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* Trevor was getting ready to leave for the annual men's ski retreat.

* We were banning movies (well, giving them up, so to speak, for Lent . . . kind of started with the obsession with Dan in Real Life).

* I got to talk to my FAVE radio host for the first of what would be several times.

* I was reading She's Come Undone, feeling very disturbed but unable to put it down.

* I was having pizza with a new friend who was quite pregnant.

And now, a year later . . .

* Trevor is getting ready to leave for the annual men's ski retreat.

* We wired our house so that we can watch movies on demand from Netflix (the first one we tried was Dan in Real Life, of course).

* My fave radio host is pursuing other career paths.

* I am reading a book called The Red Tent and contemplating the wonders of midwifery.

* My then-pregnant friend is now a dear friend who has a 10 month old beautiful girl.

* I am having pizza with Trevor, and also with my brother who now lives with us.


So yeah, I thought it was time to say that - we (Trevor and I, because you know we're kind of in this together) are officially 12 weeks along into this journey of preparing to have a baby. I cannot express how thankful we are to God, in awe of His goodness, the miracle of life, the lessons He's already teaching us on this journey. And so, thepopeswife is now thepopesbabe . . . and you can find us at www.thepopesbabe.blogspot.com. I've not posted anything yet, but plan to this evening. Thank you all faithful readers, I hope you'll follow us, pray for us, and also let us know how YOU'RE doing so we can follow you and pray for YOU (Facebook has made this so possible, maybe part of the reason I've not been blogging lately?).
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Happy New Year! I feel Christmas went by in such a blur, I can't bear to take down our Christmas decorations (or maybe that's just my excuse because I simply don't feel like it?). When I think about it, the concept of decorating is quite intriguing- that objects in different shapes and colors throughout the year represent the current happenings, the events, the traditions. I know I've loved every spare minute I've been able to sit on the couch by the lit Christmas tree, and yet I always feel like I could've made time for more reflection and thoughtfulness. BUT, could turns into should which turns into obligation and regret - an unnecessary spiral that can only bring anxiety. And maybe that's why the new year is so symbolic to our culture - just after the whirlwind of the holidays, we resolve to do what we feel we missed out on the last year. I relish the hope that comes with every January, the clean slate feeling, a weight lifted off with a sense of open spaces and open time in the coming months.

We had a truly memorable Christmas celebration this year, and were thankful for another whirlwind week in Bismarck. We got in on a good share of winter weather, which made the time all the more cozy. Thanks to all for making home the wonderful place that it is!

I'm trying to take some time to think about 2008, giving the year due credit before rushing into 2009 . . . there were celebrations, mini-vacations, a mini-mission trip, various visitors, friendships forged, old friends re-connected, a "renter" in our home, movie fanaticism and fasting, The Office fanaticism in TWO different rounds, parks discovered, patio built, heaps of blessings that are too great to count. Lord, I do thank you for this life - to know that whatever any day or month or year brings, to know that YOU are good, all-knowing, and faithful. I have much hope for 2009, because I know it is in Your hands.

And I even managed to wrangle up a couple of resolutions that I thought would be fun to keep this year - small, in-the-moment things that I just forget. The first: use my teapots more often. You see, I have a freezer FULL of beautiful teapots, and I love each and every one of them, but just let them sit and collect dust! (yes, a freezer full, try to figure that one out). If you're concerned, be assured I will clean them before I serve you any tea from them. The second: have my phone on and ANSWER it (almost) all the time. Enough said.

I was thankful to do something on January 1 that I've been meaning to do for some time - bake bread. My, it was fun. Trevor got me a massive cookbook for Christmas (thankfully, I was in a good mood when he gave it to me - I mean, it's kind of like in Father of the Bride when the groom gives the bride a blender, you know?). I do love this cookbook, thanks Trev. And he gave me beautiful earrings too, I just thought I should throw that in there.

I'm also reminiscing that last year for New Year's, we rented no less than 6 movies, and watched them all within 24 hours. While we didn't go to that extreme this year, we did squeeze in a viewing of "Marley & Me" (wonderful), and managed to hole up in our house for a couple of days (besides my traditional New Year's Day shift at Caribou). When we went to Panera for coffee with friends this morning, I felt blinded like a caveman exiting a comfortable hibernation - "People, sun, air! Oh, my eyes, my ears, the stimulation!"

And now we're off to, well, another Christmas party! We just can't get enough of "white elephant" gift exchanges, cookies, and appetizers. Why not extend the celebration as long as possible?

