God created her, I carried her, now she is my happiness and my laughter.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Having brought in the New Year

It's never to early or too late to make changes. Last year at this time we had brought in the new year at Liz and Josh's house with board games, pigs in a blanket and an unexpected fireworks display from the porch. I was pregnant for Jacey and had no idea my marriage would soon fail.

In February Jason asked for a divorce and though it was a very trying time, it was my big opportunity to get back on track in my relationship with Jesus, start being faithful to a church, taking my family to church and having the opportunity to stay in a place I absolutely love, being near family. I stayed several months in prayer and Bible reading but as I had always feared, my devotional times became less and less the more comfortable I became in my situation.

By May I was hardly reading my Bible and never praying more than just a quick whisper through out the day. I was still enjoying church, though; and especially Sunday school.

I tried to get a summer job but over all God was taking care of all my needs. I had transportation, a place to live by July with David, people were volunteering to watch Jacey and Mom and Karen were pitching in to put Emma in school. God had supplied all my needs and wanted to leave me needing Him so I still didn't have a job by the time school started. Turned out to be a blessing as I was very busy. Juggling school and the kids was stressful. I constantly felt like I wasn't giving enough at school or at home. But, in my business and having absolutely no energy by the end of the day I found my devotions went even further to the way side.

By Thanksgiving and the coming winter break, I was faltering quite a bit. I knew reading my Bible would be helpful but when I opened it up, I felt like I could never find a good place to start reading. I began to fall back into the false sense of feeling that I couldn't come before the Throne of Grace because I wasn't being faithful in other things. Going to church was not yet a "chore" but I was definitely going to bed Saturday nights wishing I could just spend the next day at home relaxing and getting ready for the next week.

Finally, Christmas came and went and I was starting to get in that mood of change. The new year was approaching. God was really speaking to me through more financial trials. On new year's eve I finally said enough was enough. I had recently been looking over my sister's blog, http://domesticarmour.blogspot.com She had a series on prayer posted that was a 4 week long study. It dawned on me, I had a great devotional right at my finger tips and I decided not to  put off getting back on track any longer. I read the first two parts of the series. It was so fun, I didn't want to stop reading.  I opened my Bible to read the verses she posted. I took notes. I put reminder notes on my white board and spent several minutes in prayer that morning. I took Emma on my lap and told her what I had gotten out of my devotions. She decided she also wanted to spend some time in prayer and ran to her room to pray for her dad. It was so precious and I was feeling so encouraged.

My day yesterday went so well. I had much patience for the kids. We ran errands, were in good moods, had money to spend on things we needed, used some Christmas gift cards and then ate dinner at Arbys.

You know those good days with the Lord where you are just so happy to be alive, so happy to be a Christian that you'll randomly talk to strangers, make jokes with cashiers, say hello to passer-byers? Well, completely out of character for me I turned and asked a lady how old her baby was. I don't know why I did it. It must have been the Lord working through me. Because I know in my flesh, I do not like other people's kids and I certainly don't want to start a conversation with someone. She turned out to be quite the talker. Her husband was with her but even still she proceeded to tell me how she and her husband were on the verge of divorce since the baby had been born. She spoke of it heartily, would turn to her husband and laugh nervously. He refused to look me in the eye as I'm sure he was embarrassed. (Poor guys) Even more so out of character for me, I ended up giving the lady (Dawn was her name and her baby was Lily) my number and told her to contact me before the 15th when school started so we could get together. They are a military family, here in Tucson with no family or friends. My heart went out to her and for her situation. I felt like there was little advice I could give since I was standing there as a recent divorcee; but I prayed the Lord would guide my words and conversation to be encouraging. I told her that I could introduce her to some other ladies from my church. Secretly my hope was that someone who wasn't divorced could maybe get to know her and be a help to her. I know this meeting was of God. I was so happy to have been used by Him and I knew this wouldn't have happened if I hadn't have been in my devotions that morning.

I called my sister on the way home and asked her to pray for Dawn and we talked about how her blog had been such a blessing to me. It was a great conversation. I came home to David, ready and happy to go to church with me that night. We brought in the new year playing church volleyball, eating popcorn and talking about dreams, regrets, blessings and future. It was such a good day.

This new years day the devil thought he would try to mess things up by having the kids get up early and getting me distracted wanting to get my projects started. I ended up calling mom to create a P.O.D. (plan of the day). As she told me about her devotions that morning I remembered what a blessing I had yesterday and decided it really was important to start the day right. So, I have just finished doing another part in the prayer series and it has been another great start to my day.

Here's to trying harder this year to do what's right every day. I always love how Pastor puts it, "Make Jesus look good, today."

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Rare and Surprisingly Disappointing Opportunity

Fantasy. Things we dream up, but never get to live in real life. Good, pleasant things. Girls, day dreaming about a future husband and what it will be like. Letting your mind run wild with images and ideas of a perfectly romantic evening with your loved one.

I remember being a kid and writing down the ideal perfect husband, how many kids I would have, what their names would be, how many animals we would have on the farm that was a given we would live on. Real life sure turned out different. M.A.S.H. was certainly NO indication of who I would really marry or what job, car or house I would have.

And though I married a man I never would have thought I would be attracted to, I had a child right away when I hadn't planned to, I was in the Navy instead of living on a farm; I actually WAS living a fantasy. In a way, I feel a little proud about that. I don't think many adults in the world could say they lived a fantasy.

