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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Run Your Race

18/52 (Yeah, yeah, I know I'm behind)

For any of you who know me or knew me back in high school, you know I'm not a stellar athlete. While I'm reasonably coordinated and generally athletic, I was never scouted by coaches like my siblings. And I was ok with that. 5 years on JV gymnastics and a injury shortened stint on the pole vault team were enough for me and so my physical activity dwindled after high school. I became a sedentary couch potato. However, when the summer of 2008 came around I was determined to get my self back in shape. The first week Jeff was on summer vacation I began a "Couch to 5K" (C25K) program. Its a running podcast that takes ordinary couch potatoes, like myself, and gradually turns them into 5K runners. I have never run longer than 1 mile at a time, and that was 10 years ago! I've got to get to 3? What the heck am I doing? But as most of you know, what I lack in ability, I make up for in determination. So, as my 9 week podcast wore on, I began to feel like I was eventually going to be able to do it. I might drop dead at the end of the run, but I would finish. And then there was trouble. Two of my friends who began running with me decided they were going to run an half marathon. Crap. 13.1 miles? That's psycho. They are out of their freakin' minds? Who in their right minds CHOOSES to run 13.1 miles? No one! They are nuts! But of course, being the competitive being that I am, I was not about to let them do it with out me. I'd never hear the end of it, all from that annoying little voice in my head of course, my friends wouldn't ever rub it in.

So there I was, waking up at the butt crack of dawn and running. And every time I would drag myself out of bed to run, I whined. I'm sooooo not a morning person. I want to go back to bed! But week after week I did it and amazingly I began to love it. I loved the feeling of sweat running in my eyes, my skin itching as the blood pumped through its surface. The feeling of my body kicking into auto pilot as I ran 6,8,10 miles. The feeling of my body kicking into overdrive as I sprinted the last of each run. I loved the camaraderie of running with my girls. I was slowly going insane. I was becoming one of those crazy people who runs for fun.

By the time the race arrived, I had done all I could to prepare my body and mind. It was, after all, more mental than physical. When I learned to turn my brain off and let my body do what I had trained for I amazed even myself. I finished my first half marathon in 2:28, averaging just under 11 minute and 30 seconds per mile. Each of us girls had our own goals for the race; finish, finish under 2:30, not stop at all. I accomplished my goal of not stopping the whole way. Crossing that finish line, knowing I had made it, was surreal. I couldn't pretend I wasn't a runner anymore.

After being side-lined in 2009 with my pregnancy I was a little worried about getting back into it. I was out of shape all over again. But I was in good company. I roped Jeff into joining me this year, and he is doing great. It's those long legs of his! And our team of 4 from year one had grown. We were now a full fledged running team. The Run Your Race team is 21 strong and counting as we move towards our November 7 race day. And we aren't just running for fun, we are running for a cause too. We are running for an organization called African Moons, which is helping to provide educational opportunities for children in Tanzania. Check out our great promo video to see photos of me and my team mates training, racing and finishing, as well as pictures of the kids we are running for.

Of our $140 registration fee, $45 will go towards allowing the children in this video to attend school for one month in the city of Arusha. Jeff and I have paid our first installment of $70 each but would like to offer you the opportunity to join with us in this great adventure. We are asking that if you donate, that it NOT be more than $10.

If you would like to donate, you can send funds through PayPal to the team email address: . You can send money via a credit card or directly from your checking account (it’s a secure transaction). Please make a note in the transaction that the donation is for me or Jeff. Or you can send a check to:

Run Your Race Team

c/o Northeast Assembly

4386 N. Chestnut Ave.

Fresno, CA 93726

Please write the check out to Northeast Assembly, but make sure to write “RYR Team” and my or Jeff's name in the memo portion of your check.

You can also check us out and learn more at

So, if you see anyone around Fresno wearing the yellow, green and blue wristbands, give them a pat on the back and tell them to keep up the good work. If you want to buy a wristband ($3) to show your support of our team, I'll be glad to get one to you! And if you wake up on a Saturday morning around 8:00, remember I've been up and running for the last 1-2 hours. Let that either make you wrap your covers around you tightly or give you a swift kick in the hiney to get out there and Run Your Race. If I can do it, so can you!

Monday, July 5, 2010

I Think Someone is Trying to Tell Me Something


Cake decorating has always been a hobby for me and in the last 10 years I have grown quite a bit in my skill. From the plain white cake with stencil letters and the olympic rings piped on it to the towering inferno, castle cake has been quite a journey.

When Jeff and I first got married I used some wedding money to buy a few decorating necessities. After all, if I was going to follow in my mother's footsteps and make my future children's birthday cakes, I was going to need a few bags, tips and colors. Over the years I have bought a few additional tools now and then, but have mostly waited for birthdays and Christmases to bring me new toys. A few years ago I coordinated a wedding for a woman who used to decorate cakes as a hobby. As we went through her storage unit looking for wedding decorations we found a few boxes of her cake stuff and since she was moving after the wedding and didn't want to take it with her she gave them to me. I had more tips, pans, and rose nails than I knew what to do with. And having never actually taken a class, I stared at the tools slightly intimidated by the thought of using them, but I was so grateful and excited to expand my collection. Since then I have just kept plugging away, birthday cake after birthday cake, baby shower after baby shower, never giving a thought to making cakes for money.

That all started to change recently though. After my last cake adventure my friends really started to hound me about marketing my cakes. I groaned at the thought. I'd had a bad experience when I donated gift certificate for a custom cake to a silent auction. There was a miscommunication with the the person who won it, and she wasn't happy with what I had done. Even though it was one of my better cakes and I had painstakingly cut out hundreds of tiny polka dots to embellish the fondant ribbon. My friends insisted that I shouldn't let that one incident keep me from pursuing this. We just kind of left it at that and while I thought more about it, I didn't DO much of anything. And it's not so much because of the thought of making cakes, its more the business aspect of it; license, contracts, what to charge, commercial grade kitchen. My throat is closing just thinking about that stuff.

