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Hi Everyone!

I have come to the realization that what most people would consider a ‘weird’ year for them is a ‘normal’ year for me. I suppose it’s God’s way of keeping me guessing as to what’s around the next turn. Now that I’ve experienced this phenomenon several times, I have learned to be anticipatory, if not excited, about what will happen next. Take this time last year as an example. I was living in a condo with one of my Rodents, enjoying my new job at a tax related business. Just after I mailed out my Christmas letters, my Rodent Roommate, Casey, decided he wanted to move back in with his parents to save money. I had two choices; rent the condo from him and find a new roommate, or move out. I didn’t want to take over the responsibility of the condo, so I ran screaming and shouting to my good friends, the Plemons’, for a place to stay. It would be a temporary thing while I regrouped and figured out a permanent living situation. So a couple of weeks before Christmas, I moved…(and got a P.O. Box!!! I’m sure you and the U.S. Postal Service are all thankful for that.)

January’s highlight was a trip to Hume Lake for the High School Worship retreat. Wow…the camp sure looks different in the winter!! As you may recall, I’m pretty familiar with how it looks in the summer. Among other things, I educated the kids on how to spin brodies on the camp’s ice covered parking lot, in a Suburban. I was sure somebody in authority was watching every time I did, but the kids got such a boot out of it, I threw caution to the wind and went for it several times. I continue to find amazement/amusement in how easily entertained these Rodents are!

February found me getting ‘set-up’ with ‘someone who is perfect for you’. How many times have I heard that? But this one had potential, I thought, so I accepted the challenge. (We had a lot of fun for a while, but as time progressed, I found our compatibility in the personality department taking a nosedive. I decided after we ‘broke up’ that I was destined to stay single the rest of my life, and to concentrate on making ministering to and teaching kids my life’s focus. I also issued a decree to my friends that I was never to be set up again, even though their intentions were appreciated!)

March! A very special event happened in the way of my nephew, Matt’s, wedding in Houston. It was such an awesome time. I flew in just a few hours before the rehearsal on Friday. Upon arrival at my sister Sylvia’s home, I was privileged to meet my soon to be niece-in-law, Nicole. What a sweet and beautiful young lady!! (It’s always a ‘relief’ to meet the intended spouse of someone I care about, and find them to be wonderful!) At the rehearsal dinner that evening, I discovered that Nicole also has a great sense of humor! Matt had asked me to be the ‘ice-breaker’ speaker at the dinner, paving the way for others to get up and tell stories about them and wish them well. NO PROBLEM!!! What an opportunity to not only rat him out in front of all his family and friends, but to pull a trick on him, too! So I planted a fart noise machine, (complete with remote control!) under what I guessed would be his chair. (They weren’t marked.) Wouldn’t you know, a guest plopped his carcass down on that chair, threatening to ruin the joke. I had to confide in Nicole this dilemma, and see what she was made of … would she help me out, or rat me out! My sweet, soon to be niece-in-law, made me proud when she laughed loudly and promptly went over to move the intruder from the hot seat. (I believe I shed a tear at that moment.) Later, after giving my speech, revealing to the party the most embarrassing memories of Matt’s childhood my failing memory could recall, I concluded with a few compliments. I struggled to keep a straight face as the last words uttered from my lips were that “Matt had become a man of class…” at which time I pressed the button on the remote control in my pocket, activating the best $15 investment I have ever made. The machine responded with a ‘gastly’ noise that resonated through the large crowd. Without missing a beat, my ‘classy’ nephew shifted his weight to one side, and fanned the air around him. The crowd went wild… (Slight exaggeration, but it did create a huge laugh!) Quite to my surprise, that little joke sealed my notoriety with Matt’s friends and new in-laws, (everyone was calling me by name after that). It also prompted the question of “Where can I get one of those?” from people I would least expect it. It pays to take a risk every now and then. Later that night, Matt and I laughed about the whole incident as we talked until 3 AM, enjoying some nephew/uncle bonding time. (Who needs sleep the night before your wedding?) It didn’t have an adverse affect on the whole shindig, as their wedding ceremony was storybook beautiful and perfect.

