where I’m coming from…

I know that some people find my “slight” obsession and/or concern over getting good grades to be rather funny, because if you’ve been paying attention for the last few years… that’s mostly what I get. C’s aren’t allowed. B’s are barely tolerated. And I start breathing easier once I have so many A’s in the gradebook that nothing can knock them out.

You’ll tell me, “Rach, your grades are always good, why worry?”. To be honest, over the last year, it’s turned into more of a faint worry than a serious obsession. The Lord’s been working with me on things such as being a worrywart. Yes, I believe I should be working hard enough to get good grades, but if my Bible tells me that I’m to “be anxious for nothing,” (Philippians 4:6) then I think I better listen.

But I can still become concerned that I flubbed something on an exam, and maybe I’ll get a B this time. What’s the big deal?

It goes further back than these last few years in college. If you’ve been reading along here for a while, you’ve probably realized that I’m a “returning student.” It took me at least 15 years to decide that I should go back to college and actually get my degree. It took a year of working on campus and seeing my older brother finally get HIS degree to make me even consider it. Why?

Because I hated college, when I was eighteen. And I hated school. I never ever wanted to go near them again, and the only things I planned on learning ever again came from my Bible, my books, and the people in my life.

Maybe you think I’m joking. Let me backtrack.

I know that there are actually good memories from high school, buried somewhere in my memory, but they became completely swamped by the bad memories. I’ve blanked out on a lot of it, because I wanted so badly to forget.

I wasn’t a bad student when I was younger, but by the time I was in high school, I was getting behind in math and science. I dropped AP French because I was behind, and before the official drop date. I probably didn’t study hard enough, but I wasn’t comprehending all that my teachers were trying to teach me. I just didn’t get it. Even as a student that LOVED history and reading, I wasn’t even doing as well as could be in my AP English and History classes. That’s because I had yet to figure out what exactly my teachers wanted from me in an essay. Also, I had a crazy AP English teacher who saw sexual innuendo in EVERYTHING literary and I didn’t know how to deal with that kind of thinking.

Anyway, while I survived those classes and passed my AP exams, I couldn’t get my grades up in Algebra. Nothing I did seemed to help, and I was convinced I had done everything. My only happy time at school was with my friends in my Strings class, but even there, I never really liked practicing, so I kind of skated on by. My teacher wasn’t really a teacher, he was a local orchestra member that was teaching school for extra money. So, he was neither a help nor a hindrance. He let us play and enjoy music and didn’t push us very hard.

But despite my dropping math grades and my average grades everywhere else, I wasn’t raised to think that bad grades were acceptable. I knew they weren’t. I didn’t want to be below average. But I became convinced that I was. By the time I was a senior, I didn’t have a very good opinion of my own intelligence, report cards made me cringe, and math homework left me practically in tears. I just couldn’t understand it, and I became convinced it was because I was… well, stupid. Average. Unable to learn all that higher math stuff. Or figure out what I was screwing up elsewhere.

The hammer dropped when I became a senior. My only happy times had always been in Strings class. Well, that year, we had enough students to form two classes and my teacher split us up by skill level. I was the only Senior who was put into the lower level (younger) class. It broke something inside of me. I was so angry, because my teacher didn’t care that I was humiliated. That I would have no more classes with my closest friends. That he had stolen my remaining happiness in my last year in school. High school was pain and anger and humiliation and frustration and feeling nothing but stupid.

No, don’t worry, I was never one of those kids that “went to the bad” or did really crazy stuff because of inner turmoil. You see, despite everything going on in my head, I still had a Savior Jesus Christ who was looking out for me. Even when I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to Him or asking for help. He still had me in His grip and when I was thinking straight, I knew He was there for me. Always. And I had a family who loved me and loved Jesus, no matter what I did in school.

Ok, I didn’t really mean to boohoo overmuch about high school. Someday, I think some more of the happy memories will surface again, but even eighteen years later… most of them are buried.

After that, I spent part of a semester in college, and then I’d had enough. They tried to teach me psychology and evolution and statistics. I was terrified of college students, because I’ve always been pretty shy with strangers. This was strangers times a million, to my eyes, and I didn’t want to be anywhere near the place. I stopped going to class, and maybe I actually showed up for Final exams, but without ever studying much for them. My grades were abysmal, because I no longer cared and I wasn’t ever going back. EVER.