One thing I did do though was to teach my very first class, which is slightly ironic since I've never taken a single class myself. Our church's women's ministry began offering workshops on anything and everything from house cleaning tips and container gardening, to eye brow grooming and 30 minute meals. So, I offered to teach a class on making novelty cupcakes without any special tips, just zipper lock bags and candy to decorate them. As my class chatted, giggled and licked the frosting off our fingers (shame on us!) A few people asked me about cakes for their kid's birthdays. And I, ashamedly, waffled. I didn't know what to say. I don't know what to charge people! What if that week is crazy and I have to stay up till 2 in the morning to finish because its a harder cake than I thought? What will my dishwasher have to say about this? I make more than enough dishes to keep him busy just cooking dinner! I managed to get out of there that night with out committing to anything. And while I felt a little guilty, my mind was preoccupied with my next big cake.

Decorating often does that to me. The class just whet my appetite for another project. The next afternoon I found myself taking my decorating books with me in the van so I could brainstorm. I'm surprised there wasn't thunder and lightning following us around town that day; ideas were swirling around like an F5 inside my head. By the time I was done I sat there and thought there is no way I could do something this big without help. Well, at least I had a group of eager students the night before, some of them might be willing to help. But still, I would have my work cut out for me. The next night at church the women's bible study that a friend and I had volunteered to babysit for called us in to thank us for the past couple months of serving. Little did I know I was being set up. Heather and I sat down for a few minutes and waited while they did announcements. Then they said Heather had a story to share with everyone. I gave her a look that earned the response, " Oh yeah, I'm here for this too. " Odd. She began talking about times in our lives when God "winks" at us. He does something special for us, winking his approval and that someone in our church had called her and said God was asking her to bless to someone else. God wanted her to be his hands and feet (or eyes in this case) and deliver a "wink" to one of His children. I still had no idea what she was talking about. Then she called me up and I noticed a large box covered by a table cloth. She said the person who wanted to bless me was doing it anonymously but wanted to give me something. I looked at the hidden box. I recognized the shape and thought... it can't be, there is no way. And there it was. Heather threw back the cloth to reveal my very own Cricut Cake. I fell backwards into the wall and began to cry. "This person wants you to know that God sees you and sees what you do and wants you to have this." Heather's words were mind numbing. Another woman chimed in and said "God sees the desires of your heart". It was the truth. Someone once asked me if I had ever seen the Cri-cut Cake and I jokingly said lusted when I saw it. Ok, so maybe it wasn't a joke. The first time I saw this beautiful machine I thought of all the things I could do with it and how much time it would save me. For Levi's Robin Hood cake I hand cut over 300 1"x1" squares to make the castle stones, just imagine a machine that would cut them all for me! It took my breath away. All the women clapped honestly and politely, although I doubt any of them knew what it was, how much it was worth and why I wanted it so badly. Only Heather and the woman who generously gave it knew what it meant to me. It would have taken me a long time to save for this machine and no doubt it was not high on our family budget's priority list. I can never thank my anonymous donor enough for this amazing gift.

After Heather and I went back to nursery duty I sat and stared in shock at the lavish gift before me and we talked about that this meant to me. My benevolent benefactor hoped this would encourage me to use my God-given talent and take a step of faith and see what I could to with it. Moment by moment I felt my confidence growing. I COULD tackle my next big creation, although extra hands would still be nice. I COULD, someday, make my sisters' wedding cakes. I COULD have my own business. Maybe. No, I could. I don't know exactly what it will look like yet, but I'm working on it. It's almost like being pregnant. It's like i just found out that I have a baby on the way and I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea. But I'm sure over the next season of my life the idea will take root and begin to grow. And just like having a baby there will be a gestation period, growing pains, thankfully no heartburn, labor and delivery. And, I hope, on the other side, there will be great pride and joy in using my talents to His glory. Until this "baby" comes I'll be busy thinking of names, marketing strategies and how big or little this adventure will be. While I have no desire to have a storefront or be on the Food Network (although a Betty Crocker baking contest sounds fun) I'll leave that up to Him. I'm just going to be obedient, step forward and enjoy the confirmations along the way, like when we got home Wednesday night. Jeff called his mom to tell her what had happened at church and she told him she had just been talking with a retired woman who used to have her own cake shop. This woman asked my mother-in-law if she knew anyone who might want the boxes of her equipment. My mother-in-law showed her my cake album on Facebook and the woman decided she wants me to have every box. Yeah, I think someone is trying to tell me something and I am listening.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Happy Father's Day


Just as I did with Mother's Day, I wrote a tribute to my dad for Father's day. And again I encourage you to write one of your own and share it with your dad or, if he has already passed, with your siblings, his siblings or anyone else who knew and loved him. I hope all of you who know my dad will enjoy this as much as he did.

Dear Dad,

Over the years you have taught me so many lessons in so many ways. Most happened while we just spent time together, some from hearing of your own experiences, some came from your sage advice and others from some embarrassing moments. All of them, though, have influenced my life. I find myself trying to recreate some of those memories with my own kids, I can’t wait to tell them stories about myself as a child, sometimes I scare myself when I sound just like you and I giggle to myself when I think of how my kids will roll their eyes at me someday.

One of my first distinct memories is following you down the driveway. I remember staring at my bright blue shoes with the yellow stripes on the sides as I followed your footsteps. No doubt we were on our way to the garage to work in the shop. Sitting in the sawdust with a pile of nails, a hammer and a scrap 2x4 taught me the value of working with my own two hands. The play house and sea-saw you made us taught me that homemade toys are just as good as store bought, probably better. The notorious incident when I tried to jump to you off the porch and foolishly stuck my feet out into your stomach taught me that cement porches are really hard and that butterfly bandages and a French braid are a good fix for scalp wounds. I remember hiding behind the front door to surprise you when you came home from work. Although I’m pretty sure you knew I was there (top to bottom windows and sheer curtains don’t hide much) you feigned shock every time. You taught me the importance of humoring your children. I still remember going shopping for my first compact of blush and my Hot Miss Daisy bike. I learned you could see my future better than I could; someday I would grow up and wear makeup and someday I would ride a two-wheeler. After you punished me for the crimes of drawing on the wall and lying about it, you showed me how to ask for forgiveness when new evidence came to light, namely Victor’s confession. You taught me that God is a god of second chances when we sat listening to Benny Hester’s record and you passionately sang along to When God Ran. I remember the retractable colored pencils you gave me before you left to take the job in Fresno and how I cried at school when someone broke one. I learned gifts are more than gifts when there is sentimental value in them. I remember the night Uncle Craig told us that Alan Jeli was killed in a car accident. I learned that daddies cry too. I can still remember listening to you read the poem you wrote for Alan’s funeral, it was then that I learned that “stepping stones lead down paths unknown” and that they can “give us bumps and bruises” and putting my pen to the paper is a wonderful salve. When we heard that Clarice was killed that same year I remember sitting on your lap in the entry way and crying on your chest. Years later I watched you hold Shauna after her sister was murdered. You held her just like you held me and let her cry on your chest as if she were your very own little girl.

