24 April 2012

Weekend Workroom: Settling Back In...

This is a little late (I mean, it's Tuesday, right?), but I figured it was worth posting because I have just now gotten my computer back... which is fantastic.

There's a lot that's been happening around here lately, and that doesn't just include all the work that Chris has been putting into getting our office finished out and ready for us to move stuff back in. We're almost to the point where things are in their places and finding their homes again, which is good because our office has been spread throughout multiple rooms for a little more than a week at this point, and I'm eager to have this crazy room back.

For reals this time, you can check out the lower level remodel on that other blog. I couldn't find the camera cord until we unpacked stuff, so... posts have been a bit delayed on all accounts.

God is moving us into a new season, which we're really excited about. I feel like God is finally answering a ton of our long-held prayers in really backward ways that only show how incredible and merciful He truly is. I'll be able to share more in a couple of weeks (and, no, that's not a hint toward anything - I'm just not allowed to share too many details right now).

To celebrate being done with Missions Weekend this year (since Chris helped orchestrate a large portion of the meal after church and we both ran around with a bunch of other awesome people for several hours to make sure everything went as planned), I asked Christopher what kind of ice cream he wanted, giving him the options of several candies that I stockpiled after Valentine's Day, when everything was on sale. He wanted the one with peppermint patties, which is one of our favorites. The base is like a Frosty from Wendy's. It's pretty fantastic.

Chocolate Mint Chocolate Ice Cream
(from cuisinart.com)
2 cp. heavy cream
1 cp. whole milk
1/2 cp. chocolate syrup
2 T sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cp. crushed chocolate mint candies (I use 15-16 of the small peppermint patties)
Combine all ingredients (except candies).
Chop or crush candies into smaller pieces - if you have some extra time, putting them in the freezer before you cut them can keep them from being super-sticky.
Freeze mixture according to manufacturer's directions 20-25 minutes. Add candy for last 5 minutes of freezing time.

19 April 2012

Thursday Thoughts: The Halfway Point & Thirteen Years of Little Books

This past week, I finished up my latest prayer journal. Closing in on my thirteenth spiritual birthday, I felt led (as I normally do) to start revisiting the last year, its pages, and the pages of some of those that preceded it.

It's incredible to see even the changes that occur between the first pages and the last pages of such a record. I started the last book after the death of my second grandfather (see "Completion," from 2007), only months into my marriage and a job that would cultivate my heart for God's church and its mission.

I was learning how to be a wife, a leader for a college ministry small group, to resurrect relationships that had been broken by distance and hard things, to figure out what it meant to follow Jesus in the workplace, and so many, many other things. Life was opening before me.

But so was depression. Since starting its pages in 2007, I battled two full rounds of depression: One centered on the death of my grandfather that first fall and continued by some family issues the following spring, and the second centered on the very quick failing and death of the first of my grandmothers just before I began my graduate work. As I've mentioned in previous posts, depression is a war that has been waged in the depths of my soul for more years than I am proud of (see "A different kind of happy," from 2010), and I finally emerged from this last round in a much different place - ready to fight to the end of myself to not find my life in its grasp ever again.

In the midst of this, we were witness to many weddings, several years of family celebrations, a few lovable oddball roommates, the addition of one and then two precious pups to our home, an insane amount of new babies in both our blood and church families, injuries, new jobs, answered prayers, times of intense waiting, a new home and, most recently, struggles with infertility.

Life has changed a lot, but there is one thing that remains: The God who rescued me that lonely night in April thirteen years ago, who loved me in spite of my depravity and raised me up in the promise of salvation - He still remains the same. This reality is lasting. It does change things. I am proof of that.

And now I'm feeling a bit old, I suppose. Thirteen is not a small number. I remember writing for saLt about my fifth spiritual birthday and thinking it was a huge deal ("Six," from 2005 is an updated version of that; and if you don't know what saLt was, I'm sorry you missed that piece of my life, though I do wonder sometimes if Laura and I both just had the same vivid dream for a year).

Thirteen! That's half of my age!

Yet, it's starting to make sense that this is my life. The last vestiges that I had hidden away from the blinding and purifying light of Christ's grace have finally been brought into the open to be sifted through - and the incredibly breathtaking thing is that, for the first time, I think I'm finally understanding what it means for Christ to satisfy every deep-seated desire of my heart.

