Monday, January 31, 2011

Explorations: Harmony

Living in HarmonyOn Saturday, Hubby and I decided to venture out of the house despite some awful weather, and traveled up to a tiny town in Butler County called Harmony.  It was a settlement created by the Harmony Society, a group of German anabaptists, back in the early 1800's.  The land was eventually sold, buildings and all, to a Mennonite group, who resettled it as a Mennonite community.  Traces of both groups' cultures still remain.

We started out by touring the Harmony Museum.
There was so much history and culture encapsulated within the place, I could not stop looking around.  And our tour guide was so nice.  Part of the tour included other buildings, and she took a snow shovel and shoveled paths for us to access them, when she easily could have skipped that part of the tour.  It was so awesome to see the bits of the past.
Bitter Medicine

We also looked around at some of the other sites in town, including the Mennonite church and cemetery, Grace Church, The Harmony Inn (where we had lunch, yum!) and the Harmony Society cemetery.  The Harmony Society cemetery includes a revolving stone gate symbolizing traversing between this world and the next, and none of the graves are marked.
Revolving Door between Worlds

The town is clearly very proud of their heritage, and I would love to go back for some of their special events, including the Christmas market.  The time in Harmony was definitely well spent, and very peaceful.

View from the Tavern

You can view the rest of my photos from the visit here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Do you remember.... snow days?

Waiting for Spring

I grew up in Ohio, and the climate was the same as Western Pennsylvania.  Snow could start as early as October, and still be flying as late as April.  It has been known to snow on my birthday in years past, which is in late April.  So, all this coldness and snow, it is really nothing new to me.  What is new is my attitude toward it.

As a kid, I loved the snow.  We lived on a giant (at least to my child's eyes) hill, and our yard was all downhill, so snow meant snow days from school, and that meant sled riding.  I remember a few tense bus rides home when snow storms hit during the day, once, the bus driver had all the remaining kids on the bus sit only in the seats above the tires, in the hopes that it would help prevent sliding around a particularly sharp bend.
Hilltop Vista 2

When we were kids, the only way to find out there were snow days was to watch tv or listen to the radio, to the long list of schools being announced as being delayed or canceled.  If you missed your school, you had to wait for the next time they went through the list.  You held your breath, and it always felt like your school was the very last to cancel.  Now, kids have it easy.  They can check the news websites, or facebook or twitter, and many districts often call the homes of all students on automated systems.  Kids today have it cushy I tell ya!

I loved getting to sleep in on snow days, and then get up and watch soap operas, eat soup, go play in the snow, and then come in and make hot chocolate.  Now, I do not enjoy the snow nearly as much.  

Long Shadows

When I worked every day, it never really bothered me when it snowed, because at least I still had somewhere I would normally have to be, and if it was really bad, I could call off.  But most of the time, I braved the roads and went to work.  Now that I am a homemaker, snow days are not really a treat.  They keep me from going out to run errands and do things I need to do to keep the household running.  Grown ups just do not really get snow days.  I am constantly begging Hubby to take a snow day, in part because I fret about his long drive.  But mostly, I just want someone with whom I can sleep in, watch soap operas, eat soup, go play in the snow, and then come in and make hot chocolate.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Word Filled Wednesday: Unveiled Faces

2 Corinthians 3:18
 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Transformation.  As a Christian, this is a process we begin at baptism.  As we arise from the baptismal waters, we rise from death to new life, new life in Christ. But this is only the beginning.  Our transformation continues on throughout our entire Christian formation.

The purpose of transformation is to improve in our walk, to become more and more godly.  The only way we can do this, however, is to fully experience all aspects of life, both joyful and sorrowful.  Often we as Christians feel that a loving and just God should remove all aspects of suffering from our lives.  And He will, when we join Him in Paradise.  But on earth, that suffering serves a real purpose, and that purpose is to allow us the opportunity to turn to Jesus, to rely on God.  I fully, wholeheartedly believe that God can use all things, including suffering, for His glory and purpose.

