Friday, December 21, 2012

Unexpected grief

Last Friday, December 14th was pay day. I had bills to pay and errands to run and Calvin needed to go to preschool at 8:30 for an extra activity. I also had stake training for the new Sunday School curriculum the night before and it wasn't until I was leaving that morning that I couldn't find my purse. Then it dawned on me. It was still in Jared's van. At his office. Minor inconvenience, but inconvenient nonetheless.

Now I wouldn't be able to run my errands because it's a little difficult to do without any money. So I got my purse instead and gas for the burb before picking up Calvin again within the hour.

When we got home, I checked my online banking and discovered my first bi-weekly payment for our mortgage had not been debited. This meant something was up and would require a series of unplanned phone calls.

It was when I went online that I saw the Yahoo banner alert about a school shooting in Connecticut. My first thoughts, "not another one!" We were still reeling from the Clackamas shooting here in Portland three days before. But something else caught my eye. "Elementary school" and "18 children dead."

This wasn't going to be good. But I'd have to read up on it later. I had issues with my mortgage company and needed to give it immediate attention. I wasn't happy about the news I discovered about the bi-weekly debit (or lack of) as I was put on hold. I was so upset in fact, I was shaking. (Gotta learn some control over my emotions when it comes to money). While I was on hold, I gave myself a pep talk to be cool. It wasn't the company's fault, not entirely. They were VERY unclear about the information I received which is where the mix-up happened.

My friend in Forest Grove texted me while I was waiting to be transferred to another department with the mortgage company. She asked if I had heard about the shooting and said she's been sobbing all morning. I responded that I had but to be honest was a little hardened at the moment because I was dealing with the mortgage company and a mix-up they didn't care to tell me about. But...I did also say, "keeping it all in perspective though considering the shooting today."

I did catch snippets of the news here and there online because the TV wasn't on. Absolutely devastating. But..."insensitive me" had to get to Costco and had 3 dishes to prepare for the ward party later that evening. Karcyn also had a dance rehearsal that afternoon and needed to be dropped off and then picked up at the start of the party, which Jared had to set up for right after work. It was a crazy day for us.

And took a turn I wasn't expecting after the ward party had ended.

As I was leaving with the 4 younger kids, Jared came up to me and asked me if I remembered the Parkers. I was a little confused because we have a Parker family in our ward currently. Then he said, "Robbie Parker?" Of course...Robbie and Alissa Parker. They were a Physician's Assistant student family in our ward about 2 1/2-3 years ago. We always do what we can to take any PA student family under our wings and to share our experiences in hopes of making that transition as easy as possible for them.

That's when Jared said that their daughter, Emilie, was one of the children killed in the school shooting in Connecticut. (Interestingly enough, even though there were ward members at the party Friday night who are closer to the Parkers than we are, it was through our PA connections that we got the news. Supriya and Erin--the two female PAs employed at our office, were in Robbie's class. It was Supriya who texted Jared the news.)

WHAT?? We actually knew and rubbed shoulders with someone who had been directly impacted by this evil? That's when it all changed for me.

I managed to get the kids home, but jumped online to get more details and the first picture on Yahoo just happened to be of the Parkers...walking away from the firehouse after receiving word that Emilie wasn't coming back. The anguish on Alissa's face was gut wrenching. Robbie looked like he was in shock. Jared came home with Jake after cleaning up at the church shortly after that. I showed him the picture. I still couldn't believe it was them. I had also found the "Emilie Parker Fund" on FB and saw one of their family pictures from a year ago maybe. Emilie's resemblance to Karcyn was chilling.

It would be like losing Karcyn! My heart just crashed through the floor.

We gathered our kids in family prayer and the only thing we said is that there had been a shooting in Connecticut and many children had died that day, including a little girl that had been in our ward. We prayed for all those families, especially the Parkers.

I cried when I tucked Karcyn in that night. Told her how much I loved her and just looked at her. I could not imagine her bed being empty that night. All our children are loved and special, but Karcyn's our only daughter. I could not imagine my life without her--our little sunshine. I literally could not breathe for a few seconds when I tried choking down that thought.

At first, the reports were saying it was kindergarteners who were killed. But it was actually first graders. Karcyn and Emilie are the same age...just two months apart. When the Parkers were in our ward, these two little girls were in nursery together. I still remember people telling us how much those two looked alike and how they were always confusing Karcyn and Emilie.

After the kids were in bed, I sat on mine and just out of the blue started bawling. I couldn't stop. I cried and cried and cried. Jared was so good. He just sat there holding my hand and rubbing my back. Never once telling me to get over it. (He didn't want to tell me the news, but he knew I'd find out eventually and if I discovered he had already known and didn't tell me, he figured I would have been upset. And he's right.)

I cried for a good 30 minutes or so. In between sobs, I asked Jared why I was crying. We don't have any real claim on the Parkers...not like other friends in our ward. We didn't live in the same neighborhood so our kids didn't play together. We just had a quick 9 month connection to them as PA students.

He said it's because I'm so sensitive to these things. I thought it was sweet he would say so, but I didn't feel sensitive. I didn't start crying the second I heard about this and keep crying off and on like soooo many others have.

Somehow, I drifted off to sleep.

But beginning Saturday, I was in a fog. I felt empty inside. I prayed more than I ever have in a long time. But I just couldn't smile. I felt robotic.

We even had our long anticipated office dinner party Saturday night and I just wasn't in the mood to go. I got dressed anyway, but once we got there, I wanted to just sit in the car and avoid going inside for as long as possible. Jared was good and just obliged. He didn't like seeing me so down, but never made me feel bad about it. I didn't like being down either, but I couldn't figure out how to not be so sad.

If I wasn't talking and literally using my mind to do something else, my thoughts instantly went to Emilie and her parents. I tortured myself with thoughts of "What was Alissa doing that morning before she got the phone call that would forever change her life?" "What did they do Thursday night?" "What was Emilie and her class doing moments before they were gunned down?" "What did they do last Sunday...not knowing it would be the last time they'd be in church as a family?" "Did they have weekend plans?" "What were the gifts for Emilie that would remain unwrapped or unopened?"