I created a fantasy for my marriage and my family and for 5 years I was given the privilege to live through it. My husband loved me unconditionally and was the model husband causing jealousy amongst my other married family members and friends. He listened to me and came home from work wanting to be involved with the family. We were intimate every day and sometimes more than once a day. He always came running when I was crying. He carried my burdens and fought my battles. My husband was a good father. He was involved in my daughter's life, concerned about her up bringing, played with her, taught her how to do things on her own and taught her about life.

And, yes, for 5 years, I believed all of the above were true. But, the thing with fantasy is that it's all just a big lie. It's not real even if you get the opportunity to live it. Like a good dream it fades away when you open your eyes. And that's exactly what happened. I opened my eyes.

I like a TV series called Once Upon a Time. It's about Disney movie characters we all know and love (Cinderella, Pinocchio, Beauty and the Beast, ect. ) and they, through a curse by the Queen from Snow White, are sent to live out a "real" life in the "real" world. The curse was meant to take away their happiness and to show that the cartoon life they were living was just a fantasy. In the series, though, Snow White and the Prince have a child before the curse can take place. They send the child through a magic portal to the real world ahead of them. This is done so that she can save them from the curse when she is older.

It sounds a little funny, but I actually relate to this story. Jason and I had what seemed like a great marriage and a great family. But, because it was just a fantasy I had created in my mind, we ended up being put through a "curse" 5 years later where we were forced to come face to face with reality. My husband never loved me unconditionally. He loved me out of guilt. He behaved like the poster husband because of pride. He pretended to care about his children's upbringing because of a false sense of duty. When the lies and the living of a fake life became too much, I was finally given the opportunity to open my eyes and see that we weren't living in reality. I don't know what Jason's version of the "fantasy" we lived would be, but we both treated each other poorly, no matter how much good there seemed to be, because neither of us, in reality, wanted to be with each other. I often times searched else where for attention and fell into depression because there was a part of me deep down inside that knew my marriage wasn't right. I hate that we involved children in our fantasy, but in a way they are like the child sent ahead of time to save, at least me, from my own insanity.

Does the fantasy I lived come back to haunt me? Of course! Was it fun while it lasted? Sure. Do I painfully miss many parts of our fantasy? I used to! But, that's all it was. Five years of lies, back stabbing, and hypocrisy. I feel like "everybody's fool" when I look back on all the lies I was led to believe over the years and I could kick myself for not listening to that little voice in my head telling me something just wasn't right. No matter which way you look at it, no matter what things could have been different, Jason and I were never meant to be together because EVERYTHING about our relationship was a lie.

So, in conclusion, I keep reminding myself of these things. Every good memory I have is null and void because it wasn't real. The man I thought I fell in love with is really just some guy I made up in my head. The man I actually had is nothing like I would ever want in real life. And like wise, the woman Jason married was certainly not who he intended to love all his life.

I'm glad my fantasy is over. And the reality is that the girls and I are much better off. Reality is that I needed the girls in my life to keep me grounded. Reality is that we needed God in our lives, not some fake fantasy.

Winter Break

This has been a strange Christmas season for us. We are living in Arizona permanently, I started school,  and Jacey is joining us this year.  Though I have managed to make a couple batches of chef mix, I did not get a Christmas tree or lights hung. Fortunately, Christmas is being held at mom and dad's where a live tree stands fully decorated and cooking baking is planned for later this week.

I quickly came to realize this winter break that I was not going to be able to do all the traditional things I normally do. And that's ok. Personally, I could not be happier. I really enjoyed fall semester at school and, frankly, wish there wasn't such a long break. I like to stay busy. I like to have something that I have to do each day. On the other hand, I've made a list of winter break activities to do and spending some time at home with the kids should be nice for all involved.

Next semester I'll be going full swing with more classes then before and will also be looking for a job as well. So, I'll be very busy. This will be a trying but most likely needed break.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

My Girls

When I watch other people's kids (which happens VERY infrequently) I realize how strict and firm I must seem to Emma and others who watch me around my kids. My mom has told me before that I sound mean and I scare children. My response was always, "Well, kids need to realize they can't get away with stuff." And having an education in dog training it's all too easy for me to see the similarities in child and dog "rearing." I also shrugged off my mom's comments because I often feel like Emma does not behave as well as I would like her too.....so I must not be too scary. (Of course I don't think scaring your kids is the way to obedience.)

I had a respectful fear of my dad. When he came home the house had better be clean and quiet. My mom used to tell us that while his job wasn't always physically taxing, his mind was working very hard. So when he came home we needed to be quiet and let his mind rest. We didn't mess around with my dad. We always did what he asked us to do on first command and if we tried to argue or talk back we got spanked. He expected us to be clean, thorough and intelligent. And I was in no means "ruined" by that life style as a kid. Now that I'm a mother I can see how nice it must have been for my mom and dad to have kids that they always trusted to obey.

On top of that, I'm also not a very patient person when it comes to kids. If I didn't make the mess I don't want to have to clean it up. So when a kid spills something because they were messing around at the table I get very frustrated. I've had Emma cleaning up her own spills for quite some time now. Yesterday, I told Emma not to let Jacey play in the water. Well, of course there's not a lot Emma can really do if Jacey does play in the water so I'm not sure what I expected. But, Jacey put her hands on the side of the kiddie pool that's full of water in my kitchen right now, and water started to spill out. I said, "Emma! Why did you let Jacey play in the water?" She said, "Can I clean it up with the mop since it was my fault? Pleeeaaaasssseeee?" I'm thankful she enjoys cleaning up her messes. (Or Jacey's messes...and technically my mess since I really should have been the one watching Jacey.)

