I’m Not 40 Anymore!

21 09 2013

I turned 41 yesterday, hence the title. I must say, being “over the hill” has been a great ride so far. I am in far better health now than I was 20 years ago. My cholesterol continues to decrease each year and is at an all-time low of 133. I can still do 180° right and left leg splits. My 5K speed continues to get faster. Spiritually, I am more in love with the Bible than ever and find prayer calming and humbling. Professionally, I continue to revise my curriculum every year. I am not content teaching the same stuff just because it’s easier. I just started working on my MBA. In terms of behavior, I am more patient all around and am much calmer in the car. When it comes to my family, I am ridiculously blessed with an amazing husband and two incredible sons.

I am also very goal-oriented, so I decided to take stock of my “40 Things to Do in the Next 40 Years” list that I wrote a year ago. (My updated notes are in parenthesis after each item.)

Physical
1. Do 40 military style pushups at one time, no breaks. (Still working on this)
2. Successfully finish a Tough Mudder. (Tough Mudder teased us with a Nashville race in May 2013, then moved it out of state.)
3. Swim freestyle for 50 meters without stopping. (Nope, practicing would help)
4. Run a sub 30-minute 5K in an actual race. (I’ve done several races this year, but not a straightforward 5K, not yet. I have 4 more races before 2013 is over, so I’m really hoping this will happen. I ran a marathon relay not too long ago and PRd with an 8:28 minute mile at one point.)
5. Do ab ripper at least twice each week, preferably three times. (Nope)
6. Bike once each week. (Nope)
7. Run two-three times each week. (Yup! I’m averaging 10 miles per week over 4 runs)
8. Swim once each week. (Nope)
9. Always remember to wear sunscreen. (Almost always)
10. Hike the Appalachain Trail. (Maybe next decade?)
11. Still be able to do 180° right and left leg splits 40 years from now. (Yup!)

Diet/Nutrition
12. Eat at least two servings of fruit each day. (Yup! Except on my birthday; then I get all my calories from sugar and lard . . . and maybe some cheese)
13. Eat at least two servings of vegetables each day. (About half the time)
14. Remember to take all my supplements each day—multi vitamin, calcium/Vitamin D, fish oil. (Usually)
15. Cut back to one sweet/dessert item each day (except on birthdays). (I’m down to two per day which is way better than it was a year ago.)
16. Try one new recipe each month. (Yup!)
17. Drink more water. (About the same)

Spiritual
18. Fast 40 hours straight once each week. (I still fast, but not for 40 hours—my body did not take kindly to that. I was getting too dizzy and lightheaded.)
19. Memorize one scripture each week. (Sadly, nope. I do read the Bible every day, and my knowledge of scripture is growing, but I just don’t officially memorize verses.)
20. Give half our income away, probably through Compassion International child sponsorships. (Well on our way!)
21. Teach my children to pray in all circumstances. (Working on it; this will be a lifelong lesson.)
22. Teach my sons the importance of sexual purity and protecting and honoring their bodies and the bodies of any girls/women they have relationships with. (Praying about this regularly and having age-appropriate conversations as they arise.)
23. Watch my sons grow into their own faith in Christ. (Yup! So cool to see my sons coming into their own faith rather than living out simply what we tell them to do and say and believe.)
24. Go on a mission trip. (Yup! Texas in March 2013 and India in June 2013)

Mental
25. Get my MBA. (Just started my classes! Graduation = fall 2015)
26. Get my PhD. (Maybe next decade; need to finish the MBA first.)
27. Not go crazy. (Debatable)
28. Read on average one book per week. (Pretty darn close)
29. Become fluent in another language. (If sarcasm counts, I’m fluent.)
30. Learn to play the piano. (Too busy; maybe after my MBA and PhD?)

Miscellaneous
31. Have a weekly date with my love. (Desperately need to do better!)
32. Play more games with my family. (Same #32)
33. Visit all the Wonders of the World. (Five down, two to go—Petra and Angkor Wat)
34. Travel to a new country each year. (So far, so good)
35. Grow my hair out to my wedding day length. (Almost there!)
36. Join a community choir. (Too busy with #1-35)
37. Watch no more than 1 hour of TV each night, except when Dancing with the Stars goes for two hours. (Yup! I have almost cut out TV completely, probably because I’m reading so much. I honestly don’t miss it . . . except Dancing with the Stars.)
38. Re-invent/re-paint/re-design several rooms in my home. (Consulting a friend who is an interior designer is on my to do list for the summer of 2014.)
39. Build a library with floor to ceiling book shelves in my home and fill it with great literature. (Also on my—as in my husband’s—to do list for the summer of 2014.)

Most Important
40. Remember that each day is a gift and to live a life that reflects how grateful I am to be alive. (I’m better at this than I used to be, but there will always be room for improvement. Can we ever be too grateful?)

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2012 Reading List

9 01 2013

I didn’t read as much as I had hoped for in 2012. My original goal was 52 books, one per week. As a working mother, that was perhaps a bit ambitious. I only made it to 40.

The first list is the books I read listed chronologically. The second list, ordered by my rating and preference, gives a brief synopsis of each book followed by my opinion.

Overall, my favorite non-fiction read was 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker, and my favorite fiction was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I also discovered three new (as in new-to-me) authors I can’t wait read more from: Jen Hatmaker, A.J. Jacobs, and Stephen Lawhead. Leave me a comment on your favorite books. I will read just about anything as long as it’s good: fiction, non-fiction, historical, sy-fy, young adult, Christian, memoirs, mystery . . .

