Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mommy Needs Coffee

My husband is out of town until Tuesday.  Every year all the PA's converge on some destination city for a week-long conference where they gain required continued education classes and network.  EVERY year it's over Memorial Day weekend.  And EVERY year, I complain.  It seems like such a terrible time for a conference and it puts Curt in a conundrum - get his CME or kick off the start of summer with his family.  Our solution is that he goes every-other-year and this is his year to go.  

Nights and weekends are our family fun time.  Daddy's arrival from work is our unspoken release from all regulations and we play until bedtime.   When Curt is gone we notice his absence most prevalently during play time.  To make it easier on all of us, I try to schedule out-of-the-norm fun things for us to do.  The time passes quickly and it forces me to stop working and have fun with the kids.

Last night, we rented Bedtime Stories, bought movie theater candy, and popped corn in our new popcorn popper.  I am not a TV watcher.  I waste my time on the computer, not TV, so when it came time to start the movie, I was completely dumbfounded.  I managed to get the DVD in the right slot and push play, but with the cable box, the TV, the surround sound and the DVD player all with separate remotes, I was completely lost.  Befuddled.  I pushed this button and that button.  Tried this remote and that remote.  Prayed.  Got angry.  Tried again.  20 minutes into the ordeal, and feeling like a complete idiot, I finally pushed the magic button and got all the machines to talk to each other and play the movie on the TV.  I felt so empowered, but my fiasco set us back considerably and it was 10 p.m. before the kiddos headed to bed.

This morning, we made waffles and scrambled eggs and plotted out a trip to the coast.  I wanted to hike Cascade Head.  It promised breath-taking views of the ocean from the summit and with temps topping the low 60's, it would be a perfect day to get a little exercise and fresh air.  The kids wanted to play on the beach.  For those who haven't been to the coast, "playing" means schlepping lunch and various paraphernalia down a steep trail to the sand.  Setting out a picnic and trying to consume a larger ratio of food than sand.  Refereeing as the kids make sand castle and inadvertently fling sand in each others eyes and everywhere except where they want it to go.  Shouting instructions that dissipate into gale force winds to kids, running in the opposite direction, who can't hear them anyway.   Since I was driving and had ultimate power, I vetoed playing at the beach and insisted that we hike first.

The kids helped me pack a picnic lunch and we filled at least 20 water bottles for drinking.  Each kid packed their own backpack complete with towel, extra change of shoes and clothes, and miscellaneous toys to keep them occupied on the hour-and a half drive.  We filled the van with gas, stopped at the Dollar Tree to buy new sand buckets and lollipops, and headed out of town.

When we travel, we sing.  A lot.  We have a pretty even mix of kid and adult CD's in the car, so we started with a grown-up CD.  We sang and drove and enjoyed the beautiful day.  When the adult CD was over, we switched to our favorite kid CD and cranked it.  I giggled when I looked in the rear view mirror and saw Katie and Alli,with matching braids singing loudly, "M-O-M-M-Y needs C-O-F-F-E-E" and bobbing their heads in synchronized rhythm to the beat.  My heart swelled with love and I started to get excited about spending the day with the kids.

We pulled into the parking lot at Roads End State Park shortly before 1 p.m. for a potty break and a quick check of the map.  Since this is our typical place to "play" in Lincoln City, the kids were a bit grumpy and put off when I insisted they get back in the van to reach our hiking destination.  I had missed our exit and we were forced to back track the exact route we had just traveled.  The kids moaned and complained and I felt myself getting crabby and second-guessing my decision to go hiking with them.

We pulled into the parking lot of Savage Park and I groaned inwardly.  The primary function of the park was a boat ramp that led into a slew of water that fed into the ocean.  There were parking spaces, two garbage cans, an outhouse, and a grassy field without picnic tables.  We pulled out our picnic and a blanket I always keep stashed in the car, and sat down for our feast.

On the outside, it appeared that we were having fun, but inwardly I was getting really grumpy and uptight.  The responsibility of keeping the kids safe on a hike through the woods weighed heavily on me.  Typically Curt functions as the navigator and even though I knew I was capable, it was a role I hadn't played in a long time.  The trail was not stroller-friendly and Paige is only three years old.  She is usually a sure bet to fall asleep in the car, but today she foiled my plans and stayed wide awake the entire drive.  We would be hitting the trailhead right when she normally is beginning her two-hour nap and I was concerned that taking her anyway would be a disaster.   Alli poured her entire water bottle for drinking into her sand bucket and then dumped it on the ground.  She also accidentally grabbed her open Gogurt from the wrong side and squirted the sticky substance all over the picnic blanket and hiking bag.  Katie, who had protested having braids, lost one of her rubber bands and you would have thought the world was falling to pieces with the way I over-reacted about it.  Grant and Alli rough-housed and struggled to follow simple instructions.  At the rate they were going, I was certain they'd send each other catapulting over a cliff.  

