Sunday, March 30, 2014

As for the Rest of Spring Break

Year after year I get to field the question, "Are you going anywhere during spring break?".  And my answer can always be "yes" - just not what they have in mind.  "Of course I'm going some place, I'm sure I'll hit Walmart (at least once), Target, maybe Safeway, and probably a gas station."  Oh, that's not what you meant?  Well, that's what I usually have in mind when it comes to spring break. 

We don't like crowds when vacationing, so we've never opted to do any major vacations during that time period.  Instead, we risk it, and pull the kids from school.  (Which is getting harder and harder to manage).  Now that the kids are involved in Camp Harlow, that's another major reason not to travel at this time.  

One thing that is an absolute, though, is getting together with Michele and spending our days off together.  She was thoughtful enough to spend Monday and Tuesday in Dallas with Michael, then an appointment with this gal brought her down Wednesday.  Christi is such a favorite for all of us - and Michele's hair looks beeee-uuuu-tiii-full after seeing her.  And, Michele was doubly lucky as she got to meet Elsie as well.  

On Thursday, we headed back up north together.  While the Outlets were the ultimate draw, the real necessity of the trip was to pick up Ellie, the sole child not at Harlow (one more year!) who had spent another night in Dallas due to a church ice skating trip.  It was fun to shower love on just her for a while. 

And, the joy of spring break means we get to justify eating a little less healthy.  Yes, I know the scales will reprimand me next week, but when it's vacation time, it just makes life a little more special to partake in some fun indulgences.

By the time we left, the sky looked like this.  Oooooh.  Blessedly though, those campers at Harlow were able to spend at least a portion of the day outside on every day except for Friday (on which day we actually broke records for rainfall). 

Here's Michele's Instagram Collage of the day.  Not pictured was the (alive!) deer we saw in the grasses along the freeway.  That bunny is actually a runaway Michele helped to rescue for some neighbors of ours.  =)

On Friday, we met up with Mom and Dad at Red Robin to celebrate Mom's birthday.  Don't they look great?!  It was nice to be able to catch up with them.

Friday night brought back our kids from Camp Harlow (so far, so good with all of Brayden's belongings also returning!), Michael coming down from Dallas, as well as a visit from the Whites.  It's been forever since Michele's seen Whitley so she was all about giving her a ton of attention - and in this case utilizing Baxter to help.  Whitley LOVES to give both Sydney and Bogey (her family's beagle) dog treats, so she was much more interested in just passing along the goody than seeing Baxter doing anything clever.   (By the way, the bottom right hand picture shows her signing "more" - while she was eagerly saying it - she was clearly loving the opportunity to feed him!)

The big outing on Saturday involved going to see "Divergent".  Michele, Nati, Mikayla, and myself had all read the book - Ellie and Brayden were just along for the ride.  =) 

Michele and I were pretty impressed with the movie.  There are some obvious plot deviations (especially at the end), and of course, some omissions -but, given the movie ran for 2 hours and 20 minutes, I felt like they did as well as they could.  Mikayla and Nati were less thrilled - this is one of their first experiences in reading a book before seeing it any movie format - and they are now recognizing that their imaginations are much more creative than any movie special effects can be.  =)

When you have house guests over, it can prompt a little more effort made on meals.  For Christmas, John got a "family present" of a "flip-over" waffle maker - like the ones we use all the time at the breakfasts offered at hotels.  We had yet to really use it (outside of a token effort with Bisquick mix), so when I found a recipe on the Pinterest feed featuring "Best Buttermilk Waffles", I thought it might be fun to give a try.  We made use of it all this weekend and it was definitely a recipe winner - none of that heavy, starchy taste like the box mixes give you and a wonderful crispy texture.  YUMMMMM! 

As for the rest of the weekend, the weather has made for a good time to stay inside, watch movies, and pour through books.  We've also been keeping tabs on the Oregon Softball Team which is ranked 2nd nationally.  Several weeks ago, while hanging out with Alesha at the Trinity House, a gal named Alexa came into the room and visited with Whitley, Alesha, and myself.  I've known of her through CCF - she's a senior and has been around at fall retreats, and I was pretty certain she was the one I remembered that played softball for the Ducks.  We kind of hit it off in easy conversation, and by the end, she offered complimentary tickets to home games whenever she has extra for our family to come watch.  We exchanged numbers, and have been enjoying text banter ever since, with plans to meet up soon. 

