Monday, February 25, 2013

New Van, Nike Employee Store, and a Fun Weekend in Portland

It was a very eventful weekend for the Riley family.  Friday kicked it off with John unexpectedly being able to turn in our leased van (it was due this month) and getting a new one for me.  He was very concerned after checking the rates for us online as to how much more we'd be spending, but Travis came through for us in a HUGE way to help us get the deal of the century, that literally only took John 20 minutes to complete on his lunch hour.  I despise dealing with car purchases/exchanges etc...this was a HUGE gift to me. 

Because Mikayla had a tournament in Portland on Sunday, we opted to head up there for the full weekend.  On Saturday, we had the first-time experience at the Nike Employee Store.  You need to "know someone" to get in, as each adult's entrance requires a one time guest pass.  We've never had the opportunity to go before, but one of John's co-workers pulled off a shopping miracle for us, and secured passes.

The place is a sportswear dream come true as it has all of Nike's latest fashion releases at 50% off.  Jackets, shoes, accessories....they've got it all.  We spent way too much money there, but went away very happy.  =)

For lunch, we hit the Black Bear Diner.  Clearly, my preference wasn't "lunch" cuisine....I'm definitely a "breakfast all day" person.  And, for the record, this was even better than it looks!

Back at the hotel, I spent a lot of time on this....trying to get caught up on all of the blog posts that I'm still so far behind on.

The kids had a good time at the pool together.  It's amazing how capable they are of being "pals" when it's advantageous to both of them. 

Finally, Sunday brought us across the border in to Washington to this amazing high school in Vancouver.  It was a "non-counting" tournament for the team (every other tournament's results are kept track of for a monthly ranking) - so it was a little more relaxed.  They were about 50-50 in their wins/losses and performance.  On a good note, because their losses occurred late in the day, we were able to get out of there by about 3:30 - which is definitely the earliest tourney exit we've had.

We drove through Portland around 4pm - views of the skyscrapers from the bridge - impressive compared to Eugene, but no where near the views of San Francisco.  I am really thankful I do not live in a big city.

All in all, it was a great family weekend- in fact, so much so, that it was hard to reconcile we'd already hit the end of Sunday night.  Monday morning came way too fast.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Back into the Swing of Things

The return home trip from California to Oregon was pretty uneventful.  We missed a turn-off and ended up driving through the capitol city of Sacramento - it added some time into our trip, but the kids got the bragging rights of having "visited" that city as well in their trip.  Michele drove the entire way, God bless her - as I alternated ice packs and kind of "checked out" in the passenger seat.  Again, "not miserable", but it would have been if I'd had to be the driver.  We still managed to make it home, even after getting gas and DQ in about 8 hours - and that includes navigating through snow at the pass level.  Way to go Michele!

As I mentioned earlier, on Wednesday, I was absolutely giddy to embrace sweet Whitley.  She gave me a beaming smile and my heart breathed a sigh of relief that she hadn't forgotten me in our six days apart.  Mikayla and I ended up visiting Mom and Dad that afternoon and Whitley did prove that she is getting to that age where unfamiliar is uncomfortable and she wants the security of the person she knows the best.  This proves a little difficult when that person is on the massage table getting the adjustments she so desperately needs to prevent more pain - but Mikayla and Dad were champs in walking her around outside and in (she likes their fish tank!) so Mom could do her magic.

This is the outfit she showed up in on Thursday - ADORABLE!  We're also realizing the special affinity Whitley has to "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" - we think her first words might be "Meeska, Mooska, Mickey Mouse" (the words chanted at the beginning that make the clubhouse appear).  No surprise that Mickey is her favorite on the show, she wiggles and lights up whenever he comes on.  =) 

Thursday afternoon, Christi came by to visit with me - but, let's face it, Whitley was the biggest draw.  Starting this week, we've gotten to feed her breakfast and lunch, and Christi handled the lunch time.  She sure makes a mess, but it's fun nonetheless.  Not only was it a joy to have Christi there, but it was a huge help as I sorted laundry while she held her and put her to sleep.  WIN-WIN!

And, on Friday, Heather took her lunch (half) hour to come visit us.  We dined on PB&J's while Heather held Whitley as much as possible in her 20 minute visit. =)  It's so sad that that baby doesn't get any love......

