Saturday, January 31, 2009

Friday, January 30, 2009

Guess Where We Spent Our No School Day?

I don't think it's going to take you too many guesses.....



Yup, we headed north to the zoo. I threw the idea out to Lisa Q. on Thursday that it would be a fun thing to take our kids up to Portland to do together. Her kids had Th. and Fr. off - mine have Fr. and Mon. off, and we were both well aware that we needed to add a little livelihood to the long break - or by the end they'd be bouncing off the walls and certainly straining our sanity.

She was supposed to meet me at 8:30 this morning, but instead, I received a call at 7:30am, and wouldn't you know it, but Erica has Strep Throat! That family has had THE WORST luck when it comes to missing out on special events due to their kids' sudden illnesses. So, it ended up just being the four of us. Late Th. afternoon, we'd extended an invite to Jack, so Brayden would have a buddy his age to pal around with. Poor Mikayla, without Erica in the picture, she just got me...

As you could tell by the first picture, the temperature in Portland was VERY COLD. (I know Bonnie, if it's not below freezing, you don't want to hear about it!). But, I was hoping the heavy, damp fog would clear off and the need for quadruple layering and gloves would be unnecessary - but again, another "wouldn't you know it" - but on the one day we leave Eugene to head where it often clears up...... it ends up sunny and beautiful - a balmy low 50's in Eugene - and socked in all day in Portland. By the time we left the zoo at 1:30, it had warmed up to 33 degrees.

However, as we were prepared for cold (I couldn't get that day out of my mind last April when I went on the third grade field trip and froze with those kids at the zoo - so, this time, I bundled up - just in case!) - we ended up having a great day. Of course, it would have been SPECTACULAR if Lisa was with us......

We saw every exhibit - and so many of the animals were in prime viewing locations - such as these Mountain Lions/Cougars/Pumas (all the same animal - it just has a lot of different names):

By and far, this was the highlight of our trip - and made for my best experience ever at the Portland Zoo. This little gal (we were told by a zookeeper that she's a she) - was having so much fun playing with this ball. She would carry it around, get it into position to try to balance it, and then when it eventually fell or rolled into the water, would dive in and play with it in there, only to repeat the fun again and again. I will be trying to upload the video we took, (I'm realizing it my take another 15 tries.....grrrr......) so if I do manage that, take a moment and watch- it's so cool.



This was another major treat. This baby elephant is the zoo's pride and joy - he/she? was born just a bit ago and is growing so fast. The smaller adult elephant is her mom and the other is a "auntie" or nursemaid - that accompanies the duo. The two adults were in position to protect the baby at all time, wherever they went that baby was in the middle. It was such a treat to watch.

Mikayla and I actually had a discussion on the way up as to whether there was any snow left in Portland from the big storm that happened around Christmas. I told her, "Oh no, honey, that's long gone". Boy, did I eat my words when we walked these paths.....

And, then, we reached the Lorakeet Pavillion - where you walk through at your own risk. You can opt to buy the syrup in the cups if you really want to attract the birds - which, of course, we did. That's Jack in the foreground.



I had to admire this bird's ingenuity, at the bottom of the picture. This is my hand, and that clever little bird poked a hole in my cup, positioned himself securely on the bottom of my sleeve, and merely opened his beak to have the contents drip out of the cup right into his mouth. That's my kind of bird!

And, finally, the sea lions. There were two that did this loop around the tank - and as they neared where we were at, would practically touch the glass to come as close as can be to us. It was almost surreal - you felt like you were watching a video or something.....
Needless to say, I'm so glad we made the trip.....

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bachelor Woes

DON'T READ THIS IF YOU FOLLOW "THE BACHELOR" BUT HAVEN'T YET VIEWED THIS WEEK'S EPISODE.......

So, confession time. John and I have been avid viewers of "The Bachelor" this season. We caught the very end of last season, just in time for "Jason" to become part of the picture - and we corporately thought he should have been the winner. (Such attention to his son - what a guy!). So, when we found out that Jason would play the starring role - we started DVR'ing. And, after the second episode (the first one got erased) - we were hooked.

However, the viewing entertainment doesn't come without its share of CRINGING!!! And, yes that's part of the fun of snuggling with John and making comments about just how CRAZY some of these ladies are. It's really quite freaky and disturbing. There's the "stalker" who knows every known fact about Jason, every detail about his family - their names, etc. There's the foul-mouthed gal that none of the gals want to have around - and then there's the one that likes "to dominate" - by telling Jason who he should let go and why she's mad at him and wants to slap him when he didn't give her the rose.

But, you know what - there's a reason we like that guy - he let go of all three! Even when he was technically supposed to give one of them a rose. It restores a little faith for John and I - and not to mention that there are at least 3 girls remaining that I think would be really great matches for him.

I know, I know - these things never work out - well maybe once. But, this guy is pretty cool, and well, John and I are suckers for fairy tales........

Oh, and don't get me started on the first 5 minutes of LOST..... so addictive!

Playdate with Laura

On Monday, we got to have a playdate with Aunt Laura! It worked out great as she came over early enough for us to get some one one one time in - chatting it up - (yes, comparing our husbands to see what qualities these twins have in common and what they don't.... - don't worry guys, we were nice!) - and then, we picked up the kids and headed to the bowling alley.


