Saturday, December 30, 2006

Arrival in Riga

We made it to Riga! Our friends Apolonija and Gita were just outside the baggage area waiting for us with flowers and open arms! It was so good to see them again. We sat down and had tea at the airport and talked about plans real quick before we were taken to our hotel. We are staying in a bed & breakfast called the MultiLux and it is a very simple hotel. It is clean and nice even though our room is small. But, that is standard for Europe. We had a good flight except for one thing – my big bag didn’t make it. I’m writing this a day later and we still don’t have it. Hopefully it will be delivered soon. If Czech Airlines prides themselves on their great service, we should see it tonight. Steve and I stopped at the grocery store last night and picked up some shampoo so I could at least wash my hair. (We also had a light supper with soup, pasta, & tea.) Everything is in my big bag, including my “dryer” for my CI, my medicine that I take daily, makeup, curlers, clothes, etc. Luckily I packed a few extra things in my backpack and small bag. I had a pair of underwear and a white turtleneck in my back pack so I had clean clothes for today. There was only one problem with the white turtleneck. . it doesn’t look real good with a black bra on underneath! But, I wore my black sweater over it all day and was fine.

Steve and I slept in this morning. Well, I did anyway. Steve woke up at 3 a.m. because he heard people coming in after partying all night and they made a racket. Since I don’t hear a thing when I sleep, I slept through it all. Poor Steve. He probably wishes he could take off his ears once in a while! We had a nice breakfast in the hotel and had eggs, brown and black bread with cheese, salami, & ham. We also had cucumbers, tomatoes, and a coleslaw type salad with a very light vinaigrette. That is a standard breakfast for Latvia, except the eggs, which is American. We also had yogurt (which is very good), cereal and milk, tea & coffee. After breakfast we took a walk into Old Riga and went to the mall to exchange our money to Lats and buy a cell phone. Then we went to an Internet cafĂ© to check our emails and do some website work, including this blog. Then, the highlight of our day was lunch at Apolonija’s house. We took the bus to the church near her apartment and she met us there. Oh my! She fed us well and kept bringing us food & drink! The Latvians are very good hosts and take care of their guests! She started us out with Sojanka soup (I can’t spell it but will find the correct spelling), which is absolutely the best soup here. I was craving it last night and was disappointed when it was sold out. It is a special vegetable soup with different meats in it and a dollop of something like sour cream (only better). I savored every bite! I thought we were just going to her house for soup but she brought out a plate with a chicken cutlet, shredded beets, potatoes, and quartered tomatoes. Then, she brought out a tin of cookies (gingerbread, sugar, and jam cookies) and some kind of apple cinnamon pastry or cake. MMMmmmm! Then, she served hot wine (another favorite) and hot tea.

The highlight of our lunch was meeting Ilmars, her husband. He is such a wonderful sweet man and talked with us for hours about music and jazz. He also suffers from a hearing loss and had lots of questions for me. I had never met him before and discovered that he doesn’t go out much except for ½ hour a day to go to the market. He has several health problems and prefers to stay inside. Apolonija and Ilmars live in a small two room flat and share it with their grown son, Ivo. What amazed me about the flat was that almost every wall was lined with books or music – a HUGE library! Steve and I sat on the couch while Apolonija and Ilmars sat on small chairs or stools. I asked Apolonija if she wanted to sit next to me but she said the stool was better for her back. She is our lawyer who has been setting things up and lining up interviews so we had some business to discuss after lunch. She is very organized and thorough and had everything ready for us. She even made some phone calls for us to line up some interviews for next week. Steve said that she went back and forth between speaking in Latvian and Russian while she was on the phone. She struggles with her English so Ilmars translated for her and us. She understands and writes it well but isn’t comfortable speaking it. But, we don’t always need to speak when we are together. A smile and a hug are just fine. J When we got done with business, Apolonija brought more food! She served us some dark bread with jelled meat (looked like chicken & chicken broth formed together), horseradish, and soured pickles. I wasn’t sure how to eat it so I asked Ilmar to show me. He cut a section out of the gelled meat like one would cut a pie and put a slice on my plate. He also scooped up some horseradish and put it on the plate as well. Then he took the dark bread, took some meat, dipped it in the horseradish, and then put it on the bread. It was different but good. We had more tea and talked some more. By the time we left, we had been there almost six hours! Apolonija walked us to the bus stop and stayed with us until our bus came. She is such a sweetheart and we love her.

