Friday, December 5, 2008

favorite Christmas music?

I'm sitting here drinking my morning coffee and watching MercyMe perform their Christmas music on the Gospel Music Channel. I heart my DVR. :-)

A few years ago, Geoff and I were blessed to be able to attend the MercyMe & Steven Curtis Chapman Christmas concert. It was amazing. The highlight of our Christmas season that year.

Since then, both of their CDs top my list of "Most Favorite Christmas Music." I find that I even pull them out once or twice during the rest of the year. Their music has an incredible way of lifting my spirit.

So, what about you, Friend? What's your all-time favorite Christmas CD to listen to? Every year I try to add one or two new ones to my player. PLEASE don't go quiet on me...I'm in desperate need of some good advice and would love to hear from you.

And while you're at it, why don't you go pop in your favorite CD right now? :-)

By the way, I can't end this post without mentioning one more thing. As most of you know, the Chapman family experienced a devastating loss earlier this year. Their precious daughter, Maria, went home to be with Jesus. I can't imagine what this Holiday season will be like for their family, but know that I will be continuing to pray for them as they come to mind.

I have been so blessed by their family's continued faith in the midst of their anguish and grief. I know that while I am celebrating this year, I'll be especially thankful for the the gift of my family. I hope to never take a moment for just never know.

Christmas music that glorifies our Savior and being able to snuggle my kids--definitely an essential part of make me thankful to be LIVING A BLESSED LIFE!

Sweet blessings to you today,

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I fell in love...

...all over again. With my husband, with my children and with a city I've known my entire life.

It all started at 8:30 am on Thanksgiving morning as we boarded the 500 train to downtown Seattle. Really, I have to say, there is no better way to travel.

The gentleman at the ticket counter made our trip especially nice when he offered to not only upgrade our tickets, but allow our family to be the first to board the train. Gotta love the special treatment. It definitely started our trip on a very nice note.

The kids enjoyed hanging out for the short 3 1/2 hour ride. We played Yahtzee, Uno and Crazy 8's. Liam watched a movie. Geoff and I enjoyed being able to relax right along with our kids and not worry about crazy holiday traffic.

A spectacular view from the train (above)

Sara seemed to really enjoy the rocking of the train. She surprised us by falling asleep on the way up and on the way back home. :-)

A gorgeous view of the renowned Pike's Market Place on the way to our Thanksgiving dinner. Served by the staff at McCormick & Schmicks. I have to say, I loved not having to cook or do dishes this year!

It's kind of hard to see, but along with the beautiful sunset, we enjoyed seeing all of the trees decorated downtown in white lights. We walked everywhere and enjoyed experiencing the city up close. Much better than driving in a car and trying to find parking!

On Friday morning, one of Chelsea's dreams came true. We were able to catch up with Seattle's Macy Day Parade. She's been wanting to see a parade in person for years. Both she and Sara loved it. Liam wasn't at all into it and couldn't wait until we were able to board the monorail to the Seattle Center.

After stopping by Starbucks for a couple of much needed Cinnamon Dolce Lattes, we made our way to the Children's Museum and spent a couple of hours there.
Me and my buddy, Li. :-)

Everyone fashioned their own Mr./Ms. Potato Head. This was Liam's creation.

We just happened to link our schedule up with Seattle's Mayor. We saw him first at the Train Dedication Ceremony. The little town was meticulously decorated.

We enjoyed a late lunch at PF Chang's in honor of Sara's "Gotcha Day" Anniversary. She was thrilled with the Great Wall of Chocolate...this is her licking the chocolate off her NAPKIN! Oh my. Can't blame her, it was G O O D!

Starbucks was passing out FREE samples of their yummy "Signature Hot Chocolate."

We again caught up with the Mayor at the Tree Lighting Ceremony. There was snow (or rather soap bubbles that looked like snow), a swarm of people and lots of Christmas carolling to be had. The highlights involved the speakers being blown out at the radio station crew using sign language to lead us through the countdown and my 3 year old hollering out, "Merry Christmas, PEOPLE!"
On our final day, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast at a Bolivian restaurant overlooking Pike's Market Place. Afterwards, we made our way through a VERY, VERY, VERY crowded market place, stopping to pay homage to the world's very first Starbucks. We also had to stop by the fish stalls so that the kids could see the famous "fish toss."
The dried flower arrangements are always so pretty.

Yes, she's ASLEEP. Who would have thought anyone could fall asleep on top of their Daddy's head while walking through the very crowded and very LOUD marketplace???

Geoff only brought the pocket camera on this trip, but I have to say, he did a nice job with his pics. (Thanks, Hon!)
There was a trip to the pier where we rode the carousel (again) and played skee ball. Afterwards, we talked the kids into a hike to Seattle's new library. It was gorgeous and included many levels and escalators.
Everywhere we looked, we saw Christmas trees.
I'm sure we wore our kiddos out with all the walking, but I was in heaven! Really. I've made so many trips to Seattle, but this was the first time I was able to really experience the city. Staying in the heart of Seattle and relying only upon our feet for transportation was amazing.

The weekend was just what our family needed and we had an incredible time. Being in such a new and exciting environment allowed us to connect on new and exciting levels. Truly a blessing!

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving as well and that your Christmas Season is off to a joyful start!

On that note, I'll leave you with one last glimpse of our weekend. We enjoyed all kinds of sights and sounds, but the one shown in the video below was by far my favorite! Sara and Liam gettin' down to some funky music. :-)

Yes, my Friends, I am most definitely LIVING A BLESSED LIFE!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

two very special families

Isn't she absolutely ADORABLE?!? This is my niece-by-adoption, Esther Li Lyn Strand. I was blessed to travel to China with her parents in November '06 and then spend a week at their home with my family in August '07.

