Friday, January 26, 2018

Our Kitchen Remodel

My life is in total disarray.

We are currently in the throes of remodeling my kitchen.

It is not a job for the faint of heart.

We have practically gutted it as this kitchen was in pretty big need of a facelift. Our house was built in 1977, and I'm pretty sure that it hasn't been touched since then -- hence the wallpaper that looks like the same wallpaper on the walls of my grandmother's upstairs bedroom. And the bar. And the cupboard placed above the bar that impedes all sight into the living room. And the handles on the cupboards...

Yeah. Pretty much everything.

Initially, we were just going to take down the cupboard above the bar and paint over the wallpaper. And then Gina and Eric came to visit.

Now let me just say...Eric and Gina flip houses on the side. Their minds explode with ideas and then they turn those ideas into reality. It's a beautiful thing - an art form really. And so when they came to visit? They threw out a million ideas: You should move this cupboard over here! And put the bar here! And then you could paint the cupboard like this. And how about adding a subfloor to the dining room so that you just have a sunken living room instead of a sunken living/dining room?

And on and on. Of course, all of their ideas sounded fabulous, and so by the time they left? Well, I had visions of a brand new kitchen dancing around in my head. Initially, Roy balked. So much work! Eric did this for a living - he was fast! And even though Roy is very capable and can pretty much do anything that involves his hands, it would take a bit more research and time. But over time, he became a bit more accustomed to the idea and finally, little by little, he acquiesced.

And so on Monday, January 8, we began.

Roy's first  calculations were that this remodel job would take 3 weeks, start to finish. Snap of the fingers. But we are now three weeks in and ... well, it's going to take a bit more time than originally anticipated.

That's just the way life rolls sometimes.

And it's ok. My kitchen will be something to behold once it's done. I'm so excited. In the meantime, let me give you a glimpse of life in the Seals' home over the past few weeks:

This is my kitchen before it all began. This was actually taken just before we bought the house. But note the uneven flooring, the bar, and the cupboard above the bar. Also, see how there is this "boxing" above all the cupboards? Yeah - all of that is gone.

Job #1? Move everything out of the kitchen....and into the living room. 

And then? Tear out the cupboard above the bar.

Eric came over to share some of his knowledge and help Roy take off the popcorn from the ceilings.

And then we started on the subfloor in the dining room.

And this is me in beast-mode. Let's take a moment to be impressed:

Subfloor complete! (This took at least 4 days...maybe more...)

And this is how my kitchen has looked as Roy worked on sheet rocking, and electrical, and creating doors for cupboards that didn't have doors...and so on. Pretty much everything - and by himself as I don't know how to do any of it...And all without complaining. He's a trooper.

But yesterday? Well, yesterday we were able to hang the cupboard that was originally above the bar...(This is how Roy is feeling about this project right about now...)

So, we still have a ways to go. But we've made a lot of progress! Once we've finished it, I'll post some photos so that everyone can enjoy the final product.

I can't wait.

In the meantime, Roy and I are heading off to a cruise to the western Caribbean  this coming Sunday. We're cruising with Tami and Chas, and our good friends Debbie and Carlos. We're pretty danged excited.

Happy weekend, Friends!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

2017 Wrap-Up

I have been thinking the past few days about the highlights of 2017. As the years pass, it seems they roll by faster and faster, blurring together as one. So, I want to take a moment to outline my top 10 highlights of 2017. Here they are (in no particular order):

