Category Archives: fun

Thankful #6 – #12

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Today’s list of blessings is comprised entirely of websites. What an amazing time we live in, with a world of information (and misinformation) right at our fingertips. With the aid of the internet, we can be either madly clicking paragons of productivity or ravaged wastrels lounging atop a throne of empty pizza boxes in our underwear. Either way, here are some of the websites I’m thankful for:

6. WebMD. How else could I find out all the things I didn’t know were wrong with me? By the way, today I either have mild wrist swelling caused by overuse or creeping bone cancer. Could be either, according to WebMD.

7. Google. It’s the search engine whose name became synonymous with searching for things on the internet. I’ve tried a number of others, but always come back to the megalith of internet construction. Not only is it the most comprehensive and useful, but the Google doodle occasionally provides hours of entertainment.

8. I Can Has Cheezburger. Life can be brutal, man. Some days, we get knocked down so many times that staying down starts to seem like the best option. On those days, I like to fill my brain up with cute hedgehog babies in teacups and puppies wearing tiny fedoras. I like to imagine that I live in a world where my cat has something clever and pithy to say about the mess  I left in the kitchen, and where every animal, from cow to platypus, is blessed with a rapier sharp sarcastic wit. Cheezburgers for everyone!

9. Lifehacker. This too-practical-to-be-believed website has tips and tricks for everything from making your own bicycle-powered battery to optimizing your Google searches. I just recently used it to find a good (and free) language learning app. No matter what you want to do (deseed a pomegranate, interview for a job, water your plants), Lifehacker has a tip for you! Never again will I have to suffer from excess pool noodle accumulation. Thanks,  Lifehacker!

10. Wikipedia. It’s exhaustive. It’s crowd-sourced. And it’s mostly accurate. To think, my parents had to spend $300 in 1995 for an actual printed set of World Book encyclopedias. It was out of date before we received it.  And it didn’t even have an entry for the Hollywood Freeway Chickens. Well-researched accounts of roving feral chicken bands living in the urban jungles of Southern California are exactly the sort of thing I look for in a good encyclopedia.

11. Craigslist. Buy stuff. Sell stuff. Even meet people (if you’re brave/crazy), and get a chuckle out of seeing the weirdness of humanity on full display.

12. The Marriage Bed. There’s a vicious rumor going around that Christians don’t like sex. I’m pretty sure I’ve debunked that idea at length in other posts, however, if you need more convincing, check out The Marriage Bed, a website that celebrates sex in the context of Christian marriage. There are general discussion boards that are open to click through, as well as boards that address more specific interests; those can be accessed by registering on the site and opting in to the boards you’d like to read. There is also a library of articles and helpful links. Whether you’re facing challenges in your sex life or are just looking for some new ideas, The Marriage Bed is a great resource!

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Me llamo Katrina. Yo no soy una manzana.

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When asked to name one big regret I have in life, I’m pretty lucky. I don’t have a lot of terrible, life-altering mistakes to choose from. Sure, I’ve been through some things that, at the time, I would have skipped if I could, but I wouldn’t change the pattern God has woven into my life for anything, even if some of the threads were not of my choosing. No, my one big regret is actually one of mere practicality:

I regret not taking Spanish as my foreign language in high school.

Don’t mistake me; I enjoyed the French language very much. At one time, I was surprisingly proficient in it, and was even able to navigate among native speakers for a six week exchange program in Aurillac, France. My fluency has ebbed away with disuse, but I still remember the essentials. Ou est le WC? = Where is the bathroom? J’ai besoin d’aller à l’hôpital! = I need to go to the hospital! Est-ce crêpe sans gluten? = Is this crepe gluten-free? (Okay, I confess. I had to look up the French word for “gluten”. It turns out that it’s “gluten”. Who knew?) I was understandably proud of my French-speaking abilities once upon a time, especially on those very rare occasions when the villains in a spy movie we were watching would speak a smattering of French and I was able to (sort of) translate for all my friends: “If we don’t get the (something) letters within two days, the man in blue will (uh…do something) to our (something – did he say cadavre or confrère?), so hurry!”

Okay, so it wasn’t that useful.

