Lots of Dogs and Even More Love in the Relaxing, Peaceful Lake House at Camp Curtis – Pottersville, NY

This stop on our New York state road trip has been a real treat!

leaving the city and heading upstate!

holding sweet jay in the car ride on sunday

My little sister and her boyfriend Jared just relocated from Florida on up to NY as well.  Crazy, right?  That we both, my sister and I, moved from the warm and sunny states to woods of New York.  She left Florida the same day I left Hawaii in fact!  We’re such sisters, always on the same wavelength.

we’re kinda birds of a feather as it is, ya know!

Luckily for us, the timing just fell in to place for a nice two-night visit along our eat to west route.  So after seeing the McKay and Duggan side of the fam and our eastern-NY pals, we headed toward Albany.

Pottersville, where Valentine Pond is, is about 45 minutes (maybe even an hour) outside/north of Albany.  I haven’t seen my sister in over year, not since I was in Florida last March.  So this reunion was long overdue!

a crappy pic, but you get the idea – me and my seester!!

And what a place for a reunion to occur.

the background of camp curtis, the pretty valentine pond

Camp Curtis is the rustic and luxurious country home of the Curtis family; Jared, Anna’s boyfriend is a Curtis.  His Dad and Uncle both have houses on the property and the backdrop is the clean, serene upstate beauty all around us.  Valentine Pond (which is more like a small lake), the woods, and the clean air make this family camp a wonderful retreat.

The Curtis clan is great!  Warm, wacky, inviting and very hospitable, they welcomed us right in and we’ve spent a few days here eating with them, sharing music (guitars, basses, and banjos galore!)… we’ve been trading stories and hanging out.

all around the dinner table in uncle paul and aunt margaret’s house next door

uncle paul marches to the beat of his own drum! with his wife, aunt margaret on the left. great people, it was lovely to have met them!

camp feat our first night here, grilled pork chops, venison, fresh trout pasta, spinach, brussel sprouts, bread and more… this was just all i could fit on my plate!

Not to mention that amongst all of us “kids” there are enough Apple products to open our own Genius Bar.

another view of the pond

The only thing possibly outnumbering our fancy electronics is the pets!  The Curtis Family are pet-lovers for sure!  Our little JJ has had the best time ever.  He hasn’t even been scared!  He just got right in with the other pooches and he’s been playing, cuddling, running around.  He’s even been walking on the hardwood floors.  (Trust me, I’m just as shocked as you are).

anna holding stewart

josie, cousin evan’s sweet pup

aunt margaret’s pooch, parker! love the sweetie pie – looks like a bear, loves like a lamb

zoey the pretty kitty cat, my sister’s cat

bell is the shy and sweet pretty princess

anna’s dog, puppy, is a sweet old man.

stewart again, he’s just so wacky and cute!

of course, our jayjers!

how to make friends around here!

It’s just one more reason why Duggs and I need to expand our fur family when the time is right.  Jayjers just does better with more doggies around!  So Anna and Jared have their blended fur fam, and then the Uncle and Cousins up here for the weekend had a couple pooches with them too.  It was way too fun being on the pond, feeling the cool clean air, and just seeing oodles of wagging tails and running paws.

Spending a few days here has really allowed me to re-charge my batteries.  I’m still sick, don’t worry.  But mentally – I feel a peace that’s been long overdue.  I think part is just being around my sister.  Going so long being so far away from her just tugs at my heart.  Matthew’s family is amazing and wonderful, and being with them was long overdue too – they make me feel like one of the fam for sure.  But nothing beats being with your own sis, right?

the pond at dusk, so peaceful. i love it here!

I’m so happy to know mine will only be a six hour drive away from here on out!  Woohoo!

The pics in this post are all my iPhone snap shots.  At some point I’ll have to make a real nice photo post of pics from our good camera from the trip.  We’ve had a lot of fun taking some nice shots, and I can’t wait to get them uploaded and have a look.  We have some awesome shots of the boys and Anna all jamming out together, all of the animals going nuts, it’s just been an awesome time – I love when a bunch of redneck music-geeks get together for some hang out time.  For now the quickies will do and they at least give you an idea of what camp life has been like.

 

We’re moving on from here to Buffalo (Fredonia, NY) – FINALLY!  YAY!

We’ll get to our last stop on the road trip and get to see my cousins, aunts, uncles and so on.  We’ll be living with my cousin Nick and his son Austin – so finally getting there and starting to get acquainted with our new home will be awesome.   The rambling phase will come to an end and we can finally feel able to settle down.  Homeless, no more!

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are you okay?

I went on a run (okay, a jog with some walking) with the pooch this afternoon.

When I started, I was going down the mountain my house is on, and I saw this car parked in the grass, off the side of the road.  It was a very weird place for a car, and it kinda stuck out as odd to me.

But I just ran on by.

the view on my run (right in our neck of the woods)

I use a stopwatch when I run. So on my way back up to my house, I knew for a fact it had been 38 minutes.  And that same car was still there.  The driver, a lady, was on the phone.  She was doing that thing you do when you’re having an intense convo and you press your hand/finger over the ear the phone isn’t up to, to better enhance the hearing in the phone-ear.

She was frowning.

It all felt odd.

I ran past her.

I kept going – but, mentally, l took pause: what if something was actually wrong? What if she needed some kind of help?

So turned around and ran down over to her window. And I asked her: “are you okay?

She immediately smiled.  Her frown immediately turned into a smile.  “I’m fine, I’m just on a break from work.  Thank you for asking though, how thoughtful!”

from the top of the hill/mountain - looking down. taken a week or so ago.

Seriously, don’t all go nominating me for the Nobel Peace Prize or anything. But I did have one of those sappy, altruistic moments where I genuinely asked myself what kind  of world would we live in if every time we saw someone frowning, or saw someone who seemed out of place, lost, or in a weird situation and we just took two seconds to ask:

Are you okay? 

I know, I know… some folks don’t want to be bothered.  And it could get annoying.

But for those times something IS wrong, or for those times you really were in distress: how amazing would it be to have someone just ask if everything was alright?

….


hiking and yoga, pillbox in lanikai

Friday, April 29th, 2011 – Lanikai, O’ahu, Hawai’i – PILLBOX HIKE

warrior pose to the pacific ocean. so awesome.

Climbing and Stretching 

Carlita, Sydney and I had a super fun morning about a week ago.  We hiked the Pillbox trail overlooking Lanikai Beach and when we got to the first “pillbox,” Sydney, a new graduate from Gaia Flow Yoga in Dallas, led us in a nice yoga flow (concrete lookout buildings line this ridge and their small, white, stature have earned the trail the nickname “pillbox”).

Carly and I have been on this awesome tourist mission to stay busy while our husbands are deployed by seeing as much of the island as we can: hiking, snorkeling, swimming and exploring.   Now our friend Sydney (whose fiance is deployed with Carly’s husband) has just moved to the aina and she’s eager to explore and sight-see too.   The three of us make a great team with our easy-going personalties happily meshing.

By the way, if you’ve ever been curious to know more about these gal pals of mine that I make mention of so frequently, check out their blogs!