And of course, even though I could not physically imagine or try to picture a gunman storming through an elementary school, all I could picture was Karcyn and her classmates and her room in the school. Her classroom is the first one down the main hall just past the library and the front office. She sits up front, close to the door. I've volunteered at that school for a good three years each week as circumstances allow. I know it well and most the teachers. Karcyn's teacher this year, was her Kindergarten teacher last year. Those children are so sweet and precious. They're just learning how to read and write and are SO excited about everything.

We finally went into the restaurant Saturday evening even though I didn't want to be there. I knew I couldn't put on a "show" for everyone. I'm not that talented. Everyone knows I'm an "open book."
And it didn't take long before several co-workers were asking if I was alright. They jokingly thought Jared had done something wrong (they like to tease Jared that way). They were stunned to find out we actually knew people whose daughter had died the night before.

I'm sort of the one who actually leads the party happenings telling them to go ahead and eat the appetizers, announcing the gift exchange and presenting Dr. Hicken his gift from the staff. I had to tell some other gals to get the gift exchange going. And when it was time to give Dr. Hicken his gift, I literally did not have the strength to stand up and say anything. Another co-worker said she'd get their attention. I was grateful she was taking over. What she did however, was clink her glass with a piece of silverware. Once she had everyone's attention, she said, "Jenn would like to say something." Drats. So I forced myself to my feet, picked up the card for Dr. Hicken and reached past Jared to give it to him and said in a very monotone voice and without a smile, "We have a gift for you." It was very anticlimatic and so unlike me.

While we waited for dessert, Supriya came over and said that Robbie had done a press conference earlier that evening and told me to watch it later.

I did. It was very moving and emotional. A friend, who has also lost a teenage daughter unexpectedly, told me yesterday he was totally being held up by angels. You could just tell. She's right. (What I didn't know until after reading an interview with Robbie's stake president yesterday is that Robbie did that press conference without notes or a spokesperson. I don't think I would need a spokesperson, but I seriously doubt I could have done that without notes. I'd be a mess. Jared probably could though. In that interview with the stake president, he also said that he offered a prayer for the family at Robbie's request. While he was praying he felt impressed to say that Robbie would speak publicly about this and he would be a voice of compassion and peace.)

Admittedly, I felt a smidge better after watching Robbie's press conference. I knew that their faith and conversion to the gospel would carry them through this. If they could acknowledge that right now...a day after losing their daughter, I knew they were in a good place that way. They still have a horribly long road ahead of them, though. This first year is going to be SO difficult.

My tears had mostly stopped falling, but I still couldn't perk up. I was still sick to my stomach and couldn't eat. I was still haunted by Karcyn every time I looked at her and talked to her. There are 20 families and extended families and friends who are aching for their little first graders. And I still had mine.  I didn't really know what to do with myself. Everything seemed to be a reminder of this terribly tragedy.

It doesn't seem like Christmas anymore. I see the decorations and our tree, but I have a hard time feeling excited about it. This year we donated our Christmas to a needy family, so our children won't be opening up anything except a couple gifts from grandparents and their Aunt Kelly. Santa is bringing them a small gift also (to keep up that charade for those who still believe) so in some ways, I'm glad that it isn't going to be as BIG a Christmas as it could be...the smaller scale holiday this year already seems like too much to me.

Sunday, the invocation was given and the Parkers were prayed for. Jake happened to be the youth speaker. He knows the most about the shooting besides me and Jared. Once he realized they were in our ward and Emilie and Karcyn were the same age, he was deeply touched. His talk was on the gift of eternal life given to us by the gift of the Son. He paid tribute to them at the end by saying:

Some of you may remember the Parker family who lived in our ward briefly a few years ago. Their sweet little 6-year-old daughter Emilie was one of the victims of the horrible shooting in Newtown, Connecticut Friday morning. Even though this is a devastating blow for them, because Brother and Sister Parker have kept their temple covenants, they will be able to see their daughter again. What a blessing of peace and comfort. What a gift. This is the message of the gospel…to bring peace and hope of a better life to come.

“God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son.”

During Sunday School, I was actually able to lose myself in service and forget about the shooting for about 40 minutes. My class was going to go visit the two inactive members to let them know we love and miss them. I think that was the first time I had laughed in a couple of days. Which doesn't seem like a long time. It felt like an eternity.

But back in Relief Society, we were signing cards of sympathy for the Parkers. JJ had been sleeping with Elissa but woke up shortly after Relief Society started and so we were in the halls and my mind kept wandering. Why can't I stop thinking about this?

After church, a friend of mine stopped me and said that Emilie, totally reminded her of Karcyn. She said she could never keep the two of them straight...was always confusing them. She had to talk to them to find out who they were.

Singing in choir was another good distraction. I thought I was doing better Sunday, but Monday came and I was still...sad...not feeling like myself. I've been praying to feel better. Why can't I shake this? I didn't understand.

I was teaching 3rd grade in Clearfield, Utah when 9/11 happened. My school taught the kids who lived on Hill Air Force Base and when the base went on lock down, so did we. It was a very LONG and exhausting day. By the time I was able to leave at 6pm that night (once all my kids had been signed out by an approved adult with ID), I cried. Mostly from exhaustion and not really knowing what was going on. I cried the next day when we said the Pledge of Allegiance. And that was it. I was in the thick of 9/11 with military students and their families and I was not effected by those events like I have been this past week. My emotions been a little confusing to me.

I figured I probably wouldn't feel like I could move on until after Emilie's funeral...when I hoped and prayed Robbie and Alissa would get some kind of closure. And that wouldn't happen until Saturday.

Tuesday I still couldn't shake my grief for a family, that truthfully, I don't really know that well. Glorified acquaintances you could call us. I was starting to have conversations with Heavenly Father like "I think my reaction is a little weird...I really need to start pulling myself together. I should have been over this by now, right? I don't understand. Is there something wrong with me?" It's just felt like something more that I couldn't articulate. I told Jared yesterday I had lost 3 pounds in 6 days. He was excited for me until he realized the reason behind the weight loss. Even if my stomach isn't hurting, I just haven't been able to find my appetite since Friday night. I just wanted life to be the way it was before the 14th. I just wanted to turn back time. I didn't want to hurt anymore or be reminded of the tragedy anymore and I'm not even directly effected by this! So what's my problem?