I joined the workforce. Worked in a bookstore, ran a business, cleaned houses, cleaned full-time for a Bible camp, went overseas as a nanny, and finally went home again. And then the Lord threw me a curve ball.

The Lord wanted me in college, and I have no idea how long He’d been trying to prepare me for it, but He finally got through to me. But I entered college with baggage. I had been convinced, as an eighteen year old, that I was fairly dumb and unable to learn stuff. I’d been crushed by what I perceived as the unfeeling nature of my music teacher, and no, I’ve never touched my violin again. I had been embarrassed again and again by mistakes and bad grades and such, in high school and college. My understanding of math had never grown much after 8th grade (forms in geometry gave me nightmares in middle school, but I LOVED tessellations), though a few things got into my head somehow.

But when I became determined to return to college, I was also determined that I wasn’t going to waste my time or money, since I would be paying back loans for it. I decided, with a vengeance, that I was going to study hard and clobber my classes. But to be honest, I thought I’d be fighting for B’s.

So, I was flat out astonished when I started to get A’s. And more A’s. And I hit the Dean’s List and the President’s List. My one B in a class still grates on me, but maybe it keeps me humble, also. I discovered that with enough study time and force of will, I could even get an A in “baby” Chemistry and my one required Math class. I even ended up tutoring a friend of mine through HER math class, discovering that I had learned that stuff better than I thought. And that I was CAPABLE of it.

What is all this to say? I carried baggage in my head for years, believing that I was incapable of learning, that math and science stuff especially. It HURT to think that about your own self, but I was convinced. Only several years in college have finally showed me that I just wasn’t ready and yes, I probably wasn’t trying hard enough. My teenage self didn’t know how to deal with all the stuff being thrown at me in school and stopped trying.

I’ve figured most of that school stuff out now. Discovered that if I can do nothing else, I can write. And I can math and science, too, especially when it’s something that interests me. I can even get a higher GPA than any of my brothers that have Master’s degrees!

And I’m thankful that the Lord has given me the opportunity to do all of this. To learn that He made me to be an intelligent, creative woman, capable of learning, even where math and science are concerned.

But when you hear me expressing concern about a grade, a slight worry that I need to prepare myself for the possibility of a B… you’re hearing the shades of high-school-and-college past. You’re hearing my never-ending frustration over that one B (class grade) that I got three years ago (which was probably an 89, but he wouldn’t bump it up). And also, the only class I ever received a B in was in Modern Military History… so you can see why my military history classes are still capable of winding me up. 🙂 It was also my first year back in school, when I hadn’t learned to take notes properly or study properly. My prof also didn’t use PowerPoint slides, but occasionally wrote on the board. You had to take notes from his rambling monologue. 😉

This is not meant to be a whiny tale. It’s to show that I’ve gained some perspective on high school, years which were fraught with emotions and other stuff that everyone deals with. And also, my memories of high school help me to be a lot more understanding when other people, younger than I am, are upset and convinced that they just can’t do it. Convinced they aren’t smart enough and will never understand something.

And please don’t think that my family and friends were not encouraging me then, either. They were. They’re the reason I survived. But I didn’t always explain what was going on in my head, so they couldn’t always counteract what I thought. They could just keep loving me and praying for me.

So, if you have someone in your life that’s discouraged by school, whether high school or college, keep building them up, praying for them, and encouraging them that yes they CAN learn and they ARE smart. Just keep building them up. Eventually, they’ll listen and HEAR you.

And bear with me until I graduate next May. 🙂  As I said, the Lord’s been working with me when it comes to grades and worry, especially this year. And I’m so thankful that He has. But at least you’ll know, now, where I’m coming from when I begin to worry that I screwed something up. You may think I’m crazy to believe I could possibly screw anything up. But I can. I have. I probably will again. But hopefully, it’ll be after I graduate and never have to worry about getting any more school grades again. Ever.