After we got off the bus, we walked back to Old Riga and went to Leduspukes, which serves the best ice cream. I had granola ice cream which just melts in your mouth. (Jack, I got a scoop for you and a scoop for me but you weren’t here to eat your scoop so I ate it for you!) Steve also had a scoop of granola ice cream as well and a scoop of chocolate. Then we walked several blocks back to our hotel, which took about 10-15 minutes. This is a holiday weekend so we keep hearing people setting off fireworks. Makes me jump!

Speaking of sounds, I’ve heard some new sounds since we got here. There are trolleys, which run on electricity, that travel in the street and I can hear the electric lines clicking as they go by. I can also hear the “arcing” of the electricity on the lines. Another time we were sitting in a car on a bridge and every time a car passed us I could hear a clickety clack type sound next to us. Steve said it was the expansion joint on the bridge making a noise every time a car drove over it. There are pigeons in the streets and I can hear them clucking and also when they flap their wings to fly away.

Steve just called the airport when we got back to the hotel and my bag was there. They said they would bring it to the hotel right away after Steve told them it had my medicine in it. I’m glad. I’ll be able to dress for church in the morning instead of wearing jeans or corduroy pants. I forgot to mention that I have a nice fur coat to wear. Gita was afraid that I would be cold coming here from warm Tennessee so she brought me her mother-in-law’s coat for me to wear. It is gorgeous! I’ll wear it tomorrow for New Year’s Eve.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

On Our Way to Latvia!

Our day started at 5 a.m. this morning. And I only had about four hours of sleep because I was busy packing and getting things organized for our trip. Since I’m taking almost two weeks off from work for this trip, I had to work for two days after Christmas. Accountants have year end stuff to finish up before the New Year starts. It was a challenge for me to get all my work done. We left all four of our kids home alone (will they behave – who knows?) Jason took us to the airport at 6 a.m. even though our flight didn’t leave until 7:40 a.m. We got a notice in our email the day before that our original flight had been cancelled. So, Steve wanted to get to the airport early to see if we could get a better connection to JFK airport in New York and avoid having to fly into Newark, NJ. We were wait-listed on a couple flights but they didn’t work out. So, we flew into Atlanta, and then to on Newark. We had about 10 minutes to spare to get our luggage and catch our shuttle to JFK and we made it! Because our rescheduled flight got in to Newark later we didn’t think we would make the shuttle bus in time. The shuttle was an interesting ride. I don’t remember the last time I saw the New York City skyline and recognized the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty right away. Saw the place where the World Trade Center once stood, too. It took us an hour and a half to get to New York City from Newark even though we could see it across the river! The shuttle ride was a very bumpy ride and a little nerve- wracking with all the “close calls” and crazy drivers. I sat next to the window and if it was open I would have been able to reach out and touch the cars next to us! Our teeth were still rattling when the bus stopped! (Steve says we will fly out of LaGuardia on our way home so we will travel through all three airports in New York!)

Airports and airplanes are noisy places. I have to turn down the sensitivity AND volume on my CI or I just turn it off completely. I also turn off my hearing aid because it just amplifies sound that I don’t need to hear. I’m grateful that I can pick and choose what I want to listen to. I don’t even try to listen to any music or use the headphones because when I switch my “ears” to telecoil, I pick up the engine noise from the plane instead of what I’d like to hear. We boarded Czech Airlines and left NYC at 5:45 p.m., almost exactly 10 hours since we left Knoxville. Because Steve travels so much, we were able to use his frequent flyer miles to fly business class on our international flight. I asked him what the difference was between business class and first class. He said that business class on international flights is the same as first class in the U.S. He said that he has flown first class once on an international flight and it is a step above what one can imagine. They give you pajamas! Wow. Business class was just fine and was nice and comfortable for an eight hour flight. We were wined and dined and spoiled! We had a six-course meal for dinner and then had breakfast just before we landed in Prague. If you want to travel internationally, Czech Airlines is the way to go! They really do take care of their travelers. Their planes are older but are well maintained. But they make up for that with great service. I was able to finish knitting a hat for Ziggy, who is a special friend in Latvia. Also worked on my Irish Hiking Scarf and am reading the five people you meet in heaven by Mitch Albom. I also took my boots off and slept for about three hours. My feet got so swollen on the plane that I couldn’t get my boots back on! The air is very dry on planes and I lathered lotion my hands constantly. I still have a bit of a cough and hope I don’t get sick while we travel these next two weeks. I’ve got a full medicine cabinet with me just in case!

