Sunday, December 30, 2007

David's First Christmas!

"I'll be Home for Christmas"

I sang that song a lot during my drive back from Washington, and I'm so thankful it came true! It was great to be back and celebrate with family, and so much fun this year with a kid around! As my mom says frequently "he's really stolen our hearts!"

After I walked in the door, he was a little shy with me at first, but luckily that only lasted a short while. We got to play and read books for a bit, then I needed to unload my car so I could dig out clothes to wear to the Christmas Eve service. When I got back from the Christmas Eve service at my parent's church, and we all had dinner, David and I hung out at the table for a while. He's such a goofball, the way he'll often turn his head to the side, curl up, and grin.

David, Julie, and David came over around noon on Christmas Day to hang out. At one point David needed a change of clothes (I'll let you guess why) so Auntie Kari thought it was time to bring out a gift she brought from Seattle. At first he wasn't sure about ripping this paper, since he's often told not to do that, but when we kept encouraging him, he just went for it.
Here he is looking pretty snazzy in his new digs! He pulls himself up so quickly now that if he's not found crawling fast across the floor, he can be found standing next to whatever is close by that's a good height for him.

After a bit Julie and I decided to venture out into the beautiful snowfall to see our great neighbors across the street. We've known them since we were little kids and they've had fun getting to know David a little now too. Brrr.... it looked cold out! Better bundle up! Later, Daddy stopped by with David's first sled so he could try it out for the trip back across the street. Fun!!

Even though there's no big grin in these pictures, he really liked it!

If you ever eat a meal at my mom's, you're bound to be in this type of picture:

This year after dinner we didn't have to finish the dishes before starting anything else. Everyone was worried that bedtime might come before we were done, so for the first time in the Swanson Family Christmas Celebration, dirty dishes sat on the counter for the evening. Wow! We then took our annual pictures in front of the fireplace, but someone was a little antsy, so this is the only non-blurry one I'll post. Here's what my parent's tree looks like this year.

Then, it was time to open presents. Our tradition has been to do this on Christmas Eve, but since I had only rolled into town hours before, my family was great enough to wait until Christmas Day this year. It's amazing how selling my house and getting rid of so many "things" made Christmas not at all about presents this year, but about being with family instead. And, it was definitely the most fun to just watch David enjoy his first Christmas! The true test of every present is the taste-test. This one must've passed.

Laughing at Grandpa playing with the new train set.

This toy wasn't from Christmas, but he loves pulling himself to stand behind it. He'll try and take a few steps, but sometimes it gets away from him and he'll hold onto the bar but "walk" on his knees instead. I wonder how long until he's actually walking?

After a bath and pajamas, it was time to share a few secrets with Auntie Kari,

Then have Grandpa read a bedtime story, then head home to bed. Merry First Christmas, David. It was fun to watch you enjoy it!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Back to the Land of the Living...

I'm back! Yes, I've been back in MN for a few days now, and while I had an amazing Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (pictures to follow), I then got hit with the flu. Wednesday morning the 26th I awoke, didn't feel very good, but had to get to the public health nurse to have a TB skin test done for my next assignment. By the time I got back into my car to come home (and it was only a 5-minute appointment), I wasn't actually sure I could make it home, I thought I might just die right there on the side of the road somewhere...

I did, in fact, make it home and was able to crawl up the stairs. I'll skip all the gross details that nurses love to talk about but the rest of blog-world might not enjoy, and just say that the next 36 hours were REALLY miserable. I finally felt okay to eat a piece of toast on Thursday and felt like I was making good progress. I upgraded to a bowl of soup yesterday and have had some more food as well. Both yesterday and today have been pretty good days so far, I just feel really weak.

I haven't been this sick in such a long time, I don't actually remember when it would've been. This has helped me to have a renewed sympathy for my patients who are sick and for those who say they're weak. I think I'll be able to be a better nurse in helping them.

So, not only is it great to be home again, but great to be back to the land of the living!

Winter Road Trip

As we all know, I love a good road trip! There's something so fun about just hopping in the car and getting to see all the great American landscape that can be seen while getting from one place to the next. Sure, flying is nice because you arrive at your destination quicker, but as the saying goes, "Getting there is half the fun"!

The whole time I was in Puyallup, co-workers especially thought it was crazy that I was going to drive back to MN in December. I think many of them actually thought that once there was snow in the mountains, you were basically stuck between Puget Sound and the Cascades until spring (and that's not a huge area!) Luckily I had family there who knew my driving skills and what Minnesota winters were like and could reassure me that I'd be just fine!

I had continued to watch the weather reports for the passes, and learned that I would be able to leave just between storms if I left on Friday afternoon, which is just what I was planning. What a blessing!

After packing all my stuff Thursday evening (no, I really didn't start until then...) I awoke Friday morning to pack my car. Thanks for those of you who prayed that everything would fit, because miraculously, it did! Friday was a beautiful day and I could be outside packing in dry weather that wasn't too cold, which was another blessing from the trip! One of the many soldiers that lives in that complex (Fort Lewis is a huge Army post nearby) even offered to help when he saw me struggling with the front end of my cartop carrier. I haven't been called "ma'am" too often in my young age :) but when it's done by a soldier in uniform with a southern accent you know it's just because he's respectful and polite! I was able to meet more of my neighbors during those few hours stuffing my car full than I had during my entire three months living there.

After getting all packed up and ready to go, it was time to turn in my keys and say good-bye to the little apartment that's been home these last three months. Then I hit the road!

