Thursday, August 26, 2010

Makeup and Growing Up -- Chapter 12 in My Life Story

Gretchen age 15
Anna and I were promised the privilege of getting to wear makeup when we turned 15.  Lip gloss and even lighter lipsticks did not count in my mom's book, and we'd been allowed to don those since junior high.  Sure enough, on my 15th birthday, my mom gave me a makeup bag with eyeshadow and mascara in it!  I didn't really know how to do my eyes very well, but I still liked the grown up feeling it brought.  Ironically, my mom gave me a Mary Kay compact with eyeshadows and blush in it a couple of years ago for my 30th birthday.  It was the last birthday I celebrated with her, and it's funny to think that my gift was similar to the one I'd been given 15 years earlier.  Then, makeup was the opportunity to look pretty and grown up!  Now, makeup is pretty much a special occasion thing for me. Except lipstick.  I always need that.

Enjoying a salad from Burger King.  Oh yeah.
When thinking of my 15th year, I recall how my body suddenly caught up with itself.  Gone were the days of swimming, skiing and playing sports, and here were the days of learning to cook and eat. . and eat. . . I wasn't fat, but I certainly started gaining some weight.  All of the sudden I could buy clothes from the misses department. . . in the middle range sizes where there was lots of selection.  I felt somehow less like myself -- I think because I'd always been so skinny, and it was strange to look in the mirror and see a rounder face.  I did love to eat, though!  I didn't think it was worth cutting back some, so I just tried to forget about it.  I'd go through short periods of time where I thought I'd give it a try, and I'd eat salad at a fast food restaurant or not eat sweets or something.  But I never really saw a difference on the scale, and I wrote myself off as someone who had no willpower.  Even though I was possibly somewhat unhealthy, I'm still thankful that I didn't torture myself with body image issues that did plague me down the road.  It wasn't by any maturity of my own, but probably more due to having lots of good friends who didn't talk about diets or weight or anything silly like that.  I'm sure it was from their example of just being who they were that helped me not worry too much.

My mom and sisters at the Children's museum
My friend Misty emerged as a major player in my life around this time.  I remember at one point she told me that all the boys liked me because I was new.  This statement cracks me up now!  I knew it was totally untrue, both the fact that all the boys liked me (only one did -- the rest proved they didn't by helping my brother fart on our heads and other such lovely things), and also the fact that I was just liked because I was new.  I didn't see myself as new at all anymore, and after several months of writing notes back and forth with Steve, I knew he didn't like me just because I was new.  I totally challenged Misty's statement, and I think we started getting along really well shortly thereafter partly because we were both pretty bold figures, and also because we just spent more time in proximity to one another.  Our little sisters were friends, and I could count on Misty coming along to hang out if Shea came over to play with Emily.  Our homeschool group at that time was woefully small, and Misty and one other girl, Brooke, were the only older girls in it from our church.  Clearly, that did not provide enough girls for a basketball team, but we definitely had fun herding our little sisters around the Indianapolis Children's Museum together.  

Misty was a unique teenage girl in a myriad of ways.  Her mother bought most of her clothes at rummage sales and Goodwill, but she always styled those ensembles willingly, and with an air of confidence.  She would say about herself "I look good in hats" and wore hats a lot.  That kind of confidence was unheard of at my age.  Misty did not mean it pridefully -- she had just been told she looked good in hats a lot, and so she knew it!  She was also good at speaking, and when she met adults, she looked them in the eye and shook their hand.  Her family was originally from Texas, so she was always saying "sir" and "ma'm" and always called all adults "Mr.or Mrs. so-and-so" even if they told us to call them by their first name.  She was a good girl to have around as a friend.  She didn't take writhe and quake about boys or what people thought of her.  I'm glad she was my friend and rubbed off on me somewhat!  

Near the end of my 15th year, my dad enrolled me in a driving school so I could take driver's ed.  Since I was homeschooled, and it was summer, this was the only way it would work for me to be able to finish before I turned 16 (the obvious goal = getting the license ON 16th birthday).  Pretty much everyone else at that driving school were high school drop outs or kids that had lost their licenses or something.  I was this little green Christian homeschooler who knew nothing about the world, and could only begin to guess what the crass things on their t-shirts meant.  In effort to show my faith, I wore all my best Christian t-shirts.  I say that tongue in cheek now, but at the time, I sincerely wanted those kids to believe in Jesus, and I figured this would be a good way to start.  Pretty sure those kids thought I was a loser!  I totally had a crush on the teacher -- his name was Mark Bertram (I only remember his name because I wrote a character into one of my stories after him), and he wore wire-rimmed glasses.  Our driving instructor was this older man who had me and the other girl in my car drive to impound lots and junkyards where he would show us cars that had been destroyed by drunk drivers.  He repeated over and over "young ladies, you never ever get in the car with a young man who has had too much to drink."  We also had to drive to Amish country.  Lucky for us, we didn't actually see any buggies on the road. 

