Monday, March 12, 2018

Rest After a Decade

Chris' ordination was last weekend, and since that time we have spent the last week resting. Just resting. It is one of the most restful periods we have had in all of our relationship and marriage so far, which is strange to think about. 

When we were first married we were living in different states, and I was going to college full-time and working two different jobs in different states. Chris started seminary a month after we got married. Into our second year of marriage I started graduate school. We bought a townhome that was more or less a fixer-upper. Had our first baby. Moved again. Long story short, over the last almost decade we have been in school, moving, doing internships, having babies, doing home projects, navigating military leaves... and often some or all of those were overlapping. 

This past week, we rested. We still worked, and did school for the girls, but it was different. There were less of the "extras" that were necessary extras. We did more fun extras. 

I am relishing it because starting probably in the next couple of weeks Chris has a long application to fill out for his endorsing group for the military, and then is going to a conference, during which I'll have jury duty (potentially, if I get called) for two weeks, and after that a trip to Utah, and we have to tile the rest of the basement once it warms up just a touch more, plus moving our bedroom downstairs... Yes. I am going to enjoy this period of rest.

This weekend Chris and I took the girls to the Crayola Experience at the Mall of America. I've heard good things about it, and yeah, it was pretty cool. They have a station where you can make your own label for the crayon and write whatever you like on it, plus it prints the date on it, a station where you can put yourself into a coloring page, a clay modeling area where you pick out your own clay color, an area with melted crayons to color with, another area where you spin the paper and pick crayons to melt onto the paper, you can melt crayons into molds, there's a big playground...

The girls really seemed to enjoy it. Especially the clay molding and the indoor playground area. Afterwards we asked the girls if they had fun at the Crayola Experience. Sophia gave an emphatic, "Yes!!" and said she can't wait to go back again. Heidi gave an emphatic "NO!" and said the slide was scary. At the indoor playground area, there was a two-story slide (pretty high up). Heidi doesn't have any fear of heights and she climbed right up that play area. She was stumbling around looking for a way down and found the slide. She did not expect it to be so long, and so dark. The darkness seemed to really freak her out. When she got to the bottom she found Chris in a state of panic and basically refused to play on the play area again. instead, she played with Bethany in the one for smaller kids. The rest of it was pretty cool. 

When we got home the girls had fun playing with their blocks. They have a lot (too many!) toys and so they go through phases with them. They just recently rediscovered all of their various block types so they have been all building with them. Heidi was downstairs building for a while and the other two and I had gone upstairs. I think I was preparing dinner, and Heidi came up to ask me to follow her downstairs because she had a "surprise" for me. She had built a castle for her princesses - and she explained to me that there was a ball, and that only princesses could attend. I asked her why only princesses and she said, "because boys might wreck the decoration."  She may be onto something. 

One thing we have been really enjoying is our fireplace. This was the frustrating thing I mentioned a few weeks ago but didn't say anymore about because we didn't know at the time if we would be ending up in court. The short version of the story is that the previous homeowners intentionally covered up the fact that there was a large crack in the flue, presumably so that we wouldn't ask them to pay for/repair it, etc. Purely 100% by God's grace and providence, I called a chimney guy (with a groupon!) to come clean our chimney because we had been having a lot of smoke from it and we wanted to make sure if wasn't blocked/dirty. He happened to be the same person who had inspected the chimney before we bought the house and he asked me if the previous homeowners had showed us the crack in the flue. We approached our realtor with the new information, and she reached out to them through their realtor. We asked them to pay for the repair and were hoping it would go further than that. Again, by God's grace they agreed and we had the repair work done last week. Over the past week we have been able to use our fireplace and it has been so nice. Chris, especially, really missed it. 

Who knows, the next time I write, I may be starting tile work all over again. But for now, I am loving the small break that we find ourselves able to take. Onward, upward, to the glory of God!

Sophia's story, with a title: "The hen. The red hen woct [walked] to the nut. The hen rand [ran] to..." 
Big smiles

All the girls
Bethany holding onto Sophia's waist and following her around
Heidi colored the yellow rocket ship - and got to see it appear on the screen

Making a snake

Chris perfecting his snake
Chris' snake

Bethany playing in the kids area

Heidi picked a smile face and a heart for her shapes; Sophia named one crayon "Sophia Pink" and the other crayon "Geode"
Playing peek-a-boo

"No boys!"

Monday, March 5, 2018


This past weekend was Chris' ordination council and service. 

(And the whole of the Pitts' family breathed a sigh of relief).