I just couldn't get a grip on my attitude.  Mean Mommy reared her ugly head and I heard myself barking orders, over-reacting and being flat-out unkind to the kids.  I'm not sure why, after so much trial and error and failure in this area, I didn't just immediately stop, confess my sin to God and to the kids, ask the Holy Spirit to help me and move along.  But no.  I fumbled along in sin for a good 20 minutes or so before I finally realized what a jerk I was being.  I told the kids I was sorry and asked them to forgive me, which they graciously did.    As God renewed my spirit, I felt peace to forge ahead with our plans.

The brochure I read said our planned round trip was 4.2 miles with an elevation gain of 1,200 feet.  I didn't really think Paige would make it that far, but figured we'd hike until she got tired and then turn around.  Grant and Katie found walking sticks,  Alli didn't care enough to look for one, and Paige just held my hand.  Grant struck out as our leader and we followed him up the narrow path.  It was clearly marked, but never more than 3 feet wide.  The narrow path zigged and zagged up the mountain.  We crossed over streams on little bridges and walked up steps made from tree roots.  The steepest part was a huge stairway consisting of tree roots with man-made steps filling in as needed.  It was a tough climb, but little Paigey just kept climbing.  

She and I talked about The Little Engine That Could and she started muttering, "I fink I can, I fink I can, I know I can."  She walked and walked and walked.  We'd holler at Grant, our leader, to stop and wait when she'd lag behind, but she never gave up.  She started fervently complaining as we approached the summit, but given the close proximity to the top, I encouraged her to keep on.  I didn't want her to miss out on the reward of seeing how far she'd climbed.  She plodded on, a lot less cheerfully, but still muttering, "I fink I can, I fink I can." 

The view from the summit was breath-taking.  We could see the slew where we started.  The Coastal Mountain range.  The Pacific Ocean and it's rocky shore.  The mountain we were climbing, melting into the foothill behind it and the one behind it.  We saw a storm moving in and the view of further mountain ranges blurred through the clouds.   

My kids made it the entire 2.1 miles to the summit and we enjoyed our reward, sort of.  Grant and Alli got into an elbowing match over who was going to be the leader and they both ended up in time out, sulking on the side of the trail, while I took a bazillion pictures.  They made things right with each other and we all tried to muster up the strength to cheerlead Paige back down the mountain with Katie as our newly elected leader.

Poor Paigey.  She didn't know she had to walk back down to the van and she completely and entirely fell apart.  Physically and emotionally exhausted, she was reduced to a pathetic, bawling mess.  I hugged and kissed her.  Stroked her hair and told her how proud I was of her.  Bribed her with her nukie.  I knew if I started carrying her, I'd have to carry her the entire way down and I wasn't sure I could carry her for two miles.  Plan B was to half-carry, half-push her down the trail.  It wasn't wide enough for us to walk side-by-side, so she walked in front, clinging to my hand as I supported her back and lifted her down the steep parts.  

She cried most of the way down and when my heart was about to break for her, I finally gave in and carried her.  She put her little head on my shoulder, threw her arms around my neck, and gave me a running commentary of everything she saw behind her.  We'd walk like this for a bit, then I'd pep talk her and put her down to walk some more.  She'd take a few steps and start whining, "My wegs don't work.  I can't do it."  We would all assure her that she indeed COULD do it.  She was our Little Engine That Could.  Determination would set in, she'd walk a few more paces, start crying, and I'd pick her up to start the process again.   

When we finally made it back to the van (2 1/2 hours later), I thought I might cry.  I was so proud of all the kids for conquering such a difficult hike.  Grant, Katie and Alli had their moments but overall never made a peep about wanting to stop.  It was Paige I was concerned about.  I felt like she had been pushed way beyond her limit and it was all my fault.  Until I saw the smile on her face.  She was beaming from ear to ear, thrilled with her massive accomplishment and posing for pictures with her thumb way up.  

We finished off our picnic lunch in the van and headed back to Road's End State Park for the aforementioned "play time."  It lived up to my expectation.  The wind was whipping and it felt much colder than the 55 degrees on the thermometer.  Sand flew all over and into everyone's eyes.  Paige and I sat and shivered on the beach, while Grant, Katie and Alli ran on the sand, built sand castles and played in the driftwood, but we all knew better than to go in the frigid water.

After an hour on the beach we hit the local 60's Cafe for a hot, greasy, dinner.  When our bellies were full, we made one last stop.  Starbucks.  Cause Mommy needs coffee.