  1. Our family vacation. Roy worked nights the entire summer which was definitely not a highlight. And so, we went on a family vacation the first week of August when his night shifts were finally over and just before the kids headed back to school. It was an amazing week touring Texas - the beach, Sea World, fabulous restaurants, swimming and laughter proved to be some highlights from the week. It was a grand time.
  2. Trips to Oklahoma - as in plural. For years and years, I have only been home once a year as I have always lived at least a thousand miles away. But now? Well now I can go home at a moment’s notice. And anyone who knows me knows that Oklahoma with its red dirt, grazing cattle, golden sunsets, and my precious parents holds my heart. And so, I was able to head to Oklahoma in the spring, in the summer, in the fall, and then again, of course, at Christmas. Four times. That, my friends, is a beautiful thing.
  3. Roy’s job. In September 2016, Roy started working as a Quality Acceptance for an engineering firm called Lamb-Star. This past November, Roy got a call from a company called LJA and was offered a job doing the same thing with a few more perks. It made our heads swim. I am so grateful for a job where Roy is appreciated and applauded. It has made all the difference.
  4. One of the perks of my job is traveling to places across the USA where I host alumni events. During 2017, I was able to see Jacque in California and Estee Marie in Albuquerque. I spent a splendid weekend with Savana and Guerin while hosting in Orlando, and, at my event in Denver, Tami Condon and I explored Estes Park while I reminisced about Roy’s and my time in Colorado during our early years of marriage. I saw so many friends at my event in Oklahoma City, and when I served shortcake at the Arkansas campmeeting, my sisters traveled along to help. It was an overnight trip filled with so much laughter as we sang along with the radio and chattered the miles away. 
  5. My sister Tami and her cute fam moved next door, and my other sister Lori moved two miles away. If someone told me ten years ago that this would be my reality, I would never have believed it. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself that Jace has a math tutor and a piano teacher; that many weekday lunches are spent with my two closest friends who happen to be my sisters; that Saturday night activities are a given; that looking out my back window and seeing Chas with his Farmer Jones hat and riding his tractor would be a normal scene. Yes, my life is sweet.
  6. Our Family Christmas. This is always a highlight of each year, but this year? It was just something special. Darian was home for about three weeks, and Savana and Guerin were here for nine blissful days. DJ joined the crazy for about a week as well. Seven of us were squeezed into our little home, but we were cozy and happy and warm. We ate out at some fabulous restaurants, kept a fire crackling in the fireplace, played some rousing games that brought the fire out in all of us, dined on Savana’s delectable dishes (she made a seafood dinner for those of us who like that sort of thing, and a homemade lasagna (made with her sauce simmered from tomatoes, garlic, and fresh basil) for those of us who don’t. We jumped on the trampoline, watched movies, told stories, and laughed. Mainly? We laughed. And loved. And lived. It was perfect.
  7. My back porch. We only live a few blocks outside of city limits but this place of ours? It’s the best kept secret in town. When I’m sitting on my back porch, it’s like we live in the middle of nowhere as the view out back is just country and trees and skyline. It’s the perfect way to begin each morning and to end each day. And so, even though it’s not a specific memory, it’s one of the greatest joys of my life.
  8. Friends coming to visit. This year we’ve had the privilege of having Jacque, Debbie & Carlos, Ed Pelto (though his visit was like lightning), the Condon's, and Pamela Kay at our home. These people? They are the stuff that make life worth living. I am grateful.
  9. My parents in my home. Dad and Jo came up for a couple of days and we spent hours hanging out on the back porch. Having Dad and Jo in our home is a rare treat and I soaked up every moment. Mom came down several times as well. And of course, having Mom here is a little piece of heaven as well. She is so kind, so giving - she makes life easy when she’s around.
  10. Gina and Eric and their amazing kids. There’s nothing like family and these peeps? Well, they are Family. We’ve learned how to smoke the best brisket from Eric and we’ve dined around their table at pretty much every major occasion. We are so grateful for the Johannessen's and the joy and love they bring to our lives.

2017? You’ve been good to me and my family.

I am grateful.


Arms open wide, I’m eager to see what 2018 holds.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

It is December 31, the very last day of 2017.

And I haven't even considered New Year's Resolutions. Normally? have them carefully outlined. But this year? Nothing. I honestly have barely even thought about it. I'm not entirely sure why I've been negligent in this arena. Maybe it's because I am surrounded by so much family at the moment -- which, of course is a beautiful thing. Currently in my living room I have a couple of nephews, my girls and their boys, and Jace. My home is relatively small and yet we are all cohabiting in a rather peaceful, fun-filled manner.

I can't even think about the fact that they will all be heading back to their respective homes in a few short days. I prefer to just stay present, living in the moment, so that I don't have to deal with that reality.

Or...maybe I haven't thought about it because I am hanging onto 2017 for as long as possible. 2017 has been good to me, to my family. I am deeply deeply grateful.

Or maybe it is because I don't trust myself. I am really gifted when it comes to having great intentions and then life gets in the way, or I settle back into the comfort of my old bad habits and such.

Regardless, I am taking a moment to really think about what I want for 2018. I have about an hour before we are all heading out the door (despite the fact that it's 24 degrees out) for my sister Lori's home for a New Year's Eve party. We will wrap up 2017 with a bang - Martinelli's, games, chips and dip, and laughter.