If you are unfamiliar with ordination in the independent Baptist tradition, I will tell you about it. 

Chris has been anticipating ordination, with a healthy level of anxiety directed towards adequate preparation, since he first found out what it was. He began serious preparation work after returning from his deployment in Albuquerque last summer. Preparation consisted of lots of Bible study. Essentially, he created a statement of faith, covering many significant Christian doctrines. These included (but are not limited to, because I probably can't name all of them off of the top of my head): angelology (study of angels), soteriology (study of salvation), ecclesiology (study of churches), eschatology (study of end times), pneumatology (study of the Holy Spirit), Christology (study of Christ), anthropology (study of purpose of man), creation, hamartiology (study of sin), theology (study of God), bibliology (study of the Bible), and probably one or two other doctrines I'm missing.

He studied, prepared, refined, and studied some more to create his statement of faith. I think it is fair to say that this required more work than any other of his classes for seminary. But I also think that it was appropriate to prepare that much; ordination is a serious matter - it is the vetting of a candidate and approving his call to ministry. It is right that Christian men take so seriously an event of this nature.

Chris' statement of faith was 17 pages long, and very detailed. He defined his position on a doctrine, based on evidence in scripture, and answered common questions to his position. For the last month, and especially over the last two weeks, our devotions together have consisted of me reading and helping prepare his statement of faith - asking any questions I might have, trying to challenge and encourage him in preparations. I really enjoyed these discussions; what better way to spend time with someone I love than discussing what we are most passionate about?

The day of the council arrived and it's fair to say I wasn't nervous about it really until we got to church and saw how many people were there. In my mind, I was thinking maybe 4 or 5 other pastors in addition to our pastor, and a few church members. There were a lot of people there, 10 pastors from 10 local churches, as well as many other people who were just there to watch the council, and several of our church members. All of the strangers made me a little more nervous and I grabbed Chris to pray together in the nursery (because it was an empty room!) before the council started.

I sat with Chris up at the front for the very beginning of the council. They asked my testimony and a little bit about our call to ministry (I think; I was so nervous I barely remember speaking) and then I sat down. The remaining part, almost exactly three hours, was spent going through Chris' statement of faith, doctrine by doctrine, and having him answer any questions the council presented. The room was freezing cold, but I was sweating - evidence it was nervous sweats, I think. Not because Chris wasn't doing well, but because it was intense. Chris tends to be too hard on himself (for broad example, he feels he would never qualify as a professor though this is a profession he would love) and at the break after the first half he felt that it wasn't going well. I disagreed. There were a few times that one of the councilmen would ask a question that I had brought up during our studying and it was like a miniature victory moment.

Chris has clearly been gifted by God in many ways; he is a skilled teacher, speaker, and student. He has an ability to study and absorb and meditate on God's word in a way that I am just not able. His gifts came through during his ordination council.

There was one moment in particular for me that I will treasure (though I am not sure he would relish me sharing). At one point, somebody on the council asked him how we lived out a complementary view of a husband and wife relationship within our home. Chris started talking about our marriage,  our devotions together, and our recent discussion of changes moving forward and started tearing up. He gathered his thoughts and said, "I love Katie" and then continued to describe our marriage. I, of course, was sitting in the front crying as well. But it is a moment I will cherish; especially this summer as we anticipate Chris leaving for 5 weeks for additional Air Force chaplain training.

Another moment, the council was diving in questions about spiritual gifts. Chris had one listed in there that he was taking some heat for and one of the council members asked him, "can you explain what led you to include this in your statement?" to which Chris answered, "Regret!" which drew laughter and relieved some of the tension.

He received many compliments about his statement. One gentleman appreciated the organization of it; he said that any time he thought of a question to ask, Chris had already answered it!

At the end of the council we were asked to leave the room (I didn't think of it at the time but I should have left my phone recording on the chair!) while the group discussed a nomination to approve or deny Chris for ordination. Report that I have heard from church members there is that the group of men were very complimentary towards Chris and his demeanor. I am not surprised; Chris might have been (again, too hard on himself). They unanimously approved him for ordination.

Sunday was the official ordination service. Chris picked all of the music for it (Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, How Deep The Father's Love For Us, The Power of the Cross, By Faith, He Will Hold Me Fast) and Pastor's sermon focused on 1 Timothy, about the calling and responsibilities along with that to somebody in the ministry, and the church's responsibility to those who are called to the ministry. It was encouraging, challenging, and beautiful. There was an oath that Chris took, followed by a prayer with current and former deacons in the church, and Chris was presented with a certificate. 

