"You can make anything by writing."

-- C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

"She Is Sixteen, Going on Seventeen"

I think if there's any occasion worth busting out the ol' blog, it's our little one's Sweet Sixteen.

Sixteen years ago this afternoon, on a sweltering 100-degree day, in a community hospital in small-town Montana, our little bundle of spunk entered the world. Never before had we known the kind of love that overwhelmed us when we first held her in our arms and kissed her sweet little face.

The first thought that crossed my labor-exhausted brain? "Wow, she looks just like my Great-Grandma Blackburn."

We had no way of knowing who this little person was -- or whom she would become. But over these past 16 years, we've sure had fun figuring it out!

Eventually she'd collect a smattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks ... and eventually those freckles would fade. (Under makeup, perhaps? Who knows?)

Over time, she'd learn to love reading, and she'd gobble up books from our local library -- though stubbornly and steadfastly refusing summer after summer to read my recommendations of "Anne of Green Gables" or "Gone With the Wind."

She'd learn to love all kinds of music -- and learn to enjoy making music even more.

She'd make friends with every dog she'd ever meet, especially her own.

She'd learn to enjoy traveling and seeing new places (27 states so far) and crave an adventurous road trip. But she'd also learn that there's no place like home.

She'd get into trouble at school almost EVERY DAY for talking too much.

When she was 10, we'd notice for the first time that her thumbs are noticeably different from each other -- one looks like mine, and the other looks like Ryan's. And we'd feel guilty for not ever having noticed that before.

She'd always be very, very slow in getting ready each day (that's why I have time to write this now, actually). She's just livin' life at her own pace, "Ryley-style," with Korean pop music or Broadway tunes blasting in the background. She insists that music doesn't slow her down, but we all know the truth.😉

Speaking of winking? That's something Ryley's never been able to do with any kind of smoothness.

German food, like sauerkraut, is her fave; and she prefers fruity desserts to chocolate.

Puppets freak her out. But she loves puns. Ever want to make her laugh? Work a pun into your sentence.

She's obsessed with checking expiration dates on food items and is horrified to find expired foods in our fridge or pantry from time to time.

Even at 16, she has a soft spot in her heart for mermaids, balloons, bubbles, and all things fantastical. But at the same time, she can be very practical and pragmatic and extremely black and white.

Her bossiness and competitive nature can be off-putting sometimes (something she's working on!), but we are confident that her determination will take her far in life.

Every movie she sees is her new favorite. She greets every new thing with loads of enthusiasm.

And when she wants something from us, she's super-pushy -- campaigning and squawking and chipping and poking until we either give in or, more likely, explode in parental "rage." #honesty

Museums will always hold a very special place in her heart. They're where she and her daddy like to spend their Ry days. Marvel movies, too.

This lovely young woman is an absolute joy to raise. She's funny and smart and witty and -- best of all -- tender, compassionate, and loving.

This afternoon, we stopped by a coffee shop, and an elderly man was sitting out front. He asked if we had 75 cents for the bus fare. I told him I didn't have any change, and we walked on. While we stood in line, I could tell something was bothering Ryley.

Come to find out, she knew she had cash in the car, and she had been mulling that man's request over and over in her head. She knew what she had to do, so she went and did it. On her birthday. Handed the man a $1 bill while Ryan watched from our nearby car.

That's what I'm most thankful for -- a daughter who, though still growing in her faith, hears the voice of the Holy Spirit and doesn't hesitate to do what's right. I pray that only gets stronger in these next few years, as she makes tough decisions regarding college and course of study and friends and roommates and relationships. It won't be easy; it's tougher to be a young adult than it's ever been. But with Jesus living in her heart, she's going to be just fine.

Happy sweet 16, my lovely Ryley. We love you with all our hearts.

Friday, December 28, 2018

How a Crushed Stock Pot Reminded Me of How Special Marriage Is

Twenty years of marriage can be best explained like this:

A few days before Christmas, Ryan and I were shopping in Walmart. Not knowing what exactly to get each other for Christmas or our upcoming anniversary, we found ourselves in the pots and pans aisle, looking for something we desperately needed -- a brand new skillet -- one free of scuff marks and Teflon chunks that flake into our food.

As we browsed, a large stainless steel stock pot caught my eye. It had been badly crushed on one side -- obviously unusable -- but the sight of it immediately took me back to a past life, something from 15 years ago. I turned to the only other person I know who would also know.

"Ryan! Look!" I pointed to the pot on the shelf. "What does this make you think of?"

Ryan glanced at the pot, and I watched as his eyes lit up.