And then tomorrow? Well tomorrow we will begin anew.

So here we go. Here are my Intentions (not Resolutions as the word itself just resonates failure in my head) for 2018:

*I want to choose health. Recently I watched some videos put out my Susan Pierson Thompson who heads up Bright Line Eating. She outlines the addictive properties of sugar and flour and, inspired by the studies she presents, I gave up both for several weeks. Naturally, the holidays have wreaked havoc on my eating habits but I am determined to get back to whole-foods dining.

*I want to faithfully write in my gratitude journal. I've heard that there is some sort of benefit in actually writing out the things we are grateful for each day. I'm going to give it a shot.

*I'm going to continue making progress on my house. Roy is taking a few weeks off work during January and intends to remodel our kitchen during this time. Ah - I can't wait. But beyond that, I need to update so many things around my home: pot holders, towels, photo frames with updated photos in them, and the list continues. I want to make small improvements every month.

*I want to live intentionally by planning fun into our lives. Roy and I are so good at status quo. But I want more. I want to explore where we live, find fun things to do, and actually do them. You know - things that don't involve a screen. So my intention is to find one thing to do each month that is out of the ordinary.

And of course...I hope to be present in my life, to put down my phone, to write more, to read great books, to have inspiring conversations, to live simply, and to laugh.

A lot.

Nothing too profound exists in that simple list. But it's enough.

Happy New Year, Friends.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Merry Christmas 2017

Yesterday it was 74 degrees outside.

It is late December, my friends, and it was 74 degrees outside.

And so when I got off work (which, by the way, I am now off work for the next 12 days), I headed home to find Roy blowing leaves in a pile with the leaf blower as our yard has been overtaken with them. And so Jace and I together bagged up leaves and piled the bags in a row so that Roy can dispose of them. And while we worked, Jace chattered away. He talked about a new kid he has met and Spanish class which he doesn’t care much for and how very much he loves Christmas break and on and on. It was all things roses in our conversation as Jace is happily anticipating two whole weeks of gaming and sleeping in and staying up late and eating great food and family coming home.

Afterwards, I ran over to the Lewis’ front door and banged on it mightily until someone threw the door open so that I could burst inside. “We’re going to Braum’s. Wanna come?”

And they did and so the Lewis clan loaded up into their van while we Seals plus Jared loaded up into our car and headed to Cleburne for some burgers and fries and ice cream and such. 

Normally we just get ice cream when we go to Braum’s but on this particular evening? Well, we hadn’t eaten as we were racing sundown with those leaves. And so we all stood in the “food” line rather than the “ice cream” line and ordered to our hearts’ content.

Roy filled some little paper cups with ketchup and then, once we were gathered around the tables over in the corner, he pummeled them with pepper for his fries. 

“Ew!” Tami exclaimed, making a face. “Who does that?” And we all laughed.

And then we chattered away, all of us talking at once and probably nobody listening because apparently that is what we do. And, of course, when Roy started telling work stories that include concrete and measuring and all things boring, Tami and I pretended to fall asleep. We found ourselves hilarious…Roy found us annoying.

But that’s okay. He knows we love him.

And then when we all had full bellies (much to my chagrin) and only empty containers and wadded up napkins filled the trays in front of us, we headed back out to our respective vehicles and made the trek back home, safe and sound. 

I love the holidays. I love the blinking tree in our living room and festive sweaters and eggnog. I am eagerly anticipating heading to Oklahoma tomorrow for two days packed-full of family and laughter and silly games. Best of all, Darian is home for 3 weeks, and Savana and Guerin are flying home for a full week on Christmas Day.

i am grateful. 2017 has been good to me, to our family, and I am greeting 2018 with open arms for the bounty that it, too, will provide. That isn’t to say that I know that only good times will shower from above. But it is to say that I will choose to look for the good, to focus on the bounty, sometimes in the midst of the pain.

I hope that your lives, too, are filled up with the bounty of love, family, and laughter during this festive Season.

Merry Christmas, Friends…from our house to yours.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Deep Inside

I was in the classroom for about twenty years. 

I loved it.

I built relationships with students that today I call my friends. Teaching consumed pretty much every aspect of my life in those days: planning lessons that I hoped would be inspiring; grading on evenings and weekends; worrying about troubled kids; scheming about classroom management…the whole gamut.