And the whole Pitts' family breathed a sigh of relief. Joyful, tired, relief. Really, the whole of Chris' schooling was guided towards a moment like this: recognition of God's calling in Chris' life to the ministry. I am so grateful to God for the husband he has blessed me with, a strong spiritual leader who is taking his responsibility before God so very seriously. 

The pictures of Chris at the desk are from the ordination, on stage are the ordination service, and with the girls are the aftermath: relaxing with the family, a fire in the fireplace, and watching Shaun the Sheep.

Goodbye, Doc!

My favorite doctor, probably ever, is retiring next month. When I got the retirement letter in the mail a couple of weeks ago, without hesitating I called to make an appointment. I also turned to Chris and said, "well, I guess we aren't having any more kids!"

I found Dr. Miller by happy accident. When I was pregnant with Sophia we went to AALFA Family Clinic in White Bear Lake, MN. It was a long drive, but it was worth it. I saw Dr. Anderson throughout my first pregnancy and he delivered Sophia. At my first ever pregnancy appointment, he asked if he could pray with me, and he did. It was incredibly powerful to be sitting in a doctor appointment, with the physician overseeing the health of my pregnancy, praying for my baby. If you are seeking an OB/GYN or pediatrician I highly recommend that clinic. However, when I started working at my current job, my insurance changed and AALFA was no longer in network. I had to find a new doctor. I was devastated.

I started to have some ovarian-type issues prior to a pregnancy with Heidi and had gone to a physician to have it checked out. The doctor who had the earliest opening was Dr. Miller. At my very first appointment with him, I would have adopted him into my family if it were possible. He was a very kind doctor, very friendly, who truly and honestly thanked his patients for their trust in him to manage their health. He was happy for me when we were pregnant with Heidi (which took about a month) and after one appointment with somebody else for scheduling reasons I never again saw anybody throughout the other pregnancies except for Dr. Miller.

When I was pregnant with Heidi, around the 16-week mark is the time they ask for genetic testing. I refused the testing, telling Dr. Miller it wouldn't matter what the results were; why put my baby at risk? He told me he liked my morals on the matter. I knew at that time this was a doctor I wanted to stick with.

Through the pregnancies of Heidi and Bethany, and for other various health concerns, Dr. Miller was somebody I trusted immensely. He asked me during one appointment if we were going to have more children (he then told us that we should) - and my response was to ask him when he was going to retire. He said, "my retirement will be in the obits!"

I am glad for his sake that it isn't; but I will miss Dr. Miller. He recently turned 70, and decided to retire. He gave me a copy of his "secret letter" - a patient letter he had written but was too personal to send out to all patients. It stated essentially he was grateful to God for his work as a physician, honored by his patient's trust, and looking forward to enjoying more time with his wife and children/grandchildren in retirement. The appointment ended with us hugging and crying, him thanking me for trusting him with my health care, me thanking him for providing great care for myself and my girls.

God provides His people in all places. And, as with the case with Dr. Miller, his hand is so apparent in leading us - because I scheduled that appointment purely by coincidence.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Billy Graham

Billy Graham recently passed away; he died on February 21, 2018, about 9 months shy of reaching triple digits.

If you are a Christian in America, it is likely that your Christianity has been impacted by Billy Graham in one way or another, directly or indirectly, whether you know it or you don't.

It is estimated that he has preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to over 80 million people. 80. Million. People. More than double the entire population of California. More than 15 times the population of Minnesota. If you count all of those who have seen the television ministry or heard radio ministry, it is estimated he reached 2.2 billion people with the Gospel. He told that many people about Jesus Christ, and His salvation for humanity.

How many people have I told about Christ?

Billy Graham influenced so many Christian authors, preachers, teachers, pastors; he had an influence on John Piper, Alistair Begg, and Al Mohler - just to name a very small few of those whose ministries are influential to me. He was helpful (though, as he admitted, less so than he wished he had been) when it came to the civil rights movement; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. prayed at a Billy Graham crusade in New York (Billy Graham also desegregated his crusades in the 1950s). He has influenced countless Christian musicians, including Matthew West and Michael W. Smith. I am sure I could research further and put thousands of names on this list. It is likely that a preacher you follow, a ministry you enjoy, or music you listen to has in some way been influenced by, or involves people who heard of Christ by the ministry of Billy Graham.

This Sunday, our Pastor asked those who had come to faith because of the ministry of Billy Graham to raise their hands. There were probably close to 10 people. In my own small church, in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.