Back to actually talking about the Pillbox Yoga day:  We didn’t really wake up too early for this one.  We did it a little bit after the sun came up, maybe around eight in the morning or so.  The hike itself is pretty light, but still fun!   We packed our yoga mats in our backpacks so we could use our hands for the steeper parts of the hike (or just to be handsfree, because handsfree is the best).

me, getting out of the car*

sydney and carly at the trailhead

it is a little steep at the get-go

Luckily the trail wasn’t very crowded at all.  We saw a couple random people, but we didn’t have to compete for space or anything.   This hike is pretty popular for the people who live nearby- lots of folks run up the trail or walk their dogs here.  So we totally lucked out in regards to it being sparsely populated that day.  The weather was really mild as well, so being out in the morning sun felt nice, not too hot.  The whole tone was just so right.

the lanikai islands in the early morning light

super close up of me, the girls in the background climbing higher and higher

some cute friends we met on the path. if we weren't doing yoga i would have brought my pooch. aww man!

it's so amazing that we live here. like, woah!

i ❤ hawaii. this place is so beautiful.

i love the yoga mats, tie dye, waterbottles, awesome scenery... this is just soooo "us"

Once we got to the “pillbox,” we literally hoisted ourselves up there and set up shop.  I don’t think I’d ever done outdoor yoga before.  It was really fun, but there are some weird little things you don’t think about it until you go through it.  The surface we were on was flat-ish.  It had lots of slopes and divits, and it was hard to find a nice even spot to put out a mat on.  And because of the nature of yoga, if you aren’t on a flat surface – you gotta be careful not to hurt yourself.  Luckily we’re all super-not-clumsy and we were, of course, extremely safety-oriented and cautious.

Being so exposed and by the ocean, it was windy up there; we were using everything we could to hold down out mats.  And even then they tried to fly away from us a couple times.  Don’t worry- we were super fast and suffered no loss of equipment.

I’m joking about the little bumps that came up… but really, outdoor yoga is awesome.  It’s just so pure and natural and simple.  I want to keep doing it, that’s for sure.

yeah girl, get on up there

oh hay! you too, go up there!

my little backpack is on the top of the world

hi

taking it all in. this world God made for us is just the most perfect artwork.*

me and carly. she's probably sassing me*

don't they look like the two islands?

these two islands!

Sydney is a lovely yoga instructor.  The only real class I’ve been going to this year is the one on base with the same instructor all the time – so it was nice to mix it up and do a flow in a slightly different way (because every instructor is different).

I didn’t get any pics of us actually doing our yoga practice.  I get really focused on those breathes and the poses, and stepping out to snap pics would have killed my zone.  But, afterwards, we did have some fun trying to do different poses and stretching.  And we met a random guy (Jimmy) who was running the trail and he took some pics for us.  So rad!

i don't know the name of the pose sydney's doing, but it looks hard and fancy!

my carly has mad skills

sydney teaching jimmy a new way to stretch

headstand! awesome!

sydney is stronger than she looks, huh? impressive. *

carlita is graceful *

ooh look, i can play too. my wheel. it's getting better, huh? *

being bendy *

yeah, i'm not really close on this one at all. but i'll get there. now i have another goal to work toward! *

messing around and doing the world's worst chair pose. i really am just joking around and being dumb*

We did a couple group shots and Jimmy graciously took them for us.  I like the way they came out.  I know I’m not nearly on the yogi level of Carly or Sydney, but I try and that’s all that matters:

i love everything about this *

being dorky and silly *

After we got down the mountain, we went into Kailua Town and ate at Aloha Salads.  Oh man. I love Aloha Salads.   If/when I leave here, it’s one of the top five eateries I’ll miss the most.  It’s a chain that’s only out here, they serve big salads made of local ingredients.  After being so nice to my body by hiking and stretching, it just feels good to eat something light, simple, and healthy – ya know?

oh yum

aloha!

It was such an awesome morning, a really great way to just re-set my intentions of being good to myself, appreciating my surrounding, and just having fun while being active.

Oh.  The pics with the asterisks are ones I stole from Sydney’s facebook album from this day.  That’s all.  ALOHA!

OH FINE.

HERE.

I may have skipped over one teensy detail in this retelling… I slipped on the way down.  For your viewing pleasure:

graceful as always

Now it’s really the end.

one year ago…

I said, “I do!”

A reflection on my wedding:

holding up our wedding certificate, proving we were hitched in glorious paradise. what a beautiful day!

April 17, 2010 was such a beautiful, simple, happy, perfect day.  I’m pretty sure it was the best day of my life.  And I don’t mean that figuratively.  It really was the best.

i liked it so i put a ring on it

We got married on Kailua Beach – right on the sand!  It was a simple ceremony performed by a local pastor (not one I know now) and we had a small group of our friends standing around and watching.  All of the “guests,” lived out here in Hawaii; we didn’t invite anyone from the mainland because we were keeping things simple, and the wedding was planned in a very short period.

rev. kermit

We had a tiny wedding, without a reception, without family and friends from home, without any rigamarole or typical wedding traditions.   And it was perfect!

Why the tiny wedding?

I was in nursing school and I came out to Hawaii on my spring break.  When we got married, I was here for ten days: two days before the wedding and eight after.  It was a quick trip!  But it was all I could squeeze in because of my crazy (horrific) school schedule.

Matthew’s in the USMC: they could change his schedule, deny his leave, send him to the range, or do any number of things that could jeopardize having the wedding on a specific day (the literally own him), so we didn’t want to risk having people arrange travel to Hawaii and then things got all messed up with his schedule.

Furthermore, because of how long distance we were during our whole courtship we wanted and needed the time together without entertaining people. Without picking people up from the airport, or taking them out to dinner – we wanted/needed time just the two of us.   We also planned the wedding in a few months and we had a very tiny budget, so yeah – arranging cross-Pacific travel wasn’t happening.

The Dress

I wore a really pretty yellow dress (hand dyed, organic cotton from Gypsy 05);  Matthew asked me to wear yellow.  We were tossing out nearly every other tradition, so why wear white?  Yellow is his favorite color on me, and when he left for Afghan in ’09, I wore a yellow dress to his send off.  The whole time he was in Afghan, when he thought about me he imagined me in yellow.  So it was perfect, right?  (Isn’t that lil story soooo cute and sweet?  I’m so lucky to have such an awesome romantic story).  Also, the dress went great with his Blues.  Ahh, he looked so handsome in his Blues.  Marines have the best uniforms.

The Photos

We did hire a photographer.  We decided since we asked our families not to come out, that the least we could do would be to have a pro come make sure that all of the special moments were properly captured.

Check out the professional photos: http://www.redbirdphotography.com/wordpress-1/2010/05/kailua-beach-wedding/   (and truthfully, the first half of the sideshow is NOT as good as the second half, so I won’t get mad if you fast forward).

Our photog was great, loved her!  But she gave me a CD of all the pics on a kind of disc that my Mac can’t/won’t read.   So yeah, I don’t have any of the pro pics on my computer/posted online individually.  I’m able to order prints though, so I have plenty of framed prints all over our house.

The Day Itself

We got ready together, so taboo – I know!  I did my own hair and my own make-up, and we drove our rental car to the beach.  Our pals, the Rev, and the photog all met up with us and we did the durn thing.  It had been raining all morning.  Our wedding was at noon, and at about 11:45 the sun came out. All of the clouds cleared away.  By 1:00pm it was raining again.  AMAZING, right?  It was literally raining on our drive there, and I was worrying because we had no contingency plan, other than to just get wet and go with it.

We stood on the sand and Rev Kermit said some blessings, blessed the rings and we exchanged them.  We did both the traditional vows (I wanted them) and we wrote our own (Matthew wanted this), and we smooched as we were proclaimed husband and wife!   I loved our ceremony, it was so sweet.

reading my vows. of course i had this huge piece of paper with my vows.

Afterwards, we walked across the street to Buzz’s and had lunch with the friends who came.  I think I had a fish sandwich?  It was so good though, and I remember just sitting there reeling with happiness, and staring at the band on my finger.  What a happy day!

Our Honeymoon

Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore = the most amazing awesome place to go for a honeymoon.  Well, it’s the only honeymoon I’ve ever been on, but it was so perfect and great I can’t imagine a better place we could have gone.  The food at all of the restaurant was incredible, the pool had waterslides, the spa was wonderful (we got an oceanfront couples massage. umm, amazing!), just everything was perfect!

checkin' in at turtle bay

my first night as mrs. duggan - and we spent it ordering room service and watching movies. here i am all cozy in my jammies, crazy knee socks included!

carly gifted us these mugs; i use my "r" mug every single day

i was so skinny a year ago. so much can happen in a year, like twenty pounds of "so much." sheesh!!

i love my husband more and more every day

It’s been a year

I have NO regrets.  I’m actually beyond thankful for having the wedding we did.   I always thank Matthew for our wedding and that we did it exactly how we did it, it was just our perfect day.  And as time passes, I’m so grateful we don’t have wedding debt, or that no family drama occurred because of our wedding, etc.

