Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Up and Down

This past couple of weeks have been up and down and mostly calm. For myself, I reached a new goal in running, then promptly became sick and wasn't able to run at all for the balance of the week. On Tuesday last I ran 5 miles, the first three being on a new, difficult, and hilly stretch, the final two familiar and flatter. Then I woke up Wednesday with "that feeling" in the back of my throat and head, and ended up spending the next two days on the couch with fever and yuck. I contacted Sorita to ask how soon I should resume running, and she suggested that with the heat as high as it has been, I should wait until I am really all better.

I did get a lot of reading done on a book that I had anticipated would take me far longer to read. A Patriot's History of the United States has turned out to be easy reading for such a thick book. Recommended by Glenn Beck, we ordered it months ago, but I've only recently had the time to pick it up. I won't summarize it here, but I do recommend it - good clear history of our nation.

The big news for our family- the Up for the past weeks, is that Nathaniel has redeployed from Iraq back to Hawaii! No more war zone for him; Praise God! We get regular updates and phone calls now with the news of his return to "stateside" life. Hawaii is still dreadfully far away, and we were not able to be there for his arrival, but his Commander's wife arranged a special surprise for him.

Several weeks ago- before we left for Michigan, we received a letter from this dear woman with a request that we send her some special things and a new set of sheets for our returning soldier. She recognized that a number of the men had families who would greet them with special homecomings, but the single soldiers would be returning to empty barracks rooms. We gladly packed up some framed photos, a book or two, and a couple of other things with a new set of sheets for our soldier. I also tucked his cell phone and charger into the box, so he could call us right away. An email exchange with the organizer of this surprise confirmed that she had gotten the items safely and had set his room up. The phone she kept and charged herself. Nathaniel called us from a buddy's phone as he reached the various stops on his flights from Iraq to Ireland, Alaska, and finally Hawaii. But when he arrived at the base in Hawaii I received another- more surprised call from his own cell phone! The Commander's wife had called him over after the Welcoming Ceremony and handed him his phone and told him to call his Mom- now!

What a blessing to participate in some small way in his return, even though a trip to Hawaii to greet him was impossible. If he'd been anywhere that my car could reach we would have made it there, one way or another. But a flight to Hawaii is out of the question. Phone calls, facebook, and email do make the world smaller, but being there for our son's return - second return- from the war has never been possible and we can't recover that. He'll be coming home for a month visit in a couple of weeks, yet to welcome him returning with his comrades isn't meant to be.

So, I guess that it was an up, and a down.

Now we count the days for his arrival here- Praise the Lord!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Great Expectations

In my mind, I am a stronger runner. I go farther and with less effort in my imagination. As I am lacing up my shoes and planning where I'm going, I expect to do much better than I normally- lately- end up doing.

If, however, I expected it to be as hard as it turns out to be, or harder yet, I might leave the shoes under the bed and check out what's on TV instead.

This morning I joined the Saturday morning group from A Running Start for their weekly run. Dropping Erin off to run with the Cross Country girls and Coach in Nolde Forest, I then got to the Brentwood Trailhead a few minutes early for the 7:15 start time. The others who showed up were all either long-time members of the group, or already long distance runners. As they reviewed how far each expected to run, I suddenly felt very conscious of the shorter distance that I was hoping to run. One lady was only going 8 miles, another 12, and yet another 20. The lone guy in the group, Jim, was going the distance with whoever would run the farthest. With his fancy GPS watch, and telling stories of the marathons and ultra-marathon relays he's run, he still projected a friendly, humble attitude, enthusiastic about running and everyone who gives it a try.

When it came to my turn I told them that I simply had to be back at the car by 8 o'clock so I could drive back to Nolde to pick Erin up from her trail run. Sorita took a look at her watch and said that that meant we would run 22 minutes out and back, so they could drop me back off in my time frame, and then they'd continue on for the rest of their respective distances.

And I was beginning to fear that I would be running alone.

Instead of going down the Thune Trail, with which I'm now pretty familiar, we branched off onto the Angelica Creek Trail, well marked and mostly following the creek, with more turns and little hills than the Thun. These folks like to talk and visit while they run, and Sorita and I caught up on the past few weeks as we ran. I soon needed to simply listen though, and gradually fell in with the second, and then the third rank of runners. Before long I was bringing up the rear, and assuming that I'd be running alone. They rounded another bend and were out of sight.