I am not saying Billy Graham is somebody to be worshiped as a god. Like all of us, he was a fallen man. I am saying that Billy Graham is an excellent, praise-worthy example of boldly sharing faith with humility and grace.

Billy Graham answered God's call. He did not save people by his own merit, but he told them about God's love for the world in sending His Son to save us. He told them how Christ died for them. There are millions of people in Heaven who are there because Billy Graham answered God's call to preach. What an amazing thought.

Christian, how are you answering God's call in your life?

There are criticisms of Billy Graham, just as other people criticized the Apostle Paul. He has his own regrets; he was there for his children less than he had wished. No one is perfect in humanity outside of Christ. But whatever the weaknesses of Billy Graham, he is a shining example for those of us who he said goodbye to last week. There are approaches to his evangelism that others may criticize; but he evangelized. Dr. Graham had audiences of presidents and diplomats, and decades of ministry experience.

Even more amazing, throughout all of his time of ministry, there is not one financial or sex scandal. Not one. Scandals tend to plague anyone of a certain caliber, but not Billy Graham (at least, not scandals of this nature; there may have been Gospel scandals)! The famous Mike Pence rule that is so criticized today? It was originally known as the "Billy Graham Rule," and it was one that showed his ongoing affection, admiration, and respect for his wife and their marriage. By all accounts of those who knew Graham personally, he was also an incredibly kind and humble individual.

Billy Graham is someone we should admire. He is a blessing to American, and global, Christianity. He boldly answered God's call to ministry, and preached the Gospel to all who would listen (and his audiences were widespread)! There are millions in Heaven who are there because of Billy Graham. Not because Graham personally saved them, but because Graham responded to God's call to preach the gospel. He believed what Christ calls us to in Matthew 28:19: Make Disciples! God used the ministry of Billy Graham to reach millions of new disciples in Christ.

Thank God for the ministry of Mordecai Ham, who brought Billy Graham to Christ, and for the countless line of gospel ministers who brought it to Mordecai Ham from the very first apostles. Pray that God will raise up another Billy Graham, and that Christians all over will give the gospel with the same boldness that Billy Graham did.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Trusting God

It isn't often that I get a lot of one-on-one alone time with Bethany, but when it does happen it is usually when she wakes up in the morning, and at bed when I am putting her to sleep.

Last week. on Thursday, Bethany woke up on the earlier side, before 7 a.m. I got out of bed with her and she had her own little idea of a routine down. She signed to me, "eat," letting me know that she was ready for breakfast the second I got her out of bed. She picked out her cereal, fruit loops, which I gave her in a bowl with some milk, as well as a cup of milk and a banana. She finished her cereal, with a spoon, and then tipped up the bowl to drink the milk. When she had finished her banana and most of her cup of milk she informed me that she was "all done" by signing to me.

When I took her out of the high chair she trotted over to the trashcan. Next to the kitchen trashcan is where I store the step stools for the kids. She picked on up, put it in the bathroom, set it up in front of the sink, and pointed to her toothbrush and then pointed to her teeth. After I got her toothbrush ready for her and she brushed her teeth, she placed her toothbrush back into the holder, stepped off the stool, picked it up, and put it away by the trashcan. I was just so amused that she had developed her own little routine and had all the steps down, including getting out and putting away the stool.

She is also exploding with personality. Bethany has an infectious smile and laugh, and has been nothing short of an absolutely joy.

This week she had Oreo cookies. I'm sure it isn't the first time that I've bought them for her, but she did discover her own way to eat an Oreo: turns out, she is one of those that twists it apart, licks the white frosting off, and then may or may not eat the chocolate cookie part.

We had a little bit of a rough transition coming home. Poor Sophia this past week. On Friday she was complaining of a stomach ache all day; she said her chest was hurting too and she could feel her heart beating. I'm not entirely sure what this means, but she wasn't feeling her best. The whole of the weekend she was anxious, nervous, and on the verge of tears. She always wanted Chris or me nearby to snuggle her. She didn't want to eat or drink much. The skin on her hands was raw from the Minnesota cold and over-washing her hands because she was going to the bathroom so frequently on Saturday and Sunday. I was getting concerned and didn't know what to do. Did she have a tummy bug (again!?), or a bladder infection? But she didn't have a fever and she said it didn't hurt when she went to the bathroom. Was she constipated? Did we pick up some weird thing in the Caribbean? (You know how Mom minds work). I was just at a loss because nothing really seemed wrong outside of her anxiety.