1. Season of Betrayal by Margaret Lowrie Robertson
2. The Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas
3. The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
4. The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs
5. The Red Leather Diary by Lily Koppel
6. Walking Ghost Phase by David Daugherty
7. Off the Deep End by W. Hodding Carter
8. Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
9. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
10. Dear Stangers by Meg Mullins
11. In the Arms of Grace by LeChristine Hai
12. The Hidden Girl by Lola Rein Kaufman
13. The Girl Who Survived by Bronia Brandman
14. Swimming with Crocodiles by Will Chaffey
15. The Wedding Letters by Jason F. Wright
16. The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright
17. Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs
18. House by Frank Peretti
19. Illusion by Frank Peretti
20. The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
21. Just a Minute by Wes Stafford
22. Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielson
23. The Book of Vice by Peter Sagal
24. Eve by Elissa Elliott
25. 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker
26. Running for My Life by Lopepe (Lopez) Lomong
27. The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner
28. Goodbye is Not Forever by Amy George
29. Hood by Stephen Lawhead
30. The Kill Order by James Dashner
31. The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Thirteenth) by Lemony Snicket
32. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
33. Breaking Free by Beth Moore
34. Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead
35. Tuck by Stephen Lawhead
36. Ana’s Story by Jenna Bush
37. Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose
38. Radical by David Platt
39. The Paradise War by Stephen Lawhead
40. The Bible

The Bible
Yes, this book will always be at the top of my reading list. This marks year four of reading through the entire thing, and I never get tired of it. In fact, the more I read it, the more I desire to read more. It’s a wonderful circle. I continue to be challenged, rebuked, and encouraged, and I hope I always will.

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker
In an attempt to simplify her life, Jen Hatmaker came up with a carefully crafted list of seven areas of her life in which to mutiny against excess: food, clothes, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress.

Like Hatmaker, I deeply desire simplifying my life, getting rid of stuff, living on less, and giving more to those who really need it. I am deeply intrigued by Hatmaker’s ideas on how to accomplish this and look forward to my own mutiny against excess, though I am not sure what it looks like specifically, yet.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Randy Pausch, a former professor of virtual reality courses at Carnegie Mellon University, writes his “last lecture,” literally and figuratively. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given just a few more months to live, Pausch puts his thoughts, wisdom, and advice in this short, sweet, easy read.

His words offer such insight and understanding, they bring us back to a world in which we should respect everyone, treat others with common courtesy, and pursue your own dreams to the fullest extent. This is a book I need to read at least once a year. You can also find the actual Last Lecture Pausch gave at Carnegie Mellon on YouTube.

Breaking Free by Beth Moore
Moore takes us through a Bible study on “discovering the victory of total surrender” to God’s design for our lives.

I realize I’m probably in the minority here, but I’m normally not a Beth Moore fan. I’ve read other books/Bible studies of hers which left me unimpressed. Most of this book didn’t do much for me either. However, the reason it is this high on my list has to with the last few chapters on taking our thoughts captive. I re-read this section every few days to remind myself of the truths and promises of God’s word on this topic. The way Moore presents it was new and captivated me.

Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs
After a bout of tropical pneumonia, Jacobs felt compelled to take on another monumental task—become as healthy as possible from head to toe. Over two years, he read countless health blogs and books, consulted with dozens of doctors and health experts across the country, and tried just about everything he could to maximize his health.

Witty to the core, Jacobs presents information across the spectrum from pseudo-science health fads that probably do more danger than good to research on peer-reviewed scientific studies published in JAMA. Among the dozens of topics Jacobs covers are toxins, acupuncture, juicing, noise pollution, barefoot running, and how to go to the bathroom properly—and there is a better way than what most Americans do. This book is insightful and humorous, and I would recommend it for anyone remotely concerned about their health.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Narrated by Death, The Book Thief is a novel about Liesel Meminger, a young girl living with a foster family in Nazi Germany. This is the story of how she became the Book Thief and how her love and hatred of words saved herself and others.

I think this is my new favorite work of fiction. I finished its 550 pages in just a few days—including many late nights followed by sleepy mornings. It is brilliantly written, captivating, amusing, and heart-wrenching.

The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner
Wagner explores “why even our best schools don’t teach the new survival skills (critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration across networks and leading by influence, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurialism, effective oral and written communication, accessing and analyzing information, and curiosity and imagination) our children need and what we can do about it.

I must admit that I did not have high hopes for this book as it was required professional development reading over the summer for my work. While the first half was rather dry and filled with “old news” by now on the state of the American school system and all its failures, the second half had me intrigued, especially the anecdotal stories about a few schools who “get it.” I remember reading about these schools thinking, “I want to teach there. I wish we could do that where I teach.” I was inspired by their innovation and deeply challenged to rethink how I teach and what I teach.

Radical by David Platt
Platt asks us to consider how our pursuit of the American dream—more, bigger, better everything—has waylaid our pursuit of the life Christ wants us to live.

I most appreciated Platt’s challenge for his readers to join the Radical Experiment, a one-year journey into authentic discipleship in which one commits to: 1) pray for the entire world, 2) read through the entirety of God’s Word, 3) sacrifice our money for a specific purpose, 4) intentionally spend time in another context, and 5) commit our lives to multiplying community. I hope to take up this challenge in 2013.

Just a Minute by Wes Stafford
CEO and President of Compassion International, a child-advocacy sponsorship group, wrote this book of stories based on his years of travel to the world’s poorest areas and coming back to America to report on what he experienced. He is convinced that if “God stands a child before you, for even just a minute, it is a divine appointment” from which we have the chance to build it up or tear it down.

Stories came from internationally known figures like Nelson Mandela and Colin Powell as well as from those children fighting to survive amidst trash piles in the slums of the world. After each little snippet, I found myself praying, “Please, God. Help me do better.” I highly recommend this book to every parent, teacher, doctor—anyone who is involved with children in any regard. Sometimes all we have is just one minute to make a profound difference in the life of a child.

The Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas
Written by the same author of The Five Love Languages, this book offered a perspective on different types of apologies and why some apologies seem sincere to the giver but not the receiver. While I felt it was mainly a collection of redundant examples on how to apologize, I did appreciate the chapter on Learning to Forgive. Personally, accepting an apology is often more difficult than giving an apology.

“Forgiveness means that you will not seek revenge, that you do not demand justice, that you will not let the offense stand between the two of you. Forgiveness results in reconciliation. That does not mean that trust is immediately restored. Reconciliation means that the two of you have put the issue behind you and are now facing the future together.”

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
Jacobs, a self-proclaimed agnostic, attempts to live according to all biblical mandates and guidelines as literally as possible for one full year. What started as an “intellectual adventure of the most influential book in the world” became much more. Jacobs’ writing reminds me of Dave Barry—humorous and yet always with a moral or lesson close at hand.

My favorite line of the book comes in the introduction. “As with most biblical journeys, my year has taken me on detours I would never have predicted . . . I didn’t expect to, as the Psalmist says, take refuge in the Bible and rejoice in it.” My own experience echoes this sentiment exactly.

Goodbye is Not Forever by Amy George
This is the true story of George’s life. Her father was arrested by the KGB when she was a baby. As WWII progressed, she and her two siblings and mother were taken by cattle car to a slave labor camp. Surviving the horrors of Nazi Germany, the family finally emigrates to America where they start life anew in every way possible, most importantly, as followers of Christ.

Like every other Holocaust and WWII survivor story I’ve ever read, this one was fascinating. Even through such tragic events, hope remains. I am always reminded to be thankful for the ridiculously blessed life I live.

House by Frank Peretti
Two couples wander into an old “inn” in the middle of nowhere Alabama after freak car “accidents.” Little did they know they were wandering into their worst nightmares, literally.

Mastermind of supernatural storytelling, Peretti does not disappoint with this one. Though it’s a classic good versus evil plot, there are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. I read the 372 pages (hard copy) in less than 24 hours. It was all the more real to me personally because of a dream I had (I Am The Light) on this same idea of dark and light just days before even hearing about this book.

Running for My Life by Lopepe (Lopez) Lomong
Lomong was kidnapped, at age 6, during a church service with his family and taken to a rebel camp in Sudan. As one of the smaller boys, he was passed over for training as a future soldier and left to fend for himself. Just a few weeks later, Lomong’s “three angels” helped him escape, and they made their way to a refugee camp in Kenya, where he spent the next 10 years of his life. He eventually makes it to America as one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan, however, his story continues on through competing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics on the American track team.

Lomong’s story is incredible. How this young man never lost his faith in God taking care of him amidst some of the worst of conditions possible for a human to live in, is inspiring to say the least.

Eve by Elissa Elliott
This is a fictional account of the Genesis stories of the creation of Adam and Eve, their banishment from the Garden of Eden, and the death of Abel. Eve adheres pretty closely to the Biblical account, although Elliott takes great liberty in the details, as one would have to.

I really enjoy reading historical fiction of Biblical stories and people, especially the women. This book did not disappoint. It was well written and much more thought provoking than I initially expected.

Ana’s Story by Jenna Bush
This is a true account, told through Bush, of the story of Ana, a 17-year-old mother living with AIDS in a third world Central American country. Ana’s life was difficult on: growing up in poverty, living with her abusive grandmother and her live-in boyfriend who also molested Ana and her younger sister, living with the secret of AIDS, and becoming a young mother.

Bush met Ana while working with UNICEF after graduating from college. This is a very quick and easy read, but an intriguing story nonetheless.

Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielson
Stephanie and her husband, Christian, were in a Cessna plane crash. He suffered burns over 30% of his body, she had 80%. She spent three months in a medically-induced coma as her body fought all odds to survive.

Stephanie’s story of overcoming death, fear, unimaginable pain, rejection, and judgment is inspiring to put it mildly. I appreciated her honesty as she shared her struggles throughout her recovery as well as how her faith not only saw her through the ordeal, but strengthened as a result.

Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose
Called to Indonesia as a young missionary bride, Rose sets out to serve the lost in the years leading up to WWII. Once the war began, Rose and her husband were imprisoned in different POW camps. Suffering torture, abuse, malnutrition, and other illness, Rose survived to tell of her story.

I’ve read many books of WWII holocaust survivors, but this was my first glimpse into the life of an American POW in a Japenese internment camp/prison. Rose’s faith through her ordeal is inspiring. I’ve found myself thinking some of her same prayers lately, though my trials are far less severe, intense, agonizing than hers.

In the Arms of Grace by LeChristine Hai
LeChristine Hai was a child of the Vietnam War. Taken to an orphanage with her brother because her mother couldn’t offer them a safe life amidst the war in their homeland, this is Hai’s “rags to riches” story. Along with 100 other Vietnamese orphans, she escaped to the US, was immediately adopted and her life transformed. It was a long, twisted, depraved, sad, and deeply burdened life. Hai’s story is also one of grace, forgiveness, and finding peace and strength in God.

Hai’s is a fascinating tale—disturbing, sad, and sickening at some points, but filled with grace, forgiveness and sacrificial love at others. I couldn’t put this one down once I started, and as with any good autobiography, I now want to learn more about the Vietnam War and read more stories of those affected by it.

Hood, Scarlet, and Tuck by Stephen Lawhead
A spin on the classic tale of Robin Hood takes on a new life, new characters, and new meaning in an unexpected setting. These three books comprise the “Raven King” trilogy telling this epic story.

