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$500.00.

A weekend away in an unknown destination.

Details to be given once you arrive at the airport with your carry-on bag.

Are you in?

I said YES!

Last fall, my friend Cindy decided to put together a Mom’s mystery trip. She’s the director of the private school where I teach and my kids take classes on Fridays. She’s also an experienced world traveler, having led several educational trips abroad for high school students, and done some traveling of her own with her family. She excitedly made the first announcement to see if anyone would be interested.

The responses ran from “YES, YES, YES!” to “Are you crazy? I’m not spending money to go on a trip without knowing the details!”

In the end, it was a chilly January morning when five excited women met Cindy at the airport with our carry-on luggage in tow. (A very special thank you to my mystery friend who made it possible for me to go on this adventure! I can’t thank you enough!) After we gathered around, Cindy announced we were booked on a non-stop flight to Miami where we would spend the night in a luxury suite before driving to the Port of Palm Beach the next morning to board a ship for a two-day cruise to the Bahamas! It was more than I ever hoped or imagined! WOW!!!

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2016 Mystery Moms

We arrived in Miami and drove to the Marriott on Biscayne Bay. It was beautiful! We settled in a bit then talked and laughed our way through dinner at Primo Restaurant near our hotel. My friend Veronica and I ordered different meals so we could share. Delicious! I also tried crab cakes for the first time and loved them. Who knew?

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Marriott at Biscayne Bay

After dinner we drove our minivan down to south beach and cruised past all the clubs. Can you picture it? lol We were so cool. The traffic was insane! We came back to the hotel and took some pictures of the bay (and each other) and hung out enjoying the cool breeze. What a beautiful night!

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Miami Sunrise over Biscayne Bay

The next morning, we headed for Little Havana to eat breakfast at the famous Versailles Bakery & Restaurant. I tried Cuban coffee (yuck) and took lots of pictures of the architecture and my breakfast. I’ll spare you those particular photos. Not having seen palm trees since I was a little girl living in California, I loved the drive to the port! You could feel the excitement and energy in the van as we planned possible activities: A glass bottom boat tour, swimming with the sharks (Ellison was the only one up for that adventure), shows on the boat, and of course, shopping.

Then we arrived at the port and our trip took an unexpected turn.

 

Click on the images to enlarge them.

As we were checking in, we found out Amanda had a copy of her birth certificate and wouldn’t be allowed to go on the cruise. The port only allows state-issued birth certificates or passports for re-entry into the United States. I suddenly felt like I had swallowed a pile of rocks. I have a military hospital issued birth certificate. Sure enough, when it was my turn at the counter, the guy practically rolled his eyes at me as he handed me my documents and told me no, I would not be leaving with my group.

Stunned, angry, sad, disappointed. I didn’t know what to feel. We were just told we needed an original birth certificate with a raised seal. That’s what I have. It’s the one I’ve used my whole life. But it wasn’t enough. It was a terrible mix up, and Cindy felt awful about it. My tender-hearted friend was beside herself trying to fix it.

It was a struggle looking into the sad faces of my friends. Everyone felt terrible. I love them and wanted them to enjoy their cruise. A few deep breaths and hugs later and they were off, leaving me and Amanda to form a new plan for a few days in Florida.

We were both in a bit of shock, but we pep talked each other into looking at it as another unplanned adventure. It worked! We had a blast! We decided to take lots of pictures and post them to Instagram so our cruising friends would know we were having fun, and they’d be included in our part of the trip too. We didn’t know they didn’t have internet and couldn’t see our pictures or share their own. My friend Ellison was the only one to interact with us at all, so now I’m convinced she’s either a spy, has her own satellite phone, or connections in high places. I’m leaning towards spy. 😉

Amanda and I found a nice place to stay in West Palm Beach and spent our two days walking, talking, going to the beach, visiting a state park, and attempting an Anthony Hernandez scavenger hunt. Our first night in West Palm Beach we happened upon a pretty cool wall mural of JFK, so I googled the artist and found out he had street art all over the city! (See above and check out his website, the ones below are other people’s art.)

The whole art district was pretty great. We stayed up late into the night talking, got sand all over the rental van, laughed, cried, shared the highlights of our lives with each other, ate great food, and relaxed.

And what is a trip to Florida without spending a bit of time writing at the beach and playing in the waves? The photo of my hands full of sand is me rescuing a stranded baby jellyfish. He’s the bluish blob on top. I carefully scooped him up and threw him back into the ocean and cheered him on with the hope he’d beat the tide.

