Category Archives: friends

Crossed Over

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Beautiful Sara is finally home–free at last from all her pain and struggles.  Even though I never met her, she has been an inspiration to me to “choose joy” in all circumstances.  Her thoughtful, grace-filled words always challenged me and shed light into dark corners as I pondered the shape of true faith.  Now she has gone on ahead of us, into that other country whose citizenship is known only to the One to whom she gave her whole heart. One day I, too, will fall into His arms. Among God’s family, separations are only temporary.

Goodbye for now, Gitzen Girl.

LIFEgroup #7 Camp Out

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In what was a fun-filled last hurrah of our over-too-soon summer break, we joined seven other families from our small group for a weekend of hiking, swimming, roasting marshmallows, playing games, chatting, reading, and eating (oh, the eating!) at beautiful Camp Prince’s Pine in Washington state.

Each family claimed a cabin, and we took it in turns to prepare meals.  I finally learned the secret of making Alyson’s amazing cinnamon rolls (hint: it involves getting up at 5:00am), and I got some actual photographic proof that my children can do dishes and smile at the same time. I drove a 4-wheeler ATV for the first time ever, and if it weren’t for the dwindling supply of gasoline and my dismal sense of direction, I would have kept right on going all day long. I took Katie and Caleb out paddling around in the canoe while Paul tried to see how much dirt he could pack on his face off-roading.  Three families brought their dogs.  Caleb wanted to bring Pixel, but we had to inform him that cats don’t camp.  Surrounded by friends, we talked, we laughed, and we sang around the campfire.  It was heavenly.

Here come the pictures!

Jacob, Katie, and Caleb on the deck.

Jesse hauls pillows to his family's cabin.

Erin finds a fuzzy caterpillar and brings it in for the kids to look at.

Caleb ponders his next amazing move.

Lily, Grace, and Carol Ann found a great perch for keeping an eye on all the hustle and bustle in the kitchen.

S'mores time!

Grant, Jesse, and Jacob are ready for battle!

Zoe takes a unique approach to tanning.

Jeff comes back to camp wearing most of the road.

Grace and Alyson love spaghetti night!

Mike and Cindy treat Brylee, Jessica, and Zoe to a cruise around the inlet.

The water was cold, but that didn't stop the most determined swimmers. Caleb, Hayden, and Grant splash around.

Katie and Caleb: best little dish-dryers at camp!

Jason and Samuel take a break from the water.

Brenda works on the weekend's group puzzle challenge.

Beautiful Kara enjoys the last rays of sun from the lodge deck.

Doctor Evil demands garlic bread.

Bill and Paul return from their ATV adventure. Guess who was riding in front?

Lily wasn't the only one all tuckered out when the weekend was over!

It’s a Major Award!

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As you might remember, after slaving over a hot keyboard for thirty days in pursuit of that most noble of goals–completing NaBloPoMo 2009–I was pretty jazzed about the possibility of winning one of the fabulous prizes being offered on the official NaBlo site.  Alas and alack, whoever performed the random drawings utterly failed to pull my name out of the hat.  No prize for me.

Until today.

This morning, Kathy walked into my office and, with much fanfare, presented me with this bag, festively festooned with this garland of…disco balls.

My very own NaBloPoMo prize!  Isn’t she awesome?  Inside there were two splendid things.  One: Kathy’s famous chocolate-covered pretzels.  These did not make it home to share with the rest of the family.  Oopsies.

Two:  this book, which I’ve been dying to read ever since I stumbled across it on some geeky website months ago.  (Get it?  “Dying” to read?  Or maybe I should have said “undying” to read.  Hahahahaha!  I slay me!  Get it?  “Slay”?  Am I hilarious, or what?)

Thank you so much, Kathy!  You…complete me.

(Okay, maybe not.  But you certainly know what I like!  I think this might even make up for that little King incident a few weeks ago.)

Twilight Craft Night

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Once a month, the women of our church congregation get together for a Craft Night.

It would more accurately be called a Talk and Eat and Watch Movies and Play With the Girls Night, but that’s too long to put in the bulletin announcement.