Truly, Happy New Year to all . . .
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I've probably confessed this before . . . but I am one of those crazies who loves winter. I even love that I'm cold right now, because it's from the brisk few minutes of shoveling tonight, and it means I can wear one of Trevor's hooded sweatshirts and sit by the fire and the tree and smile. Which of course, I could do anyway (and I say that with great thanks and realization that I am beyond blessed), but it's just so much more satisfying after some quality time with crystalline fluffy snow. The adventure of winter amidst our modern conveniences astounds me anew every year - my thoughts were affirmed in a recent letter from a friend of "how did the pioneers survive these elements and why would they even choose to stay?" I suppose part of the answer is some of the same of why WE choose to stay: The beauty of seasons. The immobility that winter creates. The optimism that it really can't get much colder than this.

Trevor and I spent this blizzard-ish evening preparing together for work potlucks (again, I love the midwest - my alarm is set to start my crockpot in the pre-dawn hours), shoveling, writing, chatting with my brother.

And indeed, we're well into Advent, but wasn't Thanksgiving just last week? We were thrilled to travel back to NoDak for a week during that holiday, where we were able to take part in my grandma's birthday party, The Turkey Trot, many memorable meals, some mall-walks, game-playing, and old picture perusing.

This month has flown - we had the joy of having Trevor's brother stay with us one week, then the rest of the family came for the weekend. Last weekend held some Christmas parties, which entailed "white elephant" gift exchanges - Trevor was thrilled to receive a bright pink felt hat and action figure toys, I hit the jackpot with chocolate covered macadamia nuts and a question game.

As I write all this, I feel like our lives are very simple . . . and sometimes I think that's a good thing, while other times I wonder if we're too comfortable. I've been inspired lately by some people in our lives to remember to live a risky and adventurous life - we only have one to live! It's easy to get bogged down by the life's dailyness and forget about goals and dreams, the things that are bigger than us and take more than our own will and ways to accomplish. Of course, the beauty in this is that every one's "bigger than us" means something unique to each person, and we're never asked to compare our adventures or goals to anyone else's. There is much to be said for contentment too, of course.

And kind of along the same line, this year I've been thinking about Christmas Wishes - what is your's? I think such thoughts lend themselves to CHRISTmas prayers - the hopes, the dreams, the expectations and realizations - they're all gifts, and all given from The Giver. I pray this Christmas Wishes are bigger than us, more than what we can "do" on our own strength . . .

This week's Advent candle lighting, scripture, and prayer were about Joy - I pray that joy finds its way to anyone reading in a special way this season.
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I seem to have some rules for blogging, which seems to be why I don't blog very often:

Rule #1: In order to sit down and write, everything has to be done. Everything includes but is not limited to . . . dinner served, dishes done, laundry folded, calls made, e-mails caught up on.

Rule #2: I have to be inspired (i.e. in the right mood).

Rule #3: I have to have especially interesting things to write.

Rule #4: I have to be relaxed and feel extreme peace and joy as I write.

Well, I think there are more . . . but in short, all of those rules are hardly ever met at one time, creating the perfect storm for blogging. Life gets busy. Tasks will never be completely finished. There will always be something about which to lack peace. So here's my self-reflective thought for the day: I take myself too seriously and live by WAY too many rules. I'm thankful for a conversation with my dad this evening that reminded me of the brevity of life, and the need to evaluate each day with a healthy perspective. And when I do that for even a minute, I realize that my tasks are trivial, my worries are small, and any pressure I feel is self-inflicted. I guess for some of us (i.e. ME), it's easy to live a fear-filled life - but lately I find myself with this deep craving for . . . more. As I wrote last month, the lyrics of "Dare You to Move" are still ringing deeply in my ears and heart - a friend even loaned a book to me the other day titled "I Dare You" - to LIVE. I was just looking at that same friend's pictures of her time in Ethiopia, and I felt awake and alive and remembered that there is SO MUCH to see, to do, to understand, to taste, to experience. Good reminders. A call to action. I don't know what form the action will take - yet. But I'm praying and watching.

A good start might be to start living by less rules.

Now that I think of it, one of my rules is to blog on a consistent basis - ha!

Another rule is that I need to cram them full and end them creatively.

Well, that rule is gone for this evening. Trevor just looked over my shoulder and said I'm writing "out of my usual voice." And my desire it to be authentic, and so this is what it is. I'm thankful, I'm blessed, and for once I'm not incredibly verbose! I'm warm, I'm hoping Trevor doesn't get too sick, I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving and going home for a full week.

And for my own sake, I have to record a couple priceless quotes from the last week. The first was from a dear retired woman who volunteered at my work's national conference. We were chatting and she ended up saying, in the sweetest voice, "My husband is a very nice man. Sometimes it's hard living with a very nice man." I'm laughing just thinking of it! Another was the other night when I was emphasizing that I've been getting macho movies that "the guys" in this house want to see, and putting aside my own wants (mostly jest-ful banter). Anyways, Trevor, meaning to call me selfless, instead said, "Andrea, you are sooooooooo heartless!" I will use that one for a long time. I love you, Trev - thanks for making me laugh and for being so just YOU that I know you would never say something like that meaningfully. You know what I mean.

