Sunday, October 31, 2010


Did you know that the heaviest pumpkin on record weighs over 1800 pounds? Did you also know that a white bed sheet makes the best ghost costume? And aluminum foil is as versatile as duct tape?

Happy Halloween from the middle child!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

driving lesson

This is Amanda.

She has a talent for drawing, and loves horses.

I met Amanda during the first month of being new in town and felt my heart pulled towards her.  Maybe it was the way she danced in worship (waving colorful flags), her unique laugh (she honks), her genuine hugs, or her curiosity in who we were.  Maybe it was something deeper.  Whatever it was, I have grown very fond of her and am eager to see her flourish in this life.

One of my roles in Amanda's world is as her mentor.  She has goals, I want to help her achieve them.  She has great potential, I want to see it realized.  The Lord has good things planned for Amanda and I want to be present for those things, no matter how big or how small they seem.  I am honored to be a part of this young woman's history.

Plus, she honks at my jokes.

Goal number one is a driver's license.  Amanda has her learner's permit or 'temps' (as they're called out here).  Temporary Permit.  As in, for a limited time only.  Turns out, Amanda has had her temps for a few years.  She hasn't yet reached the next step of turning her temps in to an actual driver's license.  It's certainly not for a lack of will, but more for a lack of opportunity and practice.

Insert me.

Idealistic?  Yes.  Tenacious?  Yes.  Brave?  Perhaps.

While living in Washington, I allowed my teenage niece to drive our car with me in the passenger seat when she was still under permit. She set a solid precedent then and has been a licensed driver for almost two years now.  Still, I never thought I'd be sought out again for the task of playing 'responsible adult/driving instructor.'

Thankfully, my mentee is eager, resilient, and receptive.  She's not bad behind a steering wheel either.

Today was a fun day of training, as I let Amanda cruise up and down the country roads by her house.  We had slight accelerator/brake confusion from time to time, but the recovery was good.

And we did get 'lost' at one point, which was actually quite nice, as it took us to some interesting places: the house with a fish for a mailbox, the one lane bridge, and the Amish family-owned produce stand where I bought some pretty eggs, root vegetables, and two brightly colored peppers.

The GPS returned us to Amanda's home without fail, where we laughed about our adventure.

My favorite moment was when we approached her driveway at the same time her mom's fiance was leaving.  He saw us and turned the corner to greet us.  It was one of those moments where one car pulls up opposite to another, driver's side to driver's side.  Glenn put down his window and started talking to us as Amanda attempted to put down her window, too.  Except she couldn't figure out which button went to which window, so she successfully managed to put every other window down before hers.

Don't worry, husband, the Honda is still in one piece.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

come together

Were you the type of kid who counted down the weeks and days and hours and minutes to summer camp?

I was.

The anticipation of seeing friends, overpacking, the skits and campfire songs, crushing on boys and playing silly games, the nicknames we made up for each other, eating junk food, exchanging contact info at the end of the week (in that pre-internet world, writing letters was a big deal), camp food, "inside jokes" and pranks, the smell of camp in the morning, late night laughter and scary stories, cabin competitions, the boys serenading the girls, and other raucous elements made for some of the happiest memories from my youth.  It seems that my experiences as a camper greatly outweigh my experiences as a camp counselor.  Even though I took classes in youth ministry in college, my life took a few interesting turns after graduation and I found my heart acquiring new passions that didn't include teenagers.

Ohio has changed that for me.  It's not that Chris and I haven't worked with young people in the past, we have.  And everyone knows I love children.   It's the junior high and high school end of the spectrum that has kind of hung out on the fringe of my adult interests until now.  I don't know why here or why now, but God has created a special place in my heart for them.

Last weekend was my initiation.  Fall Retreat.

I've been a leader with the Revolve youth program at Cornerstone Chapel for a few months now, but this was my first time going away with them.

It's funny how camp hasn't really changed that much.

There was a theme.

The zany youth pastor with a heart of gold.

Worshipping our Creator in like mind and spirit.

Inspirational speakers (including my husband).




The group photo, complete with matching t-shirts.

And everything in-between.

I was certainly put through my paces as a cabin leader, crisis manager, problem solver, rule enforcer and drama diffuser.  Yet, in the same day, I was also a relationship builder, prayer warrior, encourager, therapist, and champion hugger.

What's even better is that God didn't reserve His power and restoration for the youth alone during those three days.  The leaders were moved as well.

Can I let you in on a little secret?  I like having a backstage pass.

Some of the privileges of being a grown-up at this retreat included how well we were cared for (hot coffee in the morning!) and trusted to lead the students well (without question).  I didn't have to ask for a second cup of hot chocolate or an extra bowl of chili, I could just have it.  And when the leaders got together to discuss plans, we did so around a huge stash of cookies in the kitchen.