I sent this earlier in the day to her to tell her Whitley was excited to see her...

When you start the week on a Wednesday, it's amazing how fast it flies by - and for sure it wasn't too harsh of a transition from our California vacation. 

My Sincerest Apologies

It was brought to my attention by at least three people yesterday just how delinquent my blog is.  Oh, I's been weighing on me for the last week.  I hope to remedy that tonight with quite a few post-dated entries, but in the meantime, let me offer up some lame excuses as to why I haven't been posting.

1.)  I've been a little preoccupied.  I've either been on a marvelous adventure with Michele and the girls or hanging out with Whitley.  When I have Whitley, I have these precious downtime moments as she's taking her bottle that I can one-hand access my smart phone or Kindle, but certainly not type out a blog post.  And, then, when she's asleep, the last thing I feel like can afford to do is sit back down and type (vs. doing the dozen or so loads of laundry I'm behind on).

2.) In this age of increased social media, I feel like Instagram and Facebook have given folks more than adequate access to the day in and out goings on here.  However, that's definitely not the end all for me, as I really do want to chronicle our family's history on the blog (and I know not everyone is dialed in to those formats)

3.)  When I have had the motivation to blog, it has often occurred simultaneously with the kids' desire to use my computer.  So, I find it easier to cave in and hand it over, than try to type with them hovering.

Lame, I know.  But, even as I'm typing this, it is with only one hand as the other one is securely holding Whitley as she bangs my keys across the counter top.  So, I gotta go, hopefully more to come very soon!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Change of Plans

Around 11pm on Monday night, I started to guess my neck might have kinked a bit while trying to read my Kindle (and undoubtedly due to driving stress to and from San Fran) - and guessed I might be in for it in the morning.  Yup.  It was a problem.

Earlier in our adventures Michele had hinted about how cool it would be to have one more day, so it was already in the back of my mind of what that could mean for our adventure.  We had already decided to take it easy on Monday morning and not be over-the-top rushed to get out of there.  So, through the slow pace of the morning, I had time to consider whether or not this headache was bad enough to justify getting out of all of our responsibilities for Tuesday as we'd be driving home that day instead.

So, once I figured out that Whitley had a place to go on Tuesday (thank you Grandma Sheryl!), we made it official and booked the room for one more day.  The girls were SO HAPPY!

I thought I'd be good enough to run another quick stop at the Jelly Belly Factory to pick up some more specific flavors that our family members requested and then to Safeway for dinner for the evening.  Sadly, I couldn't even get through Safeway - I ended up filling up one of their grocery bags with deli ice and laying in the backseat while the girls finished up.  Yup, definitely made the right decision in terms of going home a day later.

Fortunately, with the ice and laying flat, things were manageable.  Michele took the girls down to the pool for another fun adventure while I napped.  And, pretty much we just spent that extra day laying low, relaxing, and appreciating the fact we were still on vacation. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sonoma and "Wicked"

If there was anything I'd change about our experience down in California, it would have happened on Sunday morning.  I would have insisted we'd gotten our rear ends moving and out of the hotel about 90 minutes before we actually did.  Granted, we did have kind of a last minute course change about the route we'd take - which meant a whole of unknowns were thrown into the mix, but an extra 90 minutes (or even 60 minutes) would have alleviated a whole lot of white-knuckled driving stress through the streets of San Francisco!

As it was, we set off west from Fairfield to the wine country of California.  If we'd had more time, we would have stopped to take so many more pictures - the color was not modified in these pics, the sky really was that blue (and about mid 60's in temps.)  So beautiful, but unfortunately all viewed driving by.  We drove through Napa and then ended up in Sonoma for lunch.

I had mentioned "Black Bear Diner" as a fun location we had eaten when our family was on vacation in 2007 to Lake Tahoe.  Knowing our group's affinity for breakfast foods - and that they serve breakfast all day- we thought this would be a cozy place to stop at.  (I know what you are thinking, "you are in world-famous Sonoma and you opt for a franchise restaurant to eat at vs. some sort of one-of-a-kind cafe"....yeah, we are bad like that.  We tend to gravitate towards comfort and cozy vs. eclectic and unknown when it comes to eating out....)

