 women- two of us from an English speaking church and two from a Spanish speaking church. Coming together every other week, we worked through a bible study called Strangers in the Land, learning what the Bible has to teach us about immigration. Stories were shared, hearts were open, tears were shed, understanding illuminated, and bonds of deep friendship were formed. All of a sudden immigration wasn't this foreign issue spread in the newspaper, dripping with fear and often times animosity. No, immigration became personal, I heard my dear friends share their stories of God's hope and mercy.

I learned that more important than our label as "American", comes our allegiance to the one who paid it all for us- "Christian". And as a Christian, we are called to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. We love others because Christ first loved us. We open our homes because Jesus would have done the same. When we turn away or reject someone because of man-made regulations, we hurt the heart of the Lord. Our citizenship is ultimately in heaven, not in geo-political boundaries.

As a group, the 4 of us would lead workshops for precious girls in an immigration shelter. Young girls who were caught crossing the border. My heart ached for these little women- each with a story that pulled strings I didn't even know I had in me. However lost and confused, these were Abba's special ones. I longed to hug them and play with their hair, but rules denied us such expressions of love. One night, I accidentally bent the rules and hugged a sweet girl from El Salvador. She looked at me and said "I haven't felt loved like this in a long time". I went home that night and bawled like a baby, those rapid uncontrollable stuttering sobs. And in the midst of salty tears, the Lord spoke to me in gentle whispers..."Katie, there are girls in your neighborhood that need love too."

And so "girls-group" began as a prayer. A small seed soaked in faith that God would somehow provide a space to reach out to college aged girls in my neighborhood. Odds were against me...I knew almost no girls that fit that age group, I speak no spanish, and had few connections. But with God,the odds are always good. I made a lame flyer, a dear soul passed it out in the neighborhood, and I showed up on the first Thursday and seriously wondered if even one girl would come.

And seven girls came. I beamed. That was a year ago...and in the past year I have fell in love with these seven faithful chicas that show up week in and week out. They make me laugh, they are beautiful, and I am ALWAYS inspired by the way God challenges me through them. Some of them face incredible odds, but do not allow circumstances to dictate their future.

And so we still meet on Thursdays. We study God's word- we bake- we craft- we laugh (a lot)-we play games- we dance- we sing. And most importantly we breath life into each other. We encourage, and speak truth, and infuse God's deep love. Because ultimately, that is what community is about- calling out the good of God and the good in one another. We are a story of transformation.

So whenever I speak of my "girls group", this is the story that precedes. A story of God's handiwork in drawing us deeper into who he created us to be, by allowing situations to change us and inspire us towards something grander.

And this week, the girls and I had so much fun making Christmas banners. Having Christmas wrapping paper, scissors, glue and glitter in my closet, we someone managed to each make some unique holiday cheer to hang in our homes!! Seriously, they make my heart happy (and so do their banners!)
{Craft TIME!!! }
{We were all cracking up b/c by the end of the night Gabs was covered in glitter head to toe- our little fairy dust girl }
{ Feliz Navidad banner...sooooo cute and festive!! }
{ Small but adorable...loved this HOPE banner! }
{ Peace on Earth Goodwill to Men...I didn't have the patience or the time, so I chopped the phrase and just wrote peace, haha }

{ Tam's adorable snowflake banner...she even left me a few to hang in our house!}

Love Katie