For those of you who don't know, this is Rick Steves:
He is a travel author, TV travel host, avid piano player, the list goes on. Over the years, I would catch his show on PBS and reluctantly be swept away as he strolled through many European cities, talking to sheep and wearing Lederhosen. Why with reluctance you ask? My heart was clouded with envy. That's it-pure envy. I would ask out loud to the TV set, "Why Rick?". "Why do you get to have this cool-times-a-gazillion job? Why do you get to crack lame jokes with french puns while standing in the Luberon? After all, you have an almost squeaky voice and wear 1980's glasses." Or I would say something like, " Blah blah blah Rick! Who doesn't have a real Irish wool sweater?!" Well no longer. I will not let this negativity keep our friendship from blossoming Rick. I will no longer pretend not to laugh at your jokes just to hurt you. I will confess that you deserve this job. You are more than good at it and you are actually a good guy (he and his wife sunk their retirement into an apartment complex and turned it into a safehouse for women). I will walk by my complete boxed set of your Europe Through the Back Door DVD's without rolling my eyes. And I will no longer stick my tongue out at you during your 17 step spa treatment in Baden-Baden. So here's to you Rick-glasses and all. You are, without a doubt, the Man.
All good things must come to an end. And there is no better way to wrap up a vacation than to have a Thanksgiving feast with loved ones. One of my favorite things is the buzz in the kitchen before the meal. Thanks Mom, for all the prep work and beautiful table setting. Everyone made such great food, though the company was even better (barely). We flew home sitting this way. We told the kids to check their chutes to make sure they were ready for the jump once we had crossed the ocean. They didn't appreciate the joke.
Seth loved being outside and was quite the adventurer. Mmmmmmm. Leonard's hot malasadas (Portugese hole-less donut rolled in cinnamon and sugar)-doesn't get much better than that. I know family-I'll give a shout out to Dee-Lite's malasadas as well. There was lots to explore and the girls found some of our old paths around the property. The kids had to run down to give Shawn good morning hugs. Sometimes very early.
The morning after Shawn returned home, we were off to Travis Air Force Base to catch a flight home to Hawai'i. The military allows military families to travel on their daily cargo and refeuling missions on a variety of different aircraft. They basically load us into whatever space was not filled for their specific mission. This means that we may fly a puddle jumper with parachute seats or a larger aircraft with commercial seats. The crews have all been fun to fly with and willing to answer any questions about the plane we are on. On the way there, we flew a refeuling mission which adds a little flight time but is no big deal. This plane had reclining mats with joysticks below where the crew lays to refeul planes. Pretty cool stuff.
I remember flying home during the college years and how much I loved the last little stretch that takes us over the Honolulu city lights. It meant I was home. Each time I step off the plane, I can count on the same three things happening. First, the wet air turns my skin into a sponge. Second, the smell of any given flower in the breeze takes away the blur of a long flight. And lastly, I find myself asking why I am living someplace else. The kids immediately start the excited talk of swimming, sand play, cousin time, and how they can't wait to see Grandpa and Grandma. No matter how many times I have come back, I can't help but feel sad that the time will fly too quickly and I will find myself leaving again.
Our arrival was celebrated with Khal-bi ribs (Shawn's favorite) by the pool. Thanks, Dad! Each November we celebrate Birthday Week. Shawn and the girls all have birthdays within a week of eachother and so nothing could be better than blowing out candles on a Chantilly cake. My kids race to put on their kama'aina uniforms (by which I mean swim suits)and don't really take them off until we get back on the plane. Bliss.
There is no point in trying to describe the leaps and cartwheels our hearts did the day Shawn arrived. All of the grand plans and sweet daydreams that have filled our time apart easily pale in comparison to our real moment of reunion. The day was filled with business and many pep talks with myself about not letting out what Oprah calls the "ugly cry". Not that the emotion would be unwarranted, but knowing Shawn had to leave us again, I needed the kids to know that I wasn't crumbling. As I looked at the faces of loved ones who came to greet Shawn, I could feel nothing but gratitude.
