Monday, December 30, 2013


We all enjoy a good marathon, right? A movie marathon, or a tv show marathon, maybe a dance marathon, you know the fun marathons.

Well, if I add up all the miles I have run in 2013, I have run 13 and a 1/2 marathons. Yes. I kept track and counted up all the miles I have run since January 1st. I ran 350 miles.

I could run to Cincinnati. I could run to Milwaukee and back. Which means I could stop off in Chicago. I could run to Buffalo, New York! That's how far 350 miles is from Grand Rapids.

Does it mean I'm going to run a marathon any time soon? Nope. I have my sights set on an actual, legit 5k. And the annual .1k but as far as running 26 miles all at once, like in one day. No thank you. Running the 3.1 miles is enough. Halfway through mile two I want to stop. I cannot imagine doing that twelve more times.

Now, to put a finer point on it, I also kept track of how much I have shoveled (and when I didn't do either of those and I ran inside, but since it was in place, I kept track of time, and that isn't impressive).

Are you ready?

925 minutes.

That's over fifteen hours this year that I shoveled snow.

Isn't that crazy? Half of that has been during this month. The other minutes added up in November, January and February.

I won't have to write it down on a calendar anymore. There's an app for that. And there's a fancy device too. It's called the Nike Fuel Band.

This is the Christmas present I received from Greg. It counts calories, steps, Fuel (Nike's version of keeping track of my activity), it has a clock on it, and when it syncs to my phone I can log specific activities, like shoveling! It's meant for full-body motion, so while I can wear it during yoga, it's not going to respond the same as when I shovel snow. It's the newer, updated version though, it noticed when I ran the vacuum! 

I'm really excited about this gift. And, as Greg pointed out, it was serendipitous because my phone died last week and now I have an iPhone. I can use the app and sync activities, which I would not have been able to do on the old phone. 

It's all about staying active. You don't have to have a fancy Fuel Band to do so. Make it your goal or resolution, just get moving.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

hand-stamped cards

Now that our cards have been sent and Christmas has passed, I thought I'd show you the pictures of the cards I made. Because I promised you (and all the internet) that I would.

 Because I took this photo landscape, it doesn't look right in portrait. So just tilt your head or your computer screen. (outside)
 (outside & envelope)
 (outside & envelope)
  (outside & envelope)
  (outside & envelope)
  (outside & envelope, there's no picture of the inside because it was blank)
  (outside & envelope)
  (outside & envelope)
  (outside & envelope)
  (outside & envelope)
  (outside & envelope)
  (outside & envelope)
  (blurry inside)
  (outside & envelope)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 decorations before and after

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I had to re-appropriate the tree decorations. First, are the before.
 The tree before the leaning...
 The mantle and stockings (Santa brought Bill a new personalized Star Trek stocking).
 The nutcracker suite.
 These are the after pictures. Starting with additional ornaments on the mantle (they're probably difficult to see, they're tucked in the garland).
 More ornaments hanging from the light fixture.
 Ornaments nestled in a decorative bowl (birthday cards and gifts are the extra stuff around it).
 The garland on the hutch was bare, now planes and crocheted ornaments adorn it.
 And ornaments are hung with care, wherever a hanger can be supported, including the drawer pulls.
 Look carefully, cars are hanging from the top shelf!
 Yes, Juliette is alive. She loves to sprawl across the vent. The Muppet ornaments were moved to the bookcase.
 This is the doorway into the dining room. The ribbon is hung when the decorations are put out, then the cards are added as they come in the mail. This is the first year both ribbons (see photo below) were filled to the max. This did not change with the tree situation, I just didn't add them before.
 This is the doorway into the side entry and kitchen. More cards stapled on ribbon!
 The stair case (and a better shot of a few of the cards).
Me, playing with my camera and a close-up of the bells on the garland on the stairs. The choice of ornaments varies from year to year. Some years I hang the Noah's ark collection (and other Biblical themed ornaments) on the stair garland. Sometimes with the bells, sometimes without. Some years I hang the Santa collection. This year I stuck with bells only.

Friday, December 27, 2013


I was going to post pictures and write about Christmas. I still will. But for now, I'm sitting here, eating breakfast as fast as I can (and typing as fast as I can) before the tree falls. Yes, our tree is leaning. I swear I'm watching it move. This is not good.

Yesterday, I swore I smelled cat urine. Bill pointed out that decomposing Christmas tree has a similar smell. He could not smell cat pee. Any time I was close to the tree, the smell intensified. I finally conceded that it must indeed be the tree.

And now it leans. So the rotting must have led to the leaning.

We have a dire situation on our hands (at least for the tree's sake and the ornaments). I must undecorated the tree. Something I had not planning on doing until Epiphany, or at least next weekend.