Last night, Karcyn had her first dance recital. I haven't seen her dance at all these past few months since she started, because I've been anticipating this one moment. She was actually sick Wednesday and was trying to get over it yesterday. I was so disappointed at the thought she might not be able to dance because she may be too weak and not feeling up to it. We got her ready anyway because she wanted to and I told her she could dance as much or as little as she wanted.

She was a trooper!! She danced EVERY dance and was so beautiful in angel white and sequins. My eyes welled up with tears because, yet again, I thought of Emilie when I saw my own blond hair, blue-eyed baby girl.

I thought maybe this unexpected grief was because not only did I used to teach, I taught first grade reading my first year. But that didn't seem to be the reason. All I can figure is that it's because I too have a first grade daughter who looks very similar to Emilie and we've crossed paths with and served and spoken with her parents.

I woke up today with a sense of dread. It has been one week since the shooting. (Just a week? It feels like months.)

About 30 minutes after I got up this morning, my dad called. We had been waiting for biopsy results. He and my mom are getting ready to send in mission papers again and during his physical, it was discovered that my dad's PSA levels were high...not abnormally so, but they got really high, really fast--not a good sign--so a biopsy was ordered to rule out prostate cancer. We knew about this before the shooting. His biopsy took place on the 14th, but we wouldn't know the results until Wed. or Thursday this week.

There is no cancer! A wonderful Christmas gift to be sure! In my heart, I didn't feel like it would be cancer (the PSA test is not very accurate, but the only one doctors have), but you just never know.

What my dad had to tell me next was startling. He started to cry and said I might want to sit down. Oh no...I know this routine. Who died??

He said that Alissa Parker and little Emilie are my cousins. We're related to them. My dad's grandpa settled in Ogden and his sister married into the Cottle family which is Alissa's maiden name. Even further, my uncle and Alissa's dad went to dental school together. Uncle Brent talked to Doug right before his biking accident which he later died from the end of September.

I was overwhelmed with this information. I wish I had known this when they lived here! This isn't the first time we've found relatives through PA school and our wards here in Oregon.

About 7 years ago, when I was sitting in our Forest Grove ward, I saw a young mother leave Sacrament meeting with her small child. This was the first time I had ever seen her and instantly I was filled with a sense of familiarity. Why? We've never met. We don't know each other. But wow...I could not deny there was some connection there. Four or five months later, after getting to know each other and becoming friends, that same young mother, our neighbor, knocked on my door. She found out from her aunt that she and I are second cousins!

And this morning, once again...I had my answer. After I hung up with my dad, I went straight to my room and fell to my knees in prayer. I cried and cried, tears pouring down my cheeks and thanked Heavenly Father for this information. Now I know why I was grieving so. This wasn't just a good acquaintance whose daughter was killed....this was my own blood. Now it makes sense. Anyone who has done temple work for ancestors knows that the spirit to spirit communication is real and powerful. My spirit was mourning for a cousin and her family. My spirit knew before my mind did. Now I feel like I really am justified in my mourning. Now, I really do have a claim on little Emilie and her mom. They're family.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Major milestone!

This past Tuesday, December 4th, marked 5 years that we Houghs have been in our home. Whoa...
most days it still feels like we just got here, even though we've added 2 more children since we bought the house the end of 2007. Read about our first home buying experience here.

We've never lived in a dwelling more than 15 months, so this is truly monumental for us. We love our location, we love our now-functional backyard, we love our neighbors and subdivision, we love that we have access to a pool and rec center and little parks and a pathways throughout the neighborhood. We love that we're close to our ward chapel, only 2 miles from the urgent care that Jared sometimes moonlights at and only 5 miles from his office. We love that we're only about an hour from the Pacific coast and a couple hours from Mt. Hood and about 35 minutes from the Portland temple. While Jared would still like to live in the country some day, I think our first little home has many advantages and we feel SO blessed.

We've done a few improvements since moving in...mostly on the exterior. Here's a look back...

The yards...front, back and sides. This was a 4 year project and Jared has worked very tirelessly and often enlisted the boys and my dad for help. We've also paid many young men and a few professionals to assist in hauling, digging, and trimming back the jungle that was our back yard. The first picture below is AFTER Jared cut down the 50-ish arbor vitae bushes that were 30 feet high and flanked both sides of our house from the back fence boundary line to the street out front.

This was what our yard looked like last August before we had a sprinkler system and sod put in, as well as a retaining wall. Ewww. Nasty and not very usable, unless you wanted to increase your chances of breaking your ankle while walking across it. Not to mention the mud pit that was a given every fall and winter.

Finally! A back yard that's functional and aesthetically pleasing. We have since torn down the old dilapidated metal shed (not pictured) and replaced it with a "tuff shed" and added central air! I seriously love my A/C more than my furnace. And I should know. I've lived without both of them. Just a tip...don't have central air installed the week of Christmas. It gets really chilly, really fast!

We've also tried our hand at painting. Survey says: we don't like it so much. Which is why the bedroom walls remain "white".

We get lots of compliments about the red in our dining room. Wish we could take credit for it, but it was there when we bought the house. There was just white above the chair rail. We wanted something to help set the chair rail off so we added beige above it. We've been really happy with that decision.

Next came the family room. We toyed with the idea of having two separate colors for the kitchen and family room, but there is no real way to end one color at the edge of the kitchen before the family room starts. So, we opted for one color and I forget how we decided on it, but "denim blue" was what we went with. Anything but white!

This is a picture of Karcyn right after she turned 2, getting ready for Easter Sunday. I included it so you could see the old windows and white walls. (Isn't she a cutie patootie??)