been to the beach…

What can I say? Seabrook in May… is awesome, as always. Wonderful friends, fantastic meetings with Rex sharing from the Word of God, splendid food, and did I mention it’s at the beach?  DSC_0845DSC_0817I’m finding that I don’t have very much to say about it… probably because I waited too long, but also since I’ve said it so many times before. Come to think of it, there were a few differences this year, but not all of them were my fault. : )  For one, I didn’t play any Frisbee, because I wanted to go walk to the Point during the daytime, for once. There were people throwing a disc around, but they were finished by the time I returned. Considering that I usually do my long beach walks at midnight, this was a nice change, even if I missed out on the Frisbee. I suspect there would have been volleyball, too, if anyone had remembered to bring one. We’ll have to try for that, next May.DSC_0849DSC_0880The tide was high at midnight, this year, so high that you had to either walk in the water or walk on the crunchy, branchy stuff that gathers at the tide line. So, I didn’t do any beach walking, though I know there were others that did.

As always, the food was phenomenal, especially at dinner, when they break out the best meals imaginable. Including, for the first time that I can remember, shrimp ‘n grits. I’m not a huge fan of grits, but if they were made like this every time, I’d eat them all day long. I was absolutely stuffed after that meal was over, it was SO good.DSC_0894DSC_0898We met in the gym this year, since they had to raise the chapel (apparently it was sinking) up some more. So, we got to try out some new acoustics (definitely not as good as the chapel) and there were a few mishaps with the new keyboard they had us use. But as always, it was a wonderfully blessed time.DSC_0902On Monday, as usual, a bunch of us went in to Charleston, in order to visit the Market, and then see some more sights. We passed the Provost Dungeon (see below) on the way to eating at the Brown Dog Cafe (I think), which was really good. And then, several of us went to run people back to the airport, while others went to Skip’s for pizza. If any Seabrook regulars want to know more about the conference, I’m afraid you’ll have to ask in person. All I’ve got is this teaser, instead of a full-blown dissertation. Have a great week!DSC_0924DSC_0928

trying to do better…

My blog views are “rocketing” today, and I just realized that State of Origin must be happening in dear old Queensland, Australia. I wrote those posts so long ago, but what I had to say about rugby league football and the Queensland Maroons still applies, even if I’ve been away from AUS for more than 2 years now.

Meanwhile, summer is in full swing, and I haven’t felt like writing. Or posting. Despite just having been to Seabrook for my conference. So, I will try and shape up, and get back to posting now and then. If you have a blog, you’ll know that every blogger goes through ups and downs, trying to figure out where they are as a writer, and having days when you’ve got nothing to share. Or don’t know how to share it.

I even know that my stats tell me that I have over 400 followers, but even that can be a little depressing when I can tell that many of them are those “blogs” where they tell you how to get rich and travel the world… is that even fair, that they use you for advertising, when there’s no proof that they ever read your blog? I would like to know that what I write and the photos I take… I want them to be interesting to someone, or even to brighten someone’s day. No one wants their “followers” to be a bunch of fakes.

I don’t mean that to sound that harsh. Many of you have been following me since I was in Australia, and some of you probably do read my posts. I wish I could write something exciting and fun, like I used to, when I was chasing my Aussie kiddos…

If you’re a fellow blogger, and know what it’s like, I hope you’ll have a cheerful word for me. Some of my writing mojo is missing, and I can’t seem to find it again. Hang in there, and I should figure this out again.  : )DSC_0818 DSC_0821

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

This is the time of year for…DSC_0794

…cookies and other treats to share with friends and family.DSC_0785

DSC_0801…Christmas ornaments to decorate the tree, full of memories of years past.DSC_0808

DSC_0816…watching someone else decorate the Christmas tree, because you have too many papers to write to be able to help. : )DSC_0834

DSC_0947…cozy dinners of toasted open-face grilled cheese sandwiches on Christmas Eve.DSC_0865

…presents under the tree, and tired, not-morning-people that are still happy to be awake, even without little kids to squeal over boxes and wrapping paper. DSC_0872

DSC_0880…debates over cinnamon rolls and pancakes that are solved by having both for Christmas morning breakfast.DSC_0900

DSC_0907…Christmas presents that might just be bigger than you are.DSC_0917

…gifts of books to catch you up on all the books that you haven’t bought this year.DSC_0929

