Friday, July 29, 2011

Picnic in the park

Summer goes by way too fast, doesn't it? As more and more "Back to School" ads are popping up, I find the need to hold tighter to the remaining days of summer!

One attempt to do that resulted in a Sunday afternoon picnic at nearby French Regional Park.

The experience overall reminded me that I want to have more picnics. Picnics are a great way to get outside, experience the peace of nature, and spend time with friends and family.

Also, picnics are not that much work if you think about it. I have to prepare lunch daily, whether that be putting containers in my lunch box or cooking something at home, so preparing and packing for a picnic isn't too different.

Here's a picture of our basket and blanket, all ready to go! (Thanks again sis for this wedding gift! I think of you every time we use it!)

We got to take a trolley down to the waterfront. I'll be honest, riding on the trolley was one of the main draws for me to choose this park as our picnic spot!

There were so many people out enjoying the afternoon. It was fun to be in community with them, even though we didn't necessarily interact with them directly. Families were swimming on the beach, picnicking on the lawn, and walking and biking on the paved paths. So many beautiful people...

There just happened to be a sailboat race on the lake that day, and Zac loves sailing, so we chose a spot where we could view the lake and sat down. Here is a picture Zac took of our picnic spot with the picnic basket top in focus.

If he's got the camera in his hand, I usually ham it up a little bit!

(By the way, those sugar snap peas from the New Hope Farmer's Market were amazing!)

We had a great time, and it made want to do it again. What summer activities do you do that make you feel like you are embracing summer?

Monday, July 25, 2011

What is news?

A friend recently asked me, "So, how is the famine in East Africa affecting your adoption?"

In my head all I could think of was, "What famine? Gosh, I should probably know about this. Was this recent? When did this happen? How come she knows and I haven't heard of this yet?"

I felt foolish for not knowing this was going on, especially because we are adopting from Ethiopia and I should be searching out every news story having to do with the country, right?

I spent some time this morning on the BBC World News website, pouring over all the articles I could find written on the topic. It turns out that this hunger crisis, as with any famine or hunger issue, is a pretty big deal.

Which brings me to my next question - if it's such a big deal, why haven't I heard about it yet?

How in the world can word of the death of Amy Winehouse - a troubled alcoholic pop star - reach me via radio AND television, yet somehow I have missed the fact that 12,000,000 people's lives are being threatened by a food crisis?!?

This is messed up! Really messed up!

Maybe, perhaps, I'm not clear on what "news" is? What qualifies for news? What should make the news? What is important enough to transmit to every household in the United States?

I suppose when it comes right down to it, I am also to blame. I don't seek out a lot of news. I enjoy watching the local 10:00 news on my couch before heading to bed, but rarely does the 10:00 news include any world news.

There has got to be a better way for me to stay informed when citizens of the world are facing difficulties like this.

Below is a list of articles, videos, and pictures that I found this morning that informed me of the severity of the food crisis. Please take a look.

Horn of Africa tested by severe drought

Editor's Note: The food crisis was recognized on my local news tonight! However, it was referenced because Bono met with local Somali leaders before his performance downtown. So, is it a victory or not?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Neglecting Me

I kept my sanity this winter by going on morning walks. No matter how cold it got, I would bundle up and walk around the neighborhood. It felt good to be up and about before most everyone else, and to watch the first rays of sun touch the rooftops. The serenity outside brought serenity to my soul. During the cold days I would dream of how luxurious it would be to go for morning walks in the summer. It was novel to think that I wouldn't have to spend 10 minutes putting on extra layers and all the winter essentials.

This spring in the name of work I gave up those morning walks. Not intentionally, it just sort of happened. To beat traffic I had to leave the house at 6:45 - it was hard to get up any earlier than I was already getting up, so I just figured I'd go for a walk in the afternoon (by the way, the afternoon walks rarely ended up happening). Sometimes my excuse was that I could be earning money working, so I'd better just hurry and get to work. Some days I had emails to catch up in the AM before work, and other days I just hit snooze too many times.

Somehow or other, I fell out of the routine.

I've been noticing myself getting crabbier and crabbier. I haven't been taking care of me. I have not been great about eating healthy, I have reduced my sleep by about 1-1.5 hours a night, and stopped exercising. Hmmmm. Now that I see this in black and white, it's ever-more obvious that I have a problem.

Sometimes the easiest person to put last is me. There is always laundry to be done, dishes to be washed, emails to be written, and money to be earned. It's easy to push off the "little" things in life - like morning walks. However, those little things make a HUGE impact on the rest of my day.

Today I was fed up with how things were going. I couldn't remember the last time I took one of my treasured morning walks. I threw aside any thoughts of what I should be doing, and put on my tennis shoes.

The stress melted away faster than a popsicle on hot pavement. I noticed the crisp blue sky and the peach clouds drifting by. I saw all of my neighbors' flower gardens in full bloom. I was moving my body and drinking in the morning with my eyes. Oh, it was glorious.

That walk was my reset button. Any stress I was feeling was quickly forgotten and I was back on my familiar route. Numerous times I thought to myself, "Why have I been putting this off?" This is what life is about.