Our vacation flew by and soon it was time to meet the other ladies at port and begin the uncertain trek back to Denver – which was in the middle of a snow storm. I kind of hoped our flight would get cancelled so we’d have another day with all of us together. I even bought this postcard and texted the photo to a few friends. Ha! No such luck. We actually arrived home early?!

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It was a fabulous trip! It was good that I didn’t have a plan, and even though it didn’t go according to Cindy’s plan either, I would do it again! And guess what? Last week, Cindy announced the next mystery trip is scheduled for February! I wonder how long it will take me to get my passport?

What about you? Would you go on a mystery trip?

Do you have any suggestions for great WARM places to visit while it’s freezing in Colorado?

 

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An excerpt from my memorial post about Angi:

When I started blogging back in 2004, Angi called me and said, “I just found you on the internet! Well, it’s not you, but this lady could be you, you’re so similar.” And that’s how I met my friend Pam, a kindred spirit on the other side of the country. Angi brought us together. 

Pam, my kindred spirit friend.

Before blogging became a thing or Facebook was around to make connecting with other bloggers immensely easy, there was a small circle of us from around the country who read each others blogs. The internet shrank the world as we discussed controversial subjects, prayed each other through hard times, and laughed at the silliness we sometimes posted. Pam was part of that circle. She was one of my first blogging friends.

I haven’t actually met her face to face yet, but I hope to someday. I didn’t have time to request a photo from her – just know she’s a beautiful woman. She’s been a friend to me for many years now, and will be for many more.

Kindred spirits don’t always live close, and sometimes they’ve never met.

Check out a few of my blogging friends:

Don at https://donhillson.wordpress.com/

Beckie at http://free2b2much.blogspot.com/

Tracy at https://countyroadchronicles.wordpress.com/

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Betty

Betty Young is my co-worker and friend. She runs the front desk at the church I work for. While I manage the bookstore, she is my advisor and boss. We work really well together!

She’s the sweetest lady I know, but also one tough cookie, which makes her the ideal person to run the compassion ministry. She handles all sorts of requests and challenges, treating everyone who walks through the doors like she’s never been so happy to see them. I’ve watched her swap stories with the mailman who drops by every day. I’ve walked by her desk and heard her praying with people and sharing words of hope and love with those grieving. She’s the keeper of the calendar, and a ray of sunshine. She always makes time for me when I need to chat about store stuff or life in general, and you should see her light up when her grandchildren stop by for a visit!

I love Betty. She’s been amazing to work with over the past couple of years. What a great lady!

Keep reading:

Don at https://donhillson.wordpress.com/

Beckie at http://free2b2much.blogspot.com/

Tracy at https://countyroadchronicles.wordpress.com/

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I have a confession. I am not a groupie. There isn’t a band on the planet I’d wait in line to buy tickets for or put up with a huge crowd to see them in concert. My daughter begged me to attend some music festival – Warped Tour? I think my audible sigh was heard all the way in Wyoming when she told me her friend’s mom said she’d take them. Thank. God.

I don’t have anything against concerts or people who attend them, I just prefer a more intimate setting, like my earbuds in place. 😉 I have enjoyed smaller settings like living room concerts and jam sessions, and we just finished up the Resound Conference two weekends ago which is a worship conference featuring some great speakers and bands with an audience of less than 500 people. I can do that. That’s more my speed.

Confession #2: I’ve always had this annoying habit of falling for bands (their music and sound) without being able to name the band members. I mean no disrespect, it’s just not my thing. Maybe it should be. I can aspire to that, I guess. Is that surprising considering I’m a people person? If you want to know band member names, ask my daughter.

I LOVE MUSIC! I have tunes to suit my every mood. I’m friends with a lot of musicians and love them dearly. I even remember all of their names. Ha! For time’s sake, I can’t promote them all in this post, so I chose just one. My friend, neighbor, and the most peaceful man I’ve ever met. He’s one of my favorites:

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Photo by Jarrod Reno

Dave Wilton

He’s an incredible musician, songwriter, music producer, and recording/mixing/mastering engineer. Dave plays in two Indie Rock bands, A Boy & His Kite and Loud Harp. If you’re my real-life friend, you’ve heard me mention both many times.

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Photo by Ray Rushing

In 2011, Dave and Asher “accidentally” formed the band Loud Harp. I’m so glad they did. Their music soothes my soul! You can read all about them on their site: loudharp.com (Asher is amazing too! Check him out!)

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Photo by Jarrod Reno

In 2012, A Boy & His Kite’s single, “Cover Your Tracks” was included in the film and soundtrack of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2:

Dave’s lyrics and music embody such depth of soul and spirit.

