Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Trimmed (to the brim) Tree

Before I reveal the fully decked Christmas tree, allow me to make a few disclaimers: yes, there's a snowflake tree-topper on our tree.  I (we) love Jesus and love His birthday, so I'm not trying to make a heathen statement by not having a star or an angel, since both symbols guided Savior-seekers to their newborn King.  After searching for a show stopping topper for most of our married lives (and living with an awful one that we had *in ignorance* registered for before getting married), I found this glittered snowflake at a garage sale last summer.  It's not acutely offensive (unlike our old star+snowman combo), and for now that's enough.

Next: the door has no trim, it's true.

Next: the popcorn garland.  I realize it looks like I should have one more string across the bottom, but alas, two little chipmunks live in this house- aka G and M- and we must keep the edibles up high. 

And finally: while the tree appears to be crooked...never fear!  It's tied to the doorknob.  We have had Christmas tree fatalities (the tree and ornaments, no humans), in Christmases past, so anything to avoid another calamity is key. 

And now, without further adieu...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

How lovely are your...

Branches!  Something our newly chopped tree has, unlike many Charlie Brown loved Christmas trees from our past.  This afternoon the whole family hiked out to our neighbor's little tree polluted plot and picked a spruce Santa would be jealous of.  Oliver played a pretty big role in sawing it down, and afterward he said, "Mom, can you believe I could cut down our tree?  It made me feel so big."  Adorbs, bud.  After our adventurous tromp through the woods, Andrew's parents (our new neighbors), had a bonfire and hot cocoa waiting for us. So great.

We had a wonderfully crazy weekend with Thanksgiving celebrations, so 'relaxation' was the word of the day.  And since snow has been falling all day, reading the Christmas story and watching the Santa Claus and listening to Christmas music on Pandora are (besides retrieving the tree), the most productive things the Toftnesses have done today. Among the unproductive things I would list taking all Christmas decor out of boxes, but just leaving it strewn across the basement.  Hopefully the new tree and fresh air will be inspirational...

Away we go!
In the thick of it.

Margot got a taste of spruce during the cutting...


Our favorite feline, Cream Puff, followed us all the way- climbing trees, being held, jumping in the snow.

And so begins the Christmas time festivities.  Keeping Christ the center of Christmas is our goal each year- we're praying that He would make Himself more real to us this season than He has ever been.  May He do the same for you.  Merry Christmas, friends!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Stairway to...Upstairs

Our house has been a labor of love since the day we bought it.  The most extreme demolition included purging all lathe and plaster, ripping up carpet and linoleum, tearing out walls, removing a larger-than-life wood furnace in the dungeon-like basement, removing the fish house...I mean entryway... that was falling off the east side of the house, smashing out a chimney; then began the restoration: pulling up, sanding/planing and re-laying all the wood flooring on the main floor, painting and patching siding after installing all new windows, building a dormer to create space for a second bathroom, refinishing the window and baseboard trim, tiling the entry, replacing all electrical, milling/laying/painting wood flooring upstairs, bathroom/bedroom/kitchen cabinetry.  This was all done by Andrew and other handy family members (I painted the walls, so technically I contributed).  There were a few things we hired out- like all the major excavating that needed to be done to bring the plumbing/well up to date, some of the bathroom tiling, plumbing, waterproofing, and ductwork. 
And now, after 3 years of anticipation and 3 weeks of hard work, our stairway project is in the books!  My perfectionistic husband is a cabinet maker, so this DIY challenge was like a dare for him.  "I dare you to conquer me," cried this rebellious flight of hideousness.  Let's just say Andrew won, okay?  Check it out:    
We lived with these dreadful stair treads for 3 years...and I never took a photo of them in the house.  Wow.

So excited that this process was rolling!

Testing paint colors.  It took a few days and a few remixes, but we finally settled on a pale gray-green that was custom mixed by the good folks at our local Hirschfield's in order to get it just right.

And the *glorious* final product.  So proud of Andrew's craftsmanship.

The treads are made from the cross arms of power poles.  My dad is a lineman for Minnesota Power and gladly takes worn out poles home, saving them from the wood chipper.  Andrew milled, plugged the bolt-holes, stained and finished them.  It's fun knowing there's a story behind the wood.