Then I saw Jim running back to keep me company and we gradually came back within sight of the others. Wow, was it ever getting warm,... and steamy humid. One after another, as I fell behind, these super-duper runners came alongside to keep me going with encouragement and even a squirt from a water bottle and some kind of chewy electrolyte... thing. We arrived at the turnaround point and learned that we'd run 2.3 miles already. Sorita declared it to be a fine warm-up, and we were off again.

In the end, I made it. The most significant hill on this portion of trail is right where we began, and thus, right at the end. Jim talked me through it and encouraged me to finish strong, giving me the finish point to aim for. Giving everyone the Victory sign and finishing to their cheers, I gratefully made it back to the car and my own water bottle. Driving back to Nolde to get Erin I was completely drained. I stretched once I arrived, since the girls weren't finished yet. (Without the stretching I would end up atrophying into the shape of the couch later...)

Home, green protein smoothie, shower, giving my feet some extra TLC... I am exhausted. If I had realized how very difficult it would be, I may not have gone. The heat of the morning is beginning to be really oppressive, the unexpected hills, the sauna of the humidity, all combined to wipe me out. Besides that, I'm now going far enough that I will have to invest in one of those belts to carry water, and maybe some of those chewy electrolyte... things. Frankly, squirting a bottle of water over my head would have been fabulous.

But it's a great feeling. I finished. I am glad that I went.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Another Thirsty Thursday

Last night was my second opportunity to run the local Thirsty Thursday 5K, and I was blessed to be joined by a friend from church, April. She and I ran together when we went camping over Memorial Day and I had told her then about this race series. Having run on her own for a couple of years now, I was thrilled that she could come out for the race. Not that we are running to "win" anything, but having a specific goal in view and participating in an event makes the running more fun. And at least for me, it keeps me feeling accountable when I'd rather not lace on my shoes and head out the door. And, there's a t-shirt. Proof.

So we met at 6 to register for the race. April's husband Bill was there and I brought Erin to root for us, run the camera, and hold stuff for me. After we'd finished the paperwork and I showed April how to pin her number on we spotted another friend, Steve, whose wife goes to church with us and both of whom camp with the group on Memorial Day weekend. Steve is a real outdoorsy adventure seeker, having climbed mountains that the rest of us read about, so we didn't expect to see him until after the race was over.

Last night was far warmer than last month's race, and only about half the people turned out than before. This made for a less crowded start, which was a lot easier. Once we were off I pushed myself harder at the beginning than I had before and was feeling good for about the first mile. But, even in the shade, the heat was getting to me. I haven't been training as I should, and right before the half-way turn around point I slowed to walk for a brief interval. When I felt April's encouraging pat on the back it was all I needed to pick up the pace and run again.

I walked a second time for a bit, until April caught up, and then we ran the rest of the way together. At the very end I pushed it a bit again, running on the strength of my arms, focusing on them and not my tired legs or screaming lungs, and finished in 32:41, one second slower than my first 5K in April.

April came in right behind me and we found our cheering team. A towel for my dripping face, some water to cool me down, beer and a pretzel to fortify myself, and it was time to go. I don't know if I'll run the August race if the heat is still so high, but I'll definitely aim for the September run. Meanwhile I need to bump my training up if I'm going to improve my distances. Walking on the days that I don't run may help, and gradually lengthening my run distances certainly will. Erin is running hills once a week for strength with the team, and I certainly have plenty of those to choose from here.

I just came in from a brisk walk this morning and stretched just as I do when I run. Time to jump into the rest of my day.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Her Emminess

In March I received a beautiful gift; a quilt made by my Dear Auntie in San Antonio. Our Emmi also received a gift, the box in which the quilt had been mailed. Emmi loved her box and we didn't have the heart to throw it away. So, for all these months, the box has belonged under the coffee table in the family room, where Her Emminess could cuddle up whenever she wanted.

Over the past couple of weeks, however, we have noticed that she has been avoiding cuddling in her nest. Emmi is funny in that she prefers clean, flat places to take her feline snoozes. Milo will find anything cozy- blanket, pillow, lap- for his naps. Emmi likes paper, the floor, the windowsill. Her box, evidently, was no longer as clean and spare as she liked.

