Special Treasure

I have this tiny treasure box.  Perhaps I should say I “had” this treasure… but it’s mine for a few more hours.  Very soon it will belong to a young woman who celebrates becoming Sweet Sixteen today.

The delicate little case has been mine for 49 years, always sitting someplace in my home where I’ve been able to enjoy it daily.

It was a gift from my aunt, given to me the night before her wedding… a precious thank you gift for being a flower girl.  I was five years old, and I have vivid memories of walking up and down the hall in my grandparents’ home along with my cousin, practicing to perfect our steps as we dropped petals from our baskets.  We felt so big.  The photo reminds me we were itty bitty five year olds.

The treasure is not the box.  The treasure is my aunt.   And not just this aunt, but also the other women I’m blessed to have in that role.  Sharon & Jane, Jan & Marilyn, Sheryl & Sandy… these names flow through my life, beautifully woven into the fabric of my story.  They’ve all treated me to gifts I’ve treasured.   They’ve read to me, played with me, taken me on coke dates when I was still a child.   They’ve been with me at the wonderful celebrations of life, and we’ve stood side by side through the tragedies too.  These women continue to affirm their love for me, and I want them to know they’re all treasures to me.

As for the keepsake that inspired my thoughts today, it’s going to have a new home with my cousin… the granddaughter of the bride who entrusted my tiny hands with such a lovely gift all those years ago.  I know she’ll cherish it.

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Vows

It’s never been a dream of ours to someday renew our wedding vows.  We’ve toyed with the notion of possibly buying a wedding ring for Gary since he’s never worn one due to his line of work.  Even so, I don’t think either of us envisioned a ceremony of any kind.  Perhaps just the joy of shopping on one of those cruises we love so much.

So it came as quite the surprise to both of us that we got so carried away in June, spending a week making plans, buying a dress, including a best man and a maid of honor, selecting music, smiling at each other with happy tears.

A preacher called us one Friday evening and asked if we’d be willing to help him out.  He wanted a marriage illustration to go along with his sermon on the church being the bride of Christ.  He thought we might have a little vow renewing ceremony.   We told him we’d be happy to help out.   We had a week to prepare.

From the moment we hung up the phone we began to get more and more excited at the thought of how much we were going to enjoy it.   And it was a great surprise on that Sunday morning when the sermon took a twist and I got to come down the aisle to “Faithful and True”.

I’m just telling you… if you’re like us, and you’ve never given any thought to renewing your vows, give it a go!  We loved it so much, we may just have to enjoy another wedding ceremony every year or two!

These are the vows we exchanged.   I wrote them a few years ago for a marriage enrichment class we led at our church.  They’re based on the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5.

With all my heart, I want our marriage to be filled with the fruits of the Spirit, and before you now, I ask God to help me keep these promises.

I will love you forever.

For as long as we live, I want to bring joy into your life every day.

I will strive to make our home a peaceful refuge from the world.

I will be patient with you, and ask you to be patient with me.

I will shower you with kindnesses. Both big and small.

I promise to follow Jesus Christ, for only in doing so can I be a good husband/wife.

I will be faithful to you, and will keep our marriage pure.

I will be a gentle mate. Rejoice with you when you’re happy, cry with you when you’re sad, and take care of you when you’re sick.

When we disagree, I will talk with you calmly, and will practice self-control.

May God bless our marriage as we live and walk in the Spirit.

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Tex New Mex Rocks

Oh my goodness!  I’m so caught up in this new hobby.  I’m not always one to jump on the bandwagon, but this one grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

Here’s the quick story.   My cousin moved to Ohio and found a painted rock at the library.  She kept telling us about this rock thing.  Then another cousin and my aunt went to visit her, and they got hooked on painting and hiding rocks.  So when they got home to Eastern New Mexico and West Texas, they got the rest of the family hooked, and started this Facebook group… Tex New Mex Rocks.