And so ends my 16th year!  Linking up to Mommy's Piggy Tales.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Neighbor Ting

Susie playing blocks with her little friend.  Apparently she finds him funny!
It's been fun getting to know some of my neighbors better recently.  In our apartment complex, it seems like the majority of the tenants are couples with one child, and quite a few of them are Chinese.  I met Ting one day in the spring, when Susie and I were randomly walking and she appeared out of nowhere and offered to show me the way to the park.  She has one son, and is expecting a second child, a girl.

She is very very friendly, and since she can no longer work here, she is usually pretty available because she stays home all day.  I would say most people who live here know her, since she takes her child outside to play just about every day, and she is really outgoing.  Susie loves her because she is so smiley and obviously likes babies.

I wanted to have a baby shower for her, to celebrate this child, especially since it is rare in her culture to have more than one child (she has been very clear that she does not want any more kids after this).  When I told her we wanted to have a party for her, she told me she didn't need anything for the baby and she didn't want us to waste our money buying her presents.  She was firm on that.  She said we could just have a party and talk and "bring dishes", so that's what we decided to do!  Two of my girlfriends who also are/have been Ting's neighbors came and brought their children to play.  Let me just tell you, our living room was a sea of toys!!  It's what comes of 4 toddlers getting out every toy possible at the same time -- haha!  

I made cookies, and when Ting arrived, she saw me getting them off the cookie sheet and said "oh, you made that?  I can't make that."  According to her, ovens are pretty rare in China, and if anyone wants something baked, they would just buy it from the store, because it is not expensive.  I offered to teach her how to bake sometime, and she seemed really eager, even though she did not care for the cookies I made.  She said she doesn't like sweets, but her husband and son do.  So maybe she will want to learn for them!  She did bring over some bean soup, which, contrary to what you might assume was QUITE sweet!!  She said it had raw sugar in it. Hmmm.  I can't say I gobbled it up, but I was able to graciously "share" my bowl with Susie.  I told her I couldn't make anything like she made!

Ting goes to a Chinese church here that is a ministry of a local church here in town.  When I ask her about it, she says she goes every week, but we have rarely been able to talk much about beliefs.  I know they have a good relationship with the pastor, because he chose their son's name, and now they are asking him for a good name for their daughter!  

This relationship has been really interesting for me.  Relating to her takes effort, not just because of the language barrier, but also to just think of things to talk about that she will be interested in.  However challenging it has been, I've found myself really truly enjoying her company and friendship.  When I've been able to throw behind me any tentativeness about somehow misunderstanding her or making her feel foolish, I'm then able to be much more open to listening and learning.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Links and Things

1. My sister wrote this beautiful post on her new blog about our niece, Mercedes, whom she has cared for since my mom passed away.  Wonderful memories.  Read it here.

2. Made this 5 minute sauce for lunch and it was outstanding and easy.  Another home run for Heidi at 101 Cookbooks. Note:  I omitted some of the red pepper flakes to make it a touch milder for Susie, but it still had plenty of kick!

3. Started reading Then Comes Marriage  purely out of interest, and it is really fascinating!!  Part history, part sociology, Rebecca Janney looks at the cultural history of American families.  

4. Got my first copy of Kiwi magazine in the mail this week and for the most part, enjoyed it.  There were several good ideas in the articles, as well as some healthy recipes.  I got this subscription for free from Yo Baby Yogurt, when I redeemed my reward points.  Not sure if they're still doing it, but it might be worth checking!

5. Our family took this picture last night during an after dinner walk along the river.  What a lovely time of year this is!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Major Change at 14 Part B

So in part 1, I left off with my family getting settled in rural Illinois after our big move from Montana, living a rather quiet life.  My brother had been our main set of wheels before we moved, but alas, here we were in a state that required you to be 16 to drive, so after 5 months of him getting us around, we had to either walk or have Mom drive us places.  One time we walked from our house into the tiny nearby town for our piano lesson.  It was just a little over a mile, so not bad at all, but we certainly didn't enjoy having to walk!

We visited a larger church in Danville, Illinois -- Calvary Baptist.  I remember so clearly that Sunday that my brother wore a suit and his cowboy boots (this was NORMAL attire where we came from), and they were certainly the source of some attention.  Right away, I had high hopes for our joining this church.  It had a large youth group, and several of the kids were homeschooled (a small number in comparison to Montana, but nonetheless, it was a bonus).  People sat by us that first in Sunday school, and even though we didn't know the songs they sang or the motions that went along with them, there was a friendly, genuine vibe that I really appreciated.  What a blessing this church turned out to be.  We found a home there with those people, and instead of our homeschool group, our youth group soon became the center of our social world.  

At this point in my life, the Lord really gave me the grace to learn and know Him more dearly.  The preaching I was sitting under at the church was opening up my mind and heart to understand God and his Word.  Pastor Joe was just full of grace and focused so directly on Scripture.  I am so thankful to this day for the teaching I received there.  This was just the very beginning of it, but praise the Lord he worked in my heart at this time.

The youth group had lots of great activities -- many based on serving the members of the church.  Our first activity was yard work for some of the widows and senior members.  I looked so forward to coming to youth group on Wednesday nights.  During the holiday season we spent several weeks baking cookies to take with us when we went Christmas caroling to the shut ins.  One night during the baking time, I took note of a girl who is still one of my dearest and best friends, and watching her scoop that cookie dough and manage the kitchen, I conscientiously thought "Misty is a gem".  It would be several years before we really gelled, but my first impression turned out to be right.  