And, I also want to say that I am very sad and very much thinking of and praying for my dear friend, K, right now and her family's loss. I'm so sorry, K, and I so admire your attitude of thanksgiving in what I can only imagine is one of the most difficult circumstances.
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If the last time I wrote was an Ode to October, then this entry is an "O. D." of October. We just can't seem to get enough of all this month has to offer, and have packed all the possible festivities into the daily-ness of life. Just tonight Trevor and I took a brisk walk in the fall foliage and then went to Sam's Club to stock up on apple cider - you know, the really good and cloudy kind, 4 gallons worth to be exact. Last weekend we celebrated the season with dear friends over a variety of chili and spirits. Today I took a note to myself to keep an eye on the local pumpkin vendor, remembering that a year ago I caught him on the clearance closing day, getting a steal of a deal on corn husks and pumpkins and mums and squash. Now that I think of it, I find myself lately remembering a lot about "a year ago this time" - memories of painting with a dear friend who no longer lives here, going to NY for my work's national conference, being welcomed into the youth group ministry by a couple who have become kindred spirits and phenomenal friends. And I find myself looking forward to the traditions to soon follow, having my parents here for a visit, going home to Bismarck for Thanksgiving and the essential Turkey Trot.

As I write, my brother and hub are playing video games, and I'm enjoying the background hum of music and laughter that's sending me into a stream of thankfulness for the happenings of the past couple weeks. Something I want to remember always about this month is a concert we went to a couple weeks ago - we went with our youth group, friends, and brothers . . . the featured bands were Jars of Clay, Robert Robinson & The Family Band, Switchfoot, & Third Day. The evening was nothing short of a spiritual experience, and one that was precious to undergo with people we enjoy & love. I was especially inspired by the bands' example of using their fame and giftings for a Higher purpose, for God's glory. On top of that (well, there really is no top to that, but in addition) all the proceeds from this tour went to Habitat for Humanity.

Pretty sure I listened to Third Day's "Revelation" about 100 times the week after the concert. I forgot how powerful it can be to see live music, to feel the beat throughout your body, to sing with a crowd, to see the visuals behind the stage, the lights, the sensory impact. And really, I think just sitting in a place where all you can do is listen can be so powerful. The night brought Joy in the C.S. Lewis sense of the word - a glimpse of Heaven, a longing for so much more, a reminder that there IS more. Now that I think of it, one of Switchfoot's songs aptly states, "we were meant to live for so much more . . . we have more than this world has to offer . . . " So true, and I believe our heart's yearnings speak to that reality.

The rest of that weekend was also precious, as Trev's bro "T" was staying with us - we enjoyed fall's peak by sitting on the patio for a couple hours, driving to a nearby lake for a dinner at Noodles, and our brothers trying out a well-known church in the area. It's a gift to see our brothers be such close friends - and true brothers, if not by blood, then certainly by hearts. It's hard to believe that Trevor has known my brother since "D" was 12! And that I've known Trev's bro "T" since he was 10. Wow.

Also significant (in the most insignificant way) to the past few weeks has been a reminder of why Trevor and I felt we had to give up DVD's for a couple months last winter: The Office. Oh, it seems so harmless and funny, that is until we start talking about the characters like they actually live next door. Until we have almost nothing to talk about except Jim, Pam, Dwight, Michael - all the relationships, pranks, quotes. Probably the rock bottom was when we actually got "caught up" by watching 9 episodes on an absolutely beautiful Sunday. As if that weren't enough, we literally felt a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Yeah, it's good that it's over. I'm a little embarrassed about this paragraph, but I highly value transparency. We did, however, make it to church that day, and I left feeling the possibility that life holds, and the gift that each day is. I felt a distinct longing to not live a "status quo" life, but to live adventurously and on purpose. To chase dreams that are insurmountable, to set goals in light of God's power, to not be afraid of failure.

I'd feel remiss to not allude to the crisis our country is facing in the economical sense - I find myself getting anxious about it all, but by the grace of God set before me in amazing and wise examples of faith-filled reactions, I'm reminded that every trial offers opportunity. Opportunity for us to show and receive grace, help, and perspective. Opportunity to show where our lives' foundation really lies. Opportunity to trust and to persevere. You good examples out there know who you are, I hope, and I thank you for being real and honest and gracious.

