Merry Christmas

Yes, you read that correctly…  I said Merry Christmas, because us Episcopalians are still celebrating Christmas.  We have 12 days of Christmas, ending on Epiphany (January 6).
In our home on Christmas morning, there was no tree, no unwrapped gifts, and no big plans.  My husband was under the weather and napping.  I had a sinus headache from the wonky, stormy weather we’re having in Middle Tennessee.  BUT…  I couldn’t have been happier or more grateful.
We live a very blessed life, and the only thing that could make that first day of Christmas more perfect would be some sunshine.
Here are just a few of the reasons this is one of the best Christmases of my life:

  1. We’ve been married for 7 years and have never been more in love or more devoted to our marriage.
  2. Our children and grandchildren are healthy and happy.  In fact, there is another grandchild on the way!
  3. We have three of the most wonderful dogs you could have; they make us laugh, cuddle with us when we’re sick or sad, and love us unconditionally.
  4. We have three awesome horses that keep Mom happy.  (Happy wife, happy life, right?  😉 )
  5. We have two cats…  We think they love us.  They’re cats, so we’re not sure.
  6. I have a great job working with good people doing good things in the world.
  7. We want for nothing; we have a roof, 4 walls, food, clothes, and tons of love.
  8. I’m an Episcopalian, so we have a loving, welcoming church family that extends beyond our church through out the Diocese of Tennessee and even into a few other states.
  9. We each have a purpose, a calling to drive us and to get us up every morning.
  10. I have friends that are kind, generous, beautiful people; they make others lives better by really connecting with and doing for others.

There are so many people in the world that don’t have simple things like a home or food or a closet full of clothes.  There are so many more who are lonely or unhappy, dealing with illness or abuse, or just lost.  We are none of those things.  Our life isn’t perfect.  No one’s is.  We have ups and downs and bumps in the road just like everyone else.  BUT…  We have everything we need to face any challenge that comes our way and more love than either of us could have ever imagined or wished for.  How could we be more blessed?
The saddest part about the commercialization of Christmas has been the focus on what we don’t have.  I don’t have an expensive car, and he definitely didn’t go to Jared’s!  I don’t have a fancy home fit for big holiday parties.  I don’t have the best truck and horse trailer.  I don’t wear expensive clothes.
At the end of the day, who cares?  None of those things will make me happier or more fulfilled.  The things that give me the greatest joy are already present in my life, and knowing that is what make life good.
The secret to real happiness?  An attitude of gratitude.  An acknowledgement that you are blessed and have everything you could ever need.
What are you grateful for this Christmas?  What has brought joy into your life?

Pasta Salad – Easy, Healthy, and Cheap

My goals over the last few years have included two things: becoming my healthiest self and making more time (and money) for the things that matter.  As part of that process, I seek out recipes that are quick, healthy, and inexpensive.  We’ve been making our own condiments or seeking out all natural and vegan alternatives for popular brands.  Most of our food is locally grown/raised.  My husband, being a retired engineer, has turned our dining room into a hydroponics project to start growing our own tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, etc.
Since eating is essential, saving time and money in the kitchen is great.  Nothing is better than a meal that’s easy to make, healthy, delicious, and inexpensive… Except a meal that does all that AND allows for options AND leaves leftovers.  One of the best things about pasta salad is that it’s all those things.
Having high cholesterol, my meals are usually vegan.  I will occasionally have grilled fish or hard boiled eggs, but most of what I put it my body is free of animal products.  My husband and daughter still partake in things like mayonnaise, so it’s nice to have a meal that can be finished both vegan and non-vegan.  The pasta salads pictured are just that. Vegan to left and non-vegan to right.
Pasta Salad:
1/2 whole grain pasta
2 cups steamed mix vegetables
2 diced Roma tomatoes
1 cup Duke’s mayonnaise
2 tablespoons creamy horseradish sauce
2 tablespoons honey mustard
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
Vegan Pasta Salad:
1/2 whole grain pasta
2 cups steamed mix vegetables
2 diced Roma tomatoes
1 cup sweet relish
2 tablespoons vegan honey mustard
2 tablespoons vegan Parmesan cheese
For either salad, mix ingredients.  Season to taste.  Refrigerate.
The total cost? $1.29 for whole grain pasta.  $0.75 for the tomatoes.  We had all the condiments on hand.  You can easily mix it up by swapping things out for your favorite flavors.  For a little protein you could add hard boiled eggs or tuna.
Total prep time was about 20 minutes.  We had enough to feed a family of 3 for two meals.