It’s a phenomenon that’s sweeping the nation.  There are rock groups everywhere doing this same exact thing.  Paint rocks, hide rocks, find rocks, share on Facebook, repeat, repeat, repeat.  It’s just the sweetest “random acts of kindness” thing, and it’s with absolute delight that I’ve watched our group grow.  My cousins started our FB group in March, and in less that 3 months we’re well over 5000 members!

So many things I love about it.  Great stress release for me.  I’m not much of an artist, but I’m happily content to splash out some paint and create a little cat on a rock.  Then it’s wonderfully fun to put it out somewhere in town for a random passer-by to find.  Painting around a table with family and friends of all ages is marvelous, and that’s taking place all over America in these groups!  

I know how fads come and go, but I sure hope this one stays around for a long, long time.  

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Fourteenth Home – Hollandaise House

From the time we started planning to develop this block of land we own in Portales – how to place the houses, which one we would live in, what style they’d be – I’ve had a nickname for ours… The Hollandaise House. 

You know how we love to cruise, you know how we love delicious food, and you know we’re ready to take a break!   So this house has me dreaming of an ocean feel inside where we’ll leisurely prepare Eggs Benedict for breakfast.

Every house project, starting back in 1982, has been exciting for us.  We’re both loving this one so much. All those previous chapters had us working our way up, trying to establish another business, figuring out another building method, forever pushing hard to keep up with a timeline.  

Not so on this house.  We’re in no hurry, happily downsizing, and happily picking out very new and different finishes.   I do love to decorate.  How wonderful it’s been to work in this industry all these years.  I’ve had so much fun putting various themes together for the homes Gary’s designed for us.

Sometime this fall we’ll move in.  Chapter Fourteen of our lives is yet to be written.  I hope it’s filled with plenty of  delicious Hollandaise sauce and lemon curd in a lovely new courtyard.  Time will tell. 

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Thirteenth Home – The Barn

Now, this has been one fine chapter in our lives.  What fun it has been to say, “We live in a barn.”  We completed this place in 2008, so it’s been our home for nine years.   That’s the longest we’ve ever stayed put.

What began as an idea for a pretty workshop blossomed into a full scale house.  It’s been my pleasure all these years to enjoy Gary’s creative flair, and he certainly treated us on this one.  Building this big red barn was such an exciting job.  From the huge concrete pillars to support the workshop, to the gorgeous curving staircase, this project was quite unique.  

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Over the years, the barn has been the venue for so many wonderful celebrations.  The very first one was held here a couple of months before we actually finished the place, and that was our 25th wedding anniversary.  Since then we’ve hosted more anniversaries, reunions, birthdays, showers, weddings and receptions, and a whole slew of politicians.  My dear friends have joined me in my home for Bible study, and those Tuesday mornings will forever hold a special place in my memories of this chapter.  We’ve loved entertaining throughout the holidays, and never is the barn more beautiful than when it’s all decked out for Christmas.

I’ve always loved yard work, and the barnyard has given me countless hours.   Countless!   Ha ha.  When we first moved in here, I would stand at the picture windows upstairs, looking out over my yard with tears of joy exclaiming, “I have a park!”   I must admit that there are some days now that I stand there and say with an overwhelmed sigh, “I have a park!”  I do love my fruit trees and roses… and for those of you who’ve been with me on this blogging journey over the years… you know I’ve even come to terms with my crepe myrtles.

The years in this barn were a real page-turner in our career.   Prior to this, Gary and I had always worked side by side in construction.  I wouldn’t say we out grew that… but I might say we grew too old for that.  We finally had to turn the physical work over to others while we focused our energies on the office end of Field Day, Inc.  Our desks are upstairs in the house above the workshop.  At the moment I’m in the comfy leather chair at my computer typing, and this has been my seat these past nine years.  I’ve sat here putting numbers into columns on spreadsheets as I’ve listened to the soft background noise below me of saws and sanders and garage doors opening and closing.   It’s been a great business to run, and I’m thankful for each and every person that has been in and out of that shop helping us build so many dream homes.

That brings me to our beautiful dining room table.  Let me just say again how thankful I am for each and every person who has joined us at that table.   Without all the clients who have sat there with us pouring over house plans, this big barn would never have existed.  Gary and I both say ‘thank you’ from the bottom of our hearts. 

