Monday, November 29, 2010

Top 5 Christmas Movies

The Athanas home is ready for the Christmas season. Pandora has been set to Christmas music, the tree is up, wreaths have been purchased (one from the local Boy Scouts that will be delivered later this week), and the house has been decorated. The only thing left to do is pop some popcorn and entertain ourselves with some of our favorite Christmas movies. What do Steve and I love to watch around the holidays? Well... here are my

Top 5 Favorite Christmas Movies

A Christmas Story: Who doesn't love this movie? Who didn't want a Red Rider BB Gun as a kid as a result of this movie, even if for just a second? This is one of the most classic, most quotable Christmas movies of all time. If you've never seen it don't worry - TBS plays it for 24 hours every Christmas, so you can certainly catch it if you've got basic cable. If not - check your local library and put a reserve on it. You'll laugh and you'll become nostalgic... it's that kind of movie.

One of my favorite scenes - If you've never seen the movie, don't watch it. It's kind of a spoiler.

The Nativity Story: This is a more recent film that came out a few years ago. It documents the story of Mary & Joseph relatively closely to how it is relayed in the Bible and is really a beautiful film. There aren't any subtitles, and the woman they cast to play Mary does an amazing job. A must see if you're looking for a film to help you refocus on the reason for the season (as it were).

The trailer for "The Nativity Story"

Love Actually: I love a good romantic comedy, and I also love a good romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant. This is a heart-warming story (or really... interrelated stories) with lots of British Accents, hilarity, and a drunken singer who sings a terrible song that becomes a hit. This is a fantastic movie for cuddling up on the couch with a glass of wine and a big bowl of popcorn with your significant other on a chilly winter evening.

The trailer for "Love Actually"

The Polar Express: A movie based on the children's book of the same title, the story behind the film is a great parable for faith and believing. Tom Hanks does an awesome job as the Dad/Conductor/Bum/Santa, and if you read the book as a child you'll agree that the artwork is spot-on. We saw this in the theaters and made sure to buy it the next Christmas season. Such a great film.

Embedding was disabled by request, but my one of my favorite parts of the movie is the "Hot Chocolate" number. You can view it by clicking here.

It's a Wonderful Life: This movie actually does have a ranking in our household - number one. This is a great movie that reminds us about giving, the joys of living a life for others, and how we can have an impact on the people around us. I seriously cry at the end of this movie every year. We watch this one as close to Christmas as we can since it's our favorite and it's the only one of our movies that we make sure to save as a date-night film. If you've never seen this movie - you MUST.
The scene where George Bailey gives his speech in the boardroom - great glimpse into his character.

That rounds out the movies that are on my must-see list every year. I will say that there are a few others that I get excited to see around this time of year - "Elf", "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation", "A Christmas Carol" with Patrick Stewart, and "A Muppet Christmas Carol" are a few of them. For whatever it's worth, Steve contends that "Die Hard" is also a Christmas movie... I'm not so sure about that, but we'll probably watch it anyways.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Good Morning Love..."

When we moved to our new town, one of the first things that we did was to go ahead and get library cards. I have always loved the library for a variety of reasons and was very excited to be getting back into the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium (MVLC). Library networks make getting all sorts of media - books, CD's, DVDs - for free incredibly accessible.

One of my absolute favorite things to do with my library card is take advantage of the selection of music available. I love to listen to all different things and experience different kinds of music. I've always said that I have quite a crazy taste of music (if you don't believe me, check out my Pandora profile) and so the library is a great way for me to sample different artists, compliations, and genres.

During my last trip to the library I took out 4 CD's:

  • John Legend - "Evolver"
  • The "Walk the Line" soundtrack
  • Black Eyed Peas - "Monkey Business"
  • A CD of ocean noises

I have to say that my favorite of this particular round was the John Legend CD. I am strongly considering renewing it and maybe getting myself a copy at some point. The songs are fantastic, his voice is so smooth, and the piano/jazz musical sounds of the disc are just really great to listen to on the drive home from work. Talk about unwinding.

