Archive for February 2010

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Yesterday, being the procrastinator that I am, I announced to my family: "The Olympics are practically in our backyard and if we don't go up there, we may regret it for the rest of our lives." Nothing like waiting until the last minute, eh? (that was for my Canadian friends)

This morning we loaded up and headed to the "Great White North" fully anticipating crowds, long lines and the testing of our patience on this great adventure. After all, it was not only the last day but also the final hockey match between USA and Canada along with the closing ceremonies. First stop: border crossing. Wait time: 5 minutes! So far, so good. We followed my friend Lili's advice and parked at the train station in Richmond. Upon arriving we were greeted by several friendly faces offering directions and help. After a twenty minute train ride with half the free world (this was where the crowds appeared) we found ourselves in the middle of downtown Vancouver. The excitement was everywhere and we were hard pressed to find a Canadian not donned in red and white hockey jerseys or their country's flag. Once again, there were kind, helpful people everywhere we turned.

We spent the next three hours walking all over town taking it all in. Our final stop was just outside BC Place where the monumental, history-in-the-making hockey match was taking place. We joined in with a very small American contingent at an outside restaurant to witness the final goal. On that note we jumped back on the train and were back in the states an hour later. The photos below hit the highlights.

A life-size version of that which was EVERYWHERE. Homeland pride for sure.

The next USA bobsled team

A hockey player in the making??

Some very brave American souls willing to show their homeland pride.

All the ambassadors were dressed in jackets of this gorgeous color. Good fashion call, Canada.

We settled for this picture outside the Cauldron instead of waiting 30 minutes to get near it.

Never too old for a good game of "Tag"

SStill cool enough to join in.

More heart than the rest of them but those little legs just couldn't catch anybody.

We ran into Ben's classmate Clara at the waterfront.
This was the closest we could get them to stand next to each other.

USA pride--just before we lost.

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What is Hope?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

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Happy Birthday to my sweet cousin!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is she a cutie or what? He's pretty handsome too-even with the sourpuss face. This little hottie is my cousin Andrea. Today marks her 28th year on this earth and what a blessing she has been to so many. She's my youngest cousin and, although we didn't really grow up together since I was 14 (and way too cool for her) when she was born, she holds a special place in our family's heart. The summer of 2005, when this picture was taken, started a friendship that has blossomed over the years. The boys are crazy about her and so am I. She has a heart for serving God and others that is pure and sincere along with a contagious spirit of adventure.
This past August Andrea embarked on an 11-month mission trip spanning 11 countries. I have loved living vicariously through her blog updates. (Click here to join in on the excitement.) Her continual surrender to changing plans, horrific conditions and the amenities we take for granted has been humbling to witness.
Happy Birthday, Andrea! I am so proud to call you my cousin-- and friend! I hope you have a wonderful celebration with your Ugandan brothers and sisters!


And the winner is.........

Monday, February 15, 2010

Amanda! (I have always wanted to say that first part). Her six-year-old son told her: "If God let me pick any mom in the world, I still would have picked you!!"

Thanks to everyone who "showed me some love" and entered--and those who viewed my page but didn't want to leave a comment. Maybe the question didn't resonate--or maybe the necklace didn't grab ya. That's OK. I had so much fun reading the comments and looking for the perfect giveway item that I plan to make this a monthly event.

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My First Ever Giveaway

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In my 2+ years of being an official "blogger" I've read about countless contests and giveaways but decided those were probably reserved for the "super bloggers"-those who have real advertisements all over their pages and receive more comments than they can possibly read. (comments to a blogger is like albums sold to a recording artist) I rarely get comments and I figured that meant I was most likely writing to "an audience of one." But that was fine with me because, not only is writing my type of therapy, but my blog is also a scrapbook of my life that will be recorded forever.

Out of curiosity, a few months ago, I added a site meter to my page. Part of me worried that my deep seated fear of rejection would be realized. The other part of me hoped that someone somewhere out in cyberspace was finding humor and hope when they stumbled on to my blog.
Every Sunday night I would get an email sent to me with a "traffic report" of the number of visitors I had, what days they visited and how long they stayed. When the first report came, with one eye open, I quickly glanced at the email praying to at least have a number greater than 1 on the page. 58!! That's right. 58 visits. Even if it was my mother, my aunt and a few cyber-stalkers visiting three times a day, it was still more than ONE!!

Last week's number hit three digits and I figured this warranted a celebration. To thank those who indulge me on a regular basis I am having my very first give away. Because February 14 is just around the corner, I went out today looking for something to reflect a "love theme" and found this darling necklace at one of our local "cutesy" stores. And although Valentine's Day is only 4 days away, and you probably won't get it before then, love never goes out of style so you can easily wear it year-round. (Yes, I'm assuming that my readers are mostly of the female persuasion but I do not discriminate so any of you guys are welcome to participate.)

