Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Every day closer to our move brings another action of finality.

At the start of the month we had two days' worth of moving sales in our front yard.  The first day dumped rain, the second day was blazing hot.  Our borrowed tent and garage space made the sale more interactive, even in a downpour.  Believe it or not, the wetter day was the more popular day and the day we met neighbors we'd never seen before.

It seems a good purging brings people together. 

On Thursday, I gave my car keys away to a young man named Kyle.

He has drooled over my Ford Escape for a year now, and was so excited when we asked him to buy it before our move.  We gave him a great deal and he hugged the car before putting the keys in the ignition.  I'm sad to see BattleKat go, but grateful she stayed in the Cornerstone Chapel family.  It really was fun making this nice boy's dream come true (his first car = his dream car).

Friday was the day we signed final paperwork on our house and the day Chris's co-workers sent him off with a pizza party and bagpipes.

Saturday was the Macklin-Flagner wedding.  Sunday was our final Sunday at church.  Hubby and I got to lead worship together one last time, ending with a covering of prayer in front of the congregation. Our lead pastors even gave us a present and let us say a few words to our church family before leaving the stage.  We were then mobbed after both services by well-wishers, hugs, tears, kind words, group photos, cards and gifts.  The attention was reminiscent of our wedding reception fourteen years ago.

The good kind of overwhelming.

That night, we had our final evening with the Gardiners.  We played and read books with their kids, ate Melanie's bounty of snacks, watched a few episodes of a show we like, and talked until midnight. Mel presented us with a gorgeous scrapbook she made, compiling many of our favorite Ohio moments and memories.  I have no idea how she found the time to do this, but I'm so glad she did.  

Monday was hubby's final dental appointment in Ohio, the day we had our garage door fixed, I said goodbye to some friends, we unloaded all of our freezer food on Amanda, and had one final homemade pizza party with the Mousers.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow, and the next day will be filled with final coffee dates, more dinners with friends, ordering new address labels, changing utilities, submitting our change of address forms, picking up the Penske truck, packing, loading, cleaning, and saying our last goodbyes.

We are blessed to have a rental house waiting for us in Seattle.  One of the connections I made during my reunion weekend turned in to a home for the four of us.  Together we will furnish it and decorate it and reacquaint ourselves with our new zip code   It's something we've anticipated for months and is finally here.

I swear it feels like we just arrived.

Monday, August 19, 2013

joyful noise

Expressing worship to God with like-hearted people is an experience matched by nothing else.  Regardless of what it looks like, it's the honest desire for humility, a posture of reverence, and a want to draw closer to God that makes it so beautiful to me.

I grew up in a traditional Presbyterian church where worship music was what we sang from hymnals.  I didn't understand then how it could be anything but boring (sorry, mom and dad), but now I have a love for hymns.  Once I started paying attention to the words, I understood the heart behind them, and God changed my heart. Whenever they come up in rotation at our charismatic church here in Ohio (not often, but every now and then Chris sneaks them in), or when I visit my parents' church, I sing them with sincerity.

I've learned that style of music doesn't make worship, it's the way we commune with God that makes worship.

At our church in California, we had worship stations (creative movement, confession, prayer, communion elements, writing, visual art) that were open during the music time.  Everyone participated by singing and/or moving about the room.  The children even stayed in the service, which always encouraged playfulness and freedom from our grown-up inhibitions.

They were such spirited little dancers.

As an adult, I am now a stand up, clap, and raise my hands kind of worshipper.  Some times I kneel, some times I shout out, "Hallelujah!"  We have many others like me at Cornerstone Chapel, as well as flag wavers, dancers, those who shout words of prophecy, those who weep and pray, and others who sit quietly.

It is as intimate as it is corporate.

(Amanda is a flag waver and dancer.)

"Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations."
- Psalm 100:1-5 (NRSV)

Sunday, August 18, 2013


It started with a wooden box.

Tori gave it to me over two months ago with the challenge of "figuring out" what it meant.  Of course, I over-thought the whole thing and tried to see it from every angle.  It was light-weight, solid on all sides, brown in color, smooth with a pale grain, possibly floatable?  Truth is, it was just a box that Tori wrote a love note on for me, and it meant whatever I wanted it to mean.

All of the youth girls who were in on the joke got a kick out of watching me struggle to figure it out.  No, seriously, they laughed at my straining.  Dang kids.  I eventually forgave Tori for making me sweat and thanked her for loving me. 

The box incident was followed by a request from Tori and Sammie to surprise us with something before we moved away.  We set a date and time.  When the day finally came, it was revealed that the plan had gone from a big surprise going away party in the park with all of the youth kids (blindfolds, party tents, food, the whole shebang!) to dinner at the Bier Haus with our two young friends.