It felt strange to turn off my cell phone as we left the U.S. It won’t be turned back on until we get back to New York. I’m so used to having it with me. We won’t have much contact with anyone except through email until we return to the states in a couple weeks. It’s amazing how dependent we are on technology. Steve is going to purchase a cell phone and use a prepaid card while we are over there. We’ll also use SKYPE on our computers to talk on the phone.

It was interesting to step off the plane in Prague. I love watching people and the scenery and everything is so different. I can hear people talking and I know it is not English! As I write this, we are sitting in the business class lounge at the airport in Prague. There is a slight dusting of snow on the ground. It is about 35 degrees outside with a drizzle. I’ve always wanted to see Prague but we’ll have to come back another time to see the city. We’ll stay in this lounge for about 3 hours before we board our flight to Riga, Latvia. The lounge is very interesting and modern looking. I feel like I’ve stepped into the scenery from “The Jetsons!” As you walk in there is a place to get drinks and food and they have everything! Different kinds of coffee & tea, water, juices, cheeses, crackers, salads, yogurt, breads, cookies, fruit, and even alcohol on tap! I’m just relaxing with a cup of coffee to help me stay awake. It is actually late morning here when it is really the middle of the night back home. The jet lag will catch up to me later! But, for now, I’m going to enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Drummer Boy and Baby Jesus

This is part of my Drummer Boy collection. It was given to me by one of my good friends, Claire. She lost her battle to ovarian cancer several years ago and I think of her every time I get this out at Christmas. Claire was a special friend and I miss her.

A Little Drummer Boy Meditation

My favorite theme and song surrounding Christmas is "The Little Drummer Boy." This song takes me to the manger where Jesus laid and I am at a loss to explain why, exactly, this song stirs my feelings so much. The fact is, this song, like no other of the season, fills me with quiet hope and joy. Maybe it’s because it lets me view God and Jesus with the same sense of wonderment as the little drummer boy, himself. He didn’t have anything to give but his music, and he gave that willingly and without hesitation.

Those who know me know that I collect ANYTHING that has to do with a little boy who plays his drum. Our Christmas tree is decorated with drums and drummer boy ornaments. I have various displays such as music boxes, plates, knick knacks, pillow, and even a flag with the little drummer boy. Why do I treasure this symbol? I have pondered and asked myself this question many times. Even though the Bible doesn’t say anything about a drummer boy playing for Jesus, the song has been special to me because of the beautiful message that is in it. . .

Come, they told me, pa rum pa pum pum. . .
Our newborn king to see, pa rum pa pum pum. . .
Our finest gifts we’ll bring, pa rum pa pum pum. . .
To lay before the king, pa rum pa pum pum. . .and so the tune goes. . .

Do you know the song? Do you know the story? Do you know the message?

The message is about a little boy who thinks he has nothing to give to the Savior. He apologizes in the song by saying, “I am a poor boy, too, pa rum pa pum pum. . .I have no gift to bring, pa rum pa pum pum. . .that’s fit to give a King, pa rum pa pum pum. . .

I read an American Indian quote the other day that touched my heart and it goes like this: “The drum must be the Great One’s favorite instrument because He gave all of us a heartbeat.” Isn’t that beautiful? You know what? It wouldn’t surprise me if the drum was Jesus’ favorite instrument because the little drummer boy gave his heart and soul when he played his drum. When he played the drum, the music that beat inside him brought a smile to the face of the baby in the manger. The little drummer boy in his own way was showing us what we should all do ourselves. We should share the beat and rhythm of what is inside of us. For God wants our hearts and the things that make our hearts beat. I truly believe that what is inside of us is the most sacred and holy gift of all.

So, my question to you is, what will you give when you come to Jesus at the manger? What will you bring when the time comes? Will it be the things you have? Your money? Stuff you have accumulated over the years? I have said this before and will say it again . . . the best gift you can give to anyone is yourself. Don’t wait. Because if you do, you will deny yourself and others the blessings the God has for us. Whatever is in your heart should be shared with those you love. We all have a heartbeat and a rhythm. When we share what is deep within our hearts, then our light will shine before others. Our “drumming” will be spread throughout the world, just like it did when the Little Drummer boy played for his Savior.