I wanted to share with you my favorite song on the CD - "Good Morning". It reminds me of those weekend mornings when Steve & I wake up, the sun is coming through the blinds, and getting out of bed is difficult. Listen, enjoy, and if you're married - be inspired. This song just makes you want to cuddle, I'm warning you.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Don't Be Afraid

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... (Ephesians 5:25)

I stared up at the wall and froze. Tears flowed down my cheeks. I tried to slow my breathing, but it wasn’t happening. This 15-20 foot scaling wall stood before me, two fellow orientation leaders at the top encouraging me that they would help me over. It didn’t matter - my fear of heights was kicking in. It wasn’t the climbing and getting down that freaked me out - it was standing up there without a harness, knowing that I could fall at any time that was causing my panic.

My friends came around me and tried their hardest to encourage me, but that didn’t matter either. Suddenly, this guy who I’d never met before that day wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts came towards me. He grabbed my hands, looked in my eyes, and said in a firm tone: 

“You can do this. I know you can. You can get up that wall, you can stand up there, and you can get down. I know you can. I’ll be on the other side waiting for you.”

And with that - he walked away, went around to the other side of the wall, and waited. I felt somehow calmer, turned around, and climbed the wall to the cheers of the rest of the staff. Sure enough, that same guy was at the bottom of the wall on the other side, arms crossed looking up at me, making sure I was OK. He was still there when I got down just like he promised, and gave me a big smile and a pat on the back. “See?” he said. “I knew you could do it.”

Ten years later I was sitting in Disney’s Hollywood Studios on a ledge in between the Rock N’ Roller Coaster and the Tower of Terror. My chest was tightening. My breathing was getting shallow. I looked at the Fast-Pass in my hand for the Tower, looked up as screams came from the windows that were opening and closing, and knew exactly what was happening. My darned fear of heights was kicking in again - which wasn’t unusual for this ride, but this was worse than normal. Even though most of my brain knows that the Tower of Terror isn’t really freefall - it’s actually a series of cables PULLING you down, not dropping you - each year getting on the ride is a process of conquering my fears. As a result (and a secret love of all things horror) - it’s my favorite ride.

March 2010 was a bad time for me to gear up to get on the ride, apparently.

Steve walked towards me coming out of the bathroom and noticed I wasn’t quite right. “What’s wrong?”

“My fear of heights is kicking in. I don’t know why. It’s bad though - this isn’t how I normally get before getting on this ride. Usually I’m just a little nervous.”

He took a deep breath and paused for a moment, thinking. Then that look came back on his face that I’d only ever seen once before. He took the Fast-Pass from me, grabbed my hand and said “Come on. We’re going on it right now. We have the Fast-Passes so you won’t have to wait in line long. You’re not going to let the panic win, this is your favorite ride.”

We headed right into the line and didn’t wait more than 5 minutes before the stoic cast member opened the doors to the elevator. We got in our seats, put on our seat belts, went through the ride opener, and heard the magic words:

“You have just entered... the Twilight Zone...”

THUD.... then Steve my hand... then the elevator moved...

Steve & I in front of the Tower of Terror

For those who have never been on the Tower of Terror, Disney simulates a free-falling haunted elevator with a mind of its own on this ride. It does this by using a cable pull that pulls you down and pushes you up in a computer generated random pattern. No two times that you ride the Tower of Terror will ever be the same. From an engineering perspective - it’s actually really cool. I’ve been on this ride at least a dozen times.

This was the first time that the ride went UP when the elevator went dark when I’ve been on it. Not sure if that’s of any remarkable note or not - I just know I thought it was interesting that in my time of panic of being dropped... I first went up. (There’s probably a separate devotional in there somewhere... but anyways...)

When the ride was over and Steve had recovered from his vertigo (that he lovingly suffers every year for the benefit of me not needing to ride this thing by myself), he looked at me and asked how I was doing. When I said I was fine, exhilarated, pumped, and glad I went on the ride... he smiled, put his arm around my shoulders, and said “See? I knew you could beat that panic. Wanna go again?”

I took one look at my husband’s pale white face and I made the executive decision - no. Once a year is good enough - I beat my fear, I got my excitement in, no need to make him further ill. 

See here’s the thing... neither Steve nor I are always great at filling our parts for the perfect Ephesians 5 husband and wife. I’m a stubborn person that isn’t always great at submitting and trusting my husband (Eph. 5:22) - and Steve is a stubborn person who is more pragmatic and task-oriented than constantly in tune with emotions, so turning to “love” isn’t always his immediate nature (Eph. 5:25).  But most of the time and ESPECIALLY when it counts - my husband is absolutely fantastic at loving me as Christ loved the church. 