Having been raised in the way that I was raised and my lack of patience when it comes to kids, has made me a very strict mother. I expect Emma to be mindful of what she (or Jacey) is doing. I expect her to clean up after herself, to get her own drinks, to pour her own cereal, to get ready for bed, to help me with Jacey, to learn to do things for herself, to learn to do things for Jacey.....I expect SO much from my little 4 year old. And I have to say, after realizing how much I truly expect from her, I'm SO proud of her. She does all this and more like it's just another day in the life of a 4 year old. Half the time Emma doesn't want my help. She wants to figure it out for herself. It was always my intention to make Emma self sufficient, to take care of her own problems and not to whine about things that don't go her way. Every day I feel like I'm failing until one day I have something to compare to and I realize she's well above and beyond the expected.

I'm so proud of my girls and for a moment I'm not beating myself up. Now if I could just do something about that attitude!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Few more days of freedom

I am almost ready for school. Have my pencil bag, new clicky pencils and eraser, paper, notebooks, bad hair day hat, easy-on-the-go hair cut, babysitters lined up, a car to use (which was a pretty big deal), backpack I don't like but will use, a plan for morning down-time waiting for classes....everything but my books which is enough to make me feel stressed and nervous. I have never started classes with out my books before. I'll be "that guy" or girl. But, as there always is with the government, there were some issues with paperwork. I should be getting my book stipend soon. I also had hoped to get some new school clothes, but I'll have to make do with what I have in my closet for now. I really wish I could have started the semester with my stuff from Washington. I could have had plenty of clothes, a calculator and just all my comforts of having my own things. But, it wasn't in the cards for me to get that stuff right now.

I am not, however, prepared to leave my girls. It's been a fun two-year run being a stay at home mom and this momma's heart is breaking already thinking of how busy I'll become and what little time (in comparison) I'll have with the girls. I hate thinking of the "firsts" I'll miss with Jacey and I fear Emma's behavior will change dramatically. She is going through so many major changes in her life right now. A divorce she can't understand, a new sister, her mom is going back to school full time which might feel like abandonment at first because of her Dad already being gone. I'm already seeing a lot of signs of her struggling quite a bit. Her obedience level has gone way down, she's extremely clingy, and her attitude is not pleasant. She's often grumpy and irritated. I know I could be doing a better job dealing with all these changes and I've definitely failed on many levels to make the transition easier on her. It's never too late, though, and I plan to make the most of these last few days. I have even fewer days with just me and the girls as Jason is arriving on Saturday to visit.

In this time, I've been so thankful for family near and far, related or otherwise. God, for one, has been amazing! As He always is, of course, but for the first time in my life I see how much God loves me. And I literally tear up every time I think about it. The thought most comforting to me, which Patty McCarthy has to continually remind me of, is that God loves MY GIRLS even more than I do. When I remember that, I do feel more at ease. Like, it's not my burden to bare. I leave the worries I have for my girls with the Lord and it definitely makes my days pass by easier.

Church family has also been amazing. I like to try and do things myself before I seek too much help from others, but the amount of people who have genuinely offered their help have been astonishing. Some people it seems more of formality to say, "Let me know how I can help." But, others you can tell by they way they look you right in the eye and touch your arm and share their own stories and insist you let them help in any way they can, that they genuinely love and care about you and want to be a blessing. I've had so many people offer to watch Jacey at no charge that I've had a hard time choosing a babysitter. I think in the long run, it will be nice to have several to choose from as I'm always going to have something different going on each day.

My family has been amazing. I always knew my parents loved me, but being the rebellious child in the family, I always felt like more of a burden to my family. My dad used to tell me when I was a teenager that I would be amazed at how much he would support me if only I were doing the right things. And now, when I've needed my parents more than anything else in the world and I am doing the right thing, for once, I truly have been amazed. My mom and dad always have just wanted to help. I'm devastated and embarrassed at the pains I caused them before; and I'm humbled and honored to be in such loving good graces now.

Liz and Josh have been that happy couple that keeps me in high spirits all the time. Liz will never know how much the little things she does mean to me. She probably doesn't even know she's doing them. I've always been the kind of person who is fine by myself and can live with out friends; but lately I've soaked up every bit of attention I can get. Just swinging by the vet clinic to say hello makes me feel so much better especially since Liz is always so happy. You just can't feel sad around her. I really charish every time she goes out of her way to do something special with me. Gives me some adult time but more importantly, sister time. And Josh has been so great for the girls! Really a great man that they can look up to as a fatherly figure. He's always willing to do something with Emma and never complains. He doesn't mind playing with her and being silly with her. I know he'll be more than willing to do the things with her that a mother just can't do proper like taking her fishing, teaching her to use her bow and gun, cliff diving behind my back and warding off unworthy suiters. I know he will do the same for Jacey, too.

I could not have moved out on my own very easily. I'm so grateful for Dave. Yes, he eats my food. Yes, he and Jake make a lot of noise cooking eggs at 2 in the morning.  But, we get along so well. If I had to live with someone, he's definitely the best choice. My patience level with him is very high. Even in the worst of times (which really aren't that bad) I don't get that mad. He's very easy to live with and if I catch him in the right mood (which I'm learning the art of doing) I can really get him to help me out with quite a few things around the house. I love having another male adult in the house. I feel safer and I have someone to talk to about adult things. David loves new ideas as much as I do. We fantasize about being famous one day either by music or screenplays and he's even interested in writing with me. I'm thankful to have someone to go back to school with and though it's a rare occurrence, when he does spend time with the girls, they really soak it up. They love Dave....for whatever reason :)

I'm so thankful for a family and even in-laws who are there for you when you least expected it. I've relied on certain members of my family in this time in my life that I never would have thought I would have ever relied on before. But, I'm so glad that they were there and frankly some of their advice has been the best I've received. New advice, new perspectives have gone a long way in many areas.