Here's that same window (after it was replaced in June 2008) and the family room after painting it. I don't regret the blue at all. I love how it sets off the floor and fireplace. We get enough light (west facing windows and a big sliding door) that the blue doesn't make it cave-like.

The only disadvantage to the dark color is that it isn't very forgiving when it comes to painting...especially with novice painters like us. It was this room that did us in. Jared and I were totally through with painting. (Having a 2 year old and infant and only being able to paint once the kids were in bed late at night might have had something to do with it, too...) So we hired a young adult to finish painting the kitchen for us while we were on vacation. She also painted the living room for us, too. Once we put the beige in the dining room, the living room color clashed with it.

Apparently, we thought "split-pea soup" green would be better! At the time, we loved it. Anything but white! But it was about a year when I had had enough and another year before we were able to do something about it.

Again, we hired a young man to paint for us. (We're all about stimulating the economy and funding high adventures or future missions)! This brown is MUCH better.

And even more tolerable with new furniture that we were able to purchase just this spring after 15 years of marriage. We were so grateful for the hand-me-downs from Jared's parents that they purchased 23 years ago when he was a sophomore in high school! But after years with them and years with us, those pieces of furniture were shiny with dirt and grime. (Oh, JJ, why so sad??)

After Jared removed all the arbor vitae "shrubs" from the sides of our house, this was what was left on the driveway side. While I was out of town in 2009 helping my parents pack up their home in Anchorage, Jared hired some of his young men to help him put in a walkway to eliminate the mud mess.
And this is what they came up with. I was so touched and grateful because that's the only "doorway" to and from the backyard with the garbage cans and mower, etc. It looked SO much nicer too!

Unfortunately, the pea gravel never settled and the mower would sink in it, making it virtually impossible to push the mower or even pull it for that matter. So, the following spring, Jared helped a friend put in another walkway...this time made of concrete! It's been such a fantastic addition! I don't know how the owners before us did without it!

We knew we would need to replace the garage door relatively soon when we bought the house. We figured we'd just use it until it died. It was old, wooden, creaky and loud enough that it could be heard from the bedroom wing of the house. Whenever we went to open or close it, we always crossed our fingers that it would still work. We got almost 3 more years out of it!

At the end of 2010, we put in the new, white, metal garage door with a key pad entrance and double layer of insulation. So nice. So quiet. I love, love, love the key pad entrance. It's saved us from a few brain blips when we've locked ourselves or our kids out. Also handy for neighbors to help us in a pinch!

In this picture is our old, icky roof. Again, when we did the pre-purchase inspection on the home, this was another item on the short list (10 years or less) that we knew we would have to take care of. While it didn't leak, I hated the light color that clashed with the paint and the moss that appeared to be growing under every shingle. An opportunity to get a new roof presented itself 4 1/2 years later, so we took it. (The guy in the red shirt and hat giving a freaky sideways glance was one of the roofers and VERY nice :)

I don't know why I didn't get a full-on view once the new roof was installed. There could be a plethora of reasons why. But here's most of it done. Wooo's a very LOUD process getting your roof replaced. Fortunately, all the wood underneath the old shingles was found to be good and solid. We also had a "pick-up-nails" party once the process was over. Even better...we didn't need to replace any tires on our vehicles!

I love the clean, new look of the new roof. And that it's moss resistant! And has a 50 year warranty! And that the warranty can transfer to the next buyer!

Add some new exterior paint one of these summers coming up and I think we can wrap up our exterior improvements. Minus gutters. If you can even call ours that. They're pretty bad and those are something that cannot be "bad" in the land of perpetual rain. But that's okay...we're just grateful we've been able to make these improvements over the past 5 years to our little investment in Aloha. We hope to be here for many more 5s :)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Some R&R at the beach

As a Christmas gift in 2009, Jared's super generous boss gave all of his staff members a gift certificate to go towards an overnight stay at the Surfsand Resort in Cannon Beach. It only took these two staff members 2 years and 11 months to use it!

If we were going to use our gift certificate, Friday, Nov. 9th was the only available day we had before it expired. The stars aligned because Jared's mom was able to fly up for a quick weekend trip and stay with us Thursday night through Monday, and watch the kids for us while we were away. We are SO grateful for her sacrifice of time and money to do that for us.

We were unable to check in until 4pm and it's only about an hour away, but we left Friday morning and headed to the temple to do a session together. I feel extremely fortunate to be married to a man who not only took me to the temple to be married, but takes me back every month. It's our "first" date for the month. Once that has been fulfilled and there's time and resources left, then he'll take me on a "second" (temporal) date--like to a movie or dinner. I know there are men out there who don't feel that being at the temple with their wives is much of a date. But I can't think of a better way to spend time together--renewing temple covenants and partaking of the Spirit that dwells in the Lord's holy house. It's the perfect date!

Before our temple service, however, we had breakfast at Denny's. Jared was excited to learn just a few weeks prior that Denny's offers free refills on hot chocolate. :)

After our temple session, we headed to Cannon Beach via Highway 26. I don't know that I've ever taken this route to the beach before. It's usually the 6 I think, going to Tillamook--a very winding, twisty-turny drive, that I'm finding, in my old age, makes me a little sick. Even when I'm in the front seat! So highway 26 was a wonderful, wide alternative and didn't even feel like we were headed to the coast. We enjoyed seeing the beautiful fall leaves and much to our surprise...sun breaks and blue sky!

We found the hotel and even though we were a couple hours early, I went to the front desk to do as much of the check-in as I could. As it turns out, our room was almost ready. They got Jared's cell number and said they'd call when the room was done. We parked around the back where we thought our beachfront room would be and took some pictures. We were basically nextdoor to Haystack Rock.

This is a view to the right (north) from the "boardwalk" area outside the hotel. If you look closely (or click on the picture) you can see a lighthouse in the center left. That's the Tillamook Lighthouse known as "Terrible Tilly" in Ecola State Park.

This is a view straight out in front of the boardwalk. Obviously it was low tide when we arrived.

This is a little left from the boardwalk. That's not us out there walking hand in hand on the beach, but we can pretend if you'd like. I had no desire to get sand on my shoes which would then, in turn, get sand in my suburban which had just been recently detailed. It's all about the 'burb, baby.