Mostly that table has been the lovely scene of family meals.  Every few weeks the barn is full of family members.  We’re blessed with large loving families, so from time to time we sit down at that big table which seats 12 easily, and we set up the card tables to hold everyone else, and we pray together and eat delicious meals.  I feel so fortunate to have had this grand chapter in my life to play hostess so often.  I love setting tables with pretty dishes, and this will always be the era filled with fond memories of this happy task.  Two huge days stand out in this red barn every year… Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Gary’s family has filled our home for that glorious turkey dinner every year.  And my family has always been here for a beautiful Christmas breakfast after we see what Santa has brought down the chimney.

People have been surprised that we’re making plans to sell the barn, since it was our “dream home”.   But to us, all of our homes have been dream homes.   Whether they were tiny or large, temporary or lasting, they were a roof over our heads as we reached for our stars.

So now it’s time to move on.  We’re seeing the finish line on the horizon for our business.  Retirement seems truly within our reach, and we’re happily building away on the next house.  It’s a couple of blocks away, it’s much smaller, and my main concern is hoping our cat Peli makes the transition easily.  Gary and I think we may wipe away a tear or two when we spend the last night in this barn, but we’re so excited for the next chapter and are beside ourselves with glee.

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Twelfth Home – The Globe House

I will always say that this little house was a gift from God.  Everything in life is a gift from above, but this was a special gift with perfect timing.  The very first Sunday we had officially moved back to Portales, a dear friend at church asked us what we were planning.   I said we were going to get our construction business going again, and we’d be doing anything and everything.  She asked if we’d be interested in a fixer-upper.

Boy howdy, this was a fixer-upper.  A friend of hers had owned the house for decades, and without bogging down in the details… the person living there had stripped the house.  Stripped it!  From the outside all looked well.  On the inside all wiring, all fixtures – and I’m talking right down to the toilet and sinks being gone, all sheetrock, everything… gone!  What a shocking discovery for the owners.  And what a good opportunity for us.

We were able to buy the place for an amazing price.  Inch by inch, as we got money together and when we had time, we rebuilt the inside of the house and dolled up the outside a bit.  It was a two year process before we actually moved in, then it was home sweet home for the next four years.

We were rarely there because we were working so hard.  I’m sorry if I ramble on with that theme of working all the time, but that’s the story of this time in our lives.   Gary and I were both on the jobsites all day every day, six days a week.   At night we took turns on our computer – Gary getting his portion of Field Day together, and me getting mine.  We marvel that we managed with only one computer, but we were on a quest to fill up the coffers.

We put a wonderful covering over the back porch, and as much as we love sitting on porches, this one was our workshop, and we worked off of that porch and out of our tool trailer.  One night we ate on the back porch, and that was only because we were feeding our stone laying crew from Texas, and there wasn’t enough room in the kitchen to hold us all.  In fact, the kitchen was quite crowded if we ever had a third person join us for dinner.

When people came to our “home office” with their blue prints to sit at that tiny table in that cracker box house, I always figured they were wondering just what they’d gotten themselves into.

Although we’d built homes in the past, I’m forever grateful to my aunt and uncle who were planning to build a lovely and very large home on a beautiful piece of property.  They had no proof that Gary could build a house like that, but they knew Gary, and they trusted him with the task.  The results were grand – if I do say so myself – and they were continually generous in allowing us to show the house to future clients.  It’s how we fell into the niche of very special custom homebuilding.

Well, obviously, we needed a real workshop and we needed a kitchen of our own where we could not only showcase our work, but actually have people over to dinner and offer them a place to sit!   We’d had ideas about building a shop that would have some classic characteristics of a horse barn.  This was the deal… while we worked to save the money to do it, there was never any time to get started on it, so this gave Gary five years to dream and scheme.   He spent lots of time in that little house drawing the plans for the barn, and I had a ball putting decorating ideas together.