It was an "it's the thought that counts" moment.  They told us all about the lavish Plan A that turned in to a far more scaled down Plan B.  The fact that they wanted to do that (anything) for us, and that they followed through on our planned kidnapping.. well.. it meant a lot to us.  Thankfully, sans blindfolds.

And this restaurant is no slouch!  The Bier Haus is a Euro-American Bistro in Strongsville with an unassuming outside and casual fine dining inside.  Between the four of us we savored meaty cheeseburgers, garlic rosemary fries, schnitzel, grilled asparagus with aioli, smoked potato pancakes, and warm pretzel breadsticks. Everything was plated thoughtfully and paired with a flavorful drizzle or dipping sauce.     

The girls took the bills and treated us with their own money, they did all the driving, and kept us entertained with stories and conversation. When I first met them, they were timid and unsure about things, but not today.  They have both grown in to strong, interesting young ladies.  They graduated high school this year and have bright futures ahead of them, though probably not in party planning.

P.S. The meaning I assigned to the wooden box is this: "Tori's love for me is solid."  She approves.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

the best days

While in Ohio, we've been a part of several weddings and vow renewals.  They never get old to me.  The buzz of excitement mixed with the stress and anticipation of planning and details turned in to one magical moment.

I really like when my hubby does the officiating.

He just has this way of making each ceremony personal and unique to the couple getting married.  He follows in the footsteps of our close friend and pastor in California, Adam Ayers, who married us almost fifteen years ago and carried our ceremony in the same way.

Tonight, Chris performed the wedding of our next-door-neighbors-turned-friends, Josh and Kelly.  It's a day we've waited for since we first met them in 2010, and fervently prayed for after they announced their engagement last year.  Josh and Kelly are as kind as they come and are so fun to spend late nights around a campfire with.  They even gave us a going away gift basket at their rehearsal dinner!

Kelly looked stunning as she walked down the aisle of Frostville Village Church.  Photos of the happy couple hung from the edge of the pews, and the bridal party wore shades of pink and yellow.  The organist alternated between Beatles and Sting ballads to Elton John and Bon Jovi.  Josh beamed as his bride stood in front of him.

This was one of those events where we only knew a handful of people in the room, but the common thread was love.  Josh and Kelly are adoring of their family and friends and equally adored.

Three weeks ago, Paul and Pam Voigt celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary with a surprise-to-Paul vow renewal at the Bally's gym where they met.  The aerobics room was transformed in to a ballroom, and the star couple looked radiant.  Paul was indeed surprised, and we all cheered as they took turns publicly sharing their affections for each other. 

Pastor Jeff from our church led the ceremony.  The rest of us sat on workout equipment in semi-formal attire and took bets on how soon Pam would start crying (after she said she wouldn't).  What fun it was to celebrate with this family!  Paul endured a bout of cancer this year, which made this event especially joyful.

I'll be honest, Paul and Pam spoil us.  We've been invited to many of their lavish occasions over the years.  Pam knows how to throw a party!  From limo rides to Italian feasts and pool parties at their home, we are truly blessed by the Voigt family.

Back in April, we had the honor of being in Dan and Rachel's wedding.  I was a bridesmaid, Chris was the minister.

Rustic chic!

The bridal party stuck on mustaches before entering
the reception site.

And now that we've announced it on Facebook, it's official.  It's actually old news in Ohio, but I haven't mentioned it on my blog before:  Dan and Rachel are moving to Seattle with us!

I'm squealing through my teeth as I type these words.

The whole story starts with a dream that Dan had a year ago (while he and my husband were on a missions trip in Nicaragua) about the four of us planting a church in Seattle.  I don't recall the details, but I'll never forget the conclusion.  It was so strong a presence that Dan mentioned it to Chris, and told him he needed to pray about moving back to Seattle.  We hadn't known Dan much longer than his dating relationship with Rachel, but we all became fast friends.

Dan and Rachel fell in love, got engaged, married, and now they're sleeping in our guestroom!

I've never walked with two friends from the start of dating to the marriage part before.  I mean, I've known the friends and have been there for the highlights, but not spent every week with them as they navigated through their relationship.  This was a really sweet, funny, tender, cra-zy journey and certainly one that hubby and I were delighted to be in on.  Being friends and mentors to Dan and Rachel these past two years have been amazing.  

And now we get to plan our future together!

These are the best days.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

20 years

© photo credit: Jenni El Fattal

Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I really enjoy high school reunions.  

Last Thursday, I flew out to Seattle for a jam-packed weekend of 20 year high school reunion events (20 years!), looking for a house to rent, making a job connection, and spending time with my family. It was a weekend I had anticipated for months.