Is it possible the sweet treats and that second cup were a replacement for something stiffer?

Possibly.  Definitely.

While I won't be counting down the weeks to our Spring Retreat just yet, I am thankful for what we shared together, and grateful I survived.

Live in harmony without divisions.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Erin hosted a pumpkin carving party on Saturday.

I brought candy.  I drank my first cup of wassail.  I ate more than a human's share of Mrs. Piorkowski's cream cheese apple-nut dip.   I laughed at other peoples' stories.  I shanked a gourd.

I won a ribbon.

Pie can't be that far away.

Friday, October 15, 2010

slumber party

It was my idea.

After all, I am a volunteer leader in the youth program at our church, and I lead a seventh grade girls small group.  This position has embraced me over the past few months and I am truly falling in love with these kids.

What better way to connect with some of the young ladies than to have them over to my house for a whole night of controlled chaos. No parents, minimal rules, no pestering brothers, just fun.  Chris made his own plans for the evening, and several parents and friends collectively held their breath.

Eight junior high girls.  One me.

It was strange being on the other side of a slumber party, I'll admit. I'm pretty sure the last one I had with pre-teens and teenagers was when I was one.  I like to think of myself as an auntie figure to them, but if you do the math, I could be their mom.  I kind of like that.  I also like that they want to spend time with me and they trust me.

And their actual parents trust me.

Even if I let their daughters stay up all night, scare them with ghost stories in the basement, fill them with sugar, let them be rowdy and run around my house, ask them about boys, and play along with their prank on my husband (something about dead bodies and me holding a knife dripping with ketchup).. they trust me.

They even thanked me.

Without a doubt, I feel like I have the best job in the world!  I get to pour in to the lives of the youth, pray with them, laugh with them, encourage them, be silly with them, and some times discipline them, challenge them, and correct them.

I find that sincerity, humor and hugs go a long way.

Oh, and I get to send them home at the end of the day.

What also helps is how receptive and engaging these young people are.  Maybe there's something in the milk out here?  Not sure, but I really do enjoy their company and I am interested in helping them navigate through adolescence in to maturity, and seeing them become better versions of themselves.

Now, where's my pillow?  I seem to have lost my sleep.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

apple butter

This was my breakfast this morning: Vermont white cheddar cheese, honeycrisp apple slices and fresh apple butter from the Chatham Apple Butter Festival.

An apple butter festival you say?

Every year, Medina County features a Fall Foliage Tour.  It's a DIY driving tour designed to welcome the new season and take you to area farms, historical landmarks, parks, and local businesses showcasing Fall-like entertainment and treats.

Bruce and Patty Salsgiver invited us to join them last weekend for this event, so we all embarked on a scenic outing together, stopping at four places along the way.

Patty (of the chocolate-dipped pretzels from the Fourth of July) brought a bag of her special venison jerky to share.  And by special, I mean spicy!   It had us all laughing and wiping our noses.

Pioneer Park was our first destination.  It's a huge plot of land where residents set up camp and reenact Civil War era activities, dress in pioneer clothing, cook food over homemade stoves, play baseball without gloves, display replicas of pioneer wagons, fire Civil War era rifles, and talk about amputation.  The scene was fascinating, but I was quite happy to get back in our modern vehicle and thank the Lord for our modern house, modern appliances, modern technology and modern anesthesia.

After a quick stop at a ministry-owned farm, where we got a free hayride, we visited The Apple Cabin.  Bruce and Patty knew the staff here, and we got to watch apples being pressed in large amounts. The samples of cider we drank from this process were perfectly sweet and refreshing.   I've been to a cider press before, but nothing to this scale!  We gladly bought a half gallon for our fridge.

The Apple Butter Festival in Chatham was our final stop.  Patty grew up in this small town, and she knew almost everyone we saw there. We bought a jar of their famous apple spread before walking through the church craft fair.  Word has it, the neighborhood church hosts weekly pancake breakfasts in the springtime, using locally produced flour and maple syrup.  Note to self.

Patty's dad worked the donut stand at the festival, which we couldn't pass up.  We were given the freshest, most incredible, tasting donuts I've ever eaten!

Also, The Salsgiver men are avid hunters.  They don't hunt with guns, they hunt with arrows.  After the driving tour, Bruce asked if we wanted to fire his crossbow.  Um, how often does someone ask you to fire their crossbow?