I don’t know how he feels about his Twilight fame, but I can tell you it is his joy to make great music and help others do the same. He is currently building a new studio and running a Kickstarter campaign to finish it. Want to kick something in? Click here: http://davewilton.com/newstudio/

We’re nearing the end of the challenge! Have you been checking out my other challenger’s posts?

Don at https://donhillson.wordpress.com/

Beckie at http://free2b2much.blogspot.com/

Tracy at https://countyroadchronicles.wordpress.com/

 

 

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I was whining to Benny about today’s post – how I can’t pick just one person as my best friend. That’s not how I live my life! He suggested I do a Weird Science thing and combine all of the best and most desired traits to make the perfect best friend. After I stopped laughing, I realized there’s a nugget of truth to that approach. I’m complex and so are my friends. There is no one person that meets all of my friend needs, not even Benny. I’m connected to different people for different reasons and circumstances, but there are some things all of my closest friends have in common: Mutual trust, loyalty, humor/silliness, and depth. With that as my criteria, allow me to introduce you to my best friends right now. (I stole their pictures from Facebook.)

I’ve already written about Benny, Lennie, and Tawnya, so I’m moving on.

ksKaren is my best friend in Denver. We met at church several years ago. I was actually friends with her husband first and he introduced us. Thanks John! She is my reading buddy, movie date, and we henna each other’s hair. She’s the one who went on vacation with me and Tawnya a few years ago. She is so unlike me in all the right ways. She’s Spock to my Kirk – more logical and level-headed where I tend to be more cocky and fly by the seat of my pants. She has two green thumbs (maybe more) while I joke about growing people, not plants. She does that too – grow people! She’s amazing! We share a birthday month, so we celebrate together as long as we can.

heatherHeather and I speak the same language. We both grew up in difficult situations but are overcomers and we’re thriving now. We are not only fluent in sarcasm and witty comebacks, we speak the same dialect! Ha! Before she moved to Texas, she was my movie buddy, and writing buddy, and pina colada buddy. I flew to San Antonio to see her twice this summer. I’m trying to convince her Colorado is her real home. We’d spend less time on the phone, and I have the mountains on my side, enticing her. 😉

don and matthewDon lives too far away! I can’t put a French number on speed dial, so I am especially grateful for Facebook Messenger which allows us to connect almost every day. He’s my partner-in-crime for these challenges we take on, and he’s a fellow geek/nerd. We both prefer Star Trek over Star Wars, go head to head on trivia games, and have a sort of brother/sister relationship. You know, because my five brothers don’t tease me enough. I wish he’d move back to Colorado, but I know that’s not happening anytime soon. I’ll enjoy his friendship from afar for now.

beckBeckie and I have known each other the longest since we met in college. She’s older, wiser, and funnier than me. We didn’t know each other well back then, but we sure do now! Beckie and I grew up in the same faith heritage and we’ve struggled with forging our own paths, which is a nice way of saying we own matching sets of baggage. She is a fellow homeschooling mom, we both have a Max under our roofs, and she might as well live near Don in France for as often as I see her. Still, I adore her. We talk about deep stuff – stuff that almost requires oxygen masks and reminders to breathe. Those chats are balanced out by bouts of silliness sisters might share. She’s like the older sister I never had.

cherieCherie is my best friend from church, and my dealer. She supplies me a good portion of the Chai I consume. 😉 She’s a fabulous lunch date! We have a regular booth at Chili’s where the server knows our appetizer and drink order by heart, and greets us by name. Cherie makes trips to American Furniture Warehouse seem like a day at the circus, and dreams about future projects with me as we treasure hunt at thrift stores between our houses. I love spending time with her, and not just because she spoils me.

RebeccaRebecca is my best friend from FACE, the private school for homeschooling families that meets once a week. Though we’ve both been there for years, she and I connected a few years ago when I taught a couponing class to the moms. I’m so glad our friendship has grown because Becca has such a sweet spirit and she’s hilarious! Her daughter is in my drama class and good friends with Max and Zoe. Becca spoils me too.

I noticed another common thread with all of these people. All of my best friends are introverts. How did that happen???

Want to read more? Check out my fellow challenger’s posts too!

Don at donhillson.wordpress.com

Beckie at free2b2much.blogspot.com

Tracy at countyroadchronicles.wordpress.com

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It feels good to be writing again after all the tragedy of the past few months. Today I’m honored to be featured over at themitchroush.com. His monthly series, “Music Changed Me” showcases people he knows and loves sharing the music that has impacted their lives. My piece focuses on disliking the word “secular” being used to label songs that are sacred to me, and the love song I have on repeat during this season of healing.

