Franklin Visitors

A few weeks back I was gifted with a visit from two dear friends.  While that may be considered a term of endearment I just feel like a little old lady when I say that.  The  motive is pure but please, help me find another word.  Anyhow, my friends from Franklin, TN graced us with their presence for an entire 4 days and it was the ultimate girls extravaganza.  And if by extravaganza you immediately think of late night laughing, pajama creeping until past noon and inhaling more sweets than humanly possible, then yes, that is exactly what it was.  Some things never change.  Thankfully these friendships are two of them. 
I'm not sure how we've managed to remain so connected, it is a gift I am beyond grateful for. Holly and I met first when our daughters played soccer together.  And then Holly introduced me to Julie.  The rest is history.  We have walked some roads together.  We've remained friends even when oceans separated us.  Now states separate us.  No matter though.  The three of us have been able to pick up as though no time has passed between visits.  You hear ample talk of community and your people, well these two ladies are both of those for me. Not only have we been on our knees knocking on the doors of heaven for each other but we have danced and celebrated and even done Jazzercise together. 
If only there was a video camera, that last little bit could have gone viral. 
Me, pretending to have rhythm.  Ha.  I am sure if nothing else I provided a 45 minute comedy session for those around me.  You see, my two "dear" friends are both Jazzercise instructors and they couldn't visit the frozen tundra and be without the stage for more than a few days so I was roped into attending class with them at a local center.  It was really fun.  Best part was watching them each teach a segment of class.  They are naturals, completely reassuring and encouraging to the women staring back at them.  Even the ones like me who can't seem to get the timing right.  Not only do they have rhythm but they can even sing and talk while working away.  Impressive to say the least. 
Thus was the beginning our time together. 
There was no agenda.  No have to's.  Not even any must sees on the list.  So much so that each morning it took serious deliberating to decide on the day's activities.  Mostly planning our days around our meals.  A little shopping thrown in at the local consignment shops.  Strolls through Excelsior and downtown Minneapolis.  Stopping in at a few of the local hang outs.    Hunkering down on the sofa laughing until our bellies hurt.  Watching dance shows put on by the Things.  Listening to stories around the dinner table.  Hearing new music.  Catching up on the latest and greatest with all of our children, there are ten between us.  Learning what was happening in Franklin and beyond.  And even without a schedule to speak of we managed to take two photos on our last day together.  I'll chalk that up to being present in each and every moment.
This.  This was exactly what my soul needed.  Deep conversations about Jesus.  Being loved on by two friends who knew the words before they even left my lips.  Such joy to have their sweet faces stare at me across the counter each morning, while we cupped our hands around our mugs and tackled the world's problems from my kitchen.   Already counting down the days until next time. 

Spring Break 2014

This year was a Minnesota Spring break for us.  Homebound with no outrageous travel plans.  Which in all seriousness was such a welcome change.  There were lazy mornings with Things not rising until almost noon, late nights and a plethora of activities in between.  Let me share a few. 

The weekend began with a trip to MIA, or Minneapolis Institute of Art, for the girls and I.  We set pace to the photography exhibit and sat and took it all in.  Each and every photograph.  Reading about the photographer, the location, the setting.  One in particular moved me.  Mary Ellen Mark was a photographer in the late 70's and she had this way of capturing humanity.  She photographed a homeless family in their vehicle.  Front passenger door flung open, Dad holding on to Mom in the front seat, little girl cupping the face of her younger brother.  Their eyes bore through the photo.  It was mesmerizing in a dark sort of way. 
Tried to have the city skyline in the background, there it is just above Thing 1's most beautiful hair!
There was a day of shopping at MOA, Mall of America.  Thing 4 gave the ropes course a go.  He has been wanting to try his hand at this obstacle course since we've moved here.  Happy to report it was conquered with a smile on his face.  Husband Jared watched from below and was able to provide encouragement as well as a photographic evidence of the mission accomplished!
Another day we took the Things to play bocce ball indoors.  The four of them had played in Cesme, Turkey, on the sand and we knew this would be different.  For starters, the ball rolls a tad faster on turf.  Once they made the appropriate adjustments it was all in and game on!  We played teams, Husband Jared with Thing 1 and Thing 4, myself with Things 2 and 3.  Thing 3 created her own strategy, stemming from her overwhelming strength; new game plan, roll the ball at record force down the lane and knock the other team's balls out of position.  We lost.  No matter, we had great fun.  After the first match we played another and swapped Things.  Can't really say who the winner was as our time ran out and we were on to other matters.
I'm not sure if you can feel the intensity from this photograph, we are nothing if not fiercely competitive!
We had work days, complete with homework and chores and household duties.  The Things baked and had friends visit and played outside.  Movies were watched, popcorn popped and hot chocolate consumed.  Then we started a puzzle.  Nothing too gregarious, just a little Gustav Klimt scattered across the dining room table. 
The Kiss - Gustav Klimt
1000 pieces of agony.   The border was finished first.  As it should be according to puzzle doers across the world.  And then it became a bit trickier.  All patterns began looking the same, flowers blurred together and pieces disappeared from our reach.  My mind left to wander I thought we might never have dinner around our table again.  We didn't for approximately 4 nights.  Optimists that we are, we hadn't even entertained the thought of not finishing.  Sad to say, the puzzle now sits broken inside it's box, waiting for curiosity to win over and the pieces to hold the floor again. 
With winter lingering throughout our Spring break I was craving some green and hope for new life within our four walls.  The answer: succulents.  Every time I say that word Thing 2 laughs hysterically.  I don't quite understand why, but she thinks it's hilarious.  Sometimes I just walk around the house repeating "succulents" over and over.  I love her laugh.  Now we have touches of green on the mantle, in the living space and kitchen.  That makes me happy. 