Other highlights of the trip were getting to visit with a few close friends from my days of living in Houston. I lunched at the famous Galleria Mall with my ‘longtime’ friend, Pam. (Women get all testy when they are described as ‘old’ friends…) Pam and I met when she was a somewhat newlywed. As we walked through the mall, she showed me a high school graduation picture of her youngest child! We said our goodbyes and I headed off to see my close friend and former roommate, Wayde, and his family. (I was IN their wedding!) It was a blessing to see that their 20 plus years of marriage had not taken away the original spark I watched develop when they started dating. We laughed ourselves wet as we recalled our days of youth. Ahh… the good times!

Wow…this is getting long (like THAT’S a surprise!) I better cut the commentary, and give you ‘just the facts’. O.K., April…bad month. The job at the tax related company had turned into a nightmare. They released a tax software product that had not been de-bugged before being distributed…and…they had not properly prepared the software needed for the seasonal accountants to perform their job. The guaranteed 48-hour turnaround became a 10-day turnaround…and that was IF they were able to transmit their return to us in the first place. (Refer back to the un-debugged new product). I was the supervisor of customer service, so all of these angry calls were coming into my department. I was getting little cooperation from the managers and owner in turning the situation around, and I should have started looking for a different job because it had shades of my last job written all over it. Two weeks prior to my departure I was laying out some problems I had no control over to the Operations Manager, lamenting to the fact that I was very displeased with the level the customer service department was operating at. She said, “It’s not your fault that the customer service department sucks.” I couldn’t have agreed more, but nothing changed as far as assistance from ‘above’, and they abruptly let me go. Having gone through this the previous August, and even though co-workers and subordinates from both jobs told me I was doing the best job possible under the circumstances, my confidence was in the toilet. Looking for a new job was difficult at best. I decided to do some projects around the house for the friends I was staying with, and figure out what I want to do when I grow up. So I overhauled their garage, built a wakeboard rack and a bike rack, and attempted to reupholster a few cushions for their boat. (I won’t be hiring out my services as an upholsterer any time soon!) Job-hunting was happening, but not aggressively…

…Which gave me a flexible schedule to spend time with my family down in the Salinas Valley. One such event was when the L.A./Orange county relatives came up to my sister’s lake cabin for the weekend. The “L.A.” folks arrived on Friday evening, but the “Orange County” group didn’t get in until 3:30AM on Saturday. That didn’t matter…we were so excited to see each other that we all got up and had a mini-reunion in the middle of the night. We’ve done weird things like this before with these relatives! You may recall hearing about Mickey and her kids Louie (aka:Loogie) & Lorena (who now comes complete with husband, Norman and three beautiful, fun daughters!) The lake was good that weekend. Loogie and I had the best time seeing how far we could throw each other off of the Sea-doo. We were bruised, beaten and exhausted after that episode, but the smiles were pasted in place. My nephew, Zachary, at age five rode the kneeboard like a champ for miles!

The majority of fun events for the summer was going to weddings, wakeboarding, and Rodent events. The weddings alone took much energy, and merit comments:

June 7th: Rob; former Rodent; married Sarah from (and in) Visalia, California. Left Sacramento at 7AM for the four-hour drive. Afternoon wedding, temperature 100 degrees (in the shade). Got to sit w/ Rob’s family at the reception; have the crazy pictures to prove it. Gave a friend and her two grade school daughters a ride back to Sac; they helped me stay awake. Got home at 11PM. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

June 27th. Former Rodents Larissa and Andrew . (Larissa is from the family I was living with! I call her my little sister.) Another wedding during the heat wave, but fear not, it was a Friday evening wedding so it should be cooler. Oh, really? The recently serviced air conditioner in the sanctuary went on strike that afternoon. It was muggy and ‘warm’ to say the least. I was a tuxedoed usher at this one, which enhanced the mugginess of the whole affair, but for my Rodents, I endure anything. Highlight: getting to talk about both of them during ‘open mike’ time at the reception. Having known them both since 7th grade, I had plenty of material to work with. 2nd highlight: A/C worked in the reception hall!! At 11PM, after helping with some of the tear down, I politely excused myself to go home since I had to be up at 6AM the next morning, on…