A recent order from Amazon has provided us not only with the book that we ordered for Bekah, but a new box for the Emmster. Tonight as we watched the News we found that she was once again contentedly curled up in her box.

Ahh... New Box Smell.... Gotta love it.

Pure Michigan...

Since we had driven all the way to Grand Rapids for the Wedding Of the Year, we might as well take a few days off in the area. The "Pure Michigan" commercials had been working on us, and we explored their website for ideas. Knowing that the weekend of the 4th would be filled to the brim with activity and excitement, I was looking for a quiet hammock in the shade, water fun to include beach and fishing, and photographic opportunities not available to me in the hills of Pennsylvania. We found just what we wanted in Presque Isle, Michigan. In fact, two of the lighthouses were featured in this lovely ad. Watch for the boy running up the interior stairs of the Old Presque Isle lighthouse, and the next one they show as well; we saw them both.

We drove the several hours from bustling Grand Rapids to the quiet of Presque Isle, (pronounced, Presk eel) and a simpler lifestyle. Folks in Michigan "talk with their hands", so I'll describe our location in the same terms. Since Michigan looks like a mitten, the approximate location of Presque Isle would be near the tip of the index finger. Right on Lake Huron, with Grand Lake mostly separating it from the "mainland" the area gets its name from the fact that it is "almost an island"- which in French is Presque Isle. Not so much a tourist mecca, this is where people come to unwind.

Our host at the Presque Isle Lodge, Robin, gave us a tour as soon as we piled out of the van. Across the road from the lodge there was access to Grand Lake, with a pier and a canoe for our use. The main lodge was charming and rustic, having been built in 1920. The original owner even made most of the furniture in the building, with sturdy log construction that has lasted through the years. Just up the road, about three miles, was a small grocery, the Portage store, where, according to Robin, the kiddie-size ice cream cones were still more generous than he could eat. Across the street from the store is a pizza shop and a restaurant right on the harbor. Beyond that by another mile or so are the lighthouses. The old lighthouse had been built too short and in the wrong location to be seen clearly by the ships on that portion of the lake, and had to be replaced by the new lighthouse further out on the tip of the "isle".

Our first evening we got a pizza and some ice cream and kept it simple. Jim and Isaac bought bait for a morning fishing trip, and when Isaac and Bekah went to the pier to throw a line into Grand Lake they discovered that there were only 1 of the promised dozen worms to be found in the box. I was reading and Jim was visiting with Robin in the lodge when Isaac told us about it, and Jim left to go back and get replacement bait. I then overheard as Robin went into the office and made a call to the store. He told them what had happened and that Jim was on his way. "I told him you'd take care of it" he said. Then, "...and could you send along a quart of orange juice with him? I just checked and we're running low. I'll be by to pay for it in the morning. Thanks."

We have entered Small Town America, and we're going to love it here!

Each morning began with breakfast made by Robin, who joined us the first two mornings since we were the only guests. (Note to self- booking a B&B for the days immediately following a big holiday weekend may insure a quiet visit...) The first morning Erin and I woke up early and went for a 4 mile run on the lovely and flat road that runs in front of the lodge. Jim and Isaac, however, had woken even earlier and were out in the canoe on Grand Lake by the time Erin and I hit the pavement.

At breakfast we decided where to go and what to see. Our first day we borrowed bicycles from the Portage Store to ride to the lighthouses. You read that right- borrowed the bikes. Yup. We enjoyed the slower pace and had a lot of fun. Many, many photos were taken, and many, many stones were skipped or simply tossed into Lake Huron. The afternoon found us at the bit of sand beach in Presque Isle Bay.

The next morning we took a hike to find another vantage point from which to photograph the old lighthouse, and we found the stones on the beach and the scenery in general to be fascinating and beautiful even though it was overcast and hazy. That afternoon we went into Alpena to see the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary's Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, where we learned a lot about the Great Lakes and the shipping industries- and hazards- over the past couple of centuries. We then explored Alpena and found some cute shops in which to browse.

The third day we went into Rogers City to visit the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum. Since it was rainy an indoor activity was just the thing for us. This museum is dedicated to preserving the memories of three particular shipwrecks on the Great Lakes that involved men local to the area. All having occurred within living memory, we were shown photos and relics by a former sailor who had sailed on one of the ships before the wreckage, and another gentleman, who was one of two survivors of one of the wrecks, told us the stories of the actual wrecks. We began to realize how profoundly this area has been affected by the Lakes. One wreck left more than 90 children without fathers and over 30 women were widowed. This is a community of people who count on one another and carry each others' burdens with love and concern.

