Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Basket

In addition to making our own Thanksgiving this dinner this year, our family was able to provide dinner for another family in our community.  A wonderful teenager in our church organized an effort to put together hundreds of Thanksgiving baskets for families in need throughout the surrounding communities.  Our family decided that we could provide a meal, so we signed up to participate.  We were assigned a family of three that lived less than 10 minutes from us.

When I called to set up the delivery, it was quite apparent that the woman did not know that someone had signed her up to receive Thanksgiving dinner.  I felt like I was Ed McMahon, calling to tell her that she had won a million dollars.  She was literally speechless.

She had been planning on cooking Thanksgiving dinner herself, so all I had to do was buy the ingredients and delivery them to her.  However, it was her year to host her family.  So instead of shopping for three people, I was going to be shopping for 15.  This could have been overwhelming, but fortunately, our good friends Rob and Andrea had not signed up for a family but wanted to, so they jumped in with us.

Andrea and I went shopping together (we took our 8- and 9-year old daughters, thinking they would learn a lesson about gratitude.... but instead they acted like crazy people for the entire shopping trip.... bad move, moms).  We got everything the family needed for a delicious Thanksgiving dinner.  We delivered it to their house on the day before Thanksgiving in order to give them plenty of time to cook.  This was an awesome way to put service into action, and we will definitely do it again in future years!
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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Daring New 'Do

My goal #18 was to "let a hair stylist do a bold cut on me with no instructions."  I didn't actually set out to achieve this goal yesterday, but it kind of happened anyway.

My intention was to get my hair straightened and trimmed.  Way back in April, I let my old stylist talk me into getting a perm.  I hadn't had one of those since the 1990s, but I was at that awkward point of growing my hair out, and she talked me into some soft waves to get me over wanting to chop my hair out.  And much to my surprise, I loved it.  It was a great summer style.  I didn't have to do a darn thing to my hair all summer long.  Wash it, put in some mousse, and I was good to go.  Easy, wavy cuteness all summer long.

And all fall.  And now we're into winter.  Apparently the perm chemicals have improved a lot since the '90s, when my last perm lasted for less than 2 weeks before falling out of out my resiliently straight hair.

But it was definitely time for the perm to go.  I had not expected it to last nearly this long.  I hadn't had my hair cut since April. I had no idea what to do with a perm in the winter.  Every time I tried to dry my hair, it got all weird and 'fro-like.  As long as I let it air-dry, it was cute, but as winter comes on, that's starting to result in frozen hair in the mornings.  And my hair is so thick that if I pulled it back in a ponytail, it was literally still wet by bedtime.  Yuck.  And it had just gotten so long that it was starting to feel unmanageable.

BUT, I had succeeded in growing out my hair.  So I figured, hey, perming it wasn't all that expensive (back in Delphi).  Surely straightening it will be about the same price.  So I'll just straighten it, get it cut into a cute, longish style, a little lighter than its current state (I found one I liked on Pinterest), and we'll be good to go.  I asked friends for a recommendation on a hair place and called and made an appointment.  Just before hanging up, I asked, "Can you give me an estimate on how much that will be?"  Thank goodness I asked.  Apparently straightening is $130.  Toto, we're not in Delphi anymore.

I gulped, thought of all the other things I could do with $130, and changed my appointment to just a cut.  Then I broke the news to Ben that, surprise! Today is going to be the day that I get that "bold new style."

So I walked into the salon (Beauty Brands) two hours later, having never met the stylist (Hailey) before, and told her to do whatever she wanted to my hair.  She initially thought I was a little crazy, but once I explained the situation, she swung into action.  I specified that the decision was completely up to her, and she said okay, but since she had never met me before, she said that she wanted me to look at a couple of pictures and let her know what I liked and what I hated so that I didn't end up with a cut that I hated.  That seemed reasonable.  So she paged through some books of of hairstyles and pointed out some pictures, and I told her which ones I liked and which ones I didn't.  Then she got more specific with questions about what I liked and what I didn't about each cut.  She seemed to know exactly what she was looking for, and the whole picture process took probably three minutes before she nodded definitively and said, "Okay, I know exactly what I'm going to do."

So she started snipping away and I read a book and tried not to look in the mirror until she was done, in spite of the disconcerting feeling that I was losing a LOT of hair.