From here on out, my life has not been mine in the majority - what a good and glorious thing! That means I can look back on this growing collection of these crazy little books I began writing in so many years ago and see my life mostly marked by the grace and leading of an incredible Savior.

And in those pages, I find hope to move forward. At every step, at every juncture, Christ has met me, challenged me to be sanctified, and answered my prayers. In one way or another, every prayer I have ever put before His feet in these books has been set before me - and the most beautiful ones were the ones that didn't turn out in the least as I expected.

Lately, my stones of remembrance have been placed a bit closer together. Life has been hard. My dependence upon God for the daily stuff has been critical. The first half of this last journal was written over the span of roughly three and a half years, while the second was composed in little more than a year. My need for grace is growing, especially as I continue to be more aware of the daily battle to keep my life free from the bonds of depression - something that can so easily be physically, emotionally, and spiritually emptying of all that is inside me.

So the tipping point is starting somewhere different. For the first time, I am abiding in the love and provision of Christ - mostly because I can look back and see it in these little books, these little books that urge me to move forward in the knowledge that He will continue to love and be faithful in what is to come next.

I wrote "Sweet Dependency" nearly seven years ago, just a week after my sixth spiritual birthday and two days after my dear husband suffered my then-rejection of his pursuit of my heart. This last year, it has become the anthem of my heart, as I re-wrote it on the piano (including a different bridge, from "Out of my bondage, sorrow, and night" by William Sleeper) and have sought to understand its meaning in a much different time.

The chorus is what gets me, though. I think I understood then something that it has taken me seven years to come back around to - the truth that only God has a right to claim my life, He who bought it with His own blood, and who offers me redemption and newness of life:
May I be brought to my knees, in sweet dependency in You alone.
For at the end of this time, if I still think that I’m mine,
Please break me and bring me back home.

("Sweet Dependency," ©2005/2011 A. Kate Grinstead/A. Kate Reynolds)

17 April 2012

Treasure on a Tuesday: Older Mainstream Favorites

So... I definitely have not been able to put together the rest of my house post over at that other blog I write at sometimes. Our office is in at least three other rooms right now, and is likely to stay that way until we trim out the walls with new baseboards. When that's done, we can start putting things back together! (I'm really stoked about that - it means I get to reorganize everything, again!)

Meanwhile, I'll entertain you with some more of my favorite music. This time, I'm looking at some older mainstream favorites. And by "older," I mean not from the last five years. I'm not talking classics. Talk to my husband if you want classics - I just do "older" and "recent." If you've got a problem with that, I invite you to visit my disclaimer here.

Copeland - In Motion (2005)
Where does one even start with Copeland? I mean, the band's first album, Beneath Medicine Tree, was incredible to me. Maybe it was the pseudo-emo phase I hit my first few years of college where I listened to a lot more emotionally-driven rock music (like Mae and Jimmy Eat World), or perhaps the fact that I saw them live in Greeley with a good friend and got a signed copy of their first album, but there was and still is something very magnetic to me about this group's music. While BMT was a little tamer, In Motion is full of more upbeat tracks (good upbeat tracks - none of that crazy club stuff), designed specifically to get people moving. Favorite tracks include the opener, "No One Really Wins," which sports one of my favorite lines: "In the endless fight of grace and pride / I don't want to win this time;" "You Have My Attention;" and "Hold Nothing Back" and "You Love to Sing," smooth and creative ballads that pull at the heartstrings, resting on the beauty of lead singer Aaron Marsh's range. Also great, "Control" from Eat, Sleep, Repeat, the band's third offering.

Coldplay - Parachutes (2000) 
Somewhere toward the end of my high school years, I started hearing these incredible key riffs on the radio (you know, when I still listened to the radio), and all my friends started listening to this British band. I was against the whole idea until I started connecting the riffs with Coldplay. My friend Danae loaned me her copies of Parachutes and Rush of Blood to the Head. I remember driving back and forth between my parents' house and the place I house-sat for that summer, listening to the sonic loveliness of these two albums, driving around so that I had more time in the car to listen before I headed back home. It was a great summer. Regardless, Parachutes is still one of the few albums I can turn to when I'm in a funk (or just contemplative) and not become funkier (because as much as I love Jimmy Eat World, when I listen to them, my funks get funkier). Every track still hits a sweet spot when it hits my ears. Favorites? All of them. "Yellow" is, naturally, a classic. I hear "We Never Change" spring out of nowhere sometimes while I'm driving in silence - it's simple guitar and melody combo haunting me more than a decade later. "Trouble" and "Spies" - if you haven't heard them, just listen to them. In my opinion, this might be Chris Martin's best vocal work out of all the band's albums.