Paige was asleep in under ten minutes.  Katie and Alli held out much longer than expected.  We listened to music and sang and I sipped my grande cappuccino with an extra shot and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  45 minutes into our journey home and just about the time I took my last sip of coffee, I glanced in the rearview mirror.  The two heads that synchronized hours earlier to the rhythm of "M-O-M-M-Y needs C-O-F-F-E-E" were now doing the falling asleep head bob.  Alli's head flopped to the center first.  There she sat, sound asleep with her head bobbing up and down.  Then Katie's head flopped.  First to the window, then to the center.  Amazingly, it rested right on top of Alli's and there the synchronized head bobbing stopped.  Katie's head nestled on top of Alli's in sleep's sweet surrender.

I felt my heart again swell with love for these precious children God has entrusted to me. The momentary grief of my behavior earlier in the day was washed away by God's cleansing reminder that both He and the kids had so graciously and easily forgiven me.  I was free to embrace the love that warmed me.  And when the peace ended with Alli slapping Katie's face in her sleep, I knew God (and that extra shot of coffee) would give me the grace to finish strong. 

Friday, May 22, 2009

It Was a Zoo!

Yesterday I had the privilege of chaperoning a field trip to the Oregon Zoo with my daughter's first grade class.  When the permission slip came home, my immediate thought was, "Oh darn. (sarcasm)  With two other little ones at home, I won't be able to help with that one." But sweet Katie, who rarely asks for anything, found me shortly after I spotted the permission slip on the counter.  With a HUGE smile, she showed it to me and asked sweetly, "Mom can you come?  PLEEEEEEEASE?  It's going to be SO much fun."  

I couldn't say no, so I set off to find a place for Paige and Alli to go during the all-day field trip. At pre-school pickup, I smiled my best smile and jokingly pleaded with some of my mom-friends, "Will someone PLEEEEEEASE take my kids for me so I can go to the zoo?"  All three of them made themselves available immediately.  Aren't they the best?!?!  So I marked the box "YES, I can chaperone" for the field trip and sent the form back to Mabel Rush and Mrs. Cone's first grade class.

The night before the field trip, I went over logistics.  I would drop Paige and Alli at at Faith's house for the first two hours.  Hurry over to Mabel Rush so Grant, Katie and I could be in the classrooms by the requested time of 8:25.  Savannah's mom would pick Alli and Paige up from Faith's house and transport them to Sherwood where they would spend the remainder of the day until I could get there to pick them up.  We'd pile into the van and rush home to beat Grant and Katie's school bus.  The well-orchestrated plan teetered flimsily on the pinnacle of staying on-schedule.  

Thursday morning dawned with ten times more drama than I had patience or time for.  As wailing and fighting escalated, I glanced at the clock and made a game-day decision to switch the plan and send Grant and Katie to school on the bus instead of dragging them with me to Faith's house.  After they left, I realized I never even got to hug them goodbye.  When the dust settled, time outs were done being issued, tears were dried, lunches packed, and each of the two remaining kids were buckled in the van, I glanced at the clock.  8:21 a.m.  I was supposed to be in Katie's classroom in 4 minutes and I was pulling out of my driveway.  Inwardly growling, I called Amber and she agreed to meet me at Mabel Rush to pick up my two car-seat-toting fugitives.

I ran to the office to grab my volunteer badge.  Thankfully, the office staff is more responsible than I am and they hollered at me, "Wait.  You forgot Katie's epipen."  Oh.  Right.  I forgot she's allergic to bee stings.  I grabbed the school-issued epipen and dashed down the blue hall to Katie's classroom feeling slightly embarrassed at what an irresponsible allergy mom I am.  

I had promised Katie that if I didn't get assigned to her group, I would throw myself on her first grade classroom floor, yell and scream and pound the ground like Alli used to do when she was three (and four and oh, let's be honest.  I'd seen a good tantrum minutes earlier).  Thankfully for all involved, Mrs. Cone was wise enough to assign Katie to my group and the tantrum was avoided.  My group consisted of Katie, Samantha, Gretchen and Emma, all little girls that Katie frequently plays with and I was excited to spend some time with them.  

The scene in Katie's classroom was organized chaos.  Kids left in groups for a last-minute potty stop.  Parents introduced themselves and engaged in small talk.  Mrs. Cone passed out pre-packaged packets to the volunteer parents with zoo tickets for each kid in our group, first aid supplies and detailed directions on where to meet for lunch, what to do in case of an emergency, and what time and where to meet the bus to head back to school.  