We do love little spaces, and we truly loved that house.  It gave us the chance to sock our earnings away while we grew our business.  Okay.  Work, work, work.   Maybe I’ve hashed that topic enough, and as I roll into the next chapter you won’t have to hear so much about that.  We always laughed about how we’d done life a bit backwards.  In our younger years we lived a bit more of a semi-retired lifestyle.   In our 40s we made up for it!

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Eleventh Home – The Cottage

Thankfully, while we were still living on Guam, we’d decided it was time to start investing in some rental property.   So, we had purchased this 6-unit apartment complex in Portales.  Along with some newer apartments came two cottages that had been built in the early 1900s.  Tiny little things.  You could reach up and touch the ceiling in the bedroom.  A chain smoker had been living in one of those cottages for years, and the timing was right, with him moving out, for us to overhaul the place with lots of scrubbing and fresh paint, then to move ourselves into it.

For any of you who have ever blessed Gary and me with the compliment that we’ve been mentors to you, I hope you’ll pay attention to this “chapter”.   Because this chapter is important.  It’s not one of the lovely ones.   This was a swallow-your-pride, do-whatever-it-takes, pick-up-the-shovel-and-dig-another-well time in our lives.

We moved back to Portales in June of 2002.   I remember it was June, because that’s my birthday.  Gary has always loved giving me wrist watches.  That year he gave me a pretty pair of pink leather work gloves and a new watch.   The card said “It’s time to get back to work!”

We went back to work doing any job we could get our hands on.  Lots of small remodeling jobs, just like we’d done when we were kids living here.  We were determined to make back all the money we’d lost in the financial fiasco of the previous year.

My grandmother was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and for the two years we lived in that little cottage it was my great privilege to go to my grandparents’ home every morning and make them breakfast to get their day started.   I will forever remember how grateful I was that we’d lost all that money… because without that event, I’m not sure we would have moved back to Portales.  And getting to be with three of my grandparents who were still living at the time was priceless.  I sang Wayne Watson’s song to myself often.   “For such a time as this, I was placed upon the earth.”

Gary is a determined individual.  He’s always worked hard to rise to any challenge.  I know how hard it was for him to take so many steps backwards to start all over again, but he did it with gusto.  We were back to square one, but moving on!

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Tenth Home – Helotes Apartment

Although we were sad to say goodbye to our island life, we were excited to choose San Antonio, Texas, as our next place to hang our hats.  We’d never lived in a city, and this location sounded so appealing.  We thought we had the proverbial tiger by the tail. It was going to be so easy to work without waiting on overseas shipping and language barriers.  It also looked like one of our investments was going to pay off in spades.  The living was easy, and we happily chose a temporary one bedroom apartment out in Helotes.

It was wonderful being close enough to family that we could drive east or west and easily visit.  We loved getting to hear Max Lucado preach on Sundays.  I stuck with my goal of running a 26.2 mile race, and was thrilled to finish the San Antonio Marathon that year.  Our little apartment was cute and cozy, and it actually was a great relief to give up the responsibilities of a large tropical yard, and switch to one geranium in a pot on the porch.

But the time there didn’t go as planned. The misery of 9-11-2001 hit us hard, as every penny of our lives was sitting in the stock market, having completely liquidated to leave Guam.  Texas Hill Country allergies claimed Gary as a serious target.  Our efforts to break into the real estate market there hit dead ends at every encounter.

I drove to Portales every month to help care for my grandparents.  Gary took a job selling cabinetry at Lowe’s.   We like running our own show, and this new world of “reporting to work” was quite foreign.  It became abundantly clear that this wasn’t for us, and we made the decision to head back to Portales.

This was a “riches to rags” year.  But I’d written a poem as a gift to Gary while we lived on Guam called “The Dreamers”.  It has several stanzas, but we’ve always loved the last one best.  The words were fitting as we picked up the pieces to move on.

The dreamers go on dreaming

They never miss a day

Making plans for bright tomorrows

May it always be that way

~

Ninth Home – Our Guam House

How do I even begin to describe the wonderful years in this house?  What kind of paragraphs will I use to convey just how very much we loved living in this place?

