Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Goal Recap - How'd I Do?

At the beginning of the year, I set some goals for myself. The year progressed and a lot of things happened in the Athanas household this year:
  • We bought a house that we absolutely love.
  • I hit a huge weight loss milestone - even in the midst of the holiday season.
  • Steve was able to travel for business twice, which he loves. 
  • I started to use my cookbooks more and blogged about it.
  • We sent our fish to a better home where they could be better taken care of and we gave our 90-gallon tank away to a single mom who wanted to set one up for her child. 
  • Steve and I both experienced rebuilding/healing of relationships in our immediate families, which has been pretty cool.
  • God answered our prayers for additional volunteers for the youth ministry more than we ever could imagine - we'll end 2010 with a staff of 8!
Home Sweet Home - Athanas Homestead, Est. 2010
    There are lots of other things that were of note in 2010, but those are the things that immediately are coming to mind as I reflect on the year. However - this post is not about those awesome things. It's about how I did on my goals. Our friend John said once that when you set goals, transparency in goals is important - so I'll be honest as I go through each of these and let you know how I did without any fluff.

    1. I set out to read the entire Bible in a year: Well... if this were a complete pass/fail - I would absolutely fail. I did not read entire Bible this year. Having said that - I will say that just setting this goal at all did draw me to God's word more than I ever have been drawn in the past. I spent more time reading scripture this year than I ever have, and in fact got so caught up in Psalms one morning recently that I lost track of time and was late for work! I think that there are two things that did not happen that would have made this goal a complete success that I will definitely keep in mind for next time.

    1. I did not set out with a plan. With all the reading plans out there to read the entire Bible in a year, do you think I looked at ANY of them? Nope. Not a one. If I decide to reset this goal - this is one thing I would definitely make sure I had in place.
    2. I did not set aside time each day to read scripture. Without proper time, no goal can ever be achieved.

    Again - I don't consider this goal completely missed as I did spend significantly more time in God's word than I ever had before. That in and of itself makes me feel that something was accomplished here.

    Almost... but not quite...

    2. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I would finish more crochet projects in 2010. Yeah right sure. I'm not even going to attempt to bring some positive spin to this - I did NOT complete more crochet projects this year than last. However - if I play my cards right - there's a very decent shot that I will complete a larger project I've been working on for a while for a gift before the year is out. Stay tuned... I'll let you know. I can't reveal it quite yet because, well, it's a gift.

    3. Read and complete more books! This one I definitely did, and I'm psyched about it. Two of my favorite passtimes/hobbies are reading and crocheting; reading has been since I was a small child. According to my Goodreads tally, I completed a total of 13 books this year. That's 9 more than I completed last year, so I really kicked this goal's butt. Very excited about that! My favorites that I read were "Snowflower and the Secret Fan", "The Shack", "The Vertical Self", and "Before Green Gables". I'm wondering if I can beat 13 books for next year... do I toy with fate and reset this goal for 2011?

    4. Participate in and Complete a 5K race: Well... any of you who know me and/or read this blog know that I did this one in November. I ran in my first 5K with my friend Laura and completed the race in 37 minutes and 48 seconds. I was so pumped. I also closed out the year with a great milestone for myself this morning on the treadmill - I was able to jog for 38 out of 45 minutes I spent on the machine, and completed the 5K portion of my workout in just about 36 minutes. Considering how boring running on a treadmill can be, I was pretty pumped about this. I'm giving all the credit to my new running pants I got at TJMaxx last night.

    Finished! Check one off the list...

    So - I would give myself about a 75% on the year, which is better than most people do with their annual goals. I'm excited to think about and establish goals for 2011 - I have a really good feeling about next year!

    What about you? What goals did you achieve this year? What are you thinking for 2011?

    Tuesday, December 28, 2010

    Mission Cookbook: COOKIES!!!

    It's been a while since I have partaken in a bit of cookbook-cooking, so when it was time to bake my Christmas cookies I busted out the old "New Better Homes and Gardens" cookbook to select what tasty treats I would bake up for the holiday. The problem with baking cookies is that when you are trying to pick out what to make - they all sound so stinking good. I landed on fudgy cappuccino cookies, lemon-pistachio biscotti, and traditional fudge as the recipes I would snag from the book. A trip to the store to gather up the ingredients I was missing for the task and I was ready to go!

    Because the fudgy cappuccino cookie batter needed to chill for 3 hours, I made that first. The main ingredients for that were unsweetened cocoa, instant coffee granules, sugar, and flour. I whipped up the batter making sure to follow the instructions carefully, covered the bowl with tin foil and popped it in the fridge.