So, I hope with all hope that I will be able to pick up my morning walking routine again. My days are so much better when they start out with a quiet walk.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Amber vs. the bugs

My grandma Marion gave me a can of Raid when I went off to college. She knew me well. With Raid in hand, I wouldn't have to touch the bugs to kill them, I could just cover them with a nice mist of poison and they would curl up and die.

I have since used up my can of Raid, but the bugs keep invading my living space. Just last night I went down to take out a load of laundry at about 10:30pm. Every time I go downstairs, I always look around on the floor, walls, and ceiling, to make sure I won't have any bug encounters. It's a habit that I have practiced for at least 15 years now. Things were looking good until I glanced over near the trim on our wood paneling. There, blending in deceitfully with the paneling was a centipede. EW! I took a closer look to see what I was up against, and it had black and white speckled legs. I don't know how that happens, but I swear it's true! I glanced back toward the bathroom to see how close I was to kleenex, and as I did so, I saw something else scurry across the floor. It was long and black, and unidentifiable.

Glancing between the two bugs, I wondered which one to go for first. If I ran for the running bug, would the centipede run away? If I took time to smash the centipede, how far would the runner get? And do I even have the courage to kill either of them?

I opted to stop the running one, so I went quickly to him and promptly slapped him with my flip-flop. That's all it took. One-shot Amber.

After I stopped the runner, I decided that I probably couldn't kill the centipede on my own. It was way too gross. Conveniently, I found myself standing under the laundry chute, so I pointed my head toward the ceiling and yelled, "Zaaac!" Help was on the way.

I started to make my way back to the centipede to keep an eye on him. I'm like one of those pointer dogs who goes duck hunting - I see a gross bug, yell for help, and keep an unwavering eye on the bug to make sure it doesn't get away.

As I was walking toward it, I glanced up to find another centipede on the ceiling above me! I was under full attack. Unfortunately, the ceiling centipede was blocking my basement exit and also blocking me from keeping an eye on wood paneling centipede. Oh dear.

Tears started forming in my eyes - I kid you not. I was totally grossed out. "This is my house!" I thought, "This is where I'm supposed to feel safe! How can I feel safe with these hideous creepy crawlers all over?"

Zac came downstairs and in a very manly effort, killed both centipedes! He was so fast neither had a chance to move an inch! I felt relieved but also had the feeling that there were hundreds more lurking around the basement, ready to fall on me and crawl all over me.

I reluctantly went into the laundry room, looked all around, and slowly opened the lid to the washer. Safe. I began hanging up clothes when I noticed a new spiderweb on the ceiling. Uh-oh. Something was alive and crawling around. When I reached down for another handful of clothes, I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye. It was a spider dropping down from the ceiling! I didn't want to kill him because he was so gross, so I did the only logical thing I could think of - I blew on him. Yes, I blew on him until he started packing his bags and heading back up to the ceiling. Ew ew ew ew ew!

So I guess the count from yesterday is Team Harder: 3, Bugs: 1. Maybe tonight I'll go to battle with the lone spider...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Baby Pictures

Zac and I have been privileged to take photos of our friends' son since birth. About every 3 months we get together with them and spend a couple hours shooting pictures. Here are some of my favorites from our recent session where he is 9 months old.

I love that face. Just hangin' out.

Last time we took pictures, he was just pushing himself up off the ground. Now he is crawling, crawling, crawling! He attacked our front steps and got up there in 15 seconds flat!

Now this picture...this picture has a story. We set him up on a chair, and he kept wanting to reach down to the ground. He would tip a little each time he tried to reach for what was 2 feet below him. As I was looking through the lens taking pictures, I noticed him tip a little too far.

Before I knew it, my hand snapped out to get him. (Keep in mind, I'm seeing this all through the camera!). I got one of his arms and he did a slow somersault/twist off the chair and I lowered him down until his head touched the ground safely. Well, to say he was shook up would be an understatement. His mom put him back on the chair and he looked at me with this face, and locked eyes as if to say, "You did this to me!!!"

He didn't need words to communicate, I certainly got the message!

Here he is looking for big brother, who's in the back. They've got a special connection already!

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Grandpa

My Grandpa passed away on Thursday morning. He was a good man and a strong man, as evidenced by his 20-year battle with Parkinson's disease. Upon reflecting on his life, I am amazed at the inner strength both he and Grandma exhibited. Grandma had cancer and had a limp and other ailments toward the end of her life. Grandpa lost his ability to walk, eat, and it was even difficult for him to talk over the course of the last decade. Through it all, both of them remained positive. I never heard either of them complain about their lot in life. They found things to keep them going, and I believe they concentrated on the things that they could do rather than what they couldn't.

Grandpa loved the Twins. The day before he died he watched a baseball game. I don't think there was a more loyal fan out there. Winning or losing, Grandpa was a fan.

Another strong memory of Grandpa is how fast he could move around on his motorized scooter. Just this year at Christmas, he was leading us through the nursing home to get to the room where we were holding our family Christmas celebration. We were walking as fast as we could to keep up with him, but he kept getting farther and father ahead. At one point, he stopped, turned his scooter around and looked at us as if to say, "C'mon you guys! We've got places to go!" He really valued his mobility, and I think that kept him going for a long time.