One of my favorite things to do as a kid was lie in bed as you told us stories from your childhood. I’m sure it wasn’t always easy to tell about the wrong decisions you made, but your honesty about your mistakes and the pain they caused you kept me from making many of the same. I learned that when your mom tells you not to play football while she is gone, you should listen. While your little brother might not bite his tongue in half every time, your mom will find out and make good on her threats of punishment. While drugs and alcohol may make for some crazy stories they aren’t worth the trouble you will find yourself in. When you took the cop’s billy club away during a brawl I learned you should defend yourself against excessive force. When you did the harder, but right, thing and turned yourself in after the fight, I learned about integrity. When you defended yourself in court you taught me about standing up for truth and injustice. And most importantly being found not guilty by the court and the Savior who met you in your jail cell is both redemptive and priceless.

I remember lying on the living room floor with you, practicing my handwriting and crying because you wanted me to do it again, neatly. I definitely learned that “El flojo trabajo doble” (The lazy man works twice). I remember you coming in from the garage and asking Mom if she had seen your pencil. We giggled when we saw you had one behind each ear. No doubt you needed them so you could “Measure twice and cut once”. I can’t count the number of times you spotted me on a back-hand spring and if I ever made an excuse for why I couldn’t do it, you were quick to warn me that “Excuses are like armpits and feet, everybody has them and they all stink!” When you found out I had decided not to take the entrance exam for honors English and later the AP test for Government you promptly called the teachers in each case. After short discussions with both of them you told me not to sell myself short and take them. It was good advice. Those 2 tests enabled me to graduate high school with 9 units of college credit. Pretty much, when it came down to it, I just needed to “Stop being a knucklehead” and “Fly right”!

I’ll never forget the day you walked into my work wearing black socks with your brown sandals, bright, mint green, corduroy shorts, a white t-shirt with a red and blue logo, and a black and purple hat with a green frog on it. I thought I would die of embarrassment. You taught me that, while I should not trust your fashion sense, Dad’s are entitled to embarrass their kids every once and a while. Like the time we brought some friends to meet you at Buchanan to watch the fireworks on Fourth of July. I don’t think any of us were quite prepared to find you in the parking lot, standing on top of The Yak (his 1970's motorhome) with out your shirt on. Or when we were at Dodger’s Stadium celebrating our win over the Giant’s to clinch the division, I turned around to find you after Finley’s grand-slam and there you were with your shirt off, swinging it wildly around over your head. I may have hung my head in shame, but you taught me to have pride in my country and my team.

As a dad you taught me all of these things and so many more. But one of the most valuable lessons I learned was on my wedding day. I’ll never forget the way you hugged me before you walked me down the aisle. You cried and said you were going to miss me so much. I ‘m sorry I tried to minimize your statement by saying I wasn’t moving out of town and that you would still see me all the time, I was trying to keep my make-up from running. But I knew exactly what you meant because you taught me that there is nothing like being daddy’s little girl.

I love you, Happy Father’s Day.



Sunday, June 13, 2010

So Long Ol' Chums


My life has been full of people who have helped shape my life into the glorious chaos it is today. But this blog is dedicated to a family that has impacted my life so greatly that I put them right up there with my parents. While my parents are responsible for the clay of my life; the content of my character, the substance of my person, both physically and metaphorically speaking, the Chumley family is responsible for what I became, the mold God chose to shape me.

I met David first. He was our church's new Jr. High pastor and I was 15 when we sat next to each other at summer camp and he saw me signing a song to myself during worship. I had always liked signing songs when I was little, Jesus Loves Me, God Is So Good, whatever my Sunday school teachers taught me. But it had been a long time since I had signed anything. That summer though, I had seen a woman signing a musical performance and when I saw a sign language book at a friend's house I picked it up and taught myself a new worship song we were doing in youth group. I can't remember what the song was and it probably wasn't anywhere near conceptually accurate, but I loved signing it. It was like my special secret language with God. When worship was done he asked where I learned to sign. I shrugged and said I just taught myself. I had no idea how fateful that small interaction would be and it wasn't until his wife, Lucinda, spoke in our High School group later that year and said both of their daughters were deaf that I realized the meaning behind his question.

I didn't have much more contact with David until the following spring when he headed up a youth missions team to Romania. The moment I heard about the team I was chomping at the bit to go. And go we did. After months of team building and drama practice we were ready to head out that August. It was an adventure to say the least. He kept his cool and made us laugh for hours when our non-English speaking bus driver abandoned us on the side of the road in the Romanian countryside to go syphon gas from a tractor. He didn't freak out too bad when I forgot to tell him my hotel room number and he couldn't find me and my roommate when we overslept the first day there. On the trip he and his best friend nick-named me zug-zug, from some bizarre Ringo Star movie called Caveman (which I still haven't seen, nor do I care to), and introduced me to my first real boyfriend. Today I still have an email account using my nick name, Scott and I are good friends, I can still recite The Champion and do my best kung-fu demon impression, although I don't have the long hair to swing around anymore. That trip was the first of 6 missions trips I would go on with Chumley. In fact I haven't been on one without him! Romania, Mexico, Mexico, Australia, Mexico, Albania. It would be weird to go without him and I would miss his silly self-portraits showing up in my pictures. I can't count the number of us who suffered that penalty for leaving our cameras out!