After lunch the sun came out and a beautiful blue sky spread above us. Perfect for seeing another lighthouse and beach. We went to 40 Mile Point Lighthouse, which features the remains of a shipwreck on the beach. The day was lovely and warm and we enjoyed every moment out there. From there we went to Ocqueoc Falls, (pronounced ok-ee-ok). We weren't the only ones thinking of the Falls on that warm afternoon, and there were lots of folks cooling off in the refreshingly lovely water. We regretted leaving our bathing suits at the lodge!

Each evening we went to a beach overlooking a Westward view of Lake Huron, in hopes of seeing (and photographing) a sunset. The first three nights had been duds, really, and we now had one last chance. After dinner we wound down at the lodge for a little bit before gathering ourselves for the beach one more time. And what a marvelous light show we found. Slowly, but surely, as the sun sank toward the horizon, the colors spread across the sky in a magnificent display. Isaac skipped stones, Kate and Jim found some interesting angles for some shots, and we all enjoyed the view. For more photos, you may view the album here.

A perfect ending for a perfect week.

Fourth of July, Family Style.

The annual Carlton and Family July 4th bash was moved to Michigan this year. Guy and Angie arranged for their wedding to coincide with the annual party in order to allow the "two birds with one stone" effect. As long as everyone is traveling long distances for a wedding, it might as well overlap with the 4th too.

We spent our first 4th of July with the family last year when Guy proposed to Angie. This year we all, including Jim, were looking forward to the gathering in Michigan. And what a perfect day it was for an outdoor party! Sunny and warm, not a cloud in the sky. We arrived while the food was still being prepared in the kitchen and on the grill.

Erin and I had not had a chance for a run on Saturday, so we brought our running clothes and asked Angie what the route was in her neighborhood. I had mentioned this to her in the morning at breakfast, so she was ready, but surprised that we were still planning to run in the mid-day heat. She gave us the turns to take and we were off for two laps around the loop. Nice and flat, we enjoyed the different route from home, and I even saw a pair of red-tailed hawks.

Erin, naturally, paced ahead, and after a few turns I lost sight of her. When I was finished I knew right where to find her- in Angie's pool! I went straight there, saw my daughter enjoying the lovely water, removed my shoes and socks and jumped right in! Hands down, the very best run ending thus far for me! So refreshing! We floated around until it was time to gather for the blessing of the meal, wrapped up in towels, and met everyone in the garage.

And what a meal- feast, really! Angie's Cuban family contributed roast pork, black beans and rice, arroz con pollo, and other wonderful treats. The Carlton gang contributed approximately 700 deviled eggs, potato salad, bean salad, and hot dogs and burgers. So many wonderful smells and tastes! Angie's brother-in-law gave the blessing and we began the feast.

The rest of the day was filled with fun. Volleyball, corn hole, pool, croquet, visiting, and more eating were available. We tried a bit of each. Our kids blended right in with the rest of the gang- no more awkwardness in sight. Isaac was running around with the Nelson boys, Rebekah and Erin were hanging out and playing with the Appel girls, and Kate visited with Stephanie and Jessica. But there was such an ebb and flow that really, they were all everywhere! Kate and I traded off the camera to capture a lot of memories, which you can see here. By the end of the day when the crowd had thinned and the fireworks were lit off in the back yard, we were all pleasantly filled with the warmth of a day well enjoyed.

Next year we hope to return for July 4th again. But first there will be New Year's at Gingers!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Wedding In Michigan

Last year for July 4th the kids and I went to spend the day with the cousins at Ginger's in Felton, PA. This was an annual tradition and we were blessed to be enfolded into the family upon our re-connection with them. Jim couldn't join us, unfortunately, since he was still in Dubai. At the end of the day, once the fireworks had been set off in the driveway and nobody had been maimed or killed, we prepared to hit the road. Cousin Guy asked us to wait a minute, as he had some fireworks of his own. He then asked his Sweetheart, Angie, to marry him, right there in front of his whole family! She said yes- which brings us a year later to our vacation in Michigan.

