2011: Year in Review

The last day of December, folks!

As the last morning of December, still dark and glittering with a hard frost, has yet to dawn, I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts.  This year, on the surface, kinda sucked.  I must say it didn’t have nearly the accomplishment or “wow” factor of 2010.  But, as I started to write down the good and bad things from 2011, I discovered something.

The downers:

Jonathon’s job ended August 31.  He has yet to find a new one.  It’s been discouraging. 

I was sick for the first month of 2011 with a rotten flu and it took a long time to recover.  At one point the doctor even thought I might have T.B. Took the shine right off the new year for me.

I hurt myself  when the peak racing season was starting up so I only did a couple of races. My last half-marathon I ran in July, I did poorly, with a burst, bloody blister soaking my shoe at the end of the race. I had to cut back, strengthen my injured leg and be patient.  That was painful, and not just my leg.

I quit my job at the end of 2010 and spent most of 2011 trying to figure out what God had in mind for me to do, why I was at home.  It was a frustrating time in a long holding pattern, like the endless circling of planes trying to land at O’Hare.

My weight kept creeping up.  Eek!

But the positives!

I started writing for real.  Despite the fact that the writing class I signed up for at the community college got cancelled, I started blogging in earnest.  This, writing, is what I was meant to do.  At least, it’s one of the main things.  The funny things is that I knew it all along, since around second grade; I didn’t trust myself. Putting yourself out there and saying you’re going to do something is difficult.  You risk ridicule and failure.  But being a writer is not necessarily an occupation or something I’ll ever do for notoriety.  I do it because I *have* to.

Learning to trust the still, small voice.  For years and years and years, I’ve second-guessed myself.  I’m learning to go with my “gut”, for lack of a better term.  I think this is part of aging and knowing myself better.  I think it’s also I’ve learned to trust the Lord more.  If I mess up, I mess up.  He is faithful.  Very few things in life are pass/fail.  There’s almost always another chance.

We hosted Jonathon’s family for Christmas. Financially, it was a bit of a struggle. Jonathon’s parents helped us quite a bit, and we’re very grateful for that.  We did it because we’d committed to do it and we know God will come through.  It’s time to reconnect with the family and support each other, and get to know the new generation coming up.

I wrote and directed our church’s Christmas play, “Xpectant Xmas”.  What a thrill!  Jonathon produced it.  He finished the new special lighting project, which he’d worked on for more than a year.  He coordinated and rehearsed the band and singers, he gathered and created, or built props and staging.  This project pretty much consumed us October – December of this year.  We had a great cast and crew and would love to do it again!  But not for Easter.

I interviewed for and got one part-time job as the grant compliance person (aka document control) for the Mason County Shelter’s two new buildings they’re putting up in 2012.  I have potential for another part-time job as well.

The Great Roofing Project of 2011 is done as well!  No  more rain in our bedroom.

Ruby transitioned to kindergarten and is doing well both in English and Spanish.  She is well-loved by her teachers and fellow students.  She reads more and more words every day and is a budding artist.  Zac is in his 7th grade here and really enjoying it.  He excels at trombone and is now taking drum lessons from my brother as well. 

Last, but not least, I only gained 2 lbs. over Christmas.  Huzzah!

So you see, there are many, many good things that happened this year.  This is by no means a complete list of the good or the bad.  But I can definitely see that the good outweighs the bad, any day of the year.

What about your year?  I’d love to hear from you.

P.S.  And thank you,  for reading my blog!  I only started 2 months ago, and already you’ve generated over 1400 views.  Merci beaucoup! I look forward to writing more and hearing your comments and thoughts  in 2012.


Treadmill Tips

Repeat after me: The treadmill is my friend.

In light of New Year’s resolutions coming up very soon, this post is for those of you great unwashed, unacquainted with treadmill etiquette.   You can get fit while running or walking on the machine.  It’s a great form of cardio exercise.  It’s really handy for keeping your running or walking routine going during the months of inclement weather, which, here in Shelton is basically November to April.  However, there is a right way and a wrong way to behave on the treadmill. That’s the piece of machinery that looks like a moving sidewalk, but with handrails and a control panel.  They usually face the window and sound like planes taking off.  See the picture above. 

First, don’t look at the other person’s stats next to you.  You don’t need to be informing your nosy self about how fast they’re going, the calories they’re burning based on their weight (an iffy proposition at best), and how many minutes they’ve spent like a gerbil on a wheel. 

Second, don’t check out the other person(s) in the room.  It’s creepy, especially at 5 a.m.  Or at the very least, don’t let them *see* you sizing them up. If you want to meet someone special, go to Safeway.