All you need to do to enter is show me some love by answering this question in a comment below: "Share something that someone recently did or said to you that made you feel completely, totally and utterly loved."

Please feel free to link to my contest on your blog. I will announce the winner here on Monday.



Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I've never thought of myself as a jealous person. I was rarely one who had to have an exclusive on my relationships. I understood that there were others before me and that others would follow. No big deal. If my significant other talked to another woman, steam did not rise from my head. It just wasn't my style. But lately I have learned that envy is an entire different animal. Envy is more about comparison. And boy was I becoming good at mastering that lovely attribute.

Doesn't it seem like that which is elusive to you comes so easy to everyone else? Of course it is magnified by our own sensitivity but nonetheless it feels like a cruel joke.

When we were trying, for two years, to conceive our first child I felt like every conversation I had included a woman telling me how "she just looked at her husband and got pregnant." (so that's what I was doing wrong.) When we were renting a home for five straight years all I heard on the news was how quickly home prices were rising and that if " I didn't act now" we'd never realize the "American Dream". I felt like I was "the only one." Everyone else's life was rosy and I was missing out. Such a lie.

In the recent season of losses, I regularly found myself in a pity party of enormous proportions. I spent more time than I care to admit resenting my own lot and taking inventory of my neighbors' lives. Through my painted on smile, thoughts would run through my head like: "Why can't I have her life?" "Why does everything always go their way?" "They're going to Hawaii..... again?" "Her husband got yet another promotion?" All that was missing in my life was spilling over the top in theirs. I was in a funk that was easily justified by my "extenuating circumstances". Add the "winter blues" and no one could argue with my crummy attitude. Hmmph.

While at last weekend's retreat, the second evening I felt free to unload with my dear friends and bared my ugly soul about this. One of them shared this quote: "Comparison is the thief of joy." Ouch! It is so very true. I had let my scorekeeping and comparison steal that joy I once had. No more. And to hit it home, God showed me this passage from His word: "A heart at peace gives life to the body but envy rots the bones." Proverbs 14:30 Isn't that a perfect description of joy: a heart at peace? Now that's a comparison I'd rather be reminded of.


Loving my neighbor

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Obeying this commandment does not come easy to me. In the course of occupying 1o different houses I have found it increasingly hard to love, much less tolerate, many of my neighbors. Neighborhoods are not what they used to be and those living in them tend to be more interested in following the homeowners' association bylaws than actually having relationship with those fellow homeowners. Once we had children the harmony with those we lived alongside seemed to decrease in each subsequent neighborhood. Having lively, loud, outdoor-loving boys made us an easy target for blame. If there were tire marks on a lawn, broken branches on a tree or anything in the landscape out of place, my kids were the culprits. Even when they weren't guilty of the crime. Every time our doorbell rang I braced myself for another angry face sharing their opinion of our what they consider mediocre parenting. The saving grace has been that every time we have moved on from a neighborhood and later run into those folks they always tell us how "it's just not the same since you guys left." They find that it's the life they are missing. Well, that'll teach ya. Kidding. Sort of. In spite of my negative experiences, I got a chance to redeem a part of my hardened heart to those I'm called to love.

Because of our track record I am always tentative when we enter into a new cul-de-sac (it always seems to be a cul-de-sac). The first time I was coming to this current house, I asked for directions and was told: "look for the house that looks like a daycare threw up in the yard. We're the green house next door." I thought: "well, now that's a colorful description." Once I came by I realized how very accurate it was. To be honest, there was a part of me that thought "phew, we are off the hook." If the neighbors were tolerating this, living near our family would be a walk in the park.

The weekend we moved in, these said neighbors were the first ones to greet us and offer their assistance. In the days that followed, we met the rest of the neighbors. Many of them made it a point to comment on their expectations of the neighborhood and how this particular family wasn't measuring up. I think they wanted to insure that just because we were renters, the standards would not be lowered.

Because the winter months here don't bring much daylight or pleasant weather, we all tend to hibernate. When we do spot each other during our comings and goings we exchange the normal pleasantries but it stops there. My ostracized neighbors continued to be friendly but we didn't say much beyond "Hi, how are you?" After hearing Lori's story this past weekend I was inspired to be more intentional in loving my neighbors. I was looking for opportunities to have conversation and just be available. Lately our weather has been much more inviting than normal. Yesterday Ben and I were out kicking around the soccer ball and cleaning up leaves and branches in the front yard when the darling girls next door came home from school. I asked about their day and it turned into a 20 minute conversation about everything from how immature girls are in middle school (coming from the 13 year old girl) to the fact that tomorrow was their mom's birthday. I asked what kinds of interests she had and if she liked coffee. Maybe I could whip up a latte and bring it over in the morning. (even though I don't know how to whip one up, I could at least run to Starbucks) The 11-year-old girl said, "I'm not saying you have to do this but my mom LOVES angel food cake. It is her absolute favorite!" Talk about an underhanded pitch. She had no idea I loved to bake cakes but God did. When the girls found out I didn't have a tube pan, the precious little 6-year-old ran inside and brought back theirs for me to use. I told the girls to keep it a secret but that I was going to make sure their mom had her favorite cake on her birthday. Their faces lit up.