The girls did indeed love the atmosphere and we raced through our orders.  Unfortunately, the time span between when Michele and I got our "Blackberry Bear Claws" (in the above pic collage) and their orders of pancakes was eight minutes.  Not a big deal normally (bear claws must be served early like appetizers or something...), but in our case, every minute counted knowing we had to make it to San Francisco and be in our seats at the Orpheum theater by 2pm.  

So, while we waited, Michele thought today would be a great day to treat her oldest daughter to a mini make-over - giving her a little eye shadow and mascara.  As a 7th grader, and for such a special event, it seemed like the right timing.  And, wow - Oh Natalia, it's a truth we've always known, but made more apparent as the years go on, how beautiful you are - both inside and obviously, out.  =)

Within about five minutes of the girls getting their pancakes, we were exiting the restaurant with "to go" containers and on the road.  Every stop sign and red light had me stressing....ugh.  But, soon enough (we were staying within our navigation's time expectation and even gaining a few minutes) we saw this on the horizon, and eventually were crossing over it.  Of course, we had planned all along to stop at the Golden Gate Bridge wayside and take a picture of all of us together, but we definitely didn't have time for that.  (And, on the way home, unanimously didn't feel like it was a priority to retrace our steps, opting instead to get home the fastest way possible).

To top off the stress, the route to the Orpheum theater via the Golden Gate Bridge was definitely not a shortcut.  Instead it was one stop light/stop sign after another.  At one point, we got into the shorter left lane, only to be stuck behind the guy who needed to do an unprotected u-turn.  After a couple minutes of being stuck there (and no way to change lanes), we learned our lesson to stay out of that lane.  We also found ourselves on a track that quickly gained elevation on our way to the theater.  So glad we didn't have a manual transmission at some of those stop signs!

Thank God for an excellent phone navigation system - as we were able to get to the pre-determined parking garage by about 1:30.  We were still about 3 blocks away though, so we all hustled as fast as possible, but once on foot, were a little unsure which way to go.  Fortunately, we found two gals also headed the same way, who clearly knew where they were going - and we followed them.  It's a good thing, too - I had been warned, but where the Orpheum Theater is located is not a very safe part of town.  In fact, the entire walk (through the downtown area) had homeless persons along all of the sidewalks - often sleeping on their belongings.  It's not an unknown sight in Eugene, but not to that degree.  Can't imagine how nervous I would have been if we'd been attending an evening showing and not in the light of day.

Finally, like a beacon of light, we saw this.  Thank God!

And, as we walked through the doors, we received this (and then waited in line with about 50 other women for the very necessary visit to the restroom).  By the time we found our amazing seats (thank you John for picking out and purchasing the tickets for us!), we had about three minutes before the show began.  Sheesh!  That's cutting it way too close, but we made it!

The top right picture shows the girls during intermission.  Our tickets included VIP access at that time, so we got to enter a room with a handful of other folks and received free drinks and king size bags of candy.  I'm not sure what "extra" John spent for this perk, but it was a welcome reprieve during the musical's version of "half-time" after the tension we'd felt before hand.

Needless to say, we all LOVED the performance.  The actress that played "Glinda" was so much better than the one who played the part in the performance Mikayla and I attended in Eugene.  At the time, I thought she was fine, as I had no way to know what I could expect, but after seeing this gal - wow, how much better the musical was than even I had expected.  And, it's crazy how much I'd forgotten even within two years time.  At the point in which Elphaba and Glinda sang the duet "For Good" Mikayla was darting her eyes back and forth between Michele and I (she was seated between us) - smiling at the fact we both had tears in our eyes.  Probably the best moment of our entire vacation.  Afterwards, we were able to ask a kind lady to take a picture of us and the marquee - and then, we raced back to our vehicle, choosing not to get out again until we were back at our hotel.

A few pictures of the skyscrapers of San Francisco and the best we had (amongst many attempts on our phones) of the sun setting over the harbor.  