Dishwalla - Self-Titled (2005)
It's amazing how I love each of these bands' earlier albums, but the ones that are "favorite" are later albums. Dishwalla definitely falls into that category. I was introduced to the band through some great older friends who mentored for our youth ministry and played random tunes before and after youth functions. Dishwalla's Opaline is one of the albums that was a pretty consistent play my last year of high school. When I went off to college, I kept waiting and waiting for a new album from the band, and - finally - they came out with their self-titled album in 2005. I was on vacation with my parents, met up with some friends from school out in California for a day or two, and picked up the album almost the day it came out at Barnes & Noble (because people still did that then). I listened to the album the entire way back to Colorado, sitting in the back of my dad's truck. When lead singer J.R. Richards sings, it's like stepping into a rock opera - the clarity and intonation is unbelievable - and it lends itself so well to this collection of songs. The run of "Coral Sky" to "Winter Sun" to "Creeps in the Stone" to "Surrender the Crown" might be my favorite album run, because this collection was created as an album rather than single downloads for iTunes. The transitions are seamless, and the songs sweep you along from one incredible place to another.

15 April 2012

Weekend Workroom: A Little Renovation

We (and by "we," I mean Chris and my father-in-law) have been renovating our garden level this weekend. Because our main computer is out of commission, I'm hoping to post pictures along with my post over at The Mercury Renovation tomorrow evening, if possible. It's pretty cool, to be honest. It doesn't look so nasty down there anymore...

A sneak peak:
Before the demolition. Lots of mismatched stairs, one broken (third from the bottom) that came up with the carpet, and non-square walls.
After demolition. the challenge of re-leveling the stairs took a lot more time than it really should have. We went out the front door and in the garage door for many, many hours.
Newly finished stairs! They are sturdy and beautiful, and we will eventually paint them - but, for now, I'm just totally stoked not to have to skip over a step or two when descending.
You'll see more in the post! There's a lot going on around here...

10 April 2012

Weekend Workroom: Easter

Easter is our holiday. Normally, we are divided between families for almost every other occasion (Christmas here, Thanksgiving there), but everyone comes to us to celebrate Easter. It's a great thing that we look forward to every year.

Last year, due to the smallness of our apartment and the chaos of the new house and dealing with Christopher's knee being as it was, we weren't able to host Easter, and we missed it.

And that is why we insisted on Easter with us again this year. In our new home that needs holiday memories, especially the important holidays - like Easter.

We cooked a load of food (Chris smoked brisket in the smoker he got for Christmas; we skewered way too many shrimp and veggie kabobs for the grills; we made a big bowl of potato salad; and I made fresh strawberry ice cream and chocolate chip banana bread for dessert). We're still eating the leftovers.

But since it was our first holiday with family in this house, I wanted to do something special for those who came, so I made Easter baskets, and they were pretty cool if I have anything to say about it...

I found really cheap treat bags at the craft store and a small pad of matting paper on clearance, and put them together to make these really neat and colorful little bags. And then I bought a lot of stuff from the bulk food section at Sprouts (gummi bears, chocolate-covered pretzels and almonds, some trail mix, and jelly beans) and filled the bags with those things.  I pulled the tops shut by punching two sets of holes and stringing ribbon through for a simple tied finish.

Then I baked a double batch of the chocolate chip banana bread I posted about a few weeks ago ("Weekend Workroom: Parts of the 'Buffalo'"), using small disposable tins rather than my bigger loaf pans (though I used the leftover batter for a bigger loaf that did go in a loaf pan). We even gave a few of the small loaves away to other friends and our new neighbors, so it was actually a pretty great thing in reminding myself that I love doing small things for other people.