This morning I was thinking I would document my readiness for school. It's no surprise that I completely rabbit trailed off into praise and thanks for God and family. Since I've started giving more of my burdens to the Lord I have kept more inside knowing He's going to take care of it. And these special moments and memories I make with my family are the world to me.
(Jacey just stared at me and smiled so big the whole time I was reading this aloud back to myself to proof-read.)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

To be more like my Dad...

I've always been proud to be like my Grandma Anderson. Whenever someone tells me, "That's so Grandma" I feel a little more special. And, it is only natural for me to have most of my mom's traits. She raised me, after all. But, now that I'm an adult and not only an adult, but actually living around my family, for once; I'm realizing that there are some character traits my dad has that I would like to acquire.

The first time I noticed it was our trip to Indiana. My dad is extremely observant. Like a fortune teller, he can look at a situation and know, not only what will happen, but also what HE needs to do to make it easier on everyone else. It's mostly the little things and in hindsight it seems like things we should all be thinking about, but don't. Just for one silly example, we stopped at a rest stop (or was it a hotel?) and with out thinking how it would affect me or anyone else I immediately got Jacey out of her seat. In my mind, I wanted to get her out as soon as possible because I knew she was probably tired of being in there. But, as I got out of the truck, if it hadn't been for my dad ready with the stroller, I wouldn't have known what to do with her once we were out of the truck. At each stop, my dad would go to the back and start unloading what we needed at that stop. But, with out fail, when he saw me emerge from the truck with Jacey, he stopped what he was doing and set up the stroller. It was so well timed that I never had to wait to lay her down in it, and I never even noticed how observant that was of my dad until one time it wasn't me holding Jacey and I saw him do it for my mom. I was standing off probably doing nothing, watching my dad unload stuff and my mom with Jacey and it NEVER occurred to me she would need the stroller. It would have occurred to me when she, while holding Jacey, was trying to get the stroller out of the truck. Then, I would have jumped in and helped out; but my dad notices (or just knows) from the very beginning what will be needed and how he needs to help. He probably assessed the situation from the very first stop how things would go. He watched and learned what mom, Emma, Jacey and I all did, habitually, at each stop and planned how he would unload the truck from that point on. At the risk of making him sound less the genius that he is, he was like a well-programmed robot. Get out of the truck, open the luggage compartment, pull the luggage forward, Tiffany and Jacey will be getting out of the truck in 3, 2, 1...stroller, go. Hold out right arm to keep Emma from running in the street, kiss wife....and the program goes on.

By the time we got home, I was noticing more and more about my dad that I hadn't noticed before. Qualities that I was jealous I didn't have and I started watching him more. It was a couple social situations later that I decided once and for all I wanted to try and be more like my dad. When people talk to me I take each and every word very literally. If someone uses a cliche wrong or uses improper grammar or tells a story I've already heard, I'll be polite but I'm short with my responses because on the inside I'm really irritated. I don't really enjoy conversation and for the most part, am always trying to end it so I can move on. My dad isn't a social butterfly, but he will talk to someone as if they are his best friend and what they are saying is the most important thing he's heard that day. He knows exactly how to talk to people to make them feel like what they were saying was interesting or funny. My dad knows EVERYTHING, but someone who talks to him unawares of that fact would never come to learn it just by talking to him. He doesn't boast about his knowledge and I've never heard him say, "Oh, ya I know that" or like statements. Instead he'll simply embellish on what you just said to further your own knowledge or he'll make a witty comment often leading to a new subject. I've seen him act outright surprised and enthusiastic about certain subjects that I know very well he already knows everything about. Or maybe he doesn't and I just assume he does. But, either way, when ever I talk to my dad I feel like he's really interested and enjoying the conversation whether he is or not. And I'm sure others feel the same. He always talks to mom with such love and admiration like she's the only person on the planet when she speaks to him, like he trusts and believes every word she says.

When I talk to someone I naturally assume everything they say is a lie or has some hidden meaning behind it. And I'm sure that's why I don't enjoy conversation. I've always taken my words very seriously. I LITERALLY mean every word I say right down to the ifs, ands or buts. It drives me nuts that I use words like stuff and thing because I know I'm not being as accurate as I could. And I listen to people in the same manner. If something they say isn't quite right I almost cut myself off from listening to them further because I can't figure out their hidden agenda behind their words. When in all reality I'm sure they didn't even realize what they said was a little off and it CERTAINLY doesn't matter. I really need to just calm down, relax and find the parts of a conversation that I can enjoy, the way my dad does.

I'm sure over his many years, my dad has learned to do these things naturally. He probably doesn't even know he's doing it. It's just the way he is now. He doesn't have to try. But, I want to try and be more like him in these areas. It's a practiced art for someone like me who's already pretty set in her ways. But, I really do want to make these few changes to the way that I am.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Road trip and New beginnings

No sooner did Nana leave back to Pennsylvania in which she had come to see baby Jacey for the first time, the girls and I were packing into the tight space in the back of Dad's rental truck for the road trip to Indiana. We had only slept in our new house on our own one night. Karen had been with us until Friday, but had given us Thursday as our first family night alone in the new house. David had not arrived permanently, yet either. And while I unpacked things from the move on Friday, Dad helped David move in and in between all of that, I PACKED UP things for our trip. Due to Dad's desire to leave early in the morning on Saturday, we stayed the night at their house Friday night. Much talk was given to being ready to go that night, having our things around so we could just hop right in the truck early in the morning. I said that wouldn't be a problem since I would be up feeding Jacey anyway and I planned on just sticking Emma in the truck still donned in her nighty.
                                                        (First night in our new house)

