Advent 12-01-15: Wait

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Luke 1:78-79

I’ve never heard anyone say waiting is easy.

Sometimes the waiting is full of dread: Waiting for test results; waiting to start therapies; waiting outside the principal’s office…

Sometimes the waiting is frustrating: Waiting in traffic; waiting through commercials; waiting for a break in the rain…

But sometimes the waiting is full of hope and excitement: Waiting for vacation; waiting for the big party; waiting for the coffee to brew…


… or waiting for the Messiah to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.



Advent 11-30-15: Prepare

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.

Malachi 3:1

2015 is the year of being prepared for Christmas. Not just that I have nearly all my shopping done. Or the fact that I have the tree up (nothing else at the moment). Or even the fact that I’ve calendared all my holiday shenanigans on my iPhone.

I am prepared to fully experience the holiness of Christmas.

Prepare - Feature

Every night I put effort into preparing for bed. First I put on my pajamas and my warm slippers to insulate the soles of my feet from the cold bathroom tile. Then I wash my face, brush my teeth, and apply lip balm and hand cream. One that’s done, I put my phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode and settle in for a good night’s sleep. I could easily go to bed without the rituals, but it would be noticed. I wouldn’t sleep as well because something would be missing.

I’m seeing this holy season as kind of the same thing. I can just wing it and show up on Christmas day, but something would be missing. Instead I’m intentionally preparing myself for the event by reading specific scriptures, praying specific prayers, and listening for God. Already Christmas is feeling more reverent than it has in years past.

Advent 11-29-15: Hope

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”
Jeremiah 33:14-16

This past Sunday I wasn’t necessarily in the mood to go to church. The last couple of months have been sort of crazy – I was traveling a lot in October and into November – and frankly, I just kind of got out of the habit.

While I don’t believe church should be a chore (if it is then there are some weighty issues to be considered), for me it needs to be a Sunday priority and when it drops on the importance scale I feel it in my soul. So I bucked up and got ready and off Todd and I went.

And I was blessed. I spent the majority of the service with tears streaming down my face. Not sad tears, mind you, but tears that flow from a Spirit-shattered heart. It all started with child dedication and when I, as part of the congregation, verbally vowed to help raise these children in the faith, I choked up.

What always moves me, no exceptions, is when we sing. When we pour out our hearts and souls in worshipful song. Some days are more powerful than others, and this Sunday was close to epic. Todd reached over and offered me his sleeve because, let me tell you, I was a hot mess.

“How Great Thou Art” is one of those hymns that thaw out my numbed and frozen spirit and it certainly did that on Sunday. But even more provoking was “Scandal of Grace”. Those lyrics always speak to me. Always.


Just as Jesus was the hope Jeremiah spoke of, he’s still and forever our hope.

Advent Season 2015

Advent Season 2015

I like the holidays. Not as much as some, more than others. But I always find the lack of Christ in Christmas disturbing. It seems no matter how hard I’ve tried over the last several years, the Christmas season has been more secular than holy. I get sucked into the business of decorating, cooking, purchasing, and whatnot, with very little celebration of Jesus’ birth and what that means to me as a Christian.

Every year it’s the same and by the time the presents have been opened I feel a little deflated because, no matter how much I say, “Christmas isn’t about the gifts and the food or even the family,” that’s exactly what it’s about.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly (and obviously) not against all the frivolities of the season. I actually enjoy cooking the special meal and pretty trees and decor make me happy and being together with family? Well, that’s just the best. But there’s so much more to it.

This year is different. I’m not working  and I don’t have little kids. That goes a long way towards my ability to study and ponder and really consider this advent season.

My friend, Julie, knows how much I like to take pictures and she directed me to Alive Now, a resource of The Upper Room. Alive Now is sponsoring an Advent Photo-a-Day challenge. Each day I receive an email with the advent word of the day and several scriptures and other tools to guide my reflections towards the coming birth of Christ. I then take a picture that represents that word and post it to Instagram.

There are only so many words you can type in Instagram so I’m going to post them here at Jenster’s Musings as well. And maybe, if you’re sucked into the business of the season, you’ll find a little holy in the secular.