So, as you treasure and ponder at Christmas time, think about what you will bring to Jesus? It is time for you to give your heart and play your best for Him. Then, he will smile at you, too!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Holiday blessings to all of you who read this blog. I thank you all for being part of this big picture that we call "life." We all are here for a reason and have a purpose. I do not have much time to write but will try to do some updates soon. I have not felt well these last two weeks and have been trying to just get the things done that need to be done. The tree did get put up shortly after my last entry. Brad's girlfriend, Jessica, was a Godsend and came over that evening and helped me. It is little things like that that tell me that God is always working in our lives and puts people in our paths when we need them the most. We have family coming in for the holidays and all four of our children are home. There have been some adjustments here going from a clean, quiet house to one that has a revolving door! But, it is all good and we love sharing our home with others.

Steve and I are leaving on the 28th for Latvia. I absolutely cannot wait to get on that plane and just SIT! We will be there for two weeks to open our office there and hire two people to run it. We started our own business last year called Horizon Energy Group. Steve is his own consultant and primarily helps utilities and power companies upgrade/modernize their systems. I don't know what all he does but I do know that people like him (I like him, too!), he is VERY good at what he does and has more work coming in than he can handle. We do need an office in Europe somewhere so we chose Latvia because of our special connection there. I will have a laptop with me and my camera and will take pictures. I hope to find time to post them here and write about our trip.

Note to family and friends who are waiting for our annual Christmas letter - it will be late!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What's in Your Dishwasher?

Here's what I found in my dishwasher the other morning. If you have been following this blog, you will know that our son, Chris, has taken the engine out of his car and has it in pieces all over the garage. (I wonder if we'll ever be able to park in the garage again!) Anyway, he wants his car parts to be cleaned up before he puts the engine back together. I found three of the six pistons in the dishwasher and he had already washed the other three!

In other news, I'm still sick and trying to take it easy. I've noticed some changes in my hearing and it is actually good, not bad, considering the sinus and ear trouble that I'm having right now. I'm actually sensitive to sounds and everything seems louder and clearer. That never used to be the case when I had a bad head cold. This is different.

Brad's girlfriend, Jessica, was an answer to prayer last night when she came over to see me. She helped me get out the ornaments and we finished decorating the Christmas tree together. That was special. I'm glad to have that done! I'm not doing anything else this year as far as decorations are concerned.

Also, Riga did not get pregnant so we don't have puppies. It's probably a good thing because I don't think I could have handled them at this time. We'll try again in the spring.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Down for the Count

"Be still and know that I am God. . . ." (Psalm 46:10) Ok, Lord, I hear you. . .

I don't have time to be sick but I am. It hit me hard on Sunday night while trying to figure out the lights on the Christmas tree that is supposed to go up in three easy pieces (by the way, the box is still in the living room and the middle section of the tree won't light). I knew I was coming down with something last week and tried to fight it off with over-the-counter medicines. That didn't work. As I got dressed for work yesterday morning I felt weak, achy, and nauseous with a pounding headache. Don't have a voice, either. Lasted two hours, came home and went straight to bed. Steve called the Dr. for me and got an appointment for me. I couldn't see our regular family doctor but it didn't matter at this point. Sure enough, I have a sinus infection and it has knocked me down flat. I can't sit up for long without getting weak so it is back to my chair or bed I go. I used to say that God doesn't give us more than we can handle but I changed my thinking on that a while back. I think He GIVES us more than we can handle so that we can come to Him and ask Him for peace and guidance. I hear Him calling out to me saying "My child, come to me and rest". . ."Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. . ." (Matthew 11:28) As I look back on the last couple of weeks, I realize that I've been trying to do too much. My relationships with my family and friends has not been the greatest. My stress level has increased and my peace level has decreased these last few weeks. That needs to change now. Part of me is so frustrated but the other part of me is saying "so what if everything doesn't get done?" I am at the end of my rope and am physically and emotionally exhausted. I need to spend more time with God, not less and just listen to Him. I know He will carry my load if I let Him. He will give me the strength that I need. . .because He is tireless, infinite, giving, loving, and caring. . .

My family loves it when I don't have a voice because I can't talk to them as much. But, there is one person that I can talk with and that is God. I don't have to have a voice to have a conversation with Him. . .my prayer today is that you, too, will spend time with Him to find rest and refreshment. . .