Well, as it turns out, Alexa's not just any ol' member of the softball team, she's kind of the "face" of it - as shown on the the huge sign on the ball bark pic below.  First team all-American, Pac 12 Player of the Week, record holder for RBI's, highest batting average in the league, etc., etc., etc.  Gosh, I wish I would have ran into this girl and started conversation earlier in her college days - as this is her last year as a senior....  Boo!  But, I'm definitely enjoying the friendship and cheering her on - and hope I'll have even more to say of our interaction in the future.  =)  (Let me just re-iterate that my interest in getting to know her more has nothing to do with her status on the team, in fact, I've purposely waited for her to initiate any desire to meet up.  From all I can tell, this gal is "the whole package"- way beyond just a talented athlete- with an extraordinary family, strong friendships, and a walk with God that comes first and foremost and is displayed as the source of all her success.)

It's always a good sign it's been a sweet vacation when you have absolutely no interest in it ending.  Sigh...  But, the summer is not all that far away and April and May's non-stop weekend plans will undoubtedly have time flying by!!

Friday, March 28, 2014

God's Not Dead Despite World Vision

What a wonderful surprise it was to read the trending news on Monday and discover that the movie "God's Not Dead" not only broke even in its debut weekend, but surpassed all expectations.  This small budget movie that showed in less than a thousand theaters nationwide, ended up placing third in the box office standings and made nearly 10 million dollars.  Critics, entertainment magazines, and online experts were all quoted in similar ways, "'God's Not Dead' is a box office winner!".

I am looking forward to seeing it myself in less than a week with our Thursday Night Life Group (and families/spouses).  I am excited to see Shane Harper play the lead.  I'm a sucker for sweet Disney teen romance and his real life relationship to his on-screen girlfriend, Bridgit Mendler, from "Good Luck Charlie" on the Disney channel is the sort of stuff you want to see truly succeed.   Throw in Kevin Sorbo, Dean Cain ("Adventures of Lois and Clark") and of course, cameos from the family of "Duck Dynasty" and I can see the appeal.  But, after watching the online preview, I believe the real appeal of the movie is that Shane Harper's character is put on the defense to prove why and how he could truly believe in a God that so often socially and culturally appears dead in our society.

I think it's this crossover of such strong opposing viewpoints that will make the movie so interesting - and from the success and reviews I've heard about it, so inviting as it will take the viewer to a place where it's hard to walk away unmoved and unchallenged in their own relationship with God.   Needless to say, I'm so excited for the victory this movie represents in drawing people to consider what God in their life could really look like and why they would want to pursue this relationship.

Soooooo, it comes as no great surprise that Satan would launch a cultural and spiritual counter-attack.  Why wouldn't he use World Vision's latest announcements to redefine how he would want the world to view Christ, by exposing some of the ugliest of Christ followers.

I am not at all interested in discussing the decision that World Vision made, why they chose their decision, what it's based on in Scripture, or the final result - which was a reversal of their decision.  It's the fall-out that has sickened me.  As with many other "hot point" issues addressing the church today, this event has turned into an excuse for some to hurl hatred and venom to anyone who will listen in blog comments, Facebook updates, or even on picket signs in public.

In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked by the Pharisees (religious hypocrites of the time) what is the greatest command.  (They were trying to trick him...)  His response is what I feel the whole basis of God's Word is all about -

 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.

It didn't say, "Go out, expose sin and ridicule!"  Nor did it say, "Divide and conquer!"  And it certainly didn't say, "Win at any cost!".  It's all about LOVE.  

Quite honestly, in my own little world of "Spring Break Hibernation", I wouldn't have even known about this debate had I not done my every other day click onto Jen Hatmaker's blog.  I adore this woman.  She is witty, and Godly, and so very, very transparent.  But, she is not perfect, and she tries to make this abundantly clear as she uses writing as her ministry and openly sorts through her struggles in her blog (and Bible Study books).  When I clicked on her blog site, I found this: 

I read through her very prayed-through response to this very hurtful scenario and found myself thankful someone had laid it all out there for me and led me again to the bottom line of the situation- the need to love.  