With that, I think I'll ode and O.D. on November, too, and looking forward to it all.
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Well, not really an "Ode" - but I am so savoring this month already. I'm sitting in my bedroom, it's dreary outside, and the thermostat says it's 66 degrees in here (maybe that's why my fingers are cold, and how better to warm them than with some fresh decaf. mmmmm). Along with the smell of buttercup squash, the taste of chocolate covered macademia nuts, laundry in the dryer, slippers, and knowing that Trevor is similarly loving his day spent in fields of pheasant - well, as my bro would say, it's not a bad day.

So much not bad in fact, that I feel a little clouded in this state of comfort, and I need to try to articulate what I'm feeling, knowing that my thoughts are too embedded in my mind and heart to communicate fully. I think it started yesterday with a conversation about grace, spurred by the book "The Ragamuffin Gospel." In a word, I feel like this last week has been humbling in a lot of ways - I've realized anew how much I take for granted in everyday life, and at the same time I feel almost guilty for such a plethora of good "stuff" in my life. Anyways, all this was compounded by a good discussion at youth group this morning. The lesson began with a dialogue about the influence of generosity and ended with talks of the potential we all have to influence the world with our own acts of generosity. The morning was basically a firm reminder of how cared for we are in so many ways, and the responsibility that comes with such abundant provision. I will always remember something told to a missions team I was with in Guatemala - advice to not feel guilty about living in abundant provision, but to remember to use all blessings to bless others. It sounds trite, but I also fully realize that just by having our physical needs met doesn't mean we're necessarily more peaceful or content. As another tangent on this topic of influence, I recently listened to part of an interview of Gary Haugen (founder of International Justice Mission), and to hear of his efforts to end human trafikking is such an example of the power of one when looking to God for empowerment. So yeah, I sit here in complete comfort, and yet there is a discomfort in being this comfortable. And I believe that's a good thing, discomfort can lead to action and change.

These past few weeks have brought constant reminders of said blessings - I'm struck by how when I sit down to think of any remarkable events, what sticks out are the weekends. Probably not a remarkable reflection, but I don't want to only live for the weekends! But wonderful weekends they have been, including much anticipated "hunting trip" to Bismarck. For the record, it was teh 9th annual duck opener camping trip (I wasn't invited, but I heard it was great fun!). A special portion of this trip involved going through my "life in boxes" that were lovingly stored in my parents' basement. I felt joy to revisit memories through relics such as art projects, music boxes, dolls, journals, books, letters, certificates, and school papers. I'm always amazed at the meaning we so readily attach to material things, and I affirm the value in holding on to such sentimental objects. Bismarck is such a comforting place to be, and we are awed by all the love we come home to. Thanks to all who truly make Bismarck home!

Recent adventures in Mpls. have included the downtown farmer's market (huge and so character filled!), walks at Lone Lake park and Lake Calhoun, and vehicle misadventures and adventures. Of course, the pheasant hunting today is probably something to "write home about" but I guess I'll have to wait to hear from the guys on that one. Of course, just in case, there's chicken in the oven and apple cider in the fridge. Yes, fall is here. One question I have, is do people in warmer climates still drink hot apple cider and decorate with pumpkins? Our home is filled to overflowing with a variety of pumpkin manifestations from the "fall decorations" rubbermaid bin and such simple things make this season all the more enjoyable. Not a bad day.
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So much to say . . . so much to read . . . so much to listen . . . so much to write . . . that's how I'm feeling right now, but in a contented and hopefully balanced way. Rain is pouring outside, and I am sitting alone, grinning to myself in gratitude for this weather (yes, I'm one of those who is inspired by dreary days). I'm also grinning thinking of all the good times of the past couple weeks. From a dear cousin getting engaged to my brother moving in with us to positive developments in work, refreshing weather, a 24 hour vacation with Trevor. Well, I guess I have a lot to smile about and I'm thankful.

We just got back this afternoon from a short trip to Taylors Falls/St. Croix Falls, where we zipped away for a short vaca. It was just how I pictured it would be, small town charm with a few charming interactions and many memories in even a brief visit. We got there last night in time to wander Taylors Falls small main street, and decided to eat at a family-type restaurant that felt deliciously dated - completely decorated in dark wood, small water glasses, and flimsy paper place mats printed with local advertisements. The establishment was called "Chisago House", not much from the outside looks of it, but the atmosphere threw me back to memories of meals with my grandparents on their ranch, and others at the "Homesteaders Restaurant" in Minot, ND. Our server was polite but not invasive, and we got to just enjoy the chatter surrounding us. Trevor commented that it felt like there was a lotta love in that place, and I'd have to agree. It was also the first time in what feels like years that we had to pay at the front of the restaurant instead of the server taking care of the check. I found that oddly refreshing. Next we walked up the street to the local coffee shop and has a nice chat with the barista/owner while he made our americanos. We finished the night with a couple Office episodes and woke up refreshed and ready for a hike. The St. Croix River valley is stunning with rock formations, flowing water, and thick forest. By the time we got back the sky was misting, which made our last walk down main street cozy as we stopped for donuts and then a malt-shop (where Pirates of the Caribbean was playing on a plasma screen - I think we got our 3 dollars' worth there, pretty sure we sat for a good half hour, Trevor had to see the "desert scene" with Johnny Depp. That movie creeps me out on so many levels). That all said, we look forward to going back, and - gasp - think we might even try camping there sometime. If I'm allowed a hiking story tangent, I have to say that I found out this morning that Trevor almost went to Cold Mountain while he was in North Carolina but didn't. WHY NOT?!?