It was at this point that I entered my "Janette Oke" phase.  The church library was teeming with her titles, and lots of the girls liked to read them, so of course I sucked them up.  They fed my growing appetite for romance. . . what young teenage girl isn't rather obsessed with romance?  I was living in my own world much of the time, writing stories, and working in the kitchen like a fiend (Mom probably appreciated it) because those pioneer-era girls were always cooking and things in the stories.  I was constantly daydreaming.  It was actually probably a bit unhealthy, and I recall Mom telling me that I needed to join the family sometimes because I was frequently off on my own so I could write and daydream.  She was right.  I wrote this series of stories set right before the turn of the century about a girl name Chassie who worked a nanny for a widowed young rich man named Weston (you'll never believe it but they fell in love).  Over time, I added on to the series by writing about Chassie's daughter Becca who was brilliant and went to Harvard and married a baseball player who she thought died in the Spanish-American War, but ended up playing for the Red Sox in the first ever World Series.

At some point in January, I could tell my brother's friend Steve kind of liked me, and we started writing notes to each other all the time.  We were way too shy to talk in person, though.  We probably said 2 or 3 sentences in the course of several months!  I think we possibly said who we thought would win the Super Bowl and that was about it.  Seems strange for a romantic 14 year old, but looking back, I'm pretty happy that we were so reserved.  In May, Steve called my dad and asked him if he could sit with me at the teen formal the youth group was having.  I was super impressed that he asked my dad and was given permission.  Mom made dresses for Anna and me to wear, according to our choosing.  These dresses are still hanging in a closet at my parents house, and have come in handy for costumes for my little sisters along the way.

As summer came, and my 14th year wound down, I got to be a part of one of the most exciting things in my life: a musical.  I had always longed to be on stage, and our youth group was putting on a performance of  the "Let's Go to the Rock" which was a 1950's Christian musical with lots of morals.  We performed it at this restaurant in downtown Danville and it was one of the most fun things in my life.  I played the daughter of the main character, which meant I had lots of lines and even a song where the guy who played my brother and I  did a "rap" about how our parents didn't understand us!  Classic.  For my costume I wore clothes from my parent's closets, including my dad's letter jacket.  I LOVED acting.  Loved it.  Wanted nothing more than to do another show and another and another.  I'm so thankful that the Lord has channeled my desire for drama to using it as a gift to enhance my teaching when I work with kids!  In college, a drama teacher once referred to me as someone who had "abandon" to her drama class -- and I wasn't even in the class!

So here ends my 14th year.  At the same time as the musical, Molly and Jessie, our besties from Montana, flew out to stay with us for a week or so.  And we had a grand time with them -- but truly my life was miles away from where it had been the year before.

Linking up to Mommy's Piggy Tales!

Major Change at 14 -- Chapter 11 in the Story of My Life Part A

Besides my infant and toddler years, I think the age of 14 held more changes for me than any other.  The world I lived in and knew at the beginning of that year was a lifetime away from the one I knew at the end.

When I celebrated my 14th birthday just over a week after the birth of my sister Abby, I got a special birthday present: contact lenses!  Enter me into a whole new world, appearance-wise.  Combine with that running for track and basketball, and all the other physical activities I enjoyed, and here I was starting to fill out and build a bit of muscle, and not look quite so scrawny as I did in junior high.  I grew quite a bit.  That summer of 1992 were the Summer Olympics in Barcelona Spain, and my friends and I were all about "The Dream Team" -- America's amazing basketball team comprised of professional players for the first time.  In honor of the Olympics, there was this Michael Jordan sandwich at McDonald's that I would order and eat the WHOLE thing with fries -- it was THREE burgers with bacon, cheese and bbq sauce.  Looking back that cracks me up, since I've now been a vegetarian for the past 12 years!  I was really in a growth spurt then!

With growing like this, I started making guy friends and realizing that guys were noticing me.  No boyfriends or anything like that, but it was nice to sort of be on a less intimidated level with my brother's friends, and their kid brothers. It was like the light came on -- just be friendly and most likely they will be nice back.  In Montana, we had girl's basketball in the fall instead of during the winter with the guys, so as the summer came to an end, we started practicing with our team.  We all named ourselves after favorite players on the Dream Team, and I picked David Robinson -- not because I was especially tall, but because he was my fave and a Christian.  Anna picked Charles Barkley because she thought he was funny because he would have a bad attitude and stuff!  We had a great time being on that team, and getting our new uniforms (I was #32).  We were not good, though.  Seriously NOT good.  Our first game we lost 59-ZERO.  Yep.  Some cruel team thought they would just shut us out!  I was on the starting lineup, and I only made one shot the whole season, if that tells you anything. In my defense, I only played for part of the season, because. . .

Dum dum DUM!!!