But, then, I did something I know I shouldn't do (especially right before I go to bed), I clicked on the comments (at last count, there were over 750 on just the blog post - so much, much more if you read the comments on her link on Facebook).  I would say that 90% of them were very loving, very thankful, and very appreciative of Jen's writing.  But, that other 10%?  OHHHHHH.... They made my heart sink.  They made me so sad for the best-friend-in-another-life-that-doesn't-even-know-me (Jen), as who can navigate through such personal attacks?  Even with the number of supports, as we all know, all it takes is own "barb" to attach itself to our hearts and infect and hurt indefinitely.  And, then, I found myself just as bad as "the worst of these", when I began to judge them for their judging, to seek to rip up their characters and categorize all of them as "bad"... which was exactly what I felt THEY were doing.  What a cycle it creates.  Divisiveness.  Pride.  Superiority.  Hypocrisy.  Hatred.  

I ended up having some good chats with John and Michele about it, and during our road trip yesterday, Michele and I addressed some of the most scathing of comments and tried to figure out what would possess someone to spend their time just attacking others in words...  But, through all of it, I also found some folks who, just like Jen, found words to sum it all up beautifully.  One of these is "Courtney Leaf" who commented on Facebook to one of Jen's Facebook post follow-ups that pleaded with folks to consider no longer reading her blog or following her if they were in such disagreement ("Be Free!" she said) and reminded of the love that was needed to remedy the fall-out from the decision reversal.  This is what Courtney said:

"After going to a very conservative Christian college, there are very few Christians who I follow anymore due to issues like this one as well as the "church" tendency to demonize certain sins.  I look forward to every single blog post [re: Jen Hatmaker] as I know I will be uplifted and challenged.  It is people like you that have shown the true potential of the church.  Keep doing what you are doing.  As for the haters - why do you think the young people are leaving the church in droves?  No one wants a faith of do's and don'ts while minimizing the true beauty of the Gospel - relationship."  

Well said, Courtney!  Which brings us back full circle to why this movie that debuted might be appealing to so many.  It focuses in on why someone would want to have a relationship with GOD, which might come as quite a contrast to what the world sees "Christians" demonstrating.   While I know I fail very frequently, I hope that my life points to, and draws others to, a God full of love and grace that others would long to be in a relationship as well.  Because, let me tell you, there could be thousands of hateful comments directed towards the ways in which I've failed and don't follow all of the "do's and don'ts", but thank God, because of the cross - that is definitely no longer the point.

Phineas, Ferb, Koala, and Jump Rope Take on Spring Break at Harlow

Monday morning brought the beginning of "camp" for 200 kiddos at Camp Harlow - the highest enrollment they've ever had for a spring break camp.  Good thing they had some great helpers ready to assist in running the show!

It also brought the warmest temperatures of the year - blue skies and a high of 75 degrees!   We would have all been more enthusiastic if not for the forecast that showed rain as a 100% guarantee for the rest of the week.  Rejoice and play while you can, kids...

Both Mikayla ("Koala") and Nati ("Jump Rope") were old enough and earned positions on the team of middle school students titled "Solid Rock Servants".  Their job during spring break was to assist the counselors in any way they could (and get a taste of what the summer would be like in the next rung of the leadership ladder as "CAPs").  They were so excited (and so organized and meticulously prepared in contrast to their brothers!).

Brayden ("Phineas") and Traig ("Ferb") were both at spring break to stay once we dropped them off on Sunday night.  (Not our problem until nearly 7pm Friday night!).  =)  However, Mikayla and Nati had to be dropped off at 8am every morning and picked up at 4pm each afternoon (along with dear friend, Christina ("Maple")).   We've had scenarios where our boys avoid us like the plague when we enter the camp territory, so I took some distance shots just in case that was the only proof I had to send to Michele that her son was alive and well.    Traig is playing Ultimate Frisbee with one of his campers here.

Brayden is in blue and is helping his campers on the playground.  

