Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Getting Away to the Gulf Coast

This past weekend Jack and I attended a conference in Panama City, FL. Gulf Coast Getaway has been happening in January for almost 20 years. In recent years, it has moved to the MLK weekend because there are so many students that travel great distances to be there, they wanted to allow an extra day for travel.

I've written before how much singing is an encouragement to me in worship and this weekend is the epitome of great singing. Imagine nearly 2000 college students praising God with more joy than when your favorite team wins the Superbowl. It's incredible. I'm thankful for having the opportunity to be there and witness it. Students are also blessed by great speakers and opportunities to give and serve. Lives were changed this weekend.

College students are the future of our world. Their lives are turbulent, changing, and forming during these difficult years. It is our responsibility to guide them into becoming who they will be for the rest of their lives. Events like Gulf Coast Getaway can impact those students in ways that mold and shape them. Praise God for people who understand how important those college-age years are and who work to provide for those students. I'm thankful for those who created weekends like this past one and the ministers and volunteers who agreed to take students to it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Beginnings

Living on a school schedule provides an interesting viewpoint on time. School marks definite beginnings and endings multiple times each year. While most people are thinking about what's new around Jan. 1, for me it's more like mid-January and mid-August.

Each year at the beginning of a new semester, I usually have both feelings of eager anticipation and trepidation as I imagine what my new groups of students will be like. Even classes I've taught multiple semesters are made new by the arrival of a new group of students. And each class usually develops its own special personality. What will this group offer? Will they be enthusiastic? Intrigued? Bored? Frustrated? Nervous? Probably a little bit of all of that and more as the semester continues.

Next week will begin a new 16 week semester full of surprises, new relationships, and learning for the students and myself. Next time I blink, I'll be walking into graduation and this new beginning will become an ending. That is one thing I do love about this job-- change in new beginnings.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Taco Soup

One of my favorite things about winter is soup. It's comforting, easy, and delicious. I'm making a recipe for dinner tonight that I thought I would share. It's from a friend of mine at church. If you like chili, you will certainly like this soup. It reminds me of chili, but it's different enough that it offers some variety.

Taco Soup

2 lbs. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 (.05 oz) packages powdered ranch dressing mix
2 (1.5 oz) packages taco seasoning
1 (16 oz) can black beans, undrained
1 (16 oz) can pinto beans, undrained
1 (16 oz) can kidney beans, undrained
1 (10 oz) can Rotel, undrained
1 (14oz) can chopped tomatoes
2 (16 oz) cans white whole corn
2 cups water

1. Cook onions and meat together until brown, drain
2. Stir in dressing and seasoning mix
3. Add other ingredients and simmer for two hours
4. Garnish with cheese, serve with tortilla chips or crackers

This soup also freezes well. I put some left-overs in a gallon Ziploc bag and laid it on a cookie sheet to freeze flat (you can stack multiple bags on the cookie sheet to freeze). The frozen soup bags take up almost no freezer space and when I need a quick lunch at home I can quicly defrost and reheat this soup and it's delicious. Enjoy!

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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Christmas & New Years

Well it's Saturday, Jan 3th at 11:30 PM. My vacation for all intensive purposes is over. My employer gave us 2 weeks off this holiday season in order to try to save some money in energy costs, and also to give the employees a small token of a gift since we didn't give cost of living pay raises this year.

I personally really enjoyed the time off. To say that it's been a extremely stressful semester would be an understatement. Anyone who has moved, had both spouses start new jobs with huge projects demanding your time in the first 2 months of employment, a death in the family, and another family member having major health issues would totally understand. But please understand I'm not trying to complain or seek sympathy from anyone, but pointing out how stressful the last half of 2008 had been. However like I said, I was sure glad that I got the time off.

Since Fran also had the time off we used the time to visit old friends, spend some time with family, and just lay around the house and relax. Here are some of the stories of what we did.

Dinner out - we took the opportunity to eat dinner with some old friends (Michael & Lacy) from a town that we previously lived in. We went and ate at a popular restaurant that is famous for a special meat dish. This restaurant also has their complex decorated to the nines with Christmas lights. This is also the place where I asked Francie to marry me. It was nice to get to spend some time with old friends and celebrate personal accomplishments with each family. The accomplished that were celebrated were: Francie & I celebrated Christmas, Fran's graduation, both of us getting jobs, our 5 year anniversary, and us moving to the town we live in now. Michael & Lacy were celebrating both of them graduating, their 5 year wedding anniversary, them buying a house, and both of them starting new jobs. We had a wonderful time and miss spending time with them like we use to. Hopefully now that we live 1 hour away instead of 5 hours away we can get together more often.

Shopping - Francie did some shopping during the break as well. This actually was a huge blessing because we didn't have all of our Christmas shopping done. Two FULL days later and several hundreds of dollars, the she was able to finish up the Christmas shopping and also spend some quality time with her mom, aunt, and grandmother.

Christmas Eve - Christmas Eve can be a stressful time for the two of us. Both sides of the family celebrate Christmas on the same day and usually at the same time. We have been blessed since we have been married that both families have been flexible to adjust the time so that we can spend more time with each side. However it's still a very busy evening and makes us feel rushed in trying to get everything crammed into 3 hours or so per family. Things may change in the future regarding this as the families get older and bigger and certain members pass on, however for now it is a very busy night.