. . . we moved across the country again, this time to central Illinois.  Once again, I did NOT want to move, only much much more so this time. In Montana, we had such a great community of friends that were homeschooled with us, and Nathan and Anna and I enjoyed our team sports and other recreational activities.  Nathan was able to get his driver's license at age15 in Montana, so we were already enjoying a relative level of freedom and independence like older teenagers (I'm sure it made it easier for my mom not to have to drive us to practices with a newborn baby and 3 year old at home!).  Being a little older at this move, I was WAY more emotionally attached to the places and friends I had in Montana.  The only bright spot I could see was that there were no rattlesnakes where we were moving, and we would now only be a few hours from Cincinnati where our grandparents and other relatives lived.

For a few weeks before moving, we once again stayed at that same lovely hotel with the waterfall swimming pool.  It was like a little vacation at the end of our time there, because our friends came over all the time to swim and hang out with us.  A whole bunch of friends came to a going away party for us at our tiny church in Billings, and then stayed for the church service that night.  We were having special meetings that week, and the speaker did this thing where he would pick 2 members of the congregation each night and have a contest to see how many people they could bring the next night.  Then he'd ask them to "stand up" for the person they'd been invited by.  Well, wouldn't you know that that final night, I was one of the contestants, and here were all my friends, and my siblings' friends gathered there with us.  I had a huge group stand for me, and I remember being overwhelmed with happiness as I walked up to get my prize.  I thought I could never be so happy as I was right then, and I'd never ever forget it.

The very next day was moving day.  We were scheduled to fly out on a tiny plane that would hold just our family, however, Anna and I had a basketball game that same day.  We begged our parents to let us play our last game, even just to half time and they agreed.  At the game, we begged to stay through the 3rd quarter, and since time allowed it, we could.  Finally it was for sure time to go, and all around we were being hugged and sobbed on by bawling faces.  I remember hugging everyone and loving everyone fiercely, and feeling like my soul was ripping apart to walk away from them! It seemed to be the most emotional goodbye imaginable.

When we arrived at the airport in our sweaty uniforms, it was surreal to change into regular clothes and get on the plane.  It seemed like there could be no reality apart from the one we had just left.  And that plane was so strange and tiny!  Our cat and dog rode in the cabin with us in their kennels, and my seat was on top of the little refrigerator, so I was in charge of getting out drinks for everyone.  My dad told me to offer some to the pilots, and since they were just inches away from me, with only a curtain between us, I did so.  I felt so strange looking into the tiny cockpit!  The 3 of us older kids were pretty miserable during that flight to Champaign, Illinois.

I had a list of all my friend's addresses, and when we settled at the hotel, I began to write them letters.  I decided to write every single person once, and then continue writing based on whether or not they wrote me back (side note:  I chose to write them on brownish recycled paper and envelopes, which was a sort of new thing then.  I liked how it looked all earthy and natural).  I got lots of letters back.  Our hotel in Champaign was rather weird and it had this huge parrot that talked in the breakfast area.  But the room was large with an upstairs, which made sense for our family.  We were bunking there waiting for our stuff. . . once again.  I guess that is how it works when you hire moving companies.

We were excited to move into our big old house in the country.  It had 5 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms and a gameroom with a pinball machine in it!  The day our movers came to move us in was a real treat.  One of them was named Lonny and had a long mullet and was REALLY funny.  Anna and I agreed that he looked just like Billy Ray Cyrus, who was extremely famous at the time.  We thought that possibly it WAS Billy Ray incognito working as our mover.  Our suspicions were further confirmed when Lonny sang "Achy Breaky Heart" and told us he loved that song!  I accompanied my mom down to a convenience store in a nearby small town-- bigger than our VERY small town -- because there were no fast food restaurants, and we wanted to provide lunch for the movers.  It seemed so very small town-ish picking up white bread and lunchmeat, including pickleloaf.  To this day, when I see pickleloaf at the store, I think of the day we moved into that house!

Me, my cousins Steve and Josh and sister Anna, 1992
At first our life was very quiet and solitary.  I wrote stacks of letters to my Montana friends, and received stacks back.  It seemed like it would be forever before we'd make friends. We visited churches in Champaign, but couldn't find a fit. I disliked visiting new churches, but as we slunk into Sunday School or Youth Group, at least I had my brother and sister to sit with.   I remember to this day what my mom told us during that move -- that we would always have our siblings as friends, and no matter where we moved, we were going together, so we'd have friends we could count on and we should treat each other well as friends.  So wise and good for our ears to hear!

I'll write part B later -- about the changes that came in our life in Illinois!  I'm linking up to Mommy's Piggy Tales, as with all stories of my youth.  I'm sorry for the lack of pictures this time -- I know I took many in that era with on fantastic 110 film, but all those pictures are packed away who knows where in the house in Illinois.  The one above is the only thing I could find.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ways I Like to Spend the Summer

Even though it seems like this summer was comprised of a series of just small things, and common activities, in retrospect I've realized that I ended up getting to spend the summer doing quite a few of my favorite things.  This week we are back to the grindstone, because Josh's classes and internship begin, but with the high temps and sunny skies, I'm still clinging to the last bit of summer!  Here are a few things we were able to do (and a bit more of what I hope to keep doing).