It is hard to be obedient, and thankful in the face of adversity, and it is an area in which I certainly could stand improvement.  But the only way I can improve is to continue to seek transformation, to come to God with an open and contrite heart, an unveiled face if you will, to wonder at His glory and majesty.  As a child, I often questioned the choices my parents made, or advice they gave me, not realizing that not only did they know better than I did, but that they only wanted my happiness, and for me to be the best woman I could be.  As a child of God, I need to apply that same lesson.  For who knows better that God?  So, as this new day begins, my prayer is that with each new struggle, I approach God, face unveiled, to trust in His sovereign love, and seek the transformation He desires in my life.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Word Filled Wednesday: Entertaining Angels

Hebrews 13:1-2 - Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

I have been seriously slacking on one of my goals for 2011.  The goal to increase my random acts of kindness.  Today, I finally made good, and performed my first RAK of the year.  It was something small, but who knows, it may have made a big difference to the person on the receiving end.

I have been going out a lot lately to take pictures around the county.  I had been out for several hours, and was really hungry, so I decided to swing by a drive through to pick up a quick snack, and more importantly, something to drink, as I was parched.  I quickly noticed a line forming behind me, and thought, what a perfect opportunity to perform a RAK.  It was a dreary day, with a mix of rain and snow coming down.  The kind of day to make you feel like Eeyore, it certainly made me take very dreary pictures.  So, as I pulled up to pay for my order, I told the woman at the window that I would also like to pay for the order of the person behind me.  Such a simple thing to do.  The woman at the window seemed so happy that someone was showing such kindness to a stranger, it made me feel as though the sun were shining.  I never met the person on the receiving end of my RAK, never talked to them, never got a thank you.  I can only pray that this blessed them in some way, helped turn their day around a bit.

I love performing acts of kindness, it fills my heart with so much joy.  It makes me feel so good to remind people that they are important, valued, loved.  I should do it more.  I should do it daily.  Each time I bless someone with kindness, there is always a chance it might be an angel.  Or perhaps, I am being an angel to them in a time of need.  Either way, in that moment, we are both being blessed.

Why don't you perform a random act of kindness (RAK) today?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

16 Candles

Today, my nephew Austin turned 16.  How time does fly.  I myself was only 16 when he was born.  I remember thinking how tiny and perfect he was, and now, here he is, a handsome, caring, talented young man.  Recently, I blogged a letter to myself at 16.  What a different world my 16 year old self lived in, a simpler time where our high school drama was confined to our hallways as opposed to being splayed across the internet for all to see.  I wonder how I would fare as a teenager today.  All in all, I say my nephew fares better than most kids, but I chalk that up to my amazing, tight knit family.

Austin has wonderfully supportive parents in my sister and her husband, and while his little sister Abbie likes to compete with him and pester him (as any good little sister would) she loves him a ton, as evidenced by the birthday breakfast she was making him when I called their house this morning.  And Austin has always has a very close relationship with my parents, who not only babysat him and his sister frequently over the years, but helped teach them a lot of the skills and life lessons they have needed along the way.  My mom helped teach Austin a lot of his academic skills, even before pre-school, and my dad helped teach Austin some of the "guy" stuff like fishing.  My dad is who helped foster Austin's love of the guitar, and now Austin is a talented musician in his own right.

When Austin was born, I was in high school, so we got to spend a lot of time together.  And even when I was in college, I lived with my parents, so again, I saw him almost daily.  When Austin started talking, he could not say my name, so he gave me the nickname Nini.  It stuck, and to this day, he and Abbie call me Aunt Nini.  I always figure he thinks I am old and lame, so the fact that he is my friend on facebook makes me smile.  Austin and I have always had a close relationship, mostly because I do not act like I am 30 something when I am around him, I usually am acting like a big dork.  And I try to remind him that I have been where he is now.

If I could give Austin some advice for how to get through the next couple of years, based on my experiences, here is what I would say:

Have fun during high school.  Do not be in such a rush to grow up and have adult responsibilities, it really is not as fun as it seems.

Moms know a lot more than you realize.  You may not see what your mom is trying to point out now, but you will some day.  Trust me on this one.