After that first trip Chumley asked if I would consider babysitting his girls on Sunday nights while he and Lucinda ran the college group. I was eager to learn more signs and what 16 year-old girl couldn't use a little cash and a chance to talk on the phone with her new, long-distance boyfriend without her parents hanging around (after the girls were asleep of course)! Lucinda started teaching me more signs, practical things like "Time for Bed", "Brush your teeth" and "Stop fighting". After all, "Hallelujah" and "Amen" were only going to get me so far with the two chatter boxes. Tali was 7 and Taylor was 5 when I began watching them. They would often get frustrated when I didn't understand what their furiously flying hands were trying to tell me, but we always found a way to communicate. Soon I found myself falling in love with this family. I loved it when David teased me about Scott. I loved chatting with Lu when they came home at night. I loved watching Tali swing to her heart's content, her blond curls trying to keep up. I loved lying with Taylor on her bed until she fell asleep. It didn't take me long to realize I wanted to become a sign language interpreter. Since then, I can't tell you how many times people have asked me what made me choose this career and every time I get to share the story of this amazing family. Every interpreting job I have ever taken, conversation I have had with a deaf person, or worship song I have signed has had their fingerprints all over it.

Lucinda was the one who really encouraged me to pursue interpreting and over the next several years Lucinda and I became fast friends. She was there for some of the highest highs and lowest lows in my life. One night they came home to find me crying on the couch after I had broken up with Scott. She hugged me and cried too. Lucinda also encouraged my husband to consider dating a younger girl, hinting I was interested (Thanks Lu! I don't know that he would have ever gotten around to asking me out). I'll never forget the night at camp when Lu, the original "dirty horse", was making her rounds as the girls dean and came to hang out in my room. The four of us high school girls and her made such a ruckus that the cabin counselors had to come tell us to be quiet and go to bed. Lucinda had to hide behind the door, hand over her mouth, to keep from getting caught. She also had the unfortunate job of telling me one of my best friends was killed in a car accident. I still remember the sound of my forehead hitting her collar bone and crumpling like a rag doll in her arms. She prayed with me when my grandpa was diagnosed with brain cancer. She snuck into the brides room on my wedding day to pray with me and my bridesmaids.

Jeff worked with the the Chums for 8 years and we served as a couple for four of them. And when the time came that God called us to another church we cried with them and they blessed and released us. Even after we left we kept in touch. David faithfully visited Jeff in the hospital when he was sick and Lucinda brought us grape juice and crackers to share communion before he was discharged. I had the great joy of interpreting for Tali her freshman year of high school and the even greater joy of naming our son Levi David later that year. When the Chumleys planted a church it seemed like we should be one of the first families there but we felt like God had already called us to a church and we needed to stay where we were. But I helped out and interpreted at a women's retreat for Grace Place. While there, God gave me a word for our next child. Hope. I didn't know what it meant at the time but God gave it and I received it. It seemed only fitting I receive it while with Lucinda, after all, her life embodied having hope. Especially when Sarah Hope (their surprise, post-vasectomy baby) showed up. As the months went on though, it became apparent that our next baby was not going to come the traditional way, but we were OK with that. Knowing that David was adopted always inspired us. And we did the same, almost 2 years later we brought home our daughter, Mila Hope.

Earlier this year we were so excited to hear that the Chums were possibly moving closer to us and we definitely were not shy about voicing how we felt about this, telling them of every house for sale in our vicinity and relishing the thought of being able to see them more often. But God obviously had different plans. God has called the Chumleys out of Fresno. As heartbreaking as it is for us. We have learned by their example that God's will is always the best place to be. So, what can I say to a family that has obviously changed my life in innumerable ways? (Cue Ray Boltz's Thank You) Thanks. Thanks for teaching me a new language. Thanks for challenging me to grow and give of myself. Thanks for being part of my life and allowing me to be a part of yours. Thank you for my husband. Thank you for being shoulders to cry and stand on. Thanks for letting me interpret Taylor's high school graduation and bring my interpreting days for your family full circle. And most importantly thanks for being obedient to God's call in your life, to come to Fresno and, now, to move on. (Cue Michael W. Smith's Friends) I know that our friendship will live on through Facebook and email long after you have left town and for the rest of my life you will have a special place in my heart. I am forever grateful and count myself blessed for having been in the wake of your impact. David, Lu, Tali, Taylor, Sarah and Tom (the only cat I've ever liked) I love you all. So long ol' Chums.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Fantastic Fruit Salad


This is probably my all-time favorite fruit salad. I came up with it last summer when I went on a second-trimester ginger-lime kick and thoroughly enjoyed it again as we kicked off summer on Memorial Day this year. It's bright (in color and taste), sweet, full of flavor and perfect served ice cold at a picnic or BBQ. Again all measurements are approximate and suggestions.

Make Dressing:
  • 1/2 cup Bolthouse Farms Amazing Mango Fruit Smoothie
  • zest and juice of 1 lime (juice is optional)
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger

Mix ingredients and refrigerate while you prepare the fruit.

10-12 cups of fresh fruit cut into bite-size pieces. I recommend...
  • Fresh pineapple
  • Strawberries
  • Nectarines
  • Blueberries
  • Green grapes
  • Mango
Other good options are
  • Peaches
  • Cantaloupe
  • Honey dew melon
  • Kiwi
  • Red grapes
Gently toss the fruit. Stir in dressing just before serving. If you are making this ahead of time cut and add the strawberries at the very end (they tend to be mushy if cut too far in advance).

