Sunday, January 25, 2009

Wii Had a Rockin Good Time

Six and half years ago, Curt and I plopped our sleep-deprived, weary bodies into the most uncomfortable metal folding chairs, arranged our diaper bags, Bibles, burp clothes, strollers and car seats in a precarious mountain and settled in for another morning worship service in the very distracting "parent-seating" area of our church. We cradled our newborn daughter, dressed in frills up to her ears, in our arms and glanced around to see how her church dress matched up to the other newbies. As we purused the crowed, we zeroed in on a couple we hadn't met. They too, looked like it had been weeks since they got a full night of sleep but were still glowing with the euphoria of new baby love. We introduced ourselves to Brian and Nancy and met their first-born daughter, Grace, who was two weeks younger than Katie. My heart broke for Nancy when I found out they had recently moved from San Diego to Chicago just weeks before Grace was born and had no one to visit them at the hospital or share in their joy when Grace was born. We invited them over for dinner and an easy friendship formed.

During the three years Brian and Nancy lived in Illinois we did life together: sharing meals, swapping childcare, jumping on the reality TV bandwagon, watching Survivor finales together and rehashing the latest Bachelor episode on the phone. We got pregnant and celebrated the births of our next two children who were born 8 months apart. We even had the privilege of dedicating our babies to the Lord together during the same ceremony. When the Navy transferred Brian to Seattle, we mourned and shed buckets of tears as we watched them drive away.

When God started tugging on our hearts and whispering in our ear that change was coming to our comfortable life in Illinois, we moved forward slowly and with a strange mix of anxiety and excitement. One year later, we packed our bags and drove away from Illinois and into the great unknown of starting life over in Oregon. The fact that Brian and Nancy were a 4 hour drive away brought a great sense of comfort and familiarity to our world that seemed so uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

On Friday we drove to Snohomish, Washington, and spent the weekend with our friends. Grace and Griffin came tearing out the front door to greet us and we heard their shrieks of excitement before their jammie-clad bodies rounded the corner. Nancy's house was spotless as usual, with beds made up for all four of our kids, sinks shining in the guest bathroom next to a pile of neatly folded towels and fresh-baked goodies arranged beautifully in the kitchen.

We spent the weekend in the blissful familiarity of friendship that has weathered time and that has a rich and layered history of comfortability. A friendship that has refrigerator rights. A friendship where you can fall asleep on the couch and not worry about being rude.

The kids had a blast together, staying up till 11 p.m. and then waking up at 5:20 a.m. to play again! We went to Grace's basketball game and all the kids made signs to hold up in her cheering section. All of us, except Grant, took naps on Saturday afternoon and then we bundled up and walked to the park where the kids played Daddy Tag and Brian ridiculed me for taking Alli potty in the bushes and not quite getting her pants out of the path of the stream. We reminisced about old times and caught up on current events. We ate and ate and ate some more. All of us, kids included, broke in their new Wii and played Guitar Hero for hours on end. The kids formed their own band and we giggled at their intensity as they tried to play "Eye of the Tiger" all the way to the end without getting boo-ed off by the crowd. After they went to bed, the grownups took the stage. Curt was sweating, hands cramping, from all his guitar antics and Nancy was born to be a drummer. I managed to sing a pretty mean rendition of "Livin on a Prayer," although it didn't rival Brian's rendition of "Heartbreaker." We played games, stayed up way too late, and ate and ate and ate. This morning we ate some more, worshipped with them at their church, and came home to eat some more and play a few more concerts on the Wii before heading home. It was absolutely wonderful and needless to say, Wii had a rockin' good time!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Kids Say the Funniest Things...

1. Grant, who is 7 and in 2nd grade, got an email from his 1st grade teacher from last year. Out of curiosity, she wondered what Grant remembered about Martin Luther King. Here's what he said: "I don't remember that much, but here's what I do remember. He was African American in the time of civil rights. He believed love beat hate. I just read a new fact this year that in civil rights times black and white kids played together until they were six then never again. He gave a famous speech that I don't remember much about except that it started with I have a dream. The dream was that white children would play with black children and that they would have equal rights."