I mean, we do bring craft supplies.  Some of us are quilters, some are scrapbookers, and some are knitters.  A few people stretch the definition of “craft” a bit.  Teachers often bring papers to grade, and the only “craft supply” I brought tonight is my laptop.  I’m trying to get some NaBloPoMo blog posts written ahead of time for next week.  We get to fly down to Georgia to see my family for Thanksgiving, and I don’t want to spend any of our precious visiting time perched in front of a computer.

Craft Night entertainment tonight is a big screen showing of “Twilight”, in preparation for a big group of us hitting the theater tomorrow night to see the much-anticipated sequel, “New Moon”.  It’s making it a little hard to concentrate, so if I split any infinitives or put an apostrophe in the wrong place, it’s because my attention is divided between the words on the screen and the world’s best angsty epic teenage vampire werewolf love triangle EVAH.

Oooh, this is the good part…

Our Friends, Slash and Axl

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We just got back from spending the evening at the home of our friends, Jim and Alyson, where the girls (I’m tickled to say) totally put the smackdown on the boys in a very close game of Three For All.  In the guys’ defense, though, Alyson’s sharp nails made it a little scary for anyone else to approach the buzzer.  If you want to win, you have to be willing to take a few risks, right?

Hanging out with the Kleins has become something of a weekly ritual, one we really look forward to.  The kids play, we take turns providing dinner (pizza if it’s our turn, of course), and we veg out talking, watching TV, or playing games.  There is a lot of laughing.

This is the part of the post where I was going to write a long, moving opus about Jim and Alyson, and how blessed we are to know them (not to mention what great taste in friends they have), but it’s been a long day, I am full of Alyson’s yummy beef stroganoff, and I’m starting to nod off already like an old lady.

So instead I’ll tell you just seven of the many things we like about these two wonderful people:

1. They are way cooler than us. (See photo.)  If they ever start a rock band for real, maybe they’ll let us be roadies.

2.  They are our entertainment twins. They like The Office, science fiction, Pixar, and Xbox games, just like us!  To an astonishingly large degree, they enjoy the same movies, music, books, gadgets, and pastimes that we do.  Paul and Jim can spend hours playing The Force Unleashed, and I’m pretty sure I can count on Alyson for opening night of every Twilight movie that is ever released.  Oh, and Alyson is also a blogger; be sure to check out her blog, A Day In the Life of… (especially on Funny Story Friday!)

3.  They have a really cute kid. I mean really cute.  Look at this face:

4.  There is always amazing food at their house. Alyson enjoys cooking and baking.  I enjoy eating.  A coincidence?  I think not.

5.  They are encouragers. It feels good to be around people who constantly and consistently lift others up with their joyful hearts and cheerful optimism.

6. When someone needs help, they are there. Are you moving this weekend?  Do you need an extra pair of hands for that home renovation project?  Are you laid up with the flu and unable get off the couch, let alone fix meals for your family?  You can pretty much guarantee that Jim or Alyson will be there with their sleeves rolled up, ready to go to work.

7.  They love God. And so do we.  Under all the laughter and the fun times, this is the bond that counts the most.  A friend that walks beside you on the road to heaven is one that you’ll have forever, and that is truly something to celebrate.

The delicious baked goods are just a really nice bonus.

War of the Cans

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The battle continues.

Today I took nine cans and hid them all around Kathy’s classroom while she was doing lunch duty.  Each can had a word taped to it; assembled, they reproduced the Bard’s vengeful cry from the pages of  ‘Julius Caesar’:

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After I finished my covert operation, I crept stealthily away and spent what was left of my lunch break at Wendy’s, giggling into my chili.  People stared, but I didn’t know them, so it was okay.

I expected it to take Kathy a while to find all the cans, but a mere hour later, an odd processional presented itself in my office.  At the head of it, my friend, Amelia, wearing her secondhand army jacket, somberly presented me with the slain corpses of my little tin soldiers.  They had not fared very well on the battlefield:

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I didn’t know I was going up against Kathy the Impaler (a distant descendant of Vlad, perhaps?).  I don’t think even a stirring St. Crispin’s Day speech would have helped in this situation.

While I mourn these fallen warriors, like any good general, I think it’s time to turn my thoughts to the next volley.

How much do you think it would cost to build a fully operational Diet Coke Can Death Star?

Before and After

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Guess what?