Up until the time we started dating, whenever anyone mentioned Steve’s name - to me he wasn’t that goofy kid that always wore Hawaiian shirts and liked to play with computers. To me - he was always that kid that helped me over the wall. Someone who stepped up and showed me care and was the only person who was able to penetrate through my panic to help me get over my fears, to ease my mind. At the time - neither of us knew that we’d be married 7 years later and that the same thing that happened that day would happen again in the middle of Disney World.

But God did.

That evening Jesus’ disciples went down to the shore to wait for him. But as darkness fell and Jesus still hadn’t come back, they got into the boat and headed across the lake toward Capernaum. Soon a gale swept down upon them, and the sea grew very rough. They had rowed three or four miles when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. They were terrified, but he called out to them, “Don’t be afraid. I am here!” Then they were eager to let him in the boat, and immediately they arrived at their destination! (John 6:16-21)

My fear of heights is like a boat in a storm to the apostles. And in the middle of my panic on those rare occasions when it sets in - I can count on my husband to reach out his hand, look in my eyes, and with loads of love he’ll lead me through the storms. It won’t just be my fear of heights. There might be times when money will be tight, when our relationship might be rocky, when my parents will be sick, when we might have issues with our future children and I will be uneasy, probably even panicky. But I know that when I panic - Steve will take my hand...

He will say as Jesus tells us: “Don’t be afraid. I am here.”

And for that - I am blessed.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Believing Without Seeing

I'm the kind of person who needs things explained and proven. I watch the Food Network to watch and learn ideas for cooking and why things work well together. When Steve tells me about his day at work, "Good" or "Bad" is never enough. I need to know details, and when I don't understand something about his geek-job - I practically beg him to spell it out so I get it. Recently when Steve tried to surprise me with a trip to Jamaica for my birthday, I needed the proof that we weren't going to Vero Beach. I needed to see the emails, the flights, the hotel confirmations. I needed to see the evidence.

So you can imagine what it was like when a little over 4 years ago I started to explore my faith and determine if following Jesus was the right decision. He was a great man, for certain. A powerful teacher. But Messiah? Really? Died for our sins? Yeah right sure. How do we know that the people we healed weren't audience plants like you see at a magic show or one of those crazy hucksters who are taking advantage of people's faith for money? Please - I thought. I prayed: God - I believe in you. But faith in Jesus? Show me why I should. If He was real - show me.

God listens to your prayers and answers clearly when He has something important for you to understand.

Not long after that we were talking with our pastor and he recommended the book "The Case for Christ." I ignored that recommendation until at least 5 other people also said that I should read the book. If you've never read it, it's actually pretty interesting. It was written by a former atheist journalist who set out to proof Christ's non-existence. His wife had recently committed her life to Him and was driving him insane; this book was supposed to put an end to it, once and for all. Indisputable proof that Jesus as Messiah was garbage. What he ended up finding, however, was indisputable proof of the exact opposite - he could not find anything that backed up his original mission. In the end, the evidence was so strong FOR Jesus that this atheist journalist who lived his life forming opinions on cold, hard facts ended up converting to Christianity. It's kind of like a modern-day C.S. Lewis story.

At the end of the book, I was stunned. The girl who needed proof had it in her hands in the form of a former atheist's accidental journey to God's love. I had my proof that Jesus existed... and the seed to grow my faith had been planted. But I still had doubts - I wasn't there when Jesus walked the earth. I wasn't there for all of these miracles He performed. And how do I KNOW He loves me? I am the kind of person who needs love SHOWN to her - just saying "I love you" isn't enough.

Again - God pays attention to your heart and when He wants you to understand something, He won't give up.