2. Alli (age 4) was irritated with Katie (6 years) who was whining in the car. She used her most authoritative tone and said, "Katie - zip it and throw away your key."

3. Grant has always loved geography, and like his dad, studies maps for fun. There's a geography bee at school tomorrow and each class can send one representative. To determine the winner, the students took a written test with random geography questions. Grant missed two. Caleb, his super smart friend, missed one. Grant was DEVASTATED that he is "only the alternate" and came home crying about how disappointing it was. (Now THAT part he gets from me). He said, "Mom, I'd like to pray that Caleb is absent, but that's probably not very nice is it?"

4. Katie, who is NOT interested in geography, but wanted to impress her brother during our time in the car said to Grant in her smartest tone, "California is definitely just right by Texas." Hmmmm....

5. Paige (2 years) wanted to camp out in Grant's room after I put her to bed. She used the guise of being scared and when I asked her what she was scared of, she looked rapidly around her room, scanning for anything even remotely scary and settled on "the garbage can." I can DEFINITELY see how that is scary...

6. When I asked Grant if he would "snuggle" with Paige because she was petrified of the garbage can, he very diplomatically said, "Well Mom. It's not that I don't love Paige or anything like that cause she's a great little sister, but I really don't like her invading my private bedroom time. I like to read my books or play with my legos and she doesn't sit quietly and do what I say. Plus I made the mistake of showing her Montana on the map in my room and she always asks me, 'Where's Hantana?' (laugh) and won't leave me alone. So I guess it's okay, but only for 10 minutes and then she has to go back to her bed."

7. Alli (4) asked for "hanitizer" (hand sanitizer), calls clementines "lemontimes" and called Barak Obama "Arak Bobama."

8. We came home from a night out to the kids running out the front door screaming bloody murder followed by our very capable babysitter, Chloe, carrying the phone and Paige. When the kids settled down, we realized that they had been playing with Paige's heater fan (which is full of dust and hasn't been used yet in the mild Oregon winter) and they unknowingly cranked it to the highest heat. It burned up the dust and set the smoke alarm off, thus the mass panic. When all was settled down, Grant gave us a lecture about the need for a fire escape safety plan. Three weeks later, at bedtime, he sent Curt down to have a serious conversation with me. His request was, "Mom, if the house catches on fire during the day while I'm at school and not around, there are only two things that I need you to save from my room: Stripey (his blanket) and Freebo (his stuffed rabbit). Will you please promise you'll rescue them if I'm not around?" Curt's job was to get an affirmative answer from me and then report back that I was indeed willing to rescue Freebo and Stripey. WHEW! Glad we got that taken care of.

9. Katie overheard me tell Curt that our friend Peter's birthday was on Tuesday (today). Without missing a beat, she said, "Oh that's the same day Barak Obama starts his new job."

10. Paige, almost 3 years old, came downstairs and said, "Mommy, someting broken in the play room. A drawer. I not broken it."

11. Paige has gotten to the point where she mixes up her pronouns a lot. She recently asked, "What him said?" She also sing-songed"I see Francis. I see London. I see Alli's booty crack." That one was funny, but not so proud.

12. Katie overheard my Dad talking about how he had something extra and he wasn't sure what he was going to do with it. She piped up, "Oh. You can sell it on Craigslist." I thought he was going to wet his pants.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dinner at The Dory

Today was Martin Luther King Day, which to us means a free family day. Last night, Curt and I carefully charted our hour and fifteen minute trip to Pacific City, Oregon, a spot on the Oregon coast that we have heard great things about but have yet to visit. We got up this morning, packed a picnic lunch, towels, blankets, hats, mittens, gloves, layers and layers of clothes, boots, extra shoes, extra outfits (down to undies) for each kid, stroller, kites, camera and cell phone (both with nearly dead batteries), three or four maps, our dog and our kids, and pulled out of the driveway. We stopped at Starbucks and headed out of town on a perfect "winter" day with blue skies, bright sunshine and expected highs in the 50's. I couldn't help but wonder what the weather at the coast would be like and if it was worth the gamble of leaving a glorious day in Newberg and trading it for a day at the coast where it is notoriously cold, gray, windy and rainy.