Later, as I prepared the house for our departure the next morning, the kids were at my feet as usual. The urgent "Mommy!" this's and that's filled the air around me like any other night. Shawn lovingly walked into the kitchen and gathered the kids to take them away and let me finish my task in peace. He shot me a wink and like any other capable and stable woman, I sobbed. Everyone who faces the duties and trials of daily life knows the importance of setting aside the awareness of its hardship. But once you are reminded of the burden that is lifted by a simple helping hand, that suppressed emotion can quickly slap you in the face. This was a good slap.
Yesterday I was able to go to a funeral for my Mom's Uncle Roy. This man has had a sweet spot in my heart for many years. Among other things, Roy and Eunice were kind enough to have me in their home as I would travel home during college and hosted our wedding luncheon at their house.
As I watched the rest of the family shuffle in to be seated in the chapel, I couldn't help but look at the many sweet great-grandchildren who are a part of this man's legacy. I felt touched as the rows kept filling with his closest family members and thought of my family members who weren't able to be there.
I knew Uncle Roy to be a smart and kind man. He seemed to take such an interest in everyone he talked to and had something unique to say. I was touched by the tributes given him as a steady man who always knew how to endure. His son called him a "Shiblon" saying that his father was someone who was not flashy but very steadfast and walked uprightly before God. He spoke of his father never being a discriminator of persons and always finding ways to help poeple have what they needed in creative ways. He was a man who didn't think to complain and would start the day saying, "It's a great day in Chicago!" (They lived there 25 years for work). He wore the same old red sweater every year at Christmas. He was engaged to Eunice two years while he was away in the Army Air Corps and in Brazil working. His daughter found his love letters to her from this period of time and said that each started endearingly with "My Dearest Brown Eyes". He was asked if during his years in the Army he was able to hold true to his values. He said that he contemplated for three months the fact that he was the only "Mormon" around and that he could have done whatever he wanted. He asked himself what he really wanted and he decided he wanted the happiness the Gospel brings.
I couldn't help but think of my family. We are all so different but we all know we are loved. As I sat there I felt grateful to a long line of people who valued the Gospel and wanted to share it. A group of people who know how to roll up their sleeves and get to work. I thought of family tradition and struggle. I thought of celebration and new generations we have yet to meet. I felt happy for Roy, his choices and the obvious abundance of love he shared with his family. I left with a renewed resolve to express my love as often and openly as possible.
I thought it would be fun to get the family group for Shawn's deployed unit together for a fun night out. Gardner Village does a Wee Witches Night Out every year and I knew it would be the perfect place to get out and spend time together as a group. As I was doing the girls make-up to go with their costumes, I quickly realized that Shawn and I will not be letting them date until they are in their 20's at least.
The kids had a great time and we ladies were able to chat and bond. Our conversations were filled with alot of "I hear ya"'s and I felt many times throughout the night much gratitude for being able to know these women.
Below are two out of a few kids in the FRG group that the girls loved spending time with.
Some friends and I took the kids to Hee Haw Farm today. After some hayriding, animal tractor training, big sliding, pumpkin picking, Boo housing, and animal petting, we were all pretty tired! I love fall and all the fall fun there is to be had.
I have kind of given up on keeping my mirrors and windows clean. At least the ones that are readily accessible to a small red-headed boy. I have a large framed mirror in my bedroom that runs low enough for him to touch. Each time I clean the glass, he walks right up and starts licking, smearing, and face-pulling. So I let it go longer than usual because, let's face it, it means more work in the end. It got to the point where every time I would look at those fingerprints I would feel annoyed that no matter how hard I clean, this little two year old is right behind me ready to undo. So as I watched Conference through the heavily fingerprinted T.V. screen, President Monson's words touched me as he encouraged us to enjoy each stage of life and even went on to say that the fingerprints that cover every surface of our homes would one day be missed. I think we all know it is truth but it is easy to forget while in the "trenches" of the daily grind. Though our family laughs together often, I must admit that I lost focus and let those sweet little fingerprints represent frustration rather than joy. My heart is sorry for that. Thank goodness for renewal.