Each person going on the trip was required to bring a sack lunch, a water bottle and a back pack and it was our responsibility to carry our supplies the entire time.  I am the Queen of The Overpack and couldn't find it in my heart to wean out any of my "essential" items.  As I strained to pick up my purse, my camera and my back pack that was laden down with two 1.5 liter water bottles and enough food to feed an army, I realized I just might get my workout in after all.

All FIVE first grade classes (each consisting of at least 24 students) from Mabel Rush, their teachers and a whole passel of volunteers piled on the waiting buses.  Most kids were three to a seat and the volume in the bus approached ear piercing as they all excitedly talked about what they wanted to see, first, next and last.  The occasional loud adult "SHHHHHHHH" disappeared in the cacophony of sound and all the kids ignored it anyway.  

No good bus trip is complete without some form of physical emergency.  When I saw the girl in the seat in front of Katie grab her mouth and hunch over, I was certain I was going to head down memory lane to the image etched permanently in my mind of a kid barfing on the bus, the stench and the bus driver dumping sawdust on the pile.  Thankfully, she had only been jabbed in the face with an elbow and her breakfast stayed put where it belonged.  WHEW!

We converged on the Oregon Zoo at precisely the same moment that every other school-aged child within a five-state radius arrived.  It was a total zoo (pun intended)!  I have never seen so many children and adults crammed into such a small space in all my life.  Moms with little kids in strollers anticipating a leisurely day at the zoo were glaring at the hoards of kids mulling around and getting irritated as they tried to maneuver their big strollers through impossibly small passageways.  It didn't help that half of the zoo is under construction and several exhibits had only one way in and out, clogging up the one entrance/exit with volunteers frantically trying to keep track of their groups, moms pushing strollers with screaming kids and grumpy tourists no doubt wondering why they chose Thursday, May 21st, as a perfect day to visit the zoo.  

I am a social person, but I can't stand large crowds, especially if I feel my personal space is being infringed upon.  I find myself feeling claustrophobic and getting nauseous and panicky, and I felt those symptoms coming on.  All I wanted to do was bolt, but I had four eager girls, all wanting to view different animals at the same time, and I knew I needed to get a grip.  We grabbed a map, waited in line for 15 minutes to use the restroom, and in that time drew up an agenda for the day.  I quickly memorized what each girl looked like and since I'm used to counting four heads everywhere I go, I started relaxing a little (well, not really, but I told myself I was).  

I passed the plan of attack on to the girls, emphasized ad nauseam the need to stay together, and we headed out to discover the animals.  The animals showed off for us and I got some really great pictures of the sun bear appropriately basking in the sun, the hippopotamus drinking from a skunky looking pool of water, and the ginormously tall giraffe grazing next to a teeny tiny antelope-sort-of-creature and an exotic bird.  A zebra couple basked in the sun and monkeys perched on their trees looking bored.  The sea lion swam right by the glass in front of us. and we gagged at the stinky penguin house - how can they live with themselves?  A highlight for most of the girls was seeing Sam, the baby elephant born at the zoo this summer.  The zoo keepers had him outside and were working with him and he really was cute.  

We snacked by the primate exhibit, lunched in eastern Asia, and snacked again in the African rain forest.  The girls were impressed that they walked all that distance in one day and couldn't wait to come home and tell their parents about their world travels.

At precisely 1 p.m., we arrived back at the entrance.  Exhausted, more familiar with each other, and slightly more educated about animals.  Mrs. Cone checked us off her list and we waited (and waited and waited) for the rest of the class to straggle in.  I have no idea how, but all 125 first graders, chaperones and teachers all safely made it back on the bus uneventfully.  Talk about a reflux-inducing experience in and of itself.

The ride back to school was a tiny bit quieter than the ride home, but even though the kids were exhausted, they still chattered excitedly about their discoveries from the day.  It might have been a zoo, but I'm so glad I had the day to spend with Katie, and I just might, MAYBE, volunteer again next year. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

3-2-1 Launch!

On Tuesday night, we opened the door of our home to 16 adults, 2 teenagers, one babysitter, and 7 smallish children and launched the first Solid Rock house church in Newberg. The Lord brought together a wonderful mix of young and old, single and married, united with a common love for Jesus Christ and a a desire to "do life" with people in our community.

The Holy Spirit showed up and we experienced God's presence as we got acquainted, prayed together, grew in the knowledge of God's Word when Curt shared with us, took communion and worshipped together. Of course no good gathering is complete without food, so did a lot of hovering around the kitchen island and gorging ourselves on home-made goodies.

When we were shopping for a house months ago, one of our criteria was a home that was equipped to host a house church. We thought we'd never find a home that met all the requirements on our list. However, when we walked into the house we ended up buying, our first exclamation was, "PERFECT for house church. It even has stadium seating!"