On the other hand, there have been scores of occasions when the ability to speak Spanish would have been a real, tangible asset. I’ve met people from South America in nearly every state that I’ve lived in, and some of them have not yet learned enough English to be clearly understood. It would have been nice, for example, to be able to talk to the soft-spoken man back in Searcy who turned up at Hastings with Paul’s stolen bicycle. It took half an hour and some earnest charades for us to make him understand that the bike belonged to Paul and to find out that he had bought it from a man who “had many bicycles” that he was selling out of his truck. Fortunately, the next time we met him, to give him a hand-me-down bicycle we had lucked into, he was surrounded by bilingual friends, and communication was much easier.  I would have liked to have been able to make my homesick Nicaraguan college roommate feel more welcome, but our interactions were painfully limited by our language barrier.  And just recently, I had a sweet family come in to use our church food bank who didn’t speak any English at all. Though our smiles were there, the words were not. It took a long, awkward effort on all of our parts for me to figure out that they were looking mainly for diapers and baby food.

Time and again, I have wished to go back in time and check the little box marked “español” on my 10th grade class schedule application. Time and again, I’ve regretted the whim of fifteen year-old me, who thought French sounded more mysteriously romantic and better befitting a wannabe Baudelaire like myself.

It finally occurred to me this week that I could stop regretting… and just learn Spanish.

So that is my new project! Voy a aprender a hablar español! Sure, my brain is older now, and my language acquisition center is probably draped in cobwebs, but I don’t need to be a qualified UN translator. I just want to be able to hold a real conversation (i.e. one that doesn’t involve la biblioteca*) with people I meet. I can learn that much, right?

The first thing I did was look up Rosetta Stone. Ouch. Our budget doesn’t have a “language education” category, so that’s out. Aren’t there any free options out there? I poked around on the internet for a few days, not really finding anything useful. And then, Lifehacker did that magic trick where they featured an article that told me exactly what I needed to know.

So I’m signed up on Duolingo. I created an account and downloaded the free app for my tablet and phone (it’s available for iOS and Android platforms!) I’m already halfway through lesson one (yo soy una mujer)! Now all I need is a Spanish-speaking friend to practice on. Or a classmate. Anybody else wanna hablar español?

* Donde esta la biblioteca?

Oh, hello, internets.

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I’m not a fan of blog posts that are just apologies for not blogging more. I ran across a blog the other day that was five posts long: one “Hurray, I’m starting a blog!” post followed by four apologies at six month intervals.

So I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to trick you into forgetting all about my little hiatus by distracting you with… a GIVEAWAY! That’s right. I will bribe you to keep you from mentioning what a sad excuse for a blogger I am.

Also, I must admit, I’m a little curious to find out if anyone still reads this blog. Maybe offering an amazing prize will flush out the commenters still loyally lurking, waiting for signs of life. And what, you are asking yourself, is that prize?

After digging around in my stuff for a few minutes much thoughtful and serious contemplation, I found the perfect thing! Well, things, actually.

Not only will the winner receive this awesome mix CD, lovingly compiled by yours truly and entitled “Songs You Will Definitely Like”:

but I will also throw in, as a bonus, this completely original and terrible never-before-published poem, written in 1994 by 21 year old Katrina Wright (Swaim)–The College Years:

How terrible is it? Well, you’ll just have to win it to find out.

To enter, leave a comment on this post before Friday, June 1st, and I will use this supercool random number generator to determine the lucky winner.

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!

Summer Fun List

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I am blessed to have summers off from my job, so I can enjoy spending time with Katie and Caleb.  We’re saving up our family vacation time for Thanksgiving this year, so our summer adventures will have to be staged close to home.  To that end, we sat down with the kids the day after school ended to make a list of all the things we want to do this summer.  Everyone contributed, and all ideas were written down.  Here’s what we came up with.  I put little stars next to the things we’ve already done at least once this summer.  What’s on your summer fun list?

  1. *Jamm’s yogurt
  2. Manito Park
  3. go to the movies
  4. swimming
  5. play in the sprinkler
  6. *water gun fight
  7. *playground at the park
  8. Skate Plaza
  9. *video games
  10. *library
  11. *Red Robin
  12. set up the hammock
  13. hiking with the Kleins
  14. *Fun Fridays
  15. disc golf
  16. picnic
  17. July 4th at the Rudes’
  18. *walk to PetCo and look at animals
  19. BBQ
  20. Coeur d’Alene Museum
  21. Bible sports camp
  22. boardwalk at the Resort
  23. sushi
  24. *play at the Taylors’
  25. baking day
  26. cooking day
  27. go to the beach

 

Dear Santa

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Dear Santa Claus,

I know October is a little early to be sending you my wish list, but some of the items I’m requesting this year are slightly more difficult to lay hands on than the typical iPod/pony/Red Rider BB gun sort of loot you usually deal.  In fact, you might have to open a research and development department in your operation to accommodate a few of these requests, but I promise you that the improvement in overall recipient satisfaction would be more than worth it.  I foresee a 42% increase in your milk and cookie haul just over the first five years.  As a heavy consumer of science fiction, I am plagued by a growing awareness that human achievement, despite recent advancements, is still lagging significantly behind our imaginations.  In short, I’m tired of waiting for transporter technology to arrive.