Backing up for history's sake, last weekend is already one I'm playing back fondly in my memories . . . two good gal friends from college spent it here and I was blessed to get in some good girl time. From dinner at Noodles with friends, to a Twins game, to cramming our house with fabulous friends for conversation, dinner, and games, we had a blast catching up and running around. Thanks, you guys!

I feel compelled to disclose some random thoughts here. First, my brother (who now lives in our basement, which truly thrills me!) is right now in Florida, riding my fave rollercoaster. It is the Mt. Everest one at the Animal Kingdom, and its theme is the Yeti. Yes, that's right, the fictional monster that some call the abominable snowman. It's not that the ride is so fast, or filled with climbs and drops and twists and turns (although there is some of that) - it's just that the experience so stinking entertaining/unexpected. I say with sincerity that I hope my bro is having a blast, but wow what I wouldn't give to see a Yeti on this delightfully dreary day.

My second random expostulation is that I spent a short amount of time this afternoon looking for "youth group games" that we could use when the lesson is done with a few minutes to spare. You see, the kid-os LOVE this game called "Mafia" (I can't bear to even explain the rules and objective because I don't think I understand them). I feel like I cannot play that game one more week (probably because I'm bad at it!) so I'm determined to find a different one. Much to my dismay, in a couple searches, this "Mafia" is not only THERE, but it also has the HIGHEST ratings. Uff da, I give up. I'm now conceding that the game is actually a blast, and that I am simply not "with it". I'm okay with that. It's all about the games - I mean, Jesus! - anyways.

My deep thought for the day - and yes, there's only one today - was inspired by a scene in Pirates of the Caribbean. I was half-watching, half soaking in the surroundings of antique candy canisters, the soda shop bar where we were sitting, the waiters taking pizza orders, Trevor eating his black cherry soda float. The movie came to a scene where the ship is heading towards a great waterfall. Everyone panics and scrambles to save their lives, doing everything in their power to not go over the edge of the waterfall. The situation just made me think of how much we as humans are wired to value life higher than anything - we do anything we can to save the lives of ourselves or others. This is true in crisis and illness, and just in daily living. The thought is still developing, but it's especially interesting to me in light of Heaven and eternity being the ultimate reality, the place I'm excited to be one day . . . and yet there is still tremendous intrinsic value in THIS day, in MY life, in YOUR life. Life truly is precious, and I guess I was just reminded today to treat it as such with reverence and respect.

And one last and much lighter exclamation - if fall is one thing, it is . . . PUMPKINS. I just found a recipe for pumpkin tortilla soup (probably only sounds good to me, I know) and I am contemplating making pumpkin cookies. However, I can't seem to get over the last time I made them, almost four years ago, and they completely flopped. The experience was so disappointing that I don't know if I can risk repeating it. Just kidding. Kind of. But yeah, pumpkins, I am so ready to whip out the "fall decorations" Rubbermaid container. It's got to be here somewhere . . .