"Well, I don't know if this is what YOU'RE thinking of, but it reminds me of that grain silo on the road from Bozeman, right before the road curves toward Helena."

Nailed it. 

A crushed stock pot on a shelf in a Colorado Walmart in 2018 instantly took us back to a crushed silo in circa 2003 Montana.

Such a weird thing. Soooo weird. But I kissed him right there in the middle of the Walmart pots and pans aisle.

Because what is marriage if it isn't thousands and thousands of shared experiences and inside jokes and conversations that nobody else in the world knows about but us? That's just the tip of the iceberg, honestly.

Twenty years ago today, a 21-year-old version of me walked down the aisle and tied the knot with a 20-year-old version of Ryan. We were just kids. Seriously. But when you know, you know. :-)

And now we have 20 years of life experiences together. It's honestly overwhelming to think about. All I know is that there's nothing sweeter than being married to your very best friend.

Here's to another 20 years, and many, many more. ;-)

Monday, April 23, 2018

NYC Day Six -- Our Final Adventures and My Final Thoughts

This is it -- the final blog post about our trip to New York City! This one is a long one, but I think it's worth the read. 😉

Here we go with ...


On the last day of the trip, we only had one thing planned in advance, and that was our tour of the NBC studios at Rockefeller Center. If you plan a trip to New York, we highly recommend doing this tour, AND if you do, you need to book it months in advance. I looked online a few weeks before our trip, and they had some availability, but I wasn't ready to book it yet. I didn't realize it was such a hot ticket item! The next time I looked, everything was gone. I was crushed. Then, on a whim, the day before we flew to New York, I checked one more time, and they must have had some cancellations because we lucked out with three spots for Friday morning, March 30!

The NBC Studio Tour is highly enjoyable, and it's led by the network's very personable pages, who are witty and knowledgeable and fun. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed. But trust me: Ryan and I were looking for opportunities to sneak pics! Those pages have eagle eyes, though, and we were never left unattended.

They took us to see three studios: "Nightly News with Lester Holt," "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon," and (our favorite!) "Saturday Night Live". It was pretty surreal to sit in the yellow balcony seats and overlook the set where SNL is taped each week. We didn't see anyone "big" because both late-night shows were on hiatus for Easter week, and it was too early in the day for Lester and his crew.

We did, however, see Rev. Al Sharpton next to the elevators. I have to admit that I didn't recognize him on sight. He walked past our tour group with his body guard, and he was on his cell phone looking very "busy," and one of the guys in our group gasped, then nodded to him and said, "'Morning, Reverend." The tour guide stopped talking, and asked, "Did you say something?" And he answered, "Oh, I was just greeting the reverend there," to which everyone craned their necks to see, and hushed whispers spread throughout the group, "That's Al Sharpton." "Al Sharpton." "Reverend Al Sharpton."

I looked at Ryan and whispered, "Was that Al Sharpton?" And he just shrugged and said, "Seems like it."

Celebrity Sighting No. 3! And sadly, that concludes our celebrity sightings.

After the tour, we spent a decent chunk of time in the very fun NBC gift shop at the base of Rockefeller Center.

Ryley chose a Central Perk t-shirt, and I chose a Central Perk mug in honor of our "Friends" obsession. 👍

Even if you don't go on the tour, I recommend stopping there! There's a ton of memorabilia for "Friends," "Parks and Rec," "The Office," "Seinfeld," "SNL," "The Today Show," and a couple others! Nothing for "30 Rock," though, which seemed to us like a missed opportunity!

 (In the course of our week we also stumbled across an HBO gift shop, which -- though very small -- is also fun if you're into any HBO shows like "Game of Thrones").

The next thing that we had planned was a dinner reservation at a fancy-schmancy hamburger place in Greenwich Village. With about five hours to kill, we decided to have a quick lunch via the street vendors (we lovingly called this "street meat") right outside Rockefeller Center. I had something (Greek?) from a Halal food truck. The Rys chose food trucks that had more American offerings. And wouldn't you know it? We actually found a place to sit. Hallelujah!

We walked through Times Square, then, which was colorful and brilliantly lit and fascinating as always ... Pictures don't do it justice. 

Even the Statue of Liberty was taking a lunch break ... 

Then we walked south on Broadway for what seemed like a looooong time. After being in the city for a week, we had a pretty good feel for the layout. Even so, it was interesting that we'd find ourselves within a block of the Empire State Building, or within a block of the library, without meaning to. Everything is so compact, and distance becomes relative.