On the drive over the coastal range, we talked through our expectations for the day. Hopefully Paige would nap in the car and that would buy us a couple extra hours at the beach. Enough to maybe have dinner at the coast? (my suggestion). Curt wanted to head home late-afternoon and take a less-traveled but more direct route over the mountains back to our house. It promised to be scenic and he didn't want to miss the view by driving in the dark, plus he already set meat out for dinner. We settled on his plan and watched as the pieces fell into place. Paige conked out right away and we gleefully watched the thermometer in the van INCREASE instead of decrease. By the time we pulled into the Bob Straub State Park at Pacific City the temperature read 62 degrees on January 19th!!!! The skies were radiant blue without a trace of a cloud. The waves boomed in the distance and the dead grass on the sand dunes danced in the wind that was perfect for flying our kites.

We opted to picnic in the car before unloading, to avoid dragging our lunch up, then down, the sand dunes to the beach, and it gave us the added benefit of enjoying our lunch without sand exfoliating our teeth as we chewed. When lunch was over, like a bunch of circus clowns, we began piling out of the van. 1-2-3-4-5-6 and Dusty makes 7! We made the kids layer up with sweatshirt over sweatshirt over winter coat over hats with gloves and rubber boots. They waddled up the sand dune and rolled down the other side. The waves were magnificent and they crashed against a huge rock out in the sea with rolling hills and mountains hemming us in. We found some really cool driftwood and set up camp.

The kids have been to the coast enough times to know that if they immediately get wet the rest of the day is miserable and cold. They glanced briefly at the white-capped waves and then set to work. There were trails to blaze, wood to gather, holes to dig and imaginary damsels in distress to save. Curt dug out his kite, hiked to the top of the dune and spent the next hour happily flying a two-handled bird kite. He steered it out toward the water, then back and over his head. It zoomed and whizzed through the sky and I couldn't help but laugh at his instant transformation to a little kid enamored with a new toy.

Dusty, always the socialite, ran out to greet a family walking by. When I chased her down, I met Crystal, who had so many facial piercings that I lost track after I counted five. Super cool tattoos peaked out from her sleeves and I was intrigued to meet her equally tattooed husband, Dan, and their very un-eclectic looking kids, Hayden (5) and Eli (3). We spent the afternoon with them, combing the beach for shells, laughing as the waves drenched the kids pants and almost took Eli's shoes out to sea, digging in the sand, and collecting a pile of driftwood large enough to make any pyromaniac jump for joy. If only we had brought stuff to make fire. After four blissful hours on the beach, we all decided to pack up and head for home.

At 3:15 p.m., we double checked our route on the map and pulled out of the parking lot. We followed Highway 101 up the coast to Beaver, Oregon. We stopped at the local gas station to buy some gum and triple check our route, then turned right on Meadow Lake Road to head back over the mountains. An orange construction sign said, "Road work ahead - expect 30 minute delays." Curt looked at me and said, "Maybe we should just turn around." The day had been so delightful that I said, "No. You really want to try this route. I'm always up for an adventure. Let's go." So off we went. Out of Beaver on a winding, two-lane road, at the base of the coastal range. We died laughing when we saw a "No Dumping of Any Kind" sign and kicked ourselves for not stopping to take a picture to frame for the guest bathroom. We made dumb jokes when we saw the "Dip" in the road sign and the "Don't even think about parking here" sign on some private land.