I see so many of my friends going into debt, getting ulcers from the stress of planning, getting into fights with loved ones over small wedding-related details.  I cannot imagine making a seating chart or a registry (I could write an entire blog post about how weird I think registries are and how we have everything we need and I feel so weird telling people what to buy me).  The American industrial-wedding complex is just insane.  The money and craziness, how elaborate weddings are – it drives me nutty.  People spend more money on their wedding than they do on their cars!

I wonder what would happen if every dollar spent on weddings was spent to fight world hunger.

Now, don’t get me wrong: saying our vows in front of our families and friends would have been amazing.   I certainly understand why that’s important and I value that.  But I just believe there’s a way to celebrate reasonably and a way that’s too over the top (in my opinion).

I wish there was a way to un-plant the seed that gets into the noggins of little girls and makes them fantasize about their dream wedding from the time they’re talking.  So many girls grow into women thinking that they must have this giant spectacle for a wedding.  But the real important part is finding someone you love and want to spend the rest of your life with.  The marriage, the vows, the love – that’s what really matters.

Anyways… I didn’t really have any intention of going off on a rant about my disdain for ridiculous weddings, but it is what it is.  Oh, to clarify, if you’re a super rich multi-millionaire type and you have a wedding that costs $100,000, that makes sense.  But if you’re living like me and you have a super pricey wedding that sends you into serious debt, it just doesn’t seem worth it to me.

women’s worship night (women of hope)

March 31st 2011 was Hope Chapel Kaneohe Bay’s Women’s Worship Night – a part of the Women of Hope Ministry.

Not only did I attend, but I was honored to participate as well.  It was an amazing night full of joyous worship, an amazingly delivered message by our lovely Pastor Kanani, a performance by the Hula ministry, as well as our own Cardboard Testimonies (that’s where I got to participate). Oh, and an epic snack spread.  Super epic!  Major props and thanks go out to Pastor Tami, who runs Women of Hope with the fiercest love.

So here’s my point of view on the whole event, along with blurry pics taken from my iphone.  Oh, and if you want to scroll past me talking story and rambling and get to meat of the meal, the Sermon, I won’t be mad at you!  The Word and its message is the most important part of this post.

Getting Ready

Okay, so like I said – epic snack spread.  I may be talking it up a bit since Carly and I helped out and we produced some delicious baked goods.  But the rest of the snack line was truly awesome.  Hummus and veggie rolls and veggies and all kinds of chips.  And Subway sammies!  Zoiks!

carlita baked about a million cookies

yummy!

kitty and kano were there for moral support (and hoping for hand-outs, but since chocolate was involved, no such luck!)

I made rice krispy treats, in Carly’s kitchen, and I made a total mess doing so.  But they were a hit, everyone loved our bake goods! Yay!

Back it up – Getting Ready… and not the day of.  Prepping for the Cardboard Testimony!

Let’s talk about the Cardboard Testimony thing for a minute.  Do you know what this is?  If you don’t, just google “cardboard testimony” and watch a couple videos.   It’s so powerful!  Well.  When the powers that be (in this case, Tami and Laura and Lori and Kacie) decided on having a cardboard testimony done during this worship night, they asked me to participate.  I was so honored!

So, I needed to come up with a bad and a good side for my cardboard.  A before and after, almost.  Okay – for the people who didn’t go google yet or just don’t know, a cardboard testimony is a presentation.  Basically, a bunch of people come out one at a time and silently hold up a piece of cardboard and show you one side that has a statement on it, then they flip their piece of cardboard and show you an opposite statement, then this person silently exits front stage and a new person walks up.  The two sides are sort of a before/after… a godless/God kind of thing.  Or just a hard challenge/God-got-me-through-it thing.

So, for example… someone could have a cardboard that says “Addicted to meth” *flipover* “Addicted to HIS Love,”  or their’s could be “Diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer” / “That was in 2004, He heals and sustains!”  You get the idea?  Some powerful videos I’ve seen have all kinds of testimonies that run the gamut with issues we, as people, face.  My favorite one ever shows a couple walk up together, husband and wife.  His card says, “we’ve been having trouble”  and her’s says “trying to have children.”  Then he flips his, “we’re adopting this May.”  (btw- at this point watching, I’m teary-eyed).  She flips her’s, “and we’re pregnant now!”  When I saw that one, I just cried.  (I totally paraphrased btw).

Just watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvDDc5RB6FQ  (copy and paste the link, i’m not fancy enough to be able to insert vids)

So I was asked to make a cardboard.  And I wasn’t sure what direction to go in.  Do I talk about cancer? I could have… and I think maybe that’s why I got invited to this shindig.  But really, when I had cancer (I fought Stage III Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2004 – surgeries, chemo, radiation, the works, and here I am today, thriving and happy)… back when I had that battle with cancer, I was so close to God.  I was so happy and grateful and not feeling spiteful or mad.  I was seeing and experiencing blessings EVERY day.  (That’s a whole ‘nother blog in and of its own, really).

So I didn’t truthfully know what to do.  I just prayed on it and figured it would come to me.

Then one day I was hanging out at the beach with Carly, and I ‘splained to her what the whole cardboard testimony thing was and that I was going to be in it.   Next thing you know, we just kinda came up with a really cool idea that we could do as a team.  It just came to fruition organically (duh, God!).

I texted Laura and asked if Carly could do it too and we could be a team, pls.  (I love that I’m so the little sister Laura never wanted.  At some point I need to write a post about how great Laura is and how much I love and admire her.  Seriously.  She’s become a mentor to me, and she just always takes care of me, looks out, and loves on me.  Its such good stuff that I am privy too and I’m grateful to be so blessed).

Woah, I ramble a lot.  Okay, back on track…

Obviously, Laura said yes, and I’m so stoked she did.  You see, for me public speaking or being up in front of everyone is usually something that doesn’t scare me.  For my dear friend Carmela (Carly) – not so.  Carly is wicked shy, and just the fact that she was willing to put herself out there like that, to be bold, to step up – I am just proud of her and I feel lucky that I got to be a part of her pursuing something that is a challenge for her! (and not only was she bold enough to participate in the event at church, but she’s allowing me to blog about her involvement, so rad!!)

Saturday night Carly and I had a cardboard-making fiesta at my house and we watched movies (documentaries, we are nerds), and ate pizza (Kashi, we are healthy nerds), and made our signs.  It took us such a long time to get the wording just right.  We really wanted to keep it simple and keep the statement clear, but strong.  Editing is tough work; we really put a lot of thought into the whole endeavor.  We were super ready to go for Sunday’s practice, and I think its cute how into it we got.

The gist of our signs is based on the fact that if Carly and I met five years ago, we would NOT have liked each other, tolerated each other or gotten along at all… let alone become BFFs.  She was a teensy bit on the judgmental and pious side.   I was a tad on the reckless, wild, devil-may-care side.    And well, now we’s like peas and carrots!

Let’s actually talk about the worship night!  Seriously, I bet you’re thinking, can I get to the goods already? Y’all know I ramble… whew!

The Night Itself – March 31st!

me and carly in the car - we had quite the ride there! (we totes forgot our signs at home and had to go all the way back. oopsies!)

laura coleman gifted me this parallel Bible with the rad purple case... here i am walking into the event all excited with my Bible!

we can't let anyone see our signs until go-time!