I’ve known Mitch for over 20 years, and oh the stories I could share about him. Ha! He’s an incredible man. Take some time to get to know him through his writing. He does an excellent job weaving faith and creativity throughout all he does.

It brings joy to my soul to hear him describe me this way: “Niki is one of the most eloquent feather-rufflers I know. An edgy soul, not out of attention, but out of a fierce love that has no other way of being expressed. She’s passionate and wants nothing more than for everyone to have a place at the table.”

Thank you, Mitch. That means a lot to me!

Here’s a teaser:

Music is one of my love languages.

If my inner 80’s child were to make you a mix tape and share with you the soundtrack of my life, you’d grin and possibly groan at the quirky variety of my musical tastes.  I bet you’d find something that suits your tastes too. Now and then, I get stuck on a song to help me through a particular season, repeating it until the music cleanses me or the season passes.

– See more at: http://www.themitchroush.com/music-changed-me-13-love-on-repeat

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It’s been a hard week, and it’s only Tuesday! My friend Heather called late last night and I shared a bit of my funk with her, but I still went to bed unable to escape the feeling of being crushed. People have failed me this week. I’ve failed myself. I’ve failed others, and it sucks. Like lava flowing through my veins, my anger has been an internal companion lately. I find myself getting irritated by things that wouldn’t bother me if I was feeling like myself, which I’m not.

Is this an identity crisis? Do I need to just pull up my big girl pants and get over myself?

I’m reading Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection. I think she’d tell me I’m not being kind to myself. I wonder if I’m experiencing my mid-life unraveling? She describes it as a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re “supposed” to live. I’m doing heart and soul work and like Brene describing her own journey, it’s a bit like slogging through mud on my journey to living wholehearted.

I’ve been focusing on all the times I HAVEN’T kept my word, said or done the kind thing, loved someone well, served with compassion, finished what I started, and lived like I wanted to. I’m caught in the sinkhole of wanting what I won’t ever have and feeling sorry for myself. But it’s not just a pity party; it’s a deep grieving for an impossible relationship. Most of the time it’s emotionally manageable, but in my current state, it cements me in the bottom of the sinkhole. I need a rope.

I woke up this morning to a text from my friend Cherie. As we messaged back and forth, she made me laugh and I felt a little sun. I shared a bit more of my funk with her, and she spoke my name back to me, reminding me who I am. I lay in bed for a while, crying to God about my life and the uncertainty I’m feeling. Pete must have crawled in our bed after Benny left for school this morning because he was curled up asleep on Benny’s side. As I was wiping my eyes, his little voice said, “What’s wrong mommy?”

“I’m just sad right now and I’m talking to God about it.”

A minute later, my phone beeped. It was a Facebook message from an old high school friend. Stephen shared a video of his lesson from last Sunday, telling me that somewhere in the middle of his talk about Grace, he told the story of a time in high school when I called him out. It’s a story he has shared several times because for him it was a rooster’s crow…a call for a new beginning. A call to remember the grace we live in. He thanked me again for allowing God to use me to get through to him. I cried some more. The year I met and knew Stephen, my senior year, is one I’ve always referred to as my year from hell. But God used me in that hell and He gave me a few good friends. Stephen reminded me of that today of all days.

I guess that’s three rooster crows. Heather. Cherie. Stephen.

I’m still in my pajamas, and I may stay that way today. That’s okay. In my core, I know who I am. On the outside, sometimes I forget. My face is dry now, but my heart still hurts and I’m crying out to God. He’s the only one who hears the things I don’t feel safe enough to share with other people. He doesn’t hand me my big girl pants and tell me to snap out of it. He’s the one who sends three friends to speak life to me and remind me who I am, and then He holds me while I cry.

Watch the whole thing, but minutes 16-20 are about the rooster crowing. Good stuff! Here’s the link:

Undeniable Grace

P.S. My memory surrounding the letter I gave to Stephen is a bit hazy. I’m a wordy girl, so I’m sure the song lyrics weren’t the only thing I wrote, but I can’t remember what else I said. I only remember how nervous I was giving it to him, prepared for the possibility of it being the end of any friendship we did have. Lucky for both of us, we weren’t close enough friends for me to make him a whole guilt-inducing mix tape. Imagine slogging through that! 😉

And Stephen, if you read this, I’m humbled I’m part of your story. My heart is the same, but my methods have changed, and like you, I’m all about God’s grace! Thank you for messaging me today. Your timing was perfect.

I shared some thoughts a few months ago on Peter and the rooster crowing:  Jesus, Peter, Me, and the Number Three.

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