I am writing this from the master bedroom in our very own house!  That’s right–moving day has come and gone, leaving a trail of sore muscles, stacked boxes, and happy new homeowners in its wake.  I am exhausted and elated in equal measures.  Recent days have passed in a whirlwind of activity, and I’ve barely had time to breathe, but at last I can sit down and catch you up on all the fun details.

We closed over a week early on the house, and it’s a good thing we did, because the renovating work I so flippantly planned to accomplish in one Saturday before the move actually took about five days, and all the helping hands we could recruit.

In the past week, I’ve learned a couple of things:

1) Home improvement projects always take longer and cost more than you think they will.

and

2) We have the best friends in the whole wide world.

Since we got the keys to our place on the 18th, a small army of generous, hard working friends has been crawling over the house like worker ants–demolishing the old floor, taping and painting, installing the thermostat, cutting laminate flooring, and generally making me all teary-eyed with gratitude for their willing hearts and hands.  They brought over every tool they own, and spent night after night of their own precious free time wrestling with baseboard molding and breathing paint fumes.  They bent their backs to every large and small task I had on my massive To Do list, and then came back after all that and moved our heavy furniture and our thousand boxes, all with cheerful hearts and unflagging good grace.

A million thanks to:

Ben–our very own Helpful Hardware Man, who has generously donated time, supplies, and his limitless knowledge of home improvement techniques.  Also, he let me use his pneumatic nail gun.  Have you ever used a pneumatic nail gun?  That alone puts him near the top of my favorite people list.

Jim–cheerful and resourceful, he isn’t afraid to dive in and figure things out.  He presided over the destruction of our old kitchen and dining room floors, trimmed down and installed closet shelves, and provided the saw and the muscle for getting our new floor started.  His wife, Alyson, brought lunch for the entire crowd on moving day, including diet coke and my favorite store-bought cookies, Fudge Stripes.

Michael–a jack-of-all-trades, he was there with his wife Jessica every single day, helping out wherever he was needed, from demolition to taping off the molding.  He just showed up and said, “Put me to work.”  What a servant heart!

Jessica–room painter extraordinaire.  She mastered the art of cutting in and using the paint edger without getting goop all over the place (I’m still working on that.)

Brenda–even with a sick child at home and a fast-approaching moving day of her own on the horizon, she showed up to wield a paintbrush and kept us entertained with her witty banter.  I can’t wait to return the favor next week when she’s painting her new home.  (My banter might not be witty, but at least I can guarantee it will be plentiful.)

Martin–taped up the high places and provided chairs and stools for those of us who needed a little help to reach the heavens.

Patrick and Allison–speed painters.  I left for a quick hardware store run and when I returned, the family room was almost completely painted!  Patrick also risked life and limb last night to help Paul maneuver our new fridge up the stairs and into the kitchen.  I just watched from a chair across the room, praying that he wouldn’t get squished.

Ryan–drove in from the Valley to help out on moving day (and to scope out the location of future WoW LAN parties, of course).

Kathy–cleaned out her van (and its impressive collection of kid-related detritus) to haul boxes and spent the day waging a campaign to get everyone to start calling the family room the rumpus room.

Dad–brought his truck, his trailer, and his years of experience to bear on the logistical puzzles involved in moving large pieces of furniture through a narrow split entry.  (Clue: removing the front door helps.)

Yvie–Shop vac operator.  She became a torrent of cleanliness in the crazy mess that was our garage.

Mimi–wheeler, dealer, floor joint sealer.  On Wednesday she helped us close on the house and on Thursday she called to see when the work party would be.  She showed up with tools in hand and proceeded to work until the last floorboard was pounded into place.  Now that’s what I call a full-service real estate agent!

Yes, this is the house that love built.  Or at least the house that love painted and installed new flooring in.  Here are some pictures of the whole glorious, messy process:

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Paul's dad loaned us his ladder for reaching the vaulted ceilings.

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Jessica and Michael bringing color to the washed-out kitchen.

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Well, this explains a lot.

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Our own home improvement Ace, Ben. When it comes to "how to" questions, he's the guy to ask.

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Brenda getting some practice in before painting her own house this week.

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The old floor was destroyed to make way for the new one. I think most of the guys enjoyed the demolition much more than the reconstruction.