Bruce gave us the easy one first and we shot at targets they had set up by their barn.   Talk about exhilarating!  The crossbow we didn't shoot was the one that included the word 'carbine' in it's name.   It had several arrows attached to the body and the tension on the bows were more than I could handle.  Chris gave it a try, but even he felt weak at the attempt.  So, we went back to the original weapon and had fun firing at inanimate objects before heading home.

Much to our delight, the landscape has changed this past week.  It seems as if overnight the trees went from green to vibrant shades of red, orange and yellow.  It is more brilliant than any other Autumn I have experienced before.  This is the month I've been craving since we moved to Ohio and it's finally here.

Wait, what's this rumor about an Indian Summer?

I'm sticking my fingers in my ears and pretending the cooler weather is here to stay.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


© photo credit:

Chris and I just returned from our first Ohioan clambake.  We are filled to the seams with butter and mollusks.

Hubby is now taking a nap and I'm blogging.

I am sleepy, too.  Sleepy from the sunshine, sleepy from the wind, sleepy from talking to a parking lot full of friends from our church, sleepy from a belly full of good food.

Clams, clam nectar, roasted chicken, sweet corn, baked yams, coleslaw, bread rolls, lemonade, sweet tea, whipped butter, honey butter, melted butter.. somebody pinch me.

Guess what else?  A couple in our church run a mobile business that brings wildlife to events and lets kids and adults interact with animals and learn more about them.  When we arrived, I was most fascinated by the reptiles.  Soon after I asked to pet the snake, I was wearing the snake.  She was by far my favorite animal in the bunch. As we were leaving, we saw children being hissed at by cockroaches, petting a raccoon, talking to a cockatiel, staring wide-eyed at a tarantula, and chasing a pair of tortoises up the hillside.

I'm hoping for my second wind to kick in soon.

And next year I'm hoping for a pig roast.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

life imitates art

When I look at art I like to get up close.

Nose-to-nose, so to speak.

I like to see the brush strokes that created a painting, the lighting behind a photograph, the shape of a sculpture, the texture of a collage, the draping of a garment, the way a chef plates a meal, and the manner in which color hugs all sides of a canvas.  I'm not an art enthusiast, per se, but I do appreciate how people express their passions and flex their creative muscles.

Tonight hubby and I took a walk together.

The temperature was just warm enough, the breeze was slight. Crickets and frogs created a soundtrack for our stroll and the leaves on the trees greeted us with their rich fall colors.  We shared the highlights of our day.

We laughed about things, arm-in-arm.

Tina Pennington, a local artist, was showing her paintings at a gallery in the townsquare, so we went to meet her and experience her work.  We were delighted by the layers of color and the obvious technique, time, and detail that went in to each of her pieces.  It was fun drinking wine, eating hors d'oeuvres, and letting Tina share about her craft with us.  She is a lovely woman with an eye for dimension.

© photo credits:

As we returned home, I found myself extra grateful for the man by my side.  He's the kind of art piece I will gladly stand nose-to-nose with any day of the week.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

columbus day

See what I look like when I'm exhausted and deliriously happy?

After five months of paperwork processing, waiting (and more waiting), 300 notecards, a series of late nights, trips to the library, hours of internet research, midnight oil spent on an online review site, many pages of State Board rules and regulations to sift through, help from a couple of new cosmetology friends (thanks to Facebook), a notary, lots of encouragement, reading, studying, money and stress, the big day finally arrived.

I had one examination time and four hours of driving ahead of me (two hours both ways).   This was my destination: The Ohio State Board of Cosmetology headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.

Lots of people prayed for me and with me during the week leading up to my test day.  The night before, in fact, I had an event with the Spa Ministry team from our church.  We are a group of beauty professionals who offer free services to the community at various outreach events throughout the year.  The timing was perfect, as it took my mind out of my books and to the place I love most: giving facial treatments.

When I arrived at the State Board facility, I gathered my required documentation, checked in, waited nervously with a room full of others anticipating the same exam, made some jokes and sent some text messages.  When we were all called in to the orientation room, I noticed an Air Supply song playing on the sound system.  I smiled as I thought about my friend, Heather, who is an Air Supply fanatic.  Too bad there wouldn't be any music trivia on my exam.

That would be way more fun.

We were all filed through one by one, had our pictures taken and sat at our numbered stations.  After everyone was accounted for, the doors were closed, we signed more paperwork, and an examiner gave us a verbal briefing that included examination rules and conduct.  At this point, I was biting the inside of my lips.

After a half hour of preparation and instruction, we walked down a hallway to the computer room, sat at our numbered desks, and stared in to our futures.

The moment I started giggling to myself was when I realized the specific prayer several friends prayed for me (that I would know what I had studied and that the Lord would give me instant recall and confidence), had been answered.  For the questions that corresponded with the material I studied, I knew the answer instantly.  For the questions that pertained to topics I wasn't familiar with, I knew right away I would be making my best guess.  Having that realization actually helped take the edge off of my anxiety.