But, what do you know, but age and maturity does good things for these boys after all and they were actually eager to see and embrace their mom and aunt.   (And maybe walk away with his favorite treats in the bag).  =)

And then return to the campers impatiently waiting to engage him in more chasing.  Look at that taunting...

This is a fraction of the leadership involved in making this place run so smoothly and encourage not only the campers, but our kids eager to serve them.  Of course, literally and figuratively, Dave is at the center of it all.  (Zach aka "Thor" is next to him - truly a "big brother" to both of our boys).  

As we headed back to the car, we encountered Traig again - still moving through the disk golf course.  (Nice form, Ferb).  

And, then, the hugs began - which is actually even more surprising from Traig - and particularly with all the girls.  But, not only did he accept them, he encouraged them, and that angry look on his face in the next photos, it's actually because he had yet to get a hug from Christina.  =)  So sweet.  (Though, I was tempted to freak Michele out a bit by sending the pics out of context so she'd think he was sporting an attitude...)  Anything but...seriously, Camp Harlow is Traig's euphoria.  It is so awesome. 

As for our girls - they were loving it too.  They are all naturals at it, as we had hoped.  And, as much as they loved the experience as each day progressed, I suspect the memories that will linger in their minds of this long and exhausting week will only be remembered as even sweeter and longed to be repeated that much more.  

As soon as I got out of my car, I ran right into Dave and he was so quick to fill me with encouragement about how my kids were doing and appreciating their gifts being used.  He whipped out his cell phone and showed me pics he'd already taken involving both of them.  

He was especially proud of this one, in which Brayden is now "on the other side of the table" - as a real counselor, taking parent data and checking in the kids to his group. 

It helps to have friends in high places as I also got input from Leah - with a picture like this sent my way showing Mikayla as the "merchant" atop Traig, the "leopard/camel" in a skit.  =)

Nice to also see shout-outs like this on Instagram pop up during the week too.  The girls really want Abby as their counselor when they take their own turn at camp this summer.  

Finally, more input from Dave, via text through John.   That blue comment was mine - and oh, how true it is.  Seriously, this high school parenting thing?  It's not easy.  While I know it could be A LOT HARDER, it's not been particularly enjoyable for me.  So, to get Brayden (and the rest of the kids) back to the place where they are giving of their hearts and time to serve others - among people whose hearts are also seeking the Lord....Well, it's the best thing ever for this mom's heart.  (And Michele's too, we've been doing a happy dance all week when it comes to our kids...and not just because they are giving us free time!). 

You know you have to write sweet things on the "good-bye" sheet they pass around like a yearbook at the end of every camp session, but, hey, the comments can sure make a mommy happy.

And finally, to bring a little levity and reality back to this gushing blog post, I have to put in the text I sent to both Brayden and John (who would be picking up the boys this evening).  I was strategic as I helped to packed for Brayden, that perhaps, if I did enough documenting, I could get him to replicate the process on his own in the upcoming (at least) three sessions of camp he'll be spending weeks at a time at Harlow this summer.   It's a nice thought - and I'm hopeful, but the other advantage will be the accountability of (hopefully) getting all of this stuff returned to me at the end of each camp.  Last year's fall-out of missing items after high school camp was ugly!

Another camp session over.  This one is a little easier to accept though, as it's like a tiny appetizer for the fun to come just 12 weeks away.  I can speak for all of us when I say it couldn't come fast enough!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"Pre"-Spring Break

Mikayla's spring break started on two days early this year.  Woo hoo!  It didn't please Brayden tremendously, but I was excited to have someone else enjoy the days with Whitley with me.  

First stop, "Dutch Bros" (there may have some bribery involved to get Mikayla's eager participation) - and, as it turns out, Whitley is a big fan of Dutch Bro's Wild Berry Smoothie too (good thing we got a large!).  

That smoothie came in real handy keeping Whitley somewhat content in the duo stroller.  She may have also gotten some exercise running down the aisles too.  =)

Whitley's affection for animals has only escalated in recent weeks.  When this neighborhood cat, "Nelson" (kind of a bully), came over to visit, Whitley was ecstatic to get to see "cat says meow".  He purred and swooped through her legs and left to go back home.  Sadly, that wasn't enough kitty visit for Whitley and she had quite the sad little melt-down when we went back inside wailing about the "cat says meow", "owwwside", etc.  I couldn't help but laugh.