Your family will go to the ends of the earth to protect you.  It is a blessing.  Trust me.  I would have been lost without my family over the years.

That first paycheck is NOT going to be nearly as big as you think it will be.  Get used to that.

Living at home to save money is totally worth it.  Talk to me and Uncle Steve if you want more details, we both did it, and seriously, it was worth it.

Dream big.  I know it sounds cliche, but do it.  However, have a plan B.  Just in case.

Do not experiment with hair dye.  Again, trust me with this one, you have seen how many different colors my hair has been.  I am not even sure what my natural color is anymore!

Most importantly, stay true to yourself.  Over the last 16 years, I have seen you grow from a sensitive, friendly little boy, to a loving, intelligent young man.  I have watched you go out of your way for your friends and your family.  I have watched you go from dancing to country music to playing heavy metal on your own guitar.  I am proud of you, and all you have accomplished, and I am anxious to see what all you will achieve in the years to come.

Happy Birthday Austin, I love you!

All my love,

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Explorations: Pauline Fathers Monastery

Yesterday, I decided it was time to shake the cabin fever, and go out in search of some things to photograph.  I spent nearly an hour driving all over the back roads of Armstrong County before happening upon this.
Entrance to Monastery

Now, for people born and raised in this area, this is probably no big deal, but to me, this was an amazing find.  While I grew up in an area with a lot of Catholic churches, and attended a Catholic graduate school with a monastery on the grounds, this was something altogether different.  This was something I just stumbled upon.  To make two finds like this in one week?  God is definitely leading me.

I drove into the grounds, a bit full of trepidation, not sure if I was supposed to be there or not, but the gates were open, the parking lot plowed, so, I figured, why not take a look around.  I was struck by the simple beauty of the grounds, the snow covered trees.
The forest for the trees

I parked my car and got out to look around.  The actual monastery itself was quite simple, it actually looked like a dormitory.  There were several statues around the main parts of the grounds, one of the Blessed Mother, two of St. Paul, and one of Christ on the Cross.  The only sound that could be heard was the sound of my feet crunching on the snow as I walked around taking pictures.  It was utterly peaceful and serene.
St. Paul detail
Then I spied this building down over the hill a bit.  I was really curious, so I trudged through the snow, at one point even losing my footing, to get a closer look.  It appeared to be a chapel.

Chapel in the woods
I crept closer thinking this was a chapel open for use, and I could enter it to pray.  Unfortunately, it was being used for storage, and I do not think I was supposed to be there, so I did not linger, but I did get a picture or two of some of the amazing items still in there.  
At the foot of the cross
Daily mass is held at the monastery, and I would love to attend sometime.  I plan on going back in the future, during the other seasons of the year, to get additional pictures.  This place is beyond lovely.

To see all the pictures I took that day, not only of the monastery but all over the county, view the photo set here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Word Filled Wednesday: Stairway to Heaven

Genesis 28:12
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

This is the dream that Jacob has early in the Old Testament, and it talks about angels going to heaven by way of a stairway.  It would seem that the angels had a choice to stay in heaven or descend to the earth, or perhaps they were descending to do God's will.

As a child, this was an image that I took quite literally.  I would often sit in the grass, and look up at the clouds, in the hopes that I would catch a glimpse of the staircase, or perhaps see an angel peeking over the edge of the clouds back at me.  Such simple faith I had back then.  No concern that this imagery might merely be symbolic or allegorical.  To me, that staircase was real, those angels were real, and if I looked hard enough, I would see them climbing.

We too have a type of stairway to Heaven, in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We have a choice to believe that His death paid the price for our sin.  That is not to say that it is not still God's will that we try to live a pure and holy life here on earth, but our ability to climb the stairway to heaven in based in our trust in the triune God.  Perhaps we need to have that same steadfast faith I had as a child, the faith that this staircase is also real, and that I someday will be climbing it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Explorations: St. Patrick's Log Church