To begin with, I’ll say that we were so happy on that island, and we didn’t want to feel that it was temporary, so we shipped our special belongings (from storage in Portales) all the way across the Pacific to make that house our home sweet home.

From 1995 to 2001, while we were in our 30s, we lived in our peach colored house, surrounded by gorgeous trees and foliage.  Avocados, mangos, soursop, papayas, bananas, coconuts, bamboo, ginger, bougainvillea, gardenias… I’ll mention mangos again because we were covered over in mangos! 

Eventually we both stopped teaching school, and I closed my little gift shop.  We were back to the world we know so well – construction.  Our three car garage was our workshop.  The vehicles were only parked inside when we were weathering typhoons.   The rest of the time we worked in there, mainly building cabinets.  (As a post script – now that I’ve written the rest of this chapter – I think I didn’t say much at all about working hard, so I’m bopping back up to this paragraph.  We worked hard!  It was hot, it was grimy, and I when I pat myself on the back for how hard I’ve worked at laying tile, carrying heavy sheets of plywood, being Gary’s one and only helper much of the time… these are the days I recall!)

Those were the years we worked really hard and played really hard.  Gary was in one racquetball tournament after the next, and we got to go to the World Championships in Bolivia one year.  He also honed his skills as a breath-hold-diving spearfisherman, and eventually got to compete with the Guam team at the national level.  We became runners.  Guam had an amazing running club, and we spent countless Saturday mornings running races all over the island.  We had our boat.   My fingers have stopped moving over the keyboard.  I’m at a loss for words.  My mind meanders over the grand times, out on the sea, swimming with dolphins, watching the sunset, skimming along with the wind in our hair.  What freedom!

We traveled to an array of Asian destinations, and also home to the States at least every 18 months.  It’s a very long way across that ocean.  The flights are fairly brutal, and so was the price tag.   We’re thrilled at the handful of visits we had from family members, but have always been very sad that it was just too prohibitive for people to come visit us there. 

And I have retroactive envy that social media didn’t exist.   E-mail was barely coming into existence while we were in that house.   I would have loved to get to share photos of my tropical yard, my special black cats, our little truck loaded down with cabinets, pretty beaches.   Those were special days.

Guam is a very social community.  We attended one party after another… birthdays, anniversaries, and always fiestas.   One amazing memory from this house was the housewarming party “we threw”.  Ha!  Well, we tried to throw a party.   We bought supplies for hotdogs and hamburgers to feed the multitudes.   We were unabashedly going to have an American party, and not try to keep up with the elaborate events those people knew how to host.  The morning of our party, rank strangers showed up with the pala palas (the canopies) and started setting them up in our driveway in case it rained.   Then came the men who started setting up a make shift barbecue pit, along with a huge amount of meat.   Food poured in all day while we set up for the party.   (And we had tons of hotdog and hamburger leftovers for weeks!)

We loved our church, we loved our friends, we loved that house.   But at some point we had to make the decision to move ourselves back to the continent.  We sold the house, and packed our belongings for the voyage across the deep blue.  We took one final run down our hill, along the water to the marina where we’d launched our boat so many times.  Then early the next morning our friends took us to the airport.  We watched out the window, tears streaming, as our emerald green island in our sapphire blue ocean slowly faded out of sight.

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Eighth Home – Hyundai House

Talk about a blip on the radar!  This house was another transition place.  Our friends were returning to the island and needed their house back, and we were just getting started building our own house, so we were able to rent this place from Trans World Radio in the neighboring village of Santa Rita in the Hyundai Subdivision.  Basically, we camped out there for a year.  (There are no pictures of the place.)

I had decided to open a little shop selling pretty hats and cute baby clothes, all adorned with tropical flowers.  The living room of that house served as my warehouse for “Hibiscus Fancy”.

Gary and I were both still teaching school, so every waking moment was spent doing that, or working at my gift shop, or building the new house.  Honestly, I don’t remember cooking a meal in that kitchen.  We only air-conditioned the bedroom, and to unwind at night we would take turns playing Mine Sweeper on our little computer.  I think we had a bed and a computer desk at that point.