This afternoon I made the easiest cake ever ( just a cake mix and water), garnished it with some fresh strawberries and went over and rang the bell. The birthday girl answered the door and was astonished. I told her that her daughters had outed her and were in on the covert operation. With tears in her eyes she told me, "No one has made me an angel food cake since my mother died." Her response told me that it had been many years. She hugged and thanked me and I said goodbye. Is that amazing or what? I had no clue. But, again, God did.

I am humbled that he would give me another shot and use me to show his love to my neighbors. May this be the beginning of many more stories to share.

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Who is your Max Farmer?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending a women's retreat here in our backyard--not literally but figuratively. I joined 600 of my closest friends for two-and-a-half days of nourishing our minds, bodies and souls. What a welcome respite to end the dreary month of January. I knew nothing about the speaker, the format or any other details before I forked over my $155 (isn't that a steal for two nights in a luxury hotel plus meals) and clicked "register". Truthfully I was more excited about spending time away from boys, having someone else prepare my meals and pick up my dirty towels and relishing some girl time. If I knew what I was in store, I would have gladly paid twice the amount and dragged a few more friends along with me.

I've only experienced hearing a handful of speakers at various women's events over the years.They have all been gifted, engaging and inspiring. However, the lovely lady who addressed us at each of the four sessions ranks right up there with Beth Moore as one of the most gifted speakers on the planet. She was passionate, energetic, self-effacing and hilarious. Her name was Lori Salierno. Her resume boasts a B.A., a Master's and a Doctorate but her legacy will be how she has let God mold and use her to change lives. And, over the short weekend, she surely changed mine. A story she shared on the last day was the one I was most impacted by and have re-told to anyone who will listen. Now that you're logged on, I have you captive too. Read on. I promise it will be worth it.

Disclaimer: I am completely going by memory so the story will not be completely accurate but my hope is that the spirit of it will inspire you.

Many years ago when Lori and her husband were newlyweds, they bought their first home in an Indianapolis neighborhood. After a week of waiting to be welcomed by her new neighbors with chocolate chip cookies, Lori decided to take matters into her own hands. On a Saturday morning she left the house with a pencil and a piece of paper and told her husband she was going to meet their neighbors. At the first door she knocked on (next door), she was greeted by a grumpy old man who exhaled his cigarette smoke in her face as he grunted in response to her enthusiasm. I think I would have called it good and went back home. Not Lori. She made her way around the entire cul-de-sac of 10 houses and returned with her mission on paper: praying and being light to her neighbors.

As the days and weeks went by she continued to pray for and love on the man next door Max Farmer. (isn't that a great name?) Day after day, when she drove in and out of her driveway, Lori waved and yelled "Hi Max!!" and "Bye Max!!!" to which the only response was his trademark grunt. One day she sensed God was telling her to follow up her prayers with doing a good deed for Max. Looking over at his house, she noticed the grass was unusually high. Next thing he knew, Lori was powering up the mower and cutting Max's front yard. He came out and yelled at her that he didn't like little girls mowing his lawn. To which Lori replied "You'll get over it!" and kept plugging away at the task at hand. A few weeks went by and one Saturday morning the tables were turned. Max was out returning the favor. So, of course, she had to go out to her porch and yell, "Hey! I don't like old men mowing my lawn!" I'll let you guess how he replied.

After the job was done, Max joined Lori on her front porch for a glass of ice water. He told her "I never liked you and I never was going to but, ya know, you kind of grow on a person." Lori chuckled and responded by telling him, not only how much she loved him, but how much God loved him as well. Shortly thereafter Lori and her husband moved away from the Midwest. Several years went by when Max tracked Lori down and excitedly told her he was "head deacon" in his church. Lori's persistent, unconditional love of her neighbor softened this hard, cynical man's heart and made a believer out of him. Her face shined as she shared this anecdote with us. Life continued for another couple of years when Lori got a phone call from Vicki Farmer, Max's daughter. Lori excitedly inquired about Vicki's father to which she replied, "He died on Monday." After offering her condolences, Vicki went on to tell her that although she was not into God or church herself she was calling to reiterate her dad's last words to Lori. She said "Before my dad took his last breath, he said 'find Lori Salierno for me and tell her that I am going to Heaven and I'll be waiting for her there.' I'm calling to tell you that."

Is that beautiful or what? I, myself, do not have a perfect history when it comes to loving my neighbors--especially those who have done or said hurtful things to me or my kids. I am not proud of that. Tune in tomorrow where I will share with you a tangible way God used me today to redeem where I have messed up.