So this is what I started with:

And this is how I ended up:

And I LOVE IT!!!  I couldn't stop sneaking peeks in the mirror for the rest of the night.  I feel so stylish!!  I will definitely be going back to get my hair cut there again.  I'm definitely giving this 40 x 40 goal a big thumbs up.  :)
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Friday, November 28, 2014

Book 4: Big Little Lies

Last week, I read Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty for a book club that I have recently joined.  Due to the fact that it's so incredibly popular, I wasn't able to get my hands on it until the day before my book club met, so I had to read the entire book (a hefty 458 pages) in one day.... which I didn't mind at all, because it was That Good.  While this wasn't a book that I would have picked up on my own, I'm so glad that I read it!  Great read and I'd highly recommend it.  Find out more here on my book blog.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Fire Escape Coffee House

Last night I volunteered for the first time with the high school youth group at our church.  Our church doesn't actually have a space for the middle or high school students to meet on-site (although we're hopefully going to be building on a space in the next couple of years), so for the time being, the youth meet off-site at an old renovated fire station, known as the Fire Escape.  On Friday nights, the high school students do a "coffee house."  I put that in quotations, because there was no actual coffee to be seen.  :)

However, there were about 25 high school kids, board games, basketball, and much fun.  I really enjoyed getting to know the kids.  They seem like a seriously awesome group of kids.  There were far more boys than girls (probably only 5 girls, the rest guys), and it kind of had the potential to be awkward, since everyone was just hanging out and I didn't have a defined role, so they could have been like, "who's this weird lady that just showed up?"  But they were very welcoming and introduced me around, and I got to sit and play board games with them and talk and laugh and get to know them.

As I was leaving, a couple of the kids were like, "You should come back."  So apparently I got the stamp of approval.  :)  Which is good, because this is a group that I'd really like to invest in.

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Two Weeks of Friends

My goal #37 is to "make time weekly to relax and refresh by spending time reconnecting with friends."  I neglected to post anything about this last week, so I'm posting today about the last two weeks.

Last week, I got to enjoy brief chats with a lot of friends, but my big get-out-and-enjoy-myself day was on Friday.  I took the boys over for a playdate with my friend Carrie and her daughter Kaia.  The kids played together beautifully while Carrie and I had a much-needed catch-up session.  Carrie has been working full-time for the past year, and before that, I was in Delphi, so it's been ages since we have been able to have a good, long, one-on-one chat.  This was a really good time with a good friend... hopefully just the first of many to come now that she's going to be home for a while!!

Then, over the weekend, my dad and stepmom came to town for a visit.  It was so great getting to see them.  We also got to spend some time on Saturday with my sister Kristin, brother-in-law Brian, and sweet nephew Mason.  It's always wonderful to spend time with family, and especially great to see my kids with one of their cousins!

This week, I've actually gotten to see my friend Andrea a couple of times.  We got a short visit on Tuesday after she watched Aiden for me, and then she brought her kids over for a playdate on Thursday night.  We also got some great girl time by going out on Wednesday night to book club.  This was definitely one of the highlights of my week--dinner and book discussion with a great group of ladies.  Being able to see more of Andrea has definitely been one of the biggest perks of living in our new town.  Who knew that those late night conversations in the hallways of ResCo all those years ago would lead to a life as adult neighbors and two sets of bestie daughters?  But I'm so glad they did!

I've also had some great talks with friends at a distance this week.  I got to talk to my BFF Melissa on the phone, which is always a highlight.  We could talk for hours if given the chance; our conversations always feel too short to catch up on everything that's going on in our lives.  It's quite comforting, really, to know that I've been saying, "Hey, it's me," when she picks up the phone for nearly 27 years now.  I'm so blessed to have a friend who has always understood me so well.

I also did some massive texting with my other friend Melissa, my former boss at the Monticello library, this week.  Because, you know, I HAD to discuss The Raven Boys.  Which led to many other library discussions.  I'm so glad to have a friend who loves to geek out over books with me and who understands my love of all things library-related.

The icing on the cake (teehee, pun intended) was getting to see several dear friends today during Shay's birthday party.  While I didn't get to talk to any of them for as long as I would have liked, it was great to get to sneak in short conversations with all of them amidst the craziness of kids jumping of inflatables.  So glad to talk to Alicia, Lauren, and Stu--and definitely hoping to schedule more time to see all of them soon!

Definitely feeling blessed at all the good friends I have.

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"Why Are You Taking My Picture?"