While we didn't end up getting out of the car before reaching our "home away from home", we did manage to go through a few "drive-thrus".  One was through McDonald's for the sole purpose of satisfying Ellie's need for ranch dressing that In N Out didn't provide with its french fries.  We tried to order additional items (like root beer) to make the silly request not seem so absurd, but they didn't have root beer.  So we went through the drive though at McDonald's to only spend $0.40 on two packets of ranch dressing.  It definitely brought forth a car full of laughter.  Then, of course, the second drive thru was for In N Out.  As seen below, it was well worth the extra couple of minutes off course, to be able to take it back to the hotel and enjoy in peace.   

What a crazy, eventful day - one in which we worked hard to savor every moment.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Jelly Belly Factory and In-N-Out Burger

This was what the morning looked like in Californa (and a real pic of the hotel where we stayed).  We enjoyed the blue skies (albeit hazy) upon waking up.  We also enjoyed the free breakfast offered by the hotel.  That was a huge hit - and a lifesaver/money saver in terms of getting the kids bigtime fueled up for the day with all the protein and carbs the buffet had to offer.  It was also nice to not have to get on their case too severely about trying something and deciding they didn't like it - while it was a touch wasteful, it didn't affect our budget.  

Our first agenda of the day was to visit the Jelly Belly Factory and participate in one of the free tours offered there.  

Participating in the tour required that you wear one of the paper hats.  Given how much hair still remained out of the hat, I'm really not sure why this is so important - but the kids all got a kick out of it.

We came at the right time as there wasn't much of a line and got started right away.  We had a very amusing tour guide that kept the 45 minutes of moving and information quite entertaining.  We were told that the top three flavors of Jelly Bellies are cherry, butter-flavored popcorn, and licorice.  Does that surprise you?  It did us.  The newest flavor release is "Tabasco".  The kids all thought he said "Tobacco" though, and were quite bothered until we'd heard about this misunderstanding and clarified that Jelly Belly would want to promote a candy flavor so nasty for you.  =)

We were also told that no candies got wasted.  Even the jelly beans that ended up on the floor were put into bins and eventually sold to pig farmers - the claim is that they are good for a pig's digestion.  Hmmm, another "not sure why", but a fun fact nonetheless.

After the tour, we all got to sample any flavors we wanted (pomegranate was very good...) - and then spent a whole lot more money on candy than we'd ever reasonably expect too.  However, our boys back home (and later on, my Bible Study) were all very thankful for our thoughtful indulgences.

The next stop to our day was a run into Target.  We picked out a few things left behind in our outfits for "Wicked" and do what most people do in Target - find other things to purchase not on your list.  I was in for a rude awakening at the checkout, though, when I discovered California's sales tax is 7%!  As we live in a state with no sales tax, it was beyond irritating to realize I'd spent extra money on items I could have found in Eugene... and not had to pay the extra money.  Since I don't get the benefit of a lower property tax rate/income tax rate in my visit to California, I'm not very keen on contributing to their sales tax!

Finally, on to a place you can't find in Eugene - In-N-Out Burger!  Shocking that a place with such a simple menu can be such an attraction, but it definitely was and is for us.  It was also a hit for a whole lot of other people as the drive-through line nearly extended the parking lot, and the "eat in" line circled the interior of the restaurant.  Fortunately, we found a table and got our order in before the crowd got to its worst.  In a rare moment of success, we heard praises uttered from all five of us regarding our meals.  (We have very picky eaters, mine being the worst....and I know I did nothing in my parenting to help that).  The girls were also impressed with the Bible verses on all of the wrappers.  While I wish they had a location in Oregon, having it so far away makes us all the more appreciative of it when we vacation.  (Not to mention the low cost of such a novelty meal). 

Happy and satiated (with food purchased at the store for dinner, preventing us from having to leave the hotel premises), we arrived back at the Fairfield Inn and hunkered down.  Later that afternoon, we ventured off to the pool.  For sure, our girls all love swimming - and the fact that we had the place to ourselves was an added bonus.