…delicious Christmas dinner of turkey and all the trimmings!DSC_0987

…remembering Who came on that long ago night, was laid in a manger, and how the wise men found Him by the light of the star of Bethlehem.DSC_0845

seeing the only great light…

A friend of mine posted pictures on FB of her toddler, after his daddy carved the Halloween jack-o-lantern. He was fascinated by the candle they had lit and put inside of Jack Pumpkin. Understandably so, I think this must be where every child learns to think their parents are superpeople. And then, not long after that, he gets to see the magic of the Christmas tree, glowing with its beautiful lights! We can’t know what is actually running through their heads, but I’m sure part of it is “That’s so awesome!” and also, “My parents are awesome!”DSC_0643

I think of this whenever it’s late at night, and the only lights lit are the Christmas lights. Out of the darkness, the colored lights from our big tree, and the white lights from our little trees are shining in the darkness, and it’s a beautiful sight. I now know that my parents did not invent Christmas lights for my personal benefit, as I might have thought when I was little, but I am still fascinated by the magical quality of the lights.DSC_0649

DSC_0648Some people may think that Christmas trees are pagan or that they’re all about encouraging children to think of what they can GET out of Christmas. Maybe they are, and maybe some families don’t teach their children any better. But no matter how old I am, just as when I was a child, I am amazed and fascinated by the small beauties of Christmas, like the lights on the tree.DSC_0647

DSC_0646And you can be assured, that when I was old enough to understand, I learned about the truly amazing reason why we celebrate Christmas, and why our joy at Christmastime should be in giving to others. Because what more wonderful and amazing gift could have been given to this world, but God in the form of the man, Jesus Christ? As some people might put it, in this day and age, “Best. Christmas. Present. Ever!”DSC_0645

Or as the Bible puts it, “The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.” –Matthew 4:16 (which was Matthew’s quote from Isaiah 9:2)DSC_0644

P.S. Assuming the video works, I hadn’t actually intended to say anything while filming, but then I forgot I had the video camera on, and commented on the tree being pretty to my aunt. I was afraid it would be SO loud on the video… now I can’t understand how that’s even my voice. I must’ve been whispering AND getting over my respiratory infection, still.  : )

cookies galore…

With Christmas vacation officially begun, I had a license to goof off. But there are other things still need going, like making Christmas baking, so my mom mixed up the dough, over the weekend, and got started. By the time she had made several types of dough, I had joined in the process, if only getting cookies in and out of the oven, for a time.DSC_0655

DSC_0673When the pecan tassies had finally come out of the oven (they take the longest to bake, it was time to make the press cookies. A week or so before this, I had attempted a batch, and for the first time since Australia, it was a failure. You see, press cookie dough has to be pretty stiff, but if it’s too dry, it won’t press into the shapes you want, or stick to the tray. I’m still not certain what happened, because my measurements were right. And for the record, I am a cookie pro, and this had only ever happened once before.DSC_0663

DSC_0667DSC_0678I finally decided that it might have been like when I was in Australia, it was too warm and humid at the time. Usually, when we make Christmas cookies, it’s rather cool out and the heat is on, just enough to keep things comfortable. That day, it was unseasonably warm, too warm to have the heat on, but not quite warm enough to have the windows open. And it was rather humid. So, with no way of proving it, I blame the weather.DSC_0701

DSC_0679DSC_0709This time, all the dough came out perfectly (it wouldn’t dare do anything else, when my mom’s in charge), and I took charge of most of the pressing, for as long as my hands held out. While not quite a science, you have to keep twisting the handle on the press, press out the dough, and then… well, sort of jerk the press to the side, in order to get the dough to “cut” off from the rest. A couple seconds too little, and you don’t have enough cookie to stick to the tray, a second too much, and you have a fat cookie with a print on it, but not an actual shape to the dough.DSC_0686DSC_0714

DSC_0690I whipped out several trays worth, and then my hands got tired. I blamed it on all the writing from my exams, but it occurs to me that I twist with my left hand (and have a bruise on my palm to prove it), so I guess that didn’t really make sense, after all. Mom and Matt each took a turn, and then I finished off. But people can say what they like about modern cookie presses, with buttons to push. I wouldn’t give up using our Mirro presses for anything, and I even have several I’ve picked up at yard sales and antique shops, waiting for when my brothers are ready to bake their own, in their own homes.  : )DSC_0718