Here's Haystack!

And a picture of me.

We wandered back to the front desk so we could use the facilities. That's when I was informed that our room was ready. Yay!

Room #1304. 2nd floor, smack dab in the middle...right above where we stood to take pictures.

Here's the room description we got in our reservation confirmation:
The beach front one bedroom suite we have reserved for you will accommodate up to 4. It has a private bedroom with a king size TempurPedic bed and flat screen LCD TV. The living room features a double size sofa sleeper, arm chair, gas fireplace, flat screen LCD TV and a courtesy center that includes a snack size refrigerator, microwave, and a coffee maker. The spacious bathroom includes a large soaking tub, step in shower and a flat screen LCD TV. From inside you have a direct ocean view and a private balcony with a panoramic view.

I promised we'd take pictures of the hotel room to show the kids. Jake heard there was a TV in the bathroom and his jaw fell to the floor. Dream on boys!

I actually used the video camera when we first got there to get shots of the hotel room. It wasn't until we were about to leave that I forgot about regular pictures. Dang it. So...I made the bed 10 minutes before check-out. Jared walked in to get our bags and he exclaimed, "You made the bed!" Yeeaah. I explained I forgot to get a picture of it the day before. He said, "Well, if you ever need a job, you could work here in Housekeeping. It looks great!" Interestingly enough, Jared has been trying to persuade me to think about a TempurPedic bed for a couple of years now. We just got a brand new mattress...5 years ago. But still...we should have a few more good years out of it before we need another. I've laid on his parents' TempurPedic bed for a couple of minutes when they lived in Illinois and it felt like I was laying on wet sand--firm with a very slight give. I wasn't impressed. So I was cautiously optimistic about the opportunity to give this mattress a test run. Survey says: I thought it was great and can see a future with TempurPedic in it! Jared, however, woke up...sore of all things! His back was sore before our trip though, so we'll let that slide.

Here's the spacious bathroom with large soaking tub. I neglected to get a shot of the TV right above the toilet to the left there. But I assure you, it is there. Right along with the phone.

Here's the living room. That couch doesn't appear to be very comfortable, but it was suprisingly so! The entire west side of the room was ceiling-to-floor glass. One half was a large picture window and the other half was the sliding door to the balcony.

The view from the couch.

After checking in, we went to get a late lunch. I had a hankering for fish and chips. We found a delicious plate of it at Morris' Fireside. Isn't this place adorable? It's even prettier at night when it's all lit up.

We found that we were the ONLY patrons there at the time. This weekend was "WOW: Women Only Weekend" at Cannon Beach. I'm not sure that had anything to do with it, but we were fine with the entire place to ourselves. Our waiter was especially doting :) The halibut was melt in your mouth delicious and seasoned perfectly. Jared thoroughly enjoyed the pulled pork sandwich.

Even though I completely stuffed myself with fried fish, I spotted THIS place out the window nextdoor. Dessert for sure!!

Crepe Neptune. Oh my. We were full, but grabbed two to-go for a snack later. We got #13--Neptune's Daughter which has fresh lemon, butter and powdered sugar...sounded like a lighter, flatter version of our German pancakes. It was. Yummo.

The other crepe was #21--Twin Rocks and I later discovered the favorite of Mr. Crepe Neptune's wife. It is now Jenn Hough's favorite. Caramel, semi-sweet chocolate, sea salt. How can you go wrong??? It was SO divine and scrumptious that I had to get another one before we left town Saturday morning. You've GOT to try it. Or try making your own. The salt addition was absolutely PER.FECT.

We got back to the hotel lobby just in time for the Fresh Baked Cookies they offer every afternoon.  Mmmm...more warm chocolatey goodness. Twist our arms.

The sun sets early here in Oregon this time of year. We also saw clouds rolling in from the ocean that added to the seascape. We did get rain that evening, but by then it was totally dark and we were cozy inside so it didn't matter.

I decided I wanted pizza around 8:30. We ran out to get some at Pizza A Fetta. On our way back to our car, we were stunned to see several inches of SNOW on the back of a car. Huh?? That couldn't be. Could it? It was the weirdest thing. Surely if it snowed, there'd be some all over but it was JUST restricted to the back end of that one particular vehicle. Maybe we were drunk with relaxation and hallucinated the precipitation, but I'd bet my life on it.

Here are some pictures of early Saturday morning off our balcony. I love the swirling formation of the clouds in this first one.

I love the almost imperceptible tint of pink in this one.

My only "advice" for the entire weekend would be this...avoid taking your suburban, if you can. We left our van for Jared's mom because it's easier for her to get in and out of. Parking at the Surfsand Resort is a little tight, but doable. Parking at Pig N' Pancake (the BEST breakfast chain I've been to in decades!) was not. We got ourselves stuck, almost wedged at the dead end part of their lot. It was a 20 point turn (back up 1/2 an inch, turn wheel and pull up 1/2 an inch, back up 1/2 an inch, turn wheel and pull up 1/2 an inch....repeated 10 times--at least). Jared says if we were in the suburban he grew up in, we'd still be in the Pig N' Pancake parking lot. But we made it out without damage to anything, except maybe our parking pride and were happy to be seated in the very back of the restaurant. This was our view. Isn't it so cozy and quaint??

Jared and I did our own little "sweet and savory" couple's breakfast. I very confidently ordered the "award winning" sourdough pancakes. I was a little nervous when the waitress asked if I wanted 8 or 6. I opted for 6. I'm so glad I did and I'm so sad I didn't! Topped with marionberry syrup, those pancakes were thin and melt-in-your-mouth amazing! I could have eaten two more, but it's probably best that I didn't. Jared ordered the taco omelet. I'm not much of an omelet girl, but the description of that omelet was super tempting. Seasoned beef, black beans, cheese, onions, tomatoes with guacamole, salsa and sour cream. It was huge and it was delish. I SO wish there was a Pig N' Pancake closer to home. But now that I think about it, maybe it's best that they're limited to the coast...or I'd be there often and I'd surely weigh 25 pounds more than I do now.