This year we started with my family first. My mom's family gets together and everyone eats a pot-luck meal (as good, if not better, than a country church pot-luck meal). After dinner presents are usually opened. We didn't get to stay for most of the presents being opened, however did manage to stay for the big present for Granny H. The cousins went together and got Granny a 15" digital picture frame for Christmas. She had been using her laptop (Christmas present last year from her kids) as a glorified digital picture frame, so this year in trying to keep her laptop working as long as possible; the cousins went in together and got her the real thing. She really likes the present and I hope that is provides her hours and hours of joy. Another present that Granny got was a popcorn popper. Back in the mid-70's several of Granny's kids were getting married. One summer three out of the six kids were married within 6 months of each other. Shortly after that Poppy (mom's dad) said that kids were going to start popping up like popcorn, and sure enough it happened. 30 years later a lot of the next generation is starting to have kids. So one of my cousins got Granny a popcorn popper. It was a very touching tribute and gesture by my cousin and I hope that Granny enjoys.

After spending time with my family we drove the 15 minutes to Francie's aunt's house for Christmas with Fran's family. They had already eaten dinner so once we got there we opened presents. We are a very blessed family and really fooled Santa this year by the amount of gifts that we both received.

Christmas Day - Christmas day we also have to split the time with each family. However unlike years past when we drove in for Christmas, this year we were able to sleep in our OWN BED!!! It was soooo nice to be able to get a good night's sleep in your own bed during the Christmas rush. We started Christmas morning with my parents opening presents with my parents, my sister, and us. After all of the presents were opened we enjoyed a full breakfast that mom, my sister, and Francie cooked. We were able to get Granny D (dad's mom) to come up for the opening of the presents, however due to not feeling good she wasn't able to stay for breakfast. Again we are a very blessed family and really fooled Santa this year by the amount of gifts that we both received.

After opening presents and breakfast we went to Fran's grandmother's for lunch. No presents were exchanged but apparently Santa made a stop by Nana's house and left something for us on their tree. :)

Doctor's appts - we also was able to take care of some medical stuff during the break. Both Francie & I had some tests ran (nothing major just making sure a couple of things are the way they are suppose to be), and I had a follow up visit with an allergy doctor. All in all we are in good health and pray that God will help us continue to be this way for many, many, many more decades.

Baby visiting - Over the last month we know of four couples (yes FOUR couples) who had babies. Three of the four were babies of my cousin's and we were able to visit two of them during the break. The fourth was a child of some friends from church. We were also able to see him while still in the hospital. All parties involved are happy, healthy, and doing well.

Birthday celebrations - we were able to take the opportunity during the break to celebrate Fran's step-grandfather's b-day. He and Fran's grandmother will have been married 8 years (on 1/8/09) and I know that the family is happy that he is in our lives.

New Year's Eve - This year we really didn't have any major plans for New Year's Eve. In years past we would go downtown to a festival that was held in the town that we lived in. The town that we now live in doesn't have any of these celebrations so it's an every-man-for-himself type situation. The church that we attend did end up having services NYE (New Year's Eve) and after attending that we had a late dinner with the campus minister and some friends. Afterwards we went back to the campus house and played games till the ball dropped. After watching two stupid morons perform Evil Knievel type stunts and watching the ball drop, we continued to play games until about 2 AM.

Work - Yes, even though I was off from work I did have to work some. However, the work that I had to do was regarding my private consulting work. There were a few issues at the church that we attend that I had to take care of, and another issue at the campus ministry house that the church supports. I also did some work on a computer that Fran's mom gave us since she wasn't using it any longer. I was also able to use some money I got for Christmas to upgrade the computer slightly, however that stuff hasn't come in yet. :S

Rest - Believe it or not we did get some much needed rest. Both weekends in the break Francie & I spent the day in the house, in our pajamas, and enjoying the avoidance of the stressful life outside the four walls of the house. It was nice to get some much needed rest and sleep for both of us.

Fun times - Francie & I also did some fun things during the break. We were able to go to have a date (we saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, went out to eat, and then went grocery shopping). This was our typical date nights where we lived previously while Fran was getting her PhD. Having a "Jack and Fran date night" was really nice because it brought back some good memories of our previous lives in another town. We also bought a board game and have been playing that. We got the idea from Nana & Bob as they love to play Scrabble. However because I can't spell AT ALL, we decided to go with a game that didn't require spelling but did present some mental thought.....MONOPOLY!!! So far we have played 4 games and I'm ahead 3-1, but whose counting.....right! ;) HAHAHA

Overall it has been a very busy break, but at the same time a very relaxing break. Monday will start the new year for the two of us from any employment sense, and the list of things to do at work are long. However with God's help and some patience on our part we will get everything done.

I hope that each and everyone of you had a wonderful holiday break (no matter how long it was) and that you were able to rest, relax, spend some time with family and friends, and take care of some personal issues just like Francie & I were blessed to have the opportunity to do.

Love to all,