DSC_0731We finished the peanut blossoms earlier in the day, so that the Hershey kisses would cool off enough to be put away. When you first put them on a smoking hot cookie, they melt, so if you try and store them immediately, you’ll get chocolate smeared all over everything.DSC_0733

DSC_0736The following day, for similar reasons, we began icing the cookies in the early afternoon. You want to give them several hours for the icing to dry, so you can store them without getting the icing everywhere. I remember some years when we waited until too late, and I did storage duty, somewhere around midnight, because the cookies hadn’t been dry earlier.DSC_0744

DSC_0747While we continued to debate whether the icing was too runny (me) or too thick (my dad), we managed to ice them all, with all four of us working away at them. The press cookies are dipped into a bowl of thinner icing, and then you put sprinkles on them, while you use thicker icing to spread on the cut-out cookies, using a knife.DSC_0752

DSC_0758Looking at that table, it looks like a lot of cookies, but I think this is a smaller batch than some years. But maybe not. They really look like a lot of cookies, once you put them away in the cans and boxes.DSC_0762

DSC_0764The snowballs (Russian tea cookies) and Scandinavian cookies were put away last. If you’re not familiar with the look of the nutty Scandinavian cookies, with the hole in the middle, when we fill up a tray with those, we load them with raspberry or blackberry jam. So yummy!DSC_0742

DSC_0771I hope you are enjoying the Christmas activities in your own home, with your family, whether it involves baking or not. I will probably say this again, but in case you forget to check back, I do with you and your family a most wonderful Christmas and a fantastic New Year!DSC_0776DSC_0778

we’ll always remember…

I had a vague idea, as I walked to my German class, this morning, that I had arrived at work about that same time on 9/11/01. As I thought of it, I wondered how many of the present undergraduates knew where they had been that day. The brand-new freshmen would have been six years old, and the seniors were probably ten years old, at the time. I was twenty-one, and I’ve never forgotten where I was, that Tuesday.DSC_0541

DSC_0540As I left my German class, to walk by the reflection pond, in order to reach Hardin Hall, I stopped short as I saw the hill above the Amphitheater. A flag display had been arranged there, and as much as I wanted to go look, I didn’t have time between classes. Also, I didn’t have a snazzy camera phone to take a picture with. Even at that distance, I could see that everyone was stopping to look. DSC_0542

DSC_0543DSC_0544With the issues of parking on campus, I eventually found my solution to getting my camera, and had my brother drop me off near the end of my mom’s workday. So, walking down from the Carillon Garden, I approached the display from the top. If you walked by, above it, could you tell what it was? Oh, yes, with the 9-11 Project signs, that would attract your attention.DSC_0546

DSC_0545DSC_0547As you can see, there are no pins left under the sign, so I don’t know what they looked like. But I truly appreciate the group that took the time to put up this display. I’ve done my best, by walking to several spots nearby, to get a good look at it. It was difficult to get high enough to see it properly.DSC_0548

DSC_0549I don’t think I can ever say the right thing on this day. Don’t forget our American heroes that saved so many lives on that day, some  giving up their own lives to do it. Remember the families that lost their loved ones. Thank the men in our military, who do their best, every day, to keep our country free. DSC_0550

DSC_0553And thank God for all the blessings in your life. DSC_0557DSC_0559

pennsylvania good-times…

I know, I know, I’m behind! So sorry. I don’t really think I’ve been TOO busy since returning from PA, but between laundry loads, catching up on odds and ends, and unloading boxes… let’s say I’ve kept myself occupied.DSC_0912

DSC_0958As some of you may know, I left over a week ago for Pennsylvania, to meet up with some old friends and old stomping grounds, as well as to sort through my storage unit. The original plan had been to go rent a U-haul and get my storage unit stuff, but that’s been delayed for a few weeks, because of a better option. So, I’ll have it all soon, but not quite yet.DSC_0048

DSC_0060This visit allowed me to not be so pressured for time, while visiting people, and to leisurely do some sorting, in order to help out with the future move.DSC_0063

DSC_0107So, after my usual 9-10 hour drive to Chambersburg, I arrived at GWH. I lived there for almost five years, working as the full-time housekeeper, and occupied two different houses while there. My summers were spent chasing summer staffers and cleaning up between large groups of campers, while the off-season was spent doing all that on my own, during the weeks… but for smaller groups, usually. I knew all the camp buildings from top to bottom, and got to drive a golf cart year-round. What could be better?DSC_0924