Esther's family just returned home from their second trip to China to bring my cute "nephew" Hudson Si Jin Robert. You can see pictures of their amazing "Gotcha Day" on their blog. (The song you hear playing in the background was written by Esther & Hudson's uncle, Luke Caldwell, and will be released on a CD this month by Esterlyn. It's an incredible song. Luke named his band in honor of Esther.)

Esther and Hudson are blessed to have Hank & Mae as their big brother and sister (you can see their smiling faces on the blog as well!) Both of these blond beauties have huge hearts for Jesus and for the people of China.

Their parents, Sarah and Mike are an incredible couple who pour themselves daily into their four sweet children. I am so blessed to call both of them friends and thankful that God has joined our lives together in such a phenominal way.

If you have some extra time, I encourage you to visit their blog and get to know this beautiful family a bit better. I know they would covet your prayers for Hudson adjusts to his new life in the USA, and for the rest of them as they continue to adjust as a family of SIX!

If your time is limited, you'll want to at least stop by their newest post about another amazing family, the Cuozzo's. Sarah is hosting a raffle to help raise funds for this family to make a second trip to China, hopefully in the very near future.

There's more I would love to say, but I'll stop writing and let you get on over to visit the Strand Fam now.

Good friends, unselfish love and giving are all a part of LIVING A BLESSED LIFE!

Every Now & Then by Karen Kingsbury

A few weeks ago, Zondervan sent me an advance reader's copy of Karen Kingsbury's new novel, Every Now & Then. I'm a huge fan of Karen's writing and love to read, so I couldn't wait to dive into her latest book. I have to say, I wasn't disappointed.

Here's a description of the book straight from Karen's website:

"Every Now & Then is a gripping story of danger and heroism. L.A. sheriff’s deputy Alex Brady fights crime during the worst fire season in California’s history. Now he faces the ultimate test. Will he have the courage to open his heart to love again?

Only the friendship of Clay and Jamie Michaels - and the love of a dedicated young woman - can help Alex drop the walls around his heart and move forward into the future God has for him."

The main character, Alex Brady, lost his father on September 11th, a day that many of us wish we could forget. The reality, however, is that what happened seven years ago still affects many people in our world today. They are still trapped in their pain and grief, leaving them unable to move past the devastating losses they experienced on that tragic day.

In the book, Alex's mother commented that she didn't only lose a husband that day, she also lost a son. The victims of 9/11 go far beyond those who lost their lives and it's important for the rest of us to be not only sensitive, but prayerful, about that fact.

I pray this book will find its way into the hands of those who need a gentle nudge towards fully embracing their grief and allowing God to bring the healing they desperately need and deserve.

While the story and characters are not real, there's a reason why Karen calls her writing ministry Life Changing Fiction(TM). The lessons and healing the characters find in her books are easily applied to our own personal lives. Karen's writing is most definitely God-inspired and a blessing to those who invest their time and money into reading her well-written stories.

As one who loves writing but is not yet published, I'm thoroughly impressed by Karen's ability to make her characters come to life. They are so believable they pull you into the story before you realize what's happened.

I also appreciate how Karen is able to take one or two Scripture verses and weave them throughout the story. I hope that other readers will appreciate this strength as well and that God will use books such as Every Now & Then to stir within our hearts a greater passion for His Word.

The only thing I struggled with while reading the book was the amount of detail included in the second chapter. Perhaps it was me, but I found myself on sensory overload trying to process all of the information. I think I would have preferred to have the characters introduced individually, rather than all at once.

That said, once I got past Chapter 2, I was unable to put the book down and thoroughly enjoyed reading the rest of the story. I finished the book in less than two days. :-) Need I say more?

If you're looking for a good book to cozy down with in front of a blazing fire, or perhaps something to stick in a loved one's stocking this year, I highly recommend Every Now & Then. You won't be disappointed.

Ah, Life Changing Fiction(TM), definitely a part of LIVING A BLESSED LIFE!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

my snuggle girl

Oh how I wish I had a before and after photo (or better yet, VIDEO) to show you how far my youngest has come. When she first joined our family, she used to literally writhe in fear if we tried to snuggle her. It was the saddest thing, especially for a family who thrives on love and touch.

Last night, on the train ride home from Seattle (more to come), I was blessed to snuggle my little sweetie for a couple of hours.

After harassing her big sister for awhile, I invited her to come over and sit with me. She climbed up onto my lap, put her headphones on (I think she was listening to Boz - as in the green bear), nestled in and went to sleep.

These are still moments that shock us. I couldn't help but get Geoff's attention so that he didn't miss the rare event. A peaceful AND snuggly little girl.

Can I just say that it was absolutely DREAMY? Every day it seems like she settles in just a little bit more, and it fills my heart with absolute joy.

Tonight after we decorated our home for Christmas, she became enthralled with our stockings. She read off our names "Dadda, Mommy, Ches-sea, Lee-um, and Sair-wa...1,2,3,4,5...we are a fam-u-wee!!!" So sweet.

It brings tears to my eyes as I think of how far she has come. To borrow a phrase from my beautiful friend Nichole, "To think we could have missed this..."

It's humbling to be used to help transform the life of another and absolutely exhilarating when God turns the tables and allows THEM to transform YOU.

Love, peace, joy and snuggles. Four reasons why I am LIVING A BLESSED LIFE!