Preparing the Way

More and more, I pull back from the traditional American Christmas. We haven’t had a Christmas tree in years. I used to let the kids pick out the tree and make all our decorations. When they stopped being interested, I stopped decorating. I no longer make a Christmas card list and diligently send out all my cards by the second Sunday in Advent. I no longer make a list of everyone I need to shop for and/or bake for.
Instead, I have been focused throughout the year on letting the people I love know that they matter to me. I don’t wait for a holiday to send a card or a gift. Every day is a day for Hope, Peace, Joy, & Love, and the 4 weeks before Christmas have truly become a celebration of Advent.
In my daily email from dotMagis, I found a lovely reminder of what Advent is:

Advent DoorWhereas the spirit of Lent is penitential, Advent has a gentler way of getting us ready for the Lord. A friend once described it as a time when God tenderly breaks through all of our defenses. Advent is a time of slow surrender to the Lord.
My family and I enjoy hiking, and for longer trips, I like clearly marked trails. A compass and a good map are handy, too. But our Advent journeys are much more like going “off road.” In Advent, God is inviting us to explore the interior forest of our own hearts with God: places that are light, and shadowy and dark spots, sweet smelling pine beds and thorny thickets. It’s a season to deepen intimacy with the Lord by allowing him to walk with us into all of our interior spaces.

Author Marina McCoy perfectly summarizes the journey I make each Advent. Every year, I work on deepening my connection to God, which inevitably deepens my connection with the people in my life in the coming year. I do that by focusing time each day on contemplating where I am and where God is taking me. There are days when I spend time writing reflectively, sorting through my feelings and through what is God’s will and what is my own. Other days, I read from my Ignatian Book of Days and sit in contemplative silence. Some days result in an action item; others result in waiting. The goal is always the same–break down the barriers that keep me from a deep personal relationship with God.

We’re having a door decorating contest at work. I’m no artist, so I’m not in it to win it! But I did take the opportunity to share the messages of Advent. As I decorated the door, I read the Advent prayers and spent some thinking about Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

  • How do I experience Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in my life?
  • How often do I pray for those Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love?
  • What do I do in my day life to be an instrument of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in the world around me?
  • How do experiencing Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love bring me closer to God?

PeaceWhen I think about where my life was 5 years ago or a year ago or even 6 months ago, I know that I have purposefully made choices that have increased the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in my life. I am certainly a work in progress, but I have made a considerable difference in my quality of living. I’ve gone from high stress working environments to a high-performing but intentionally fun, low-stress working environment. I have eliminated toxic relationships. I have improved and deepened the remaining relationships. The majority of my time is devoted to those things that bring me closer to God. Hope and Peace have certainly become constants in my life.

What I’m praying for most this Advent is to open my heart to greater Love and to learn how to experience Joy more fully. I still struggle with both. At the moment, I am actively focused on loving more fully, reaching out to those I love, and taking every opportunity I have to connect with others. As an introvert, I find this very challenging, but as I pray for guidance, I am finding that even an introvert can find ways to reach out to others.
What are you experiencing this Advent season? What do you need most in your life?

Why I LOVE SmartPak

SmartPak is hands down one of my favorite companies. I recommend them to everyone and anyone who will listen. Why? Because in this day and age, companies that take care of their customers should be rewarded. There are exactly three companies that I do business with that I can honestly say I have never been unhappy with my purchases, and SmartPak tops the list.
Each of my horses are on SmartPaks and the SmartPak Colic Care program. My supplements arrive every 4 weeks without hassle or fuss. I can have them shipped to my house or the barn, since I board. In my case, I am able to care for them myself with the help of my non-equestrian husband. The individual packaging with clear labels allows him to help feed without trying to figure out portions. The packaging was equally wonderful when my horses were on full care board, and the packs were shipped directly to the barn. Changing supplements takes all of 5 minutes. Between my wonderful vet and SmartPak’s exceptional customer service (or supplement wizard) deciding what supplements my horses need is equally easy.
SmartPak also offers high quality dog food. When my favorite brand of all natural dog food disappeared from the local co-op, I called SmartPak to ask about their choices. When I mentioned I had a picky eater, they sent sample of all the LiveSmart foods and encouraged me to reach out to them when we had determined what food my dogs preferred. At the time, I also had a senior dog with special needs. They helped me pick out just the right food and set me up on an autoship schedule. We never run out, and supplies are shipped to our door–an added bonus when you live 12 miles from the nearest store!
As a SmartPak customer, I receive a 10% discount on all their products AND free shipping with my SmartPaks or my dog food order. When I need dewormer or a new hay bag, I order online and it arrives with my next shipment. When you have 3 horses, 3 dogs, and 2 cats, every penny–and every minute–saved counts!
Last but not least, if I am the least bit unhappy with my order, SmartPak goes above and beyond to assist and make sure I get what I need. I’ve only had one issue in the last 5 years. Not only was the item quickly replaced, but they sent me a $10 gift certificate for my trouble. If only the cable company cared about my business half as much! If you’re on the fence, I highly recommend calling their 24/7 customer service line at 1-800-461-8898. You’ll be glad you did!