Thirdly, don’t talk.  To anyone.  If it’s dark outside, the rule is NO TALKING.  Just strut in, sashay to the cubbies, put your stuff away, do whatever non-treadmill business you have to do, and get busy. 

Fourthly, don’t compete with the person next to you.  This is not a race.  This time is for you to get your workout and them to get theirs.  In the immortal words of every teacher giving a test:  eyes on your own paper.  If you can’t keep up with the short girl who’s doing her long run of the week, don’t panic.  You are just a wimp.  Get over yourself. 

Fifthly, if you do need to talk, don’t shout across the room for a long conversation.  It’s annoying to everyone else who is looking for peace and quiet, sweating and quietly swearing under their breath. 

Sixthly, do your best.  You can never expect to get better if you don’t push yourself. This does not mean working out so hard that you throw up on the floor. 

Seventhly, bring water and a towel if you sweat profusely, or intend to.  And remember that the beauty of the treadmill is that you can change the speed and incline whenever you want.  Or not.

Lastly, wipe down the equipment you used.  Some people are germaphobes and get all freaky if they suspect some of your DNA got left behind on the devices.

You too can become a genteel user of the treadmill.  All it takes is a little practice.

Isham Food

Something I've never eaten. Ever.

There are some foods I never eat, save when I’m with the Ishams.  They didn’t exist in the universes of the Chestons or the Stanleys, my ancestral forebears.  I owe the Ishams a great debt of gratitude for introducing me to them. Every other year, we spend Christmas together, the progenitors and the families of the 3 brothers.  Here is a short list of some of my very favorites.

Chex mix.  Never ate it at my house.  Mom barely cooked.  Her idea of a “go-to” potluck meal was 3-bean salad.  Dump 3 cans of beans in a bowl, and stir. We had 2 varieties this year, one with macadamia nuts and cashews, one gluten-free with mixed nuts.  You couldn’t go wrong.

Muddy buddies.  The first time I ate it was when my future mother-in-law made it as travel food for us to drive from Las Vegas back to Santa Cruz.  It was gone before we were ever out of Nevada.  Again, the versatility of Chex cereal is the star.  Who knew so much deliciousness could come from humble breakfast cereal.  Using chocolate chex?  Genius!

Cranberry sauce, made from real cranberries and oranges.  What?!  That is amazing!  I’ve eaten it every day since Christmas. The gelatinous canned sauce is no rival.

Sloppy Joe’s.  Yes, you’ve had them, but not like this, with green peppers and tomato soup and simmered to a thick sauce consistency.  Mm-mm good. 

So you can see, dear readers, I discovered I would never go hungry if I married into the Isham clan.  All the brothers know how to cook (one is a former chef) and we dine well at our holiday table. I cook nothing during our shared festivities except the occasional pie, should the need arise.   Their foods are now my foods and bring me seasonal joy. 

Now, if I can only teach them to clean up.

Christmas Musings

Christmas at the beach!  Sounds like a California dream.  Only we’re at the Oregon coast and it’s rainy, windy and cold.  No sunbathing here.  The last couple days were sunny and still, humid but not rainy.  The fog coming off the sea, colored by the sun, bathed everything in a golden mist.  It made the day surreal.  We went down to the ocean to play in the sand.  A few brave souls even played in the surf.  It was magnificent.

Today dawned breezy and wet.  I started to think of Jesus coming into the world.  What was the weather like?  Was Mary cold?  Did she miss her mother and the other women who would’ve been on hand to assist at this, her first childbirth experience?  Joseph must’ve been terrified. 

Last night, we attended a Christmas Eve service at a local community church here in Rockaway.  It was a 70s era church, shaped like an acute triangle on its side.  The painted wood paneling and cylindrical pendant lights hanging from the ceilings attested to the building’s age as well.  Decked out for christmas, wreaths and garlands and no less than 4 lit Christmas trees bedecked the main stage. 

The service was fairly well-attended for this neck of the woods, probably 50-60 people there, including kids.  It was a candlelight service, so we picked up our little candles with their rings of cardboard to catch the melting wax.  We sat down and waited. 

The regular worship pastor was out of town so a different person stood in on the piano.  He was a man in his 60s, I estimated, and he swung every carol.  Who knew “Silent Night” had such a groove?  If only he hadn’t butchered “Joy to the World”.  My father-in-law almost volunteered Jonathon to do the song.  He couldn’t seem to remember what key two sharps was.  It’s D, by the way. The pastor picked up the pitch and got us rolling.

I didn’t particularly care for the sermon.  The pastor was rather…dry.  I got sleepy.  Ruby fell asleep, the result of too many late nights in teh same room as her hilarious cousins.  Zac squirmed next to me, trying to keep up with the carols listed in the program and the scripture reading. 