To upstairs.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Our October

Oh my.  Our lives are full.  So much has changed since my last post: Andrew completed our stairway project.  Our family has been added to, taken from, and added to again by way of niece and nephew.  Margot turned one- we celebrated her a week later, after rescheduling her party three times.  And we wrapped up the month as many did, by donning costumes, trick-or-treating, and having a pizza party.
I'll illustrate most of our activities with photos, but first-- in May 2012, my sister and brother-in-law were contacted about a baby to be born in October in need of a family.  They met with the birth mom, got excited, and started planning for the arrival of their second son.  [side note: after debating between Nelson and Theodore when naming their first baby boy, and deciding on Theodore for him, their next son was destined to be Nelson.] 
Now, something you should understand about adoption is that there's always a risk.  You're opening your heart and hands to an unknown.  From genetics to the final signing of documents, there's a looming question: what will come of this?  Not to say that carrying a baby in your own womb and delivering and raising it is a sure thing, but there are definitely more mysteries involved in an adoption story. 
So when Anna and Luke decided that they would open their hearts and home to this little dude, the call of God on their lives and the exciting future He had in store for them outweighed the possibility of failure.
But ultimately that's what happened.  A failed adoption. 
My sister and her family were staying with my parents while they were here from Utah to pick up the babe.  They had Nelson for two sweet days before the lawyer contacted them, saying the birth mom had changed her mind.  The first few days that followed felt like a nightmare.  Now as we seek God for healing, answers, and direction, there are only moments of deep sorrow throughout a day, while we fight the lingering sadness that seeks to consume us.  It's hard to accept the reality that our family will never be complete.  There's a void that has Nelson's name on it.  Though our DNA is not the same, our love is deeper than blood for that kiddo.
Another beautiful fact about adoption- the choice to love someone always builds in you a deeper love than if you simply feel like loving someone.  I don't know what Shakespeare was thinking when he said it was better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all, but I suppose he was getting at the fact that always having an openness to love leaves a person free.  Hm... 
We cling to the promise that what Satan intended for evil, God intends for good.
 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord. "Plans to prosper you, and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11
  So, I'll follow that up with a gallery of October with the Toftnesses...
Niece Daphne Jo Kasper was born to my brother Isaac and sister-in-law Jessica on October 28th.  She is so beautiful- lookin' just like her mama! (Thank you, Jesus)

Dearly loved friends and family who helped us celebrate Margot, plus a look at the pretty cupcakes auntie Anna whipped up!
A very serious birthday girl after daddy helped her blow out her candle.
Oliver, Georgi, Theo, and Margot doing the most on Halloween.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What it is, is...

Tribal run: Sun-down to sun-up 5k relay.

My sister Anna is a runner.  Like she runs marathons (yes, with an 's'-- half or full, she eats 'em for breakfast.  This spring she ran ate one of each).  Anyway, sometime in all of this racing, she heard about the Tribal Run.  Andrew and I love adventure, so if it involves a run in the mountains, and a sweet t-shirt (not to mention a best costume award), we're game.  Through the process of evolution, we gathered 9 more people and a 15 passenger van and headed out to Utah for the inaugural Tribal Run.
The race was supposed to be held on Antelope Island, which is an amazingly desolate chunk of acreage in the Salt Lake.  Then due to a couple issues (as in a state-wide fire ban and a SPIDER INFESTATION on the island), the event was moved to a speedway.  That's right- a motorcycle racing facility.  Miller Motorsports Park.  Sounded a little lame, but the TR coordinators got pretty excited about it.
When we got to the park- fully decked out in our custom Kushinda tribal cow shirts and war paint- the stone-cold security man at the gate said very seriously: didn't you hear?  The race got postponed to next weekend. 
Us: What?!  *sadness and disbelief* NNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Man: *smile cracks his stony face* Gotcha!  You're gonna want to pull right around...
Regular jokester, eh? 
So anyway, we made it out to the camp, set up our tents and started pre-gaming: volleyball, all-natural energy juice mixed up by a guy called 'the Bird Man', all-natural Swedish Fish, Sharpie tattoos and more war paint, dancing our hearts out to Fun's "Some Nights".
Then the official pow-wow started: an awesome performance by some native New Zealand tribal warriors, a man juggling torches, a group of African drummers/dancers (LOVED this), the lighting of the tribal fire.
And finally, as the sun set over the mountains, WE GOT OUR RUN ON!
There were three different 5k courses, so one at a time we donned our head lamps, exchanged the bear tooth necklace/baton, and chose our course.  There was a full moon that night, so mild darkness combined with the distant beat of tribal drums and the adrenaline of a lonesome run was an awe-inspiring experience.  What an amazing God to create such beauty and enjoyment. 
"The heavens declare the glory of God,
the sky above proclaims his handiwork."
Psalm 19:1
All.  Night.  Long.
The Mighty Kushinda- back row: my brother Jeshua, sister Anna, cousin Megan, brother Jonathan
middle row: cousin Nicole, cousin Kara, friend Kayla
front: Oliver, me, Gigi, Andrew, brother-in-law Luke

Dancing with the African Heartwood Project.
New Zealand tribal warriors.