After breakfast, we went back to the hotel room with our full bellies and read our ebooks and napped until it was time to check-out. It was divine. Then we hit the shops. We were looking for a gift for Jared's mom. I have to say, as far as my financial demographic goes...these shops are waaaaay out of my league and don't really appeal to me at all. They were fun to walk through since I'd never consider buying anything there. I was actually starting to think we'd never find anything reasonable and practical to get Karole to show our gratitude for watching the kids. Fortunately, near the end, we were able to purchase some marionberry jam and a Santa ornament that was handcarved by a woman who actually lives in Cannon Beach and uses the wood from her yard. I actually wanted one myself! Very cool.

The weather on Saturday was even MORE glorious than on Friday. I cannot believe our good fortune. I mean, what are the odds of seeing the sun in Oregon in November and at the COAST no less. For those who are from Alaska, it's right up there with the odds of seeing all of Mt. McKinley from Anchorage.

Before we left the beach for good...we made an imperative stop at Crepe Neptune. Too bad my 2nd Twin Rocks crepe was gone before we got two blocks down the road. And too bad it was only about an hour drive home before we hit reality again. However, we were happy to see that Karole wasn't tied up and all was relatively well. Saturdays are a busy day for us though as we prepare for Sunday, so it was "back to the salt mines" pretty darn quick without any slow transition. Oh well.

Today in Relief Society, my friend Elissa asked me how our weekend at the beach was. I told her it was incredible in every way and that Jared and I are going to make a goal to do something like that once a year. Another friend on the other side of Elissa, leaned forward and asked incredulously, "Once a year?? Really??" She then advised, "Honey, you need to go more than that or you ain't gonna survive!"

Wouldn't that be great? I'm just not sure it's practical. We didn't forget about this gift certificate. It seriously took us this long to find time in our schedules to make it work. Let alone, to find a sitter and the finances.

With that said, I can't believe how much difference just ONE night away from the craziness of life (even the things you the little kiddies) can do for a couple. I seriously wish every couple could get away like this. And I think I'd totally advise it to newlyweds. Just be creative and make it work. And when the grandkids come...I hope I can be in a position to do the same for our kids and their spouses.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Yesterday was the long awaited presidential election. I can only say that I'm grateful I at least have the opportunity to voice my opinion. Other than that, I'm going to exercise self-mastery and keep my mouth closed.

Tuesday was also a very special Veteran's Day Assembly at our elementary school. The music teacher, Mrs. Stuve, who helps to coordinate parts of assemblies asked our cub scout pack if they would assist in doing a flag ceremony as they've done a few times in the past.

Our Cubmaster made the arrangements and Cooper, a very new Webelos scout, was given the assignment of the "caller".

He practiced calling in Family Home Evening on Monday to make sure it was fresh in his mind. He was solid! When he came home from school yesterday, I asked him how the assembly went. He said his legs were shaking but he thought he did okay.

I went to the school this morning to do my usual weekly volunteering. When I was signing in at the office, Mrs. Creek, the office manager, asked me if I had made it to the assembly the day before. I said no and was bracing myself for something unpleasant. She shook her head and said that Cooper is so great, such a good boy. She said he did a fantastic job with the flag ceremony. I told her he had reported he was nervous and his legs were shaking. Mrs. Creek responded he didn't look one bit uneasy and was very controlled. Apparently he confidently took total command of the room and was so respectful and patriotic. Mrs. Creek said it moved her to tears (and others, too). I could tell she was fighting back the emotion just recalling the moment.

I was so touched! It was so kind of her to share that with me.

She said there was a picture of him and brought it up on her computer.

When I went to Cooper's classroom to get the bucket of jobs to work on, there was an 8x10 color copy of the picture above, mounted and laminated as a gift from his teacher, Mrs. Stewart. She thought I might like to have it. I thanked her profusely and said Mrs. Creek had just told me about the assembly. Mrs. Stewart said Cooper did an amazing job--that he was "so cute".

Love those little cub scouts AND the cub scouting program!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A parent's worst nightmare...almost

Last night was Family Home Evening which meant a slightly later bedtime for the little kids. Karcyn and Calvin headed to bed just before 8pm instead of their usual 7:30.

Karcyn is really good about going to bed, saying her prayers and tucking herself in. I just have to go kiss her goodnight. Calvin, on the other hand, has been a little resistent lately. They share a room with JJ and sleep on a bunk bed. Karcyn's on the bottom, Calvin sleeps on the top.

I had Calvin go potty and we went through our little routine. As I said, he wasn't being very cooperative, so I told him if he didn't choose to be obedient, I would have to turn off the hall light or he wouldn't be able to listen to the "Scripture Scouts" music. He didn't like either of those options, so he complied, albeit begrudgingly. I tucked him in and actually didn't kiss him goodnight. He was too far for me to reach on my tiptoes, and it took SO long for me to get him to actually lie down that, instead of asking for a kiss, which would require him to sit up and stretch in my direction, I figured my loving stroke of his hair was good enough.

Cooper had already put himself to bed and I went to rejoin Jared and Jake in the family room and kitchen. Jake was finishing up the dishes and Jared was rocking with JJ, watching updates on FOX News. I checked Jake's work on kitchen duty and then started to make and pack Tuesday's lunches. Jake got on the computer for a little bit and I read an article or two on Jared's iPad.

Then I remembered I needed to fill out some paperwork for Jake and started working on that when Jared decided it was safe to lay JJ down in his crib. "Safe" meaning: Calvin and Karcyn are asleep and won't wake up JJ by their talking or playing around. All was quiet in the bedroom wing of the house.

As I was working on the papers for Jake, Jared came back into the kitchen with JJ still in his arms and asked, "Where's Calvin?"

"Whatdaya mean?"

"He's not in his bed."

I put my pen down, happened to glance at the microwave clock that showed 8:47 and walked authoritatively past Jared telling him, "Don't worry, he does this from time to time." Sometimes, especially when he has no interest in sleeping, Calvin sneaks down from his bed and sleeps with Karcyn.