Angie's home is in the Grand Rapids area, and she and Guy set their wedding date for July 3rd, with the annual 4th of July party at her, (now their) home. As the proposal suggested, they have been very family oriented with the entire course of the wedding plans- so to Michigan we have come for the party of the year.

Shortly after last July 4th Angie and I became friends on facebook and have chit-chatted back and forth as the year progressed. At some point she asked me to bring my camera to the wedding reception, which not only thrilled me no end, but was such a tremendous compliment. Jim and I talked it over and decided that a few more days in Michigan for a family vacation would not only make sense, since we were already going to be there, but it would be a lovely area of the country, new to us both, and therefore an adventure. And don't you know, Michigan began running these lovely "Pure Michigan" ads on TV, luring visitors to their beautiful state. We were hooked.

So plans were made, time marched on, and the day came for us to pack up the van and hit the road for Grand Rapids, Michigan! As we prepared to pack our van the day before departure, we discovered a huge fluid leak- our van would not be making the trip. After a brief pow-wow session and prayerful panic, (oxymoron, I know) we called our friends Mike and Amanda, who have one child and a 7 seat van, to ask them if we could swap our 5-seat Pacifica for their Sienna for the week. They agreed! Oh, praise God!

So again, it was time to hit the road! We left insanely early on the morning of Friday, July 2; the kids falling back to sleep as Jim and I took turns driving. Though it was a VERY long drive, we managed to get to our hotel in Grand Rapids just before 3 in the afternoon, giving us time to nap a bit before going out to look for dinner. Before going to eat, however, Erin and I were feeling the need to really stretch our legs after that drive, so we found a local park on a lake for a run. Everyone came along. Bekah brought a book, Jim and Isaac fished, and Kate joined us to run. As virtuous as it sounds, I do not recommend running any distance after an 11 hour car ride. Erin even pooped out, a cramp in her side like none she'd ever experienced. We got back to the room, ordered pizza, spent some time in their indoor pool, and called it a night.

The next morning at breakfast we found cousins! Ginger, Gladys, Brent and his family, as well as the Nelsons- practically family- were there. What a treat to begin catching up with them then. The wedding wouldn't be until mid-afternoon, so there was no rush. Before long the bride arrived, with bags in tow. Angie would be getting ready at the hotel since it was much closer to the church than her home. She said her hellos and went on upstairs. Soon Ginger got a call from her- she was in need of a hair dryer- the hotel dryers didn't work with the diffuser attachment! I had brought my own dryer, so Ginger and I went upstairs to deliver it to Angie and her hairdresser.

Now that breakfast was over we had several hours before going to the church, and Angie had sent us a suggestion via facebook which had interested us all. The Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park was right down the road from the hotel and looked rather fascinating on the website, so we gathered ourselves together and went to see what we could see. The special exhibit featured at the Gardens and Sculpture Park this season is Chihuly Glass. Glass sculptures in colors and on a scale which were simply amazing. Indoors and out, tucked into existing gardens or set apart in exhibits of their own, everywhere we turned in the Sculpture Park and gardens there were more Chihuly sculptures. Not to mention the permanent exhibits owned by the Meijer Gardens. The American Horse, for instance, is a must see; standing three stories tall and dominating his own area of the park, we were entranced. This was no boring museum tour that the parents were dragging the kids along into. Each of the kids was excited about what they were seeing and what was coming up next. Isaac especially was enjoying the gardens and sculptures; most especially the carnivorous plants room! We didn't dream that we would use up all of our free time there, but soon enough we had to start dragging ourselves away and back to the van to get to the hotel for wedding dressing. The photos we took can be seen here.

Back to the hotel, change of clothes, beautifying of the girls, and we were ready for the main event. Dressed in our best, we headed for the quaint little Hispanic church which Angie had chosen, in honor of her Cuban family and roots. The groom, Jim's cousin Guy, has made a lifelong career of the Navy, so he was resplendent in his uniform. A nephew, Ben, and a friend, Steve, also in uniform, would provide the arch of swords for the couple to walk through at the end of the ceremony. Guy and Angie's desire to honor Christ and embrace their family led to a dear, intimate ceremony which reflected the love which they have for one another and our Lord. I had my camera and fired off a few shots, but was touched to see Isaac also shooting away during the wedding. Our children were all actively engaged with the proceedings, which was such a blessing to see. They have not grown up with this branch of the family, and have rarely,… no, never, had family gatherings the way the Carlton branch does. Only newly introduced to, and immediately embraced by, the Carlton gang, there has been an intangible resistance on my children's part to fully commit, (or admit) to the family. This weekend would change that once and for all.