I have to say, Mikayla was in an odd mood on Monday - bothered that she wasn't winning, in her own little world - insistent on being hungry. She improved a bit after we hit Dairy Queen. And Brayden, well Brayden acted like Brayden does - what you saw on the video was pretty much Brayden at the bowling alley. At one point, he tried a different approach to getting the ball down the lane and it ended up in the alley next to ours....! Ahhhhh! I don't know if it was a good thing or not that the attendant was in our vicinity - how embarassing!


All in all, outside of a few moments of thinking, "Kids, shape it up!" - It was a really sweet time. Thank you again Laura for our bowling date, and even more, for your wonderful friendship. You are precious to me, Sis!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dave's Tribute to John

video
I can't believe it, 15th time is a charm, it finally uploaded! Yippee! Eventually, we'll do a little editing of this, so you won't have to hear me barking at Brayden at the end, (yes, sadly that is my voice - shouldn't even admit it). The song ends a little over halfway through, so feel free to stop watching at that point!

And, here are the lyrics - we didn't catch the first three verses on video, so we've asked Dave to do it again for us sometime:



Over the years you've spread good cheer with that contagious laugh
If your JOY could be measured on the African Savannah
It would be bigger than a giraffe

CHORUS: O JOHN RILEY YOU'RE SO SMILEY
WE'RE GLAD YOU GOT YOUR START
40 YEARS AGO WE WANT YOU TO KNOW
WE LOVE YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS

******************

The winding road led you to be Mens' Round Up President
Your leadership, integrity, for sure you're Heaven sent

When we were on the mountain-top Tadmore was not a damper
You proved you were a humble man... El Presidente in my camper!

*******************

Such a change that God has made You've done an ABOUT FACE
A new creation IN and OUT Because of His Great Grace

You've been filled up to be poured out To bless all those around
Redeeming love has been your cry and Grace how sweet your sound.

*****************

You've been so blessed with Stephanie, a sweet wonderful wife
One who can keep you grounded, who complements your life

Brayden and Mikayla are precious as can be
We're grateful we can play a part of your extended family.

CHORUS: O JOHN RILEY YOU'RE SO SMILEY
WE'RE GLAD YOU GOT YOUR START
40 YEARS AGO WE WANT YOU TO KNOW
WE LOVE YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS

Sunday, January 25, 2009

40th Birthday Bunco

Last night was so much fun. As I mentioned earlier, John requested a Bunco Party to celebrate his 40th. From start to finish, it was a riot - and oh so honoring to John. He felt very blessed, as he deserved to feel.... This particular poster was put together compliments of Mark and Amy's son, Andrew.
Mark and Amy went above and beyond in hosting the event. Each person had a scorecard Amy designed that had all different pictures of John - as well as Table Number Cards that had special pictures of him. Having her and Mark simply offer their house and re-arrange their furniture for 8 different Bunco tables was a big deal without all of the extras!

The beauty of Bunco is that you are constantly being mixed-up with different people. Starting out with someone you pick, then at the next table, taking them with you, but having a different person as your partner - and on and on. Funny how on a game of "pure luck" you really do feel like you can have a good night or a bad night. For me it was a good number or a bad number. Unfortunately, Mike Whitty (Linda's neighbor and Brayden's coach) had an all-around bad night - winning the prize for the most losses. (You can see his anguish in this picture).
It's pretty clear here that Travis and Randy are a pair - and obviously felt victorious:

Dave's necklace was for earning a "Travel" - when you roll 3 of a kind that is not for the number you are going for. That thing gets thrown around constantly as folks yell out "Travel" and hold on to it for a few seconds until someone else yells for it....

Not pictured in this group shot are Stephanie H. (who had to leave early) and Michele who was off saving the day by grabbing my camera at home with video function. Everyone is especially smiley because Brayden was the one pressing the button to take the pictures - the camera was set on a tri-pod. He took his roll with all of the fun kookiness Brayden has to offer, constantly snapping away and giving funny facial expressions that had everyone matching with their own.

Next came the award ceremony, with special prizes set just for John - a Starbucks basket, Coldstone Creamery gift card, "Close-Up" toothpaste highlighting his constant smile... and.....

The prize given to Mike for being the "Biggest Loser" - a stereo that looks like it was plucked straight from a vehicle. This has a double meaning - one in reference to Riles Audio, the stereo installation business he owned when we were married, and the second to his "Pre-Christian" days, when he was a very naughty boy and did some "stereo lifting" from vehicles to supplement his income. (No question as to where he aquired the skills to start his own business, he just did things in reverse - installed vs. removed!)

Marjie earned the "Citrus Basket" - significant because John is allergic to all things citrus - it will cause huge cold sores around his mouth.....

And, here is the highlight of the evening. A surprise to all of us, Dave wrote a song for John (inspired just yesterday afternoon) and brought his guitar to share it with everyone. Thanks to Michele, we were able to catch the second half on video, and I'm still trying to figure out how to get that uploaded. Needless to say, it was VERY SPECIAL - John was absolutely overwhelmed at that point with all of the love and attention he'd received.



And here, in one of my least favorite posted pictures of myself, was the presentation of John's birthday cheesecake.