When I got out of teaching in 2015, a piece of me was torn: will I be happy? Education is all I have ever known - my entire life. 

But surprise…I was actually happy! I loved my job at Buncombe County. 

And yet…

A piece of me longed for the classroom. I missed relationships with students, first day jitters, planning fun activities. I missed the long days of summer.

When we first moved to Texas, I determined to get my teacher certification up to date so that I could have the option of getting back into the classroom if I ever chose that route again. And so, I gathered all of my preliminary certificates together (from California and Oklahoma), wrote out a check for $175, and sent it in to the Texas teacher certification agency in February 2016.

And then I received an email stating that I had not included a standard teaching certificate from any state and that, in order for certification to be granted, I needed to send one in or else my only option would be to take my transcripts to a university and have them evaluated in order for the university to clear me for teaching.

And so, when I received that email, I basically slammed the book firmly shut on the idea of ever teaching again.

Here is why:

When I graduated from the University of Northern Colorado, we immediately moved to California and I applied for California state certification. I don’t remember ever receiving a Colorado state certificate. Maybe I did? I have no idea…I have never found it in my files. And I only taught in California for one year so I never went beyond a preliminary certificate. Once I started teaching in the Adventist system, I never bothered to get a state certificate as that isn’t required for the Adventist system.

Secondly, having my transcripts re-evaluated sounded overwhelming. Who even knows what classes I would have to take in order to be cleared for teaching.

So I just shelved the idea.

I had one year from February to submit my standard certificate. 

Last week, I decided that I need to give it one more try. Now I really like my job - I am not making any proclamations that I have any intention of leaving. My job is a good one and I love the team. Good hearted peeps. But, you know…I still have that wandering eye for the classroom…

And so I contacted the Education department chair, Donna, and asked her to drop by my office so I could talk about what I need to do to get my state certification in Texas.

After I told her my story, she said, “Vonda, if you graduated with teaching certification in Colorado, you can find your information online that will show you had a standard certificate.”

What?? Are you kidding me??

And sure enough. She told me the website, I logged in, and there I was — my full name, my certificate ID information, the beginning date, the expiration date…the works.

And so, I took a screen shot and submitted it to the Texas certification agency.

I am still shaking my head that it was that simple. 

Now I am just waiting for clearance and then I will take a test and be ready to hit that classroom if I so choose.

I love my current job: zero stress, flying around the country and hosting events and seeing good friends, co-workers that fill me up, great benefits…the list continues.

But there is a little piece of me deep inside…

Thursday, November 9, 2017

I Couldn't Agree More

This past Friday, the sisters, my adorable mom, and I headed to Oklahoma for the weekend. As I was hosting an alumni event in Oklahoma City on Sunday evening, we used it as a platform for a weekend getaway to my favorite place on the planet.

Nothing spells home to me like roads made out of red dirt, wide open blue sky, grazing cattle, and the signature wave of friendly Oklahomans while driving through the country. As soon as I cross the state line, peace washes over me.


It's my favorite place to be.

As a kid, I never appreciated Oklahoma. It's all I knew, of course, so I didn't realize that small town living was a privilege. I thought everybody went to church in a small town church where the pianist was your mom and the choir was made up of 12 mediocre singers. I had no idea that attending a chili supper with all the fixings at the high school gymnasium and it was attended by pretty much every person who lived in town was peculiar. Splashing in mud puddles on the street corner, counting cattle grazing out in the fields and rounding them up with the four-wheeler, cheering for our football team that was comprised of pretty much every guy in high school, and hanging out on the swing on a lazy afternoon and waving as the neighbors passed by was common fare.

Isn't that what it means to be an American?

That, at least, is what I thought. I thought our lifestyle was American living - not small town Oklahoma living.

When I was in high school I visited my Aunt Lena for a couple of weeks. Aunt Lena lived in Niles, Michigan -- a quaint little town on the outskirts of Lake Michigan that boasted of beautiful tree-lined streets and pristine shops nestled downtown. One day we were walking along the road and several cars passed us along the way. I raised my hand and waved at each one because...well, you know...that's what you do. At least, that's what we Oklahomans do.

After I waved at a few cars, Aunt Lena chuckled and said, "Why are you waving at everyone?"

I looked at her, puzzled. "What do you mean? Doesn't everyone do that?" I asked, baffled.