And so, without further ado, here is my 2010 Christmas Wish List:

1. Star Trek food replicator.  No recipes.  No shopping trips.  No chopping or braising or marinating for eight hours.  Just press a button or speak to a computer, and “voila!”:  fine cuisine made in the tradition of the planet of your choice.

2.  Jet pack. Even the kids have their own jet packs on The Jetsons.  They’re like the skateboards of the future.  If you give me one, Santa, I promise to wear a helmet and to resist the temptation to laugh smugly at the people stuck in traffic hundreds of feet below me.

3. Room of Requirement. Ever since Neville first stumbled into the Room of Requirement while looking for a clandestine meeting place for Dumbledore’s Army, I have been imagining all of the uses to which I could put my own psychically transforming room.  Guests pop in while you’re knee-deep in unfolded laundry?  No problem!  Bundle it all up and toss it into the Room of Requirement.  (You don’t even need to do laundry, come to think of it: just ask the Room of Requirement to turn into a giant closet filled with clean clothes and wear something new every day!)  Need a place to hide from the kids, who haven’t stopped arguing since they got home from school?  The Room of Requirement becomes a relaxing spa, complete with clawfoot bathtub, candles, and soundproof walls to block the sound of the Lego war breaking out in the hallway.  I need one, Santa!

4.  TARDIS. The Doctor’s Time and Relative Dimensions In Space ship can travel to anywhere…and any time.  I’d use it to travel back to ten p.m. Sunday night so I could get an extra night’s sleep in preparation for Mondays.   I would also go back to fifth grade and stop myself from getting that truly horrendous bowl haircut.  And I’d go to Scotland.  You know, just to listen to the people talk.

5.  R2-D2. Sharing your home with this small blue droid would be a little like having a pet.  A pet that doesn’t shed, doesn’t pee on the carpet, and can interface with all your electronic gadgets.  Plus he’s adorable.  And, Santa, I promise to love him and walk him and feed him.  What does he eat, anyway?

Well, that’s it.  My whole list.  I think you’ll agree that it’s not unreasonable to have high expectations in this age of technological wonders.  I mean, look around at all the smartphones and Blu-ray players and tell me that we can’t figure out a way to beam ourselves to another planet (or at the very least from Coeur d’Alene to Snellville!)  I have every confidence that your elves are up to the task.   Just don’t tell Steve Jobs what you’re working on.  He’ll find a way to link it to iTunes and stick a DRM on it.

That’s Why the Lady Likes to Camp

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To camp out in the wilds of Idaho in the summertime is to step out of the stream of time and immerse yourself in the cool green light of a wood that hasn’t changed much since settlers first raised their stone chimneys on the banks of the Coeur d’Alene River two hundred years ago.  If the weather cooperates, you can hike on sun-dappled paths, catch out wildlife as it startles and skitters away at the sound of your approach, and toss stones into the creek chattering over its rocky bed.

We just returned from a four day camp out with Paul’s Dad and his wife, Yvie, in the beautiful Shoshone area, where we did all of those things and more.   Dad drove up on Thursday morning to set up camp ahead of our arrival.  Paul and I slept in a tent, but we were grateful for the presence of Dad and Yvie’s camper, without which we would have been digging our own latrine, a decidedly unromantic endeavor, best left unmentioned in Walden-esque rhapsodies about the beauty of the woods.  The kids slept in the camper, too, which gave the two of us some appreciated privacy and room to stretch out in our little four-man dome tent.

How I love waking up to the sound of birds calling to each other as the sun comes up!  The angry chipmunk squeaking madly at us from a perch right outside our tent?  Not so much.