Waiting to be planted.
The week came to an end and what better way to celebrate than dinner with friends.  We sat and reminisced, music being our muse and the Things and friends sat in awe of BBD, MC Hammer, C&C Music Factory and other notable dance favorites from the 90's.  What can I say, we are a generation full of mystery?  Or not.  We did eat pizza, I attempted to teach the kiddos a whip cream trick and then there was more game playing and nerf wars. 
Whip cream tragedy.  The goal is to flip the whip cream into your mouth from your wrist.  Thing 4 is the master, I had an epic fail and apparently Thing 2 did as well.  She's still cute as ever, don't you think?
Warmer weather was in the forecast and I was itching for one last spring break field trip.  Following much debate and indecisiveness we ventured to St. Paul for the afternoon to visit Landmark Center.  Landmark Center is the restored Old Federal Courts building, sitting across from Rice Park.  It was built in the late 1800's and completed in 1902, serving the state for almost 70 years before being scheduled for demolition.  Thankfully the building was saved, renovated and now serves the community.  Not only does it house multiple museums but several non profit offices as well.  The architecture is stunning and we were even able to take a ride in the original elevator which had been salvaged.  We wandered the halls, listened to Bandwidth, which is a collection of community based bands that were performing in the Center, explored the Schubert Club museum and played the instruments. 
Listening to the bands, we love music.
Giving the "gong" a try.

These fingers, playing Adele. Love.
Having roamed the halls, taken photographs, viewed the cyclone of instruments and sat in the old court rooms we set our sights outside to the river.  The Things tried to estimate how deep the water was, we watched runners and lovers walking and of course we snapped a photo of our own with the mighty Mississippi in the background.
These four have my whole heart.
With grumbly tummies I took to the internet to find us a fine eating establishment.  I had vaguely remembered reading about an old diner car in St. Paul and quickly looked it up.  Thankfully it was mere blocks from where we were.  Unsure of what to expect I would like to say the six of us were pleasantly surprised.  This diner has been operating 24-7, 365 days a year for 70 years.  It is a landmark for certain as are the malts.  Space is at a premium so it took two booths to accommodate us and as we placed our quarters in the table side juke box and I thought I heard all the Things singing along to Rockin' Robin.  Oh how my soul delights in these experiences.  They were apprehensive about the food, given our surroundings, but they put that aside and ordered their burgers and fries and then Husband Jared pulled out all the stops and granted them permission to order their very own malts. (typically they share) Oh what a day! 

Bellies full, malts in hand and four thumbs up! 
The car ride home was complete with gratitude and memories of another Spring break filled.  Filled with what you say?  Well, overflowing with good stuff. 


Storytelling In Cali

We jumped on a plane to LAX with a dream and a cardigan.  Well, sorta.  I must give creds to Miley Cyrus for those catchy lyrics.  Every time I board a plane headed to my home state of Cali I admit that tune runs through my head.  I just can't help it.  I should.  But I can't.  Anyhow, about a month ago Husband Jared and I did catch an early morning flight to sunny Cali!  Only, it wasn't sunny.  That is entirely beside the point.  Or it would be if we did not live in the frozen tundra.  We had scheduled a quick few days in California, visiting family, attending a conference and catching up with loved ones.  Only it was so much more than that. 
For Christmas this past year I asked Husband Jared to attend the Storyline Conference with me.  After dubious research he agreed.  Storyline is a conference created by Donald Miller, the author.  You might have heard of his book, "Blue Like Jazz"?  Or the indie movie based on the book?  Regardless, the motive behind the conference spoke to me.  It is based on the notion of living a better story.  Finding a redemptive perspective on the past and passionately living out what you were created for.  Not pleasure seeking but deep meaningful life.  Full of intimate relationships in a community where one is unconditionally loved.  Inspired?  I was.  The weekend was filled with unexpected surprises and words of truth. 
Point Loma Nazarene University was the host for the weekend's events.  If you have never seen this campus, you must.  I wanted to be a college student all over again if it meant I could attend this university.  The locale can not be matched.  Overlooking the Pacific ocean, lush greenery everywhere and sunsets so majestic I had to pinch myself. Upon check in I dragged Husband Jared  in the rain to the cliff just so I could hear the waves.  That is balm for my weary soul and the one place I never fail to find God.  Ocean waves crashing on rocks and rain drops falling on my head.  In that moment I did not mind one bit. 
Lookout point on campus
Our schedule was full to the brim with sessions and break outs and note taking and listening.  Absorbing everything, sponge like, if you will.  The speakers were dynamic and each and everyone brought a unique perspective to the table.  There was a producer, a widowed mom, an entrepreneur, author, preacher, psychologist, Christian satirist, improve comedian, government lawyer and activist and even the founder of Food for the Hungry.  We soaked in their words.  Heard their stories.  The struggles, the mistakes, the redemption.  They each deserve a post of their own.  Although I could not do their story justice in my words.  A few were poignant for me, personally.  Another Husband Jared and I could not stop laughing with.  And still one had tears rolling down my face from the very beginning.  Their braveness touched me.  The authenticity they so freely shared was a window into their heart, and if anything an inspiration to me. 