This past year has been one of incredible change and growth and it has had multiple ups and downs. Tuesday night was incredibly fulfilling for us because we were able to clearly see how God has taken us full circle. He moved us to Oregon. Led us to the perfect home in HIS timing, not mine. Showed us how to be content while we were waiting (and waiting and waiting). Practically wrote "SOLID ROCK" in the clouds as He led us to our new church home. Surrounded us with a circle of new friends from the house church we attended in Beaverton to support us, pray for us, love us and commission us as they sent us out. And now, once again in His impeccable timing, God prepared the hearts of the people He wanted to lead to our house church. They were all PUMPED about finally having an option of a house church close to home.

We haven't hosted small group in almost a year and our hosting skills were a bit rusty. We giggled as we grilled each other. "Did you buy decaf? How much coffee should we make? Oh shoot - we forgot to buy plastic cups. Do we have enough glass ones to set out? I feel like we're forgetting something? What are we forgetting?" We were halfway through worship before Curt said, "Hey - did you get the stuff ready for communion?" Oops. THAT is what I was forgetting!

I made a Costco run this weekend and picked up the remaining "necessities" for consistently hosting large groups and feel a bit more equipped to adequately host our next gathering. I can hardly wait to see how He unites and knits together our house church. 3-2-1- LAUNCH! We're official.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Run B4 the Fun

Two years ago, my niece Maggie, who was 8 at the time, ran a 5K with her Mom at a weekend sports festival that our families attended, and I was so impressed that an 8 year old could run that distance.  My brother (Maggie's dad) was nonchalant about her accomplishment and had the general idea that kids can do whatever you tell them they can do.

This fall, Grant and Katie had a fundraiser at school.  They each had to run around a 1/2 mile track for 30 minutes and raised money for each time they made it around the track.  Without training, they both easily ran 5 laps (2.5 miles) in 30 minutes.  It got me thinking that they could run a 5K too.

A few weeks ago, a new poster was taped on the door at the gym.  It was called "Run B4 the Fun" and was a family 5K fun run, sponsored by a local elementary school, to raise money for Relay for Life.  I grabbed a registration sheet and signed up our entire family, even Paige.  We had great intentions of "training" with the kids, but the weeks slipped by and all we ever did was talk.  

In fact, I was disappointed by the kids lack of enthusiasm.  Grant dismally said, "I'm not looking forward to the race tomorrow because I'll want to win.  And I know I won't win.  And since I won't win, I'll be disappointed.  AND I'll have to wait for all the slow pokes like Paige."   Talk about glass half-empty thinking here... We talked about how this was a FUN race and a challenge to ourselves, not about winning or losing.

This morning was race day.  Not a cloud in the bright blue skies and an anticipated high of 82 degrees.  You couldn't ask for a more perfect morning.  The elementary school sits nestled in the valley that is Newberg, with foothills sprinkled with vineyards hemming it in and the coastal mountain range shining in the distance, every color illuminated by bright sunlight.  

We picked up our matching light blue and brown T-shirts at the registration table and were delighted that there were no timing chips.  It truly was a "fun run" and I was happy to eliminate that burden from Grant.  The MC counted down, "5-4-3-2-1-GO!" and all the racers dashed out.  Grant was practically sprinting, so Curt split the distance between Grant (8 years) and Katie (6 1/2 years) and I manned the stroller with Paigey (3 years)  and coached Alli (5 years) on setting a good pace.

Shortly before the first water station, Curt passed Katie off to me.  Grant's pace was too fast for Katie and Curt couldn't keep them both in sight.  The four Stilp girls continued to the water station and Paige surprised us all by deciding to get out and run.  

She is typically very unmotivated, opting to be carried instead of walk, and has been known to throw fits because Mean Mommy makes her walk the 1/2 block to the bus station and won't carry her.  But out she got, and she started running as fast as her little legs would carry her (which wasn't fast).  Poor Katie had to keep stopping to wait for Alli and Paige to catch up to her, but we continued the leapfrog process for the next mile or so.  I kept thinking Paige would give up and get in the stroller, but she decided she wanted to run, and run she did.  For at least a mile and half, maybe a little longer.

We saw Grant and Daddy as they were doubling back and heading for the finish line, and we passed Paige off to them (lucky girl - she skipped about a mile of the course).  Alli, Katie and I forged ahead, and they were such troopers.  Never giving up or losing heart.  Just taking it one step at a time and having a ton of fun in the process.  Katie's pig-tails bobbed in the distance and she never grumbled, even one time, about having to wait for Alli and Paige.  