Pardon me while I go finish my breakfast and start the less than cheerful process before nature does it for me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A night in the gardens

I took a walk around the gardens tonight.

I started inside. I didn't stop and pay much attention to the trees, because when I was there in November they had many of them set up. And, because Meijer Gardens is open late on Tuesdays, it was crowded. 

I checked out the train, because there is always something special about seeing it at night.
(Please forgive my very amateur photos. I tried to change settings, but clearly I don't have them just right for clarity in dark spaces.)
Then I went into the large conservatory. There is a giant star hanging in the tallest part of the room.
Then I bravely wandered outside. This giant tree greets guests as they emerge from the warmth of the indoor space.
Then there's this sculpture called, Mad Mom. She's covered in snow, I liked the effect it had.
I walked into the Children's garden where silence greeted me instead of the usual happy cries of children. Colorful lights fill the area, creating a different effect.
From there I wandered out into the sculpture park. I tried to capture the snow fallen scene around the horse… but I'm still working on those camera settings.
Just before I walked by this sculpture, a horse drawn carriage passed me by, carrying guests through the  sculpture park as part of the holiday festivities. The jingle of the bells on the horses, the silence created by snow and the singing of the carriage riders transported me to a different world.

All was calm. And all was bright. Lit by twinkling lights. The voices of the singers carried on, even when they were out of sight.

And then I caught a glimpse of the full moon.
I tried to photograph it…

But I couldn't capture it's splendor.
I'll end with this photo. This is the waterfall. I love how the snow changes everything. If I listened closely, I could still hear water rushing under the snow, cascading down the rocks.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Fifty days and breaking down walls

The snow plow came down our street today. I was at work.

When I came home, I could not pull into the driveway because of the plow's work.

That's his job. I wasn't upset at all.

It gave me the chance to get outside and get a small workout by shoveling.

Uh huh.


It was pretty intense. If you've never dug yourself out of a plow's work, you might not realize just what happens to the snow. It becomes a dense pack of snow.

A plow hill.



Chain saws.

Those might work to get through the toughest plow hills.

It's really no surprise to me that the indigenous northerners have more than one hundred words for snow. There really are that many forms of snow.

Well, fortunately it is cold enough that the plow hill didn't start to melt and condense into a plow ice hill. That's when chainsaws, axes, and chisels would come in handy.

I was able to clear it out in twenty minutes.

I worked carefully, resting a couple of times because I was working really hard. It was, after all, still a packed pile of snow put there by a machine.

As I was breaking through the hill, or mini wall, the Berlin wall popped into my head.

Okay, my snow wall was only about a foot and a half high, and was only blocking me from the street for a couple of hours.

But that's how my brain works. Because tomorrow marks fifty days until the Winter Olympics!

We get to break down the walls between countries and join together in unity, cheering on young men and women from all over.

It will help distract me from the plow hills this winter.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Love and Peace

Yesterday's post was about Hope and Joy. Today's post is about the experience I had volunteering with the Gift of Giving.

Like I said, I helped drive parents home. I drove home one mom. But I had another job. I had gifts for another mom in my trunk. I went to her house on Thursday and helped her wrap.

This mom has been ill and couldn't get out of the house to come wrap her children's presents at the church. Jer had asked if I could take them over to this mom and of course I was willing to do that.

While at the church on Wednesday, Jer loaded me up with everything I needed to help the mom wrap the presents.

The mom and I connected and made arrangements for me to come over. I got there about noon. Her sister was there to help too. The three of us wrapped presents like Santa's elves. It was so nice to talk to both of them, to learn about her kids, her family and her dogs (they were so cute!).

I was not prepared for the gifts. I wrapped presents for one of the boys. She told me that she could tell they are growing up because she asked them what they needed for Christmas and the kids were all practical (the younger boys are 10, the girl is 13 and the older boy is 15... I think). They asked for gloves and boots. They asked for warm blankets. They asked for clothes. They got all of those things and more. The three of us were having fun going through the gifts and showing them to each other.

We finished by 1:15pm. She wrote her thank you note and I was on my way.

I read her note.

It was so kind and full of love.

She had us write "from: Santa" on all the gifts so that her kids would know that these gifts came, not from her, but from the generosity of others. She included that in her letter, and it's clear that she's teaching her kids a lesson in love and giving.

What a gift for all of us.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Hope and Joy

I helped out with our MLK Gift of Giving program this year.

Bill and I have donated to the program in the past.

Jer is the woman in charge. Wow. She is organized. She has thought of everything.

I volunteered to drive parents home. Many of them take the bus to the church. They don't realize how many presents they will have to take home with them, so having drivers is helpful.