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Jim and Mimi putting together the world's largest jigsaw puzzle.

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Allison making sure we didn't accidentally paint our taupe carpet...taupe. Hmm.

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Mimi and the dance of the seven saws.

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Our new entry floor.

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Ta da!

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Green paint: $25. Laminate flooring: $312. Being able to look directly at your kitchen without wearing sunglasses: priceless.

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Paul waiting for CSI to show up and outline him in chalk.

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The family/rumpus room.

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Caleb's blue room. I like the two different shades.

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Katie's purple paradise.

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Michael and Dad bring in the entertainment center.

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Pause for lunch and a little web surfing.

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Jessica and Michael taking a well-deserved break.

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Paul and the mercifully un-squished Patrick catch their breath after manhandling the Amana up the stairs.

Lily, the littlest member of the moving crew, with mom Alyson and dad Jim.

Lily, the littlest member of the moving crew, with mom Alyson and dad Jim.

Kathy eating "see-food".

Kathy eating "see-food".

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Caleb and Katie helping out with the move in their own special way.

So there you have it.  We are clearly blessed beyond what we deserve.

Thank you, Lord, for our new house–and for the friends that make it a home.

Now back to unpacking!

Black Friday

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We fell into the booth at IHOP with the weary air of soldiers just in from the front lines.  Around us, the air hummed with frenetic, caffeine-fueled conversation and crinkled with the sound of riffling sales flyers as other Black Friday veterans, like us, stopped in to refuel before heading out in pursuit of the Next Great Deal.

Though I wish I could say that waking up at five a.m. to join the fray at local stores paid off in amazing savings, I have to be honest and admit that, of my morning’s two great triumphs, one turned out to still be available much later in the day and the other (a gift for Katie) I ended up returning because my Mom had bought the same one.  Essentially, I could have slept in, just like the half of the country’s population that would rather stay home and give themselves emergency scalp stitches with a sewing needle than venture out of the house on Black Friday for any reason, including blood or fire.

Yes, I could have spent the morning relaxing.  But then I would have missed all the fun!

I adore Black Friday.  I love the crowds.  I love the Christmas music playing in the stores.  I love the thrill of the hunt and the adrenaline rush of the capture.  I love the cheerful camaraderie that springs up between total strangers standing in line in the freezing cold at 5:30 in the morning.   I love turning over thoughts of my loved ones in my mind all day while I consider what gifts they might like.

This year was especially fun, thanks to my friend Kathy.

We’ve spent many Thanksgivings enjoying the friendship and feasting to be had at Steve and Kathy’s, laughing as we bustle around in the kitchen preparing food, sharing our blessings across the dining table, and playing games together. One of the traditions formed there finds us sitting at the table long after the dishes have been cleared away and the pie has been devoured, poring over the Everest-sized mountain of Black Friday ads from the Thursday paper, pen and notebook at the ready.

That’s when we map out The Strategy.

This year, we armed ourselves with cell phones (the better to share important sales information from across town), and agreed to meet late in the morning for breakfast to eat and swap war stories.

Stories like the check out line at Kohl’s that stretched all the way around the back of the store, making it nearly impossible to maneuver, let alone shop.  I quickly decided I didn’t want anything badly enough to stand in that line for it.

Or like the gentleman in line in front of Kathy and her mother-in-law Peggy who secretly paid for their purchases as well as his own.  “Just paying it forward,” he whispered to the cashier.

Or the bin of Webkinz Lil’Kinz at Walgreens surrounded by a cluster of grown men and women digging through like children at a candy store, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the cuteness of tiny puppies and hippos and panda bears.

We swapped information about unexpected bargains and which stores had run out of sales merchandise, revising our plans over delicious plates of bacon and eggs and hashbrowns.  And then, although we’d made our early morning forays solo, we joined forces to hit the last few stores, relaxed and revived.

Towards the end of the day, the first snow of the year showed up and I felt the Christmas season officially begin.

When I finally returned home to Paul late in the afternoon, I had a trunkful of adventures to share with him.  He made all the appropriate noises of appreciation and didn’t even think to ask how much I spent until the next day.

As for me, I put the bags in my closet, sat down with my feet up, and reveled in the feeling of a day well-spent, thankful for the resources to buy gifts and even more thankful that I have friends and family to buy them for.