I got some really inexpensive baskets from the craft store and just tied some ribbon around the handles (the baskets were 40% off last week, which is always awesome). Then I filled the baskets with goodies, which proved a bit more difficult than I wanted it to be, but I eventually wrestled everything into them.

It was a really great way to do Easter in a grown-up way, and I really enjoyed being creative and thinking outside of the "egg," so to speak. We enjoyed a wonderful afternoon with our families, and are really looking forward to continuing our tradition in the coming years.

Treasure on a Tuesday: Catalina Mountains

For Christopher's spring break, we joined his family in Tucson, Ariz., to celebrate a semi-related wedding (his sister-in-law's sister got married) and to enjoy some sunshine and golf.

One morning, we decided to take a hike in the Catalina Mountains (a state park), and wound up on the Romero Pools trail, which was a little more difficult than we had thought it would be. It was, regardless, a really pretty hike (more like a mountain climb, but still a hike, I suppose), and I was amazed at how much life there is in the desert. 

We saw flowers everywhere, since it was spring there as well. The variety of colors in the flowers (purples, pinks, blues, oranges, yellows, greens - nearly every color of the rainbow) amazed me. I didn't think what grew in the desert had much color, since it kind of needs to blend into its surroundings, but I was wrong - and it was beautiful

As we neared the end of our trail, we came to the Romero Pools, natural pools settled between sides of the mountains. The water was incredibly clear (since it's runoff from snow melt), and we found a brief respite in the coolness of the water and the shade that the larger rocks and some trees offered.

This little guy was hanging out in a crack in the rock until Chris squirted him with some water to make him move. He blended right into the rocks around him, and I almost didn't see him. I'm glad I did, though, because the pictures I took of him were some of my favorites from the day. So neat.


If you are in Tucson and looking for a day hike, this is a great little treasure. Take a lot of water, especially if you're going later in the season than March. It gets warm, and you'll drink a lot more than you think you will.

Beauty in barrenness. That's a treasure in and of itself.

08 April 2012

Coming Monday...

It might be tomorrow or Wednesday before I'm back on my feet again. I pulled something last night while cleaning up a bit and was ordered to go to bed. I'd post from my position on my stomach, but I kind of need a real computer and its camera hookups to do that, so I give you one more night of torture. Pray for me... This makes life even more interesting right now!


Because Easter is our one holiday at our house, the last week has been kind of crazy. I did take pictures, however, as I've been busy prepping for what was a great day with our families. But I'll post those tomorrow, when I haven't been cooking and cleaning all day and have had a good night's rest.

He is risen, indeed! That is a truth that never grows old! Happy, happy Easter!

04 April 2012

Treasure on a Tuesday-Wednesday: Sara Groves and My Favorite 15 Sara Groves Songs

In honor of Easter, I wanted to share some of the songs that reflect my understanding of the cross and the price at which my life was purchased so many years ago. As I started looking, however, I realized that so many of my favorites were by one artist: Sara Groves.

Over the last 12 years, Groves has released 10 albums. There are few artists who compare in their abilities to write creatively, challenge the integrity of my heart, and bring me face-to-face with the real person of Jesus Christ. Her songs challenge me to be a better follower of Jesus and, as a musician, she challenges me to be a better songwriter.

She's hard to forget. I once saw her play live and she went up on stage, popped out her gum and placed it on the keyboard next to her before starting her set. She's a normal person with regular struggles in faith, life, and love, but she's one that I admire greatly in many ways. The result is that it's hard to pick favorites because her music is just favorite. But I picked favorites.

And by "favorites," I mean 15. There was no way around it, people. It would have been, like 50 if I hadn't curbed myself to 15. I'll keep these short and sweet.