The one we could not stop laughing with.  This is where Husband Jared and I were introduced to the phrase, "Bootie, God, Bootie".  Yes, God sandwiched right there between the ever potent "bootie".  Jon Acuff is able to claim the brilliance behind this notion and the way he presented it to us, his audience at Storyline, was hysterical.  Let me explain.  There was a secular radio station he listened to.  Every morning at the same time they would share a clip of a sermon. For real.  Right between BeyoncĂ© and Pink there was preaching to the masses.  Of course, him standing on stage, singing and then switching gears to the "serious" God talk would be so much better than this.  Use your imagination people.  Animated, authentic and humorous.  Anyhow, he went on to say that was how he was living.  A little God time on Sunday and then Monday through Saturday all bootie.  You do know what I mean, right?  It struck a chord.  And the phrase has been coined and used excessively in this household.  Of course, breaking that down with the four Things was entertaining.  They got it though.  First time around. It resonated so deeply with us.  Within the humor there was truth.  Bootie, God, bootie, let it not be so. 

I learned things about myself this weekend that I hadn't paid attention to before.  Discovered long buried fears and dreams.  In the unearthing of these Husband Jared and I pontificated for hours.  Pouring over all that we had ingested each day.  Long dinners, one at a local pizza joint where we made friends with our waitress.  Another in the hotel room with the best Mexican take out we've had in a long time.  You knew I had to mention our meals, right?  Just to mix it up I'll even share with you a photo of the largest oyster we've ever seen.  Served so fresh at the local fisherman's wharf. 

Here we had yet another deep discussion.  This time surrounding the legacy we long to leave for our children.  How we want to put an end to generational sin that has entangled our families' past for so long.  You see Husband Jared and I had never before done anything like this together.  The experience in and of itself was life changing.  We asked ourselves incredibly challenging questions that forced decisive answers.  I was physically exhausted at the end of the two days.  Feeling as though I delved into uncharted waters without a life preserver.  Only there was one, shedding light throughout on the life He has given me.  The passion I was created to live with the grace He so freely gave.  Summary concluded.  I do not serve this conference well with my angsty descriptions.  For a more definitive explanation of all that Storyline has to offer you should visit their website.

Switching gears to the "other" side of our visit.  Family.   We were fortunate enough to have arrived for sister in law Corynn's birthday and what better way to celebrate her than family dinner and dessert! Before dinner Auntie Le Le needed some Gianna and Olivia time. 
A walk to the park was in order and I even wore the Baby Bjorn with sweet Olivia. 
We ran through the grass, chased Uncle Jared, swung on the swings and played lots of pretend games.  More family togetherness was on the docket for our return from the conference. 

A selfie with my goddaughter 
There was even family togetherness happening in San Diego.  Unfortunately there are no photos to offer as proof.  We enjoyed some adult time with Aaron and Maggie.  Loads of laughter, non stop catch up on the latest and greatest with the kiddos a slumber party and then a yummy breakfast at a new fave breakfast place, Snooze.  I stumbled across it in the hotel magazine and I was adamant about giving it a taste test before we left Southern California.  Stuffed French toast with mascarpone and strawberries, a peanut butter banana pancake and the freshest coffee.  We all agreed it was delish and a perfectly sweet ending to our short visit with the Strands. 
 Yet another reunion was in the works with the Aunties and Uncles and Grandparents.  All meeting at Mom and Dad's for dinner.  Yes, most of our plans are centered around food.  Aren't yours?  I was able to visit with cousins and laugh and take silly pictures with them.  We told stories about the Things, shared lessons from the conference and reminisced about times together from the past.  All while carrying on and interrupting each other and talking way too loudly and over and around one another. 
On the way to the family gathering, Jared, Gianna and Me
I'm older than them and I changed all their diapers, yet they're all taller than me! 
How did that happen?
And in the blink of an eye it was over and we were having breakfast with Nani, readying ourselves for goodbyes at the airport, which with this family, is never an easy thing to do.  Thanks Cali for the good times, and yes even for the rain, see you on the flip side.  Or something to that effect.