I always enjoy a well-written piece of fiction, and Lawhead’s trilogy was a nice break from some heavier non-fiction I’ve been reading. I enjoyed this one so much, I will probably devour his other dozen or so books once I get my hands on them.

The Paradise War by Stephen Lawhead
Two Oxford students find themselves in a mystical place where two worlds meet—our present world and the “Otherworld” of the ancient Celts. Passing through a vortal, they find themselves in the ancient world and in the middle of a fight between good and evil with cosmic catastrophe in the making.

I found this Lawhead book on our book shelf, and having enjoyed his Hood trilogy, I picked this one up. I enjoy his story lines set in ancient England as well as his writing style. I imagine I will go through all of his books during 2013.

The Wedding Letters by Jason F. Wright
In this fictional love story, Noah hits Rachel with his truck, and the two later fall in love. In the style of Nicholas Sparks, their road to the altar is filled with twists and turns.

I’m not one for fictional love stories, but what made this one unique were its underlying Christian values of what true love is. This was not just a story of love but also of honor and forgiveness. Wright’s concept of “wedding letters” introduced in this book is also a marvelous gift to any newly married couple.

The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright
This is the first of Wright’s book about the Cooper family. The three children gather together after their parents die on the same night. They discover a box of letters their father wrote to their mother, once each week on Wednesday, over the course of their marriage. Memories are shared and secrets are uncovered.

I would recommend both works of fiction by Wright, but I would read this one first as it is chronologically the first. The characters and backstory are introduced and will make reading The Wedding Letters more meaningful.

Swimming with Crocodiles by Will Chaffey
Will Chaffey had just graduated from high school and decided to travel and work in Australia before heading to college. While on the continent, Chaffey met another adventurer, and together they attempted a trek across some of the most remote and dangerous primitive land in the Australia outback.

Reminiscent of Into the Wild, Swimming with Crocodiles was a fun adventure story. Chaffey’s detail of the trek, as well as little pieces of trivia regarding the land and creatures inhabiting Australia’s outback were intriguing as well.

Off the Deep End by W. Hodding Carter
Carter tells his story of “trying to swim his way through a midlife crisis.” An NCAA Division III All American swimmer in college, Carter decided to begin swimming again and attempt to qualify for the Olympic Trials in 2008.

Having just become addicted to triathlons at age 39, and being an incredibly poor swimmer, I enjoyed reading Carter’s story of personal struggles leading to personal triumph through swimming. Not only did working on achieving physical goals help him through his crisis, it also helped strengthen his marriage and his relationship with his kids.

The Girl Who Survived by Bronia Brandman
Bronia was 11 when the Germans invaded her hometown in Poland during WWII. This is Bronia’s story of courage, luck, determination, and kindness from strangers who helped her survive the horrors of Auschwitz.

I am always fascinated by true accounts of Holocaust survivors. While this was a short story, really written for a much younger audience, I still found it fascinating and worth my time.

The Hidden Girl by Lola Rein Kaufman
Lola’s family was killed by the Gestapo, and she was left to fend for herself against the Nazi invasion in her native Poland. This is Lola’s story of having to depend on the kindness of strangers as she survived WWII hidden in a dirt hole.

Like The Girl Who Survived, this was another short account, written for a young adult audience, of how young children survived the horrors of losing their entire family, going into hiding, concentration camps, Nazi raids, and more atrocities during WWII.

The Book of Vice by Peter Sagal
Sagal takes the reader on a delightful and enlightening trip from the strip clubs on the Strip in Vegas to its gambling halls to the “Swingers Shack” to the kitchen of Alinea, the hottest molecular gastronomy restaurant in the country—all in the name of “research.” Sagal explores the vices of humankind, how we got there, what we do while we’re there, and why we continue.

Humorous and insightful, it’s fun reading this book in the manner in which Sagal speaks as he hosts NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” news quiz show. The anecdotes were amusing and the actual research and psychology behind why we do what we do when we know we shouldn’t do it was interesting.

Walking Ghost Phase by David Daugherty
A group of students take a summer trip to Washington, D.C. before starting college, only to be there during a nuclear attack. They are mortally wounded with radiation poisoning. This is the story of how they come to terms with their imminent death.

I must admit upfront, that I work with Daugherty. This was his first published book, and I really did enjoy it. The plot was interesting with enough twists and turns to keep me not wanting to put it down. I hope he continues to write.

The Red Leather Diary by Lily Koppel
Koppel, a young journalist in New York City, found a decades-old red leather diary among a dumpster of forgotten treasures from the bowels of her New York apartment building. She began reading the story of a young lady, Florence Wolfson, and her life from ages 14-19. Koppel and Wolfson became kindred spirits through their journey of retelling Wolfson’s life story.

Upon finishing the book in March, two interesting events occurred. One, I learned Wolfson had died just three days earlier, age 96. Two, I was getting ready to head to New York for a few days, chaperoning a group of high school students. I had walked many of the streets Wolfson frequented in her youth, but I saw them through a different lens on that trip. What a difference a story can make in how you see the world around you—a world you thought you knew—in a different light.

The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs
Author of The Year of Living Biblically, Jacobs challenged himself to read through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Taking a little over a year, this is a humorous compilation of random facts he learned as well as insightful look into his relationships with those who supported him—some more than others—during this process.

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
Dr. Elwin Ransom is kidnapped and transported to Mars where his captors intend to plunder the planet of its natural resources and offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the strange creatures who inhabit the planet. Ransom escapes and falls into the hands of the creatures he was trying to avoid.

As with any of Lewis’ works, Out of the Silent Planet, the first book of his Space Trilogy, offers many a unique allegory between Christianity and life on the planet of Malacandra as well as social commentary on human society.