Grant crossed the finish line in about 33 minutes.  Katie in about 39 minutes.  Alli and I, hand in hand, at about 40 minutes.  We were so proud!  They inhaled the free apples and bagels and wore their race shirts (all except Grant) proudly to the van.  It was a great way to start a gorgeous Saturday and instead of a Run B4 the Fun, it was a run to start the fun!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What Matters Most

Today was the first mother's day in a bazillion years (okay, maybe 17) that I've actually been physically present with my mom.  Each mother's day we spent apart was heart-breaking given she's one of my closest friends and biggest supporters.  When I celebrated my first mother's day as a mom and realized the love I had for my son, I couldn't believe that my mom and I had been apart for so many years.

This past year of moving back to Oregon has been full of transitions and been really difficult at times, but we never doubted this was God's will for our family.  Holidays and birthdays have sped by and each time we stand back, awed that we're actually celebrating each milestone together, with extended family, in the flesh.  It just seems surreal.

Yesterday I spent an insanely busy but productive day with my sweet husband and our four crazy kids.  This morning, we made pancakes and sausage and then I left Curt to man the home front while I spent the day with my mom, Rhonda Ru.  

She was the speaker at the Single Again Class at her church today, which is not a new activity for her.  As a child, when my mom would be preparing for a talk, she'd work it into the final round and then I'd perch on the end of her bed while she practiced. We continued this rehearsing after I moved away for college, only we'd hold our sessions over the phone.  Each session included tears and laughter and would end by me praising her for having the guts to share what the Lord placed on her heart.  Today I had the privilege of being there for the live presentation, and I was not disappointed.  I laughed and cried with the audience as she powerfully shared the lesson God had given her.

Her topic was "What Matters Most" and she touched first on what society values.  Power, prestige and beauty, all which fade away and have no eternal value.  She contrasted it to what matters most to God.  Having our eyes fixed on Jesus.  Pursing life with Him in spite of our weaknesses, fears and failures.  She used my Grandma Margie's life as her largest example and walked her audience through a tiny window into Margie's complicated world.  Grandma was a woman who spent much of her life paralyzed by fear, but she loved Jesus.  Some of her last cognizant words, interspersed with tears of joy, were ones of celebration as she recited Psalm 121 and Jesus relieved her fears.  There wasn't a dry eye in the room and a hush fell while we contemplated what matters most.

I finally managed to wrangle Mom away from all her well-wishers and we set off to find a place to have lunch.  All the restaurants serving brunch were packed, so I suggested we go to the local pub.  With a name like "Wankers Corner" it was good for an immediate laugh and I was fairly certain it wouldn't be high on most mothers' wish lists for a place to dine.  Sure enough, we waltzed right into an empty restaurant.  We had the patio all to ourselves and we talked, uninterrupted, and savored the moment of mother and daughter, coming together as friends.

I came home refreshed and eager to hug each of my crazy hooligans.  Alli gave me a hand-painted flower pot with fingerprint lady bugs and a flower that she somehow managed to NOT kill.  She also showered me with multiple My Little Pony pictures colored her very best.

Paige gave me hugs and kisses and lots of "I love you Mommy.  You're hair is so pretty."  Not sure why she was infatuated with my hair today, but I went with it.

Katie hand-painted a plate at a local pottery store, had it fired and shipped to our house.  She eagerly presented me with her gift and home-made card which was sappy and sweet and written in her much-improved, 1st grade handwriting.

Grant waxed poetic on his card he made at school and used every big and descriptive word he could think of.  He wrote, "My mom is not ordinary.  Outstanding yes she is.  The best above all the best.  Help is what you're best at.  Extraordinary yes you are.  Really best of all Mommy, you are so fantastic."  Those are large expectations to live up to!  He also drew me a card with a monkey-eating eagle attacking a flying lemur and bullet-pointed several interesting facts about both species.  It was highly informative.  My favorite gift from Grant was a hand-made coupon good for "one morning free of kids fighting."  He did clarify that the coupon is only redeemable one time, so I'll have to be selective when I choose to use it.

We enjoyed a wonderful evening as a family, worshipping God at church and playing on the church's front lawn.  I actually enjoy the 25 minute drive home.  It's a great time to de-brief and act goofy before starting the bedtime process.

As I tucked my four precious treasures into bed, I thanked God for reminding me about what matters most.  Happy Mothers Day!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Was That Really Fun?

Katie, our sweet and social 6 1/2 year old has yet to make a best friend in Oregon.  In fact, she really only has one friend that she swaps play dates with, and as a Mom I keep asking God to provide friends for her.  Two weeks ago, she received her first invitation to a birthday party since we moved to Oregon.  She was thrilled to be included and even though the party was smack dab in the middle of a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, there was no way Katie was missing that party!