    Lick the batter for the cappuccino cookies? Heck yeah I did!
    Next I got to work on the fudge. I got the ingredients measured out, in the pan, turned the pan on to heat... and discovered that my candy thermometer was busted. Devastating. This meant that for my first go at traditional fudge I would need to trust a timer and since I'm not an expert at candy making - the missing of the candy thermometer would turn out to be a bit of a bummer.

    Boiling fudge mixture.
    Fudge post-boiling with butter & vanilla added.
    I followed the directions as best as I could without the thermometer, but as I mentioned this one piece of equipment being missing turned out to be a bit of a bummer. When the timer went off after I added the butter & vanilla, I returned to the fudge to discover that it had already set. Since the directions explicitly stated to NOT stir initially but wait until the temperature had dropped to stir in the butter & vanilla - this meant that I had fudge with a topping of butter. Not good. I turned the heat on to try and re-liquify the fudge, but this did not work out too well either - it made the consistency grainy. The butter was incorporated though, so I removed it and placed it in the pie pan to set. What I ended up with is more like the best tasting fudgy sugar cubes you'll ever eat rather than delicious fudge.

    Mmmm... crumbly fudge.
    After my disappointment with the fudge, Santa Steve felt bad and left me a new candy thermometer in my stocking so I can try it again. I was appreciative of this - especially since the new thermometer isn't encased in glass, so there is much less chance of breakage.

    I didn't get any process shots of the lemon-pistachio biscotti because truthfully I forgot, but I have to say that I love making biscotti. It's incredibly easy to make and even though it's a bit time consuming (biscotti basically means twice-baked cookies) it's well worth it in the end. The ones I made were drizzled with a homemade lemon icing at the end as well - so good.

    Lemon-pistachio biscotti with lemon icing - waiting for the icing to set.
    My favorite cookie of the bunch turned out to be the fudgy cappuccino cookies. To quote Steve, these guys are "spot on". They're dropped in sugar before baking and they are just absolutely delicious. I could seriously eat a plate of these by myself, but I was wise enough to realize this after trying one when they came out of the oven and made sure to give some of them away in the cookie gifts.

    And the winner is...
    Baking Christmas cookies is always a fun project to do, and finding recipes that you really enjoy both eating and baking make a huge difference. I know that these cookies will probably be in my permanent rotation of Christmas baking, they were quite tasty.

    What kinds of cookies do you like baking at Christmas time?

    Thursday, December 23, 2010

    Doesn't Anyone Know????

    As I've kind of navigated this Christmas season, I've noticed that there are a lot of people who are desperately seeking that "Christmas Spirit". That sense of joy that we're just "supposed to get" the moment we plug in the lights on our tree. For many this year that sense of jumping joy just hasn't struck some people yet - at least if my Facebook news feed is any indication.

    With this lack of Christmas joy this year, I've been putting a lot of thought into what the "Christmas Spirit" is "supposed" to be. Every year I make sure to watch the "Charlie Brown Christmas" special when it comes on, and I have to admit that as an adult I have a totally different take on all things Charlie Brown. You don't realize it as a kid watching the old Schultz-created cartoons, but the dialogue in Charlie Brown episodes is incredibly mature and adult. As a kid I watched that special and thought: Yay! Christmas play! Yay! Jesus is born! Yay! They decorated the ugly tree!

    But now I have a different perspective; the entire special is a reminder to each and every one of us that Christmas is not about the plays, the perfect Christmas tree, or a stuff-filled list to Santa Claus.

    No matter where you land in your faith, there is one thing that cannot be denied: Without Jesus, there never would have been a Christmas. It's in the word - CHRISTmas. Even before I was solid in my faith I realized this. But our culture has turned away from that and turned instead towards finding the perfect gifts, making sure that our parties go off without a hitch, and creating more stress than God EVER wants us to have in our lives. In fact - throughout the Bible we're told NOT to worry, NOT to stress, and that through Him all things are possible.

    And every year, through the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations, ABC runs this aged Christmas special featuring the Peanuts gang. Not only do they run it, but they run it twice. It's like they realize that we need a reminder of why we celebrate Christmas. We wait with bated breath every year for the climax when Linus calmly tells Charlie Brown what exactly Christmas is after his outburst.

    "Doesn't anyone know what Christmas is all about?!?!"

    Last week we wrapped up a series with our youth group about the gifts that the Magi brought to Jesus. Steve wrapped it up with a talk on myrrh and what it means and why it was there. He landed on this point: if Jesus was just a regular rabbi, there would be no Christmas. We don't celebrate Christmas because He was born and because He taught the folks in the Middle East all sorts of cool things. We celebrate Christmas because of what happened on Easter.

    So... unto us a Son was born. A Son who would die so that we could have a relationship with God again, in spite of our brokenness and our faults. That is where we should be looking for our joy, and more that likely if we stop long enough in looking there - we'll find that Christmas spirit we're looking for.

    Merry Christmas, everyone.