After the ceremony was done we were ushered outside for the traditional passing under the arch of the newlyweds. Grabbing a strategic spot from which to photograph the moment, with Kate and the other camera nearby at a different angle, we watched for them to emerge from the church. Standing tall and erect in their Navy dress whites, Ben and Steve looked the very definition of valor and discipline. At the precisely right moment they raised their swords, and Angie and Guy walked through, beaming from ear to ear. What happened next must not have been anticipated by our dear Bride. With a twinkle in his valiant eyes, Ben raised his sword higher, took aim, acquired the target, and with the flat of the blade- and a shout of "Go Navy!" gave Angie a swat on her behind that almost lifted her off her feet! Evidently this particular aspect of the tradition had not been explained in full to the now shocked bride of Master Chief Petty Officer Guy Carlton. (and I caught it all!)

The drive to the wedding reception wasn't long at all, and we soon gathered at a lovely Country Club to spend the rest of the evening. Appetizers and beverages were being served when we arrived, and the atmosphere was calm and refined. Being wine lovers, (connoisseurs?) Angie and Guy had chosen a marvelous selection of wines for the reception. With a camera in my hand, juggling a glass of wine and a plate of appetizers was nearly impossible, but I managed a few tastes. We were soon able to enter the dining room and found our seats. The newlyweds arrived before long and the celebration began. In lieu of gifts, the Carltons requested that donations be made to two hospice care centers which had cared for loved ones in the recent past. The DJ announced that for every $10 donation the groom would kiss his lovely bride. The donations began rolling in, and soon Isaac declared that Guy's lips were likely to fall off! Before dinner was served I went to a couple of tables to take photos of some of the couples. Dinner was marvelous, interrupted by donations and kisses, and we were warming to the party mood.

Looking around we realized that the photographer from the ceremony who had shot Guy and Angie entering the reception had disappeared. Angie then came over to let me know that not only was the cake cutting taking place soon, but there would be a second cake- a surprise to Guy- that she wanted me to be sure to catch. I had my orders! Given free reign with the camera I enjoyed going to everyone for photos candid and posed. Isaac was even running around with the second camera taking photos. We both shot the cutting of the cake, and Guy's Master Chief cake. Soon after dessert the dancing began. Not as easy to photograph, it sure was fun to watch! You can check out the album of photos here.

This is one family that enjoys one another and knows how to have a good time. It didn't take long for the dance floor to be full. Not many slow dances for this crowd; the beat was fast and the atmosphere electric. At one point I looked up and Bekah was out there dancing with Alexis, her second cousin twice removed. Jim, Isaac, Kate and Erin were outside on the deck having conversations with other cousins and I pulled them inside to join in the fun. I thought Isaac would be too cautious to hit the floor, but our little Boy Scout showed us he can bust a move! (Is there a badge for that?) Dancing and singing along to just about every song, Isaac had a blast. Kate and Erin soon joined the fun, and before long Jim and I were also dancing. Then it happened. The DJ announced a special request, and the first notes of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody floated through the air.

Oh, my, word.

Every guy in the reception, and a couple of girls too, struck a Freddie Mercury pose and sang- acted out- every word of the song! What a jaw-dropping, hilarious event to watch! And how sweet too; here's cousin Brent teaching his darling daughter just when to bang her head for the guitar solo… All of the boys with Mommas present serenaded them at the right parts in the song, urging them to, "Carry on, carry on…" Never have we imagined such a unifying activity to draw our kids into the crowd of cousins. Their familiarity with the gang was sealed with the playing of Journey's Don't Stop Believing. The reception ended with Angie and Guy's selection of We are Family, with all of the men and women lined up opposite one another to dance down the middle, a pair at a time. Isaac was my partner for this closing act and we boogied on down the line.

A perfect ending for a perfect day.

Kate is 21...

Kate has turned 21 years old,... how the years have flown. Since she has already lived in Europe on two occasions for several months at a time, she has been looking forward to the day when she can once again enjoy a glass of wine legally. That day having arrived, she chose to have a gourmet meal, straight out of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, with wines appropriate to each course, naturally.