We have been putting off furnishing and decorating our living room since November.  In its current state, it's a hodge-podge of unmatched, miscellaneous pieces of furniture that we couldn't find a home for anywhere else.  We squirreled away some cash and kept telling ourselves, "When our house church launches, we'll do some shopping."  House church launched much sooner and with less notice than we anticipated and as of today, we have four days to have our living room put together.  

I researched furniture all week on craigslist and we mapped out our plan of attack.   Pack a picnic lunch.  Drop Katie at the birthday party.  Run to opposite end of the Portland-metro area to look at furniture.  Stop by the mall on the way back to pick up Katie.  Run to the other side of the metro area to hit Ikea.  The kids playland at Ikea would be a welcome break for the kids from shopping and give Curt and I a chance to do some power-shopping on our own.  Eat dinner at a fast-food joint.  Come home.  We knew it would be a marathon day, but we decided to gut it out and if all went according to plan, we'd arrive home with a furnished living room.

We woke this morning to blue skies and bright sunshine - the first sunny morning all week.  We both groaned at the thought of spending the entire day running errands, but our plan was already set in motion, so off we went.  

Dropped Katie at the party and we were actually on time.  A surprising start to the day.  Dashed to Costco to get gas in the van, which made us late to the furniture warehouse. Thankfully the manager stayed open to show us the goods.  Of course the set we really wanted to see was at a separate location, so we got directions to the warehouse owner's house.  Another stop.  GRRRRR!   

Since Costco was directly across the street, we ran in to window-shop and verify that the furniture we ear-marked was actually a stellar deal.  Fed the kids a picnic in the car and breathed a sigh of relief when Paige fell asleep, on cue, for her afternoon nap.  

Stopped at the mall to exchange a pair of shoes and pick up my newly improved wedding ring from the jewelry store.  But we hit traffic heading back to the party site, and I watched the clock tick-tock-tick-tock toward pickup time with a pit in my stomach.  What if Katie thought we forgot about her?

I dashed into the party place and have never been so grateful to see an entire gaggle of 1st grade girls in my life!  Katie had no idea we were late in our arrival and was exhausted, but thrilled with the super-fun party.  We unloaded all the kids for a potty break and dealt with crying and wailing from disappointed siblings who were left-out of the birthday fun.  To assuage broken hearts and to bribe them back into their car seats, we promised everyone ice-cream sundaes from McDonald's.  As we waited in the drive-through line, we were forced to settle arguments about why Katie got a sundae too when she'd just been to a birthday party.  After multiple threats to take away sundaes, we hit the freeway and enjoyed the silence of four kids pigging out on gooey, messy, ice cream in the mini-van.

We talked up how fun Ikea is and how it was worth the LONG drive to visit it.  There was a kids play land and all the kids could run around, let out their stress of being in the car all day, and have fun while we shopped.  We unloaded and all skipped into the flamingly blue and yellow warehouse, Curt making jokes about how he wished they'd paint the building a brighter color so we could actually find it.  We stopped short in the lobby and groaned, both inwardly and outward.  The much-anticipated kids area was CLOSED as a precaution due to swine flu.  Really?  Today?  You have got to be kidding me.

Ikea is a mind-boggling, mind-numbing experience for a mature adult.  I can only imagine how overloading it would be to a 3-year-old, especially on a Saturday when it's packed with weekend shoppers.  Curt and I looked at each other and our four little hooligans, and forged ahead.  We created our own 3-ring circus, corralling kids, constantly counting heads, breaking up arguments, and taking multiple potty breaks.  To top it off, we found NOTHING from our list of "must haves" except throw pillows.  We kept sneaking peaks over the tops of their heads and giggling.  At one point, we whispered, "How is that somehow we're all still having fun?"

While Curt checked out, I took the kids for the 18th potty break.  Grant trudged out of the bathroom, forlorn and appearing ready to cry.  I asked him what was wrong and he said, "I'm tired, I'm hungry and I just want to go home."  I couldn't help but laugh.  

We ate at Quizno's and the kids rearranged stools, argued over drinks, and climbed all over the brick walls on the outdoor patio.  Invigorated with food and fresh hope to continue to pound out our list, we unsuccessfully struck out at Home Goods.  

We piled back into the van, certain our kids would be lucky if they lived to see bed time and fumed most of the way to Sherwood.  Alli fell asleep in the car, Grant and Katie stopped fighting and Paige sat in utter bliss with her blankie and unrestricted time with her "nukie."  

We drove into the Target parking lot at 7:00 p.m.  Did we really want to tackle another store with four tired kids?  Yep.  We were on a mission.  We left Target an hour later, cart laden down with everything, except cabinet hardware, on our list.  Why on earth didn't we hit Target first?!?!