Everyone gathered up at the church and we did some hugging and snacking and fellowshipping before things got officially started.

we had an awesome turnout. i caught two women going in for a hug. how awesome, so much love and fellowship! (i know this pic is so blurry... but it was a cute action shot).

carly hitting up the snack line. i love how they do the water with lemon and mint, i gotta do that at home. its so refreshing!

I should have taken more pics of the before-hand.  Of everyone saying hi, and what-not.  But since we had to do a final run-through of the cardboard testimonies, I was a little hectic and I had the excited nerves going on.

Praise and Worship!!

Pastor Tami welcomed us all, and started the evening in prayer.  Tami is just such an amazing lady, and I’m so grateful to know her and have her in my life.  The way she shepards her flock, the way she truly loves all of the Women of Hope – its just a really neat thing to be a part of.  We are so blessed to be under her guidance.

Tami calls us her Warrior Princesses.  I love it!  She always tells us we’re the warriors in sexy armor (but not too sexy).  It’s an awesome image really – we’re tough and ready to fight for what we believe in, but we have that femininity that we love to embrace too.

pastor tami kicking off a great night

First up was the Hula Ministry, Makana O Ho’omana (Gift of Worship).  They did an interpretive Hula dance to “I Am Blessed” by Racgel Lampa. It’s so cool living out here in Hawaii and being privy to a culture that’s new-to-me.  It’s so rad to me that my church has a hula ministry, right? They did a lovely job and we were all blessed by their special way of praising Him.

hula dancing for God, what a beautiful thing

Up next was the Cardboard Testimony.  Because I was in it myself, I didn’t get any pics during the presentation.  And well, our of respect for some of the participants, videos and photos weren’t taken for privacy reasons.  Some very gritty, real, tough and personal things were aired out on cardboard signs.  Eating disorders, rape, drug use.  Heavy stuff.  Sad stuff.  But the awesome thing is that EVERY card had a flip side, every story has a happy ending (my most favorite kind of stories).

The testimony was powerful.  As I stood on the stage and looked out at the Women of Hope, I saw so many ladies wiping tears away.  It was moving, for reals.  May I add at this point that it was a packed house! Standing up there on the stage, it was pretty durn rad to realize what great attendance the event had.

Here are the signs Carly and I made:

our "before" side.

and our flip

bam! surprise drop-down panel with the awesomest part.

Once we got back to our seats it was time to jam out with the women’s worship band.   Worship Pastor Kacie (guitar, vocals) and Worship Pastor Lisa (guitar, vocals) led us in so many awesome songs, along with musicians Tammera (guitar and vocals) and LeeAnn (drum).

ladies leading ladies in rocking out

We praised Him with the songs, “God is Great,” “God of Ages,” “Here I Am to Worship,” “All Consuming Fire,” “How He Loves,” “Empty Me,” and “All I Need is You.”   I’m sure all of these songs have writers and I’m not annotating them properly at all (copyrights and stuffs?).  But that’s all I know – the names of the songs.   The energy while we were praising was just awesome.  I’ve always LOVED female vocals in music, and I just get so moved by a pretty female voice; I’m a girlie girl.  Well.  To hear all these women singing together, it was just a super lovely sound.  At one point I was just looking around and marveling in all the prettiness going on.  This womanly fellowship, all of these ladies from teenagers to great-grandmas, all singing in unison.  It was just a rad thing going on.

When it came to jams, we got not one, but TWO special treats last Thursday.

1. Lisa led us in the song she wrote at the retreat in February, “Arise N Shine.”    While at the women’s retreat, named Arise and Shine, Lisa was inspired and she composed this awesome song.   I tried to sing it to my mom on the phone the other night and I have a feeling she threw the phone across the room.  I mean, we all know I can’t hold a tune , but trying to imitate Lisa’s range… dang!  I really hope some version of Lisa performing this tune gets recorded, put on youtube or something.

2. Worship Pastor Trevor came in and played a special Hillsong jam for us, “Aftermath.”  (I’m actually listening to the Hillsong version right this very minute while I type).   I know what you’re thinking… Trevor sounds like a boys’ name, isn’t this was the womens’ night?!?! Well, Trevor is in fact male, and it was women’s night – but this was a special situation.

Kanani had this awesome experience while driving her kids around the other day: this song, “Aftermath,” came on and all these things just clicked for her, it just hit her like a ton of bricks and the song affected her super deeply.  So she asked Trevor (last minute!) if he could play it so we could sing it.    If you haven’t heard it, check it out.  Its a pretty song, and its a really powerful song.  I got goosebumpes and teary-eyed while we were all singing.  Not to mention Trevor has an awesome voice and sounds just like the Hillsong version.  For serious, y’all!

So the whole time we’re singing I have to admit, I was kinda waiting on a certain song.  At retreat Kacie led us in her version of “I Will Celebrate,” a couple different times.  And her arrangement, her personal version, is just epic!   I have spent over a month now searching for a version anywhere near her’s – and I’ve come up with nothing.   A lot of “I Will Celebrate” versions are really mellow and hokey.  Kacie wrote a bangin, hardcore, rock out arrangement that is just way too fun.  WE HAVE TO DO IT SOON!  (I’m going to beg that they let you do it at 10 o’clock Sunday service, I have to hear it soon or I’ll just have a temper tantrum).

(Kacie, if you’re reading this… I love you!  You are so talented, sorry to stomp my feet.  I loved all the songs you did lead us in that night and you did an amazing job.  You’re an awesome Worship Leader!  Your arrangement skills are just so talented, there’s not a single thing online/in existence elsewhere comparable to what you do).

The Sermon (for the folks scrolling down: salad and apps are over, this is the main entree)

We were blessed last Thursday to have the beautiful, witty, and genuine Pastor Kanani preach at this service.  I want to give credit where credit is due: part of the reason I so love the women’s ministry is because of the privilege it is to get to hear Kanani preach.  She’s hilarious, and makes me legit LOL.  She’s genuine, and just such a real person.  Not some stuffy, untouchable, stereotypical Pastor’s wife – Kanani is down to earth, fun, and just so full of His light.

So anyways… the teaching part.  We’re in Isaiah 52, and the rest of this blog is quoting and paraphrasing Kanani, based off the notes I took that night:

Isaiah 52:1

This teaching started out with the message that God is telling us to wake up!  That we are not fully awake, meaning we aren’t really living up to our full potential.  And God wants us to wake up, and go for it.

We aren’t created to exist.  We’re created to thrive.

I totally believe in a get-the-most-out-of-life mentality, 100 percent.  And I do believe that our God wants us to be happy, enjoy life, be all that we can be and really thrive.   I really enjoyed the phrasing though of that nugget o’ wisdom- that “we aren’t created to exist, we’re created to thrive.”

So in Isaiah 52 we’re told to strap on the armor and suit up.  My NASB says “Awake, awake, Clothe yourself in strength…” (Isaiah 52:1).   And “The Message” version (which conveniently happens to be right next to the NASB version in my rad new parallel Bible (thank you again TuTu Laura; for those of you who have never checked out a parallel Bible, its so super duper awesome rad.  I lurve having my side-by-side translations. I love me some biblegateway.com for comparative reading, but I love having a hard copy with the two versions literally right next to each other. And I love that my Bible was gifted to me by my awesome friend, mentor, teacher, guide, sister-in-Christ, doggie sitter, gal pal TuTu Laura.

(Now…  where were we?  Clothing ourselves in strength, Isaiah 52:1, yeah).   “The Message” says: “Wake up, wake up! Pull on your boots…”

Kanani talked to us about wearing the proper armor for the task at hand.  A soldier puts on his boots when he’s off to war.  These March Madness fellas gotta wear their best pair of sneaks!  “The Message” is giving us that metaphor of putting on the proper attire, your boots, to do the tough job.  We need to wear the armor of God – and that will give us strength.  God wants us to be strong.