I sit here in my house, and I think about the grocery store on the corner, 7/10ths of a mile away. It would seem outrageous and impractical to walk there within the course of our daily routine; it seems so far. Yet, if you put that same stretch of distance in New York, .7 miles is the distance between Times Square and Central Park to the north, or Times Square and Macy's to the south. And in that .7 miles you fit in TONS. You'd probably find five Starbucks within that space, and it wouldn't even seem over-saturated. At any given time, you're within a mile of a lot of well-known people, a lot of well-known places, but because there's so much of all of it, it seems like you're farther than you really are, which is why it's such a surprise to stumble upon the Empire State Building from a different angle, a different direction.

I think you might actually be able to fit the length of Manhattan island between our house and my office in the Denver Tech Center. And when you put it in those terms, you realize how small of a place New York is -- it's just extremely dense and deep.

And then -- when I think again about the distance to our grocery store? I look at it completely differently. I could walk that, easy, if I had to. Sure, the space looks different than the space did in New York. It's more wide open, of course. But the distance between Times Square and Central Park and the distance between my house and the grocery store is the same.

When we arrived home and felt the spaciousness of Colorado in the airport, on the road, in our house -- I felt like we were wasting space! Haha. But I've jumped ahead of myself ...

We definitely made good use of the subway system while we were there, and the only Lyft/Uber we took was from the hotel to the airport on Saturday morning. But our most valuable mode of transportation was ourselves -- our poor, numb feet.

The problem with the subway is that you emerge from the stairs into the daylight, and it takes a few minutes to get re-oriented, to figure out which way is north or south, to become acclimated to a new neighborhood. You can hop on the subway in one world (bustling and energetic) and hop off in a completely different one (quiet and charming). And that definitely does have its perks when you're in a rush!

But with walking? You get to feel the city. You get to witness the progression of the neighborhoods....how one neighborhood gradually evolves into the next. You get to smell the rotting trash mixed with the savory aromas from the food trucks, and you get to hear the impatient honking car horns or the echoes of the city's ongoing construction bouncing off the buildings overhead. And there's something incredible about all of it.

We never once felt unsafe. People there are too busy surviving to worry about ripping people off -- at least in the areas we were in. Local pedestrians have the crosswalk routine so down pat that they start confidently crossing the street before the walking sign changes, while still looking down at their phones. They feel the traffic patterns. And cops aren't anal -- They don't give tickets for jaywalking (like they would in some places) because they have bigger fish to fry.

We also did not see a single gas station in Manhattan. I saw some in Brooklyn and Queens, but not in Manhattan.

So, anywho, back to Friday afternoon ...

We walked down Broadway toward Macy's.

Weird interactive street art ...

And then Macy's! Voila!

It truly is the world's largest store. It also was in the middle of its annual spring flower show, which is super impressive and elaborate, if a little extravagant for us country folk ...

We took the escalators all the way to the top floor. 8? 9? I can't remember. But the higher we got, the older and narrower the escalators became. And wooden! We'd never seen wooden escalators before!

Pictures don't do it justice. They had a McDonald's on the 4th floor, a Starbucks on the 2nd floor, a salad place on the 5th floor (I think). And every floor had a theme.

I remember at one point, we were coming down an escalator, and Ryan just gasped at the sight of all the people and flowers and makeup and perfume and stuff. And he made some snarky, cute comment regarding "a tribute to American consumerism." 😉

After leaving Macy's, we actually saw a Target across the street, and Ryley and I had to go in to see how New York does Target! Basically, you enter at ground level, and it's a quite narrow store with just a few items for sale and all the checkout counters. An escalator leads into the ground to where the rest of the store is, sprawling out beneath the surrounding buildings. Even then, it was probably a quarter of the size of a normal Target. Aisles were small and displays were crammed together. Fascinating!

We walked past Madison Square Garden then and over to Penn Station where we caught the subway to Greenwich Village.

Madison Square Garden

Humans of New York ...

We'd had such a lovely time at Washington Square Park the Monday before that we thought it would be fun to hang out in the park for a couple hours before our dinner reservations at Minetta Tavern.

But alas, no sooner had we sat down on a park bench than it began to rain.

We ran for cover to an apartment building's awning across the street and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other park refugees, including a man and his piano. Yes, a piano. 

We ran from awning to awning trying to find a more comfortable place to wait out the storm. We stepped into a high-end vintage clothing shop for a bit, but it was so small and we felt really out of place. Where in the world do you go in an unfamiliar upper-class neighborhood on a rainy Friday afternoon? 

We thought about that chess forum we'd discovered earlier in the week, but it had smelled so bad in there. 😁 We passed a board game coffeehouse, too, but they had a $5 cover charge and looked pretty packed already.