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Eagles, Tattoos, and Shopping

You are probably wondering why I'm talking about Eagles, Tattoos, & Shopping. I've been upstairs all day working in my office/sewing room area (it's a loft overlooking the family room). Last night Steve hooked up our new DVD player to the TV and started playing his new DVD called EAGLES Farewell I Tour/Live from Melbourne. Wow. It is an audio DVD/CD of the EAGLES 2004 concert in Melbourne and is just awesome. Steve and I don't usually have the same taste in music but I am loving this CD and am listening to it right now. I normally would not like listening to a concert because there is usually too much sound and they all run together. But, this particular concert on DVD sounds great right here in our family room! It is very instrumental with some singing. The clarity of the different instruments sounds very pleasing to me. I can hear the clang of the cymbals, the sounds of the different guitars, the keyboard, drums, and all. It's nice to enjoy the music that I missed while growing up in the 70's. I will make up for lost time! Maybe I'll listen to the Beatles and Chicago again. . .

Do you know what happens as soon as your children turn 18? They get tattoos! :( Marissa got a tattoo on her back below her hip line (I'm not posting a picture for privacy reasons!) It's a row of piano keys and expresses her individuality and love for music. She has been asking me for a year if she could get it and I said "no." So, as soon as she was able to do it without parental consent, she went and got it done (and paid for it herself). Chris and some of her friends went with her and held her hands while she cried for two hours as it was being done. Maybe she should have started out with something smaller like a music note! Oh well. Every generation has their "thing" so I really can't say too much. Chris and Brad got tattoos, too, as soon as they became of legal age.

Shopping: I have a long way to go to get my Christmas shopping done and am trying to enjoy the season. It is hard for me for several reasons. . . but, last week I did have some CI moments. I can understand clerks talking to me when I'm not looking at them and love being able to say "You, too" when they tell me to have a nice day. Also, as I was walking in the parking lot (it was windy), I kept hearing a rattling noise off in the distance. It was a crushed soda can rolling around as I approached my car! I can also hear the music (and recognize the tune) being played in the stores and the Salvation Army bell ringers ringing their bells.

We have a living room full of wrapped presents but still don't have our Christmas tree up yet. I hope to get it up this weekend. When Jason moved back home in July, he put all his stuff in the storage room where the tree is and we can't get to it! I'm tempted to just go buy a live tree instead of wading through all that stuff. *sigh* But, then we'll have to buy lights for it and string them and deal with watering the tree, picking up the needles, etc. Besides, Brad is allergic to real Christmas trees. The tree we have in storage is already pre-lighted and sets up in three easy pieces. Getting it out will be the hard part!

Christmas programs and parties are filling up our schedule. We went to my Christmas party for work last week. My friend's daughter, Beth, sang several Christmas songs and she sounded beautiful, especially went she sang "O' Holy Night," my favorite Christmas song. We'll be going to another party tonight (one we always look forward to!) and a church cantata tomorrow. Steve will be singing in a trio for one of the songs. I love to hear him sing in his beautiful tenor voice. As you move through this Christmas season, remember the reason for the season, which is JESUS. God entrusted him to Mary and Joseph in a manger so that we can celebrate HIS BIRTH. Love and Christmas blessings to all of you who read this blog.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Happy Birthday Mimi!

Our baby turned 18 today! Where does the time go? It seems like it was just yesterday I was holding her in my arms and welcoming her to the world. *sigh* We weren't supposed to have anymore children after the three boys when she arrived on that winter morning in Wisconsin so she was an extra special Christmas present that year! She is a beautiful young lady and makes us proud. The picture below is her birthday cake that she made. She works at the Dairy Queen and gets to make and decorate her own ice cream cake however she wants it! Part of it is made with vanilla ice cream and Reese's peanut butter candy and the other part is made with ice cream and Oreo cookies. It's really good! Mimi and her cake (she is wearing her DQ shirt!)Mimi and her brother Chris - we went to Myabi's Japanese Steak House in Knoxville on Sunday night for her birthday. Myabi's is a fun place to go because you sit around a big table/grill where the food is cooked right in front of you and the cook does tricks with knives and food. I had not been there since my CI so it was a different hearing experience. I heard EVERYTHING - the knives, food being chopped, people talking, the employees playing their little drums and singing "Happy Birthday" and all. The Birthday Girl

Monday, December 04, 2006

Piano Recital

Marissa's piano recital on Saturday. . .She played the 'Painter Song' by Lee Alexander & J.C. Hopkins and 'O Christmas Tree' arranged by Larry Minsky. She's been taking lessons since 1st grade with the exception of a break when she broke her finger in gymnastics. This will probably be her last recital for awhile since she will be finished with her Senior year in a few weeks. This is her piano teacher, Randall, turning the pages for her as she plays. Every year the music center has a drawing for a Clavinova piano. She was hoping to have a chance to win this time since this is her last season to play before she goes off to college. No luck there!