We first had a quiet little gathering of the family to open presents, and then the boys where shooed away so the girlie time could begin!

Kate had been planning and preparing for this meal all week, and she began slicing and dicing, simmering and sauteing early in the afternoon.

Rachel arrived early to lend a hand, and was wearing the very same boots that Kate has! She had borrowed Kate's favorite footwear for a wedding a few months ago, and loved them so much that she ordered her own pair online! So comfy!

Aren't they cute?

The marvelously buttered chicken is roasting deliciously in the oven... oh, butter.

Rachel brought her own cookbook along as well. Every kitchen should have one of these!

Far be it for our chef to miss this feast preparation. Today Bekah assisted Kate, not the other way around. A gift, from her to her sister.

Christine arrives dressed to the nines! Isn't she beautiful?



Rachel makes Hollandaise sauce. Yum.

Sweet Sarah.

Good things are happening in the kitchen!

Served in courses, the meal progresses beautifully.

The delicious and- literally- flamboyant main dish, Poulet au Porto,
(page 245 in Mastering the Art of French Cooking).

Rachel made the chocolate mousse at home... scrumptious!

Make a wish!

Kara, recently home from a visit to see her sister in Ukraine.
We're so glad she could join us tonight.

Erin has also lent a lot of support behind the scenes today.

Well done girls! Happy Birthday Dear Kate!

Valley Forge Hike

The last Saturday in June, the Scouts were going to take a hike through Valley Forge, and Jim volunteered me to go along since he couldn't. This was a real treat for me, because I haven't been along on one of their outings before, and I know that this is a terrific group of kids and adults who are a major influence in the character development of my son. Experiencing this first-hand was going to be fun.

We met up early to carpool over to Valley forge, and I ended up riding along with Butch and his two boys, while Isaac rode in Gary's vehicle with Fred and the rest of the boys. Getting there didn't take long and we began with the Welcome Center just as it opened. There was a guide they were going to follow in order to earn a medallion, and the guys would be going from one point to another, using their compasses and other skills to find each next stop, kind of like a scavenger hunt.

The day was warm, and then it was hot, as we hiked 9 miles, give or take, through the park. We saw many deer, lots of tourists, and various groups of runners and bicyclists. The historical points were fascinating, and we learned more than I did when just going with the family. When we got to Washington's headquarters, in fact, we watched some folks working an archeological dig int he yard, finding bits and pieces left behind by the Colonial Army so long ago.

We never actually got lost, but I think we all agreed that we added to our hike with a wrong turn or two. All in all, it was a great day, and we were all glad to see the cars and the road home once we were finished. I, of course, took photos, and you can follow us through the park here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

While We're in The Yard...

Here are some shots of the blooming loveliness in our yard, taken over the past couple of months. Not all of these are still blooming, in fact, while we were away for a week there were record high temperatures and no rain which scorched our yard and quickly ended the life of several of my plants. The Daylilies are simply finished with their bloom time now, and it's time for other flowers to take up the banner of beauty. Fortunately, we're having a third day of rain now, so my blooming babies are soaking up some needed moisture!

"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
- Matthew 6:28-33



(The various Daisy type flowers in the front flower bed.)

(Geranium in a pot on the front porch which I kept over
Winter and re-planted this Spring!)


(Foxglove which volunteers in a wild area of the yard.
I hope to bring them into a tamer flower bed soon.)

Yard In The Works

Ever since we first looked at our home, the backyard has been a focal point for us. With the space and privacy, we have wanted our yard to be welcoming for guests and outdoor fun. Last year we took care of a large marshy area in the flat space out back, which is now perfect for a volleyball net. This year we turned our attention to the hills which were covered with difficult-to-care-for landscaping and had grown into a jungle.

Before: (look for this tree in the first "after" shot!)

So Jim rented a big machine and went to work ripping the hillsides apart. With help from the kids and some strong young men from church, over the course of a few weeks we got the nasty jungle torn out and the hillsides de-rooted, de-rocked, raked smooth, seeded and blanketed with straw. We now have grass growing in the space that had forbidden entry, and it is now open and welcoming. Room for the hammock under the previously inaccessible tree is a blessing, as well as having a lot more flat space up top to eventually add a picnic table and maybe a raised bed or two for veggies.

Continued progress


Sooo glad to have this phase finished. Now, what's next?!