During one of Jacey's feedings that night I heard someone get up and get into the medicine cabinet. That was my first clue that "early" morning was not going to be so early. However, spirits were high as I knocked on mom and dad's door in the not-so-early morning. Mom greeted Jacey and me, still slipping her shirt over her head and dad peered around from the corner wrapped in his bath towel bragging about his new weight. (Which I'm not sure was in the up or down direction as his tone carried amusement.) Mom offered a couple of excuses when I asked if we were doing this road trip, or not. And she seemed out of sorts after that. Her supposedly ready boxes and bags were not as ready as we all would have liked and later it was learned she had forgotten her glasses. However, true to history as we know it, I was still last to enter the truck that morning around 0900 as I am always running in for a last minute item no matter the reason we are leaving.
                                                 (starting out the trip with some crazy hair)

We hadn't reached the Interstate, east, before each of us were wishing we had thought of this thing or that thing. Dad wanted his cellphone car holder, I wished I had thought of my violin and crocheting. But, there was no turning back. What we had was what we were stuck with and other than my complaint of a lack of better snacks later in the trip, we had all that we needed.
                                                           (photo curtesy of mom)

Jacey's feeding schedule of every 3 or 4 hours forced us to put several breaks in the otherwise incessant driving. Personally I was disappointed at the "smallness" of Texas' bragged up "largeness." It also did not seem as much cowboy oriented as I thought it might. We were, however, giddily excited to see the obligatory long horn cows in the homeward bound trip.

Much to my dismay, Oklahoma proved to be disappointing as well. Last time we had driven the pan handle, Oklahoma was having a pleasantly, lovely warm front and among other beauties of the country side I always thought that I could live there some day. The weather wasn't bad. Hot but bearable and Dad seemed to have the same opinion until our tunes were quickly changed when every rest stop was closed for seemingly, no good reason. Even the famous McDonald arch rest stop was closed (I think for construction.) Emma would have loved to see that in a manner more so than just in passing.

It was the well-situated picnic tables, clean bathrooms and kid's playground in the welcoming rest stop of Missouri that we first started to recognize that...MODOT cares. It wasn't confirmed that Missouri Department of Transportation truly cared until we got back on the road. Every ten miles or so we were kindly reminded to maintain certain travel safeties on lit up road signs. Our first ten miles we were told to "Buckle up while driving" affectionately signed "MODOT cares."Mile twenty we are told "Don't text and drive. MODOT cares." By the time we reached "Kids should travel in carseats. MODOT cares," we were convinced. But, you can't truly appreciate how much MODOT cares unless you hear it in the manner in which Dad spoke it. In a normal voice the warning was read and then like a loud, angry robot..."MODOT", followed by a sweet "cares." Much like the way everything became "unlawful" during a trip to Oregon, the rest of our trip through Missouri we were sure to point out all the ways MODOT cared in Dad's robot voice.

Illinois was the final straw to wishing we had an atlas. Dad (I believe) had planned early on to make a pit stop at the border of Illinois and Indiana where a favored Robbie's Restaurant awaited him with the World's best tenderloin steak sandwich. Remembering the name of the town, not to mention the restaurant itself, proved the most difficult. When looking back through past Facebook statuses (from when Dad had stopped there on a business trip) was not working due to Facebook's irritating removal of certain "stati" on mobile devices and the GPS being pointless on the phones since you can only zoom out so far and still be able to read city names; we knew we needed an Atlas. Mom finally "googled it" and after reading off a few small towns on the border, Dad's memory kicked in. Another google search of restaurants in the area nailed down Robbie's exact location. We called and made a reservation which was unnecessary as we were one of few families in the restaurant for our late, 2 o clock lunch. Dad was that of a little boy in a candy shop. He paced the aisle near our table with folded hands behind his back and the slightest smile on his face. He took in the displaced grandeur that in his mind, was Robbie's and he amusedly spoke of the tenderloin to the waitress as if she had never encountered it for herself. I did, personally, wonder if she really knew how famous the tenderloin in her restaurant truly was. She didn't seem that excited about it even though it says right on the menu that people come from miles to eat it, which we did...come from miles. My BLT, I imagine, was equally tasty and by far the best I have eaten. It was worth the stop and though the food sat heavy, we took a walk to a near by antique watch repair shop in which I would have bought a cute little elephant "piggy" bank had it not been for the inflated price of a small shop.
             (Little road in the Robbie Restaurant town with old style brick road. Photo curtesy of mom)

A couple gas stations later, we did try to buy an atlas; but they didn't actually sell any. Mom and I took a moment of silence for the end of the old ways as we know it. A moment that was quickly interrupted by the cute little peacock and flamingo metal statues that we insisted we would come back for homeward bound. We never did go back, however.

It wasn't until Indiana that I first had a desire to put down my phone and book to look at the scenery. Nostalgia was setting in and my eyes were trying to take in all the green, flat lands that I could. I love the mountains, but having grown up around them and living around them all my life, I find the flat lands and fields to be something of a speciality for me. Anticipation was high. David called as we neared Grandma and Grandpa's house, out in the boonies. And while he was still talking on the speaker phone in the truck about his studio project we rounded the corner to find Grandma and Grandpa taking their evening walk. We stopped and gave our initial, jovial greetings through the truck while David rambled on in the back ground.