At this point Kanani taught us that we are being strong when we’re being real.  I have to hold it together for my family is one of those commonly heard misnomers.  No.  You don’t have to hold it together for your family.  Let them see you cry.  Be real, show your loved ones what is really going on with you.  “You’re the strongest when you’re real” – Pastor Kanani.

Isaiah goes on to tell us to wear our “Sunday Best,” or our “beautiful garments.”

Isaiah 52:2 – Remove the chains of slavery.

Honesty time: During the first part of this Sermon, I was a little not locked in.  I was sorta thinking that this sounded like a re-heating of what we had been served at the retreat.  I respected the power of this message, its relevance and meaning, the fact that it’s always good to re-study the Word, and most importantly that women who didn’t make it to the retreat could now hear it.  But despite rationally knowing all of this, my heart just wasn’t into it.  I was selfishly kinda bummed we weren’t doing something “new.”

Oh me of little faith!

Perhaps the first part of the Sermon had some carry-over themes from Sermons we heard at retreat… but once we got to Isaiah 52:2, things got heavy and powerful!  Its zing! time now.

Remove the chains of Slavery.

Kanani: It’s easy to hear that command, or read it and just say to ourselves I’m not a slave, this doesn’t apply to me, moving on. But that’s not true, you are a slave.   The USA tried to abolish slavery, we still have slavery in America today, sex trafficking is just one example.   But we are all slaves in another sense: we’re in bondage to sin.  Anger.  Bitterness.  When someone wrongs you and you can’t forgive them – we become slaves to that grudge.

During this part of her sermon, Kanani has the tech crew throw some images of human slavery up on the screen.  Photos from slave auctions in the 1840’s, and an image of a sculpture in Tanzania, depicting slaves in chains.  POWERFUL IMAGES.

I actually found the images that were used:

(i could not find photo credits for this, but i found it via google image search)

a sculpture in tanzania - courtesy of david wilmot: http://www.flickr.com/photos/david_wilmot/2319811838/

The point in using these images was to give us a visual on the HEAVY chains of slavery.   We’re talking giant, heavy, burdensome, painful, debilitating chains.  Humiliating chains.  I was affected; I got how powerful the literal image of slavery is.   Seeing these photos during the Sermon was making my stomach churn.  I just hate the thought of people being treated like this.

Kanani says, “those chains are HEAVY!  How can you live life in these chains?  How much fun can you have with those heavy chains?  Take them off!  Live life!  Have fun!”

So I’m hearing her words and looking at these pics and really feeling kinda sick to my stomach over the thought of having those chains around my neck: those rusty, nasty, rough chains just hurting me and restraining me.  And then I go back to the statement Kanani had just said.

You are a slave.  Bondage to sin, anger, bitterness, to holding a grudge from when someone has wronged you.

We all have spiritual gates that guard our hearts and minds.  Jesus forgave us, and He wants us to forgive each other.  The whole part about clothing ourselves in beautiful clothes – Kanani tells us to interpret it as forgiving others.  Is there a more beautiful act?  When we forgive other, as He forgives us – we are literally casting off the ugly, painful chains and donning beautiful garments of love and lightness.  (Woah, this image is just so powerful to me.  I love it).

When we forgive others – they don’t enter our spiritual gates anymore either.

So not only is forgiveness liberating us, its protecting us too.  <– AMAZINGLY POWERFUL AWESOME STUFF

In my own life I really have a hard time staying mad or holding a grudge over most things.  Holding a grudge is so hard to do!  It’s draining.  I feel like to stay mad with someone takes up so much energy, and to keep focusing on that anger, bitterness, hatred, or what have you – you’re giving so much power to the act, thoughts, or person who wronged you.  You’re letting them come right on in through your spiritual gates, because you’re focusing on them all the time!

So Kanani is telling us it’s time to forgive those who have wronged us, and set ourselves free.

She says, “if you’ve been abused – you should be allowed to be bitter and angry, it’s a natural reaction.  But ultimately, forgiveness will set you free.”

[sidenote: Have you ever heard Terry Caffey’s story?  IT IS AMAZING.  When you finish reading my blog, go listen to his story.  He has a website:(http://terrycaffey.com).  I heard his story because recently he was on an episode of “The State We’re In” (a radio show; you can actually download the podcast for free on itunes – he was the Feb 18, 2011 episode “Let It Go”).   What happened to Terry and how he reacted – it’s a story about forgiveness, and it’s just incredible.   If Terry can forgive after what he lived through- I feel like I have no excuse.]

So Kanani urges us to forgive the people we’re mad at, the ones who have wronged us, hurt us, abused us.  The people we’re carrying around a grudge for and in doing so we’re actually letting them in past our spiritual gates.  “Forgive those who have devastated you.  Say it out loud.”

WE HAVE TO GET OUT THE BROKENNESS.

We cannot be spiritual hoarders.  And we are not museums (an amazing Kanani original metaphor).    Don’t keep carrying around that junk. Speak forgiveness out loud.  Burn the pictures, write the memories out on paper and burn them too.  Literally, get rid of that pain and hurt, let it go. TAKE OFF THE CHAINS.  Stop carrying the anger.  Forgive.  Do what God wants you to do: don’t exist in slavery, but thrive in beautiful freedom.

We are all worthy of worshipping.  We all deserve freedom and to live out our fullest lives possible.

Our Pastor then tells us the story of Harriet Tubman.  Of course we’ve all heard of her and we know of her remarkable bravery.   But what Kanani wants is for us to all step up and become Harriet Tubmans.  Now that we know the way to cast off the chains – to let ourselves be forgiven by Him, and to forgive others as He forgives us – its time to go get other slaves and help them find freedom.   Find the lost and bring them to the light; be a Missionary.   And in doing so, do not be scared.  God goes before and behind us.

The lyrics of “Aftermath” (by Hillsong) are just ringing through me and I now understand even better why Kanani insisted that we had to hear that song last Thursday.  It’s just so perfect.  I’m going to play it again now myself (ya know it takes me a few days to write up a post this long – so its not like I have the song on repeat as you could interpret, although right now I’m tempted to listen to it a few times, its just really hitting me):

And in that moment, of glorious surrender / Was the moment You broke the chains in me / Lifted out of the ashes / I am found in the Aftermath / And in that moment You opened up the Heavens / to the broken, the beggar and the thief / Lifted out of the wreckage / I found hope in the Aftermath

AMEN!

And to think I thought we were going to get a re-hashed message that was leftover from retreat.  Wow.  I’m so embarassed.  I should know by now that my Pastor knows how to bring her A-game when she’s teaching.  I’m so sorry.  I have a feeling she will forgive me though.

The whole event was a serious success!  Sunday at Church, women who had been there on Thursday were coming up and saying how awesome the cardboard testimony was, how powerful.  It was cool to get that feedback and to know that the testimonies had spoken to people.  I just feel so blessed to be a part of the Women of Hope, and I’m honored that I was able to help contribute to a great worship night with my sister warrior princesses!

Thursday night, after the event,  I went home and prayed for a long time.  During my prayer I really did go through and forgive people who have wronged or hurt me. Even if I’ve already forgiven them in my heart, I went through and said it out loud.  I forgave a guy who stole from me, some ex-boyfriends who broke my heart, some mean girls who stabbed me in the back (sorority drama in college, oy)… ya know, the list can go on.  I even ended up talking to a couple people and just clearing the air that I had forgiven them, there was no hard feelings.  (It was sort of like a reverse AA).

I know that a lot of people reading this will be the ladies who were there, and they’ll read this as a sort of way to re-cap the night – and that is so fun! I hope y’all like my write-up.

To everyone else who may read this – I hope and pray that you’ll take this opportunity to toss off the chains and end your own slavery.  If you need a Harriet Tubman, please just let me know, I want to bring everyone out of bondage and into true freedom.

We all deserve to be happy, have fun, and live out our lives.  It’s what God wants for us.   Let go of the negative energy, and forgive.   I speak from experience: the lightness feels amazing.