I awoke today with an adventurous spirit, determined to make a great discovery.  So, I got in my car, camera in hand, and just started to drive.  And I found something beautiful.
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Several times along the way, I contemplated turning back, because the roads were snowy, and I feared I would get stuck out on some country road.  But something urged me forward, perhaps the Holy Spirit.  Because where I ended up was here:
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This is Saint Patrick's Church, a log church build out in Sugarcreek Township in Armstrong County.  It was built by  Irish immigrants in 1806.  Parishoners claim this was the first church build west of the Allegheny Mountains.  It sits next to St. Patrick's Cemetary, where undoubtedly some of those immigrants are buried.  Unfortunately, the church was not open.  In the spring and fall, I believe it is open so that you can go inside, and the parish does still occasionally celebrate mass in the log church.  I would love to attend one of those masses sometime.  
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St. Patrick keeps watch over all.  It was so silent and still when I was out there.  So much beauty.
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In the lower part of the cemetery, there are old graves, this one belonging to Patrick Maloney, d. 1828

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At the upper part of the cemetary, there are newer graves, which I did not want to disturb or photograph out of respect, but I did capture a few images of some statues, one which appeared to be a general monument, and one that sat atop a headstone.
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I wish my camera could have captured the quiet, still, beauty I found in this place this morning.  

The Irish have a phrase for a place where the veil between heaven and earth is more permeable, and the two places can almost touch: a thin place.  I have no doubt that this small piece of western Pennsylvania is indeed a thin place.  I felt God's presence and peace here, and I have a feeling I will visit it many times in the future.

Please feel free to view the rest of the photos I took in my Flickr photostream located here.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Love in Full Bloom

In the back of my china cabinet sits a delicate glass teapot.  Hubby bought it for me for our first Christmas together, back when we were dating.  It was a special teapot, to make tea that "blooms" when you brew it.

I had mentioned the blooming tea to Hubby long before he was Hubby, before he was even Boyfriend, back when he was in the dreaded "friend zone".  I had pointed out the website once and mentioned what a nice gift it would make for any ladies in his life.  He tucked that away in his mind, and a year later when we were dating, he got it for me for Christmas.  Talk about romantic.

I was always a little afraid to use it, it is so delicate.  But today, I decided we would try it out.

We got the teapot out, and filled it with water.

It came with a stand, so that you can put a heat source, aka a candle, under the pot to get the water to heat.  The water must be boiling before you drop the tea bloom in it.  So, we added a tealight and we waited.

And we waited and waited and waited.

An hour later (no joke) the water was still not boiling.  It was clear that the candle was not powerful enough to boil the water.  So, we resorted to Plan B.

We boiled water in a tea kettle on the stove, and poured it into the glass teapot.  Then we were able to put the tea blooms in.

The blooms start all small and compressed, and the hot water makes them expand and "bloom" while brewing an aromatic tea.

After letting it steep for a few minutes, we poured some out and tried it (both Hubby and me tasted it).  While it just tasted like herbal tea, the sight and smell of the whole experience was just beautiful.

I even saved one of the blooms, and am going to try to dry it.

While this was not an ancient tea ceremony, it did remind me how much Hubby loves me, and did even back when we were "just friends".  He patiently waited for me to be ready to allow our love to bloom.  And I am forever thankful for his patience.

Friday, January 7, 2011

It Made My Day: September

You lucky ducks you!  You get two posts from me in one day, that is pretty rare!

So, remember when I told you a long time ago I was doing a photo a day project called 365?  Well, I ended up abandoning it, because the site was one big clique, people trying to impress other people, and become popular through their pictures.  Yeah, I left high school a LONG time ago, and I do not want to return, so, no thanks, peace out.  I only wanted to learn to take great pictures.

Well, apparently, it was helping me learn to take great pictures.  One of the pictures I took for the project was of a local farm.  On a whim, I submitted it to the Armstrong County Tourist Bureau, and lo and behold, they emailed me and said they were interested in possibly using it for the 2011 Calendar.  They asked me for some information, but never told me if it was definitely used.  Today, I took a jaunt down to the Bureau office to get a calendar, and guess what.

My picture is featured for the month of September.  Little ole me.  With a published photo.  I can't hardly
STAND it!!!!!!

Do you even realize how hard it is going to be to wait to flip the calendar to September?  This calendar just may be at September all year round in our house!