I did eventually hop in the pool - but certainly, the hot tub is my preference.  =)

And, here's how the night concluded.  Michele and I shared one of the queen size beds, while Nati and Mikayla shared the other to sleep in - and Ellie slept between us on a makeshift bed made the hide-a-bed cushions and extra blankets.  It sounds uncomfortable, but it was cozy and she was happy.  The sunset was a nice sight to see.  Clearly, the lack of Disney Channel didn't prevent our daughters from hotel room fun.  They hi-jacked all of the computers in any free time to play "Minecraft" together.  Hey, whatever works....we were busy with our Kindles sampling and devouring books.  And, you can see by the final picture of the collage that our dinner menu was not exactly nutritious.  That's what vacations all about, right?! 

California Bound!

Spirits were very, very high on Friday morning as the Schilling girls arrived at about 8:30am and within an hour, we were on the road, California bound.  These pics were taken about five miles from our house.  Michele was learning how to navigate my phone - the camera, PicFrame, Instagram, and tagging on Facebook while I took the role as driver. 

Note that the beautiful sunshine we'd had the day prior was not existent in these morning hours.

It took us about three hours of driving south to finally find it.  Once you go from a fog bank into's such a "Hallelujah" moment - certainly giving even more reasons to praise God for such a priceless adventure we were given the opportunity to experience.

This pic was taken about an hour later.  Clearly, the girls weren't as enchanted with the border crossing into California as they were last summer.  Dramamine had a lot to do with it too.  They slept a long time.

Michele and I definitely agreed that the early stretch of I-5 in California are indeed beautiful with Mt. Shasta on the horizon and Shasta Lake recreational area.  But, once you get past that, the scenery is downright dull - and very unappealing.  Michele and I switched out of the driving rolls when we stopped in Redding to fill up with gas and some McDonald's.  We were all in a hurry to get to our final destination, so there was no time to be picky in terms of where to eat.  We did very much enjoy, however, the 70 degrees that greeted us as we stepped out of the car there.  Ahhhhhhhh.

In just about 8 hours from the time we departed our house, we reached our hotel in Fairfield, California.  We picked the location based on it being a Marriott Fairfield Hotel - a franchise we choose every time if possible based on how well it fits our family and the familiarity of it.  We had hoped it would be in a good location, and sure enough, it was the last exit of this city - in a newer developed area that felt very safe.  That makes all the difference in comfort level, that is for sure.

Right across the street was a "Straw Hat Pizza" restaurant.  None of us desired to get back into the car to drive someplace, so that sounded like a great idea.  Unfortunately, the taste of the food was rather lackluster, but the place won huge points from the kids by having tv monitors at each table.  The one drawback of our hotel was that it didn't have Disney Channel (seriously?!!) - so when they discovered this place did have it, they were able to satisfy some of their withdrawals.

The day ended with a walk across the street to get some fro yo, and then nestling in to our cozy hotel room.  We'd arrived!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Six Months Whitley!

It was back in December when I realized Whitley's six month birthday landed on Valentine's Day.  So sweet.  I just posted on how we celebrated it with a grand walk - but here are a few pictures I took a few weeks prior of her in a Valentine's outfit I couldn't help but get.

I'm typing this post-dated (so the day I'm typing is actually February 23rd), so I can tell you that by the time we returned from our California trip, it had been six days since I'd seen Whitley.  I missed her SO MUCH!  I was giddy in anticipation of Steph pulling in to our driveway on Wednesday morning, dancing around like I was waiting for a date to arrive.  She brings so much light to my life.

And, here is a video of Brayden getting Whitley to laugh the day before her birthday.  Definitely a love-love relationship between those two - though Whitley declined Brayden to be her Valentine, choosing her daddy instead.  =)

Happy Valentine's Day!

My Valentine's Day actually got to start a day early as John presented both Mikayla and I with a beautiful bouquet of flowers on Wednesday night.  Knowing we'd be leaving bright and early on Friday morning, he wanted us to be able to enjoy them a little bit longer.  LOVE MY HUSBAND!!

I might have made a mistake last year when I made a Pinterest effort to make a cutsie Valentine's breakfast for the kids, as now they expect it.  So, this year, I opted to make "Churro Waffles" in the shape of hearts.  They were delicious, and you can find the recipe on my Pinterest board, however, I'm not convinced the actual waffle recipe is really a winner in comparison to other waffles I've tasted.