On the Christmas Day of Christmas

16 Days of Christmas

On the 9th Day of Christmas

We went back to the beach. Todd and the kids and I drove down to Del Mar beach just south of Newport, Taylor and I with cameras in hand. So much beauty to be captured! I saw a rather large, purple starfish on the rocks beneath the jetty, but the water was too swirly to get a good photo of it.

While we were there Tim and Rachele and their kids drove down to Newport Beach so we hopped in the car and drove the 8.29 miles to get right across the very small inlet.  No really. Look. We started at B and drove 8.29 miles all around the harbor to end up at A. We could have swam, swum, swimmed, dog paddled across the inlet and made it there quicker.

Newport Map

sealOnce all together much photographing ensued. There were a couple of seagulls and a pelican floating just off shore and while we were watching them a cute little seal poked his head out. I managed to get a couple of pictures of the seal, but I only had my wide angle lens on so I couldn’t get very close. Still, the photos are good enough to prove I’m not lying. Because I’m not that good at Photoshop.

On the 10th Day of Christmas

Christmas Eve was pretty leisurely. I made some pie crusts, but I’ve decided it’s hard to make something like that in a strange kitchen. Not that the in-law’s kitchen is strange. It is, in fact, an awesome kitchen. But you know what I mean. And when we eat the pies later today I can use this excuse if the crusts are bad.

I made my usual Dutch Apple Pie and then strayed from tradition and made a chocolate mousse pudding pie.  They look good. But, as we have all found out here, you can’t judge a pear by its skin.

Rachele and Katie and I played gin for a while in the backyard. But “gin” and “Jen” sound so similar and I was getting really confused so they started calling me Roxie at my request. Meanwhile, Todd, Taylor & Nicholas went to the tennis courts for a little tennis fun.

Nicholas decided he wanted to come back so Olivia went to get him, but there were other kids playing there so she decided to stay. So instead of tennis, it was Todd and Taylor throwing tennis balls at the kids. That sounds mean. I think the kids liked whatever “game” they were playing. But then Todd calls me and says, “you were supposed to come pick up one and now we have four. Come get them.” So Tim went to get all the kids off the tennis court. And then I got a text from Todd that said, “You were supposed to come get two and now there are three.” So I texted back, “I would send your dad, but then you’ll have four.”

All the while, Rachele, Katie and I were enjoying our rousing game of gin.

The best part of the day was when Taylor, Katie, Nicholas and Olivia made chocolate chip cookies for Santa. Serious cuteness occurred.

On the Christmas Day of Christmas

At 6:30 AM we awoke to the sounds of happy children squealing with delight at the sight of their Christmas stockings overflowing with goodies. We haven’t had small children around for Christmas for a very long time. We’re used to sleeping until, you know, morning. But it’s okay because it’s Christmas and we can take naps.

We drank coffee, opened presents, drank coffee, ate breakfast, drank coffee, played with our presents, drank coffee and took naps. Okay. I did all that. I don’t know about anyone else.

One of my favorite gifts this year was a 70-300 zoom/macro zoom lens. Now I want to go back to the beach and take pictures of Mr. Seal. I wonder if he would accommodate me again.

It is now 4:30 and the kitchen is all abuzz with people doing last minute dinner prep. This is my favorite part of Christmas day. Not opening presents. Not playing with the presents. But sitting around the table – everyone in one place and focused on good food and each other. But mostly the good food.

Just keeping it real.

Halfway Through

16 Days of Christmas

On the 6th Day of Christmas…

20131220-DSC_0018We played the tourists. I thought the kids should see Hollywood and Beverly Hills and Venice Beach. So we drove through the crazy, East L.A. traffic to get to Grauman’s Chinese Theater, which isn’t even Grauman’s anymore, but it’s still pretty cool. We walked around and looked at the foot and hand prints by all those famous people – my favorite being Shirley Temple. She was very young – maybe 4 – when she did it and those talented little feet were barefoot and super cute.