p.s. Dad, thanks for the page of quotes you sent - this is my favorite: "Writing is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headights, but you can make the whole trip that way." -E.L. Doctorow
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This is my attempt to squeeze in one last post before September arrives (in less than an hour).  The last two weeks have been a blur, each day seemingly bringing a new feature - from adventure to familiarity to surprise.  And there I think I've found the best way to sum up the latter half of August . . . .
Adventure:  Going to ValleyFair with lots of youth group gals, including my dear friend and fearless leader.  We conquered such feats as Wild Thing, Steel Venom, The Enterprise, Thunder Canyon, and the Extreme Swing. Hmmm, this sounds familiar, it was just shy of a year ago that I was fairing with 3 other crazy and wonderful friends!  The time there was surprisinly fulfilling and reminded me again of that human urge to do seemingly dangerous things within safe boundaries. There is some sense of accomplishment in raising one's hands for the entire duration of Wild Thing (or is that just me?).  We had a blast in the beautiful weather, and were thankful for safety and relatively minimal drama. 
Also under the adventurous category - okay, adventure might be a stretch - we helped host a "Shareholders' Reception" with the youth group, thrown for those who contributed to our trip. I think a good time was had by all, especially because of the homemade goods provided by another fearless leader.  And I'm talking homemade muffins and breads - two of each kind. And I digress!  I think the reception was a blessing to those who attended, and it brought back good memories of our time in Chicago.
Trevor is finding adventure this weekend as he is in North Carolina visiting his best friend.  He was very particular in calling me one morning to let me know that one of his friend's roommates served them fresh, from scratch cinnamon rolls for breakfast . . . and later homemade ice cream.  Let me be clear that I almost certainly will not EVER bake cinnamon rolls from scratch (I am sensing my own insecurity as I seemingly keep writing about other peoples - to be particular, men's - baking confections!). Anyways, as I write, Trevor and said friend are in the mountains, after having hiked in 8 miles. Lord bless them with safety and warmth - times like these I think I would have done better to not read the oodles of Guideposts and Reader's Digest stories about "Lost in the Wilderness" and "Attacked by Bears". I really am thankful Trevor can have this break, I think he needed it. 
An adventure we did NOT partake of this year was the MN State Fair, which brings the count for them down to 1,999,998 people to pass through the gates.  I do lament not getting to see Brandi Carlisle on a free stage, but will not grieve the loss of a chance to eat fried twinkies on sticks and whatever else. 
Okay, another stretch but I'll throw it in there: we adventured to a new area of St. Paul, Como Lake, where we attended a wedding dance.  Perhaps also an adventure because we barely knew anyone there.  It was wonderful to see the happily married couple and meet some of their family.  We did NOT have any adventures on the dance floor, however, and actually did not even step foot onto it. 
On a similar note, a coworker helped me venture to a new area of Minneapolis this week, a neighborhood that used to serve as a popular trolly stop and whose charm and personality are still thriving. We went to an old Marilyn Monroe movie at the Parkway Theater, a place about as old and character filled as I've seen. The movie, Don't Bother Knocking, was actually quite suspenseful and very entertaining - and the whole area is worth a repeat visit, with unique shops, restaurants, bread shops, and a homemade ice cream parlor. 
Onto familiarity: As I write, I'm sitting at my parents' home in North Dakota, and I am content and grateful for a weekend reliving old memories (as I always do when coming back here), making new ones, and standing in awe and thanks for such wonderful friends and family that make this place home.  I started this solo trip on Thursday, meandering my way down I 94, and making LOTS of stops (something I try to not subject Trevor to!). I had a visit at Caribou with my aunt, then swung by my old roommate's school to see her for the first time in a year - and also got to see her dear 14 month old daughter.  It was refreshing to pick up where we left off as if no time had passed.  Thanks, K. =) I also swung through my college town to see another old friend and then take a quick drive through the campus of my alma mater.  The buildings and grounds of Jamestown College bring back a literal TON of memories, enough to make me choke up every time - with thanksgiving for the years I was blessed to spend there, for the relationships and classes and clubs and professors.  I'm also thankful that because of its location, my family and Trevor were able to be a part of my life there, which is a precious gift to me.  
The familiar times this weekend have been endless, from meals and meeting friends for lunch, to massive and marvelous family gatherings . . . well, my heart is truly full. I wish I had energy for details, but I was just thinking to myself that every weekend here is always "the best." And this one definitely was "the best."  

Backing up, a gathering of familiar friends last weekend was attending the most joyful baby shower for a dear friend from college. It' thrilling to think of the adventure she and her husband have ahead of them, they will be a blessing as parents. 
And finally, a couple of quick surprises:  One was finding out earlier this week that my dear cousin who lives in MT would also be home this weekend - it was awesome to catch up with her. 
A second was getting to see my brother's and dad's rental property that my family has been cleaning/renovating intensely for the past three weeks.  I had heard how transformative the improvements were, but the results were even more than I expected. I'm amazed at all they've done - and at how well they've worked together to see the project to completion. As I write, the guys are over there putting some finishing touches on it before the renters move tomorrow morning.  These are the events that reality shows are made of, now that I think of it (as I sit here with my mom watching HG TV!).  The drama, is of course, will it get done? Will the tub surround fit all right?  Will the new light fixture light turn off? In any case, they are all AMAZING, and get more done with the best attitudes of anyone I know. 
A third was that I got a new position at work - very surprising and exciting and I look forward to seeing what the coming weeks bring.  As Dan in Real Life says and my dad thankfully remind me of often, "Expect to be surprised." 
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I'm sitting in our cool and comfortable computer room, thinking I should probably be outside . . . but I'll let Trevor cover that territory. He's heading off to play Ultimate Frisbee at a nearby park (his phone/appendage just reminded him to do so - proving that everything goes on that electronic calendar!). He sweetly asked me, "Are you sure you don't want to come along?" My reply was simply outright laughter.