1. Cooking new things/Farmer's Market -- this hobby sort of grew out of last summer when I was on maternity leave and for the first time had unlimited access to Food Network.  Suddenly I not only had all kinds of new things I wanted to make, I also pretty much had the opportunity to make them!  Last summer I tried out recipes from Giada and the Neeleys and Paula Deen and Melissa D'Arabian.  This summer I've been inspired mainly by what Sus and I have been getting weekly at the big Farmer's market in town.  We go every Saturday that we can, walk around listening to the folk music and sampling the wares, and usually go home with a heavy tote bag of produce.  I've been able to try out a few things from my new favorite blog, 101 Cookbooks (which I follow -- see my sidebar).  EVERYTHING Heidi recommends has been just fantastic.  I've made this pesto, this chickpea salad, and this sauteed zucchini each a couple of times. I'm also excited to try a few more things, like her pizza dough -- which supposedly will make the much sought after thin crust pizza that I want!  I'll have to report back on the pizza dough, since this recipe makes enough for 6 pizzas, and you can freeze the dough balls!  Sounds like a great plan to keep great dough on hand for homemade pizza during the busy semester.  In addition to 101 Cookbooks, I've done tried a few new things from Ree at the ULTRA-popular blog Pioneer Woman.  Needless to say, they were pretty darn good.  But maybe not (gasp!) as healthy as 101 Cookbooks!! :)

2. Reading the classics -- it's a combination of serious and fun reading for me.  I like to pick a decent sized work and chomp my way through it.  I've read a Dicken's book every year for the past several summers, and this year I read The Old Curiosity Shop, which was very good (the ending felt a bit tacked on. . . I think maybe he ran out of time and tossed together the ending).  After I was done with that, I really wanted to read a Jane Austen book because I went to the Louisville Jane Austen festival with my friends Katie and Kendra.  So I read Pride and Prejudice.  And now I'm really in the mood to watch the movie Bride and Prejudice. 

3. Playing outside -- I LOVE warm weather.  Even when it gets super hot, I don't usually lament how ready I am for fall.  Nope, I just want to go swimming or something!  This summer I got to enjoy several swimming trips with Susie (so glad she likes the water!) and nice walks together.  I'm not quite ready for that to be over!  As long as it's nice out, I think Susie and I will find our way outside and to a park or pool!

4. Trips to see family -- we got to take 3 trips to Ohio, and 2 trips to Illinois this summer, and in addition to that, we had a short road trip to South Carolina to my cousin Caitlyn's wedding.  I love road trips!  Susie and I get to have one more in a few more weeks when we go along with my dad, Abby and Emily to take Abby to college!  It will be Susie's first trip to the beach, so that is really exciting!!

What did you get to do this summer?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What I Longed for at Age 13 -- Chapter 10 in My Life Story

Gretchen on her 13th birthday before a family dinner out
July 26th, 1991 was circled and circled about a thousand times on my calendar.  I added stars, balloons, hearts and stickers to the small square.  It was the day I would become a teenager!  Yes, I looked forward to my thirteenth birthday as if I expected to step into a new colorful world like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz does when she leaves her black and white world and steps into the brilliant land of Oz.  Perhaps the city of Billings would send fireworks into the sky announcing "Gretchen is Thirteen" on that fine night.

Opening gifts on my 13th birthday
Well, my birthday actually came and went a bit more quietly, believe it or not.  My Grandma and Grandpa Benzing and cousin Aaron were out visiting us, and we spent the day driving to and touring Cody, Wyoming.  By this time, touring the surrounding sites was a pretty typical part of life, and we all were used to the very long drives. I remember Aaron and Nathan rode in the far back of our Suburban -- behind the 3rd row of seats, because we were packed so full.  We didn't mind.  We ate out to celebrate my birthday at a steakhouse we all loved called JR's.  I remember eating outside on the beautiful covered patio there -- not something you can do just anywhere in July!  My Grandma gave me a bracelet, and it was either silver or gold (I can't remember), but I do remember being really excited that it was real.   

By the pool in my swim suit -- this pose cracks me up
Another exciting part about "growing up" for me was that my mother let me start shaving my legs!  I had been looking forward to that for some time, especially since the majority of my friends (most of whom were already teenagers) were shaving theirs.  It was the sort of thing that would be at the forefront of your mind when you had a swimming pool and all the older girls who had crushes on your brother were constantly inviting themselves over to swim.  If I had read Pride and Prejudice at that time, I would have felt like Miss Darcy, who was "doted" upon by the Bingly sisters in order to gain her brother's attention.  Of course, I did not fall for it, like Miss Darcy did. . . I could see what those girls were up to, and felt pretty slighted by it!  I felt rather like a child because I was a skinny-scrawny 13 year old who had in no way begun to fill out.  Those hot '90's fashions just didn't do much justice to the non-curvy figure!