If you haven't ever listened to Sara Groves' music, I suggest you start with these:

Conversations (2001)
  • (1) "The Word" - This was one of the first songs I ever heard by Groves. A timeless, catchy, beautiful song about Christ as the Word of God, rooted in Hebrews 13:8.
  • (2) "Generations" - One of the most influential songs for my heart while I was finishing high school, as it reminded me of the fact that what I sowed in my life, generations would reap after me. Every high school kid needs to know he or she doesn't exist in a vacuum - we are part of a great story, and our choices have consequences.
All Right Here (2002)
  • (3) "Tornado" - A little different from most of her songs musically, this one's a little more country and a little less piano ballad. Groves walks through experiences with people who cause chaos and who require forgiveness in this fun and heartfelt analogy-driven song.
  • (4) "You Cannot Lose My Love" - A simple song about the constant nature of God's love. We cannot lose it. Ever!
The Other Side of Something (2005)
  • (5) "What I Thought I Wanted" - This first song began to resonate deeply in my heart when my heart was finally for the man that I eventually married. It's a testament to God's grace and sovereignty, even in the things we think might be too small for Him to notice.
    Thoughts on the Song: "Reflections" (from 9/13/2005)
Add to the Beauty (2005)
  • (6) "Kingdom Comes" - After Chris and I started dating, this was (I think) the first album by Groves that he heard. It flipped his thoughts about female singer/songwriters. This song, about laying aside comfort and personal desires for the sake of the kingdom, has been the basis of our hearts toward ministry and in our marriage. Bit by bit, the kingdom is certainly coming.
    Thoughts on the Song: "Christmas" (from 12/25/2005)
  • (7) "To The Moon" - A sweet and short bit of witticism on the state of the church today, which seems more than ready to head for the moon because no one understands us here. A call to remain exists in its well-conceived words, to fight the good fight and trust that God can take care of the details. We are meant to be set apart. Let us embrace and rejoice in what marks us!
  • (8) "Why It Matters" -  This stirring piano-driven song is about remembering why it matters that Christ came and died and rose again on behalf of our sins. Christ is the Light in the darkness, shining out hope and refuge in the darkest places. In Him we have "small ramparts for the soul," and that is beautiful and meaningful.
Tell Me What You Know (2007)
  • (9) "When the Saints" - Perhaps my all-time favorite (I know, right? I did just say that), and for good reason. Every time I hear this song, the hairs on my arms stand on end. A play on the song, "When the Saints Go Marching In," Groves turns the song into a testament of God's faithfulness to the saints through the years, from Paul and those in the Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11) to those still sold into slavery today. We are part of an incredibly big picture that God is weaving together, of faith and life, and the mercy that is offered to us that makes us stand up and know, "I want to be one of them."
  • (10) "It Might Be Hope" - Simple things catch my attention in captivating ways. They herald the provision and great goodness of Christ. This is a song about that, about finding hope in the littlest of places when life is hard.
O Holy Night (2008)
  • (11) "It's True (feat. Toby Groves)" -  I am not ashamed to say that I listen to this Christmas song all year long. It's beautiful and chilling all at the same time. The first several times I listened to it, I broke down in tears. It's all true! God came down to save us! Hallelujah! (And it features Groves' oldest son, Toby, which mostly just makes me cry more - so amazing.)
Fireflies & Songs (2009)
  • (12) "Different Kinds of Happy" - This song keenly expressed the end game of my last battle with depression, when I finally let my dear husband walk with me through its conclusion. It is an incredible image of having everything out in the open with someone you trust to love you, regardless of what he might find in your depths. Good and life-giving reminders for my heart.
    Thoughts on the Song: "A different kind of happy" (from 12/1/2010)
  • (13) "Joy is in Our Hearts" - This song strikes such a good balance between understanding sorrow and understanding the promises of joy and peace that we have in Christ. A great reminder that Christ Himself is our joy and strength.
Invisible Empires (2011)
  • (14) "Open My Eyes" - My recent favorite, I listen to this a lot because it is relevant to where I've found myself in life of late. God's goodness and common grace are everywhere, and our circumstances do not negate that. I believe that He is who He says He is.
    Thoughts on the Song: "Thursday Thoughts - Rain is No Measure" (from 1/26/2012)
  • (15) "Precious Again" - One of the sweetest things I have known in the past few years is how God returns my heart to Him in simple ways. When life seems dry and I have no desire to seek Him, He makes it "precious again" to my heart, and I love this song for its expression of that promise I've found in Him.

03 April 2012

Coming Wednesday: Treasure on a Tuesday

Due to an unusually long day that was complicated by a headache and transportation orchestration, I will get to writing/posting this tomorrow. I have the day off and am hoping to do some great things with my time.

I'm so very glad for days off. They're awesome, especially when you come home from vacation and go back to work eight hours later. Yeah, we did that. Oi.