I walked into their bedroom. Karcyn was asleep. Jared was hot on my heels and loudly whispered, "I already checked their room."

No offense Jared, but I know how the male species looks for things, so don't take it personally while I go back and check for no other reason than for my own peace of mind. I had to squint as my eyes adjusted to the dark and using the light from the hallway, bent over and reached around on Karcyn's bed. The only thing sleeping with Karcyn was the cat. There was, however, a big mound by the foot of her bed. Sometimes those kids build little forts of pillows and blankets around themselves before falling asleep. I patted around the bulky mass, but all I felt was a bunch of artificial stuffing.

I stood upright and checked the top bunk. I pulled all of Calvin's blankets back and made sure he wasn't tucked down in a corner. Calvin's bed was empty.

At this point, I was running out of ideas. I quickly turned on the overhead bedroom light and checked all of those places again in case I had missed something in the darkness. I looked in their closet, I looked under the crib and under the bunk bed. No Calvin. How is it that of all her kids, the one that was missing was the one this mommy neglected to kiss goodnight?

I turned off the light and we left the room. I went into Jake and Cooper's room. Cooper was stirring and he groggily said, "I already told you Calvin isn't in here." Jared obviously looked in there before coming to find me. But I checked the beds and under their bunkbed and closets anyway.

I left that room and we started calling for Calvin throughout the house. Jared had looked in the living room behind the couches and in corners. I looked under the dining room table. As I surveyed the area, I took note that the front door was still bolted shut. Calvin's been known to leave the house without our knowledge, but usually when the big kids are out front or he sees someone he knows. We looked in the family room. Jared, with JJ still in his arms, opened up the door to the garage. Calvin also likes to go out to the garage and play. It's a place we usually find him during the day when he's not in the house.

Jared exclaimed, "Ohhh!" I thought Jared had found Calvin and that his exclamation was because Calvin was making a mess by intentionally mixing the cat food in the water dish or adding water to the litter box and smearing the clumps all over---speaking, sadly, from experience. What he found, however, was that the garage light was on and the garage door was open!

This was extremely concerning because it just so happens that after dinner, when we were getting ready for family night, Jared had gone out to the garage for something and noticed I had forgotten to close the garage door when I came home earlier. When he brought this to my attention, I looked over in his direction and asked, "Did I?" I saw that it was dark in the garage and then heard Jared click the button and the garage door close for the night.

Jared just stood on the landing for a second while the weight of what we just realized washed over us. He handed JJ over to me and without saying a word, immediately left the house and started calling for Calvin as he quickly walked into the darkness across the street and down the path to the nearby playground.

That's when my heart stopped beating and plummeted to the floor. Refusing to believe my baby was out there, alone and in the dark, I countered, "Calvin can't reach the button to open the garage." Jake corrected me and said, "Yeah he can. I've seen him do it." What? He can? It still didn't make sense. How could Calvin have gotten out there without any of the three of us seeing him? He can be super sneaky and we can be distracted, but I'm confident I would have noticed him. We were all in the family room area after the kids went to bed. Calvin would have had to walk through the narrow path through the kitchen and the family room and in his bright yellow t-shirt and athletic shorts no less, to get to the garage. It wasn't adding up. I couldn't get my mind to accept that Calvin left our home undetected. At night. In the cold. But stranger things have happened and the heavier truth was that we couldn't find Calvin anywhere. And the possibility of Calvin leaving our house on his own was certainly more believable than someone taking him from our home. But once he was out there all by himself...all it would take is "opportunity" for this situation to go from bad to horrific. I shook my head in determination. I couldn't let my mind go there.

I passed JJ to Jake and hustled to the backyard barefoot and in my jammies. I started hollering for Calvin. Surely he would answer if he was out there, right? Nothing.

This wasn't good. I ran back inside and headed to my room. If Jared didn't find Calvin, we were going to have to get help. What do we do first? Call the cops? Tell our neighbors? If we got others involved that would make this real. I threw some socks on. While I was in my room, I searched it also. I looked in our bathroom, the shower stall. I looked under our bed and in our two closets. No Calvin.

I left my room and met up with Jake in the hallway, who was holding JJ. Jake said he was starting to get really worried. Not really acknowledging him, I instructed Jake to please put JJ in bed and told him we were really close to leaving to get help and I would need him to stay here at the house. I also asked him to start looking in all the cupboards and any other small space he could think of.

Coming back in from his search outside, Jared found us in the hallway only to report that Calvin wasn't at the playground. I didn't know what to do next and I don't really remember what happened next. I just remember Jared opening the small hall closet where we were standing, the door opening towards me, blocking my view and I heard a very relieved, "CAL-VIN!!" I think it was actually Jake whose voice I heard.

I pulled the door out of my way and saw Jared squat down and fish out Calvin from beneath the heap of coats and backpacks. I'm surprised he even saw him.

Jared said, "Calvin? Calvin, what were you doing, Buddy?" Calvin was limp with sleep, his hair matted with sweat. He laid his head instinctively on Jared's shoulder and remained asleep. We weren't going to be getting any answers out of him tonight. Jared and I locked our eyes which both reflected relief and love for the little boy he was holding in his arms. Once I knew he was safe, I smiled, shook my head and through gritted teeth said, "I'm gonna kill that kid." That was when I started to actually feel my heart, pounding in my chest as I considered a handful of "what ifs?"

It sure is hard not to overreact when it comes to the safety of your kids. We would have turned the house and yard completely upside down before calling the police. But we were pretty darn close. I had even checked the dryer. That closet--was one of the few places we hadn't looked yet.

This morning, Calvin didn't say a word about waking up in his bed as opposed to the hall closet. And when we asked him, nonchalantly, why he went to the closet last night, he said he didn't feel like sleeping in his bed. Of course.