I waited all summer to begin my stint as a junior volunteer at St.Vincent's Hospital.  All of my homeschool friends as well as me and my brother signed up for this program to become "Candy Stripers", but I couldn't start at the beginning of the summer because I was not yet 13.  A couple days after my birthday, however, my mom dropped me off at the big front entrance of that hospital and wept as I walked in wearing my red and white striped jumper, french braid and sporting white tennis shoes with my freshly shaven legs.  She told me later that seeing me there brought back memories of my difficulties at the start of my life and she couldn't help but cry to see me so grown up.  

Me and Jennie working at the Cheri Nook Snack Bar
I was able to continue volunteering once a week, even after school started because I was homeschooled.  Several other homeschool friends and myself worked in the "Cheri Nook Snack Bar" for about 4 hours every Friday.  The other volunteers at the hospital during the school year were elderly, and I enjoyed making friends with Candy -- an elderly gentleman who always manned the soup station at the snack bar.  I liked to do the sandwiches, so we made a good team.  Lots of the older volunteers would come in and order funny sandwiches like braunschweiger with sweet pickles and "Arnold Palmers" to drink.  My outgoing personality fit this job well, and I often took extra shifts for people when they asked me to fill in for them.  I worked in the snack bar the whole school year, and then when the next summer came, I was first in line to choose a new volunteer area.  I immediately chose the Maternity Ward -- the most coveted volunteer spot where newbies usually weren't able to work.  Who didn't want to take gifts and flowers to new mamas, hold and rock babies in the nursery, and fill up water pitchers with ice water?

But before that opportunity came along, my brother and I made a sneaky discovery.  We had a hunch my mother was expecting another baby.  Sometime that late fall we found her vitamins in the cupboard and once Nate spotted her looking at her profile in the mirror (such small things to go on, it's true!  But we were just positive we were right).  Oddly enough, for a 14 and 13 year old, we decided we were quite worried for our older mother.  She was over 44, and we already had a baby sister!  Why exactly did she feel the need to have another at this age?  We were being overly dramatic, but at the time, we shared our secret and our worries only with each other.  Sure enough, mom made the big announcement, but unlike the time she told us about Emily coming, our response did not equal that level of jubilee.  Anna was excited, but Nathan and I had already been harboring our fears about Mom's health (so silly!  She was entirely healthy), so we couldn't quite get enthusiastic about the news.
8th grade picture, growing out the bangs

Looking back, I see that my main hang up was my own self-centeredness.  I was all about my life, and being obsessed with boys (I wrote often in my journal how much I wanted a boyfriend), homeschool activities, and just looking and being cool.  It was not the same rebellious selfishness that I embraced at eleven, it was just foolishness, and immaturity that is so common to age thirteen.  My new huge hoop earrings and LA Gear matching jeans and jacket with the pink and white twisted shoestrings on them were just so much more important to me than another addition to our family, as terrible as that sounds.

It would be way way too long to list all the fun homeschool activities of my 7th grade year (in Montana where there were so very many homeschoolers, we saw friends nearly every day at sports practices, skiing, ice skating, roller skating, and bowling outings, as well as field trips, and our "student government" organization "THWAP"), but I must mention a couple.  One really exciting Christmas activity was being in the Billings Christmas parade.  Our THWAP group-- Teen Homeschoolers With A Purpose-- built the float, showing an old-fashioned cowboy Christmas on one side, and a modern day cowboy family on the other.  We all worked together building the float, and then were allowed to walk in the parade.  I chose to be on the old-fashioned side, and my mom had me made a pioneer dress and bonnet for the occasion.  It was below zero during the parade, so I had to wear snowpants and earmuffs underneath the costume, and our smiles about froze on our faces.  But cancel?  Never!  The streets of Billings were teeming with viewers, despite the cold.  I remember my hands were so swollen afterward from the tight layers of shirts and tight wrists of my costume dress.

After Christmas, our homeschool organization went skiing together every Thursday.  We did extra schoolwork in advance to make up for those ski days, and enjoyed a full, long day of driving to Red Lodge to ski.  I loved it -- the lifts, the wind blowing in my face, eating lunch together in the lodge -- but my inferiority complex sometimes got the better of me, robbing me of that joy.  I was not the brave skier that many of my friends were, and no matter how much I wanted to go along, I just couldn't get the courage to attempt the black diamond runs.  I also could tell that the girls who wore the skin-tight ski pants were getting an awful lot of attention from our guy friends, and I felt like a kid in my poofy snowpants.  My mother did not approve of the shiny show-off-your-rear-end type pants, and would not buy them for us (looking back, I'm so thankful for her discretion).  She let Anna and I wear long johns under our jeans and ski in those, however, and we were happy with that.  Because, as everyone knows, looking cool while skiing makes or breaks the fun.