The final picture shows Michele grinning about the card she gave John - let me just say that if you have watched the "ED" commercials (think male medical problem) and you happen to hear the warning given "if it should last longer than 4 hours...." - well, that was the gist of the card - hilarious!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

It's the Hard Knock Life

A couple of years ago, that picture would have been of Mikayla and I - on our way to see "Annie" in Portland. In fact, we had so much fun at that event, that once I knew "Annie" was coming to Eugene, I've been scouring Craigslist to see if anyone was willing to get rid of their tickets. But, sigh, we didn't have an extra $80 sitting around, so I told Mikayla that it wasn't going to happen.

But, then - at around 6 last night, Dad calls up, explains that Mom's feeling a bit under the weather, and wonders if either myself or Mikayla could be his date to the performance. Mikayla JUMPED at the offer - she was so excited. She was ready to go a full hour before Grandpa arrived.
Of course, Grandpa treated her like royalty - as evidenced by the stuffed "Sandy" dog he purchased for her (as well as Lifesavers to have during the play). The only drawback to the whole evening was that Mom and Dad (us) did not know how long the whole experience would take. By 10pm, we were wondering, "Where are they" - and by the time they arrived around 11pm, we had tried Dad's cell phone 4 times and John had walked out the front door about 5 times to see if they were coming. Obviously, we were worried they were in an accident, but it did feel strangely like a foreshadowing of what's to come when Mikayla starts dating - which John declared last night won't happen until she turns 21!

Thanks again Grandpa for making Mikayla's month!!!! (And, Mom - hope you are feeling better!)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Meme from Linda

This came from Linda's blog, it seemed like fun, so here goes:

If you could have any other name, what would you want it to be?

When I was a kid, I loved the name Julie - based on a certain cruise director on a certain show popular at the time...

Have you ever cut your own hair? How'd it go?

Yup, I sure have. When I was teaching, I got tired of my long hair, and asked John to hack off about 4 inches. (I was reprimanded a bit by my stylist). I've also tapered the sides, done my bangs, etc. On Tuesday of this week, I also colored my hair - and yesterday, did some corrections with that color. I'm pleased with the finished project, but it is considerably darker.

Describe in one word what you've been learning from God these days.

Testimony

Biggest pet peeve.

Folks who think they know it all.....

And (drum roll please)....whatcha cookin' for dinner tonight?

As I'm writing this, we're trying to decide what's happening on Friday night..... which will help determine. Probably, because we are trying to eat light, chicken salads.....

HAPPY WEEKEND EVERYONE!!!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Happy 40th, My Love!

Oh, the pressure's on, to write something so romantic and overwhelming to honor the love of my life turning 40. My creativity is faltering a bit, so I will start with the words from the card that I bought for him and see where I'm led from there.....

ONE OF MY FAVORITE THINGS
ABOUT BEING MARRIED TO YOU
IS WATCHING TIME DEEPEN
THOSE QUALITIES THAT I FELL IN LOVE WITH
RIGHT FROM THE START.

IT SEEMS LIKE EACH BIRTHDAY
FINDS YOU EVEN RICHER IN
THE GENTLE STRENGTH
AND EASY KINDNESS
THAT HAVE ALWAYS BEEN
THE HEART OF WHO YOU ARE.

YOU ARE A GOOD MAN
WHO JUST KEEPS GETTING BETTER
AND YEAR AFTER YEAR,
I KEEP LOVING YOU MORE.


I almost feel like this card is a little understated in what I wanted to communicate, but on the other hand, it's oh so true. John embodies "Gentle Strength and Easy Kindness" - you see it every day from the way he laughs with the Starbucks barista to how he firmly, but lovingly reprimands Brayden.

I fell in love with John because of how he encouraged me, how he continuously set my gaze upon Christ, for how he made me laugh, and smile, for how I felt like I was the center of his universe (apart from God), for how I trusted his goals - and what I believed he would be like as a father, for his humility - and the many life lessons he'd triumphed through by the age of 23, - I've said it before, but to consider any other man besides John Riley would have felt like I'd have forever settled for less (and yes, frequent dreams of such a thing still haunt me to this day). And now, nearly 13 years later, I find this list of things I love about him even longer, even richer, even deeper.

Without sounding "full of myself" - I am SO PROUD to be married to this man. I am so proud to be at his side, for folks to know - "Oh, YOU are married to HIM!" And to be able to say that - Wow, how blessed I am.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MY LOVE - and just as Jeff toasted at our wedding day, may my biggest gift to you be the knowledge of the pride I have in being your wife......



P.S. HAPPY 40TH BIRTHDAY TO YOU, TOO, JEFF!!!!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Testimony

Today our Bible Study (which involves watching a video of Beth Moore) was titled "The Law of the Harvest". It was essentially centered on "reaping what you sow". There was a lot of meat in the study, but what I really focused on was the power of testimony.

I can honestly say that every thing I have ever wondered "why God?" as I struggled through has been used for His glory as I've had the opportunity to share that struggle with others.

I remember when I first began my journey within Womens' Ministy at First Baptist, I was put in a kind of a "training for leadership" group. I'll be honest and say that my involvement within that group was a serious struggle for me because of a huge difference in life perspective between me and the leader. Once again, that's fodder for another post, but suffice to say, I "graduated" and am a better person for it (and, just like I said above, it's been used for good as I've shared that experience....).