With four glorious days stretched out before us, we tramped through the woods, roasted marshmallows over the campfire, and spent hours slung comfortably in camp chairs, reading or chatting while we watched the kids play with sticks and bugs.  Dad took us in turns for long rides on the ATV, which was, for me, the highlight of the trip!  We covered miles of logging roads and emerged from the tree line to a lookout point that allowed us an unfettered view of legions of mountains marching away into the horizon.  It was on one of these excursions that Dad and I ran across a family of elk crossing the trail, including a baby.  They are so big up close!  It was close to twilight, and many animals are moving around at that time of day.  We also frightened a rabbit, which ran down the road in front of us for several yards before it got its bearings and darted off into the undergrowth.  The strangest forest-dwelling creature we came across was a fat, orange tabby cat, preening and lying at leisure in a bed of leafy green plants, far from the nearest campsite.  How did he come to be there?  And how had he survived the brutality of life in the wilds without becoming a meal for a hungry cougar?  He was so clearly the ruler of his forest kingdom, I was tempted to make up stories about him.

On our second day, Dad took me out on the ATV while everyone was drowsing in the late afternoon sun.  We were on a mission: huckleberries, enough to add to the pancake batter for huckleberry flapjacks the next morning.  They grow pretty high up on the mountain, and it took us a while to locate a few bushes that had escaped the scavenging of bears and birds.  At last, however, we found a good patch, and set to picking.  When we rode back into camp with our “haul” (maybe two cups of berries, all told), it felt like we were ancient hunters, returning with a hunk of mammoth suspended between us on a pole.  The tribe cheered.

One thing we didn’t do for four days: shower.  Sweat, dust, and grime coated us in layers, and every day my hair looked more like a modern art sculpture.  On the plus side, I couldn’t feel the itching of my many mosquito bites through all of that dirt.  Also, I didn’t have to shave my legs; and isn’t that what camping is all about?

We came home Sunday afternoon and raced for the showers.  It felt SO good to get clean (even if it did cause my mosquito bites to flare into life).  I spent today washing the campfire smoke out of our clothes.  All the leftover food has been put away, and all the pictures have been downloaded from the camera.  All that’s left now is to soak in the memories.  I think they might even keep me warm this December when we’re buried under several feet of snow.

Art on the Green 2010

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We parked two blocks away from the city park and stepped out into the warm arms of a summer sun just starting to emerge after a spate of early morning showers.  It was the perfect day for walking by the lake, and we did, slowly, mingling with the crowds as we poked around booths full of handcrafted goods and the shops along Sherman Avenue.  There were musicians of all kinds playing and singing in the streets, and we gave the kids change to put in their cases as we passed by.  Buskers, they’re called; isn’t that a fun word?  Art on the Green is one of my favorite Coeur d’Alene holidays, and we never miss it.

The work of artisans, both local and “imported”, were displayed everywhere we looked: hand-thrown pottery, unique jewelry, copper sculptures gleaming in the brightening light.  The air was redolent with the smell of hot funnel cakes, fresh kettle corn, and tangy barbecue.  In between clamoring for frozen lemonade and ignoring the “please do not touch” signs bedecking some of the more delicate artwork, Katie and Caleb both found souvenirs to take home.  Caleb fell in love with a small green dog with a shiny coat in a booth that offered stuffed animals of every kind imaginable.  Katie chose a marionette made out of yarn, and she’s been dancing it around on its strings ever since we got home.

As for me, I also got to choose a souvenir.  Since Art on the Green falls on or near my birthday every year, Paul always gets me something lovely and frivolous to commemorate the experience.  Last year, he bought me a sweet ceramic sushi set (nice alliteration, right?):

The year before that, he helped me pick out a beautiful blue sarong.  I wore it today, tied as a skirt.

This year, I wandered into a booth that I have been drawn to for the past several years.  The artist uses recycled glass windows and bottles to create graceful and exquisite vases, which hang on the wall.  No two are alike, and they look like something that Titania herself would have used to decorate her leafy bower.  Some of them incorporate flowers or dragonflies, and others are pebbly with the texture of the the broken glass that has been melted down to create them.  The hardest part of my day was deciding which one I liked best:

Isn’t it wonderful?  I’ve put silk flowers in it for now, but it can hold water and fresh flowers, as well.  I love it!  Thank you, Paul.

After a few hours on our feet and a hot meal, the whole crew was ready to call it a day.  We set our sails for home… and air-conditioning. Collapsing onto the couch, I could only feel gratitude for the wonderful day.   The lake, the mountains, sunshine, treasure, food, and air-conditioning.  Am I blessed, or what?