Thankfully, the material I knew outweighed the material I didn't know.  I passed with an 89%!  Of course, they made us wait to find out our results.  So, wait I did - and it was worth it.  As of September 14, 2010, I am an officially licensed managing esthetician in the state of Ohio.

When I arrived home, my husband greeted me with our favorite pizza and a relaxing evening.  The Gardiners surprised me with a congratulations banner ('Ame' is one of my nicknames, not a typo) and cake, and my e-mail Inbox and cell phone were filled with happy messages from my biggest fans, you: dear friends and family.

Thank you thank you thank you thank you!  I am so very blessed, and hope to open a skin care business in Medina this year.  If you live in the area, I look forward to getting my hands on you!

Monday, October 4, 2010

amish world

This morning I was up and at 'em by 7:30am.

For me, any time before 9am is early (not a morning person).  The reward for rising before my usual alarm was a day in Amish Country with our friends (and tour guides), Jim and Alisa.  Getting an early start meant visiting more places and seeing more things.

Since I first heard about it, I have fondly referred to Amish Country as "Amish World."  Because I think I'm funny and my mind is a colorful place, I like envisioning it as the exact opposite of what it really is.  I talk about it so animatedly that I may have some of you persuaded I actually believe it's an amusement park.  

I don't, and it's not.  

However, there is cheese in Amish World.

Lots and lots of cheese.

And no power lines.  That was an interesting fact that Alisa pointed out to me when we arrived.  While I knew about the conservative lifestyle of the Amish, it didn't occur to me that they would be without power poles and electrical lines.  It is so much a part of our landscape that I hardly notice, but seeing a place without it is striking.

One of the first stores we toured was Heini's Cheese Chalet.  After 20+ samples of handmade cheese and fudge (I had my first experience of what it must feel like to be a judge at a food competition.. so many different types to try.. one right after the other.. positively dreamy), we purchased our favorites, and found our way to the Information booth where we met Adlai Miller.  Standing 5'5" tall, dressed in overalls and shades of blue, and wearing the signature beard-without-a-mustache facial hair, Adlai was an elegant spokesperson for the company and Amish culture.  He was more than happy to answer all of our questions and give us a tour of the cheese factory.  I suspect Adlai was in his 70s and could easily win a place in my heart.  His gentle demeanor, kind eyes and beautifully wrinkled skin, made me wish we could sit with him for hours and hear his stories of growing up Amish.

The stop before Heini's was Lehman's hardware supply.  Founded in 1955 as a one-room country store, this business has served the community well.  The craftsmanship of the tools, furniture and appliances is worth the trip.  I was amazed to see refrigerators, chest freezers and washing machines that looked modern but ran on batteries and gas and other methods to maintain the integrity of the Amish lifestyle.  Chris and I drooled over the rocking chairs, handmade hickory benches, and wood burning stoves.  Unfortunately, with such precision comes a higher price tag, so we'll be adding those items to our "When We Win the Lottery" list.

Throughout the hours that followed, we visited an antiques shop, two different markets (more samples!), a famous metal arts store, a chocolate factory, two shops with wine tasting, a craft & candle place, a bulk foods store, we drove around the gorgeous countryside, and ate our lunch at Miller's Dutch Kitch'n.  The special was broasted chicken, and my side dishes included potato salad and cauliflower soup (with chocolate angel food cake for dessert).

As day closed in on night, we said our goodbyes and unloaded our Amish treasures onto the kitchen counter.  What a bounty, and a very satisfying outing!  My husband couldn't wait to make a pizza with the cheese from Heini's and have a glass of the rhubarb wine we tasted that afternoon.  I ate some dried carrots and savored a hunk of fudge, while considering when I will cook up a pot of soup out of the bag of lentils and rice, and how soon I can make a no-bake cheesecake from the plastic container of black raspberry powder.

The Amish people we met today and the simplicity we witnessed were really quite nice.  And the landscape was delightful, even without roller coasters and ferris wheels.  

I will gladly visit the area and support their economy on future occasions, but for sure I won't be converting.  I hear some of the families start their work days at 4am.

Enough said.

Friday, October 1, 2010


I made my first casserole in the midwest last night.

While it won't be winning any beauty contests (let's face it, casseroles have a great personality), it made our insides happy.  How can you go wrong with tuna, noodles and cheese?  You can't, especially when they marry butter, cream and creole seasoning.

When I was growing up, a common word used in our household was "noodles," but it didn't mean what you think it meant.

It was our nickname for naked.