So, with renewed confidence, I am happy to announce I restarted my 365 Project under a new account, and today I registered for a month long digital photography class.  Who knows where this might lead.  

All I know is, it made my day.

In The Big City: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

Yesterday can be summed up in one word, and one word only: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

My sister had gone to see the musical Mary Poppins in New York a few months ago, and when she told my niece Abbie about it, Abbie pleaded to go see it.  Kim promised her that if it ever came anywhere around where they lived, she would take Abbie to see it.  Yesterday, she made good on her promise.

When Kim found out Mary Poppins was going to be playing in Pittsburgh, she knew she would be taking Abbie, but she also invited Mom and me to attend.  It would not only be Abbie's first Broadway show, it would be Mom's as well, so it was going to be a special memory for them both.  It would be a fun girl's day out in the city.

Abbie was so excited, she made sure her outfit for the day included the Mary Poppins shirt Kim had gotten her. Not only was she stoked about the show, she was enchanted by being downtown.  You see, she too lives in a small town, so seeing a taxi cab, or going through a revolving door at the Westin were all so exciting for her.  It was really adorable to watch her drink in the beauty of Pittsburgh.  I could literally see her learning to love the city as much as I do.  We parked the car, and walked a few blocks to the theater.

We got our tickets, and found our seats.  We anxiously awaited the show.  And then.... magic.

Magic can only account for what happened over the next 2.5 hours.  You see, the audience was filled, literally filled with children, ranging in age from about 2 to teenagers, and yet not a peep was heard.  Only one cry happened, during some lightning in a scene.  Other than that, no fussing, no whimpering.  The kids were enchanted, and frankly, so was I.

This is not your ordinary musical.  Most modern musicals are simply people walking around singing mediocre songs and sashaying a little.  Not this, oh no.  This was a right proper Rogers and Hammerstein style good old fashioned Broadway show.  One of the dance numbers, with the chimney sweeps, reminded me a bit of West Side Story even.  In my opinion, this show is a classic in the making.

From a theatrical perspective, this show was amazing, the staging is unlike anything I have ever seen, and I have seen some amazing shows in the past.  But this was just breathtaking.  There were bursts of color, and movement.  The singing was superb, and I loved the pint sized actors playing the Banks children.  And let me tell you, when Mary Poppins flew over my head (oh yeah, she totally flew about 10 feet from me, how awesome) I felt like a kid.  I fought back tears through the entire show, it was that incredible.

At the end of the show, when the actors come out for their curtain calls, they do a little bit from the Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious number, and one of the actor's really caught my eye.  It was an actor on the far left, who played a stodgy old banker, yet here he was, singing a song about a silly word, doing ridiculous hand gestures, and full of joy.  That is what this show does to you.  It fills you with joy.  I am telling you, this show is magic.

I am so thankful that I got to share in this special day with these wonderful women in my life, who I love so much.  And I am so thankful I got to experience the magic of Mary Poppins.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Word Filled Wednesday: A Light

Psalm 119:105
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Such a short line of scripture from the psalms, yet so powerful.

I have decided to not make resolutions for this new year.  Instead, I have made some goals for various things I hope to achieve or improve.  The first item on my list involves the time I spend with God's Word.  Shamefully, I do not spend nearly enough time reading the Bible, and I know full well there are parts of the Bible I have never read.  So, I have decided to try to read the entire Bible during 2011.

I started this plan once before, and got derailed after a month or so.  I found a website that plots the whole thing out for you, to help you stay on plan, and even emails the daily scripture readings to you, if you want.  I have chosen this option, because my email goes to my phone, so I have my daily readings with me wherever I am, and can read them at any time I need or want to.  It is really convenient, and easy.

But, should it be convenient, or for that matter, easy?  Since when has faith been about what is convenient for ME?  Faith, and grace, are all about God.  Just 5 days into my attempt, and already, I am seeing how spending more time in the Word is lighting up my path, and showing me the areas I need to improve.  I made this a goal to grow closer to God, and increase in faith, but already I can see that I am attempting to do it on my terms.  I know that God is truly going to use my time in His word to illuminate my life, what it is, and what it should be.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

That Was My Nickname in College

Hubby and I are long time fans of The Office, and as any true fan of The Office, we often give homage to Michael Scott by uttering his oft used line "that's what she said".  For those of you unfamiliar with how this innuendo works, here is a quote from the show.