As we began to climb the mountain, we stopped laughing and started soaking in the beauty. The winding road wove through a heavily wooded forest and followed a mountain river that rushed and roared over huge boulders and fallen trees. About five miles into our ascent we realized that the road was so narrow and old that it didn't even have white lines painted on the edges and it alternated from running along the river's edge to rising above it with steep drop-offs on the shoulders. It was so curvy we never went over 30 mph and the more we climbed, the more debris we noticed in the road. Three weeks ago, the entire Portland area and coastal range were socked with the biggest snow storm in 40 years which was followed by massive flooding, mud slides and devastation. Most east/west roads to the coast were shut down as crews worked to remove fallen trees, mud slides and excess water from the roads. It was a major mess and one of the reasons we waited three weeks to head to the coast. We quickly realized that Meadow Lake Road was not high on the clean-up priority list and it looked like the locals had come through with their 4-wheel drive pickup trucks and their chain saws, cutting the fallen trees in half and shoving them enough to the side of the road that one car could go through. We oohed and aahed over the the damage and drove slowly and carefully around the fallen trees in the road.

All signs of human life disappeared and we watched the temperature steadily drop. 56, 52, 48, 42, 39, 36 degrees and then the snow appeared in the patches of road that were sheltered from the sun. We kept trying to revive our dead camera battery and managed to capture a few pictures of the stunning landscape. We were about 15 miles into our climb when we saw the sign "Pavement ends - 1/4 of a mile." We thought it certainly couldn't mean OUR road. Not Meadow Lake Road - the course over the mountains that looked so large and full on the Oregon State map, but 1/4 of a mile later, our two-lane paved road, turned to a two-lane mud road. We stopped at a "campground" (an outhouse, two picnic tables and a place to pitch a tent along the river) for a potty break and a quick check of the map. Yes, we were on the right road and heading in the right direction. It looked like the pavement should pick up again in a few miles. So we loaded our circus clowns back in the van and continued up the muddy road, dodging fallen trees and patches of snow. As we rounded a corner, we saw our first mud slide/avalanche. A huge mountain of mud and rocks that pulled away from the steep slope. It took up an entire "lane" of our road and we gasped in wonder as we observed our first mud slide.

Two miles up the road, the pavement reappeared and Curt and I started breathing easier. WHEW! That was quite an adventure, but we were on our way to civilization. As a joke, I glanced at my cell phone - almost dead and not even one bar of coverage, but why would there be when we were in the middle of nowhere in a lush forest paradise? Our relaxation lasted about 30 seconds. We rounded another corner and knew we were done. Snow. About 8 inches of it. Covering the road. Packed down with a thick layer of ice. The road was elevated about 10 feet from the raging river and we slipped and slided through the rutted tracks in our tw0-wheel drive mini-van. We kept praying for traction and God answered, but as we slipped up the slope, we saw the trees. Several small trees, laying across the entire road, blocking our way and forcing us to apply the brakes. We skidded to a stop, in the middle of a two lane road and surveyed the situation. Tree after tree after tree lay across the road that was enveloped in thick ice and snow. Clearly the locals hadn't been this far up the mountain and the road was impassable. We were at a wide spot in the road and it was evident that every other vehicle had used this as the turn-around point. We peeked in the van windows at our four kids, boots and sweatshirts off, our wimpy, but adorable dog, and we started praying.

Curt got in the van and tried to turn around, but we were stuck on a patch of ice. I'm a wimp and wore my snow boots to the beach, so I got out and started rocking the van while he gunned it, but we stayed stuck. Fortunately, four cars happened upon us within minutes. Their passengers got out, surveyed the damage and agreed with our consensus that indeed, the road was impassable. They helped me push the van over the hump of snow we were stuck on and then we all used the wide spot in the road to carefully turn around and head back down the mountain.