ANYWAY.... I was asked to type out my "testimony" so that I would have it prepared and ready to give whenever needed. The whole idea bugged me a bit because I don't have just one testimony - I have dozens - hundreds even - of how God has delivered me! I realize she was referencing my testimony of salvation - the one which I obediently prepared, but I'm not sure that's the one I've utilized the most. I want to know what my audience is or will be and that will determine the particular testimony. Will it be a testimony of anxiety - that I went through as a young mother and new wife? Or will it be a testimony of fear - when I believed my son was dying, or my husband wouldn't survive the night? Will it be a testimony of insecurity, that dominated my life before John and I were married, never believing I was good enough or worthy enough to live the fairy tale - of deserving Prince Charming? Or will it be a testimony of releasing control - the tale that is currently under construction?

All I know is that I consider each of these stories to be my "seeds". They won't do an ounce of good if I store them away - but if I plant them - sow them, I pray they will reveal a great harvest someday..... I certainly know that the seeds you all have planted in your stories and testimonies have reaped a harvest to me.....

Monday, January 19, 2009

Still Celebrating....

I know, I know, we've already done this! Celebrate Mikayla's birthday, that is. But, given that this was her first year in "big school" we did tell her she could have a small gathering with just her school friends to celebrate the occasion. That led us to see "Hotel for Dogs" (fun movie) with 3 of her best friends from school.


After all of the worrying, it's just amazing what an excellent job Mikayla has done in picking sweet friends. This party was so easy!


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Our Alma Mater

Those red and black colors - those are significant..... While it doesn't appear that Mikayla will be a future Thurston Colts* alumni, Mom and I are - and proud to wear the colors to prove it.

Today we went back to our former stomping grounds (with Dad as well - also an alum) to watch the Dance Competition that Thurston's Dance Team, "Cabaret" hosted. Mom was a member of the original dance team Thurston ever had, "The Ponytails", while I was a member of the Cabaret as a senior. I could spend a whole post discussing that miracle that I made the team....but I'll focus on today instead.

There was a running theme to many of the performances (about 9 altogether) - zombies, robots, dream creatures..... kind of freaky to be honest. But, some of those girls could seriously dance and hearing "Thriller" again was kind of fun. Thurston's team had their "High Kick" group (I would guess about 2/3rds of the team are a part of this) do an exhibition during the first round and I admit I was happy to see pink leopard leotards, leg warmers, and headbands all advertising their "Flashdance" routine. It was impressive, kind of a bummer that kicklines are really not included in many of the state performances anymore as they really are a crowd pleaser. Also, that was the one thing I could do well - really well. While most of that year of dance team was as hard of work as anything I'd ever experienced up until that point, I could manage to kick my leg up to hit my nose - and it was the only thing I was ever asked to demonstrate to show others "the right way to do it....". (It CERTAINLY was not my coordination!). So, long story short - I enjoyed Thurston's performance.

And, so did Mikayla. She left, sad that we weren't returning for the second round, and eager to hear when the next competition will be. She's determined she'd like to be the third generation to participate in such an activity, so I'm working with her already to try to figure out how to keep beat (as I honestly did not learn until that summer working with the team before my senior year!). I think it will also keep her a little more committed to her once a week dance class, at least for a while.

* If Thurston High School sounds remotely familiar to some of you "out of towners" - there might be a reason. In 1998, Thurston was the location of one of the worst school shootings of its time. A boy named Kip Kinckel walked into the cafeteria and shot (I believe) 14 people. This was after he shot and killed both of his parents before leaving the house. To drive it even closer to home, Kip's father was my teacher for all four years of high school (he taught Spanish) - and I even taught Kip on one of the days I substituted (it was his 5th grade year, he was a brat, and I told him I didn't think his dad would appreciate a phone call from one his former students regarding his behavior....). At the time the shooting happened, I was teaching in one of the feeder middle schools to Thurston - crazy finding out more information online on CNN than we were learning from any of the administration..... and then trying to hide our knowledge to the already panicked student body who had family members attending that school. Such a sad, surreal experience. Kip is now spending life in prison........

(Heather, feel free to elaborate or correct any mistakes I'm making, and btw, where were you when that happened?)

Friday, January 16, 2009

In Search of Sunshine

This is what it has looked like around here since about 3 o'clock on Monday. It is a dense, very cold, very wet-saturated fog, that seeps into your bones and your sanity.


So, in an effort to regain that sanity, I drove west with Sydney today, and ended up here:
Yes, that would be the Oregon Coast. Nope, not the Oregon beach, most Oregonians know better than to refer to it as a beach, as a "beach" inspires ideas of towels, tank tops, and bikinis - and well, the amount of times of being able to comfortably sunbathe in a bikini on most areas of the Oregon Coast happens to be equal to amount of times we get snow on the valley floor..... At most, a handful of days of the year.

On frequent occasions, when we are socked in with fog, the coast will be gorgeous. And, likewise, (and this happens a lot in the summer), when we have gorgeous blue skies here, it will be damp and foggy there. The change of 25 degrees is not common within the hour and twenty minute drive from our house to Florence.

But, today, I found all I was looking for. Radiant SUNSHINE! It may have still been windy (which is why the sunbathing is usually not an option), but I didn't care. The sun still beamed upon my face.

After taking Syd on a long walk - allowing her to run on her own just a bit to chase the seagulls, we spread out a blanket and I read. I then just laid down so my whole face took in the warmth - man that felt good! On the way there and back I listened to Praise Music - yes, indeed, this short mini-retreat was just what the doctor ordered....