Over the last couple weeks, I've heard a lot of this question: "Why are you taking my picture?"  This question has shown up a lot because I am determined to photograph as much as possible of this 40 x 40 journey.  In particular, my kids think that I am totally nuts because I'm insisting on taking pictures every time we finish reading a book together.  But really, how else am I supposed to keep track of what we've read?  :)

So here's what the last week has held:

Liam with Mater to the Rescue

Aiden, Bryn, and Liam with Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb (a particularly beat-up copy that has survived since my childhood)

Liam, Aiden, and Shay with Bears on Wheels (Liam's current favorite book--he can "read" the whole thing by himself)

Aiden with Old MacDonald Had a Farm

Liam with Let It Fall and Aiden with The Very Best Home For Me (also preserved since my childhood)

Aiden with The Jingle Bell Ball (great book, but probably shortly headed for the trash, due to some over-loving by my kids)

Shay and Liam with Fox in Socks (one of my all-time favorites)

Shay and Liam with Creepy Carrots (a new favorite around here)

Liam and Shay with I'll Teach My Dog 100 Words (please pardon their facial expressions; they were fighting over who got to hold the book)

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Scrabble Spelling

This Wednesday, I was able to volunteer in my first grade daughter's classroom.  Shay was very excited, as she always is when I put in an appearance at her school.  She pops out of bed on the morning of the "big day," saying "You're coming to my school today!!"

On this particular day, I got to work with kids in groups of two on spelling words.  I read them their spelling words, then they used Scrabble tiles to spell the words, and then they wrote the words on white boards.  Shay is really good at spelling, so it always surprises me how hard it is for some of her classmates, and it was really nice to get a chance to work in small groups with them instead of larger groups like I've done before.  It also gave me a chance to get to know some of them a little better, which was really fun.

The only down side was that both Liam and Aiden fussed the entire time we were there.  They had been total champs the last two times I volunteered, but this time made it pretty clear that I'm going to have to look into other options for them for future volunteer options.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

South Dakota: June 16, 2003

A continuation of the cross-country adventure I shared with Ben in the summer of 2003....

Day 9--Monday, June 16, 2003

My alarm randomly decided to go off at 6:15.  Ben grunted and fell promptly fell back asleep, and I laid there for about 45 minutes before giving up on sleep, rudely reawakening him, and crawling out of the tent to go shower.

By the time I got out of the shower, the sky was dark and ominous thunder filled the air.  While Ben showered, I became increasingly annoyed with myself because I knew that it was imperative that we break camp quickly, before all our stuff got soaked, yet I was to weak to lift the heavy bins and too short to pack the cartop carrier.  We had some stressful moments after Ben's return while we rushed to get packed up, but we made it, pulling out of the campsite just as the fat raindrops began to fall.

Our campsite was just up the road from the entrance to the Badlands National Park.  We purchased a $50 National Parks Pass, which will get us into all National Parks for free for the rest of the summer, and the ranger on duty assured us that the rain would soon pass.

As we stopped at the Big Badlands lookout point, just inside the entrance to the park, I have to admit that I doubted his word.  The Badlands hills stretched as far as I could see, and the sky behind them was as slate gray as the slopes themselves.  When we got out of the car to go take pictures, the gray matter stuck to Ben's shoes and nearly pulled his sandals off!

But sure enough, before we pulled into the parking lot by the hiking trails just up the road, the rain had stopped and the sun was promising a beautiful and temperate day.  We decided to do the Notch Trail, so we loaded up Ben's backpack with his camera, a water bottle, and our rain jackets, and off we went!

The Notch Trail was gorgeous.  We kept stopping to touch the huge hills that crested on either side of the hill, amazed at their texture.  At first glance, they looked like rock, but upon closer inspection, they looked more like mud!  (Later, at the Visitor's Center, we learned they were actually shale, clay, limestone, and sandstone.)  

Ben was especially impressed by the red and green streaks that ran through the hills due to minerals in the clay.  I liked the sparse vegetation, mostly because I was so amazed that anything could grow in a place like that!

At one point in the trail, we had to climb a rope and wood ladder to get to the higher cliffs.  The Notch Trail concluded with a stunning overlook of the Badlands and other "nature" trails below us.

Ben and I then decided to be adventurous, so we departed from the trail and explored the hills on our own.  We found an even higher and even more impressive overlook, and we saw two golden eagles flying below us.  What an experience!

After we managed to find Notch Trail again and navigate our way back, we went to the Visitor's Center so Ben could get a National Parks stamp in his leather-bound book and so we could pick up the requisite postcards.  We then went to a little diner on the park grounds and split a buffalo burger.  It tasted much like regular beef to us, except a little tougher.

We didn't do any more trails, but we did enjoy the scenic views on our slow, meandering way out of the park.

We stopped at a "prairie dog town" and I attempted to make friends with the cute little critters.  I was amazed at how close we could get to them before they popped down their holes!  They seemed to be everywhere, standing up on their hind legs and talking to each other, making little cheeping noises like birds.