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
Emerald Torrington prepares to celebrate her birthday with a few dear friends at Sterne, her home in remote England. A terrible train wreck brings dozens of passengers to Sterne’s doors seeking shelter for the night. During the evening that ensues, nothing goes according to plan. The birthday celebration is ruined by a wicked parlor game and the youngest Torrington decides that this was the perfect time for her Great Undertaking.

A fun, quirky novel, the setting and characters reminded me of Downton Abbey. The Great Undertaking, in particular, was quite comical, and the ending gives a surprising twist.

Season of Betrayal by Margaret Lowrie Robertson
Lara McCauley goes to Beirut in 1983, against her better judgment, with her journalist husband. Her marriage disintegrating, she becomes friends with a Polish journalist and gets a part-time job as a broadcast film editor. Naïve to the core, she unwittingly sets in a motion a deadly set of events in an already war-torn country.

I doubt I would have picked this book up had I realized it was a novel at the onset. I thought it was a true-story, but it is not. This novel was somewhat interesting, but I had a hard time getting into the main character, Lara. While a victim of circumstance, she also created plenty of her own calamities through sheer stupidity.

Illusion by Frank Peretti
Dane loses his wife of 40 years, Mandy, in a fiery car accident. Through a top-secret government project, she really doesn’t die, but comes back as her 19-year-old self in present times and must learn to adjust all the while possessing strange new “meta-physical” talents she can’t comprehend.

I normally like Peretti’s work, but this was not one of them. I found the long descriptions of magic shows and tricks dull and redundant. I skimmed over much of the book and was a little disappointed in the ending; it was almost anti-climactic in its brevity.

The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Thirteenth) by Lemony Snicket
The Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, find themselves on an island inhabited by a group of castaways and led by a mysterious man named Ishmael. Here, they discover more secrets relating to their dead parents.

I had read the first 12 books years ago and then forgot about the final one. Caleb began reading the series this summer which is what spurred me on to finally finishing this one. The first book was clever, but each one after followed the same formula, and they became a little too predictable. They may be fun reads for young adults, but it’s not a series I would read again.

The Kill Order by James Dashner
Sun flares hit the earth causing most of mankind to die. Of the few survivors, who form settlements in what is left of America, a disease of rage and lunacy takes hold.

This was definitely one of the more forgettable books I’ve read this year. I skipped much of it as it was sadly repetitive. I can only reading so many pages of how two guys ran down a hall from their would-be captors and dove through a door. This is the prequel to the New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series; though I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it through those three books.

Dear Strangers by Meg Mullins
Oliver’s father died unexpectantly and days later, the baby they were to adopt was given to another family. Oliver spends the next 21 years searching for his almost-brother, much to the chagrin of his sister and re-married mother. In a strange turn of events, Oliver finds this young man and confronts him, only to lose him to a gun-shot wound to the head from his step-father.

This work of fiction was awkward, painfully slow, and a chore to finish. It’s not one I’d recommend to anyone.





This Is Why You’re Not Getting a Christmas Card From Us This Year (or maybe ever again)

6 12 2012

No More Christmas Cards explains how we came to our decision to NOT send Christmas cards this year.

So, the winner of what would have been our Christmas money was Safe Haven Family Shelter, by almost a 3-1 vote.  I was introduced to Safe Haven almost two years ago, and since then, both Caleb and Jason have joined me on various occasions to help provide dinner for the residents.

Besides the money issue, the other reason you are not getting a Christmas card from us is because this is it!  SURPRISE dear readers!  We’re going all-digital this year.

Many of you keep up with us via Facebook anyway, so you already know our year in review.  For those who don’t, here you go:

The Huddleston 2012 Year in Review

Matthew continues to teach physics and launch high altitude balloons at Trevecca Nazarene University.  He loves his job, and even took on the challenge of hosting a national high altitude balloon conference at TNU in June.

He finished his first (and possibly, probably, hopefully last) full marathon in April.  His goal was an ambitious 4:00, but he made it around 4:25.  This is incredibly impressive considering he only “trained” once each week . . . most of the time.

He has also completed several mud runs, the latest rage in running races around the country.  Now that he’s in a new age bracket, he will probably start placing and winning some nice prizes.

On a heavier note, Matthew’s dad, Mark, was diagnosed with colon cancer in October.  He had surgery just a few days after.  The doctors thought they got all of the cancer, but subsequent tests showed a spot on a lymph node.  He is currently undergoing chemo therapy once every two weeks for six months.  His doctors remain very optimistic, but we’d still appreciate your prayers for complete healing and for strength and endurance for Mark and Martha during this time.

Kelly (me) continues to teach technology and journalism/graphic design at Franklin Road Academy.  I also love my job.  I did NOT do a ½ (or full) marathon this year, and I feel great!  Triathlons are my new thing (My First Triathlon).  Having successfully finished three of them, I can no longer qualify for placings in the Beginner category.  However, being really a really weak swimmer, mediocre bicyclist, and slow runner, I wouldn’t qualify for placings in any category anyway.  Maybe when I’m 80 and still doing triathlons will I win something.

Gourmet cupcakes are my newest indulgence so if you are ever looking for a gift . . .  (I also love chocolate and a good extra sharp cheddar cheese.)  However, I really need to be eating more fruit and vegetables, so a membership in some sort of fruit-of-the-month club would be a better gift.

Matthew and Kelly’s (our) international trip this year took us to Nicaragua in July.  We met another one of the kids we sponsor through Compassion International.  Always an eye-opening, life-changing event, you can read about it here:  Open My Eyes.  You can also read about the amazing amount of fun hell we had as we hiked a volcano on Ometepe Island.