If you are lucky enough to get leftovers place them into a resealable plastic bag and lay flat in the freezer. When the fruit is frozen gently break it into pieces. Keep frozen and blend with orange juice and/or yogurt for a great smoothie!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

My Cheating Heart


My dearest Blog,

Oh, how I have missed you! It pains me to think of how unfaithful I have been. How I have strayed and allowed myself to indulge in more tv watching than I should. First there was Law & Order, then SVU, CSI and LOST, yet I felt confident I could maintain my commitment to you while keeping these loves on the side. But then an old flame, Rules of Engagement, returned and I was smitten. And this introduced me to The Big Bang Thoery. I felt like I was spiralling out of control and I felt so distant from you. But, rather than drawing close to you I gave in to temptation. I just added more and more. American Idol, The Biggest Loser, Parenthood. I was flooded with guilt, I began comparing myself with Tiger, Jesse and Tiki. But now, many of these flings have come to an end, some forever, some until the fall. As they left me this week, I began to ache for you again. How silly and foolish I have been to let these others take your place and deteriorate my committment to you. Today I am redoubling my efforts to get our relationship back on track. I'm going to finish the blogs I began and have left sitting on my desktop. I'm going to write more often and make up the weeks I missed. I'm going to treat you with the love and committment I promised when we began this journey together. And to prove it, I'm writting this at midnight, in bed, in the dark, on my phone so my husband won't be lonely as he falls asleep. And if this is the only way for us to be together, then so be it. I'm in this for the long haul. Please forgive me!

Love always,

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day


Two years ago I was inspired to honor my mom on Mother's Day by telling her all the things that I love and admire about her. Many people wait too long to tell their parents how much they appreciate them and have to settle for a eulogy. I hope this encourages you to write down how much you love your mom or dad and share it with them. If your parents have passed, honor them anyway by writing it down and sharing it with your siblings or children.

Mother's Day 2008

This year, for Mother’s Day, I wanted to give my mom so much more than a gift or a card. I have no doubt that my mom would appreciate another funny card or kitchen gadget, but I new that the card would wind up in the trash and the thing-a-ma-bob would eventually end up lost in one of the many black holes masquerading as a kitchen cabinet or drawer. So, instead I decided to pen something for posterity. I know this letter will merely scratch the surface of my deep adoration for my mom but it will be truest offering I can give.

Dear Mom,

With mother’s day just around the corner, I couldn't help but think back on all your years of mothering. As thoughts and memories flitted through my mind I found myself laughing out loud, sighing deeply and brimming with tears. Some of these thoughts might seem partial and incomplete, but they are the patchwork of my childhood. Undoubtedly you will remember some of these events, other memories might just be mine, but I wanted to share them with you and the life lessons they taught me all the same.

Do you remember when I cut my finger on the glass pitcher I broke, the one you told me not to touch? I learned a lesson in obedience. Do you remember the phase when I loved to play in the mud behind the garage? I learned about the satisfaction that comes from getting your hands a little dirty. Or how about making butter cookies with the avocado-green cookie press? I learned about quality family time. Do you remember the time I thought vinegar would be a good flavor for a pie? You taught me about taking risks. I still can’t believe you actually let me do that or that you tasted it. The home-made puzzles with the paint palette spinner taught me to be creative and resourceful. Seeing you off at the airport on your way to El Salvador taught me about being an ambassador for Christ. I know we both lost count of how many nights you held my head over a toilet bowl or bucket, but each time you did, I learned about sacrifice. When you pulled fiberglass from my knees after crawling on the floorboards of the boat or you brought me warm jell-o water when I was sick you taught me about compassion. Do you remember the time I got carsick and you washed the side of the car off with the last of the apple juice you promised me? I learned to laugh at my mistakes. When you sponsored a child from Latin America Child Care or filled shoe boxes with toiletries and gifts to send overseas, even though money was tight, I learned about generosity. When you cleaned houses and the church I learned about doing my part to make ends meet. I know you remember when I came home from school with head lice. The hours you spent washing my hair with RID and combing my long, tangled, sensitive mane taught me about patience. Do you remember the time you pulled your hair out with the drill press and you ran, bleeding, to the Scott’s house? Of course you do, that taught me to ask for help when I need it. And the bun you used to cover your bald spot afterward taught me to use what you got. Do you remember the lazy summer afternoons reading Ann of Green Gables on the old tan couch or Hinds Feet on High Places before bed? I learned to get lost in a book. When I had to save up my money for months to buy my own roller blades, I learned the value of a dollar. Can you count the number of boring awards ceremonies I put you through? I've lost track, but I learned you were my biggest fan. I don’t know how or why it happened, but do you remember the time you came to me and asked my forgiveness for how you handled a situation? I learned a lesson in humility. I remember the night you kept me home from the Clovis High v. Clovis West football game. Just when you were feeling sorry for me and were about to change your mind, I threw fit and you remained firm. You taught me to stand my ground. Do you remember the time I brought 7 friends over for lunch while you were in the middle of decorating cakes? You didn't bat an eye and told us to help ourselves; I learned a lesson in hospitality. Seeing you diligently reading The Word taught me to have an appetite for being in my Father’s presence. When you held me close and let me cry on your shoulder, whether over a boy or a lost friend, you taught me empathy. When you cared for Grandpa while he was dying, in our own home, I learned the greatest lesson of what it means to be a servant. And watching you watch me walk down the aisle at age 19 taught me about letting go.

Mom, I will never be able to adequately thank you for all that you have done for me. Other than writing this letter, the best way to try and do that is by following your example. I hope that I will be able to pass the values that you worked so hard to instill in me onto Levi and the other children I will have. I know it won’t be easy and there will be times, as I am sure you have experienced, I will want to throw in the towel, but the reward of having my children rise up and call me blessed is to sweet to give up. Thank you for hanging in there with me, I think you’ll agree it has been worth it. I have heard it said and believe it to be true that the legacy of a great mom is lived on in the generations that follow. Mom, yours is no exception.



Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How-To: Robin Hood Birthday Cake


Here it is! The much-anticipated cake blog! This cake, like some of my cooking, was something I just made up. So, again, I learned as I was going and some of my pictures don't quite match my directions. And while it looks difficult, it really isn't. Time consuming? Yes. Difficult? No. If you can roll and cut out Play-dough, you can make this cake.

One great thing about this cake is that it can be made in stages and spread out over a week. Here are the things you will need to make this cake.