We wandered far out into the field because there were buffalo in the distance and Ben wanted to go "play with them."  Thanks to this excursion, we learned that buffalo produce huge circular patties of poop, which were scattered all over the field.

After we officially left the Badlands, we took a gravel road for about 20 miles before it connected to a major road again.  Our next stop after the Badlands was the town of Wall.  We had been seeing signs for Wall Drug for the last 400 miles so we wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  The town of Wall has a population of 800, and there were probably more people than that at Wall Drug!  This store is definitely the lifeblood of the town, which is pretty laughable, considering that it spans several blocks, yet contains nothing which would actually be useful to buy.  Ben and I were pretty appalled at the huge number of tourists there, especially after the wide open spaces of the Badlands, so we made a pretty hasty retreat.  (But not before taking Ben's picture on a jackalope.  If a jackalope is available, Ben HAS to have his picture taken on it.)

South Dakota is beautiful countryside through and through.  After exiting the Badlands, we traveled for a while through the plains, and then the scenery turned to the Black Hills.  They, too, were gorgeous.  We camped at the Pactola Resovoir in the Black Hills.  There was no running water and there were only pit toilets, but it was still a nice campsite.  After we set up camp and had a big pot of rice for dinner, Ben took off for a Frisbee golf course we had seen along the road to the campsite and I stayed behind, reading Silverthorn. All in all, it was a nice, peaceful, quiet evening with a relatively early bedtime.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

South Dakota: June 15, 2003

Continuing my transcription of our the cross-country saga that Ben and I shared 11 years ago....

Day 8--Sunday, June 15, 2003
As the miles flew by, we both called our dads for Father's Day.  I worked on this journal and read my book, and Ben listened to talk radio, a habit I think I will never understand!  Ben began taking random exits off the Interstate in order to break the monotony of the drive.  For one, we stopped at a store full of random old stuff and got 10 cent Dixie cups of Pepsi.  Later, we pulled off in a "ghost town," Okaton, which has a population of 10.  We admired the view, made our own bracelet and belt buckle with polished rocks, and chatted for a while with the old man who ran the tourist store.  Ben also made us pull off so I could take a picture of him astride a giant statue of a jackalope!


We pulled into the Circle 10 campground near Interior, South Dakota, around dusk.  This site proved to be far less beautiful than the one the night before.  It was basically a field divided into various plots, each containing a picnic table.  For some reason, the night seemed to drag on.  We did our laundry and cooked dinner, and Ben went for a dip in the pool.  We fussed with the contents and organization of the car.  It was way too late (by my standards) by the time we got into bed.  (Is it still called bed if it's really a sleeping bag on top of a Thermarest mattress?)

This was just the first day we spent in South Dakota.  More to come....

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Minnesota: June 14-15, 2003

One of my 40 x 40 goals is to see 40 states and tell the stories of my trips there.  I don't know precisely how many states I've been to, but I'd hazard a guess that it's in the mid-30s.  Most of them were visited during my amazing cross-country roadtrip with Ben during the summer that we were engaged, 2003.  Fortunately, we kept a journal for posterity.  So for the first time ever, I'll be sharing the stories here.

Day 7--Saturday, June 14
We had spent the previous 6 days in Peoria, IL, for a friend's wedding and then volunteering at Camp Tecumseh in Brookston, IN--where we later lived.  Here's a picture of us with the Jeep departing from Camp T.

We left camp in the wee hours of the morning and drove through Wisconsin.  I'll pick up the story as we enter Minnesota....

Minnesota was also gorgeous, and we made it to our campsite at the Afton State Park without getting lost.  The biggest problem of our drive occurred after we crossed the Minnesota state line and I managed to ram myself into the tire (we had removed all except the driver's seat for maximum space... this was probably SO illegal) and stab myself in the butt with a pen while attempting to read Let's Go, check our itinerary, take a picture, and hang up the phone, all at the very same time.  Other than that, we passed the time by reading, learning Spanish from our cds (I'd like to point out that I haven't retained a single word of this), and reading the Bible together.  Lunch was bread, cheese, and salami, purchased at a tiny grocery store in an equally tiny town in Wisconsin.  Yay for fresh Wisconsin cheese!

The guy who checked us into the state park was pretty clueless, but we drove to the parking lot gathered our sleeping bags, pillows, and tent, and set of on our mile-long sojourn to our "backcountry" campsite.  We had to go down dozens of steps, then up and up and up  what I feel can only be described as a mountain, although others have claimed that it's really just a big hill.  When we were about a fourth of the way up the hill, some middle-aged men using skill poles to navigate their way down the hill informed us that we were "almost there."  Ben and I had a few out-of-breath laughs at this as we struggled upwards for what seemed like an eternity afterwards!  Our half-hour climb was worth it, though, when we saw the gorgeous view from isolated Campsite 15.