We all 3 ran track that spring, on the homeschool team.  My dad would take us to track practice in the early morning while it was still dark, so we could use the public school track before school began.  I was on the JV team because I was technically still in 7th grade, but I ended up being pretty good, and would fill in on the varsity relay teams.  My friend Jessie was the best sprinter, and it was fun to be one of the best together with her!  We might not have been the "hottest" girls, but we excelled on the track team.  I remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach the morning of our first meet, and I prayed, as I walked across the green field that I would win just one ribbon -- any color, it didn't matter, but just win something.  I ended up winning several blues and reds!  I remember celebrating with our homeschool team and my dad making up a cheer that we all shouted with vigor.  I was on CLOUD NINE!!  Running was so fun.  We traveled to Great Falls, and Bozeman for track meets, where I won more ribbons, but the best meet of all was the state meet right there in Billings.  Our 4x100 relay teams (JV and Varsity) were pretty good, but we couldn't top Billings Christian School, until that meet.  I remember crystal clearly running my leg of the relay -- rounding the corner, and passing every other runner except the BCS girl.  I slapped the baton into Jessie's hand, and pantingly followed her down the final stretch.  I could see our parents cheering wildly in the stands -- we'd won first place!!  Jessie had leaned into the ribbon, besting the BCS runner, and beating them in the state competition!  Though it would be hard to top that moment, when our JV team ran, we easily won first, and discovered afterward that we had beat the junior high state record!  Once again, I was on cloud nine.  Even falling flat on my face during the finals in the 100 could not take away my excitement (I truly did do that.  My legs just could keep up with how hard I was trying to go, and I WIPED OUT.  We have it on video, and it is pretty funny to watch).

Homeschoolers from all over the state came together on several occasions that year.  One was for our state convention, and we got to stay together in the lovely hotel we'd stayed in when we moved to Billings.  For days, we were surrounded with homeschool peers, and could not have had more fun hanging out.  There was a dinner with a talent show for the teens, and Anna and I were part of a mime to the song "We are His Hands", which we performed for the 100 or so teenagers there.  Later that spring was our spring formal!  It was common there to rent formal dresses, so we all chose dresses from the same shop so we wouldn't overlap.  There were only a few dresses that came in a small enough size for me, but I loved the royal blue one I chose.  Mom bought me a flower comb to wear in my hair, and my dad gave me a wrist corsage to wear.  I remember getting ready for the formal was entirely more fun than the activity itself, and to this day, I pretty much feel the same way about formal occasions.

Holding my newborn sister Abby
Well, the conclusion to this long chapter must now come -- with the birth of my littlest sister.  Mom was induced on Friday, July 17th -- which happened to be the same day I was scheduled to work in the maternity ward.  I could walk into labor and delivery to visit my mom in between my responsibilities, and I recall holding her hand during difficult contractions.  Her tight grip scared me!  By that afternoon, not long after I finished my shift, my sister was born, Abigail Katherine.  It was just a few days before my 14th birthday, and just a month after my mom's 45th birthday.  Here she was, another addition to our family.  I am ashamed to recall that I was not as excited about Abby as I should have been.  Emily was so cute and so fun, I didn't feel like I needed another sister!  In the years that followed, however, my eyes were opened to see how precious it was for my parents to have another baby in the house.  Poor Mom had to endure the "Sarah and Isaac" jokes, but bore it well, looking a full ten years younger than most of her peers -- radiating with youth and mothering her new baby.  

I'm linking up to Mommy's Piggy Tales where we're writing our stories in 15 chapters.  Note:  I'm going back through some of my posts and adding more pictures, since I got a few pics over the weekend.  You can click the "Life Story" label below to read them all.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Fears that Plagued Me at Age Twelve -- Chapter 9 in My Life Story

7th Grade Gretchen: new bangs and glasses
Thus far, in the telling of my life story, I have rarely touched on my fears, but let me assure you, I was like every other kid, scared of things like house fires, burglars and the child-catcher.  Yep, it's true that the movie "Chitty-chitty Bang Bang" rendered me petrified and sleepless for nights because of the scary long-nosed child-catcher who stole all the children (getting shivers now, just thinking about him!) and hid them away.  Let's face it, that was a pretty darn creepy thing to put in a kids' movie, so who can blame me?  

One unique thing that scared me was my sister's sleepwalking.  She had always been a bit of a sleepwalker and talker growing up, but not long after we moved to Montana, it rose to a new level.  Sometimes she would go to bed in her own room, and I'd wake up with her sitting at the end of my bed staring at me.  It freaked me out!!  I wasn't scared OF her, I was scared FOR her!  I had seen her have a night terror once when she was younger, and I was so afraid of her getting upset in her sleep.  I was also scared of her finding her way to the back door (which was right outside my bedroom door) and wandering outside to the pool while we were all asleep.  I felt like I needed to stay awake to keep her safe, but I didn't know what to do.  I'd ask her questions to try to show her that she was sleeping, but some how that clever tactic never really paid off.  I usually had to risk leaving her for a few minutes to go get my mom so she could make Anna go back to bed.  It probably didn't actually happen super often, but for a space of time I felt like it was always in my mind, nettling me.

Another thing that really frightened me were the rattlesnakes.  We could hear them in our "yard" (placed in quotes because little grass grew and we never played in it), so we rarely stepped a toe into it.  My brother once chopped up a snake with the riding lawn mower, and brought us a bit of flesh to prove it.  Since we had the decks, patio, and pool in the back and basketball hoop on the front driveway, we didn't miss not using our yard much.  People told tales about rattlesnakes being blind when they shed their skin, and I needed no more caution than that -- I would do everything in my power to avoid those creatures.