Chinese Theater

hollywood CollageAfter that we walked down to Mel’s Diner. You remember. From American Graffiti and Happy Days. Mel wasn’t there. Nor were Richie or Potsy or Fonzie or anyone else. But our waiter’s name was Gonzo and you don’t see that every day. The food was delish and the music was retro and good.

On our way back to the car we stopped in at Hard Rock Cafe because, well, because it’s a thing. We didn’t buy anything, but we met a guy named Rocky who’s from Reading, PA and knew all about the area we’re from.

They were showing “Saving Mr. Banks” at the Dolby Theater and check out the really cute display:

Mr. Banks

Then we drove down Rodeo Drive and Katie slept through the whole thing. Which was not much of a thing. It was just a bunch of really rich people and/or tourists walking in and out of really rich stores. I looked for Julia Roberts in her Pretty Woman get up, but she was nowhere to be found. When Katie woke up, though, I told her we saw all kinds of famous people. Movie stars everywhere. She didn’t believe me.

From there we went to Venice Beach to see muscle men. There were no muscle men to be found. What there was to be found were crazy drug people. I mean, I don’t like to assume or anything, but seriously. There were people holding signs that said, “Will take food or pot” and stuff like that. Some dude walked up to Todd and said, “Throw money at me. The harder the better. I like it when it hurts.” And he was one of the more normal folks on the strand.

By this time the sun was getting pretty low so we decided to head for our old stomping grounds. First we drove by the Hermosa Beach house Todd lived in when he was little.  The streets, the house, the alleys, they were all so much smaller than they used to be. I don’t know how it shrunk, but it totally did.

We continued south, drove by the house he lived in when we were dating, drove by our high school and then by the house I grew up in. It was dark, though, so we didn’t really get to see much. We finished our little trip down memory lane by eating at Y-Not Burgers – Patty Melt and Onion Rings, just like when we were dating. And it was still as good as it was back in the day.

Nostalgic eating and vacation are a really bad combination. I had to unbutton my jeans when we got back in the car. I make no excuses or apologies. It was totally worth it.

On the 7th Day of Christmas…

We went to see our good friends in Long Beach. Todd and I haven’t seen them since March of ’05 and it’s been even longer for the kids. Cathy and I don’t keep in close contact, however, we didn’t miss a beat. It was so great to see them – made my heart so very happy. Except for the fact that Cathy happened to mention an incident or two from long ago in front of the kids. And all this time I’d had them convinced I was a super good girl and never did anything bad. Ever.

Okay. That’s a lie. They weren’t surprised in the least and, in fact, when we left Taylor said, “I can see why you and Cathy were such good friends.” I asked if that was a good thing and as I’m writing this I just realized, he only grinned. What does that even mean?

Their oldest daughter has graduated from college and she’s off doing her grown up thing so we didn’t get to see her. But the other girls were there for a bit and it was fun to see them.

And their powder room smelled really, really good.

When we got back to home base, Todd’s brother and his family had arrived from Northern California.

On the 8th Day of Christmas…

We chillaxed. A lot. Katie and I went for a walk with Rachele and the kids (6-year-old twins) and that was pretty much all the exercise we had for the day. Except when Taylor and Katie and I ran to a very crowded Target. Managing the human obstacle course with a shopping cart should count for something. And it’s just a good thing they sell wine at Target in California because it was a medicinal necessity after that short little trip. Not only that, but it went really well with the crab dip Rachele had made with fresh crab that Tim and the twins had caught.

We’re now halfway through our 16 Days of Adventure Christmas. I wonder what the next half holds in store.

Days Four and Five

16 Days of ChristmasOn the Fourth Day of Christmas…

We went to the happiest place on earth! And while Disneyland is a magical place to take children, I can say in all honesty it’s much more fun with grown kids. The only whining came from me and nobody in our party ever cried. Not once. And I’m pretty sure that’s a first – at least since our babies were born.