I think Paige "went potty" four times at Target before she had a successful trip and was able to walk around without arching her back and grabbing the back of her skirt.  As we loaded our treasures, we made the executive decision to embark on one last stop.   Home Depot for cabinet hardware.  We chose the MONSTER cart with seat belts for two plus room for two in the cart basket and literally ran for the hardware aisle.  We laughed out loud as all four kids hit melt-down at the same moment - crying and wailing and begging to go home while we counted, 1-2-3-4... on the knobs and handles we needed.  

At long last, we pulled into our driveway, 10 hours later.  Van laden down with treasures and tired kids who instantly perked up and ran circles in the front yard once they were free of their car seats.  I put away the left-over picnic food while Curt unloaded the van.  We giggled and asked, "Was that really fun?"  And we had to answer, "Yes."

Bada Bling

When I was in college, I watched in quiet envy as many of my friends accepted marriage proposals, painted "the rock" with their names, and flaunted their new engagement rings.  I'd always zero in on the diamond - the bigger, the better, in my humble opinion.  Girls with tiny chips got inward sighs of pity.  Girls with big rocks got inward sighs of jealousy.  

I dreamed of my proposal day and it always included a big diamond ring. To me, the bigger the stone, the greater the love.  Shallow?  Most definitely.  Partly true?  Maybe.  I wanted my engagement ring to scream "She's taken."

I met the man of my dreams and waited patiently (okay, not-so-patiently) for him to propose.  Every day of the summer of 1997, I woke up thinking, "THIS could be the day."  The longer I waited, the more irritated I got.  I thought we'd NEVER get engaged.

Curt and his parents chose our wedding day one night around the dinner table.  He wanted to draw up a list of potential wedding sites and florists, all without an official proposal.  In a moment of frustration, I informed Curt that there would be no further talk of a wedding until he made it official.  

Little did I know, my Cassanova had been engagement ring shopping for months.  Fed up with the status quo at the mall jewelry stores, he met with an independent jeweler and designed my entire wedding set.  He drew up the mold for both our engagement and wedding bands, chose each individual stone and waited while my one-of-a-kind ring was created.

When he FINALLY proposed, I was not disappointed.  My ring screamed "SHE'S TAKEN!" and I think I almost passed out yelling, "YES!!!!!!!" at the top of my lungs.  My thoughtful fiance' slipped the engagement ring on my finger, then pulled out the matching wedding band.  Two tiny diamonds centered perfectly under the ginormous center stone.  He thoughtfully pointed to the engagement stone and said, "This is God.  The tiny stones are you and me.  If we keep God at the center of our relationship, our marriage will be successful."  I wanted to melt at the sentiment and thought he put into my ring and the symbolism of all it represented.  I've worn that ring proudly for 11 1/2 years.   

When I turned 21, my Dad gave me diamond earrings that I wore every day for 11 years.  Last year an earring fell out.  I turned my house upside down but could not find the missing earring.  I was heartbroken.  On our five-year anniversary, Curt gave me a 3-stone diamond necklace, but the chain kept breaking so I sadly relegated it to life in my jewelry box or at least until our kids were old enough to stop pulling on the chain.  Four beautiful diamonds, all wasting away in my jewelry box.

On our ten-year-anniversary, Curt bought me an anniversary band that we added to my original set.  Being in the jewelry store reminded me of the loose diamonds I had at home.  And then it dawned on me.  

God took two, immature, college grads who were madly in love with Him and with each other and walked with us into the crazy adventure called marriage.  Through thick and thin, through good times and bad, we tried to keep God at the helm and follow His lead.  A quick glance at my wedding set, reminded me of where our priorities needed to be, and often the stone representing my life, was somehow skewed off-center!  

In spite of our screw-ups and weaknesses, a beautiful love birthed in infancy at our wedding, grew and flourished.  From that love, God created four beautiful children.  Four diamonds. Four kids.  What a testament of God's faithfulness in our lives.

This year, for Mother's Day, Curt and the kids had my original wedding band re-made.  The years of daily wear-and-tear had completely worn down my wedding band.  I couldn't help but draw the parallel to parenting.  Raising kids is exhausting, tiring, and emotionally draining.  It can wear you down.  But the beauty of being entrusted with fresh life never really fades.  The jeweler "added strength" to my wedding band, and since we were adding, we added those four diamonds.  One to represent each of the precious children God has entrusted us to raise.

Today we picked it up.  Bada Bling!  I'm almost embarrassed to wear it.  My ring screams "She's taken.  She's loved."  But it's also a daily reminder to keep my heart and mind focused on God, my husband, and my sweet kids.  Happy Mothers Day!