This was taken on the way home - can you see that formidable bank of "gloom" I was headed towards.... Yup, that's hovered right over home.

And, to prove my point, here's what the Dairy Queen reader board said as I drove through town. No wonder I can't seem to get warm enough. I'm guessing at this same time right now in Florence it's about 60 degrees..... Maybe if we don't see sunshine again next week, I'll be coming back......

Tow, Tow, Tow Your Boat?


Apparently, if Noah's Arc had needed a good tow, this recreational vehicle would have been just the number to lug it around!

It delights me to no end to see Mikayla actively playing with these toys. We've purchased some of the Playmobile sets for her at Christmas for the last two years, wondering if it's really worth the money. But, then, she'll drag it around and it brings back all of the memories of Michele and I using our imagination with the Fisher Price "Little People" sets.

This year, Noah's Arc was under the Christmas tree, along with the camper, and a hampster set (she has eclectic tastes, huh?). Her mixing all the sets together (combined with the yacht Brayden got a couple of years ago - and her zoo set) is a real riot!

Oh, sweet Mikayla. Keep using that imagination - and don't grow up too fast! I love you so much......

(And, oh yeah, regarding my son - he couldn't be happier because DIARY OF A WHIMPY KID - THE LAST STRAW has finally been released. This is one of the only books that Brayden will read "just because"..... He's so happy!)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

OK, Nintendo, Where's My Cut?

I'm waiting for that paycheck, I'm telling you! As of this post, I'm counting about 8 different people that are seriously considering the purchase of a Wii Fit, thanks to my sales techniques and numerous demonstrations.

Last Friday, I spent all afternoon with Kara - playing away. Later that evening, it was Michele that I had hooked. On Monday, Nancy, Christy, and Amy came over to Hula Hoop, Slalom Ski, and Tightrope walk. (Nancy took over the high score on her first attempt at the Ski Jump - way to go!). Yesterday, after spending time praying at the church together (10 Days of Prayer), Steph H. and Lisa Q. came over and gave it a whirl. Both loved it.

Today, it was my mom over for a "playdate". I had no doubt she would get a total kick out of it, my only regret was that Michele couldn't be here to play with us. Mom demonstrated a natural knack at the Tightrope (like Mother, like Daughter), proved she can Hula Hoop with the best of us, could easily get addicted to the Table Tilt (like the rest of us), but is NOT ready to put on a snowboard and take off down the slopes. Her true forte', however, is the Yoga exercises. She took over 2 of the 3 top scores on her first effort in three different exercises (2nd place on the other one). This comes as no surprise to me as Mom is exceptionally skilled in Dressage - and all of the subtleties that that sport requires requiring body control to be in synch with the movements of your horse.

So, Mom - well done... and I think you ought to start dropping hints to Dad about what you might want for your birthday come March!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

At Least Try to Fake It, Steph...

There's little about this month that I enjoy. At least it's nothing new, and the familiarity of going through this "same old, same old" is somewhat comforting. If my body is constantly cold, my emotions are oddly apathetic, and I feel no desire to really do anything beyond read and take baths - it's somewhat normal - at least for January. I really am kind of a different person this time of year, it's as if the pace I keep from June through December comes to a GRINDING HALT...

As I find myself in my "split personality", John merrily goes about life as normal as can be. As do the kids. Meanwhile, when they look at me as if I've lost my marbles, I want to just say, "Duh, it's January - don't you get it?"

As bothersome this is to John, I think it's especially a bummer for him as it is his birthday month. He doesn't like it that I think "it's the worst time of the year" - he's ready to celebrate. It took a lot of thought on my part to come up with something to do with him that would not cost a fortune, would be big enough to accommodate 40 or so people, and would be entertaining in such a way that John would be happy and I would be willing to host and participate in the activity! After I'd given him my run-down of ideas (a very limited list) - he responded, "Can't we just play 'Bunco'? Like at the Meyers?" And, wouldn't you know it, but Amy just then chose that moment to call, ask about John's birthday, and volunteer her house when I mentioned Bunco. I guess it was meant to be. I went ahead and sent out an Evite considering few people would happen to have that Saturday night free the weekend of his birthday. But, what do you know, but most folks are responding with a "Yes". John is DELIGHTED, and I'm so glad it's all working out.

Because, my honey deserves it. I'm aware all of the time just how blessed I am, but a few circumstances just this week proved it that much more:

Last weekend, while we were at Target, the kids were acting a little crazy. (Pretty much what I'm used to when they are together when we shop). John pulled them aside to give them a pep talk, while I walked ahead to look for an item. The employee around the corner asked if that gentleman talking to the kids was my husband. I said yes, and she said, "Wow, what an amazing Dad he seems to be. I wish someone would talk to my kids like that, they never behave when we go home shopping!" I nodded in agreement, and thought, "Yup, he's pretty amazing".

Then, yesterday, he talked with a fitness coordinator at a local Fitness Center. He's been negotiating to find a trainer that will work with him to get him back into the shape he wants to be. However, he made it clear to the coordinator, that while he doesn't want to discriminate, he is a happily married man who wants to honor his wife and his marriage, and would really prefer to not be working with a woman who would in anyway put that in jeopardy. He phrased it much better than I did just now, but the coordinator was so impressed. She completely understood, had just the person in mind, and said she'd never had a male request such a thing and how much integrity that demonstrated. Once again, that's my man - I'm a lucky gal.