Two and a half hours later, we arrived back at the same gas station in Beaver, Oregon. It was almost 6 p.m., the kids were starving and Curt and I had somehow managed to maintain a spirit of adventure through our ordeal. We stopped at the "No Dumping" sign and took a picture and nearly wet our pants laughing at how funny we thought it was. We decided to backtrack along the path we'd come and stop at the ONLY restaurant we'd seen for supper. When we drove into Cloverdale, "Oregon's best kept secret" we laughed in delight as the sign for "The Dory" restaurant came into view. We parked next to the only car in the parking lot and the circus unloading began again. 1-2-3-4-5-and 6, because we left Dusty in the car. We walked into the very old establishment and said hi to the one waitress and the one 80 year old customer sporting a very large cowboy hat. Curt quipped, "We're so glad to be in Cloverdale, Oregon's best kept secret. Got any good food?" We hemmed and hawed over whether we should sit at the counter, with it's spinning chairs, the red-vinyl booths or the table with the lazy susan's. We settled on the table and commenced to try to keep the kids from spinning the condiments off the lazy susan and getting them to stay in their chairs and not race around the empty restaurant.

We gorged ourselves on very greasy and very fried french fries, chicken, burgers, corn dogs and cod and rehashed our day's adventures with mouths full of greasy goodness. When we'd had our fill we loaded back in the van for our final excursion. We headed out of town AGAIN and this time took a well-traveled highway over the coastal range to our house. Our hearts swelled with love as we listened to our four kids try to out-sing each other and Chris Tomlin on "Jesus Messiah" and giggled over how our "little" outing had morphed into such an exciting and full day. We most definitely will head back to Cloverdale for dinner at The Dory on our next trip to the coast.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Peaceful Passing

This evening, at 6 p.m. CST, my Grandma Margie Wehler peacefully passed through the valley of the shadow of death and graduated to heaven and the waiting arms of her Savior and her husband Whitey. She was 79 years old. She will be missed by many, and although my heart is heavy with the sadness of our loss, I am rejoicing that she is no longer lonely and in pain.

My Aunt Sandi and Uncle Paul were sitting with her all day. She was comfortable and laying with her head to the side. The stroke blinded her and she hadn't seen anything in weeks. As she transitioned from this world, she turned and lifted her head, looked at the ceiling and for the first time since her stroke, truly gazed in recognition at heaven. As her head fell to the pillow, her soul drifted heavenward. I like to think that her first vision with her newly restored eyes was of Grandpa and Jesus, smiling and holding the door.

I told the kids that Grandma finally graduated to heaven and Grant said, "I bet they're dancing and throwing a big party. Only the fanciest clothes for Grandma." I can almost picture her, decked out in a fancy dress, dancing with Grandpa, fully restored bodies, and deeply in love. And the beauty of heaven is the tissue that wipes away my tears.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Heaven's Welcome

After a year of failing health and freak accidents, my Grandma Margie Wehler recently suffered a major stroke that left her permanently compromised. The doctors said she would never be able to have an intelligent conversation again, at least one that she remembered and her prognosis was grim. Days after her stroke, she miraculously became lucid for two days and had meaningful conversations with each of her three children. Stripped of any sense of dignity or pride, who she was at her core was revealed.

My Grandma, who is known to be a bit of a chronic complainer, spent her last lucid conversations focusing on gratitude. She was thankful to God for loving her, forgiving her and for his compassion and kindness. She was concerned that God would forget her and was comforted when she was reminded that He will never leave her. Years before she had memorized Psalm 121, so my Mom read it to her and she joined in on the parts that she remembered. She told my mom that she wasn't sure why she was "going back and forth," but thought God must want it that way so it was okay. A few hours later, Grandma's mind drifted away from this earth.

Grandma spent a good portion of her life caring for my Grandpa Whitey, who suffered with multiple chronic diseases and held on to life years longer than any doctor would have predicted because he didn't want to leave Margie, who he always introduced as "his bride." When he died, a part of Grandma died too. She floundered, alone and desperate to be needed. She married Ray immediately and trapped herself in a loveless marriage, the whole time pining for Grandpa. When Ray died a couple of years ago, she had a new lease on life. She left Arizona and moved into an assisted living apartment in Minnesota, close to family who could help her if she needed it, and ready to find a friend and travel the world. She met Joan and in spite of their differences, the two became fast friends. They both filled voids in each other's lives and the two of them became inseparable. I remember how excited Grandma was to have a friend who also wanted to travel to exotic locations like Branson, Missouri!