Cancelling the Distractions

Two years ago, my husband and I made the decisions to give Cable TV the boot.  We were tired of spending $100  month to have 500 channels and end up watching something we weren’t remotely interested in, because there was nothing to watch, but there we were in front of the TV.  We were already paying for Netflix and Amazon Prime and had a Roku and high-speed internet, so we added Hulu and dumped Comcast TV.
The transition was pretty easy for me.  I watched most of my favorite TV shows through Hulu or  The ones I couldn’t find, I didn’t like that much anyway.  My husband suffered from some news withdrawals, having become a news-watching junkie, but eventually adjusted, realizing most of what he watched could be caught on YouTube.  In the end, we found we spent much less time in front of the television and much more time together or reading.  Another perk is that we went from paying just over $1,350 per year for programming to paying just under $375 per year.

Earlier this year, my husband retired.  When the weather was nice, he was busy working on our vehicles, mowing the lawn, and improving the house.  I started to notice, however, that on rainy days, he took up residence on the couch with the Roku remote.  My daughter, who is 21 and living at home, has been training to join the Marines and working part-time.  On the days my husband wasn’t occupying the couch, she was.  Or at least it felt that way!
At the time, I worked from home full-time.  I still work from home 2-3 days per week.  The speaker for the TV points right at my office door, which makes having the TV on a MAJOR annoyance during working hours.  Either my office door had to be shut all day or I had to be willing to listen to whatever they were watching.  Needless to say, that frustrated both them and me.  I also found myself resenting their relaxing while I was hard at work paying the bills.  A little petty on my part, I know, but that didn’t chance how I felt.
So…  Last month, I threw out a suggestion…  “What do you think of cancelling the Comcast internet and getting rid of the TV?”
That started an interesting discussion.  We started with…  Since we have 40 GB of data on our cell plan, and all of our devices allow mobile tethering, do we really need to pay for both Comcast and AT&T?  But that means we’re limited to 40 GB right?  That means less video watching right?
We moved on to the TV discussion…  Do we really need a TV if we all have phones, tablets, and laptops?   Do we still need the Blue-Ray player?  What about all our DVDs?  How would we watch a movie?
After an hour, we decided we should give it a try.  If we were miserable without Comcast internet, we could always get it back.  We had nothing to loose.
It’s been three weeks, and we’re slowly getting used to it.  We’ll probably be a little over on our data this month, but we’re getting better a keeping an eye on it now that we aren’t connected to Wi-Fi at home.  We are once again making choices to stop watching TV shows we watch more because we can than because we really want to.  We’re spending more time in the kitchen cooking together.  We’re spending more time talking and making music together.  (My husband and I finally have the time for him to teach me how to play guitar!) We’re having conversations about what we’ve read rather than talking over what we’re watching.
At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, do you really care if Sabrina is going to tell Michael she’s really carrying Carlos’s baby (General Hospital)?  Does it really matter if Emma can stop the Dark Ones and win back Hook (Once Upon a Time)?  Do you really care how the Jeffersonian and the FBI solve the latest murder (Bones)?  All of them are distractions that take you away from deepening your relationships with family and friends; they are distractions that drain your wallet and your time.  What could you be doing if you weren’t watching the latest season of the Walking Dead?  You only have so many heartbeats…  How do you want to spend them?