I have never been a big fan of fondant. Yeah, its neat and pretty looking, but it tastes like crap. Most people, including myself, just peel the fondant off to get to the butter cream frosting underneath. And who wants to to all that work for no one to even eat it? Not me. But I was willing to use it just for the stone work on the castle purely for the smooth look of the stone. So you can imagine how happy I was when a friend told me about Marshmallow Fondant! (Thanks Janna!) Not only is the recipe cheap and easy, it tastes fantastic! So much so, that I had to stop myself from eating it so I would have enough. Here is Janna's recipe:

Marshmallow Fondant
  • 16 ounces white mini-marshmallows (use a good quality brand)
  • 2 to 5 tablespoons water
  • 2 pounds powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening (you will be digging into it so place in a very easily accessed bowl)

NOTE: Please be careful, this first stage can get hot. Melt marshmallows and 2 tablespoons of water in a microwave bowl. Put the bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds, open microwave and stir, back in microwave for 30 seconds more, open microwave and stir again, and continue doing this until melted. It usually takes about 2 1/2 minutes total. Place 3/4 of the powdered sugar on the top of the melted marshmallow mix and gently stir a few times with a well-greased, rubber spatula. Now grease your hands GENEROUSLY (palms, backs, and in between fingers), then heavily grease the counter you will be using (granite works, but any smooth surface will work) a and dump the bowl of marshmallow/sugar mixture in the middle. Start kneading like you would bread dough. You will immediately see why you have greased your hands. Keep kneading, this stuff is sticky at this stage! Add the rest of the powdered sugar and knead some more. Re-grease your hands and counter when the fondant starts sticking. If the mix is tearing easily, it is to dry, so add a water (about 1/2 tablespoon at a time and then knead it in). It usually takes me about 8 minutes to get a firm smooth elastic ball so that it will stretch without tearing when you apply it to the cake. It is best if you can let it sit, double wrapped, overnight (but you can use it right away if there are no tiny bits of dry powdered sugar). If you do see them, you will need to knead and maybe add a few more drops of water. Prepare the fondant icing for storing by coating it with a good layer of Crisco shortening, wrap in a plastic-type wrap product and then put it in a resealable or Ziploc bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible. When ready to use, roll out to desired thickness. Adding water or powdered sugar to firm up or loosen as needed. It should be soft, smooth and supple, but firm enough to be lifted onto a cake without tearing. Marshmallow Fondant will hold for weeks. So, make it ahead to save time later.

1 week-4 days in advance
  • Make fondant
  • Make Robin Hood

To make Robin Hood leaping out of the burning castle I used

  • tracing paper
  • computer with DVD drive
  • colored pencils
  • clear packaging tape
  • thin flexible wire or heavy fishing line
(This part can be made well in advance, but of course I waited until the morning of.

Insert the DVD into the drive and fast forward to the end of the movie when Robin hood jumps from the castle. Pause on the frame you like best and resize the DVD viewer until Robin is the right size for the cake. Place the tracing paper over the screen and gently trace. Remove the paper and color in the outline with colored pencils.

Carefully cut out the drawing and lay it on a sheet of plain printer paper or card stock. Lay a piece of tape over the drawing and press firmly.

Place the other piece on the backside of the plain paper to seal it. Again cut out the drawing very carefully, a craft knife can be very helpful for all the details.

Secure a piece of thin wire or fishing line to Robin Hood with hot glue.

3 days in advance

Roll out 50 square inches of fondant to 1/8 inch thick and color dark brown, using black and brown color gel. Dust the surface with powdered sugar to keep it from sticking and to firm up. The brown needs to be stiffer than the rest of the fondant.

Re-roll brown to 1/8 inch think. Take a party hat and trim the bottom to a 3 inch diameter and roughly 4 inches tall.
Unroll the party hat and trace onto the fondant.
Cut out and form around the party hat, sealing the edges. With a small paring knife, cut holes for candles.* Set aside, uncovered and let harden. Roll out remaining brown fondant and cut a straight edge. Using the large end of a cake decorating tip like a cookie cutter, cut out half circles. Continue cutting straight edges and shingles. Store shingles in a air tight container to keep soft.

*I originally planned to use red, orange, and yellow tissue paper and made the holes rather large. But when I changed my mind and decided to use candles I had to re-size the openings by partially covering them with the shingles. I would not recommend making more than 8 or 10 candle openings because it would weaken the turret structure.

Roll out 300 square inches of fondant in batches and tint with black food coloring. Do not completely blend the color in, leaving it streaked and mottled for a natural stone look. Roll fondant to 1/4 inch thick and using a ruler or other straight edge and a pizza wheel or knife cut into 1 inch squares. Reserve 25 squares and cut each into (4) 1/2 inch squares. Dust squares with powdered sugar and store in air tight containers or Ziploc bags.

2 days in advance

Bake cakes following Wilton's guide. I used 6 boxed mixes which make about 4 1/2 cups of batter each. After the cakes have cooled, level the tops and use the diagram below to carve the cakes into pieces.

Take your foil-wrapped piece of card board and center the pieces for layer 1. Tint 4 cups of butter cream frosting gray and frost a 9 inch square centered left to right on the 11x15 cake with one edge at the joint between the 2 cakes.

Add the pieces for layer 2 on the square, frost. Repeat with each layer.

Reinforce the tower with a kitchen skewer. Tint 1/2-3/4 cup
of frosting blue and frost the moat, bringing it out farther in the front.

Starting with the 1/2 inch stones, lay them side by side in a row at the back of the castle. Use the traditional stretcher bond technique starting the next line with a half stone so that the grout lines from the row above run into the center of the stone below.

Then using the 1 inch stones in the same manner, cover the insides of the castle walls then the top surfaces. Using a toochpick mark out the shape of the drawbridge/doorway on the front of the turret and continue the stonework around the marks covering the entire surface. Lay squares along the top ridge and continue working from the top of the side walls to the bottom. Maintaining the simple stretcher bond pattern. If the butter cream dries and the stones will not adhere use a small amount of piping gel to moisten. Cover the cake loosely with plastic wrap.

Use piping gel to adhere the shingles to the roof. Start at the bottom and layer upwards.

Be very careful as the roof is brittle when its dried. If it breaks add a few drops of water and press the pieces back together. Let the roof dry uncovered until the cake is served.