The crowds weren’t horrendous and the longest wait was 50 minutes. I bought an eggnog latte and Katie and I each had a Mickey cookie to occupy us while we were waiting to get on the Peter Pan ride. Meanwhile, Todd and Taylor were ensconced in big leather chairs at the ESPN Zone, watching some basketball game. When their game was over they hopped the monorail for Tomorrow Land, trekked over to Fantasy Land and waited for us to get off the Peter Pan ride. Which lasted a whole two minutes.

Anyway, most of the rides were 20 minutes or less so we easily rode everything we wanted to and then some. Of course, we had to ride Pirates of the Caribbean twice. And then we had to watch the movie today, but more on that later.

Pirates Collage

Small World Collage



We hadn’t actually planned to ride It’s A Small World, but we needed to kill some time before our FastPass ticket for the Indiana Jones ride.



Disney Collage




Things have changed quite a bit since the last time we were there. And yet everything is the same.




On the Fifth Day of Christmas…

It was a rainy and chilly day and we had no plans. So we did basically nothing. I did take a really good nap this afternoon and I’m pretty sure everyone else did as well. We also watched Pirates of the Caribbean, decorated the tree and wrapped some presents.

Doesn’t sound like “nothing” to me.

I can’t divulge tomorrow’s adventure, but it’s gonna be a good one.



On the Third Day of Christmas…

16 Days of Christmas

backyardI sat outside and read. And took pictures like this and texted them to friends who were complaining about a 2-hour snow delay and the unexpected extra snow this morning.

I know what you’re thinking. My lack of compassion is as glaring as the bright and warm sun that’s shining through the trees in this picture.

You would be right.

There is a walking/riding trail right outside the neighborhood here so we went for a two mile walk this afternoon

Irvine WalkingI learned two things on this adventure.

  1. Katie can talk and walk at the same time for at least two miles.
  2. My bladder is good for two miles. Just.

It was a delightful adventure on this third day of Christmas.

Stay tuned for more adventures to come.

How Many Days of Christmas?

16 Days of Christmas

The Jenster Clan ditched the winter wonderland of the East Coast and hopped a plane (or two) for SoCal to spend Christmas with Mr. Jenster’s side of the family. Since every day is an adventure when you’re West side it should make for some fairly decent blog fodder. “Fairly decent” meaning same mundane but with a change of scenery.

So I give you the 16 Days of Christmas.

On the first day of Christmas…

In N OutWe left 6+ inches of snow on our sidewalks (which was shoveled by fabulous neighbors) and winged our way to Irvine. Both legs of the flight were without incident and, in fact, it was one of the most uneventful days of travel I remember having.

To celebrate we went to In-N-Out and ate outside.

On the Second Day of Christmas…

Mr. Jenster and I woke up at 5:30 AM which, when you think of it, was actually sleeping in because it was 9:30 AM East Coast time. It was a great way to start the vacation because we had a super lazy morning.

Oh. And get this. I only brought one pair of jeans because it’s warm. Like hot, warm.

Winter Weather

So this afternoon a few of us went to the beach to wiggle our toes in the sand and take pictures and stuff like that.

Laguna Becah Collage

Oh, how I miss my ocean. I don’t really think about just how much until I’m here, breathing in the salty air and listening to the waves crash along the shore. It’s an instant infusion of peace and balance and, for me, proof of a wildly imaginative creator.

I would love to make a trip to my beach (not just my ocean), but if it doesn’t happen this time I guess Laguna Beach will just have to do.

Fourteen more days of adventure!

A Jenster Christmas In Review

Christmas SookieAnother Christmas has come and gone: food prepared and devoured, gifts unwrapped, games played and movies watched.

Christmas morning these days is nothing like it was when the kids were little. Yesterday morning Todd and I came downstairs around 7:30 or 8:00. I threw a hash brown casserole together and tossed it in the oven with the breakfast casserole I’d assembled the night before. Then I sat down to watch “How To Train Your Dragon” with Todd while we waited for the kids to get up.

[Side Note: For those of you not in the know, “How To Train Your Dragon” is a children’s animated movie. A highly enjoyable one.]

Pretty soon Taylor climbed up from the basement and soon thereafter Katie ambled downstairs. The movie ended at 11:00 and the kids managed to catch the last 15 to 30 minutes.