I'm opting to stay home to write a bit and catch up on my fave podcast. Interestingly, the guest on the episode of Along the Way that I'm listening to right now is Daren Streblow, a Christian comedian who I saw many a year ago (well, maybe not that many, just 5) at the Medora Musical. Listening is bringing back many good memories of being in the burning hills of the Badlands, traipsing through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, descending the escalator of the outdoor amphitheater and soaking in the sounds of "cowboy" music and the smells of popcorn and hotdogs. My eyes are watering just thinking of the smoke from the pitchfork fondue - both from recalling the burning steaks and for the sentimental feelings the pictures in my mind invoke. You see, Trevor and I worked there for the whole summer, right before we got engaged. Looking back, I was consumed with inner conflict that summer, feeling a weight of indecision and some very real (although likely unfounded) fear about the future. Heading into my last year of college, having dated Trevor for many years, I felt that we were going to have to either get super serious (i.e. talk marriage) or move on in separate ways - and to be honest, both possibilities were frightening to me (to be clear, not because I doubted Trevor - I KNEW he would be more than I could ever ask for in a husband, I think the issue in my heart was doubting whether I could be a worthy wife for him).

That Medora summer was wonderful, though, and the turmoil I felt really rubbed rough grains of sand into precious pearls of lessons and experiences. To be in such a beautiful part of creation, out of my element, meeting people from around the country and world, making memories (with Trevor and other dear friends), sorting through thoughts and feelings and prayers. I think I left there peaceful and hopeful, having wrestled through thoughts in my head and heart - I'm now reminded of something I recently learned: that the Greek words for "wrestle" and "embrace" come from the same root. How appropriate that when we wrestle, we are also embraced by God's love and provision.

Wow, I can't believe I'm bearing all of this for the internet world to see, and I'm not sure why it all comes out right now - but I CAN say that looking back is a comforting reminder to me right now of God's faithfulness. That He has and is guiding every step, decision, and path. That He will continue to do so, and that He cares about the minute details and concerns of my heart.

One such concern this week has been the heart surgery my grandfather had this week, which led to his lungs filling with fluid and keeping him the hospital for a couple of days. Thankfully, he is doing well now. I've been thinking about him a lot this week, and all the things that remind me of him. Some of my best childhood memories come from time spent at both sets of my grandparents' farms in NW North Dakota, and Grandpa Bob is definitely a key member of those memories. I can instantly recall the smells, sounds, and pictures in my mind of him - coming from the field into the house for coffee & peanut butter cookie breaks, dressed in striped denim overalls, dunking the cookies in his coffee. The "CB" (I think that's what it was) radio by which he would call grandma from the tractor. The clinking of tools, the sounds of country music, and the gasoline smells of his quan-set garage, where he would welcome us with gingersnaps served out of a coffee canister. "His" living room chair, covered with a towel to catch all the grease from machinery, where he'd settle in after a hard day's work. More recent memories of their "city life" include him reading jokes from internet forwards, squinting at the computer in his office that is surrounded by miniature tractors and farm toys. His grateful attitude for the full life he's lived, all that he's experienced, the provision that God has granted him and my grandma. I miss all my grandparents (maybe this feeds the fascination and fanaticism for the Young @ Heart movie). Anyways, I'm thankful for restored health, and looking forward to seeing him in a couple weeks.

In the same vein (not to be punny),Trevor's grandfather had a similar procedure on Monday - and we are thankful for his restored health as well. I'm actually amazed at both grandfather's resiliency, determination, and optimism in the face of health issues. I am blessed to watch them both react with faith and trust, they set an example to me of how to best handle the ups and downs of life - it's humbling to see the way they live.

I'm also waxing sentimental for college days - my best friend was in town this week and stayed with me one evening and the next morning. Wow, the memories that flood back by just being with her - talking about favorite professors, dorm room talks, & crazy characters. Those years in Jamestown were so full and sometimes feel like a world away. Life is so full of seasons, isn't it? The variety that each one brings is so unique, and some are more comfortable and/or beautiful than others. R & I had a relaxing time spreading out a big blanket by Lone Lake, soaking in creation, catching up, and being comfortable with silence. Speaking of reacting to health challenges with grace, I was most uplifted by her own example - pained with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, back issues, & knee pain, she is filled with gracious acceptance (coupled with honest wrestling and embracing of God through all of these set-backs) and pro-active measures to help heal her body. In essence, this week I've been reminded by beautiful people facing difficult situations that I take so much for granted.