Photo by Katrina, from Flickr

Soon after I was thinking these things over, God brought me to the text about Doubting Thomas. Thomas was the disciple who did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, and needed to see the wounds in His hands in order to believe. So - what happened when Jesus presented His hands to Thomas? As Jesus always does, He gave Thomas pertinent words of wisdom:

Jesus said, "So, you believe because you've seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing." (John 20:29 - The Message)

Ever since I read that verse, it has been a constant reminder of what faith is. Believing without seeing - it is trust, it is knowing with your heart what your eyes cannot lay eyes on. It reminded me of a conversation that my mom, brother, and I had when I was in high school. Mom was trying to explain to my brother what faith was (he was going through some Boy Scout faith declaration thing) and I kept arguing about it. Finally (he was about 11 or 12) he asked why I wouldn't just believe what Mom was saying. Her answer: "Your sister is a very analytical person and needs to see all sides of a thing. Questions aren't bad."

How do I know Jesus loves me? That was the last question I had to tackle. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks - the cross, plain and simple. Why do I say it hit me like a ton of bricks? I got the concept that Jesus died for our sins - that was easy. But God knew I needed to be SHOWN what Jesus did for us to really grasp and understand.

God pays attention to our hearts and shows us what needs to be seen for us to get His points.

The first thing that was shown to me was a graphic description of the medical aspects of Jesus' torture and crucifixion. For those with weak stomachs that won't click the link hidden in those words: the bottom line is that historians agree that crucifixion is the worst form of execution ever concocted by humans. Not only that - but Jesus' crucifixion with the preceding torture that he endured is the worst crucifixion ever documented.

If that description wasn't enough... you can watch the whole thing unfold in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ". 

I cried my eyes out when I saw that movie. All of these things solidified my faith - I had all that I needed now to know that Jesus existed, that faith is required to have a relationship with God, and that Jesus absolutely loves me and each one of us individually. With each lash and hammering of nails, He was taking on every lie we've ever told, every gossipy thing we've ever said, every hurt we've ever caused. All of that junk for all of mankind (and it's a LOT) - up there on that cross.

Sometimes I cry when I take communion, thinking of what He did for us. What He did for me.

Now, I know I'm not perfect. I've hurt people in my life. I say stupid things and do stupid things and don't always act selflessly. I don't always think and act as Jesus has called us to act - Growing is a process. With it comes screwing up and learning and forgiving and repairing and reconstructing and then repeating the process. It will never end - I will forever be growing in one shape or another.

But I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, and I know that if each day I take steps to be and act and do as He has called us to - that each day I will grow in my faith, I will become closer to Him, and I can be the light in the darkness. All of my missteps are forgiven, and all I have left is to be His hands and feet in the world - to show the love He has for us to others so that they may know what I have grown to know.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gobble Gobble

With a new house comes new traditions, and this year Steve and I will be hosting Thanksgiving for his family. His parents, both sisters, and one of their boyfriends will be joining us for a turkey and all the trimmings. About a week or so ago, Steve mentioned that since I hadn't made a turkey before, it might be a good idea for me to do a practice run so that I know what to expect on the big day. He went to the market, got a turkey, and yesterday was the big day.

Danielle's First Turkey!

When I got back from a couple of errands, I did what every woman does before they cook something for the first time that they've eaten a million times - I called my mom. She verified that the cooking should be about 20 minutes/pound at 350 degrees, and reminded me about stuffing the bird so that it doesn't collapse. Now, I have no idea if that's an old wives tale or not - but I knew that I wanted to stuff it with some "aromatics".

I chunked up some celery, gala apple, and sweet onion. They were tossed together in a bowl with about 1 tbsp lemon juice, rosemary, and crushed garlic. I stuffed them in the bird along with 2 good sized sprigs of sage and 2-3 cinnamon sticks. I wasn't sure how it would make the bird taste, but I had a darn good feeling it would smell great coming out of the oven.

Bird stuffing ready to go.
While I was getting the bird ready to be stuffed (removing the giblet packet, pulling the neck out of the cavity, and washing it down), I was thinking about how much the process of preparing a turkey reminded me of my Thanksgivings growing up. I would often help get the stuffing ready and stuff the turkey to get in the oven. Those thoughts reminded me of how much I love the fall - and as I had that thought I looked out the window and saw this:

There was a beautiful picture of fall right in front of me that I got to look at while I was getting the turkey done. The sky was clear and the air was crisp. An amazingly perfect fall day - the perfect day to cook a turkey, the ultimate fall comfort food.