Everything God is good, everything good is God.

daytona beach (and i don’t mean spring break)

After Sasha’s wedding I flew back to Florida the evening of March 6th and visited with my Mom’s side of the fam (including my little sister) until March 10th.   My Mom, my Sister Anna, my Aunt Sheila and Uncle Tim, their kids (my cousins) Justin and Nicole, and my Unlce’s dad, “Grandpa Lyle” (aka: Pop Pop) – all live in Volusia County, near trashy classy Daytona Beach, Florida.   I got there just in time for Bike Week, and the beginnings of Spring Break. Fab.

Sunday Night

My sister picked me up for the Orlando airport Sunday night and she brought her doggie with her!  Puppy, my sister’s dog, is so sweet.  I was starting to really miss my pooch – so I was glad to have a little furry friend to be in the car with me.

puppy singing, "come on and jump in my car, i wanna take you home."

We had a nice amount of time in the car to chit chat and catch up.  I hadn’t seen her since she came to Hawaii to visit me last September.  My sis and I are really close, so being with her is just so nice.  We also stopped at POLLO TROPICAL.  I got a pork tropichop and covered it in guava BBQ sauce and it was amazing.  It was the first of much food-related happiness I’d enjoy during my Daytona time.

We got home and decided we wanted to watch a movie.   My sister thought it would be a great idea to try and disconnect then reconnect any and every DVD-playing device in the house to every TV and hope that one combination would eventually work.  To help motivate my sister to work more efficiently, I thought it would be nice to play “Stereo Love.”  On repeat.  And I couldn’t stop dancing.  (Have you heard that song?  Have I already mentioned in an earlier entry how contagious and great that song is?  The accordion, and the trance and the awesomeness. Ahhh.)

Anyways, so I just danced a bunch while she made a mess of wires and DVD players and what-not and after an hour or so we realized we were SOL.  Then… her roomie Isaac came home from work and saved the day.  Yay!   No doubt used to coming home and finding such situations, Isaac quietly and quickly fixed the technology in my sister’s room and movie time was on.

We watching “Bringing Down The House.”  And even though its pretty funny, I found it to be too much.  Like too insulting with the yuck yuck jokes about different stereotypes.   It was just too over the top for me.  I fell asleep during it anyways.

Monday

So we slept in a bit, and then we went to a little place for brekky, Lake View Diner and that place is heaven on earth!  Best.  Food.  Ever.  They have scrapple on the menu!  SCRAPPLE!   Who does that in Florida?!?!?

i ate all that. biscuits and gravy, eggs and fried potatoes, and SCRAPPLE. the best breakfast meat of all time.

Chilling out around my sister’s casa is nice.  Her roomies are friendly and crack me up.  Cesar made me some coffee, which was MUCH appreciated.  And Isaac pretty much does everything around that place.  He’s so great.

zoey the cat totally communicates with the ducks and squirrels out back.

the backyard friends. (is that like a "backyardigan?" what is a "backyardigan?")

so cute she likes her outside pals.

So after that breakfast of epic proportions, I totally had to do some lounging and relaxing.  Whew.

Mid-afternoon we went over to Aunt Sheila and Uncle’s Tim’s house.  They live like 15-ish minutes away from sister, kinda in New Smyrna.   Their kids, my two cousins Justin and Nicole, are super close with my sister and me.  Living so far away from them in Hawaii has been a total bummer and I was super stoked to see them!!

Justin, who is 14 now, is almost as tall as my sister. Which isn't saying much.

my cousin nicky cole and me. she made me the tie dye shirt i'm wearing, LOVE!

i look way skinnier in that blurry pic i just posted. time to lay off the scrapple.

We ate a bunch of Italian sausage, and some hot dogs.  And we talked a lot.  I think that’s what all Italian fams do, eat and chat.  There was some booze imbibed by some; I did not, however, partake.  I’m off the sauce again, thankfully.    It was nice to just hang out and catch up and talk story and laugh.

Notice I just said talk story.  I’m so Hawaiian now!!!!!

here are nicole's silly bands. she wanted to show me them. they're pretty sweet! i wish i had that many. instead i have like 7. dommie (one of my bffs) bought me a military-themed pack and then i have a couple others i've picked up here and there.

everybody get up, its time to slam now. we got the real jam goin' down.

justin's room has been re-done, and hanging up is all of his sweet manchester united gear. my friend dickie who lives in london sent my cousin a care pack of merch a while ago, and now its all on display in the new room. yay!

Anyways, it was a night night spent with the fam and I loved just being able to hang out and catch up and enjoy their company.

Tuesday: The Secret, Publix, and a family BBQ (these are a few of my favorite things)

I spent Monday night at my sister’s house again.  Wednesday morning we woke up, made some coffee (have you deduced that I’m addicted to coffee yet?) and decided to watch the movie version of “The Secret.”  If you’ve never read it, heard the audio tape, or seen the movie – you just have to (“the Secret,” by Rhonda Byrne – it was made really famous by Oprah).  Its one of my top five life-changers, hands down.  Its probably number two, second only to The Bible.  Seriously, look into this:  THE SECRET.

The power of positive thinking is incredible, and it’s a great tool that spells out the easy steps one can take to turning any frown upside down. I feel like whenever you’re having a difficult time in life, or getting stuck in a negative rut, there’s no shame in reaching into your toolbox and using whatever you can to ratchet up your quality of life, tweak things a little.  My sister was unfamiliar with “The Secret,” and I just really wanted her to see it.  So we watched a few minutes of the movie version.  At least she knows about it and has access to it now, so she could always check it out when she has more time or feels personally motivated to learn the skills of positive thinking.

After my soapbox on thinking happy thoughts was done, we decided to grab some grub.  Time to go to Mecca: PUBLIX!!

i'm all dolled up for publix. my cousin justin made this tie dye shirt for me, awesome!

the most beautiful grocery store in the world

I love Publix.  Their motto is, “where shopping is a pleasure,” and it surely is.  The Publix bakery is divine, the deli has the world’s tastiest, bestest subs.   All of their stores are so clean and nice and bright and just… I just miss Publix so much.

We got subs for lunch and I was happy as a clam!

sammich time!

So we got the subs, went back to my sister’s crib and ate them there.

my sister's neighbors

Anna’s boyfriend Steven got off work early and met up with us.  At some point around like three or four o’clock, the three of us headed over to my Aunt’s house for a family BBQ.    My Mom was coming to my Aunt’s house too, and it was my first time getting to see my Mama since the 4th of July!  I was really looking forward to seeing her, for sure.

My Aunt marinated chicken in Chiavetta’s overnight, and then my Uncle grilled it.  (Don’t know what Chiavetta’s is? Its the world’s best marinade.  Seriously, the best.  My Mom’s whole fam is from Western New York, and Chiavetta’s is totally a Buffalo thing.  Get you some, you will not be sad: Chiavetta’s.  If you’ve ever had Spiedie’s State Fair sauce (which is more from Syracuse), its similar.  But Chiavetta’s > Spiedie’s, just sayin.

this actually isn't from the bbq we had - but this is a photo my aunt took in feb of a bbq they had, and the chicken was all done in chiavetta's. seriously, i dream of that chicken. its just the best. ever.

photo courtesy of buffalochow.com - chiavetta's chicken. how amazing crazy delicious does that look? oh yeah.

 

We also had leftover sausage from the night before, beans and slaw (that I picked up at the Dustin’s BBQ in Port Orange), fresh cut strawberries, and my mom made pasta salad.  Well, we asked mom to make pasta salad and she showed up with macaroni that had pepperoni, salami, ham, artichokes and olives in it, LOL.   Who knew we were THAT Italian?   It’s one stereotype after the other sometimes.  I love it.

nicole and i cutting up the strawberries. 3 x 16oz. packs for $5.00 at publix. that's crazy amazing, 30% the price of strawberries in hawaii right now.

cold winter = amazing strawberries. this year ain't no exception.