    God also gifted us with Josh Groban's voice. Here he sings "O Holy Night" - my favorite version of this song.

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    The First of Many

    When Steve and I were house hunting, I would always make sure to talk to my mom about houses we were considering putting an offer on. During these conversations, she would always ask me the same question.

    "Do you know where the Christmas tree is going to go?"

    This, apparently, is one of the key indicators in finding the right house. For us, it was the Christmas tree and our China cabinet that we inherited from Steve's grandmother - but none the less, the Christmas tree became a factor in our house search. When we found this house and took our first tour, we knew immediately where the tree and china cabinet would go (this, of course, did not stop my indecisive woman nature to change my mind and eventually end up at the same place we said both would go in the first place).

    Right around the end of October, Steve and I had settled in and our house finally started to feel like home. I think it was the moment we came here after our vacation that it really sunk in for me; when we got upstairs and put our bags down, it had that "aaaah" feeling of home. Decorating the house for Christmas made it even further feel like home. It wasn't that feeling that we'd had in our first and second apartments of just putting decorations up wherever. No, this year there was planning and much more thought and care put into decking our halls with our own touches. We made this house our home for Christmas, and even though we toyed with the idea of doing something other than being in our new home for Christmas this year - once we looked around at everything, we knew that we wanted to spend our first Christmas in our new home IN our new home.

    Here are some of the shots of what our place looks like, all decked out for Christmas:

    Bienvenue! Welcome to our home!

    Our foyer trimmed with "pine" garland.
    Our tree and the stockings "hung by the chimney with care".
    We put candles in our windows.
    A couple of shots from our kitchen.

    I wanted to share this with you because for some reason decorating our home for Christmas put a stamp on something for me. I'm - we're - settled. Growing up we moved around a lot, but I remember when my parents bought their last house in Methuen in my sophomore year of high school. That first Christmas I knew in my heart that was going to be home for a while - and it was home for me until my parents moved to Tennessee and it was time for me to start my life with Steve in 2005 (even though that was still a time of transition because of college). I did the math once, and I think that if you count the moves in college, I moved on average once every 2 years from 1985 til 2005.

    But now I'm actually settled, and I don't feel like I'm going to constantly be in transition. We're married, we're hoping to start a family here, we've already had people to dinner here and laughter and love have already echoed off of our walls. Feeling settled and having roots is an amazing feeling for me, and for some reason being in our first home solidified that for me. I know we won't necessarily live here forever, but we will for a while - and there's a lot to feel blessed about and to be grateful for in that knowledge.

    Now, I know that a home is not defined by what your four walls are... but for a girl who did a lot of moving around at a young age and had a lot of uncertainty surrounding some parts of her life for a time... well, truthfully, no words can express fully how it feels to be settled. To know that your marriage will last, to know that you're not going anywhere for a while - it's truly an amazing feeling.

    I don't take it for granted. I thank God every day for the blessings He's given me in my husband, our marriage, and the home we've been given - He has shown me that He indeed provides, and He is good.

    Oh - and I know where our Christmas tree will always stand as long as this house is our home.

    New Home - 2010

    Wednesday, December 8, 2010

    *Blink Blink Blink*

    In August 2008, I weight 225.6 pounds.

    For as long as I could remember, my doctors told me that I needed to lose weight. The physicals and bloodwork I had in 2007 and 2008 indicated that my weight was starting to effect my health - insulin resistance was setting in and my "good" cholesterol was out of balance.

    When I got married in 2007, I knew I couldn't continue to be heavy forever. I wanted to be able to run around after our kids and didn't want to be the butt of too many "your mom's so fat that..." jokes as they got older.

    So, after a bit of discussion, Steve and I decided to set out on a journey together to change our lifestyles. Right before Labor Day in August of 2008, we resolved to get our weights down to a healthier level. We started off by spending a few months eating less, then after our first 10-15 pounds were shed we got gym memberships and started exercise. We worked with our doctors to set goals for our weights, and both my PCP and OB/GYN advised that I should be between 135-145 to be "healthy" for my body.

    This was not going to be easy, I knew it from the beginning.

    I have been through streaks of weight loss, vacation weight gains, plateaus, sinus issues that prevented me from exercising, stress eating battles... you name it. For the last 6 months or so, I have been in the plateau of my life. I was convinced my body would not let me drop below 153-155 pounds, no matter what I did.

    All along the way on this journey, I knew that if I could just get to 150 I could make it to the end. 150 pounds would mean that I was in the homestretch before I hit the top of my goal range. I could get very excited at 150 pounds, it would mean that the goal was seriously attainable.

    But still that stupid plateau persisted. 153-155 pound range, no matter what I did. No matter how hard I exercised or skipped out on office cake when it appeared.

    Oh yeah - and the holiday season with all of its parties and ridiculousness just started, by the by.