"Not in Michigan," she laughed. "People would perceive that as being nosy - getting in their business. We don't wave in Michigan."

That was the first I'd heard of such nonsense.

I married at the ripe old age of 20 and headed off for the majestic Rocky Mountains in Colorado. And as our journey continued, we lived in some of the most amazing states in the land: Wisconsin, New Mexico, North Carolina...

But as the years have rolled by, I've come to realize what a little gem Oklahoma truly is. In my humble opinion, it's the best kept secret out there. Oklahomans? They are just good peeps. Genuine, big-hearted, down-to-earth people.

When I'm home on a Sunday, I usually attend church with my dad and Jo. Now their church is akin to a little country church that has around 50-60 people in the pews on any given Sunday. As the service is about to begin, a gawky teenager walks down the aisle and lights the candles at the front of the church, and then we all sing together from an aged hymnal, our voices combining in a way that I imagine sounds like Scout's church choir sounded in To Kill a Mockingbird.

That, at least, is what I always think when I listen for a minute.

It never ceases to make me smile.

Not too long ago a friend of mine lost her father who lived in Oklahoma. She wrote a eulogy for him, posting his photo on social media, and properly honoring him with such kind words. The one thing that struck me was when she talked about how her dad would travel to beautiful countryside. When he returned home, she would ask him about the sites he saw. He would say, "Oh, those mountains were stunning to behold. But nothing is as beautiful as Oklahoma."

When we loaded into the car on Friday to head for Oklahoma, I noticed that Lori was wearing a shirt with words on it. "Wait," I said, as she was busily running from the house to the car and back, loading up suitcases and such. "What does your shirt say?"

She proudly turned towards me so that I could read it, stretching it out a bit so that the letters were clear.

"I've never been to heaven, but I've been to Oklahoma," the shirt proudly proclaimed.

Plowed red dirt and mile after mile of country roads and barbed wire fence and kids on bicycles in the grocery store parking lot and cheers resonating from the stadium at the Friday night football game...

I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Just What I Needed

This past week I traveled to Washington DC to host an alumni event. I flew in on Wednesday evening, hosted the event on Thursday evening, and flew out around noon on Friday.

And I only left my motel room once – to actually host the event. Well, technically I guess I left it twice because I went through drive-through for lunch…


I roll like that.

But can I just say, it was heavenly?

It was heavenly.

I had my laptop along so I spent some time with Hulu, caught up on This is Us (if you’re not watching this series, you should be), and journaled a bit. I skyped with a friend of mine, talked to the Husband, read quite a lot from my latest piece of fiction that I downloaded from our local library onto my e-reader, and took a long hot bath.

When I drove back to the airport on Friday morning, I did manage to look up at all the changing colors on the trees. I breathed in fall weather – crisp air, tall firs. And I took a moment to really be in the moment…as I missed most of these DC moments cuddled up in my motel room with my devices.

Once settled on the plane, this adorable girl named Lauren sat beside me. Lauren is from Dallas, newly married, and working on her Master’s in Business Administration. Now normally when I am on a plane, I set very strong boundaries that clearly state not up for discussion. But Lauren eased her way in between the pages of my book by quietly asking, “So why are you flying to Dallas?” And it went from there. She asked questions in a way that made it appear as if she were truly interested in what I had to say, and of course – it’s always fun to talk to someone who actually listens with interest.

Who doesn’t like to talk about oneself?

When the plane landed and we headed towards Baggage Claim, she hugged me quickly. “It was so nice to meet you, Vonda. I hope I see you again one day.” And then she was off, finding her husband and heading off to her in-law’s ranch located five hours south of Dallas.

My suitcase finally rolled around and I grabbed it, headed out the door, and flagged down Roy who was waiting nearby in his white pickup, flashers flashing so that I would see him. He jumped out and threw my suitcase in the back and then we headed for Hard Eight which heralds the best BBQ in Texas.

Normally when I travel, it takes a day or two to get back in the groove, to recoup from all of the goings-on. But this time? I came back refreshed and happy and eager to join the ranks of the living:

Great tv shows and heart to hearts with strangers and friendly alumni at a divine restaurant and hot baths in a motel nestled in the mix of concrete and falling leaves...

It was exactly what I needed.

Our Kitchen Remodel

My life is in total disarray. We are currently in the throes of remodeling my kitchen. It is not a job for the faint of heart. We have...