                            (Grandma and Grandpa's/Mom's childhood home. Photo curtesy of Dad)

As we settled in, Grandma made sure we were fed in her usual way. She had prepared Chili in my favorite way. Emma took to Grandpa really quickly. She asked him to sit by her at the dinner table which I think he thought was pretty special. Emma was sitting in an old kid's wooden high chair in which Grandma's Dad had used with his kids long ago. But, she wasn't sitting close enough to Grandpa and asked me to move her closer. I told her to ask Grandpa to pull her closer and she leaned in to me and quietly said, "No, cuz he's too old." The table got a good laugh out of that which embarrassed poor Emma, but Grandpa made her feel better by pulling her closer and reassuring her that he really was old. Her statement had been true. After dinner we talked in the sun room, showed off the grand babies, played a game of scrabble (of course) in which mom won and promised Emma that we would show her something special after dark. However, it was still light out when we decided to pump up the air mattresses and turn in. So, Emma's first encounter of catching lightning bugs would wait until the next night.
                     (The pond at night. Great picture by Dad. I never did make it out to the pond, myself.)

The next day Uncle Tom arrived armed with pressure sprayer and guns. The barn needed "cleaned" out before the reunion. My grandparents already keep such a neat and clean barn space that the work was light. I was finding that I spent most my time in the house feeding Jacey or watching her sleep. When the moment was just right, however, I was able to stick her in the stroller and make my way out to be with everyone. I grabbed an ice cold mountain dew from the barn refrigerator which Grandma has always graciously stocked for me when I visit. (Plus, I think the reunion had something to do with it, as well) Dad was using a squeegee to push the water out of the barn as Uncle Tom sprayed the floor. Mom and I watched in amusement as Grandma, who doesn't know how to relax or take a moment's rest, came rushing in with a broom to help out. Here was Dad patiently and calmly pushing the water out as Uncle Tom went by and here came Grandma, hustling in as if the reunion would start in the next 5 minutes pushing water through the bristles of her broom at a fast and aggressive pace. I've never seen a near 80 year old woman work harder. She never stops and out did my mom and I put together.
                                               (Clearing out the barn. Photo curtesy of mom)
                                                             (Ready for the reunion)

My Grandpa is by far the most patient man I have ever known. Towards the end of the pressure washing, Uncle Tom asked if they wanted a door, which happened to be next to an electrical box, sprayed down. "Why not?" was the reply, so spray the door, he did. But, as the water reached the electrical box sparks went flying. Only thing was, Uncle Tom didn't notice it right away. Several of us were shouting for him to stop and when he did, the water was still dripping slowly, drop by drop into the electrical box causing sparks to fly out with each drop. Grandpa turned off the breaker. By the time he returned Uncle Tom had exited the scene. I'm not a huge fan of possible fire hazard situations so I left to find that Uncle Tom had gathered up his son (who had also come to help) and my dad to shoot guns. I thought I might like to try shooting and kind of stood back and watched for a while assuming someone would eventually offer for me to do some shooting. But, I quickly realized a man and his gun are not quick to part. I did speak up and ask to do some shooting. I remembered the gun I shot in bootcamp having less kick and causing less of a painful ringing in my ears. But, then I was probably wearing ear plugs. I can't really say if I hit the target, but the act of shooting guns still appeals to me. Next time I want ear plugs.
                                                        (Pressure spraying the barn)
                                                            (Jacey waits outside)

Grandpa was still working away with the electrical problem. At one point he thought he had it all fixed. He went to turn the breaker on but even still we all took a few steps back. Except for Grandma who, having faith in her man's work, stayed next to the breaker box. And as she was making the statement "He's done all the wiring in this place," Grandpa was flipping the switch and flames shot out of box, startling Grandma half to death and sent her rushing out yelling "turn it off! turn it off!" I write this story as the silent observer having had somewhat of a fear of unexpected flames and silently taking my baby out of the barn after that. Later I learned that three trips to the hardware store finally fixed the problem. It was dark outside before I finally saw lights come on in the barn. Crisis averted much thanks from Grandma's nerves I'm sure as she probably worried what she would do about  the reunion had there been no electricity. Or maybe she didn't worry having complete faith in Grandpa's skills, himself having remained calm and patient through this whole ordeal. One can learn so many wonderful character traits from these two people. Grandpa relaxed that evening with Jacey and was, in the way only a Grandpa can, the first to get Jacey using her little voice. She just cooed and cooed with him while mom and Grandma and I played scrabble.
                            (Grandpa gets Jacey to talk for the first time. Photo curtesy of Mom)

The reunion began on Saturday with out any more major issues. Grandma made her famous sloppy Joe's which makes my mouth water just thinking of them. Uncle Bob, who had arrived earlier to do camping back by the pond has a step daughter named Riley, who upon arrival become instant best friends with Emma though they are 10 years apart in age. Jacey made her rounds with all those needing a baby fix and others who just love babies. (More pictures on facebook)
                                                       (Waiting for sloppy Joe'swith Riley)
                                                      (Emma's new best friend, Riley)

The reunion was smaller this year than other years. Also, younger. Emma had plenty of kids to play with although she mainly just hung out with Riley. But there was an essence in the air that was simply fun and enjoyable. Previous reunions I was too young to be able to appreciate all the family being there. I didn't grow up around them so they were basically strangers to me. This year I felt closer to everyone having kept up on Facebook, plus being old enough to just appreciate family as family.
                                                                     (Lunch line)
                                                           (Uncle Tom on left)

After lunch, the traditional white elephant auction was held to help raise money for the reunion costs. My two uncles (mom's brothers) and two of the funniest people I know, headed up the auction. All gifts are wrapped so you don't know what you are bidding on. Some of the gifts have a little description such as "for a young girl." Uncle Bob would read the description of each package, even if it didn't come with a description. One box said fragile (whether it was or not) so of course "A Christmas Story" was quoted. Others, Uncle Bob described as being "these dimensions and having a bow of this color." My mind is running wild with the laughs we all shared during the auction, but you really had to be there to truly appreciate it. So, I'll just skip to the best part....the last gift.