Then the pastor said something that hit me. 

“We think when we obey God, everything will be easy.  We’ll have no more problems. But that hasn’t been my experience.”  And he went on to talk about Mary being so young and very pregnant and the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. 

“We have to know that amidst the chaos, God is still in control.  His providence and goodness overrule whatever circumstances we have right now, even the really tough ones.  I know it’s hard to believe, but if you can find that, you will make it”.  I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the idea.

And I was reminded anew of all the things that we’ve been asked to do lately, not seeing any end to Jonathon’s joblessness, etc.  I have had a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit.  It has been a leap of faith.  I need to remember that He takes care of those who obey, that “Obedience is better than sacrifice” (2 Sam. something).  I know He’ll take care of us, just like he did the First Family. His love is neverchanging.


This is a giant bandsaw, I'm told. It overlooks the bay.

I really didn’t want to write this, but it’s the truth.  I will miss Shelton while we’re in Rockaway.  After a little more than 5 years here, it’s starting to feel like home.  I almost hate to say that.  I had such a hard time adjusting to being up here, in all the (more) rain and missing the big city rush and thrum of Portland, but I can’t escape it.  Portland is no longer home. Shelton’s grown on me, like a lovely peridot moss.

I love the big hanging baskets of flowers that dangle from the light poles, put up just before the Forest Festival.  They grow to behemoth proportions until sometime in late October when they’re taken down.  When I’m out running, I can smell the petunias from a block away.  Heaven!  I like all the little coffee niches – some are more like drive-up outhouses, but each has their own flair.  People are really friendly here.  It sometimes still sets me back that I can have full-on conversations with strangers, and they with me.  Doesn’t happen in Portland.  You can talk to strangers for so long, unless they’re cuckoo or high, then they stop and will start actively ignoring you. You should try it. It’s fun!  They have very real boundaries,and they’re there for a reason. Ever been hit up 7 times for spare change  in a one-block radius?!  It’s protection.  I like how I can walk a lot of places in Shelton, and do when the sun is out.  I like that we live in a neighborhood instead of just the ‘hood.  I love our church.  I was looking around at the congregation last night during worship and thinking, “I love these guys!”  Not everyone was there, of course, but the people are just outstanding, kind and caring and interesting.  That includes the pastoral team. 

And, of course, most of my immediate family is here.  My dad and stepmom live less than a half mile away.  My brother lives about a mile away on the other side of downtown.  We all go to the same church and serve there.  They are some of my closest friends and I count myself extremely blessed to have them in my family. They can speak truth to me in ways no one else can.

But right now, I’m spending time with Jonathon’s family.  I love them, too, but I don’t know them as well.  I’ve known his parents the longest (since I was 20) and am enjoying them immensely.  They are kind, generous, funny, smart, ingenius…Truly, all the things my husband and kids are. I am looking forward to getting to know Jonathon’s older brother and his family a little better, too.  We’re going to have fun.

Yet it’s not Christmas at home, in our house.  Shelton is home now, and there’s no place like it.  Our roots are here, my main connections are here, our good friends are here. One of Zac’s friends still can’t stay the whole night at our place for a sleepover.  Long about 10 p.m., someone has to walk him back home.  He gets overpowered by homesickness.  I know how he feels.  Just know that while I’m away, I’ll be thinking of all of you and will glad to see you upon our return.  Have a great Yuletide!

Kindergarten Throwdown

Everything I ever needed to know...

Yesterday, Barb (my mother-in-law) and I helped out in Ruby’s kindergarten class.  They were having a pajama day and could bring in their favorite stuffed animal (one).  Ruby wore her pink pajamas with kitties and Christmas ornaments on them and carried her favorite pink baby blanket.  She also wore boots.  It is December.  Barb and I opted for regular clothes.

The party encompassed 3 kindergarten classes – Korver, Gutierrez and Barnes.  I kept trying to count all the kids as they continued to pile into Mrs. Korver’s room, but lost count at 40 something.  About half the kids wore jammies, mostly Little Kitty and Spider-man. Most of the group is Hispanic, hence the draw of a bilingual school. They looked adorable.  Mrs. Korver led the kids in some Christmas songs and poems.  “I am a snowman, cold and fat”…Then the kids got divided into groups and sent to the different classrooms for the craft portion.

Barb, lucky woman, got to put together paper gingerbread men with googly eyes and bow ties.  There were a lot of little pieces to hers.  She did a significant amount of prep just to get it ready for little hands to construct.  It was a very popular table.