DSC_0915Arriving right before a session of family camp allowed me get in some good local food with friends, at Benny’s Italian Restaurant, before seeing more friends. I love Benny’s, and I always have to get a calzone when I’m there. Not that there’s anything wrong with pizza or pasta… I just love all that ham, mozzarella, and ricotta cheese, packed into fresh baked bread.DSC_0963

DSC_0015Also, I tried bruschetta for the second time. I really do not like raw tomatoes, and I’m not a big fan of excessive amounts of tomato sauce, either, but I still eat that. 🙂  But in recent years, I’ve discovered a liking for fish tacos, which include raw onions and tomatoes, mixed into the fresh salsa. So, with that in mind, I chowed down on bruschetta… and liked it. Soaking those tomatoes in oil and spices really did them good.DSC_0941

DSC_0949And for the record, when we were at Olive Garden, the next day (we really weren’t intending to binge on Italian!), I ate a tomato in my salad. So there. But not the olives. I have a vivid memory of trying an olive, again, at a Greek restaurant, a few year ago. That didn’t go down well.DSC_0007

DSC_0990Enough with the food, for the moment. One of my first stops on Saturday morning was to go check out the new swings that they built during Boys Camp. The circle of swings was supposed to be a new hangout area for people, especially during family camps. Just a nice place to get cozy and catch up with old friends. I think it was a great idea, whoever came up with it.DSC_0974

DSC_0982Ok, we couldn’t really completely escape from food. I had Moose Tracks at the Chatterbox (snack shop) almost every evening, after the evening meetings. Usually while catching up with friends, or enjoying their kids’ gyrations on the table top. This particular charmer had just gotten her second wind, and I still think that photo is perfect for adding some hilarious captions.DSC_0202

DSC_0073One afternoon, I got in an awesome game of Ultimate Frisbee, though that game also proved that I needed to completely retire my old sneakers in favor of the ones that just arrived in the mail, this week. Aren’t they fantastic? And I couldn’t resist the urge to wander around and take a look at some of the main buildings on the grounds.DSC_0090

DSC_0100When my time with the friends and kiddos was finally done, it was Wednesday morning, and I got up at the crack of early to a very cool Pennsylvania morning. Which was great, because it had been pretty hot, for most of the week. I had planned to try and get some photos of the local views, so I made a stop at Norlo Park to check out the barn and the surrounding area. As always, I wished I could get up higher in the air, in order to show off the rolling hills of PA, in a much better form.DSC_0116

DSC_0125Then, at the storage unit, I loaded my car to the brim, and made one last short stop at the Goodwill store. These scary mannequins are what greets you at the back door. Don’t let the kids see them, they might have nightmares.DSC_0187

DSC_0155I drove over a couple more hills to arrive at Windy Knoll Creamery, but well before they were open. Besides, I was still going out to breakfast with someone, so it wasn’t really time for ice cream, yet. But that area is full of rolling hills to walk up, as well as a spot for me to park my car. The trick is that for all the beautiful views, you can’t always find a shoulder of the road to park on. So, a friendly neighborhood dog followed me up the hill, while I took some pics.DSC_0157

DSC_0166Then, I got back in the car, and proceeded to drive somewhat slowly, and take pictures through the windshield or out the open window (with my camera strapped wrapped around my wrist). Don’t worry, I made sure no one was behind me, so I wouldn’t hold up traffic. Some pics came out well, and some did not. But it’s truly beautiful countryside.DSC_0167

After that, I had some coffee at Starbucks, and a great breakfast at Perkins, and then hit the road for South Carolina. It was a great way to finish out the summer, right before starting school. Which starts in several days, by the way. We’ll see what happens on the blog, after things get going. 🙂DSC_0175

the art of a selfie…

When I received my first digital camera, the idea of self-portraits had yet to cross my consciousness. But they finally came to my attention, when I moved away to Pennsylvania. How else was I supposed to let my mom know how I was looking, or let her see how long my hair was growing? This type of documentation was wasteful, when you had a film camera, because you might waste your money on a stupid looking photo. IMG_5531 But I had yet to figure out how you were supposed to look. While some people look cool when they’re expressionless, I tend to look angry… or just ridiculous. It took me a little while to discover that if you make yourself laugh, on purpose, you can get a smiling photo of yourself. I also taught this to at least one of my brothers, in order to get better smiles in family photos.IMG_5544