Next year’s trip is another once-in-a-lifetime trip:  india!  For three weeks we will traverse a good chunk of the country in June.  The first 10 days or so will be spent in Chennai and traveling up the Indian Ocean coast of south eastern India, mainly to visit two more kids they sponsor through Compassion International (link) as well as spend some time with a friend who pastors a church in a small village there.  During the second half of the trip, we will get to play tourist:  visit the Taj Mahal, ride elephants and camels in the dessert, visit Agra, Jaipur, New Delhi, and take a boat tour along the Ganges River in Varanasi, the heart of the Hindu culture.  Expect great blog posts to come from this adventure.

Other big news for 2012 included placing membership in a new church, Priest Lake Christian Fellowship.  Our former home church group, the Gathering, fizzled out as families found new churches around the Nashville area, so we started looking, too.  Being less than a mile from our home was a great benefit, but the people were the main draw.  We have never been to a more humble church where the Holy Spirit is so alive and thriving among its members.  It’s inspiring and challenging and moving each week.

Caleb is in fourth grade at Franklin Road Academy and continues to love school and excel in his academics.  To brag on this child for a moment, he has yet to receive a B in any term grade since he started PK.  He’s got his Daddy’s brains and aptitude for math and building things.  Caleb continues to love all things Star Wars, but his Pokemon obsession (thank goodness!) has come to an end.  If you know of anyone interested in buying a 700+ card Pokemon collection, please let us know.

Caleb’s newest obsession is legos.  The kid lives and breathes legos, which we are fine with.  He actually builds some really cool things, like a working flashlight—complete with an on/off lever and working bulb.

Caleb is also learning to play the recorder and trumpet, and we (as in Kelly) are trying desperately (and futilely) to get him to sing “This Song is Just Six Words Long” by Weird Al Yankovic in the Fourth Grade Variety Show in January.  Weird Al is another recent obsession of Caleb’s, and being the cool parents we are, for his birthday we bought him tickets to see Weird Al in concert in April when he comes to Nashville.

Caleb is a Webelo scout this year, and is a popcorn selling machine!  He sold over $1500 to win first place again in his cub scout pack.  He won an archery set, 8% of his total sales in cash, a $50 Walmart gift card, an LED head lamp, a patch, Predators’ tickets, and a trophy.  (Don’t get me started on winning trophies for something like selling popcorn.  Let’s just say, I’m not a fan of the practice.)

Caleb’s most exciting adventure this year, though, was his ER trip that led to a hospital stay for a couple of days at the end of August for pneumonia.  Despite this bump in the road, we are still tremendously blessed.  His asthma and allergies have plagued him something fierce this fall, much worse than normal.  We have an appointment with an asthma/allergy specialist next week so we are praying for something to help manage this better.

Jason started preK at FRA this year, and is loving it.  Being the second child, we did not work with him on things like the alphabet, drawing, writing, or reading much (hardly at all) before he started school.  Thankfully, the kid has a mind like a sponge and is taking off in the writing and reading department.  He also loves to draw.

Jason, too, is obsessed with Star Wars and legos.  At three he could recite entire scenes from Star Wars.  I’m not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed by this.  Did I mention he was three at the time?  The kid can build lego creations with the best of them . . . well, maybe not a working flashlight yet, but he can build really cool spaceships, race cars, jails, mouse traps, and monsters.

Jason and Caleb took their first official swimming lessons this summer.  Lesson 1 involved Jason crying and screaming for the full 45 minute session.  He had snot running out of both nostrils to his belly button when I picked him up.  He only cried for about 15 minutes of lesson 2, and by lesson 3 he was actually excited to go.  Now, of course, the kid is terrified to put his head in the water, which reminds Kelly of herself as a child forced to take swimming lessons.

Packer, our dog, continues to love to eat anything that falls on the floor including baby spit-up (true story) as well as grass to later make herself throw-up said baby spit-up.  She loves to sleep during the day and wake us up around 4:00 a.m. to pee and play.

Finley Bubbles the VIII, our beta fish, didn’t last the year.  At this time, we are uncertain if we will buy Finley Bubbles the IX.

Hopes and prayers for 2013:

  • Good health for everyone
  • A safe and amazing trip to India
  • Jobs we love
  • Caleb and Jason would continue to grow and mature in their faith, following Christ
  • Matthew and Kelly possibly beginning a new Marriage Builders home church group
  • Kelly hopes to begin working on her MBA at Trevecca in the fall

As we reflect back and look forward, may we always remember WHY we celebrate.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son,
who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
-John 1:14

Love and prayers to all,
the Huddleston Family

PS.  If any of you find yourselves in Nashville and need a place to stay, we’ve got plenty of room and love house guests.





40 Things

20 09 2012

 

40 & Fabulous

40 & Fabulous

I turn 40 today, and until a short while ago, I dreaded being that number.  It was so old.  Half of my life was over.  Then it hit me . . . I was at the age where I realized I turned into my parents.  Upon reflection I realized that wasn’t a bad thing.  How blessed am I to be able to say that?My attitude began to turn around from being negative and dreading this birthday to wanting to celebrate in grand fashion, which we did.

As the day approached, I also began to think about the next half of my life.  What do I want to accomplish?  Who do I want to be?

So being an ultra-organized, detailed-oriented, goal-setting, to-do queen, I did what came naturally.  I created a list.

This wasn’t merely a Bucket List.  I already have one of those.  There is a difference in this new list and my bucket list.  My new list is realistic.  My bucket list isn’t.  For example, I really want to throw a live grenade and watch something blow up.  I know that will never happen.

My new list is comprised of things I want to do in the next 40 years of my life.