June 28th. Cousin Heidi's wedding. Up at 6 AM, hit the road at 7 AM to drive 3 ½ hours to my parents home. Visit with family for a while before getting dressed to drive another hour into the country to the site of the wedding. It is at the San Antonio Mission, in the middle of dry rolling hills, on a (you guessed it!) 100 plus degree-day. Imagine dust, dry grass for as far as the eye could see, and the white walls of the mission acting as laser beams trying to fry the pupils, not to mention causing us to sweat like prizefighters. We exchanged somewhat hurried greetings to the relatives standing outside, and then rapidly entered the ancient, non air-conditioned church. Thankfully the adobe walls were about 5 feet thick, acting as life saving insulation, making the ceremony tolerable. The reception was back in town, where it cooled off quickly thanks to the usually annoying afternoon winds. What a great time was had at the reception! There were several relatives that I had not seen for years and years. My cousin Donna had come from North Carolina, accompanied by her husband, and 3 of her 4 kids. The last time I saw her kids, they were in the lower grades of elementary school. Now they are very enjoyable adults! It was a family reunion of sorts that was way overdue, and much appreciated.

July 12th. Mike , former Rodent, marries Manda from (and in) Ridgecrest, California. Where the Hades (aka: hell) is Ridgecrest? One would think they were one in the same…(no offense intended, Manda!) Ridgecrest is a small town in the Mojave Desert. (I think it’s a plot. These kids are trying to test my endurance. They must know extreme heat is dangerous for the elderly…) The highlight of the six-hour trip (one way) was driving over a very curvy, isolated mountain road. Since I was alone, I didn’t have to worry about making anyone car sick, so I put my Grand Am to the test. At one point, I noticed the temperature gauge rising. Decision: slow down, or go w/out A/C? It’s only 100 degrees…who needs A/C? The buzz of four electric windows going down was music to my ears, as I turned the radio up even louder, and gave it more gas. I did wonder if pavement heat, coupled with screeching around hairpin turns was bad for the tires. Oh what the heck… this is FUN, and tires are replaceable! (Children, don’t try this until you’ve been driving for 20 years!) When I dropped down out of the mountains, I knew by the vulture that was tracking me, and there being nothing green in sight for as far as the eye could see, that I was definitely in the desert. Now the wind/heat factor was about 150 degrees, so the windows went back up, A/C back on…had to slow down. (Not a bad idea…the car was starting to act funny). When I stepped out of the car in Ridgecrest, I believe it was 115 degrees. The next day, (wedding day) it topped off at 117. Thankfully the A/C worked at both the church AND the reception hall. It was a ton of fun, and the drive home wasn’t nearly as adventurous since I had a passenger. With former Rodent Mindy joining me, as well as the Ridgecrest folks telling me it would cut an hour off the trip home if I took a different route, I chose the road more traveled. Oddly enough, I made it back in 6 hours…the same amount of time it took to get there. (What’s up with that?)

July 20th . Samantha and Scot , former Rodents. They have asked me to perform the ceremony. Don’t they know I’m not really a minister, just a helper? Yes they do, but, for a fee, anyone can perform a wedding ceremony! (Go figure…) So at this Renaissance style wedding, dressed like a monk, outside in the lush garden of a wedding facility, and in, (you guessed it, again!), 100 plus degree heat, I performed my first wedding ceremony!

November 14th . Tigger and Mindy , former Rodents. Tigger is not his real name, duh… But the resemblance is remarkable, down to the stripes, so it fits. Another Rodent I have known since 7th grade. He has taught me much, most memorably, “The Shark Joke”. His brother Rob got married on June 7th in the Visalia heat. (Thank you Tig & Mindy for getting married in the coolness of November!) (Same Mindy that rode home from Hades/Ridgecrest with me…between catnaps & cell phone calls to Tigger, she related the story of how their long distance romantic relationship began and blossomed after they both left Sac.) Once again I am talking on the ‘open mike’. Had a lot to say. They finally had to pull me off the stage with a hook. Since this is an evening wedding, instead of throwing rice someone decides to hand out sparklers to light their way to the car. It had been raining; it is very humid…instead of lighting the way to the car, the smoke from the sparklers turns the path into a smoke tunnel. People are gasping and choking. Whose idea was THAT? As we were tearing down after the reception, brother Rob blessed me with one of those moments in youth ministry/friendship that make it all worth it…Thanks, Rob…

In addition to sparkler smoke, love must have been in the air that night. Two days later, two of my closest former Rodents, Casey and Noah both asked their girlfriends to marry them. (They both said yes.) Please, boys, book inside facilities with A/C servicemen standing by.