                                                       (Uncle Bob describing a package)

                                                    ("Three, Four, Five...Do I hear Ten?")

In my mom's side of the family there has been an old Navy sailor's hat that has been passed around from person to person for YEARS. Its the kind of thing that you hope you never get and at the same time you kind of hope, deep down inside, that someone does stick you with the hat. Once you've had "the hat" you know you are truly a part of the family. It all started when Grandpa (I think it was he) and one of his brothers were arguing over how much one owed the other. As a joke, one of them threw the hat in the other's car stating "Here! Here's your payment." From that moment on, "the hat" began to be passed from brother to brother to son to daughter to cousin to uncle to any McKinley family member. Even my sister Kim received it once as a baby gift when she had her first child. "The Hat" has traveled the world on my Uncle Mike's ship, has gotten soiled on a car's radiator, has been shrunk in someone's washer, has been found hung on someone's front door, has been at the bottom of a cookie container and at one point was thought to be lost only to show up a decade later having been behind someone's dresser. The key is to sneak the hat to someone else in the family with out them knowing. One should be very creative with the passing of the hat and having it is not something to take lightly. Often times "the Hat" shows up in the auction. One year Uncle Arlen had it and he made it a nice "frame" which was actually just a wooden toilet seat. He wrapped it up and put it in the auction at a reunion. "The Hat" remains in the toilet seat frame to this day.

My Uncles had no idea what was in the last package of the auction this year, but it had a sentimental type tag on it that read, "Something Grams used to really enjoy, with a frame that Uncle Arlen made" so they saved it for last. Aunt Judy (Uncle Arlen's wife) sat next to me and shook her head not knowing for sure, but half expecting it to be the wooden toilet seat and "the Hat." Many people thought the gift to be a crocheted creation or puzzle from Grams (who has passed on) so the biding was going high. Everyone wanted a piece of something that Grams enjoyed. Heather, a grand daughter of one of the original brothers really thought she was bidding on something crocheted. She was determined and at $80, the last gift was hers. She opened it excitedly, everyone anxious. The look on her face when she saw it was priceless as she did NOT know the story of the hat and felt for a small moment that she just spent $80 on some junk. No one, other than the gift giver, knew it would be the hat and as the hat emerged out of it's wrapping the entire room rose to their feet, flooded around poor Heather, laughing heartedly, telling their stories of when they had the hat. Heather became an instant celebrity. Everyone wanted her picture with the hat. Flashes were going off everywhere and Heather's face was a mix of disappointed, surprise, excitement and confusion. FINALLY, someone came in, quieted those closest to them and told her the whole story. She seemed dazed after that for quite some time. As she stood there holding the hat even several minutes after the opening, people were still coming up to see it, tell their story and get a picture. Heather had no idea the priceless treasure she had purchased, and to this day I think she might still wish she had a framed crochet. But, the special nature of "the Hat" will eventually sink in and she will determine a clever way of discarding of it to the next un-expecting family member.
                                                (Grandpa, Heather, Uncle Arlen - from left)

Next on the agenda for the day was a truck drawn hay ride that was quickly becoming tradition. It was the first reunion I had been to with a hay ride and was excited to do it with Emma. Mom and Dad volunteered to drive the truck and take Jacey in the cab with them. Emma cozied in a blanket with Riley. Uncle Bob, who usually drives, sat, for the first time, with his wife across from me. As the truck pulled out of the drive it wasn't long before people started teasing Uncle Bob in the best McKinley way of how Uncle Lynn was such a better driver. Spirits were high, Cousin Kirk made us all laugh as everything that comes out of his mouth is something hilarious. In the distance people started to notice dark clouds. Dad had instructions from Grandpa as to where drive. His destination was a covered, old, nostalgic bridge and it just happened to be right in the line of some heavy rain. As we entered the first few drizzles conversation turned from making fun of Bob, to begging his forgiveness and making fun of Uncle Lynn instead. "Who made the crack about Arizona?" Uncle Bob asked. Only to be reminded that it was himself having mentioned so often about Indiana's weather, "It's a wet heat." And we really were about to be very wet. And as rain poured down on us everyone scrambled under blankets and sweatshirts. Mom had given me a jacket incase I got cold, but no sooner did I have it over my head I realized Emma didn't have anything. She was on the exact opposite side of the wagon, though, so I passed the jacket to my second cousin to pass to her. He passed it to another second cousin, who was holding his daughter in his lap, and he mistook the gesture as the jacket being passed to his own daughter. I laughed and saw that Emma was getting shelter enough in her blanket with Riley so I wasn't going to say anything. But then Cary realized what had happened and laughed as he passed the jacket on to Emma who took it gratefully. I did feel bad, though that then Cary's kid was still in the rain. Uncle Bob teased me after that about giving away all my clothes to the children and asked if I had ever considered volunteering at Red Cross. ha ha We all felt a little stupid as we passed the Amish covered wagon and older Amish brothers and sisters telling their younger Amish siblings to look out at us laughing.
(Sitting across from Uncle Bob, Aunt Lori and Cousin Wes on the hay ride. Cousin Kirk in the middle)
 (Aunt Doris, their grandkid Logan and Uncle Mike sitting in the back of the truck since the wagon was full)
                                                   (Cousin Riley, Emma and Cousin Coral)