1 day in advance

Color a small amount of fondant black and shape into a doorway that is 1 x 2 inches with a rounded top. Cut a graham cracker the same shape as the doorway, but slightly shorter, using a small paring knife and a sawing motion.

Place the doorway on the turret. Roll more gray fondant into small balls to finish the doorway.

Tint the remaining 4 1/2 cups of frosting green and apply a thin layer to the remaining exposed cake. Place the rest in a pastry bag fitted with a with a coupler and number 233 tip and set aside.

Color 1/4-1/3 cup of piping gel blue and cover the blue frosting.
Wrap 2 toothpicks with foil. Place the graham cracker over the moat water and lean the toothpicks between the drawbridge and the doorway.

Cut out 16, thick, 1x1 inch squares. Roll 4 a 1/2 inch wider and bend, as shown, for the corners. Secure thick squares and with toothpicks, starting at the turret and working your way around leaving spaces in between.

Use a grass tip to cover the thin layer of green frosting; squeeze, pull back and release.

Take a ball of fondant and roll it into a cylinder. Slide it onto the skewer to make a post. Cover the cake overnight.

Day of

Place the turret on top and side candles into the openings, gently pushing them into the fondant post.
Attach Robin Hood by sticking the other end of the wire or line in through the top of the turret and into the fondant post.

My favorite part of the whole cake was the fact that we actually it it on fire. As I said before I had originally planned to use tissue paper, but this was was so much more fun. And considering the first thing Levi asked when he saw his cake was if we could light it on fire, I knew I made the right choice.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Beautiful Blue


Its spring time around our house. I know this not because there are birds chirping outside my windows or my roses are blooming, not because of the amazing weather we are enjoying or even because of my freckled shoulders. I know this because there is a brooding animosity in my home. It starts out as a few snide comments and curt retorts. Soon there will be rolling of eyes and scoffing grunts, criticizing, mocking and bragging are to follow. And it is the same every year in the Grunau household. Ladies and gentlemen, it is baseball season.

This year the battle of beautiful Dodger blue and pukey Giant orange started off with an innocent child hurt in the wake. A few weeks ago Jeff was helping me get the kids ready to go to a doctor appointment and I was about to thank him for dressing Autumn when I noticed she was wearing a heavy sweatsuit. It was supposed to be in the mid 70's that day and I knew she would be miserable.

"Honey, its going to be way to warm for her to wear that."
"It's ok, I put something underneath it."

I could hear the mischievous smile in his voice. I glared at him across the room. He looked up and grinned with false innocence and walked her to the van. I shuddered to think about the hideousness that lay beneath that warm sweatsuit. I quickly ran back upstairs and pulled a beautiful sun dress from her closet and stashed it in her backpack. When we arrived at the doctor's office Mila had to go potty and I had to feed Autumn. As soon as Jeff and Mila disappeared around the corner I knew this was my chance. I gagged as I removed the sweatsuit. There it was, vile and wretched. A pink and purple Giants body suit.

"Oh, Baby Girl, what did your daddy do to you? You poor thing! Come here and let me take this nasty thing off of you!"

She looked refreshed and happy in her white sundress. Jeff and Mila came back just then.

"Where did that outfit come from?" he smiled with irritation.
"From her backpack? Why?" I smiled back.
"What was wrong with what she was wearing?"
"My daughter is not wearing that thing in public"

Mila was called back and so we dropped it. Nearing the end of the appointment Jeff, Levi and Autumn hung out in the waiting area while Mila took her eye test. When Jeff came in holding Autumn at arms distance I knew there was trouble. He grabbed her back pack and headed out. We finished a few minutes later and I found him back in the waiting room with the contents of her bag strewn about. And her poop-stained clothes in a pile next to her.

"Where are her wipes?!"
"Oops! They are in the van. You head down and I'll make the follow-up appointment."

When I joined them a few minutes later Autumn was again suffering in her daddy-picked clothes.

"See, Hun? She made her choice!"

I sighed, embarrassed for my baby. It's a good thing Jeff had his own doctor appointment to go to and we had some time to kill before Mila's field trip. As Jeff drove away I smiled to myself and headed straight for Target. Soon enough autumn had a beautiful, new, blue dress on and a few seconds later she spit up on it. No problem, I had the perfect spit up rag.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How-To: Robin Hood Birthday Party


This year my son, Levi, turned 5. And since we don’t do birthday parties every year (this is only his second party, ever) I wanted to do something fun, and creative that he and his friends would remember. Since Disney’s Robin Hood is one of his favorite movies and it is boy and girl friendly, I knew it would be perfect. I’ll share the things I did and give other ideas to make it work for older kids, scaled down or scaled up. Feel free to add comments if you come up with things to add!

I love to use e-vite. It’s free and I can customize them to whatever I want. I searched the Internet for a Robin Hood image and found the one above. I added that to the e-vite and wrote a message to match: Then I customized the responses with quotes from the movie. For Yes replies it read “A perfect bull’s-eye”, for Maybe it said, “Maybe it’ll even be a double hangin’” and for No it was “It’s so miserably unfair!”. Afterward I thought of another quote to use for yes replies, "Coming...coming!" Our guests even responded in the same manner with mentions of Sir Hiss and a condition of attendance based on a tax cut. If you are into paper crafting you could make a bull’s-eye out of red and white paper with all the party information on the reverse side. If you make it the size of a CD you can use CD sleeves as envelopes and tuck in a few paper arrows too.

For all the craft items I tried to use things I (or my parents) already had, were cheap, easy to find and uncomplicated. Also being frugal, I started purchasing items a few months in advance using my weekly Jo-Ann’s and Michael’s coupons. I won’t say you already have all these things (even though you might) because I hate it when shows say…”Using only things you already have…” and I think “Great!” until I realize that I have none of those items. Like the time Rachel Ray made a meal from pantry staples which included a can of anchovies… Really? Anchovies are a staple? Anyway… All of the crafts are simple. If you can cut, glue and sew a straight line (or know someone who can) you can make these fun party hats and favors.