December 27th. Two more weddings…one here that I will attend, one in Minneapolis that I will not. Glad to attend Tina’s here… sorry Andy I can’t be at yours in Iceland. Probably better that I don’t…I’d probably just complain about it being too cold…

Many of you participated in praying for my friend, Anna. What a blessing it was to see God honor those prayers by taking her brain tumor out, leaving her not only alive, but with no permanent nerve damage. She is doing great! Thank you again to all who prayed.

This summer provided some good lake time, but not nearly as much as I would have liked (like living lakeside and going out everyday!) After ‘swearing’ that I would never try to wakeboard again after hurting myself enough to require physical therapy several years ago, I decided to rescind my swearing (?). The injury happened while trying to get up on the wakeboard. Now, after watching the kids do it a million times, I realized what I did wrong, (and know when to let go this time!!). So one day with only 2 kids on the boat to laugh at me if I failed miserably, I decided to go with the ‘no guts, no glory’ attitude. I put on the wakeboard, got in the water and asked God for no injuries! He complied, and I got up after the second try! I discovered that wakeboarding is way easier on my aging body than single skiing is. So now, with many accolades from the kids for being able to wakeboard ‘at my age’, I’m a wakeboarding fool. (Or just an old fool, depending on your way of looking at things.) Now that I’ve conquered that feat, I’m moving on to snowboarding this winter! Locals, please come see me in the hospital.

Other activities have included paintballing with the kids (just call me a slow moving target), attending many birthday parties (I give them all Whoopee Cushions as gifts; thrifty, yet practical), discipleing & counseling boys with life issues, (they think I actually know what I’m talking about since I’m middle-aged…I pray for wisdom constantly!) and Rodent event planning (it’s so fun to dream up humiliating stuff that they will actually do in the name of group participation, like bob for apples in a tub of noodles and spaghetti mixed with catsup, aka: The Tub of Intestines, for Harvest Faire (Halloween). I know I’ll probably get a condo in heaven instead of a mansion for that, but hey, it’ll be a condo full of fun! On the adult side of life, I have thoroughly enjoyed being in two Bible based book study groups with some awesome folks. I intend to stay involved in these to keep my mind fresh (?), and to hang with the old coots to stay balanced (??).

One sadness happened in the passing of my aunt, Betty. After being on dialysis for 11 years, at nearly 80 years old, Aunt Betty passed away in October. As I was growing up in King City, she had a large influence in my life. I still remember lessons she taught me, and miss her heartwarming laugh. As she would have wanted it, the gathering after the funeral was light hearted and a reunion of family and friends. She would have been in her element, hostessing an event such as this. But I guess if you think about it, she did.

As of December 15th, I returned to being a working class citizen. This will no doubt bring some hoots and howls from some of you…I am a Family Service Counselor at a local funeral home. O.K., O.K. go ahead with the dead jokes. But hey, somebody has to do it, and with my kind, compassionate, modest demeanor, who better? Plus the money is pretty stinkin’ good, so I’ll be laughing all the way to the bank! The ‘home’ I ‘m at is located in a very culturally diverse part of town (yes that translates to “the ‘hood”…). I will eventually be well versed in many new customs and burial rituals. I am told one culture roasts a pig and has a party at the gravesite. Since I’ll be invited to these events, next time you visit, you may be introduced to food you do not recognize…like “Rack of Yak” or “Curry Poodle”…(Just kidding, Faye!) Perk of the job; getting to cruise the “park”, as we in the industry call it, in a ’95 white Cadillac Limousine. I finally get a Cadillac as a ‘company car’.

Merry Christ…mas!!

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