Grandma's promised land in Minnesota was short-lived because she was immediately assaulted with a serious of strange, fluke medical accidents that would cripple her every time she started to get back on her feet.

This September, Grandma and Joan flew to Portland to see the sights and visit family. Grandma's health was terrible, but her drive and determination were admirable. She fell down two flights of stairs, broke her collarbone and bruised her ribs, but insisted on continuing with their packed travel schedule in spite of being in severe pain.

My last memory of Grandma is the girls' morning we had that Saturday. We met at Artistic Nails and me, Mom, Grandma and Joan, lined up in pedicure chairs against the wall and chatted while we indulged. Joan wanted fancy pictures on her toe nails, but changed her mind when she found out it would cost extra money. Grandma was wearing a true "grandma" outfit - brightly colored floral patterned knit pants and royal purple "blouse" that looked like it was made from a spool of purple ribbon, wound into individual tiny balls and somehow stitched together. She was so proud of her outfit and told me where she had gotten the blouse and that it was one of her favorites.

Grandma struggled with short-term memory loss and her conversations were all over the board. We sat in the salon, she held my hand and said, "You're so pretty Jod. Such a pretty girl, but you've always been. Did I tell you what happened to my eye? Oh - where's Joan going? Did Joan leave? Where does she think she's going?"

I knew Grandma's health was failing, but facing it was difficult for me. As she clung to my arm and we shuffled down the sidewalk to the candy store I was overcome with memories from not too many years past. Of Grandma and I walking a two-mile loop in her retirement community. Me pregnant with my first child, Grandma in tip-top shape, waving to all the neighbors and complaining about the weather that seemed perfect to me but was either too hot, too cold, too sunny or too cloudy for Grandma.

Of coming to visit them on our one-year anniversary and being mortified as my mom and Grandma giggled over my hot new lingerie that was never meant for their eyes but somehow made it out of my suitcase and on display.

Of Grandma and Grandpa holed up in their dream home in northern Minnesota hiking miles through the woods in knee-deep snow and sub-zero temperatures, complaining about the cold, but loving every minute of it. Of their "professional" security signs that Grandpa designed and posted at the bottom of their driveway, even though they really didn't have a home security system in their house.

Of eating supper no later than 5 p.m. and subsequently watching Wheel of Fortune. Of crowding around their table and playing the most competitive games of Rummikub, Uno and cards every imaginable. Grandma and Grandpa had an automatic card shuffler that instigated many fights between my brother and I over who got to shuffle.

Of going out to eat with Grandma and wanting to melt into the floor when she'd send everything she ordered back to the kitchen to be re-heated for the third time because it wasn't hot enough.

And I couldn't remember Grandma without remembering her home-made candies. For years, starting in November, she'd spend days at a time in the kitchen making the most exquisite home-made candies. It would ruin her day if a batch didn't turn out EXACTLY as she intended. Conversely, she'd beam with pride as we all stood around the kitchen island, inhaling the candies and exclaiming about their goodness through stuffed mouths. My favorites were the chocolate peppermint crispy balls. They were to-die-for.

One of the last coherent things Grandma said before she had her stroke was that she was lonely and just wanted to die and go to heaven to be with Whitey. Her living will stated that she wanted no measures to prolong or save her life - no feeding tubes, CPR or anything that would prevent her from graduating from this world into eternity with her Savior and her husband who she missed so desperately. Grandma is in hospice care and I'm waiting to receive the call that her wish has come true. Her departure will leave a hole in the hearts of those she leaves behind, but we will always have our memories. When Grandma makes her final trip it will be to a truly exotic place, even more exciting than Branson. I wish I could be there to see heaven's welcome, Jesus and Whitey, waiting at the door to welcome her with open arms. Safe travels Grandma.