So, for all these reasons and OH SO MANY MORE, I'll at least try to kick myself in the butt for the few hours we get to interact in the evening and on the weekends. John deserves better than my January personality (as do the kids), so I'll fake it until I make it - or until the beginning or so of March.......

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Some of My Favorite Things

I did this last year - commenting on those new products or items I found that I especially liked. It's a random list, let me warn you....

1. The "TOBI" Steamer. John and I admit to being very "obsessive" about not having wrinkled clothing. No, it doesn't go so far as "pressed undergarments", but I can't guarantee that sweats and pajamas are immune from the iron. Part of this is due to having way too small of space for our over-abundance of clothing. Another part is my laundry habits lacking a bit to be desired, in that the dry clothes get thrown in a bin and I sort them from one big pile. So, when John and I just happened to be in the same room when the "Tobi" infomercial came on, we were hooked. We went ahead and ordered it, and have used the ironing board perhaps just once since then. It's not a perfect system, but it is a lot faster than ironing, never ruins clothes, and allows us to get everything done from our room, vs. having to go into the living room area where we used to store our ironing board.

2. The TWILIGHT series by Stephenie Meyer. Yes, some of you commented that you saw those books in the spa picture we took. I know, it's against the grain of my normally very conservative, very Christian fiction choices. However, I was a bit curious as to what the fuss was about, and with both of Jodi and Stephie's urging, gave it a try. Talk about escape.... I appreciate that there is a good sense of right and wrong, evil and good - and even moral choices and decisions. It's a book rich in relationships - very romantic, and full of the sorts of feelings most anyone can relate to, despite a very "fantasy" undertone. However, despite the obvious issues with that, the mythology and fantasy isn't so overdone that it overpowers the real issues the books are presenting. I finished the fourth book - 755 pages - on Sunday, and have had the characters still lingering in my mind, as familiar friends that I feel like I've had to say good-bye to. It was a super fun escape for me, perfect for this time of year....

3. Oregon Chai Tea. Mix it with a little sugar free vanilla creamer, water, and milk - and yummy, a super cozy drink without the aftertaste that cocoa often leaves behind for me.

4. Milk Duds. This year I realized that if you eat those simultaneously with popcorn it tastes like carmel corn in your mouth - especially wonderful in movie theaters....

5. Wii Fit. I've obviously eluded to this repetitively, so you can gather I like it A LOT! I've actually stopped using the scales and have just stepped on to my friendly (kind of, but also kind of a nag) Wii Fit buddy... who tells me my BMI and records my progress and celebrates with me when I reach a certain time amount every day. I've loved feeling my ab and rear end muscles hurt in bizarre ways as I realize they've been strengthened by my playing. I'm hooked!

6. Fred Meyer's Premium brand of ice cream - particularly chocolate chip mint and chocolate chip cookie dough. I'm very picky about my ice cream -and even pickier about "chip" ice creams - I like the slivered/shaved chips, not the chunks - and this stuff is darn close to perfection. When the Riley family came over, I used the "Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie" recipe from the back of the Butter-Flavored Crisco cubes (my personal favorite - practically fool-proof) and pressed part of the batter into a 9x13 pan. I baked it until it looked done and then let it cool. I then put the chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream on top - shaved some chocolate on top of that - and there you go, one of my favorite treats. (We also topped it with homemade hot fudge sauce and whip cream - I mean, if you are going to indulge.....).

7. Pantene Pro-V Restoratives Frizz Control Ultra Smoothing Balm. I have super dry hair - yes, a full week of not washing it would result in a head full of product, but still no naturally produced greasiness. It's a curse and a blessing - but this product certainly helps with the negative aspects. I actually straight iron strips of hair and then apply this straight to it. It really helps.

8. Yaz Birth Control and Erythromycin-Benzoyl Peroxide Topical Gel. For YEARS I've struggled with both adult (hormone-related) acne and a very sore chest area for about a third of every month. My wonderful doctor put me on YAZ, which ELIMINATED the breast pain completely (Wow!!!!), and it combined with the above mentioned gel is making the acne better. This gel, without insurance runs over a hundred dollars, but because it went generic recently, my insurance allows it only to run $10 for me. What a deal! It's great to feel like I'm finally seeing some improvements.....

I'll come back and add more things as I think of them, but that's probably plenty of random-ness for now.....!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Trucker's Story

Thank you all for your comments of support regarding my migraine yesterday. I took two Benadryl last night, slept super sound and long and woke up with shoulders tense, but that's it. Praise the Lord. 99% of the time, a good night's sleep will re-boot me, and this time was no exception.

Leona gets the credit for this story as she emailed it to me. It's a bit long, but really special - if you have the time, give it a read:


A Trucker's Story

I try not to be biased, but I had my doubts about hiring Stevie. His placement counselor assured me that he would be a good, reliable busboy. But I had never had a mentally20handicapped employee and wasn't sure I wanted one. I wasn't sure how my customers would react to Stevie.

He was short, a little dumpy with the smooth facial features and thick-tongued speech of Downs Syndrome. I wasn't worried about most of my trucker customers because truckers don't generally care who buses tables as long as the meatloaf platter is good and the pies are homemade.