Our House Is a Very, Very, Very Fine House

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We’ve been in our new home, our first house, for a little over a year now. But there is a difference between moving into a house and really making it feel like home. This week, I think we finally crossed over that line. I’d like to show you a couple of projects we just finished, projects that have added a little more family flair to the Tree House walls.

Back when I was a high school senior, I saw “A Room With a View” for the first time, and it instantly became one of my favorite movies (Best Onscreen Kiss of All Time!) In one scene, we see the inside of George’s house in Surrey, and there are words painted on the walls. How whimsical! How delightful! The seed of that idea always stuck with me, and when we finally had a house of our own and could do as we pleased, I decided I wanted to paint some quotes on my walls, too. Unfortunately, my skill with a paintbrush is decidedly un-Picasso-like. Instead, for Christmas, Paul gave me carte blanche to buy the slightly more polished version from Enchanted Quotes. In my characteristically decisive manner, it only took me five months to decide what quotes to order. Finally, they arrived, and I applied them right away, giggling gleefully.

In the living room:

In the master bedroom:

And in the family room (also known, coincidentally, as the “rumpus room”):

Another seed of an idea that had been germinating for some time involved creating a space where we could display the kids’ artwork. Every week, Katie and Caleb turn out works of high art with their clay, crayons, and glue. Nothing thrills them more than to have their creations put up on the refrigerator or passed around to an adoring audience. Several years ago, reading a parenting magazine in a doctor’s waiting room, I found an article that suggested creating an “art gallery” for displaying a rotating collection of children’s paintings. Since our kids also produce a fair number of sculptures and origami creations, we added some shelves (thoughtfully gifted by Aunt Amber and Uncle Daniel), and installed the whole fixture on one wall of the family room:

Isn’t it fun?

I’d love to hear what you’ve done to show your personality in your home. (But be warned: if I see an idea I like, I have no scruples whatsoever about stealing it for my own–obviously!)

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

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In movies, it usually happens right after the hero says something foolish, like: “Well, this isn’t so hard!” or “What could go wrong?”

Nothing tempts the powers of chaos like smug self-satisfaction.

This year, our first year in a home of our own, we hosted Christmas dinner for the first time ever.  I didn’t start out feeling smug, but as the finely choreographed ballet of food preparation played out on the pristine stage of my freshly scrubbed kitchen, pride swelled within me.  The turkey, stuffed with apples, was tucked tidily into its roaster pan and lovingly anointed with oil before going into the oven at 9:30 sharp.  The sweet potato casserole and Yvie’s special recipe dressing followed two hours later.  The potatoes were boiled and mashed, and the bread, the green beans, and the cranberry jello mold all took their place on the table like planets of kitchen conviviality converging miraculously on a single point.  Everything seemed to be ready at the same time.

That’s when I said it.

“Wow, I can’t believe everything is turning out so perfectly my very first time!”

The last thing left to do was to sprinkle baby marshmallows across the top of the hot sweet potatoes and heat them to a bubbly, delicious golden brown under the broiler.

Theoretically.

In actuality, I turned my back on the broiler to put the bread in the bread basket, only to hear Paul, who was carving the turkey, ask, “Why is that back burner smoking?”

He opened the oven door to check on the potatoes, and was nearly engulfed in a ball of flames.

“F-f-fire!  It’s on FIRE!” he sputtered, and looked around for something he could use to put it out.  His dad swept into the kitchen, grabbed a potholder, and quickly moved the flaming pan to the bottom rack before closing the door on it.

It turned out that I had set the top rack in the oven too high when I moved it to make room for the turkey.  As the marshmallows swelled in the heat, they made contact with the glowing red heating element and burst into flames.

When the fire finally subsided, the whole top of the casserole was charred black and crisp.

Thankfully, the fire had spent its rage on the sugary topping while leaving the potatoes themselves unharmed.  I was able to scrape off the entire barbecued top layer and start over with all new marshmallows.

Clearly realizing that I needed more supervision in the kitchen, Paul’s dad watched over the second browning attempt himself.

It’s a good thing he did.  The second try turned out just right.

Behold!   The (Almost) Perfect First Ever Notes on a Napkin Family Christmas Dinner:

My favorite Christmas gift: NOT burning down our first home less than a year after moving into it.

Now I just have to endure a lifetime of family jokes about my Twice-Baked Sweet Potato Casserole recipe.