This Friday brought a restful roam when my Bible study group of gals retreated to a farm south of the cities. All I can say is that I felt like I was in a "Country Woman" magazine feature (it's my new goal to get this place in that magazine!). A family from our church has turned their property into a retreat center that is used by all sorts of groups - they restored the farm's barn, which now serves as the main gathering space. Check it out at http://www.pasturebarn.com We spent the evening snacking, preparing dinner & dining outside, and walking to a nearby lake for the sunset. I felt like I was walking in a painting, it was deliciously surreal, and the beauty left me marveling in God's creation designed so intricately for our delight.

This week has left me craving a trip to Brainerd, MN! We were there three times last summer, and I feel this gap at not having a reason to go there this month. Well, I can think of one almost-justifiable reason to go there - ZORBAZ Pizza. Hmmmm, if we left now we could be there almost by supper-time . . . although that would mean pulling Trevor away from Ultimate Frisbee, so I guess maybe we'll be staying put tonight.
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Coldplay is streaming through our speakers, and thoughts are streaming through my mind with questions such as: How did they pick the name Coldplay? Why do weekends go so fast? Why does my smaller and sicklier tomato plant bear faster fruit than the bigger more lively one? Might there ever exist a TV system by which we can choose on demand what Olympic events we'd like to watch LIVE (or is that a function of TiVO?!? Or even the Internet?)?

Speaking of, I've yet to watch the Opening Ceremonies, but I did hear it was stunning with something like 15,000 performers and a budget of over 300 million dollars. As an "Elizabethtown" quote goes, "That's a lot of million." The Olympics are such an insight into corners of the world we might not otherwise explore, and I appreciate the way the broadcasting networks take time to provide contextual cues for not only the events, but for the culture that is hosting them.

It seems like everyone is moving lately, in an array of positive and even adventurous ways. In two weeks, Trevor and I have helped three different people move (well, technically, one of those was just distracting a friend who should have been packing but instead was sitting around chatting with me). Anyways, my ruminations on moving are: 1) It is always laborious to move, no matter how little or much you have. 2) It is easier and more fun to move other people's stuff than to move your own. 3) When said friends are moving to fun places such as L.A. or Madison, that means there is increased reason to travel.

In traveling news, we had the joy of welcoming my cousin and her friend on their way back from Guatemala early last week. The experiences they had there learning Spanish, serving, and touring couldn't have been better. To catch them fresh off the plane and capture them in our house for a bit was exhilarating.

In entertainment news: I know everyone reading this is anxious to know . . . that the movie Young @ Heart comes out on DVD September 16. I wish I could take you to our cheap theater for a viewing, but I guess you'll just have to wait another month *Sigh* I myself am counting the days because of the list of special features and interviews that look amazing. Yes, we went to see the film again on Friday night, and I all but forcibly dragged the guys in the group into the theater (they stood in the hallway until the last minute with devious looks on their face, obviously thinking "We could sneak into Iron Man or the Incredible Hulk - it's not too late!" Well, I don't know that they would admit it, but I think they liked Young @ Heart and I firmly believe that a movie such as this is enhanced by experiencing it together with others (hence I feel justified in forceful persuasion).

Ironically, seeing that movie at the end of the week was a jolting juxtaposition compared to the week's other evenings . . . those I spent at our church, serving snacks at "Kids Games" (similar to Vacation Bible School). All I can say is that I think I needed Kids Games more than the kids did - to see their joy and energy, to be in the kitchen chatting with friends, to hear the scriptures, to experience everyone working together to make the evenings run smoothly - all these things make me marvel again at community in action. Today we celebrated with an all-church potluck, and I could almost feel the "olden days" as my imagination put the scene into a prairie with picnic baskets, horses & buggies, bonnets, and berry-picking. That said, the burgers, brats, and picnic tables suited us just fine and the act of gathering fed our hearts just as much as our stomachs. Oh, and one of the best parts of the potluck that really did feel like one of days gone by . . . a dear friend brought me cucumbers fresh from her garden. There is the slightest and most delectable hint of dill, and I could not be more delighted (doesn't take much!).

And now I'll leave with a quote/thought today that has challenged me. It was relayed on my fave of radio shows, the host was talking about a seminar she once attended where the instructor posed this question: "Finish this sentence as many times as is necessary: 'I wish I would have . . . . ' " That's life, isn't it? It takes intentionality every day to squeeze the most out of the hours and live it to the fullest. This one is going to take some thought, the day to day wish I woulda's include: . . . went to bed earlier last night . . . remembered to call that person . . . hadn't said such and such. The bigger, more life goal ones can be scarier to utter, and in many ways I feel like I'm on the edge of making the wish I woulda's realities - it's exciting, really, trusting that God has good things in mind, and that living a life without regret means taking risks. I don't want to live a "safe" life, I want to live one that trusts and reaches and leaps. Lord help me to do that to Your honor and with Your direction and Your motives. Amen.
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