Dinner & ice cream with the fam.

A quick visit with my Colie and Baby Jack (due in two weeks!).

Ten years ago, our reunion weekend was also enlivening, even if we were all a little twitchy.  I went in to that homecoming with confidence and a story to tell, but I was still being refined and figuring things out, as we all were.  I was riding on a redemption high, while others were still wading through a season of uncertainty and disorientation. The mid-20s were an exhilarating time, but boy do I feel more comfortable in my skin now.  Seeing everyone at this stage of life affirmed that we've all become functioning adults.  

It's equal parts surreal as it is familiar.

I promised I would bring my scrapbook.  But, instead of the one containing pep rally flyers, Kodak articles, class photos and prom pictures, I brought the one from my choir trip to Europe in 1993. Those of us in that group (plus spouses and my brother who graduated the year prior) all gathered together on Sunday for a time of reminiscing and "geeking out" together.  I decided that if I was going to lug a big scrapbook on the plane with me, it was going to be that one.  I also brought my tour sweatshirt and the VHS-to-DVD recording that one of our chaperones made for us (thanks to my hubby for FedEx-ing it overnight to my parents' house!).

Our choir director from those years, Jim McCullough, and his wife, Kathy, joined us all the way from Chicago!  He was the teacher that nurtured his students and saw the potential we hadn't yet seen in ourselves.  It was music that brought us together back then, with a synergy that (I have feeling) will always exist between us.

This was my favorite reunion event of the weekend.  We sang songs we hadn't sung in 20 years.. and we still remembered our parts!  Photo credit: Shane Kelly


If I'm honest, everyone looks the same as I remember, just older.  We are all settled in to careers and families and life experiences, but the essence of who we are is still there.  Even those I didn't know well in high school or felt distance with then, I talked to.  I wanted a new memory with them.  Call it curiosity or concern: each conversation was rewarding.  We're only human, after all.

We've been laughing together for over 20 years!

My oldest and dearest friend, CC.  We've been besties
since elementary school!

Bob Cummins, my old friend.  We had several classes together growing up and used to pass notes to each other.  He's now a chiropractor with his own practice!  
Photo credit: Jenni El Fattal

Nicole and I played soccer together for many years!  
Photo credit: Jenni El Fattal

My sweet Jen - one of the most generous people I know.  
Photo credit: Jenni El Fattal

Stefin & Annemarie are so dear to me.  We go back as far as first grade!

Memorial for our classmates who have passed away.  I remember learning about every single one of their deaths, except one (Nick - third from the right) who was a surprise to us all this year.  Angela (far right) was one of my best friends in junior high.  
Photo credit: Jenni El Fattal

Some of the conversations were short and sweet, while others addressed heart matters, family dynamics, the ache of disappointment and the joy of blessings (some times amidst heartache).  I'd say that I was sort of the class therapist when we were in high school.  I did my best to be kind, plus I could sing, I was involved in a dozen extra-curricular activities (from sports to music to ASB), and I was straight as an arrow (always carrying a monogrammed Bible in my book bag).   

As much as I enjoyed my high school career, I'm happy to leave it in 1993.  Life is far more interesting now, and my level of care for people is at a depth that could never exist when I was seventeen.  I wonder what we'll all be talking about in ten years, and if we'll make reference to the reunion we just had.  Who is still in the area?  Who's a no-show?  Did Robb Schmidt have more kids?

You know, the important things.

Monday, August 5, 2013

singing goodbye

There are many phrases that describe our season in Ohio.  Some that express the challenge of things, but mostly ones that express how blessed we are.  Saturday night we lived out a handful of those blessings in Jim and Alisa Sandor's backyard.

We had a farewell party potluck where Dan, Rachel, Chris and myself got to personally thank each person for their love and support of us. It was a sweet evening of food, friends and music.

Really, the sweetest.

After bellies were filled and a hundred hugs were given, Rachel & The Holywaters took to the checkered tent and sang through half of our debut CD.  It's a project we've been working on since our first music nights began two years ago.  Our intention then was to help Rachel grow in her passion for music and performance, and it evolved in to something more.  Almost all of the songs are pieces that Chris crafted over the past two decades.  I've heard them sung before, but having Rachel's voice on lead added a special something.  We ended our set with two worship songs that the crowd sang with us.  The weather was perfect, and we soaked in every minute of loving until the sun went down.

At the party, we had a basket where folks could leave a donation for CDs.  What I didn't anticipate were all of the thoughtful cards that were also left.  Someone added a journal-type book to the table where people could add a personal sentiment, poetry and drawings. It was more than I could have hoped for.

We are going to miss this place.  Not the bugs or the humidity, but the people.  Definitely the people.