Physical
1.       Do 40 military style pushups at one time, no breaks.
2.       Successfully finish a Tough Mudder.
3.       Swim freestyle for 50 meters without stopping.
4.       Run a sub 30-minute 5K in an actual race.
5.       Do P90x ab ripper at least twice each week, preferably three times.
6.       Bike once each week.
7.       Run two-three times each week.
8.       Swim once each week.
9.       Always remember to wear sunscreen.
10.   Hike the Appalachain Trail.
11.   Still be able to do 180° right and left leg splits 40 years from now.

40 & Fabulous (and still quite flexible)

40 & Fabulous (and still quite flexible)

Diet/Nutrition

12.   Eat at least two servings of fruit each day.
13.   Eat at least two servings of vegetables each day.
14.   Remember to take all my supplements each day—multi vitamin, calcium/Vitamin D, fish oil.
15.   Cut back to one sweet/dessert item each day (except on birthdays).
16.   Try one new recipe each month.
17.   Drink more water.

Spiritual

18.   Fast 40 hours straight once each week.
19.   Memorize one scripture each week.
20.   Give half my income away, probably through Compassion International child sponsorships.
21.   Teach my children to pray in all circumstances.
22.   Teach my sons the importance of sexual purity and protecting and honoring their bodies and the bodies of any girls/women they have relationships with.
23.   Watch my sons grow into their own faith in Christ.
24.   Go on a mission trip.

Mental

25.   Get my MBA.
26.   Get my PhD.
27.   Not go crazy.
28.   Read on average one book per week.
29.   Become fluent in another language.
30.   Learn to play the piano.

 Miscellaneous

31.   Have a weekly date with my love.
32.   Play more games with my family.
33.   Visit all the Wonders of the World.
34.   Travel to a new country each year.
35.   Grow my hair out to my wedding day length.
36.   Join a community choir.
37.   Watch no more than 1 hour of TV each night, except when Dancing with the Stars goes for two hours.
38.   Re-invent/re-paint/re-design several rooms in my home.
39.   Build a library with floor to ceiling book shelves in my home and fill it with great literature.

Most Important

40.   Remember that each day is a gift and to live a life that reflects how grateful I am to be alive.





2012 Resolutions

5 01 2012

Being the list-maker, goal-setter, and all-around do-er that I am, I LOVE coming up with New Years Resolutions.  I actually began thinking about my list in November.  My focus verse for the year is from James 3:17-18.  I want to be the kind of woman that embodies this type of wisdom, and yet I struggle greatly in so many of these areas.

 “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure;
then peace-loving, considerate, submissive,
full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

Spiritual/Relationship Goals

  • Have a dynamic marriage.
    • Stop what I’m doing and greet my husband with a hug as soon as he/I get home from work each day
    • Pray together every night
    • Monthly dates
  • Read through the Bible
  • Fast 1x/week
  • Give at least 16.5% of our pre-tax income to charitable organizations (hopefully more)
  • Volunteer somewhere at least 1x/month

 Exercise/Activity Goals

  • Participate in an average of 1 race/event each month (I actually have 13 on my radar for next year and am looking for more!)
  • Run/walk 2-3x/week (6-9 miles)
    • Get back to a sub-10-minute mile
    • Do a sub-30-minute 5K
  • Bike 1x/week (6-10 miles)
  • Swim 1x/week (.25-.5 miles) 
    • Learn to swim freestyle (Out of everything on my list–this one is the most daunting to me.)
  • P90X Ab Ripper 3x/week
  • 40 perfect pushups by my 40th birthday

Nutrition Goals

  • Eat 2 servings of fruit
  • Eat 1 serving of vegetables (not counting potatoes)
  • Consume less sugar
  • Drink more water

What are your goals for 2012?





My First Triathlon

30 08 2011
Cedars of Lebanon Traithlon 2011

Cedars of Lebanon Traithlon 2011

I was the kid who begged my parents (as a teenager) to drive to the next door neighbor’s house for dinner.  Their house was literally 20 feet from ours.

I was the kid who was diagnosed with asthma at age three and was on a regimen of pills, inhalers, shots, and blood tests throughout my school years.

I was the kid who screamed at the swim instructor that she couldn’t make me get in the pool (at age 5), and I made sure she really couldn’t.

I was the high school kid who couldn’t run one lap around the track without having to be taken to the nurse’s office after having a severe asthma attack.

I am now the woman, wife, and mother of two, who just completed her first triathlon at age 38.

One friend competed in her first sprint triathlon in May and planted the seed that maybe I could do this. . . next year.  Another friend, in the meantime, learned about the Cedars of Lebanon Triathlon in June and decided to start training.  Within a couple of weeks, six of us ladies committed to doing it together, and our training began.

I trained throughout the summer, though not as intensely as I probably should have.  Come race day, our little group made its way to the end of the swimming line.  I was #450 out of 491 triathletes competing that day.  Our numbers were based on our estimated swim speed and overall estimated coarse finish.  As I looked at the hundreds of athletes ahead of me, I quickly realized I was way out of my league.

Once I got in the pool, my assumption was quickly proven true.  I actually finished the 300 yard swim in less than 12 minutes, which for me, is about three minutes faster than my training time all summer. However, I had one of the top 10 slowest swim times, and I’m pretty sure I looked like I was drunk the entire time.  I kept bumping into people, and I could not go straight to save my life.  As I swerved from rope-to-rope in each lane, I’m sure I gave the onlookers a good laugh.  But you know what, I really don’t care.  I’m proud I surpassed my goal.  I exited the pool smiling and grateful.

My transition time from the swim to bike was quite pitiful at a little over five minutes.  I took my time, walking to my bike instead of running. But again, I didn’t care what others thought.