We set up our tent, and then we returned down the hill at an unavoidable breakneck pace.  We then navigated the streets of St. Paul and eventually arrived at the mecca known as the Mall of America.  Our Noordyk parking luck (Ben says I have it too, because I'm park of the family now) scored us a parking spot right up front, and we were entering Snoopy Land as Ben's 6:30 alarm went off.  (Ben took a picture at 6:30 pm during every day of this trip.)

We wandered through the mall, being amazed by the sheer number of stores.  We split a buffalo chicken sandwich for our pre-dinner and picked up some items, such as a water bottle and a can opener, which we had neglected to buy at home.  We spent $20 on kiddie rides (the shoot-em-up ghost ride, hot air balloons, and the ferris wheel) in Snoopy Land and then had one heck of a time finding a kid to give our spare tickets to.  Ben eventually handed them off to the mother of a crying child and we were on our way back to the campground, having covered the Mall of America in about two hours--apparently to you can do that when you're not actually interested in spending money!

We picked up pizza sauce and pie filling at a Rainbow grocery store.  It was 10:00 and already dark by the time we returned to the campground, and our hike up those hills in the dark while carrying the food and the pot pie makers was less than fun.  I was completely out of breath by the time we got to the top, and I was frustrated because I felt like such a weakling.  The full moon hanging over the hills was beautiful though, and soon Ben's frustration replaced my own as our stubborn fire smoked and kept going out.  All told, it was after midnight by the time we had managed to cook (and burn) some pizza pot pies for dinner and cherry pot pies for dessert.  Given the complete lack of both running water and bathrooms, we both had to pee in the underbrush and brush our teeth as best we could, spitting into the fire.  Finally, bed, our first night in the tent!

Day 8--Sunday, June 15
I awoke a little before 7:00.  Sunlight was pouring into our tent, and I found it impossible to sleep any longer.  I heaved a deep breath and resigned myself to the fact that I would be waking up early all summer.

Ben woke up easily, but it proved a very challenging task to get him up and moving.  Eventually, I had to climb over him to get out of the tent and start breaking camp.  He got up a few minutes later, and it didn't take long to get everything strapped in to various parts of our backpacks.

The hike downhill was made a little treacherous by the large amount of weight strapped to our backpacks, especially since there just didn't seem to be a good way to transport my huge and bulky sleeping bag.  The day already promised to be both beautiful and hot.

Our morning quickly turned to frustration as we realized just how long it would take to load up and rearrange the car every morning.  It seemed like ages before we got on the road.  I was further annoyed by the fact that I had not showered yet.  My clothes were drenched with sweat from climbing up and down that hill the day before, and I had a nasty odor of both bugspray and smoke.  We had hoped to find a shower soon after we got on the road, but I drove for two hours without finding one.  Ben dozed in the back as I became increasingly more agitated.  When we finally saw one, we somehow managed to miss the exit, and I became, um, rather emotionally distraught.  It was another tense two hours after that before I pulled into an Amoco Family Area and we paid $5 for a room containing a shower, a sink, and a toilet.  I washed both my hair and body twice over and felt like a new person by the time I got out.  For the record, let it be said that Ben is a dirty boy and was completely unconcerned about the lack of showering, except on my behalf after I threw a fit.

We set up our camp stove on a picnic table outside the Amoco and made some freeze-dried burgundy beef for lunch.  Ben didn't like it much, so I ate a lot of his portion too.  Then we got back on the road, with Ben driving and me sleeping.  This went quite smoothly until I was rudely awakened by our huge plastic jug of pretzels falling on my head.  This led to me cursing the car, the trip, and my own bad luck.

What can I say, folks?  I really like to be clean.  I was clearly not a joy to travel with during the early stages of this trip.  I'm probably lucky that Ben didn't leave me in a ditch by the roadside, and even luckier that he still married me after this experience.  I can't tell you how many times I winced while transcribing this journal entry and told my younger self to chill out.  In my own defense, I had only been tent camping once before in my life, and that was the kind that I did for one night with a whole bunch of friends, our cars, a grill, and some loud cd players.  So why Ben and I thought we could tough it out for an entire summer without a warm-up weekend or something is beyond me.... but when we set off for our three months of adventure, I was not terribly well prepared for the realities of "roughing it."  Forgive me for my whininess as I adjust; I truly do consider this trip to be one of the very best experiences of my entire life.

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