The Lost Art of Equitation

I’ve noticed an disturbing trend on Facebook lately. I am seeing more and more posts where riders are claiming that great equitation doesn’t make great riders. On the surface, I would agree with that, since you may very well see an exceptional, professional rider sacrifice her equitation to get a better performance out of her horse. Unfortunately, many of the riders claiming great equitation doesn’t make great riders are using this as an excuse not to improve their equitation or worse as an excuse not to demand better equitation from their students. I’ve also found an alarming number of this arguments on the same feed as shots of people laying on the horse’s neck over a fence–a very bad and dangerous habit that puts too much weight on a horse’s front end over the fence!
When learning how to write, you at one point or another point out to your professor that great writers like E. E. Cummings broke all the rules. Their response is that those great writers learned the rules before breaking them. Equitation is not unlike grammar. The great riders spent many, many, many hours perfecting their equitation before rising to a level where getting the best performance out of a horse might require sacrificing their equitation. While I certainly am not a great rider, I too spent many hours working on my equitation, riding without stirrups or doing the same boring exercise over and over until I got it right.
You know what happened when I started winning my equitation classes? I started winning my under saddle and over fences classes too. Why? Because equitation is the grammar of good riding. Watch any of the greats teaching their students. They insist on correct riding. Only after seeing correct riding do they begin to allow those students to ride green or difficult horses. Despite the popular belief that equitation is about “pretty” riding, equitation is about being a balanced partner for your horse. At the lower levels, equitation teaches you to stay out of your horse’s way and let her do her job. At the upper levels, equitation teaches you how to use your body to support your horse.
At my daughter’s first show as a Hunter, she rolled her eyes at me when I reminded her to let her horse close her hip angle and to focus on (1) keeping her leg strong and steady and (2) providing a good release. She went into her over fences class and did neither, so when her horse slowed before the last fence and mule jumped it at the last minute, she ended up losing a stirrup and landing on the horses neck. Nice horsey hug, but not what we were shooting for. Better equitation would have allowed her to have more leg available to drive her horse to the base of the fence and to keep her position despite her horse’s silliness. Thankfully, her horse was wise enough to give her the time to get her stirrup back and get upright before leaving the area. One a green horse, that could have gotten very ugly very quickly.
After 33 years of riding, I know from experience that you can’t be a good rider with out mastering equitation. Once you do, you can move on to using your whole body as an aid for your horse, but you have to start with a great foundation. I think if you really study the great riders, you’ll find that 90% of the time, their equitation is excellent. If it isn’t, there’s a reason for it, and they can usually articulate that reason. You’ll also find that the greats never stop learning. Every trainer I’ve ever worked with is still taking lessons from someone who is knows something she doesn’t. To this day, I take a lesson any chance I get. When I train at home, I focus on my horses, but my lessons are a chance for someone to focus on me and make me better, which benefits my horses too!
Riding is a sport. More important, it’s a team sport. Your horse counts on you to be a balanced partner, who understands how your body effects her movement. For me, I strive every day to be the best partner I can be. Yes, it requires hard work and commitment, but anything worth having does.

Who Am I?

I receive a daily message from dotMagis, the blog for Ignatian Spirituality.  Most days, I read and contemplate, taking with me a little nugget of wisdom.  Every now and again, I find myself knocked over by a simple but profound question.  Today was one of those days:

When the priests and Levites questioned John the Baptist in the wilderness, they asked him “Who are you?” John responded by testifying “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” (John 1:19–23)
As we labor in these weeks of Advent, we have the opportunity to face that same question and give our own testimony. Who are you? What is your voice, your life, crying out in the wilderness to proclaim?
This is the desert experience when all our trappings of ego and image are dropped.
Each of us has our own calling, our own message of love to be expressed with our lives. Who are you? What is your voice crying out in the wilderness to proclaim?
John captured his answer in 18 words. Can you capture yours in Facebook post? In a blog comment? In a tweet? In a Christmas card? In a moment of prayer?
Before this message of love can be fully realized at Christmas, we must be able to articulate it at least for ourselves. Who are you? What is your voice crying out in the wilderness to proclaim?

This simple message from author Lisa Kelly left me uncomfortable, squirming in my seat a little.  Lisa’s bio gave her roughly 75 words to describe herself.  I can do that.  But am I as clear as John about who I am?  And is the person I claim to be the person God wants me to be?
This was an interesting follow-up to my discovery of a new song this morning.  I regularly listen to Google Play Music radio stations to discover new favorite songs.  Four songs into a new station, and I found myself deeply moved by the lyrics of Keep Making Me by Sidewalk Prophets:
I found myself asking, “Am I still full of my will?”  A question I ask often.  I find that I am most happy and most fulfilled when I submit to God’s will and have faith in the plans he has for me.  Only when I take back control does my life fly off the rails.  Lately, I have also been asking myself, “Who am I?”  I deeply desire to be the person God made me to be, so I ask God every day to strip away the persona I created and to reveal the person I was before the world shaped me, the person he intended me to be.
So…  Here is my attempt at describing myself in 18 words or less:

I am a Christian Leader called to evangelize for the Episcopal Church through service, education, and servant leadership.

How did I do?  Give it a shot yourself, and if you’re comfortable enough…  Share!