On Thursday night, Meg and Kenady came over to spend the night.  Unfortunately, Kenady had to leave early for some soccer commitments, but I was able to drop Meg and Mikayla off at the mall the next morning.  Whitley and I hung out in the play area for a while while they shopped, and then eventually, we all exited, but not without getting some playtime on the motorized carousel.  

On Saturday afternoon, Mikayla and I got a chance to watch Kenady play on her "Olympic Development Soccer Team" to determine which players of the four (or more?!) teams would be chosen to participate on the one all-star "state" team that would continue playing through the summer.  She was pretty nervous about it, so I was glad that that was a couple of games that actually worked both for time and location to witness.    Not only is it great to see Kenady play, it's also been way too long in terms of an opportunity to catch up with Jonna.  I've missed her, but am content to wait a few more weeks until the Boston Marathon has been completed by her (second year in a row!) as I know the preparation for that has been sucking up every spare minute in her life (which doesn't offer a lot of spares to begin with). 

The blue skies may have been glorious, but boy was it windy and brisk.  We were all bundled up in multiple blankets.  But, ahhhh, when the wind died down a moment and that sun hit your face... divine!

That's Kenady with the red pennie on the yellow line.  She played tough out there.  And, what do you know, but two days later, Mikayla got a text from Kenady that indeed she did make the state team.  Would you expect any different from the girl who's mom runs the Boston Marathon and who's uncle is a professional hockey player (he plays on the same team as Carrie Underwood's husband!)?  That family, my goodness - but as I texted to Jonna in congratulations, it's not all of the accolades that draws Mikayla to Kenady as a friend or draws us to the Leighton family as friends - it's their character, integrity, and sweet, sweet spirit.   

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fun in Florence

Horse back riding really kicks up an appetite!  So, we were definitely ready to cash in our Auction gift certificate to Mo's immediately after the ride (and a good wash of our hands!).  

Mo's is a fixture on the Oregon coast - known especially for their outstanding clam chowder and friendly and efficient customer service.  Almost all the booths were full when we arrived around 2:00, folks love this place.  We ended up having ribs and burgers - while I did have a cup of the chowder, our family tends to stay very clear from seafood. 

And, here's a collage of the place we stayed it.  The upper left pic was taken from the internet, so the skies really weren't that blue when we arrived.  But, we loved the place and its very clean and cozy feel.  
 This was our view - not bad either!  It sat directly on the bay leading into the ocean.

We settled in to our room to just chill after a quick jaunt down Old Town Florence for some ice cream after Mo's.  We read, watched movies, Mikayla face-timed with a friend to study for a major science final (crazy how awesome technology is), and tried to keep Brayden's restlessness in check.  ;)  It was a gorgeous sunset as well - need to yet snag that picture from John's camera or Mikayla's ipad.

The "continental breakfast" offerings of our hotel were satisfactory, but not quite what we had in mind for a Florence adventure.  So, we scoured the internet for recommended breakfast restaurants - surprisingly (and sadly) Florence has very few to choose from.  So, we ended up here-

Their presentation of cocoa was impressive, but it was actually a little bitter and strong for the kids' tastes...

Brayden was a SPAZ this morning, and couldn't control his obnoxiousness.  Despite the smile for the picture, it was driving John nuts.  Whether it's his age, gender, ADHD, or just his otter personality, finding the right balance for his energy bursts is sometimes hard for him to grasp...

She looks happy, but really was NOT thrilled with her pancakes.  In fact, none of us were all that pleased.  It's always a bummer when you strike out at a restaurant.  You get that bill at the table to pay and think, "what a waste"...  

We returned to pack up after breakfast and then headed home.  Given the cost is only about 80 minutes away, we were home by 2:00, giving us what felt like "bonus time" at home.  John and I probably enjoyed catching up on DVR'd favorite shows together just about as much as any of the other fun times of the weekend.  Sometimes, there's no place like home.  (Especially when you haven't been able to enjoy it for a while).  =)