Even though we bought perfect and amazing sugar cookies from the Publix Bakery (yes, with sprinkles!), my sister decided to bake cookies while we were at my Aunt’s house.  She made some kind of pumpkin cookies with white chocolate chips in there.  I don’t know.  I don’t really like chocolate that much, so I wasn’t in the mood for them.  But the batter was tasty and the kids had fun helping.  And everyone else seemed to really love them. Hooray!  My sister is a great cook and baker, so I’m very sure they were awesome – I just wasn’t in the mood really.

anna and nicole baking cookies

my favorite part of any baked good = batter. and i am all about eating batter with the raw eggs. i'm 27 and it hasn't killed me so far.

busted! this is why nicole is my clone. seriously caught in the act of dippin into the batter. i love her.

justin and steven hanging out

my mom aka kanye

The BBQ was fun, and once again we had a nice time just breaking bread together as a family and talking and hanging out and being silly, relaxing, etc.  Its just nice to be with family!  Once it was the kids’ bedtime, we decided to peace out and go home too.

 

Wednesday – going to my Mom’s house in Ormond!

So I promised my Mom that while I was in Florida I’d make sure to help her out with a few things around her house.   So Anna and I got up Wednesday morning, I packed up all my junk into my big ole hiking sack and we headed out to Ormond.   On the way we swung by DD.  Yes, DD as in DUNKIN DONUTS.  I WENT TO DUNKIN DONUTS!!

be still my beating heart

duh

Being the generous gals that we are (and the fact that we had coupons) – we decided to bring Steven some donuts.  He was at work, so we got to surprise him.  How nice of us!

this "art" hangs over steven's desk at work. doesn't it totally look like the crap they hang up in a nail salon?

steven + anna

me and steven, in his office

Donuts delivered, it was finally time to go say hey to my Ma!

on the way to mom's: beachside ormond, coming over the granada bridge

So the first project we did at my mom’s house was to move her computer.  She was keeping her whole computer, printer, etc., all downstairs by her bedroom – and because of the inconvenient location she wasn’t spending any time online.  Unsat!  She has a really nicely sized desk built-in to her kitchen, so we cleared that off and moved all of her technology stuff up to the kitchen.  We set her up real good.  Now she has an awesome workspace with her computer, printer, landline phone, everything – all right in the hub of her house.  (Her kitchen is totally her hub where she cooks, watches tv, she by far spends the most time in that room, so this worked out perfectly).

The next project was going through the upstairs bedroom that used to be my sister’s.   My sister owns, or has owned, so much stuff its CRAZY.  So this vacated room that she hasn’t lived in for years is still totally full of a random assortment of left behind treasures and garbage.  Clothes, nicknacks, mementoes, just so many things.  We spent a nice amount of time sorting through the junk in there and deciding what was worth holding on to and what needed to get pitched.  I won’t call anyone out by name, but hoarding is totally in our gene pool – so I’m all about busting up that habit before we end up on that Buried Alive show.  (btw, that show makes me vomm – the hoarding show.  I cannot even handle it; hoarding is so sad and awful and gross.  next topic!).

I didn’t really take any pics during project time because, well, I was busy doing stuff.  But – I did get some great pics of my mom’s pooches before and after we were doing work!

Layla is her dalmatian, and Max is her mutt.  Layla is totally deaf, and Max is amazing and takes care of her.  When my mom gets home – if Layla is sleeping and can’t hear her come in, Max will go and gently nudge Layla and lick her ’till she wakes up.  When both doggies are outside, if my mom calls them in, Max will make sure Layla gets the memo.  My mom’s house has a pool and they LOVE to go swimming.

There’s also a cat, Mina.  Her real name is some Italian name that I don’t remember or know how to spell.  But her nickname is “Mina.”  She’s beautiful and feisty and loves to mess with the doggies.  She gets on top of her cat tower and sneakily swats those fools when the walk by.  Its hilarious.  Okay, okay, enough build up.  Here I present you, a bunch of animal photos:

layla running the pool deck

swimming times

bffs

la-lee (that's how you say her nickname. almost like lolly).

maxy!

time to dry off and come inside

anna gets a pooch smooch

mom and max. i put this in here so y'all can see how HUGE max is. according do the humane society, when he was a puppy, he was "part chihuahua." oh how they lie to get you take a dog! hahaha. he was a really tiny puppy though, and it shocked the heck out of everyone when he grew into his ginormous size. he's a gentle giant though, a total sweetheart.

close up. so handsome, that max!

you were JUST out there.

mama and mina

cats never want to be held. its so annoying. its so cat of them.

After doing projects all day, my noggin started to really hurt.  My trigeminal neuralgia stuff has been fluctuating; thank God it was manageable for most of my trip.  But starting this day (this Wednesday, second-to-last day of my travels) it just got really really bad. Debilitating bad.  So I had to take a break and chill out for a little while.  I even made a rice pack to get some nice, moise heat going on.

i look grouchy because i don't feel well. but i fastened the hot sock to my noggin with my bandanna so i could go hands free. (i fill a clean sock with rice and then nuke it in the micro, works amazingly well! and i'm a freak about going handsfree - i love handsfree anything! fanny packs ftw.)

and just to be really obscene and obnoxious, i have to display this photo of my mom's toilet. how florida is this? a fishie potty seat? omg, way too florida. way too amazing.

jack and rose, my maternal grandparents - may they rest in heaven now. i saw this pic on my mom's desk, and i had to take a pic of a pic. rose here is my namesake, and even though i never met her i love her so much. and i'm so sorry to put their photo next to a toilet photo. ugh, sorries. no disrespect!!

After relaxing and getting my noggin to feel better, Mom and I went out to dinner at her place of work: Betty’s A1A Cafe.  I love Betty’s!  The food is seriously so good.  Its about a mile away from where my mom lives, and its right across from the beach (there are no beachfront buildings in that part of Ormond-by-the-Sea, so its actually as close to the ocean as you can get).  We ordered a whole fried seafood feast, and it was delicious.  (It was Ash Wednesday, so mom was insistent on going meat-free, and I obliged).  We ordered two dinners and split them: fried lobster and the fired seafood platter.  I know, I know – fried?  But I’m still on vacay, I have gotta live it up.  And besides, their batter is light and heavenly.  Fried lobster? Dunked in drawn butter?  Why would I ever NOT order that?  Oh, and sweet potato fries. Holycrap it doesn’t get more tastier.

betty's! (some random pic i found on google image search, no idea who these people are- but that's out front of betty's alright).

One of our family friends, Joyce, met up with us and it was lovely to see her!  Joyce’s daughter, Mary, is my oldest BFF.  Mary and I grew up together, having been babies at the same time.  And my mom and Joyce have been pals just as long.  Mary lives several hours away from my mom/my hometown, so I wasn’t able to see her on this trip.  But seeing Joyce and catching up was great!  A nice time was had by all.

After Betty’s for dinner we went home and just chilled out.

its almost bed time for this little girl

i'm using max as a leg rest. he was surprisingly cooperative.

Before bed, Ma and I watched some tv together with the doggies.  And I made her a friendship bracelet.  Bracelet making is a big hobby of mine, LOVE making the bracelets.  You may have noticed from recent photos of me I have a whole wrist-full of colorful decor, that’s them. My mom and I needed matching ones, so I made them while we watched “19 Kids and Counting” on DVR.  I love the Duggars.  They make me happy.  So do doggies, making bracelets, my mom, and just being with her.  So as you can surmise, I had a lovely evening at my Mom’s house – I love you Mommy!

the bracelet i made for mommy

our matching bracelets, so cool and cute.

Now, its bed time.  We have to be up at 0500 for me to fly back towards Hawaii.  Sadtimes to leave my fam, but I was also missing my pooch and the beaches and my Hawaiian friends, so it was a mixed bag of feelings.

mina came up to my room to snuggle with me for the whole night

pretty mina

my last mina pic - i just keep posting 'em because i think her coloring is so pretty!

layla is ready to snuggle! so cute, and she is a durn good cuddler. i was sandwiched in between her and the cat all night. so cozy!