A much younger picture of me and Grandad
May 11th, 1991 was my sister Emily's second birthday.  My Grammy and Grandad were visiting from Ohio, and we went to visit Custer Battlefield, where the infamous Battle of the Little Bighorn took place.  To summarize, all of the soldiers were killed, along with many of their horses.  Thus, the battlefield is a huge graveyard, with markers showing where the men fell.  This was not our first visit here, and I was less than thrilled about walking around looking at the white markers again.  There is this huge path that loops around the battlefield (miles long, possibly), and signs everywhere warning you "Stay on the paths -- YOU ARE IN RATTLESNAKE COUNTRY".  No chance was I getting off those paths!  Since I was pretty bored by the sites, I took it upon myself to entertain Emily, and we skipped along apart from everyone else in our group.  Nathan and Anna had gone on ahead (also probably bored), and my mom and grandparents were slowly making their way examining all the history along the path.  Emily and I were running backwards along the path, and then she said "I want to go first", and we turned around to walk forwards.  

There in the middle of the path -- right in front of us -- was a coiled up rattler!

I screamed as hard and long and loud as I could, which is saying a lot for a 12 year old girl, and ran a few steps backward, turned around, snatched up my baby sister and continued screaming for my life.  I hugged her chubby little guts out, crying, and wondering why the adults were not coming to our aid.  Sure enough, they walked on ever so slowly, even though we were in full view.  I screamed again, and then they came running.  I think at that moment, in my mind, if the middle of the path was not safe, then NO WHERE around me was safe, either.  There had to be so many rattlers in the tall grass, that they were spilling over onto the path.  I could neither go forward, nor backward, nor around the snake.  There must be snakes everywhere.

When my mom came, she told me she thought we were laughing.  I was in serious melt-down mode: "what are we going to DO??  How can we get back to the van??"  Getting out of there was at the top of my priority list.

My grandfather had the simple solution.  I shivered with fear as he walked up closer to the snake and bent down, picking up a handful of sandy dirt in his hand.  "Let's try this" he muttered to himself, and tossed the sand at the snake.

I was sure it would fly at him, snapping its poisonous fangs, but instead, the snake only tucked its head into its coiled middle.

"They don't have eyelids," Grandad explained. "They have to hide their heads to keep the sand out of their eyes."  He'd seen a desert rat get away from rattlesnake on a nature show.  He was always watching those nature shows.  "Now, Gretch, when I do this again, you run by him."

Toss. . . Gretchen skittered by.
Toss. . . Mom, Gram and Emily scurried past.

One more toss . . . and Grandad joined us all, the conquering hero.

In the van, I sat next to my grandmother so shaken and still very afraid.  She patted my shorts leg and said "It's all over now, don't be afraid," but I think it took me a good part of the ride home to really believe it.  
Emily turns two

Poor Emily -- little baby girl on her birthday met up with a scary snake.  I couldn't stop thinking of the "what ifs" of what happened, and she was so small and innocent.  I have this picture of that day, only telling of the celebration and nothing of our terror.  It's ok, I wouldn't want to look at a scary picture anyway!

This is chapter 9 in my life story and I'm linking up to Mommy's Piggy Tales.  

Monday, August 02, 2010

A Few Favorite Links

I have not shared favorite blogs and websites in like -- forever!

Maybe I think people will think that is boring.

Even though I love blog posts with interesting links here and there!  So --ok, here goes!

This blog has the most gorgeous quilts!  My mother would love them.  She is currently doing a giveaway for a bag of material -- so click here to enter.  You'll need to check out her Etsy shop, too, Stitching in Socks.  Love it!

You may already know about Mila's Daydreams, but this blog was so adorable that I had to add it to my sidebar.  I check back every time she puts up a new one.  What a fun thing to do with a sleeping baby (you know, with all your spare time -- hee hee).

I am a huge fan of anything and everything in this Pretty Little Shop!  Vintage illustrations on paper products, which are perfect for gifts, decorating, scrapbooking, or whatever your interest.  Right now they have a $5 off code -- 5Dollars.  You can use it on any purchase of $5 or more, so you'll just have to pay shipping.  Have fun clicking around!

I could also buy one of each from Warm Biscuit, which I found when poking around for fabric to make Susie's birthday bib.  They have vintage fabrics and adorable custom items (which are well out of my price range, but still fun for ideas).  You can request up to 5 free fabric swatches (free shipping even!) by using the coupon code "FREESWATCH".  I was thrilled with mine when they came -- and the swatch was big enough to cut out the #1 for Susie's bib.  Click here if you want to see how to request the swatches.  They had great service and they came quickly!

My favorite cooking blog is 101 Cookbooks, which I also feature in my sidebar.  Everything I've tried from her has been truly amazing and outstanding in the extreme.  I'm not lying, last week when I made her chick pea salad for lunch I kept saying "THIS IS SO GOOD" the whole time I ate it!!  Try her "How to make pesto like an Italian Grandmother" this summer if you or a friend has an abundance of basil (what a blessing to have!).  You will not be disappointed.  Josh and Susie and I about licked the bowl.