Season 2: Episode 2- Sexual Harassment
Michael comes under fire from boss Jan Levinson and the corporate office for his sexist and offensive behavior. Things get even better after he announces his "retirement from comedy."

Michael: "And in the future if I want to say something funny, or witty, or do an impression, I will no longer, ever do any of those things."
Jim: "Does that include 'That's What She Said?'
Michael: "Mmhmm. Yes."
Jim: "Wow. That is really hard. You really think you can go all day long? Well, you always left me satisfied and smiling, so..."
Michael: "That's what she said!" (Bursts into laughter).

So, now you kind of understand the purpose of the phrase, right?  Well Hubby and I have our own little phrase, one we are convinced will someday sweep the nation.  It is "that was my nickname in college".  It pretty much functions the same way, a little innuendo to make things a little suggestive without being outright dirty.

For example, while at the pet store, Hubby spies these
Hubby points to them and says, that was my nickname in college.

A couple of summers ago, we were at a Pirate's game with friends.  One of the guys got a bucket of Quaker Steak and Lube wings for us to share, and we were all munching down.  We needed somewhere to deposit the refuse, and the guys said, "we need a bone plate" to which I replied "that was my nickname in college".  A guy sitting in front of us heard my remark, turned around with a big smile, and stared at me for the rest of the game.  It was classic.

Last week, we were out with friends.  One of the friends, who shall remain anonymous, said, "can you pass me a butter pack?" to which I, of course, replied "that was my nickname in college".  She said, "you had the worst college nicknames, you must have had mean friends".  All this time, she thought these were my ACTUAL nicknames in college, it got a big laugh from the whole table.

So, this is our little "thing", me and Hubby.  Our own little personal married couple joke.  But we would love nothing more than to hear it catch on among other people.  So, the next time someone mentions something that  might sound slightly naughty or non PC, consider replying with "that was my nickname in college", and let me know if it gets a laugh.

You're My Cuppycake

I think I have told you before that I love cupcakes.  I mean, I really really love them.  *pink puffy heart* love them.  I think they are delicious, lord knows I do, but I also think they are adorable.  Hubby knows this about me.  Often, he would bring me cupcake as a surprise.  But he knows how hard I am trying to lose weight, so, for my Christmas stocking, he gave me a different way.

Hubby ordered this adorable cupcake merchandise from a website called Think Geek.  I was beyond excited to get this stuff!

First off, we had cupcake flavored gumballs.
The tin is so cute, and you open it to find the bright pink gumballs inside.  They are supposed to taste like frosting, but the flavor is very subtle.  These are more of a novelty than anything else, but still pretty tasty!

Next we have cupcake mints.
These are DELICIOUS!  You open the tin to find the tiny white, pink, and blue mints.

They are so good, even Hubby likes them.  I plan on getting more of these, not only for myself, but perhaps for some random acts of kindness in the future.  I will be very sad when this tin is empty, but luckily the tin is cute, and I am sure I will reuse it.

Next, we have cupcake drink tablets.
These are like alka seltzer, only sweet.  They fizz in water.  I made the mistake of only putting one in a glass of water, when the directions say "to taste" and show a picture of 2 in a glass.  It takes a while for them to dissolve, but there is some potential here for tastiness.

Next up is the cupcake chapstick.
Once again, this stuff is fantastic.  It tastes sweet and delicious, making you extra kissable, but also makes your lips soft and moist.  I love it.  Unfortunately, so did my doggy, who had a sample of it himself.

And last, but most definitely not least, we have the cupcake stress reliever.
Brightly colored pink and blue, it immediately makes you feel happy, and by squeezing it, you can take out your frustrations.

I give major props to Hubby for such a creative idea for my stocking.  I love this stuff, almost as much as real cupcakes!