Luke was our first runner.  Nothing like some last minute carb-loading via glazed doughnut.

Lined up to cheer for Luke!

Jeshua giving me a pep talk.

Keeping warm at the council fire.

Makin' some music.

The next morning Megan's tomahawk -er - mohawk had lost a little height, but was still looking good. 
*Kushinda: Swahili, winning

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

to Utah and back again in pictures

The five of us- Andrew, Liz, Oliver, Georgi, and Margot- recently embarked on a risky adventure. We got into a 15 passenger van with 9 other nuts and drove 23 hours to Layton, UT where my sister Anna, brother-in-law Luke, and nephew Theo reside.
We adventure-seekers were not disappointed.
As a picture says a thousand words, I'll photographically share the illustrated version of our trip.
What we did:
started the drive with nervous excitement- could it be because of the 4 children in car seats?  What?...
did some hair/got it did...

visited the Mormon Tabernacle and museum...

watched lots of Olympics- go team USA!...

Dad could be found doing this at any given moment...

participated in the first-ever Tribal Run...

had a beach day at a reservoir in the mountains...

some got to explore the outrageous world of Park City mountain biking...

girls had a night out in Park City...

went on a supposedly easy hike...

had a blast! [Just outside L&A's front door.]

Thursday, July 12, 2012

From DC to MN to ZZ

The post we've all been waiting for- the return of my brother and sister-in-law from across the globe!  Well, in recent years they were only in Washington DC, but before that they lived in Turkey.  Eek, that's a loooooong way away.  I love these two and am delighted to report that I've seen them more this summer than I have in the last 6 years they've been married! 
In addition to the excitement of Isaac and Jessica living in the fine state of Minnesota, there's the excitement of the addition to their family!  Baby Girl is due in October and we are thrilled beyond words.
Isaac is a golf course assistant superintendent (I tease him that he's the assistant to the regional manager), so he's up before the sun, works a hard day in the sun, then goes to bed before the sun does.  Poor Son.  [On a side note, I asked someone the other day, "Have you been working like a dog?"  His reply, "I don't know, I've never seen a dog work."  Touche.]  Anyway, I'm trying to tell Brother that he'd better get used to the feeling of utter exhaustion...  Do you think that's jerky of me??  I haven't slept in five years, people...and I'm alive!
After Georgi was born I had pretty intense post partum depression/anxiety, and much of that was the result of dwelling on the idea  of lack of sleep.  It was a dark time for me for reasons other than that, but sleeplessness and the thought of never sleeping again sure magnified the fear.  In the process of getting my head out of this cloud, God spoke to me.  Not in an audible voice, but in the quiet of my spirit.  "I will sustain you.  I made you.  I know how much sleep you need and how much you can live without."  He didn't tell me he would stretch me with that latter part, but when I'm in survival mode I definitely talk to him more.  Was that the idea, God?  Clever.  :)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Just Explode!

This post is meant to highlight 2 things: the 4th of July fireworks and the way I style a shelf.
Addressing the real explosion first- Andrew brought the kids and brother Jonny to see the Brainerd fireworks.  In the past it's been a tradition for us to meet extended family at the football field at dusk to hear live music and watch the light show.  This year there was road construction going on around the high school, so the new detonation site was the old city golf course right behind Target.  My dear show-goers reported that  the location wasn't as exciting, but still awe-inspiring.  The grand finale was accentuated by the thrill of tornado sirens screeching in the background!  Oh my, it was quite the storm.  Margot and I were at home getting cozied up in the basement for the night (don't you wish you were a baby sometimes, to not know of the chaos and worry going on around you?  That seems obvious, sheesh.  I mean, I try to remember Who is in control and I know that nothing touches me  that hasn't been sifted through His fingers- praise Jesus!- but there are many times when I wouldn't mind the blissfulness of ignorance.:)) 

 The second subject seems pretty self-explanatory.  I love to put more stuff on a shelf than there's actually room for.  To be borderline defying logic while visually pleasing the eye seems most intriguing, which seems like an adventure which is something I love.  I am a "lusty adventurer" to quote William Wilberforce in Amazing Grace.  Doesn't it seem just daring to load a shelf to and even beyond capacity??  Oh the thrills of a housewife...Ha!