The four-wheeler drivers were the ones who concerned me; the mouthy college kids traveling to school; the yuppie snobs who secretly polish their silverware with their napkins for fear of catching some dreaded 'truck stop germ' the pairs of white-shirted business men on expense accounts who think every truck stop waitress wants to be flirted with. I knew those people would be uncomfortable around Stevie so I closely watched him for the first few weeks.

I shouldn't have worried. After the first week, Stevie had my staff wrapped around his stubby little finger, and within a month my truck regulars had adopted him as their official truck stop mascot.

After that, I really didn't care what the rest of the customers' thought of him. He was like a 21-year-old in blue jeans and Nikes, eager to laugh and eager to please, but fierce in his attention to his duties. Every salt and pepper shaker was exactly in its place, not a breadcrumb or coffee spill was visible when Stevie got done with the table. Our only problem was persuading him to wait to clean a table until after the customers were finished. He would hover in the background, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, scanning the dining room until a table was empty. Then he would scurry t o the empty table and carefully bus dishes and glasses onto his cart and meticulously wipe the table up with a practiced flourish of his rag.

If he thought a customer was watching, his brow would pucker with added concentration.. He took pride in doing his job exactly right, and you had to love how hard he tried to please each and every person he met.

Over time, we learned that he lived with his mother, a widow who was disabled after repeated surgeries for cancer. They lived on their Social Security benefits in public housing two miles from the truck stop. Their social worker, who stopped to check on him every so often, admitted they had fallen between the cracks. Money was tight, and what I paid him was probably the difference between them being able to live together and Stevie being sent to a group home. That's why the restaurant was a gloomy place that morning last August, the first morning in three years that Stevie missed work.

He was at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester getting a new valve or something put in his heart. His social worker said that people with Downs Syndrome often have heart problems at an early age so this wasn't unexpected, and there was a good chance he would come through the surgery in good shape and be back at work in a few months.

A ripple of excitement ran through the staff later that morning when word came that he was out of surgery, in recovery, and doing fine.

Frannie, the head waitress, let out a war hoop and did a little dance in the aisle when she heard the good news.

Belle Ringer, one of our regular trucker customers, stared at the sight of this 50-year-old grandmother of four doing a victory shimmy beside his table.

Frannie blushed, smoothed her apron and shot Belle Ringer a withering look.

'We just got word that Stevie is out of surgery and going to be okay.'

'I was wondering where he was. I had a new joke to tell him. What was the surgery about?' !

Frannie quickly told Belle Ringer and the other two drivers sitting at his booth about Stevie's surgery, then sighed: 'Yeah, I'm glad he is going to be OK,' she said. 'But I don't know how he and his Mom are going to handle all the bills. From what I hear, they're barely getting by as it is.' Belle Ringer nodded thoughtfully, and Frannie hurried off to wait on the rest of her tables. Since I hadn't had time to round up a busboy to replace Stevie and really didn't want to replace him, the girls were busing their own tables that day until we decided what to do.

After the morning rush, Frannie walked into my office. She had a couple of paper napkins in her hand and a funny look on her face.

'What's up?' I asked.

'I didn't get that table where Belle Ringer and his friends were sitting cleared off after they left, and Pony Pete and Tony Tipper were sitting there when I got back to clean it off,' she said. 'This was folded and tucked under a coffee cup.'

She handed the napkin to me, and three $20 bills fell onto my desk when I opened it. On the outside, in big, bold letters, was printed 'Something For Stevie'.

'Pony Pete asked me what that was all about,' she said, 'so I told him about Stevie and his Mom and everything, and Pete looked at Tony and Tony looked at Pete, and they ended up giving me this.' She handed me another paper napkin that had 'Something For Stevie' scrawled on its outside. Two $50 bills were tucked within its folds. Frannie looked at me with wet, shiny eyes, shook her head and said simply: 'truckers.'

That was three months ago. Today is Thanksgiving, the first day Stevie is supposed to be back to work.

His placement counselor said he's been counting the days until the doctor said he could work, and it didn't matter at all that it was a holiday. He called 10 times in the past week, making sure we knew he was coming, fearful that we had forgotten him or that his job was in jeopardy. I arranged to have his mother bring him to work. I then met them in the parking lot and invited them both to celebrate his day back.

Stevie was thinner and paler, but couldn't stop grinning as he pushed through the doors and headed for the back room where his apron and busing cart were waiting.

'Hold up there, Stevie, not so fast,' I said. I took him and his mother by their arms. 'Work can wait for a minute. To celebrate you coming back, breakfast for you and your mother is on me!' I led them toward a large corner booth at the rear of the room.

I could feel and hear the rest of the staff following behind as we marched through the dining room. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw booth after booth of grinning truckers empty and join the procession. We stopped in front of the big table. Its surface was covered with coffee cups, saucers and dinner plates, all sitting slightly crooked on dozens of folded paper napkins. 'First thing you have to do, Stevie, is clean up this mess,' I said. I tried to sound stern.

Stevie looked at me, and then at his mother, then pulled out one of the napkins. It had 'Something for Stevie' printed on the outside. As he picked it up, two $10 bills fell onto the table.

Stevie stared at the money, then at all the napkins peeking from beneath the tableware, each with his name printed or scrawled on it. I turned to his mother. 'There's more than $10,000 in cash and checks on that table, all from truckers and trucking companies that heard about your problems . 'Happy Thanksgiving.'

Well, it got real noisy about that time, with everybody hollering and shouting, and there were a few tears, as well.