Jer made sure that all of the volunteers know that this program is not a hand out. These parents have to do volunteer hours, attend the parent/teacher meeting, and write a thank you letter for the gifts. (Which Jer publishes as a book. She then gives one to the church and one to the sister school - both of these organizations provide the presents, and leaves one at the tutoring center.)

Maybe I should explain a little more about the program. Our church partners with the MLK elementary school in a tutoring reading program. We help Kindergarten through Second grade students read or learn to read. This is the 26th year of the tutoring program. Students who were in it have come back to help tutor. 

The school has 90%+ students on the free school lunch program. Somewhere along the way someone (probably Jer because this is the kind of woman she is) realized these kids aren't getting Christmas gifts.  Hence the Gift of Giving program. The students/parents who qualify write out a Christmas list. Between the sister school and our church members, the gifts are donated. Then, the parents come in and wrap them. 

Each person who signs up to make a gift donation is asked to spend at least $40.

Jer goes through and makes sure all the gifts are at least equal to that amount. She fills in with other donations if not. 

It is a huge operation.

She also asks for donations of bows, ribbon, wrapping paper, gift tags, tissue paper, boxes, tape, and gift bags. She has thought of everything.

Then, somewhere along the way, someone (probably Jer again) realized that the mothers aren't getting any gifts.

Now there is a table full of gifts for the moms. (We have gifts for dads too.) They each get to pick out one present. If they want, a volunteer will wrap it for them so that they also have something to open on Christmas morning.

It's amazing.

While I was waiting to take someone home, I was helping at the check-in table. I was handing out the thank you paper. The moms were returning them to me. It was a little slow so I had some time to read through those letters.

These moms are so grateful. Their words may be simple but their joy and love jumps right off the page. It is the best reminder this season. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Art of Shoveling

So many things…

When I shovel snow, I think of so many things.

I've shoveled snow at least once a day, every day this week. (Actually, I think I only shoveled once one day, the other days I've shoveled at least twice.)

Um, I can't complain because I love snow.

I love snow.

I love snow.

I am getting tired of shoveling.

Yes. We own a fancy machine that I can fire up and use to get rid of the white, fluffy stuff. But I do like shoveling.

At this rate, I'm not going to need to work out next summer.

I'll call that my off-season.

Which means this is my on-season and I have to put my game face on. Followed by three pairs of socks, long-underwear, yoga pants, workout pants (I don't have snow pants, those actually work pretty well), a shirt, a fleece, my heavy winter coat, thick Isotoner gloves, a scarf that is several feet long, my bright orange Husky hat with the snowball on top, and my fuzzy boots.

You may not be able to see it, but under all those layers, I'm wearing the game face.

It's a huge smile plastered on my face because I love snow.

I don't enjoy the snot that runs down my face. I don't enjoy the cracked skin from the cold air when I have to take off my gloves to wipe the snotty nose.

But I enjoy the repetition of shoveling. I like the nuances of shoveling. For instance, don't shovel it all into the edge of your lawn. If there's more snow to come (and there is) you will quickly be shoveling onto a large hill of snow and that is difficult.

You also shovel into your own yard. Your neighbor's yard is reserved for when the banks of snow in your own yard are too high (because the snow won't stop).

The cracks in our driveway run perpendicular to the drive, so it's easier to shovel with the cracks than against them.

Shovels with a metal edge are the best tool.

I also realized we spent a lot of time prepping and painting the porch. Enough time that I will not shovel it this year. Instead, I had planned on using the push broom. But that's in the garage. Which is frozen shut until spring.

The other day I figured out a solution that will also clean off the porch without removing paint.

A blow dryer.

I was out there for hours!

I'm just kidding.

Did you really believe me? I love snow and cold, but I'm not crazy!

I used the Swiffer. Not the mop, the dry pad one. I took off the cloth and the rubber base is perfect! I can push the snow right off the porch. As a result I don't have to Swiffer the kitchen for the rest of the winter because the Swiffer is packed with snow.

For all of you who are reading this and think I'm crazy, know this: shoveling snow for one hour burns 400 calories. When it's the dry, fluffy, lake effect snow, that is an easy workout. It's the heavy, wet snow that keeps me from running right out there. When it dumps six inches of snow or more, I'm out. That's when Bill gets to use the snowblower. And I get a break.

But when I do get to shovel, I also get to eat all of the Christmas cookies.

That is why I shovel.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas 2013

Here's our house, decked for the halls.

I'll take some inside photos when there's good light. Which will probably be in May. But there won't be any Christmas decorations. 

I guess I'll have to hope for a sunny day so I can take those pictures.