FInally, the alarm went off bright and early and it was time to get going!  Right as I was throwing my giant pack over my shoulders I went to pick up my sweatshirt, and I saw the tag.  After the nickname I’d gotten all trip long, it cracked me up.

i'm such a sherpa, carrying around that big ole pack. love it!

Next stop: Seattle!!!!!

UPDATE: I talked to my Mommy tonight, and “Mina” is named after Taormina, a beautiful Sicilian city overlooking the sea.   She said when she first adopted Mina, something about her poise and beauty reminded my mom of her most favorite place in Sicily.  The way Mina climbs up on top of her cat tower and looks out over the house – just like the stately city that peers out on the Ionian Sea.

i had a dinner date (this is a nice story)

Would you like to hear a nice story, about how strangers are still nice to each other sometimes?

So back in December, right when the miscarriage was happening, I was in rough shape.  My two bestest in-Hawaii friends were both on the mainland, my family couldn’t get to me and I couldn’t get to them, and my hubs was still in Afghan.   I needed food and supplies, so I had to take myself to the commy.

At our commissary (the grocery store on a military base) there are baggers who work for tips only.  They bag all your groceries and then help you out to the car, and load you up.   Usually I say no thanks, and do it myself.  (It doesn’t help that most of the baggers are half my size and 80 years old, I feel like a total douche making a tiny old lady carry my groceries for me.)  Well, on this particular December day I was too sick to say no – I needed the help.

So the bagger (who is young and vibrant actually, not an old grandma at all) and I are walking to my car and she just turns to me and says, “I’m sorry if I’m out of line here, but are you okay?  You don’t look okay.”

I shook my head no.  No, I wasn’t okay at all.  And, I just started crying.  I told her everything, it all just poured out:  “No, I’m not okay.  I’m miscarrying our baby right now, my husband is deployed, my family is in Florida, and its Christmas in a couple days and I’m all alone, waaaaaaaaaah.”

“Can I hug you?” she asked me.

And there we stood in the parking lot together, a total stranger holding me while I cried all over her.

It was a random act of kindness times a million.  Talk about an angel being sent in to give you some love when you need it the most.  Woah.  It was one of the most touching experiences I’ve ever had.

She invited me over for Christmas dinner at her house, gave me her phone number, and told me to call her if I need anything.  I knew she was 100% genuine too.  I ended up getting invited over to Ashley’s house for Christmas dinner, so I didn’t take my Parking Lot Angel up on her offer.   (I didn’t feel so good on Xmas either, so I wasn’t up to meeting new people, etc).

Over the last couple months we keep running into each other at the commy, we’ve been texting with plans to meet up – but our schedules have been kinda wack.   Until now.  Finally, we got together last night and she came over for a dinner date!   I hadn’t cooked for anyone in a hot minute, so I was all excited.

I cleaned my whole house:

The kitchen table looking all nice and clean

I made baked ziti with chicken, cut up a beautiful tomato and a cucumber as a salad, and I had a loaf of French bread from the commy.

ziti in the oven (kinda hard to see, lol)

beautiful!

We had a lovely evening, and I’m pretty sure I’ve made a new friend.  We had lots in common, and since we’re both chatty people – the conversation flowed easily.   Even though our first meeting was a unique experience of random kindness for me –  I have a feeling my new friend is nice to strangers all the time and that kind of stuff is just the norm for her.  She just radiates kindness and happiness, my kinda lady!   I want to be more like her.

She brought over this chocolate cake from the Commy Bakery, and it was amazing.  The best buttercream frosting I’ve had on this island for sure.

this cake is delicious, and the rest of it is ALL MINE.

See, wasn’t that a nice story?  Common decency and thoughtfulness do still exist, and I’m lucky enough to know that firsthand.   I love being the recipient of a random act of kindness.   And now I have a new friend and I had a really nice Tuesday evening.   (feeling warm and fuzzy yet?).

Next time you see a stranger having a bad day or a rough time, please think of me and pay it forward.  Even if its just a smile or a kind word, a little gesture can go such a long way.   Let’s all just be nice to each other.

 

makapuu point lighthouse – waimanalo

February 4, 2011 – Waimanalo

As part of our on-going quest to explore and enjoy as much of this island as possible, Carly and I decided to check out the Makapuu Point Lighthouse.   Here’s the deal: its a super pretty location, the dry rocky ledges jut right out into the bluest expanse of ocean.  Its gorgeous.  But as a hike? Its kinda miserable.

We showed up around 11:30am on a particularly sunny day.  The “hike” is a concrete road that winds up the mountside to the lighthouse, and there isn’t a spec of shade to be found.  To say it was hot is an understatement.

So we just kinda trudged along, baking in the sun, staring at the ocean all around us wishing we were swimming in it.  We did a lot of whales (winter time is “whale season” in Hawaii, and this spot is a known whale look out).  So seeing my ocean friends makes me happy, that was rad.

If anyone goes to do this hike, I totally suggest sunrise.  Its way out on the east side of the island, with ocean all around.  I have a feeling the sunrise there would be incredible.

haiku stairs (aka: “stairway to heaven”)

February 11, 2011 : Kaneohe, Hawaii “Stairway to Heaven”

Stairway is the most physically demanding, nerve-wracking, scary, and illegal hike I’ve ever done.  It was also the most awesomest.  For lack of a better word, its epic.

Its a literal metal staircase bolted into the side of the mountain on O’ahu’s windward side.  Island folklore (aka: the interwebs) explains that the stairs were built back in the day by the USCG to access a radio tower at the tippy top of the mountain.  The military use of the tower and stairs are now defunct, and thus the hike is closed to the public.  There’s a security guard who protects the entrance to the stairs, and the only way to do the hike is to show up hours before he does.

So yeah, we did.  By 5:00am we were in the woods of Kaneohe, searching for the start of the staircase.   It was pitch black, and we hiked with flashlights.  We finally hopped a fence around 5:25am, and could see the stairs a few hundred feet away.

The hike itself took us like four hours.  It’s no joke!  The climb is 2,000+ feet, and the whole thing is done on tiny metal stairs six inches apart.  There are almost 4,000 of those suckers.

We did most of the hike up in the dark.  Thank God for the flashlights.  Oh, and the gloves.  The stairs have metal railings along both sides, and we ended up using way more upper body strength than you’d think.  Day break hit as we were coming to the first couple landings.  We missed sunrise at the top by maybe about 20 minutes.  It wasn’t really a bummer though, because once the sun was out, the view from anywhere along the stairs is just incredible.

My legs, back, arms and shoulders were sore for days.  Shit, I’m still sore. Let’s not kid here.

On the way down, we could see the security guard watching us descend.  We got to the bottom and approached him, and he called out, “what have we here? Three more trespassers?”  For about five seconds I thought I was getting a ticket.  Then he started laughing and asking us how the weather at the top was.   Turns out, he’s very hip to the game.  So for anyone interested, don’t fret the legality – just GO EARLY.

The vertical faces of the climb were pretty crazy.  On the way up it was so dark, we had no idea how scary it really was.  Once we were coming down though we could actually see how exposed you are on the hike.  Its probably not a great idea for folks scared of heights.

pillbox hike – lanikai

January 28, 2011 – Lanikai, Hawaii “Pillbox”

Pillbox is a super easy, but really pretty hike.  Lanikai is close to home, so it was easy to get to as well.

The trick was getting up real early, so we’d be at the top of the mountain for sunrise.  Hiking in the dark for the first time was pretty funny.  Seeing the sun pop up from the Pacific horizon was amazing.  My friend Carly and I did this hike together, and we had a great morning.

What a peaceful and lovely way to start a day, huh?