As soon as it was over Taylor said, “Let’s go open presents so we can eat!”  Not, “Let’s go open presents so I can see what I got!” Which is, I suppose, one of the differences between a 10-year-old and a 20-year-old. Katie’s response was, “I’m down with that.”

So we did. Open presents, that is. And while said presents were being opened it was decided that we would watch “Pitch Perfect” while eating our breakfast. To which Todd groaned because he was imagining another “Rock of Ages” horror, but we assured him it was so much better.  “Besides,” I reminded him. “Diane’s son is one of the singers so that makes it even more fun.”

[Side Note: I went to middle and high school with Diane, and her son is one of the guys in the Treble Makers, an all male a cappella group with crazy mad singing skillz.]

Piling our plates and refreshing our beverages of choice (coffee for me – duh), we settled down to watch the movie I pre-ordered and could hardly wait to watch again, but my family made me wait until Christmas because they’re mean that way. Well, that and we hadn’t had time since getting it last week.

Shortly into the movie (which Todd enjoyed right off the bat) my cell phone bleeped, informing me it was my turn in a Words with Friends game with Diane. So I messaged her and told her I couldn’t play at the moment because I was watching her son in a movie. Which was fabulous. The movie. Not the game. In fact, I think I enjoyed it more this time than I did when I saw it in the theater, even though it turned into a four hour movie because of phone calls and potty breaks and the like. Or maybe because we could pause it for the phone calls and potty breaks and the like.

I’m not exactly sure what happened next. All I know is that all of a sudden the house was quiet and we were all doing our own things. It was nice. I think Taylor was in the basement talking to his girlfriend. Katie was reading her book on the sofa. I was reading my book and preparing for a class I’m going to be teaching in January on the love seat. (It’s not a class about love seats. That’s where I was sitting while I was working on it.) And I’m not sure where Todd was. It’s hard to know. But he was in the house somewhere.

By the time we reconvened it was probably late-afternoon. You may have noticed I’ve said nothing about making casseroles or pies or baking a turkey or any Christmassy-type food. That’s because I didn’t cook yesterday. Not much, anyway. I did make a corn casserole to go with the Honey Baked ham Todd’s company sent us. And I made some pigs in a blanket because, according to Taylor, I didn’t make enough on Christmas Eve (we just eat appetizers on Christmas Eve). For a sweet we had the Three Layer Chocolate Dessert from the night before. It was perfect.

[Side Note: The first time I ever had Three Layer Chocolate Dessert was at my Grandmother’s house in the early 80’s. Except she called it Better Than Sex Dessert. Which is a weird thing to hear one’s grandmother say.]

It was then time to break out Rock Band. Our big family present was Rock Band for the Wii. We had it for the PS2, but you can’t get any of the good games for PS2 anymore. Not only that, but we have two different game boxes in the family room and that’s just crazy talk.

You know, people say video games are drivel and mindless and basically worthless. I disagree. I learned a lot about myself yesterday.

  1. I should never attempt to sing a Paramore song. Ever.
  2. I’m not half bad at singing Avenge Sevenfold. If you know who they are then I’m sure you don’t believe me. If you don’t know who they are, just trust me.
  3. Bohemian Rhapsody is a lot of fun to sing.
  4. There are some songs that I just automatically revert to harmony. That’s fine when you’re singing along with the radio, but not good when you’re trying to get a high score in Rock Band.
  5. It’s very difficult to sing “Whip It” and not do the moves.
  6. Apparently I have the most Rock Star in me because I didn’t want to quit. I wanted to keep going, but they finally made me stop.

In between sessions (that’s Rock Star talk) we played a little Mad Libs. Rock Star Mad Libs, of course. And when I say “we” I mean me and Taylor. Nobody else seemed to be very interested.

When the family finally got control of me we watched another movie and just chilled the rest of the night.

All in all it was a very pleasant Christmas. Not any better than Christmases past, just different. I look forward to future Christmases with extended family and eventually with grandchildren, but I like the quiet, laid back holiday thrown in every now and again.