264 days have passed since this whole assignment started. That is alot of time. With about 42 days left until leave, it actually seems to be getting more difficult to not focus on how much I miss Shawn. But the excitement we all feel is growing as the days pass. Over the years as Shawn has had to leave us to fulfill military assignments, I have thought alot about single parents and those who gracefully live with lonliness daily. I am grateful to the many bright examples there are of people who 'forget themselves and get to work'. I am so completely grateful as well for the vein of peace that connects each day to the next. Just grateful-that's all.
Yesterday at Wal-Mart I had a lovely encounter with a cute old lady. As I was grabbing a bag of celery, she stopped me and said, "Now do you know how to pick good celery?" I thought for a mintue. I know how to pick out good produce in just about every category-but not celery! And though celery is not usually the determining ingredient in many receipes, I thought it might be a good time to learn. So she told me that good celery is found purely by weight. After watching her give me SEVERAL examples (and a pop quiz) of right and wrong celeries, she marched me over to the freezers. She said, "This world is getting crazier and crazier! The price of peppers is 10 cents higher than it was last year!" I did realize the price of peppers had gone up but not enough to avoid them completely. So she showed me a frozen bag of cut, mixed peppers for a dollar 37. She had me smell the bag (which smelled really good), and guarunteed that what the picture diplayed on the bag was exactly what I would get inside. None of this marketing hanky panky that runs wildly out of control on some packaging. I was actually grateful because I am picky over what I buy frozen vs. fresh. Anyway, the peppers are great and it eliminates any waste. As we walked out of the aisle, she yelled over to the freezer re-stocking lady, "Just converted another one." I wondered how many women she had shared this tid-bit with. I thanked her and as I went on my way, with a wink she said, " We women have to stick together." What a darling woman she is! One day I hope to be that little old lady in Wal-Mart. And I think my focus will be something like eggplant...
You may be wondering why all of a sudden is Shawn posting all these pictures...well a helpful young specialist, with the look of 'this guy is so old' helped me learn how to use Potoshop. So here are the pictures I always wanted to show but didn't know how.
In the last picture Jill posted for me, I'm standing on a portion of roof where the second bomb hit. This palace was built in response to his declared victory over the US when he was forced out of Kuwait. He saw it as a victory! So what do you do when your people are starving to death? Spend millions on yet another palace. The room I'm standing in is bigger than a regulation sized football field. The palace has 180 rooms and has a duplicate on the opposite side. There is marble everywhere and extremely poor workmanship. I'm surprised they are still standing. Keep in mind this is one of 80 such palaces that he had built during a 20 year rule. In the adjacent palace, he was hoarding all the food for oil supplies and medical supplies the world health org. was sending. They never made it to the people. Over 500 thousand people died (mostly women and children) within a ten mile radius from where I am standing. Hussein also brought on a drought when he diverted Baghdads entire water supply for a month while he filled his private lakes in the compound I now work in.
This is Shawn in the Victory over America Palace. It was never finished and was bombed twice at the beginning of the war. I wonder if its given name came with a touch of overzealousness. Shawn is doing well, though it is the hottest part of the year now. Rockin' the camo babe!
Alright. As much as I love the word "svelte", it will most likely never be used to describe me. Over the years I have experienced both thick and a wee bit of thin-ish. But I have never been tiny and my goal in life is not to be tiny-but to feel good in my clothes and be pro-active about my health. I actually enjoy a good round of sport (said with a British accent). And when I am comfortable with those I'm with, I don't mind leaping in all my glory to grab a ball. However, over the years, (and after being told by Chirstine Hammer that I looked like jell-o running. I will never forget Christine!), I realized that it was less embarrassing to accept my role as the chubby girl and pretend I didn't enjoy anything requiring athletic interest. So getting crazy on the field was and still is reserved for the closest of friends (or for pitch black sports arenas).