But I was given wise advice to address it, and so we did. Sophia and I (and Elli, Sherri, and Heidi) are memorizing Philippians 4:4-8 together. One evening, Sophia was just a wreck. I was putting lotion on her hands because of how rough the skin was and she was just so upset about her hands. I held her hands in mine, looked in her eyes, and repeated Philippians 4:6-7 to her: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything with prayer and supplication with Thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus."

Sophia said to me through tears, "I don't know what that means!" I told her, "Well, let's talk about it." We discussed what it means to be anxious, and what anxiety is. We talked about our bodies, and living in a sin-filled world, and that we can't be perfect. We discussed that, most importantly, the pain we experience is something we can learn and grow from; we can rest in God's sovereignty in our lives. Even when things aren't perfect, they are still under God's control. We hugged, talked, and prayed together, thanking God for his sovereignty and asking for Him to give us peace.

Sophia's heart was turned that moment. The salve of the truth of God's word is impossible to underestimate. It was a good reminder for me as a disciple of God and as a mother. She is feeling better; I do not know still what all was ailing her. Perhaps a perfect storm of having a recent episode of vomiting, causing fear of her new stomachache, coupled with bleeding hands... who knows. But I do know that when these troubles came together for her, it caused fear, and a worried and wearied little girl. I also know that when we trust in God, we do have peace that exceeds understanding, a peace that I witnessed come over my 5 year old.

Heidi was really excited to be back watching Spirit again. They just LOVE that horse show. What it is that draws girls to horses in such a way? They are fascinated by the Felicity books for that same reason: Felicity has her own horse that she rescues and cares for. Anyway, apparently new episodes of Spirit are coming out in just a couple of weeks. The girls, especially Heidi, are really excited about it.

But Heidi has a new favorite, too: Paw Patrol. Especially the main, police dog. She has been singing the song with great regularity over the past week or so. She has told me, "Mrs. Verway's TV has Paw Patrol!" Ours is lacking, apparently, because it does not.

She is also thrilled to have four Pooh Bears. Four. Our house is soon going to be overrun by fluffy, yellow bears. When she spoke about him in CC yesterday somebody asked her how many Pooh Bears she had and her response was, "Oh, about a hundred." Yeah. Something like that.

It has been nice to get back into our routine. Yesterday we had CC, and it was so nice to be back and see the group again. The science experiment involved making crystals, which my girls just adore (we have a geode obsession in our house). We are working on our memory work again, picking up school work again. The weather has also been beautiful the last couple of days, in the high 30s and 40s! Melting snow! Which is great because the pile at the end of our driveway was up to my eye-level when I was backing my car out of the garage. Made me a bit nervous that I couldn't see the whole street.

One final new thing this week: I made tamales. I was hesitant about how they would turn out but they were great! I adopted the recipe from here, and made a kid-friendly not spicy version with refried beans, corn, and black beans. I was really pleasantly surprised by how they turned out and plan to make them again. I ended up steaming them for an hour - so it isn't something I can make on my work days.
Drinking milk fast after putting her mouth on a Tobasco bottle
Princess Sophia
Girls excited about Lunchables

How do YOU eat an Oreo?

Finished tamales and Spanish rice
The girls all playing with Reagan!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Retirement Cruise

Whew! What a past week and a half it has been. With three small children, a vacation is a "trip" or an "adventure," not a vacation. But it was a beautiful time with our family, and I am so grateful for the opportunity we had to go on a trip like that.

The airport experience was not exactly new for Heidi, though she didn't really remember it from before, particularly the part where she had to put Pooh Bear through the little X-Ray machine. She was NOT okay with this and as soon as we said Pooh Bear had to go through she started crying. We had to explain he wouldn't be hurt (yes, the stuffed animal will not be harmed) but she wasn't buying it. We finally convinced her. Then, I was giving gum to the girls as we were getting on the plane explaining it would help "pop" their ears. Well, Heidi again started crying ("I don't want to pop my ears!!"). Apparently we are in a very literal phase. Then when Heidi chewed the gum and her ears felt relief, she explained to me, "Mom, my ears didn't POP!" Well, yes, okay. I am glad your ears are intact and feeling better. 

We flew into Florida on Saturday, landing around 5:30 p.m. The flight was uneventful; I am so glad airplanes started installing those screens on the backs of the seats because it does make for a smoother flight (with kids). Sophia loves those Biscoff cookies that Delta has, and makes it a habit to get her orange juice and cookies on each flight. We landed and got our rental car; the lady at the counter clearly unfamiliar with children and tried to talk us into a larger car (for twice the price). Nope. We can fit three carseats across one row, thank you very much.