Truly, we were pouring ourselves into building our next home.  Gary is always up to a challenge, and I’ve always marveled at his determination to figure out how to get over the next hurdle.   Building a “concrete bunker” in a typhoon and earthquake zone meant tons of concrete below ground before even considering any concrete above ground. 

He designed our pretty place, fitting it beautifully onto our hillside lot, engineering underground drainage systems to deal with the amazing amounts of rainfall.

This was one hectic year.  As has often times been the theme in our lives… we were quite tired all the time…  but very excited!

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Seventh Home – Round Table

One day you might be cheering for your middle school soccer team and end up meeting the parents of a player who will turn out to be very good friends, and the chance meeting could end up changing the path of your life.  Isn’t that just how it happens?

So it was that we met the family that was headed to the States for a year, and needed someone to rent their house in the village of Agat.  And that’s how we came to stay in Joan and Graham’s house on Round Table, which was actually San Antonio de Padua Circle.   This brought us to a little church in the village where we found such cherished friendships.  And it brought us to the village where we purchased a beautiful piece of property to build our house… but goodness sakes, I’m getting ahead of myself!

Our second year on Guam we continued teaching at Piti Middle School, just down the road.  We bought a boat.  Oh and this… we got a call one day from a man saying we didn’t know him, but he knew of us, because his mother lived in Portales, and while he was lamenting on the phone with her that he couldn’t find good help for his construction business, she told him about us moving over there.  What a small world.   We did lots of work with this man and his brother-in-law.  Gary still played racquetball all the time.   And this was the year we fell in love with international travel.  We went to Bali and we went to Hong Kong, and I’d say this is when we acquired the unquenchable desire to see new places, eat exotic food, and experience different cultures.

The simple McKee Craft boat became one of our all-time favorite possessions.  Over the years Gary did so much spearfishing out of that boat, and we took so many sunset cruises.  We loved living right on the coast in that little village, and we knew we wanted to stay around for awhile, so along with owning a boat, we decided to become land owners.  

I’ve often looked back on this year and its turn of events.   We had already looked at another house to rent in a different village, and were making plans to move there.   But a friendly conversation at a Saturday morning soccer game took us in a totally different direction.  I’m sure the other path would have been very lovely… but I will always be so thankful for this turning point.

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Sixth Home – Green Park Condos

I think we were just about as surprised as the next guy, that after two years back in Portales following our three years of teaching on St. Thomas, we were on a plane with a few possessions, winging our way to another tropical island.  We had met with the teaching recruiters in Vegas, and we’d decided to at least take a couple of years to just relax a bit while we made some decisions about the direction we wanted to take with our lives.  So in 1992 we stepped onto the Pacific island of Guam and instantly felt at home.  I will always remember it as a night-and-day-difference from moving to the Caribbean.

We were picked up at the airport by the principal from the middle school where we would both teach.  We were housed in a nice hotel while we found a place to live.  We survived our first major typhoon in that hotel the second week we were there!  Omar was devastating to the island, and we prepared mentally for the horrific aftermath we expected.  But the island rallied together to put everything back in place, and not one instance of looting was reported.  We had found paradise.

We moved into a nice little apartment in Green Park Condos in the village of Mangilao.  Learning to pronounce this name was the first in a long list of Chamorro names and words we would come to know and love.   (It’s ma-NEE-lao by the way.)

Guam took 5 direct eye-passages out of 7 typhoon hits that year, and we weathered the storms in our second floor apartment.  The patience and resiliency of the people who live on that island… truly amazing.  It was a really wonderful year of teaching school, driving all over that island in a little red truck learning our way around, and spending lots of time at The Cliff where Gary played racquetball and I did step-aerobics.

The beauty of the island, the crystal clear water, the myriad of cultures all blending so nicely, the amazing food… we were in love with this place.  At the end of the school year we were happy to stay on the island, but we were making our way to another shore and a new village to call home.

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