We walked around a couple city blocks in the rain and finally came upon a regular coffee shop that just happened to have a few open seats. We charged our phones and sat and talked and sipped coffee for an hour. So lovely.

At 5:30, we wandered over to Minetta Tavern -- known for legendary hamburgers and celebrity sightings! That's it on the corner.

Let me tell you: this place was a tight squeeze, and since we were slightly damp and coming off our day on the streets, we felt slightly under-dressed.

Take special note of the picture below, and how close the table next to us is. When the lady next to me needed to use the restroom, they actually pulled the table all the way out so she could get out.

The close proximity also made eavesdropping on conversations very interesting. 

The man sitting next to Ryan was telling his wife(?) all about how he had put $10,000 in a charity March Madness pool, along with his buddy Michael Bloomberg. She reacted rather nonchalantly, like she was supportive (but $10k was really no big deal after all!). He asked her about her work, and she gave him some brief updates. She complained about having to come out in the rain after having her hair done that day. Also, he went on and on about how probably only 10 percent of the people in the entire restaurant could say that they were born and bred in Manhattan and he was one of them. Good for him!! It felt like he was talking loudly to intimidate us and patronize us in some way, but maybe that's my own insecurity coming out! Very strange conversation, and from what we heard, it didn't sound like they talk on a daily basis. Maybe one of them travels a lot.

So, the food ...

This cheeseburger was mine, and I think I may have been the only one of the three of us that was truly happy with my dinner. 

Once again, how good can a burger really be when your hopes are up so high? You're bound to be somewhat disappointed, right?

After dinner, we had promised Ryley we'd stop by this ice cream roll place we had spotted about half a block away.

Yes, THAT was as delicious as it looks!

With that, Ryan led us through a rainy SoHo back to the subway train that would take us to the Upper East Side.

Our friend Jenny had recommended the Roosevelt Island Tramway, and she had specifically stated that we should take it at night for the lovely views. The tramway ride was free with our Metro subway card, so why not?

It was still a little rainy and windy, so the tram seemed to dangle and sway precariously over the water. A couple times, a gust of wind briefly caught the car, and we were almost knocked to our knees!

The strangest thing was that the tram passed within 20 feet of this apartment building, which didn't have any curtains in the windows. Look right between Ryan's head and arm for a view into their living room ... We could see someone sleeping in a bed, a little kid running around, and even what they were watching on TV. How is that okay? The car literally passes by every 15 minutes or so. Why wouldn't you want something hanging in the windows for privacy?

I thought the Roosevelt Island Tramway was a great way to wrap up our trip. I do think it would have been better if it hadn't been rainy and windy. 😏

Serendipity -- the famous frozen hot chocolate shop -- is not even half a block from the tram! 

We went in, but their hand-written sign clearly stated that they strictly enforced a minimum charge of $8.65 per person in each party, which we felt (at this point in the trip) was a bunch of crap. "Don't tell me how much money I have to spend!" 

Also, the wait was at least 45 minutes. It was already 8 p.m. by this point, and we had to get up early for the airport the next morning. I took one look in Ryan's eyes and knew we were all done. The restaurant looked cute and colorful and adorable, and it would be fun to make a point of going there next time we visit. But we had spent enough money on the trip, waited in enough lines, consumed enough sugar... We had absolutely no regrets. All we wanted now was our comfy room at the Roosevelt Hotel and a good night's sleep. 

Slowly, we made our way back to the subway and drank it all in, knowing full well that this was it.

And as we wearily climbed our way back up to the main terminal, we heard the most beautiful violin music echoing through the maze of hallways and train tunnels. It was almost dream-like.

What a beautiful way to conclude our trip to a city that quickly captured our hearts, as we'd always known it would.

Now, when we watch the opening sequence to SNL, we actually recognize some of the featured landmarks. We've seen them with our own eyes, walked those paths with our precious, tired, underrated feet. We've breathed in the air, heard the ruckus, talked to the people, watched the people, eaten their food, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with 'em on the subway. We've been there. 

Yes, it's just a place. But travel is an amazing thing. It has a way of putting life in perspective, of making the world feel smaller and bigger all at the same time. And travel has a way of making you greedy for more of it. 

Thank you, Ryan, for this trip of a lifetime -- definitely the biggest trip we've ever taken together. Almost 20 years of marriage, more than 40 years of life, and there's nobody I'd rather travel with -- or tackle adventures with -- than you. 💓 You're my favorite.

Total miles walked on Friday: 8