We drove straight to a dinner with my parents, Aunt Lynne and Uncle Pete, Emma, Justin, and Nana and Papa, and Jaap Jan and his family. Jaap Jan came to Tucson, AZ as a foreign exchange student from the Netherlands for his senior year and my grandparents have kept in touch with him since then. It has been 30 years; Jaap Jan held me when I was a first born baby (we have a picture somewhere!) and I haven't seen him since. It was really quite fun to catch up (I guess really, meet for the first time). His family happened to be in Daytona for a conference at the same time we were coming into Orlando so they met us for dinner. They are such a sweet family. He brought all kinds of treats, including these peppermint candies (Wilheminas, named after a princess), stroop waffels (official, real-life, yummy ones!), and chocolate sprinkles (which the Dutch put on buttered toast). Very sweet. I really enjoyed hearing about Nana and Papa and how they welcomed him; he said that at first he was very disappointed to have received Tucson, AZ as his place to go to in America but then the next day he received a package of goodies from my Nana with a t-shirt that had Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck next to a saguaro cactus, lots of family pictures, and a 5 or 6 page letter welcoming him. She then kept his entire week or two busy with trips all over Tucson and So Cal so that he would be too tired to be homesick. Sounds like Nana!

We went to our hotel that night and Chris thought it would be best to give the girls a bath since the hotel had a tub and our room on the cruise ship would not. I agreed that, in theory, this sounded like an excellent idea. I had poor execution of the idea. I was far too lazy to go digging for the baby soap in the travel bottle, hiding somewhere in one of the four bags we brought with, so I thought, I'll just use this nice hotel soap and be careful with their eyes. *Sigh*. While I was washing one girls hair, Bethany grabbed the soap bottle and tried to eat some, which resulted in her throwing up a little bit and not feeling great. Then while I was trying to clean up from Bethany's mess of being sick, Heidi got some in her eyes and was SCREAMING because of the sting. I had thought it might be fun to meet my parents for breakfast but after our eventful evening we decided to make the morning as simple and plan-free as possible outside of leaving for Port Canaveral by a certain time.

That night, Sophia grabbed the notepad and hotel pen and drew all of us Valentine pictures. She is such a sweetheart. She grabbed the notebook from the hotel on our way out and made a story about ballerinas. Each Valentine was different. Mine had a picture of my Pooh Bear mug with coffee, Chris' had a soccer ball, Bethany's had a scribble (because Bethany likes to scribble) and Heidi's had a picture of Pooh Bear. I do have a picture of my Valentine down below. She then wrote our initials on the backs of each paper so we would know which Valentine belonged to us. It was so sweet.

On the road again, we headed to the port. We managed to slip through security (slightly against their rules, though we kept getting mixed answers) because we were with my Nana in her wheelchair. Heidi had to, again, put Pooh Bear through a security machine and again broke down crying; "Why do you keep putting Pooh Bear through those thingies?" she said through tears. Other than the Pooh Bear incident, on-boarding was relatively painless, and the first lunch experience with the buffet was fun for the girls because they got to pick out what they wanted to eat. Some more exploring around the ship, an easy muster drill, and we were on our way to our first port.

Then came the lost days.

We had our first dining experience (we were supposed to be seated with the same waiter, but oh well) and then went to our room for the night. Chris ordered in some room service and we went to bed. The next morning I wasn't feeling so great and barely ate. Sophia was kind of feeling the same way though I thought it was just traveling and being excited for swimming. We got the girls all dressed up in swimming suits and then went to the pool. I held Bethany while she slept in the carrier and the older girls played in the pools all morning. Heidi was especially having a blast and was described as "crazy" by more than one person. She was playing with Bob, while I had stepped away, and when I came back she had caused a pool closure because she threw up pool water all over everywhere. Oops. After playing all morning and then getting sick she wanted to take a nap. Bob and Lynn graciously took her to their room while the rest of us headed to lunch. We were down by the carousel, Chris was showing Sophia all the fun ice cream, etc. ("doesn't that look good?!") and poor Sophia just looked peaked. Then about 10 seconds later she threw up all over the board walk, and then I felt like I would throw up but because I am an emetiphobe (still not sure it's a word, but I hate throwing up) I managed to fight the feeling until about three hours later when I threw up right in front of a restaurant in the main shopping area. Well, we were more or less shoved down to medical and all evaluated, the girls having gotten sick several more times in Oma and Papa's room, and then quarantined to our room for 24 hours. The worst part??? I missed my Dad's "retirement party" that I had planned with cake and coffee and everyone wearing their matching shirts. I was SO SAD to miss it! I really wanted to be there. We think it was food poisoning since all three of us went down at once. The downside to this (other than the obvious, of course) is that for the entire rest of the cruise I was pretty much hesitant to eat anything.