Recently, going through my photos, I came across some of my early self-portraits, from when I first arrived in Pennsylvania. That was the era when I wore tie-dye shirts advertising The Happy Berry, while I was doing my job (I was the housekeeping manager of a year-round camp). Also, this was back when I only wore makeup when my friends “made me over” or when I was in a wedding. Makeup was a waste of time. IMG_5532So, I’ve taken these old color photos and played around with Picasa, until I came up with something that looks much better. They still catch the expressions, but don’t show the horror of the bad lighting and the makeup-lessness. Besides, I had fun editing them.IMG_5533

Hope you enjoy my younger self. These were taken in 2007.IMG_5545

a fourth of rain & georgia…

Over ten years ago, a dear friend of mine got married. She was one of my first friends to get married, and of course, I was at the wedding. I think I helped with the punch table, or something of the sort. Unable to access my pictures from that time, I don’t remember a lot, but I do remember what I was wearing. In the intervening ten years, I still have that skirt and I’ve lost the jewelry. It was also right before I chopped off my waist-length hair, if I remember right. I’ve managed that length, twice in my life, and now I’m attempting to reach it again.

According to her kids, now, I not only have the honor of being considered the “Super Nanny from Australia”, but I was present when their parents met. Mind you, I only met him about five minutes before she did! But it doesn’t matter… the girls are enthralled to hear from someone else how I watched the two of them fall for each other, all in one weekend. I watched her having heart palpitations (but no, I couldn’t HEAR your heart beating!), and unable to believe that this was finally happening.DSC_0705

Over the next year or two, I think I visited two or three times. Once or twice before the baby arrived, and once afterwards. Since I always figured it would be “my turn”, sometime soon, then I was interested in learning anything I could about married life and what it’s really like when your first child arrives. She was a darling, that little E, of course. I don’t think I’d ever seen a baby born with a full head of hair, at that point, or one that seemed to be so alert! But maybe that was because I didn’t remember my brothers as babies… who knows?

Then, I moved to Pennsylvania for almost five years, followed by a year in Australia. Whenever I managed to get home for longer than a weekend, I had very little time or interest in straying very far afield. Family time was meant to be soaked up, and driving four hours anywhere (after the 10 hours it took to get home) was not in my game plan.DSC_0674

But though some people like to diss FB, whenever possible, it’s been a wonderful tool for me to keep in touch with my friends, over the years. Even when I couldn’t see a friend in person, I could see pictures of their children, as they arrived and grew up.

The Fourth of July weekend was approaching, when I realized that if I took that Friday off, I could get a long weekend to finally go visit my friend in Georgia. It had been almost 8 years since we’d seen each other, but we still longed to catch up in person. The time and money issue always seemed to get in the way, but finally, I scraped the wherewithal to decide to go, and then actually get there.DSC_0681

As you already know, it rained for most of the trip to Georgia, most of my time there, and most of the trip back. So, I waded through puddles to the house, and was immediately hugged by a 5 year old that I had never met. But they already knew who I was, because they’d read about me on my blog, when I was in Australia. I think reading about real Aussie kids was fascinating for them.

Without going into a huge amount of detail, I will say that my friends and I have both changed, over the years, but that doesn’t pull us apart, it just makes life more interesting when we get together. When I last saw them, they had a newborn daughter, and were facing life as almost-newlyweds and as new parents. I was single then, as I am now, but I still didn’t know what to do with my life. I was probably running my own cleaning business, at the time, and trying to figure out how to make a profit.DSC_0715

Since then, they’ve been married over ten years, have three beautiful children, and their house is a little bigger than last time. The baby E is now the eldest, with a flair for style and matching clothes. She was my mainstay, when I helped make barbecue sauce for a chicken dinner, or put together a pavlova for dessert, because I didn’t know where to find anything, in the kitchen. I’m still single, as I said, but instead of being a nanny, housekeeping manager, or business owner, I’m about to go back to college. What will be in store for me, next time I visit them?DSC_0676