I made candycanes out of pipe cleaners and red and white beads.  Mine was…pretty popular.  We goofed around and I asked if I could open the kids’ presents.  None of them would let me.  Kids got to do play-doh after they finished their ‘cane, if the other tables with much more exciting crafts were still full.  I was supposed to crimp each end of their finished candycane and make them count the beads.  What I discovered is that several of the Hispanic kids didn’t know enough English to count, or had trouble counting in general.  When they proudly told me their total in English or Spanish (only 7 beads?), I would sometimes count it with them to double-check.  I remember Ruby having trouble with the concept that each item gets assigned a number and it’s the essence of counting.  Then they had to put the finished product in their pocket or backpack, else I would label it and put it aside for them to take to their homeroom.

Outside the classroom was painting.  Kids were painting something – still not sure what – and stamping their own wrapping paper.  Ruby loved this.  She’s an artist on the inside.  Picasso says all of us are artists at the beginning, and I believe it. 

Except for a handful. 

A few boys didn’t really want to make candycanes out of beads.  They would rather throw beads at each other or shove the beads into play-doh. One boy was tired and didn’t want to do any of the crafts.  When he dumped the beads all over the table, his teacher sauntered over and reminded him that it was his mess.  Atta girl, Barnesie!  Another girl seemed either really dense or ADD.  I realized she didn’t want to do the craft, either, and let her go.  Hey, doesn’t hurt my feelings.  Candycanes are an acquired taste.

Along came little A.  She seemed nice enough, talkative and all in pink jammies.  Until she decided she didn’t want to use white on her candycane. 

“I don’t like white.  I”m making this for my mama, and I want her to like it,” she announced to me and the table.  She was perfectly calm, not belligerent or angry.

Keep in mind the last time I helped in Ruby’s class I got busted for not directing the kids to paint autumn leaves on their fall trees.  Not the trees!  Not the background!  And please, no blue or purple!

I gritted my teeth.

“But we’re making candycanes”, I wheedled.  “Here’s what they need to look like”.  I held up a couple of examples kids had accidentally left behind.

“I don’t want to do that”, she persisted.  “Candycanes can be red and blue, too. I’ve seen them”.  And she had a point.

I turned my attention to the others at the table and tried not to get frustrated.  Why should *I* care what this girl does?  Sure, I’m concerned that she couldn’t/didn’t want to follow simple directions, but was it really so important?  It’s not like she’s parking in a fire zone.  And art is supposed to be fun, right?

Mrs. Korver came over.  I confess, because I knew she would bust me otherwise, that I told her about A.’s candycane, which she could see for herself.

“Oh A., remember our Christmas colors!” she said, and moved on to the next kid.

A. did not care.  She tried to enlist the other innocents in her anarchy. I quickly corrected them. No one fell for her sneaky ploy.  Suddenly, it wasn’t fun anymore.  It felt more like prison than kindergarten.

And then, we were done.  I was more than ready to clean up and be quiet for a while.  But I kept thinking about A. I met her mom earlier in the day.  Why did it bother me so much?  Did my inner control-freak make an appearance?  Was A. like this all the time?  Did she really pick and choose which directions to follow?   There are times to be creative and inventive, and times when following the rules is what’s required of us.  Consequences follow not doing the mandatory things, like taxes and bathing.  God help us to know the difference.

Christmastime is Here

Now it feels like Christmas.  Zac said that to me after we finished the last performance of “Xpectant Xmas”. The play is over.  It was a lot of fun and a lot of work and wonderful.  My in-laws pitched in when they arrived last Thursday and we couldn’t have done it without their help. George was a seasonal worker (shepherd) and Barb took charge of the kid angels.   It ended up being a whole family affair!  The actors took ownership of their parts, adding their own spin to the well-known characters of the Nativity.  The musicians…well, what can I say?  We have an excellent band with skilled singers.  It blessed us exceedingly to see our vision come to life.  We made some new friends and got to know others better.  We even had some ask if they could be in the next production, if we ever do another one.  Game on!

Now, with the gloomy cold and damp almost-winter days, foggy at times, it feels like something is on the way.  Someone is coming, the Baby.  Expectation builds. I can see why the Romans decided to combine Christmas with other pagan holidays during this time.  We need something to look forward to and celebrate to get us through the dark months, keep the peasants happy. That’s why we have the Christmas tree, and the emphasis on lights.  The old year is dying and the earth starts to get ready to rest until the next season.

I like celebrating Christmas.  We hang onto the hope that Jesus brings.  He makes all things new.  He will come again.  His first coming as a baby reminds us that starting small is okay.  It’s alright to contemplate what has been and plan for what’s next, still appreciating what has been. It’s good to look forward to what’s next.

But the silence is over.  Jesus came.  May He live in our hearts this season and always!

Charlie Brown Christmas song