I am so grateful for the help of all of our family, though. I'm not sure what we would have done without them. Bob and Lynne were so wonderful helping with Sophia and Heidi while I was not feeling well, and then my parents took Bethany for the entire time we were quarantined (and even dressed her for the formal dinner).

We at least had free room service and movie rentals during that time.

The quarantine time ended and we were not ill, but still not back to 100%. Poor Sophia hates getting sick, perhaps even more than I do, and at dinner the next night she started crying because everyone was asking her if she was feeling well, and she didn't want to remember that she had been sick. She and I took a walk around the ship and just spent some quiet time together, not talking about being sick.

Our first port was the next day, Philipsburg, St. Maarten. Last time I went on a cruise it was my favorite port, but this time it just seemed sadder than it had before. There was still a fair amount of devastation from the hurricane. We spent some time at the beach, the girls mostly gathered shells and played in the water. We were disappointed because our shells were all confiscated when we got back on board; diseases, etc. One poor girl had found a large conch shell that was taken away and she was bawling. Beautiful day, though, with the sand between the toes and on the mend from the lost days.

Our next port was San Juan, Puerto Rico. This may have been my favorite port. We spent some time at El Morro, a fort that was used since the 1500s or so and had been updated for use during WWII time looking for German U-boats. The fort is just rich with history. There was also a giant iguana at the fort, and large canons, and a beautiful view of the ocean, all of which entertained the girls. The shopping there was my absolute favorite too. We weren't there long, I wish it had been a much longer port. I loved exploring the area. There were a lot of beautiful nativity-type gifts that I wish we had gone back to buy (we didn't want to be heavy laden with all the gifts before we got to the fort).

Our next day, Friday, was our final port, Labadee, Haiti. This was Royal Caribbean's privately-owned area in Haiti. It was really quite nice. We jet skied here, and I had an absolute blast with this. Mom, Dad, Chris, and I all went together in the same group. Mom started out in fourth but moved down to last place and had her own private tour with second guide (they ranked us by speed). I started out in third but moved my way up to first because I was overtaking Dad and Chris. I had so much fun. I loved speeding around in the water and having the ocean water spray in my face. It is amazing just how hard you can hit the water. My body is still actually sore from jet skiing because of the muscles that were used for it. I came close to falling a few times but never did, and reached a top speed of 45 - I can't imagine ever wanting to go faster than that.

There was a flea market area with local Haitians. I enjoyed shopping it though it was challenging because there was a lot of pressure and lots of locals who were dependent on the money. I ended up buying a globe for Chris' desk with "Minneapolis" written over Washington State. Another globe had it written over Canada - I almost bought that one but it was larger and I wasn't sure how we'd get it back. We also got a small box carved like a turtle, and some bracelets carved out of shells for the girls watching our dog. I love local, touristy shopping so for me, even though there was a bitter part to it, I enjoyed the shopping. I wished I had been able to spend lots more there to support the local business efforts.

My favorite meal in the dining room was rack of lamb. They cooked the lamb better than I had had it before; it really was delicious. Bethany's favorite was the mashed potatoes; she had it every night and even had second helpings some nights. She also loved her ice cream, ate it with a spoon and then picked up the bowl to drink what she couldn't get with the spoon. She pretty much had the entire dining area entertained.

The girls seemed to love their time playing in the ocean and around the ship. We used the kids program a few times and got some coffee without the girls for a peaceful evening. We (kind of) enjoyed a performance of Cats, though I'd probably prefer just about any other musical. There was a fun ice skating show, and a diving show. We went ice skating, zip lining, rock climbing, played on the flow rider, and had a private mini-golf event just for our group. They even had little gold, silver, and bronze medals for the group golf to make the competition a little more interesting (I even got a hole-in-one, and got "gold" during the first round, believe it or not)! And, of course, once I had mended we had pizza at 2 a.m. I was in my pajama pants; my Dad and Justin are more formal than I am!

The group was great. My Aunt Susan and Uncle Dave were there, as well as Tracy and Chris from Dad's side, then Nana, Papa, Aunt Lynne, Uncle Pete, Emma, and Justin from Mom's side, Meghan, Stephen, Claire, and Jane, Mom and Dad, Chris' Mom and Dad, his Aunt Nancy and Uncle Jim, and his grandma and grandpa. Close to thirty people came; it was just so much fun to have everyone there.