I have joined different gyms, have lost pounds and have also been re-introduced to them as well over the years. I have been dedicated and not so dedicated. But I recently found a place that offers great equipment, and challenging classes without the meat market feel of many gyms, and is not too far from home. And though I sometimes feel a little awkward because of the jiggle factor, I jump right in and push myself. What I find funny though,(and by funny I mean annoying)is that many times I am still going strong even when a handful of less jiggly women have had to stop. And yet after class the instructor will always say to me in a surprised tone, "Good for you for not giving up." or "You made it!" I know these are meant to be words of encouragement and I appreciate the intent, but sometimes I just want to say, "Yeah-well Jane Fonda called and she wants her leotard back-booyah!"
Don't get me wrong. I realize that a lack of excercise and/or healthy eating play a large role in why we gain weight -and I am not claiming to be a marathoner. But goodness! Laziness is not exclusive to those who struggle with weight. And health is not exclusive to all who don't.
Now, it doesn't happen very often but it has been my experience that there is sometimes one person who is disturbed by the fact that I can keep up. And it is also my experience that the person who feels this makes sure to inform me that they are capable of more. In these instances, I realize that her own body image is most likely fragile and I am readily empathetic. In these instances, I am also happy that I have learned not to define myself completely by the size of my jeans.
I must say that for the most part, my fellow women are fun and accepting and humble about their own physical insecurities. And there is no better way to bond as a group of women than to contort yourself over an excercise ball with a tension band wrapped like a pretzel around your legs. We are all in the same boat ladies. We all at one point in time have wondered how we measure up. We all live in a world that trivializes virtue and over-sells the importance of image. And no matter what-we all look rockin' hot in sweatbands!
When reading teacher comments on a report card it is important to be aware of every message the teacher is trying to send. Most teachers are polite in their approach and many underlying messages may not be uncovered at first glance. As the years went by, I began to realize there was a common statement being made in my report cards. The comments usually went something like this..."Jill is a bright girl and has many friends. Her talkative nature is appreciated... most of the time." Or one that went something like this..."Jill has many friends. She seems to do well socially, however, may have difficulty not socializing during class." And this is by far the most straightforward comment..."If Jill would just apply the same amount of effort to her school work as she does her socializing...". Clearly this teacher did not recognize my pure talent (which I realize would be a much more powerful statement had I turned out to be famous or something). The above examples, in case you are somewhat unsure, are teacher's code for "Tell you daughter to zip it!".
Anyway, all of this is funny because Maddie came home her second day of school and said, "Today was great but my teacher gave me a check on the board because I was talking during class." I replied, "Maddie it is important that you pay attention and let the other kids pay attention during class." She told me that she tried but she just haaaaad to tell her friend something. "And it was just killin' me mom", she said. So I'm thinking Maddie's report card will start something like this..."Maddie is an outgoing girl who seems to like school.....and talking."
So my friend and I were locked out of our apartment when suddenly this guy in a little Honda comes flying up the streeet. He jumps out of his car, and in his best superhero voice, asks what the problem is. I recognized him as the fun and outgoing guy from our ward who had mentioned to my friend he would like to take me out. Convenient-him being there and all (little did I know he was doing a drive-by). He scaled the building looking for open windows and re-assured me he could break in. I asked him how he was sure he could break in and he told me that growing up in a small town offered many opportunities for such skills. Then he laughed. I found myself caught up in how nice I thought his hands and arms were. He discovered an open window on the second story. Naturally, we needed to go to my aunt and uncles house to get a ladder. How convenient-him meeting my relatives and all. Back at the duplex we quickly discovered the ladder was a bit short to reach the window. But this would not stop him. He jumped up and flew at the same time and scaled the rest of his way up the brick through the window. When he thought I wasn't looking, he limped. But the moment he knew I was watching he stood strong and straight. He had hurt himself during his flying leap. I made him a tuna sandwich and he smiled alot. Not once did he bring up his injury. Never before had ease and excitement combined so gracefully in any guy I had taken interest in. Now ten years into our marriage he still calls me "doll" and I still get caught up in how much I love his arms and hands. As silly as it sounds, I feel blessed my heart aches so greatly when he's away. I love you babe!