But you know what's funny?

While everybody else was busy shaking hands and hugging each other, Stevie, with a big, big smile on his face, was busy clearing all the cups and dishes from the table.

Best worker I ever hired.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

When Your Body Starts Screaming at You

It's been about ten years that I have suffered from headaches. The first migraine I ever remember having was at the end of my bridal shower (and it was not indicative of how I felt about the shower - it was great, thank you again Jodi!). However, towards the end, there was no escaping that something was wrong. On the way home, I threw up all over the car (Michele was driving), and my poor sister was forced to clean it all up as I was completely incapacitated. I had to go straight to bed. It was a very frightening experience as it COMPLETELY stopped me cold - there was no "trying to fake it or function" - it scared me that if that were to happen on the day of my wedding, I would not have been able to make it down the aisle.

Since then, the headaches got worse, especially after Brayden was born and his massive weight in his car seat really messed with my allignment. Blessedly, it was around that time that Mom began coming to the rescue - using me as her homework as she trained and certified to become a Licensed Massage Therapist. This became even more huge after the car accident in 2004 as the headaches increased about 4 fold after that. Medicines were also prescribed at that point, so it's all been kept at a pretty manageable point.

Through all this, and probably in large part due to learning from Mom, I've really started to become attune to my body. When it becomes stressed, certain physical things begin to happen. When I'm about to get sick, other "non-sick" sorts of things kick in. And, of course, when a run of the mill headache starts to evolve into something hideous - that will eventually "stop my in my tracks" - there are some very clear repetitive signals.

Today, I awoke with a mild headache. Not altogether surprising as I got worked on by Mom yesterday and sometimes that will happen. I also spend a LOT of time on the Wii Fit. I used it to exercise in the morning, played on it all afternoon with Kara, and then, was in hysterics in the evening, as we introduced it to Michele and watched Travis try to compete against us. Seriously, I have not laughed as hard as I laughed last night in years....

Around noon today, I started to feel like my eyes were sleepy/aggravated. It began to make more sense around 2:00, on the drive to Michele's when I felt that pressure around the bridge of my nose and felt the need to get off the cell phone so I could press on that point in order to alleviate the pressure. I had already taken medicine, so the pain wasn't so much the issue -

We were planning on taking both vehicles to do returns at the outlet and then return to Michele's house. (John is gone at a leadership retreat this weekend). But, just at the point that we were nearly passing the last exit to her house, I called and suggested we go straight there - I wasn't going to make it.

At that point, it became a race against time and sheer willpower to make it to Michele's. I was quite tempted to call Michele to see if somehow she'd drive the 40 minutes to her house, bring Michael in the car with her and come to drive my car. All I wanted to do was crawl in the backseat and lay down. Being upright was killing me. I was nauseous, my body temperature was going all over the place (I was constantly trying to warm up while keeping the air blowing cold), my palms were sweating, my leg was shaking everytime I exerted it to use the break - my body was pretty much screaming at me! We were driving back roads so if I felt like I couldn't maintain consciousness, I would have been able to pull over - and Michele was right in front of me as well, so it was safe enough. But, it really was one of the more scary road trips I've had in a long time.

I can't even tell you how happy I was to crawl into Michael and Michele's bed. I short nap helped wonders - though I'm currently back to NEEDING to lay down again. None of this may mean much to you all - but if you can take the pain out of the equation, it is kind of fascinating just how crazy it can get when your body is trying to get your attention!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Thank You Grandma Liupakka!

For the past two years, Mikayla has received a special "more valuable" doll for her birthday. She's enjoying choosing which one she wants and then reading up about the history behind these dolls. I'm impressed that, for the most part, she gives them the care they deserve.

This year, she received an extra special treat from Grandma (John's mom). She brought over on Wednesday an antique doll bed and high chair that Mikayla quickly put to use.



So sweet!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Courtesy of Michele...

Life is not very interesting right now- nothing fun to take pictures of and post unless you want to see me putting away laundry, FINALLY filling in the whiteboard JANUARY / FEBRUARY calendars, paying bills, on the elliptical, or (well, this actually would be entertaining) - trying to get through the slalom ski course on the Wii-Fit without hitting a gate. ("Just one more try, Mikayla" repeated over and over again until I finally achieved my "champion" goal!).

So, I'm pulling out something I found at Michele's - questions that she put together in order to get to know the new girls in her high school group.

I'll present a few today and would love it if you choose any or all to answer in the comments. I'll go ahead and put my answers in itallics....

1. I find myself absolutely giddy when I am....

Walking out of Autzen stadium with the Whites after a hard-won Duck football victory against a ranked opponent, listening to the first Christmas music of the season, driving to Sunriver in December, experiencing the first morning in the hot tub at Sunriver, watching any of my family experience feelings of giddiness-

2. When I look at close friendships, I find that I value these qualities in a friend:

Transparency, being able to laugh at oneself, a person that is not critical, not arrogant or full of oneself, someone that does not have it altogether, not (generally) a Debbie-Downer (but willing to listen to me when I am!), willing to confide - and trustworthy enough to confide in.

3. One issue in my life that I know God is helping me work on is:

Organizing my life with His priorities in mind, vs. what I believe has to be done, or what I just feel like doing....

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Easy Clean Dog Bed


Michael sent this to us last night (complete with the above title) - I can't believe how big Baxter is getting!!!