As for the mystery of the garage door....we concluded that the light must have been turned on when Cooper went to get the broom to sweep after dinner. As for the open garage door, the only thing we can deduce is that when Jared closed it, the cat must have walked under it, activating the safety sensor that made the garage door pop back up. Those two things combined to create a very scary possibility for us last night. I made note of the microwave clock after Jared put Calvin in bed for the second time. 8:53. This ordeal lasted only six minutes.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for our happy ending!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cooper's solution

While Jared and Jake were on a cold and wet scout camp out last night at Silver Falls, the other kids had fun playing in every room of the house. Counter to my usual OCD nature, I actually ignored the mess when we went to bed and left it for the next morning.

After the kids got dressed and had breakfast, I asked all three of them (Cooper, Karcyn and Calvin) to please clean the living room mess which consisted of mostly big duplo legos and stacking blocks as well as the decorative couch pillows, strewn all over the floor. I had to remind them a few times to clean up.

Finally, on my way to the other end of the house, I walked past the living room to see Cooper kicked back, lounging on the couch, typing in an exaggerated fashion on a calculator in his hand. At the same time, Karcyn and Calvin were working together to clean up the mess in stiff, jerky movements.

I stopped midstride as I assessed the situation. I narrowed my eyes and peered at Cooper.

He responded with melodramatic innocence and smiled knowingly. "What?? They're my robots and I've programmed them to clean up the mess."

I decided not to dignify the situation with a response and proceeded to leave the room.

I don't know what disturbs me more. The fact that Cooper would take advantage of his siblings and concoct such a scheme. Or that it worked.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

I will be the first to admit it. We are not big Halloween lovers here in the Hough household. I dressed up when I was younger and went door to door, but it wasn't (and still isn't) my favorite holiday. And I'm not really one to dress up...costume or not. I think I just lack that creative gene.

Fortunately for me, ever since Jake was a baby, we discovered the brilliant invention of "Trunk or Treat" at our church. It is the GREATEST creation. Ever. Instead of trudging around a neighborhood for an hour or two and in unpredictable weather, you drive to church where all of your friends from your ward pop open their tailgates and the kiddies walk around the parking lot, getting plenty of treats in just a matter of minutes. So if the weather is nasty, it doesn't last long.

We've lived in several LDS wards in Northern Utah and Oregon and a ward in Kalamazoo, MI. In the past 12 years, they've ALL offered a Trunk or Treat of some sort or another. And that, my friends, is the only way to do it! It's quick. It's safe. It's quick. There's not normally a ton of candy involved. It's quick. Did I mention it's fast? Seriously...10 minutes tops and you're good to go!  I'm all about efficiency. So sue me.

Today started out with me chaperoning Karcyn's first grade class on a field trip to the pumpkin patch. Wooo doggy. It was cold and wet, wet, wet. But the kids had fun regardless. We were the only school there, which was nice and this was in place of a Halloween party, which I thought was perfect. I forgot my camera, of course (and don't know how to use the one on my phone), but we all looked like wet rats when it was over. And then I went and bought Karcyn a rain coat when I got home.

I was bracing myself for a lot more rain for the Trunk or Treat and even wore my rain boots. But the clouds parted and we actually saw patches of blue sky. We didn't get wet at all. And the temperature was rather pleasant, all things considered. It was a Halloween miracle.

This year, in our Halloween line-up, we had the following:

Cookie Monster--who wasn't all that happy about his costume.

But gradually warmed up to the idea.

And of course, was perfectly fine with it once he got his cookie. (What was I thinking?)

Oh, and Wes. Unless Dad or Mom is around, it's all Wes. And even then, it usually ends up being Wes. He and his family are our Oregon family. They sit with us in Sacrament Meeting each week (because Jared is on the stand) and are always thinking about and serving us, especially our kids and we love them to pieces. (Bev was the incredible Relief Society President I was privileged to serve as a counselor to for 2 1/2 years!)

And then there's...the crocodile (or Godzilla T-Rex, depending on the day)

Calvin, Calvin, Calvin...


Calvin got to wear his costume and go Trick or Treating at the high school on Tuesday where his Pre-K class is held, so this was his second round of Trick or Treating. But I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that it was 10x more fun because Wes was there. He and Calvin are bud-dies! And when one is in trouble, the other is close behind!

And introducing...a bumblebee--in rainboots. Buzz, buzz.

Ohhh, boy.

After making 2 rounds to the parked cars, Karcyn decided she was done. So she climbed into the back of the suburban and helped me give out candy with Elissa (Bev and Wes' daughter...and fellow Calvin charmer and JJ snuggler). All of a sudden, Karcyn started announcing to the nearby Trick or Treaters, "Candy for sale. Come and get your candy!" That's when I informed her this candy was free so long as they said "Trick or Treat." She did a good job passing out the treats. A couple of minutes later, though, I noticed she had a piece of candy in her hand ready for the next child and it wasn't the candy I bought. She had been handing out candy from her own candy bucket! Silly girl.

And we have....Darth Vader--he always shows up at Halloween. The reason he doesn't have his red light saber is because he killed Luke Skywalker and stole his light saber.

What is it with my kids and cameras?

I didn't see Vader much tonight, but he seemed to fare just fine.

After the kids were satisfied with their Trunk or Treating haul, we closed up our trunks and headed into the cultural hall inside the church building for some more socializing with our friends. The Monster got his cookie, Elissa got the Monster, the Crocodile played basketball with Wes, and between me and Karcyn, we drank about 6 cups of cocoa. It was to die for!!

I didn't see the Slender Man until it was time to go. When we got home, he and Cooper went on their first "real" Trick or Treating experience around our neighborhood for an hour with Jake's friend Elena. They were very responsible and came home right when we asked them to. And then they had to organize and sort their mother loads. Cooper got so much candy the plastic handle on his bucket snapped off. They weren't too happy to hear we were issuing a 10% duty tax (payable in candy only) for letting them go around the neighborhood :)

And here is Slender Man. He's supposed to instill fear. His look is a little freaky. Slender Man was actually an LDS missionary at school today with a name tag that said "Elder Hough" in yellowing letters. There was a costume contest during lunch and Jake was surprised to find out he was actually "voted" to be in it. He didn't place, but he got some nods :)