If you would like a copy of our CD, "Rachel & The Holywaters: No Bad Ideas," please send me money through PayPal and I'll send you a copy.  $10 will pay for your CD and shipping ($10 per CD), unless it's international then please throw us a few extra bucks (you can throw us all the money you'd like to, no matter where you live, we won't mind).  Send money to and click on the "sending money to family or friends" button to limit fees, and be sure to detail your shipping information.  All money received will go towards moving expenses.  If you live in the Seattle area, we can make other arrangements for delivery after we arrive.  Thank you so much for your support!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

camping for grown-ups

When asked if Chris and I camp, my answer usually goes like this: "I like to think that we camp all the time, but, really, it's only in my head." The last camping trip I can remember was when we lived in California.  It was on Balboa Island with my dear friends, Tammie and Ali.  But, that was a "no boys allowed" trip, so it doesn't count for camping as a couple.  We've stayed in mountain cabins before and one in the woods, but camping in a tent?

It's been a long time.

My dad used to take me and my siblings every summer when we were younger.  His version of camping was driving up abandoned roads in his yellow Dodge hatchback, making us look over the edge of cliffs to find "the best spot."  We would literally park on the side of the road and carry boxes of gear down steep hills to a small patch of gravel by a creek.  Since we would never miss church on Sunday, we would find ourselves dressed in church clothes carrying those boxes back up the embankments, trying not to get dirty.  

I laugh at those memories now, especially the time we almost lost my little brother in a river.  Something about shimmying across a wet log with arms full wasn't safe.

My dad does know how to weave a campfire story, and his eggs and baloney cooked over a morning fire never tasted so good.

Last night we came very close to camping in a tent, but then it rained, so we ended up on couches and an air mattress in Mike and Mel's living room.

It was a good idea.  No, great idea!  

Babysitters were arranged, so the adults could play.  We basically had a grown-up camping/sleepover at "Camp Gardiner."  Their backyard was set up with camping food, lawn chairs and a gorgeous fire.  In-between downpours, we made pie iron pies (aka "hobo pies") over the flames, grilled portobello mushrooms, ate more than our share of potato chips and French onion dip, watermelon, corn and edamame salad, crackers and hummus, and s'mores for days!

Rachel's first "hobo pie."

Love me some s'mores!

Happy campers.

With only three weeks left in Ohio, this was the perfect way for us to celebrate with these friends.  They were our first friends in Ohio, and remain steady and true.  The spontaneous dance parties might be the best part of every time we get together.  For sure, our hilarity and antics make my dozen mosquito bites worth the itch.

I know we will all be friends for life.

Friday, August 2, 2013

the tribe

It was the day that began with corned beef and ended with a home run.  I mean, it was pretty much a given that we would attend a Cleveland Indians game at some point during our Ohio residency.  It just took three years, and our Rachel marrying her Dan (who is an avid baseball fan and often has extra tickets).

Before we stuffed our faces at Progressive Field, we stuffed our faces at the famous Slyman's restaurant.  Slyman's corned beef is so well-known that even former president, George W. Bush, has eaten there, with other visits by Rachael Ray and Jason Castro.  It is delicious, we can vouch for that, and heaping in portion size.

My goodness!  I ate most of the first half with a fork until I could fit the rest in my mouth as a sandwich.  The other half was my lunch on Tuesday.  Thank you to our friends, Neal and Michelle, for introducing us to this Cleveland icon.

And a Diet Coke, please.

After recovering from our corned beef coma, we joined Dan and Rachel for the Chicago White Sox vs Cleveland Indians homegame.  It was a back and forth match, tied most of the game.  I used to watch baseball more when I was a kid, so I don't really know how to talk about it as an adult.  I love the energy of the home crowd, the guy who beats on a drum to build excitement, and how perfectly the lines on the field are mowed.  It is real grass, right?  

Still, nine innings can feel like a long time when you're not an enthusiast, so I appreciated the walks along the concourse to get food.  Fat brats, hand cut fries, ice cold sodas and frozen custard were on our menu that night.  

Rachel & Dan are real fans - they have jerseys.

Our view from the bleacher seats was also pretty great!  We could see the entire field, which also meant getting a full view of "the wave" as it traveled through the crowd.  I'm pretty sure each player had their own theme song, too, which might be the coolest thing ever.

The game was tied for the last half and ended in fireworks, as some guy named Jason Giambi hit a home run for the win.  Apparently, he's considered "old" in this sport.  Well, I hope every other 42 year-old man cheered along with his game-winning hit!

My favorite moment of the evening was seeing Dan's name in a brick at Heritage Park, thanks to one adoring father.  

And those fries.

No shame in my game.