A few nights we played cards until late in the card room, that was a lot of fun as well. Dad managed to get smacked in the head pretty good by a glass door; it didn't seem to leave a black eye but I thought for sure that it would. I had fun with the planning; getting the t-shirts made, playing the gift fairy and ordering cakes and strawberries and roses and champagne to various rooms (Oma's birthday, Dad's retirement, my grandparents soon-to-be 60th anniversary). Just a fun time.

I was sad, but at the same time ready, to leave the ship. We got off later than expected, had a very abbreviated trip to Kennedy Space Center (cool, but not sure I'd visit there again, especially not for the crazy prices they charge), and then went to Disney Springs for dinner. I was actually kind of surprised by Disney Springs. When Chris and I had no kids and Disney passes, Downtown Disney (as it was at the time) was a quiet place where we could walk, shop, and enjoy a quieter meal. They have totally revamped it, and now it's basically just like any other mall with a few Disney-specific stores scattered throughout. And it was so busy! The restaurant we ate at was so crowded, and we were seated right in front of a live Cuban band, with Cuban dancers, and we couldn't hear a word with our group. But, the food was good! The girls enjoyed dancing with the dancers at the end too; the kids were all holding hands in a circle, it was about 4 or 5 little girls and one of the dancers, and a little boy tried to join in the circle. When Heidi saw it was a boy trying to hold her hand she pulled her hand away! We were all laughing... sweet Heidi. It was funny because I think we were hoping for a quieter time after just getting off of the ship. Ah well. Heidi was especially happy at the Disney Springs - the Disney store there (which is the largest Disney store normally) was closed down to about 1/4 of the size because they are renovating. But, they had what matters: her Pooh Bear. She was particularly happy because the Pooh Bear she had brought on the ship with her also got sick so she wasn't able to sleep with him for the remainder of the cruise...but she got a new one! Sophia picked out a Lady (from Lady and the Tramp) puppy with a swaddle blanket, and has been caring for it very gently for the last couple of days.

This morning, I was grateful for my own coffee, in my own mugs, with my Bible reading time, and some semblance of normal routine. There is great comfort in routine, as fun as it is to take trips. Perhaps the comforts of home in some ways mirror Heaven; it's a picture of feeling security knowing that we are where we belong; while this earth is not our forever Home, God gives us glimpses of what life will be like with Him. I am so happy for my family, my friends, who made the trip so possible and easy for us that we don't know what we would have done without. Friends who brought us to the airport and cared for Copper, family who cared for our girls, and all the family who agreed to go on a long, big cruise so we could celebrate the retirement of my Dad. What a blessing and an honor to be surrounded by so much love.

Honestly, some of my favorite memories of the cruise were breakfast on the patio, sitting on the beach, and cards with the family. I can see the benefits of simpler vacations. I always have such a wonderful time just hanging out with family that truly, that is the fun of the vacation. I look forward to spending time with my family again, whether that's here, Arizona, or a tropical beach on a remote island.

At the airport, waiting for our flight to Florida
Bethany did NOT like the elephant restraint

Cousin Justin!
Picture with Jaap Jan, 30 years later!
Sophia made us all Valentine's. This is my Pooh Bear/Tigger mug
Marked with a "K" on the back
They have flowers in Florida!
On the way to Port Canaveral

First meal on the ship
View of the garden

Muster drill - think we were paying attention?

St. Maarten beach, ship in the background

Beth and I at the beach

Meghan and I at formal night

Dad and Mom chillin'

Food from the missed retirement party!

Puerto Rico
Bernie Sanders cardboard cutout :p
El Morro fort

Walking up with Nana and Papa

See the iguana in the window up there? 
View of the ocean

In "jail"

Heidi jumped up and down all of the scary hard steps

Our iguana friend upon leaving. Left his window area. 

View of the back of the ship at night. Carousel down below.
Butterfly in Labadee, Haiti.
Sophia as a butterfly

Heidi "taking a picture" back of me with her card
The ship was incredibly big. 
Sophia spending the night in Nana and Papa's room, just the two bunkmates
Pizza at 2 a.m.; phone with time for proof
Pitts' side

Fancon side (less Nana and Papa)

Morrison side (less Chris B.)

Loving Nana's pictures/camera

Heidi does NOT want hugs in the picture

Hugging Daddy
Approaching the Magic of Disney

Heidi at the Cuban restaurant, right before she didn't hold the little boy's hand to her left
Hammy Bethany on the flight home