My sister said it best when she said his death is bittersweet. It's sad to know he's gone, but we rejoice at all the walking, talking, and eating that he's doing in Heaven. Best of all, he and Grandma are back together! What a reunion that must have been!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Crafting Conundrum

I was making birthday cards yesterday in my craft room. I was very excited to use my new rub-on stickers that I purchased at a garage sale, and I carefully pulled them out of the package. If you've never used these, you'll have to check them out. You place the picture or phrase you want to use on your card, and then you rub the sticker with a popsicle stick and it moves from adhering to a clear plastic sheet to adhering to your card.

It was warm in our house (see previous post about no AC), and the stickers were a little...well...sticky. I picked up one of them and accidentally caught my finger on the "H" of "Happy Birthday." I pulled my hand away and the H was stuck to my finger.

Not sure what to do, I carefully lined my finger back up with the plastic in hopes to stick it back on. This did not work. Instead, I got the "a" of "Happy Birthday" stuck to my finger too! I figured to try and get it back on the plastic sheet was useless at this point (lest I also pick up "ppy," so I cut my losses and tried to pick the letters off my fingertip.

It didn't work. They were stuck.

I took a picture of it just to show you the irony.

Click on the picture to take a closer look.

Yep indeed, the tip of my finger reads "Ha." Oh, the irony! I laughed out loud for quite awhile, then finally was able to get the letters off of my hand!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Life Without Air Conditioning

We almost didn't buy our current house because it didn't have air conditioning. We thought to ourselves, how can anyone survive without AC in Minnesota? We moved forward on the house anyway with the intention of installing air conditioning as soon as possible.

Three years later, we're still without.

Here are a couple of things I have noticed about my life without air conditioning:

I only whine about wanting AC on the really hot days,when it's 90 or above. Most other days I don't think about how strange it is that we don't have it.

Two window AC units, strategically placed, can work wonders.

I love having the windows open the majority of summer days.

A fan is a beautiful, wonderful invention.

I spend more time outside in the evenings because the temperature has cooled down outside even though the house is still warm.

I appreciate and understand the value of shade.

My body can adjust to the temperature in nature. After a particularly warm spell let up recently, I found myself shivering. The temperature was "all the way down" to 77 degrees!

I have enough friends with AC whose houses I can visit on the unbearable days! :)

Strawberry Season!

Last week I loaded up the car with my cardboard flats, changed into work clothes, and headed up to Bauer Berry Farm with a good friend. We are in the middle of strawberry season here in MN, and I wanted to pick some berries for jam, ice cream topping, pie, and smoothies. YUM!

Time flew by as we conversed about whatever came to mind. Soon our buckets and flats were full, and it was time to head home and get started on processing the berries. Now, processing the berries is one of the most dreaded and also most rewarding times for me. It seems daunting to look at 25lbs of strawberries and know you must do the work before they go bad. However, it's also the time of year I feel most like Laura Ingalls Wilder. :) And that's fun.

Here are a few pictures from my strawberry season this year!

This is one of 4 flats I picked this year.

Here I am cutting the tops off of the strawberries.

I'm pretty sure this picture would be a difficult puzzle to put together.

14 jars of strawberry topping...

And a pie. I couldn't seem to get a decent picture of the pie. Nothing I could take could capture how good it tasted!

We ended up eating this pie with our families in a lakeside park on July 4th. So classic! It was perfect!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Celebrating Freedom

If you would come up with a list of words to describe me, I'm guessing that "patriotic" would not be one of them. I don't own any red, white, and blue clothing, and I don't have an American flag flying outside my house, not even on the 4th of July. My car doesn't have any bumper stickers saying "Support our Troops" or "God Bless America," and sometimes I forget a few words of the National Anthem.

Today - July 4th - I woke up excited to have the day off work and to spend time with my family in the evening. I'll be honest - I didn't give much thought to why we were celebrating the day. I found myself more enthralled with the perks of it being a holiday.

It was a gorgeous morning, so Zac and I went for a very long bike ride around town. It was about 9am, and the city was still and quiet. The breeze was the only reminder that we weren't in a picture frame. We passed lawns dotted with day lilies and roses, biked through tree-covered paths near streams, and sailed by small ponds where the wind rippled the water.

Pulling back into our driveway, I noticed that my flowerbed was still shaded, so I decided to spend some time pulling weeds. I got my tools, knelt down, and began my task. As I pulled, I noticed the trees moving above me, the birds chirping, and the sun casting moving shadows all around me. It was as peaceful as peaceful can be.

Somehow my thoughts wandered as I weeded, and I realized what a privilege it is to have this kind of peace. I am grateful to be able to bike through a beautiful town and not worry once about safety. I am fortunate, as a woman, to be working outside alone. I am blessed to have a yard in which to grow things, and the time to help them grow. I am lucky that my home is not in danger of being shot at or burned. I am safe. I am blessed.

I am thankful to live here in America, and I hope and I pray that every single person around the globe will one day be able to experience this safety, peace, and joy too.