We usually go by way of Alberta when traveling to and from Canada. However, I decided that it would be fun to take the kids through Vancouver B.C. and then to Seattle on the way home. Vancouver has a hip and artsy -yet sometimes sophisticated vibe to it and is made even cooler because of its location near the water. For me, the bridges alone make the trip worth it. My favorite is the Lion's gate Bridge. It is such a thrill for me to drive with water on either side and such an architectually beautiful structure making it possible. I was even more excited when the kids found as much of a thrill in it and asked to cross back and forth a few times. So we did.
After Vancouver it was time to head back toward the U.S. and to Seattle. The wait at the border was an hour and a half. Let's just say they were being very thorough with us all. We got into the city in the late afternoon and I took the kids right to Pike Place Market. There is nothing like a good fish toss to brighten your day. I loved watching the kids explore. They are so easily amused. I was quite easily amused by the man selling trinkets in a safari hat and bright purple spandex. We went to the harbor to watch boats come and go and then turned in to get some much needed rest. It's not easy to travel such long roads with kids but it is well worth the bond that is formed over Slugbug, I Spy, and being able to sing every word to Disney's Camp Rock CD together.
Fort St. James is a town not too far from Vanderhoof where a fur trading post was built back in 1806. Two men from the North West Company founded it and it eventually merged with Hudson's Bay Company (which many of you may know for their famous wool blankets). We got the V.I.P. tour because our niece Shay works for Canada's National Parks. It was great to see the different structures at the fort and imagine a lifestyle of travel and trapping. O.K. -so the travel part was more fun to imagine than the trapping part. The girls were able to actually play out a trade at the mercantile with one of the guides. They learned quickly that winter coats are more valuable than summer coats as well as the importance of skinning without holes and which animals were considered a rare find. Maddie drove a hard bargain with her werewolf coat (hey -at least she didn't insist on it being a unicorn coat) and refused to accept one candy as a trade. She insisted on two mints and a Werther's and would take no less. I also learned what the markings on a Hudson's bay blanket meant. Each animal pelt had a point equivalent and the very nicest blankets were 6 points. They would follow the point system to determine the value of their trade and the 6 point blankets were coveted for their warmth and durability. They were even used as sails during times of emergency. Anyway, the kids were able to play popular childrens games from that time period and really liked trying their hand at piece-on-piece construction.
The kids and I recently returned from three weeks of fun and adventure. We went to B.C. to visit with some of our family. The drive is about 26 hours and yes I am just that crazy to have done it alone with the kids. Our family there lives in a small town named Vanderhoof. I think the first stop light was actually installed not too long ago......Anyway, it is the country and by country, I mean country. To illustrate my point here is a picture of my Mother-in-law's driveway.. And this is my sister-in-law's backyard.
Needless to say it was a nice getaway to quiet. After such a long trip it was nice to finally arrive and see everyone. Each time we visit I am amazed at how truly great each of our nieces and nephews are becoming. The kids were so excited for this trip and seemed to pick up where we left off. We usually visit in the winter so it was nice this time to go during the summer. There were more outdoor things to do without freezing off any limbs. We stayed with my Mother-in-law and did fun things like pick strawberries, ride the quad (no less than a million times), and took fun little walks. Over at Auntie Cindy's house, the pool was a big hit. The girls worked hard to earn swimming badges which helped refine their swimming skills. Maddie jumped right in to help herd cattle and the girls both enjoyed "farm chores". Seth pretty much called any mobile piece of farm equipment (including the quad), a tractor.
Five minutes up the road from the house there is a beautiful and surprisingly un -crowded lake. The kids had such a fun time and got to try Kayaking. Abi took to it very quickly. The fishing poles were brought out at one point and I am still surprised no one's finger fell prey to the hook. It was such a hit for the kids. And I had a great time too just daydreaming about the Hemmingway-esque lakehouse I would love to build there one day.
Maddie with some of her cousins. Workin' it!
The kids were definitley spoiled by everyone. They were even given a birthday party since their birthdays will happen while we are not together. They each were given their own cake to decorate. Abi was actually excited despite the picture.