Finally, we reached the bridge. Dad parked it and cautiously emerged from the truck with my mom not sure of what treatment they would receive. All the McKinley's in all their special kind of humor let them have it. Of course, pictures were taken, everyone was teased and memories were made. We weren't the only idiots as we all waved to two drenched boaters pausing under the bridge. As the rain slowed we ventured out again being mocked a second time by another covered Amish wagon. It seemed as if even their horse was laughing at us. But we loved it. As we pulled back into the driveway Dad grabbed Jacey out of the car and in a hurried manner shouted to mom, "Make a run for it, Honey." And since we all had to wait for "ladder boy" (Uncle Arlen) to get out of the wagon we couldn't chase them down anyway. Those who had stayed behind greeted us in the dry barn laughing at our misfortune. My cousin Kevin had even said as we pulled away that he was staying behind because he didn't want to get stuck in unforeseen circumstances like rain. ha ha Fortunately, since we were staying with Grandma and Grandpa we were able to go in and get dry clothes.
                                                   (Uncle Tom and second cousin Shawn)
                                                  ("Drying" off under the bridge)

The night was wrapped up with a lovely display of fireworks put on by Grandpa, Dad and Uncle Bob. And in a more touching moment, hot hair balloons (like in the movie Tangled) were brought out and sent up with a prayer for all those who could not be with us this year. As we watched the balloons fade away high in the sky I heard dad say to mom, "You have a neat family." And we truly do. (Dad posted a neat video of the balloons on facebook you should check out as I was unable to get it posted here)
                                                    (Jacey makes her rounds. Uncle Mike)
                                                                   (Cousin Amy)

                                                                     (Aunt Doris)
                                                                  (Cousin Zeb)

The next day was mom's birthday. Uncle Mike came back out to celebrate. We played cribbage and though all of us girls (Grandma, mom and I) were really out of sorts, Uncle Mike kept us on our toes. The laughs and memories we made over those games are ours to hold and can't really be described.
                                             (Shopping at an antique store with Grandma)

Couple days later it was time to head back out west. On the way home things are always more tense and fast pace as everyone just wants to get back to normal routine. We had to ACTUALLY start early in the morning this time as we wanted to make it to Albuquerque in time to see Nick and Lynsey. We were saying our good byes by 4:30 in the morning. Grandpa lead us in one of his eloquent prayers, mom and Grandma cried, we took a couple more pictures and were sent on our way with the famous McKinley "wave." Mom and I were in higher spirits than Dad who was pretty sad to be leaving his beloved mid-eastern home. We played lots of candy crush and pet rescue on that first day.

                                                        (Emma's bored of traveling)

The next evening we met up with Nick and Lynsey which was really pleasant. Lynsey had a new car which Emma and I rode in to the restaurant. Nick followed with Mom, Dad and Jacey in the truck. I was in the middle of telling Lynsey about my recent car accident when Nick scared me half to death, knocking on my window. I thought for sure it was a homeless mexican wanting my purse. But it was only Nick, telling us that Lynsey had been driving with the emergency brake on. ha ha The restaurant was tasty and I truly enjoyed my time with Nick. It's been too many years since Nick and I bonded and I was determined after seeing him that evening to start staying in touch with him better. We always had such fun as kids. Emma LOVED Lynsey and had a hard time giving her time to just talk with the adults. It started to get stormy as we were leaving. Emma was scared of the thunder (later I learned was just a tactic to get attention) and Dad took his "face your fears" approach and told her the thunder owls would snatch her up unless she said, "Go away, owls!" I took a more scientific approach and told Emma all about thunder and lightning and how it worked. When I was all done telling her my big long explanation she still shuddered in her blanket in fear and I made her feel bad for not trusting me. Later in the hotel she came up to me and gave me a hug and said, "I'm sorry I didn't believe you." ha ha She's a silly girl.

The last stretch home was very enjoyable. We played the Alphabet game and the Going to the Moon game with Emma who surprisingly played them pretty well for a 4 year old. Mom and I were starting to get giddy as we played more and more candy crush and pet rescue. Even Dad caught on to the homeward bound excitement as he made fun of mom's pet rescue game, gave her chubby cheeks while kissing her, and stumbling out of the truck at each stop in his crippled old-man way.

It was pretty strange being dropped off at our new house. Dave hadn't quite settled in and there was still a lot of organization to do. Mom and Dad got Shelby around, who had stayed with Dave, and took off. It was almost as sad a parting as leaving Indiana. We had lived with Mom and Dad for so long it was starting to seem like home. I didn't waste any time, however, starting to get settled in at our new place. I rearranged Dave's kitchen set up, put furniture back into place, unpacked the last box and Dave came home while I was vacuuming the garage entry.
                                                          (Emma, glad to be home)

I like living with David. We are similar in every way. We aren't much for pleasantries. So, the first time we see each other after two weeks time, I'm vacuuming. He gives me a weird look, we don't say anything to each other but I do try and vacuum his shirt by way of saying, "I missed you." I finished up my vacuum job and told him about the changes to the house I had made, asked him to help me with a few things and then he took off with his friend, Jake to rule the town of Tucson. They came back late last night. The girls were sleeping and I was laying in bed. He apologized for the noise they were about to make in the studio. Although I never mind hearing David play and record, I actually couldn't really hear it at all and fell asleep for the first real night in my new house.