Of course, some treats in Valentine's bags and sandwiches cut in heart shapes helped to delight the kids even more and make up for the fact that they had to go to school on such a fun day.

Mikayla was able to spend the afternoon with BFF, Kenady.  I am so thankful for their friendship.  Even though they are in different classes and participate in different activities (Kenady is the ultimate athlete) - they still maintain a closeness and confidence that the other is always there for them.  It also makes for their time together in after school hang-outs that much more priceless.  Neither one of them are fans of Valentine's Day because they both cringe at the idea of getting unwanted attention from boys and both of them have been recipients of candy left on doorsteps in year's past.  So, they've made a tradition to hang out on this holiday together.  In what I felt like was a great prank, Mikayla had me leave a box of chocolates on Kenady's doorstep so that when they walked home together Kenady would think that it was from a boy.  She totally got her....too cute.

The weather in Eugene turned out to be the best day we've had so far in 2013.  It felt like spring.  While that only means for us hitting 60's still a really big deal.  And, what better way to take advantage of such a rarity but to take a walk with Christi and Kaela (and of course, Whitley).  I warned Christi right away that if she were to take Whitley out of her carseat/stroller, we might never get her to happily return to it.  She took the risk (which I would have done in her shoes too), so Whitley was carried for about 80% of the walk.  She was one very happy little girl as a result.

Pushing an empty stroller....but the river view is pretty.

I didn't expect my face to be in the picture - we were aiming for a smile from Whitley.  I can't tell you how much joy I have in knowing I can usually make that happen.  =)

Our happy quartet at the point we turned around...

It really was one of those serendipitous days that leave you smiling as you reconsider it.  I meant to do a whole separate blog post about a recent Thursday Night Ladies topic discussion we had in regards to the "Transformation in Christ".  Watching Heather, Christi, Kaela, and so many of the other gals grow in their maturity and walk with the Lord is absolutely inspiring.  I value them so much as friends that encourage me daily - and delight in the life-changing experiences they are in the midst of - whether that's new jobs, new loves, new babies (Whitley), or wanting to have a new baby... 

We spent the first part of our walk getting the "411" on all that Drew had done and planned for Kaela in regards to the "holiday of love".  That guy is a winner - he had letters for her to open at certain times, flowers, coffee waiting for her at work, a lunch date, a dinner date, a surprise movie - and presents.  He sure set the bar high for every other guy out there (not to mention really messing himself up for every future Valentine's Day he'll share with Kaela...).  It is so fun watching Kaela through this journey - going from all of the doubts to now such a confidence.  So sweet!

The walk ended with a gift from Christi - a bag of Hershey's kisses and a very sweet card emphasizing her appreciation of our friendship.  I certainly ended the day feeling very, very blessed - and loved in so many different ways.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Red Robin....Again =)

We made it to Red Robin this afternoon.  Have you heard of that restaurant?  It was new to us, we kind of liked it ;)  

This time, we celebrated both John and Mikayla's birthdays with Mom and Dad - and since they were in town, the Schilling family was able to be there as well.  Good times, though, I have to admit, I was seated on the opposite end of the table from Mom and Dad so, I had virtually no conversation time with them.  Good thing I get to see them a lot more frequently with my frequent visits out to the house for bodywork sessions.

(I had to catch Traig when he was looking away as he's never a fan of picture taking)

The rest of the weekend was spent just catching up and hanging out with the Schilling family, as Michael was down to help their former youth pastor convert their garden shed into a "church office". They have launched a home church in their west Eugene neighborhood.  The low-key pace of this weekend was especially good for John as he's been fighting the same respiratory virus that Mom and Dad had this last week.  If it's a 10 day run....he should be feeling good by Wednesday. 

On Saturday, the Whites hung out for a bit, along with Heather.  We watched "Pitch Perfect" with Heather (not exactly kid-friendly, but very funny), and later in the evening, "Here Comes the Boom" (predictable, but clean and fun - we are definitely fans of Kevin James). 

Mostly, Michele and I read and did some planning for our upcoming plans.... On Friday morning, bright and early, we'll be taking off with our girls for our extended weekend roadtrip to San Francisco.  The weather forecast shows sunshine and temperatures in the mid-60's....WE CAN'T WAIT!!!!