While I’m including some photos from my visit, I should tell you that it took me about 2-3 days for me to even get my camera out. Some of you think that I travel with it attached to my arm, but that really isn’t true. I really have to be “in the mode” to get started, and even with several kids running around, I was just enjoying the ability to relax and not do anything important. I had started a book on the morning of July 4th, got hooked, and HAD to finish it while I was in Georgia, so that’s what I spent my spare time doing.DSC_0688

DSC_0678I found myself talking about Australia more than I have anywhere, since arriving home. They had read my blog, some, but not all of it, and had plenty of questions to ask me. It was very strange, after a year of spending time with people that never asked me about it, aside from “So, how was Australia?”. That general of a question will shut me down, completely. If all you want to hear is “Great!”, then I’ll give you what you want. You have to try harder, if you want to get more out of me.DSC_0692

Of course, the girls had to show off their crafting skills, and before two days were out, I had two door hangers to take home with me. Luckily, my new bedroom has two doors in it, so I can hang one on each side of the room, to enjoy my memories of E and the middle M.DSC_0746

DSC_0747After quite a few discussions about Aussie food and favorite things about Australia (that is a very hard thing to answer, find a favorite thing or experience from there), M decided to make an Aussie-style meal on Saturday. We went to the grocery store, and searched for patty pans to make meat pies, and eventually found them in the freezer section, with the dough already in the pans. For some reason, Publix didn’t have aluminum patty pans to buy, by themselves. M figured she would just make the top crusts, herself.DSC_0748

As we prepared for dinner, E helped me work on dessert. We had to start first, because we needed the pavlova to be out of the oven before the meat pies could go in. It was interesting to work off of the laptop, one page set to MY blog page with my pav recipe, and another page set to a recipe for Aussie meat pies. I now know that I can make them at home, too, so my Aussie friends will have to send me their favorite meat pie recipes.  : )DSC_0694

I still haven’t achieved that crispy outer crust on the pavlova, but the marshmallow-y inside is still perfect. Don’t worry, I’ll get it eventually. After the whipped topping was done, the little A got into the fun, licking the beater. He’s a charmer, that’s for sure. I unashamedly licked the spatula, after scraping the bowl to put some of it in my friend’s coffee. She had a Keurig, so I admit to drinking LOTS of coffee while I was there, experimenting with all the Kahlua, Macadamia Nut, and other delicious flavors.DSC_0696

The meat pies came out, smelling wonderful, and to my surprise, the asparagus was delicious, as well. I’ve always thought it was rather bland. The whole meal tasted amazing, and the dessert was a hit, except for the middle M, because she wasn’t a fan of the texture. There were enough meat pies left over that they could have them for lunch, or even breakfast, if they wanted.DSC_0700

On Sunday morning, I got up and went to church with my friends, and before we went out to lunch, we had a photo shoot in the front yard. The girls really enjoyed making faces for the camera, and then we brought the little guy out to join in. What child doesn’t enjoy making faces, even if they can only stick their tongue out at you? He’d figured out how to do “fishy lips”, so he wasn’t being totally left behind.DSC_0721

We went to a local Mexican place to eat, and I wished a certain cousin of mine could be there to enjoy the queso cheese, as she loves it so much. But meanwhile, it was fun to watch the kids eat it, and get it all over their faces. And we finished out with a dessert that I’ve forgotten the name of, but which is mostly whipped cream. Just think, if you have the right “chips” at home, some whipped cream and sprinkles could turn this into an easy, but fun dessert for the kids! I suppose you could do it with graham crackers, or something of the sort?DSC_0728

I had driven my car to the restaurant, so after hugs all around, I hit the road. It was wonderful to get to know the children, in person, and see how they were like and yet not like their parents. What fun to discover their personalities, and wonder what genes they inherited, and how many generations back?DSC_0732

You’ve already heard about my trip back from Georgia, so I won’t go into it. I can happily say that my car has been completely bug-free for well over a week, and I hope none of you ever experience what I did. But I hope that I will be able to visit my friends more often, now that I’m permanently in the South. Perhaps next summer, as I’ll be very busy during the school year.DSC_0739

I hope you had a wonderful Independence Day weekend, too, wherever you happened to spend it, and whether the sun shone or not!DSC_0742