Robin Hood
  • Green felt
  • Craft Feathers
  • Hot Glue
  • Green Thread
I searched high and low on the Internet for a Robin Hood hat pattern and found a few. One was in metric and the other had incorrect measurements (good thing I tried it with newspaper first!), so I created my own pattern on a 12x12 piece of card stock. You can use newspaper too. Adjust the pattern proportionally for bigger kids, and make a sample with newspaper to make sure it’s the right size. For our size pattern, we needed a 12x24 inch rectangle of green craft felt*.

Fold the rectangle into a 12x12 square (right sides together, although it doesn’t really matter with felt), Place the pattern on the felt, aligning the folds. Trace or pin the pattern and cut out. Stitch along the two sides as shown. Turn it right side out and tuck a feather in one side. Glue a scrap of felt to the underside to secure the feather. Turn edges up as shown.

Using my coupons I was able to get 1 1/3 yards of 72” wide fabric (enough for 12 hats) for less than $5 and feathers for less than $2. *Use the 12x24 measurement when estimating the amount of fabric to buy, but just fold the fabric with enough room to place the pattern and cut. Cutting out rectangles and then the hats just doubles your work (Thank you Mom, for saving me from doing that!)

Maid Marian
  • Pink felt
  • Assorted curling ribbon
  • Pink thread
  • Glitter (optional)
  • Small, wooden, kitchen skewers (optional)
  • Satin ribbon, thin (optional)
All the online patterns I saw for this medieval style hat involved tons of sewing that I wasn’t equipped or in the mood to do. So, I just made this one up. In hindsight I wish I would have done things a little differently. My directions will include things I didn’t do, and therefore aren’t in the pictures. Cut a large half circle out of newspaper. Fold it to make a cone with the circumference and height you want. Allow for a ½ inch seam and trim the top off the point as shown. Cut the newspaper to make your pattern. Take your pattern with you to the store and lay it out on the felt, counting out as many as you need and measuring accordingly. To save cutting time, fold both you pattern and fabric, align folds, and cut. Count out 12-15 pieces of curling ribbon, cut to 30 inches when pulled straight. I used, white, purple, light and dark pink ribbon. Tie a knot at the top of the bundle, do not curl. Lay fabric open right side facing up, lay ribbons along the middle with the knot at the top. Fold fabric, closing the ribbons inside.

Stitch a ½ inch seam, sewing through the ribbons to prevent them from falling out, stitch a second seam, ¼ inch. Turn right side out. Slide a kitchen skewer (trimmed if needed) in between the two seams for extra support*.

Attach 12 inches of satin ribbon with hot glue to each side for tying under the chin, keeping the seam in the back. Apply a super-fine glitter with a dry, coarse craft or paintbrush, the felt will trap the glitter very well and it won’t transfer off much at all. Or, if you can find it, buy glitter felt. I found it in other colors, but not pink. I used an iridescent embossing powder/glitter my mom found in her craft box. If you can’t find glitter felt or have any glitter to use, fore go this step. Again with my coupon I made 12 hats for less than $5.

*I figured out that I could sew through the ribbon on the last hat I made, and I highly recommend doing it that way after we had a few ribbon bundles fall out at the party. Also, I had planned to glue skewers to the inside of the hat, but it was too tricky. I hadn’t allowed for the ½ inch seam, so I just left them with out anything for support, and while they stood up fine on their own, once the girls were wearing them and running around, they tended to flop over.


  • Small plastic rings
  • Fabric embellishments or silk flowers
  • Rhinestones
  • Hot glue

Go to a party supply place and look through their party favor bins. I found small rings for $.15 each, or $1.50 for a dozen. Even though these rings already had a charm on top (hearts, happy faces, etc.) some had already fallen off. So, I dug through the bin and pulled out those with missing pieces. Find the smallest flowers you can at a craft store. I used fabric embellishments. They were the perfect size, prettier and more durable than plain silk. They were more expensive though. I got them for around $6, but you could easily use a $.50 bunch of silks. Hot glue together petal layers if you choose then glue to the ring. My flowers already had centers on them, but if you use silks you can use rhinestones to seal the center.

  • Brown or tan fabric
  • Brown or tan thread
  • Embroidery thread
  • Tags
  • Marker or printer
  • Chocolate coins
You can use any type of scrap fabric for this. I found a piece of tan felt in the remnant bin for $1. Cut the fabric into 4x5 rectangles. Place two rectangles, right sides together and stitch on three sides with a ¼ inch seam, leaving a 4 inch edge open. You can round the bottom if you choose. Trim corners and turn right side out. Using a large craft needle, weave a 10 inch length of embroidery thread in and out 1/3 of the way down the bag to make a draw string. Fill bag with chocolate coins, we used 5, that being the birthday boy’s age and all. I borrowed a friend’s cri-cut machine to make the tags and hand wrote Thank You on one side and Farthings on the other. I wish I would have used my computer to print them with a nice calligraphy or Old English style writing and then cut tags. My handwriting is terrible. Either way, attach a farthing/thank you tag to each bag and tie a bow.


  • Shuttlecocks
  • Badminton rackets
  • Bows and Arrows (optional)
Since most of the kids at this party were fairly young I ruled out having an archery tournament or organized badminton game. Although that would have been fun, I kept seeing them whacking each other with rackets, or someone walking in front of the target and thought it best to avoid those scenarios. Instead we laid down a hula-hoop (a basket would work too) and had the kids try hitting shuttlecocks with rackets into the hoop. While this proved to be more difficult than I thought (not one kid, with six tries each, made it in), it was fun to watch. We marked the driveway with sidewalk chalk and drew lines every two feet and then labeled them 1-10. Each child found their age on the number line and shot form there. 2 feet per year of age for the child evened the paying field a bit, with 5-year-olds being 10 feet away, 6-year-olds being 12 and so on. If you do this for older kids, you could definitely set up an archery area (suction arrows or real, depending on your preference and home owners insurance), play badminton or play a game of tag where the “Honorable Sheriff of Nottingham” has to capture citizens for tax evasion and throw them in jail.

Now, that is another blog entirely… stay tuned!