    This morning I got on the scale and blinked. I got on again because I didn't believe it the first time. Still not believing it - I got on and off again.

    Third time - no change. The scale was not lying or having a malfunction.


    150.0. On the button. Three times in a row. I had to take a picture to capture the moment.

    Two years and almost 3 months later, I hit the magic number I was waiting for.

    And now... I'm in the final lap of the race. Come on, goal range!

    Thursday, December 2, 2010

    The Strength of Mary

    The other night Steve and I watched our first Christmas movie of the season - "The Nativity Story". I absolutely love this movie and every time we watch it something different strikes me about the story. It's kind of similar to what people say about scripture meaning something different and being fresh every time you read it - only, in this case it's a theatrical adaptation of scripture and not the scripture itself.

    This year as we watched the film, there were a few things that hit chords with me. The biggest thing that has gotten into my brain and made me reflect quite heavily is the strength and bravery that Mary had throughout the entire story of Jesus' conception and birth.

    But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

    “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

    The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” 

    “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. 

    Luke 1:26-38

    Can you imagine how scared Mary was to be standing before this angel being told that she was going to carry the Son of God? Not only had she been tapped for potentially the greatest task ever to have been given by God of all time - she had not yet been married to Joseph for a full 12 months. At the time, brides and grooms were to be separated for a full year to allow the bride time to prepare for marriage; sexual relations were not allowed until the wedding night and were an integral part of the wedding celebration. To become pregnant before this time was up could subject her to stoning at the worst and criticism and ostracism at the least.

    But Mary had faith in God. Regardless of how scared she very likely was, she continually stood in the face of her critics knowing that God had her back. This is the type of faith that we should strive to have - total, complete trust that God does indeed have a will for each of us and that he wants us to have a hope and future. (Hello... Jeremiah 29:11 anyone? I love that verse...)

    Mary's strength and courage not only gave her the ability to stand in the face of family and villagers who surely looked down upon her, but it gave her what she needed for the long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem at the time of the census. I've not been pregnant yet, BUT - I have lots of friends and family who have been. It does not look comfortable at all and I've heard tell that things like long car rides and plane rides can be downright torturous for the woman with child. Now, for those of you who have been pregnant and seen the movie: Has your heart gone out to poor Mary who has set out on a several days journey propped up on the back of a donkey? Why did she do this when she could have stayed home with her family during the census? Being as it was still in the 12-month period, this was certainly an option for her.

    If you've seen the movie, her reason is simple: "Joseph is my husband." Ladies - here is another area in which Mary is an inspiration for us. She is an Ephesians 5:22 woman (as my friend Jamie would say); these four simple words show a loving submission to her husband. It didn't matter that she was super preggo and could have stayed nice and comfortable with her own family - without even blinking, she hopped up on the donkey and hit the road with her husband. She trusted and had faith that he would take care of her on their journey AND that God would protect and provide for them; clearly she was right since he got her all the way to Bethlehem seemingly without incident. She was led by the father and the Father of her child and let them do so with full and complete trust and faith.

    Now let's get to the part that really blows my mind as a woman. Again - I've not been pregnant, I've yet to have children, but I know lots of people who have. A phenomenon I've noticed among parents - especially new ones - is an immediate protection of their children. A lot of parents are hesitant to let others hold their babies or bring them out places where there might be dangers or let others even touch their new kiddos. I am sure that with my first child I will have one or more of these same things and further I think that this is TOTALLY normal.

    Mary... well... if you've seen the movie, you've seen the interaction with her and the shepherd who has come to see the newborn king. As he leans in to see the baby, he hesitantly reaches his hand out to touch him - probably thinking that this woman was not going to let him (a nasty, dirty, lonely shepherd) touch her brand new baby. Is this how beautiful Mary reacts? Does she give him a rotten look and pull her baby in closer to her bosom?

    Heck no! Mary recognizes that this child - this beautiful, amazing child - that she has been carrying around for the last 9 months is NOT HERS! It is God's child. It is the Son of Man. This child - this child is a gift for everyone. And (at least in the film) she tells the shepherd this: "He is for all mankind. Everyone has a gift." The look on the actor who portrayed the shepherd's face is absolutely beautiful; he does a fantastic job of portraying what I can only imagine all of the shepherds who arrived there that evening felt. Tears of joy, faces of awe, staring down at this strong, courageous woman and the baby who would grow to become our Messiah.

    Man oh man.

    Mary is an amazing picture of who we should try to be as women. It's like she took Proverbs 31 and made it hers... God saw this, and God knew Mary's heart was true to Him. I pray that I can grow to be more like Mary; to have the courage and fortitude to trust in God and His will regardless of the circumstances. Thank you, Mary, for your example.

    Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed is your soul among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.