Once I was done being distracted, I stuffed the turkey and tied it up. I didn't have any twine so a quick search of my yarn stash showed that I did indeed have some plain white cotton yarn that would do the trick. If you don't like looking at raw meat - scroll past the next picture that demonstrates that I can sufficiently hog-tie a stuffed bird.

As the turkey was cooking, our house smelled absolutely delicious. The smell of turkey permeated the air and just made our house reek of comfort food. I made up the stuffing, got the vegetables ready, and 2.5 hours later I called in the TRU (Turkey Removal Unit - aka Steve) to take the turkey out of the oven.

Steve taking out the very first Athanas Family Turkey

Steve cut up the turkey after it rested and we sat down to enjoy my very first turkey. The breast was a little bit drier than I would have liked, but it wasn't totally dry and overall the turkey was good. I served it up with cornbread stuffing, broccoli and carrots. After dinner we enjoyed the apple pie that our guests had brought - it was quite good.

What was really cool about my serving up a practice Thanksgiving turkey is that our guests had brought with them a really cool housewarming gift. Our dining room set was inherited from Steve's grandmother. When she sold her house, one of the things that she disposed of at her garage sale was the dry sink that was a part of the set - it just wouldn't fit in her condo. When we bought our house, her friend Pat emailed me and said she wanted us to have the dry sink back. Steve's family always had Thanksgiving at Grams' until she passed away, and now that we have a house and will be hosting Thanksgiving ourselves - we'll be able to do it using the same full dining room set and the same china that his family has always enjoyed Thanksgiving with.

The dining room set - together again!

My first turkey was - I would say - a success. We're enjoying the leftovers tonight in the form of barbecue turkey sandwiches (currently simmering in the crockpot) while watching the Pats vs. Steelers football game. I am even more excited than I was before for Thanksgiving - it's a definite reassurance to know I won't screw up the main event of the meal!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Run, Baby, Run!

At the beginning of the year, I laid out a few goals for myself and one of them was that before the year was out I would run in a 5K race. A little bit later in the year, I identified what that race would be and then as I continued to work towards adding more running into my routine - I realized that I CAN run and I ENJOY running. Yesterday... all of those thoughts came to fruition when I laced up my shoes and hit the pavement to run in my very first 5K race ever!

I was super blessed to have my good friend Laura join me in the 3.1 mile race around Lake Quannapowitt in Wakefield, MA. I had kept my fingers crossed all week that there wouldn't be any rain - there wasn't, but Laura & I both had coughs. Neither of us were going to let that stop us from enjoying the fall day and jaunting around the lake.

Laura & I before the race - ready to go! I don't know who that other chick is, but she has a number - so she must have run too. Good job, other chick!
When the horn blew, we started out at a good comfortable pace. During the race, Laura was a great encourager every step of the way. We talked about lots of different things, she was understanding when I needed to walk, and pushed me to go just a little bit further before I took breaks. The jaunt around the lake was really pretty - both the lake and the houses we passed - and because it was relatively flat it was a great way for me to try out a competitive 5K. When we reached the orange cones and started to come to the finish line - I didn't believe it when Laura said "We're under 40 minutes!". I turned the corner and saw for myself; the clock was at 37:30 and ticking! As we crossed the finish line - I watched as the clock ticked over to 37:48. I was so excited - I wasn't expecting to be less than 45 minutes with my cold, never mind a good amount under 40 minutes!

Here is one of the NE 65+ Runners that beat us. Behind him you'll see a red vest - that's me! You can tell I'm still running at this point.
Me & Laura right after we crossed the finish line. Whoo hoo!

Once we were done, we got our t-shirts and some free snacks. We waited for our official results to post (they got mine wrong - but whatever - they said I did better than I did) and then we headed with our moral support (AKA - husbands who cheered us on) to get some lunch. I really enjoyed the race and having someone to run with made it even better. We both are excited to do another race sometime in the future - maybe in the spring - and better our times.

The sense of accomplishment of finishing a 5K was amazing. I wanted to just tell everyone I saw - "Did you know I ran a 5K today? Do you know I used to hate running?". I refrained, but it really was an incredibly feeling. I'm so grateful for Laura for running with me and for Steve for being willing to stand at at the finish line waiting for me with a camera, a kiss, and a big hug.

Time to start researching for springtime 5Ks! Anyone know of any good ones in Eastern MA?