The 16.5 mile bike course was more difficult than I anticipated.  At each new hill, and there were many, I focused on the few feet directly ahead of me.  When I lifted my head and looked into the distance, I got discouraged seeing how much was left.  So I focused on the next peddle:  praying for strength and endurance, just one more deep breath, encouragement and stamina.  Once at the top, I thanked God for helping me to get there, for the beauty of my surroundings, for the glorious weather, for the breeze, for the downhill ride I now got to enjoy.

My bike time was a little over what I was hoping for, 93 minutes, but I met up with two friends walking the final ½ mile due to a wipeout one had.  I walked with them and once again thought, I’m in this to finish, my time doesn’t matter today.  Walking with my friend was more important than shaving a few minutes off my time.

The final 2.9 mile run was the most difficult stage for me.  I have raced in many 5Ks, 10Ks, 15Ks, half-marathons and even one relay team race from Chattanooga to Nashville, but this 2.9 mile stretch kicked my butt.  It was my worst time for such a short run that I’ve ever had, at almost 37 minutes.  I was physically exhausted and completely out of energy, and the sun was now beating down on us.  I figure I walked at least half the course.

Crossing the finish line with my family and friends cheering me on was overwhelming.  I was flooded with thoughts and prayers and praises:  “THANK YOU, GOD!  I am a triathlete!  I’m glad it’s done!  I wonder what my time was?  Who cares about my time, I just finished a triathlon!  PRAISE GOD!”

In the 2:29:41 it took me to complete this triathlon (my goal was under 2:30:00), God reminded me of several important things I had lost sight of recently.

  • I’ve learned that keeping my focus on short-term attainable goals (like the next two feet instead of the next two miles) is key to achieving long-term goals.  “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” –Hebrews 12:1
  • I’ve learned the importance of prayer along every step of the way.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6
  • I’ve learned to be thankful for the trials that lead to growth and the hills that lead to mountaintop experiences.  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all situations, for this is God’s will for you.” -1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
  • I’ve learned to be ever grateful to God for giving me a body that is healthy and able to complete a triathlon.  “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” –Psalm 139:14
  • I’ve learned that finishing the race is more important than winning the race.  “My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me. “ –Acts 20:24
  • I’ve learned not to be content with a life of comfort and ease, but to purposely be disciplined and seek challenges that will help me grow spiritually, physically and mentally.  “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” –Hebrews 12:11

I can’t wait for what’s next!





Lessons Learned in 13.1 miles

2 05 2011

I ran my third ½ marathon on April 30, 2011.  The morning after the race, I read Psalm 121, which fit my experience on the course so perfectly.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
-Psalms 121

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (v. 1-2)

Event planners changed the course up a bit this year to alleviate congestion in some areas.  I appreciated this, but the new course seemed to have more hills, longer hills, and steeper hills.  In those moments when I looked ahead and saw a hill looming in the distance, my first reaction was negative.  Thankfully, a few seconds later that negativity was replaced by simple, practical, mental encouragement.  “One step at a time.  Focus on what is directly in front of you.  You’ll be at the top in no time.  Slow down if you need to.  You don’t have to bulldoze ahead, there’s nothing to prove in doing that.  You’re one step closer.  And so on.”  Physically, that is what my body needed.  What a great reminder that in times of trial and discouragement, those are the same things my mind needs to remember spiritually.

There are also times when I get so bogged down on what is directly in front of me that I forget to look up and see the bigger picture.  I would have completely missed the grandeur of the start line—being in the midst of 35,000 runners lining West End for over one mile—had I not taken a moment to look up.

Country Music Marathon

Country Music Marathon - Nashville, TN - April 30, 2011 - 30,000+ runners

“He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

When I signed up for this race last fall, I had the expectation to finish under 2:10, knocking almost 20 minutes off my time from 2010.  In January, I pulled a pectoral muscle that put that goal to rest.  In fact, I had to slow way down, adding about 1.5 minutes back on to my per mile pace during my four months of training.  Going into race day, my prayers were simple. 

  • I didn’t care about my time.  I just wanted to finish, on my feet, without passing out or vomiting.
  • I didn’t want to have to use the restroom.  (Runners—you know what I’m talking about!)
  • I wanted to start and finish with my friends.

Indeed, God did not let my foot slip.  While I passed several people lying on the sidewalk needing medical assistance and saw way too many ambulances heading to and from the course, God answered every single one of my prayers.

“The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.” (v. 5-6)

After an incredibly rainy, stormy, windy, cold, tornado-y month, the weather on race day was perfect.  Cool, crispy, sunny.  I remember being very mindful to thank God for the shade on the road throughout the course.

“The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forever more.” (v. 7-8)

Indeed, the Lord watches over me.  During the race, I was again reminded of the many, many things I have to be thankful for.

  • I am healthy and able to run 13.1 miles.
  • Wonderful neighbors took care of our boys over night since my husband and I had to get up obscenely early.
  • Other amazing friends got up obscenely early to drive us to the start line, encourage us along the way, cheer us on at the finish line, and bring us home.
  • The weather was perfect and shade trees lined the streets.
  • Anonymous fans provided sprinklers and hoses, water, GU, music, and humorous signs that made me smile.

One last thought.  I caught myself silently complaining on several occasions, “Why does this have to be so difficult?”  Each time, God reminded me that my life would be insanely boring without times where I really pushed myself.  Would I really enjoy a life where everything was easy?  Would I ever learn anything new?  I think I would become very lazy and arrogant living that lifestyle.  I would never know what I am truly capable of physically, mentally, or spiritually without those times of “disciplined challenge” in my life.  Whether it’s training for and running a ½ marathon or fasting, I thank God for his continual grace and the blessings that flow when I challenge myself.