Now if only there were some pumpkin pie left, life would be just about perfect.

Vegas Revisited

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Usually, the phrase “so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk” is a hyperbole. Not so on the Las Vegas Strip in the middle of July. I meant to bring an egg with me to try it out this time, but you know how tight TSA carry-on baggage regulations have gotten lately. And believe it or not, there’s nowhere on the Strip to actually buy a single egg unless it’s already cooked into a fifteen dollar frittata, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. It was hot.

Not that the heat was a surprise to Tracy, Regina, and I. This was, after all, our second July trip to Vegas, which made us experts of a sort, if there is a field of expertise that specializes solely in finding great places to eat and shop and indulge in innocent entertainment in a town built mostly around naughtiness.

I suppose we might have been a little naughty, if you count the sin of gluttony, because we ate, and we ate well. Hoo, boy, did we eat. We made a return visit to our favorite buffet of all time at the Bellagio, enjoyed sushi again (several times) at the site of my own maiden sushi experience, Ra, and together polished off four large boxes of gourmet chocolates from famous Ethel’s Chocolate Lounge (it was buy three get one free–what were we supposed to do?) Without a doubt, though, one of the gustatory highlights of the trip was lunch (courtesy of Regina’s wonderful husband, Chris, who paid the bill) at The Mesa Grill, a hotspot owned by celebrated chef Bobby Flay. I had the amazing Barbecued Lamb Cobb Salad and we ordered and split three desserts that defy the powers of my usual catalog of adjectives. This morning I got on the scale to tally up the damage and was pleasantly surprised to see that I didn’t gain a pound! I guess all that toiling up and down hot Vegas sidewalks had its rewards, after all.

We stayed at the luxurious (and I don’t use that adjective lightly) Venetian hotel, possibly the most pampering place in which I have ever parked a suitcase. With big fluffy robes and slippers, fresh flowers in the bathroom, three flat screen televisions (including one you could watch while stretching out full length in the enormous tub), and a panoramic view of the Strip out of our picture window, our deluxe suite made me feel like the rock star I always wanted to be.

And, of course, we shopped. It didn’t seem to matter that everything cost half again as much as it would at home. It was only Vacation Money, after all, so it flowed rather more freely than the real kind. The kids’ favorite purchase of mine was the dice-shaped lollipops I brought home for them. As of this writing, they’ve sucked most of the dots off, and are working diligently at making the rest disappear as well.

Oh, and I’m sorry to disappoint you gambling teetotalers out there, but I did take my turn at the penny slot machine. I lost a whole dollar! At one point, I was up to a dollar forty; I just knew I should have cashed out then. So much for my plan to pay off our student loans with my ill-gotten gains.

I should mention that this lovely and relaxing girls getaway was only made possible by support from the troops at home, particularly Paul, who took my place as pancake-maker, tucker-inner, boo-boo-kisser, and all around nurturer in addition to performing his own duties as spider-killer, entertainment-coordinator, and transportation-provider. Thanks, babe. You totally rock! (And I don’t mean like Wayne Newton.)

***

Tracy, me, Regina:

The famous Bellagio fountains! I recorded this on my tiny purse cam, so please excuse the tinny sound and the Blair-Witch-esque camera work. I highly recommend seeing it in person:

Administrative Assistant 2.0

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The administrative assistant at Paul’s office is pretty cool. Actually, Melissa’s not his administrative assistant. She greases the organizational wheels for a whole fleet of geeks, and in that capacity, she puts up with more than her share of hacker hijinks. Like the day they kept using a remote command to make her CD drive slide open and shut over and over until she called in a hardware tech to find out why it was malfunctioning. Or the oh-so-hilarious fake error messages that pop up on her computer screen from time to time. Whatever they throw at her, she handles it all with the aplomb and good humor that must have been at the top of the list of job qualifications on her resume.

Melissa and her husband have a daughter around Caleb’s age, and our families have enjoyed getting together outside of work to hang out and get to know each other. She’s wonderful.

Today, though, I had to bump her up a few more notches on the Katrina Scale of Awesomeness when Paul walked into the office to find this t-shirt in his mailbox:

Apparently, Melissa and Chris came across it while shopping and thought of him immediately. Is it perfect, or what?