I'm happy to report that Snoqualmie Pass had a little snow on it, but lots of cars, and was very easily passable. I was heading to Moscow, ID to my aunt and uncle's, so decided to take the short cut through some very nice grasslands/wheatfields that must've looked beautiful in the daylight. In the dark it was just a long, quiet road. It was SO good to arrive at Barb and Gary's!! It was the two of them and their two daughters, Kristen and Heather. We missed Tim, but since he's in Norway, I didn't figure he could come home quick for my visit... maybe next time! We all stayed up too late, chatting a mile a minute to fit in all the talk-time possible, but it was absolutely worth it! I have SO MUCH fun with them, I wish we lived closer together! Heather had to work early the next morning, but here's a picture of Kristen, Barb and me that Gary took.

In the morning, it looked like I might hit some snow in the Idaho passes, but again, I'm happy to report that everything went fine there as well! What I mostly found was like this picture, snow on the sides but a clear road. It wasn't slippery at all. You can see that it was a beautiful drive!

Just after crossing into Montana and coming down off the pass, you hit the town of St. Regis. I learned from June on my way to Washington that there's a great little spot to get a Huckleberry Shake in St. Regis. As I have the all-important philosophy that it's never too cold out for ice cream, I knew I wanted to stop! When I learned that the shake machine was down, I'm sure I looked disappointed because the owner asked where I was from. When I said I was moving from WA to MN, she made me a shake from scratch. Another blessing!! And, it was so big and so filling I saved my money on the next meal as well! A double blessing!

The rest of the Montana passes were clear, and I planned on getting to Billings that evening. Well, when I got near Livingston, MT the wind really picked up, and after talking with my Mom's aunts in Billings and also my parents (and realizing I was getting too tired to make decisions on my own), I decided to just stay there for the night. I ended up at the EconoLodge, which turned out to have great rooms, and a yummy continental breakfast. I also found out that night on the weather channel that the wind gusts in Livingston that night reached 55 mph. No wonder my car was blowing from side to side on the road!

The next morning I awoke bright and early, had that great breakfast, and was on the road before 8am. (WOW, unusual for this night-shift gal!) I settled in for the long drive, since I had 972 miles to go! Right away I knew my decision to stop earlier than planned the night before was the right one, because that morning the wind was gone, the sunrise was beautiful, and the roads were clear.

I was able to drive for quite a few hours with perfect conditions, then sometime between Billings and Miles City there was one stretch with roads that were snow packed and slippery. It only lasted for about 30 miles or so, then were nice and clear again. Thanks, Lord!

This picture is for my dad, who thinks this sign is hilarious. Why would anyone choose to drive on a road that you know is guaranteed to be a Bad Route, right from the start?

I learned from a friend (coughJillcough) how fun it is to take self-portraits while driving, and I promise, this was only done during very boring, straight, completely dry parts of the road. So, while it's not the most flattering picture ever, I thought I'd give you the fun idea for your next road trip!It also shows a little of how full my car was!

After passing the largest cow sculpture ever, I was able to just sit back and enjoy the sunset that was starting to show itself in my side mirrors. Then, somewhere just west of Bismarck, I watched an amazing moon-rise. I don't know if it was just my imagination or not, but the moon seemed SO large that night, really low, and like it was just beyond my reach. It seemed to be hanging right above the fields I was driving by. The picture doesn't quite do it justice.

When it was dark by Jamestown, I thought to myself "well, it's still a long ways to get home, but I think I can make it." Then, just after Jamestown all the way to Fargo the wind picked up again and there was lots of blowing snow across the road. The temperature also really dropped and I realized I just drove right into a Midwest winter! When I was in Fargo I called my friend, Candis, in Fergus and asked if I could stop by with something I had picked up for her in Seattle. She said sure, of course, but why didn't I just stay with them for the night instead? I assured her I was still going to try and make it home, but then as the roads got worse and worse by Fergus and we visited for a while when I stopped in, the offer of a warm bed and great fellowship seemed too good to pass up! Seeing as it was going to be just before midnight that I would've arrived home, I think my parents were a little relived as well! THANK YOU for the wonderful Bed and Breakfast, Candis and Wally! Here we are the next morning in their beautiful river room!

The next morning I took the long way to the freeway, so I could drive through Fergus, then hit the road for the last of my trip. I felt like I could do these last few hours blindfolded, but decided against that...

As I got closer to my parents house, I could hardly contain myself, and ended up almost running inside when I got there! I was so THRILLED to see this face waiting to greet me! What a great smile!

Christmas pictures to come...

Monday, December 24, 2007

I'm Home!

Hi everyone! Just a quick post to say that I made it home today, around noon. Yippee!! I got to spend a couple of hours with David!!!!!! then unloaded my car so I could find clothes to wear to church, went to the Christmas Eve service at my parents church, and we're just about to have dinner together as a family. But, I wanted to let blog-world know that I'm safe, and I'll tell you all about my trip later. Thankfully, it wasn't too eventful, but as always, I love to tell a good story so you can hear all about it.

Off to dinner.... Have a MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Will Everything Fit????

I'm just about to try and sleep for a few hours, and then I need to pack. What do I need to pack, you might ask? Well, everything. That's right, I'm a procrastinator... I guess I already put my DVD's and books in a box, but yup, that's it.

So, I'm going to sleep, then wake up and get everything in my apartment all packed up tonight. Will you pray for me? Pray that I'll be diligent in packing, and pray that I'll be successful in getting all my belongings into the car!

Then, tomorrow I'm going to turn in my keys, and take off for Moscow. No, not the city in Russia, but Moscow, Idaho, where my aunt, uncle, and cousins live. Yeah! I'm really excited to see them, even if it's only for a night. Thanks for letting me come! Then I'll drive east on Saturday and hopefully arrive in Burnsville on Sunday night. I have a few mountain passes to go over: one on Friday, and a few on Saturday. I'm not too nervous about them because I've been checking the road and weather conditions a lot, but I plan on just taking it slow and stopping if things get bad. Will you also pray for great weather and road conditions on the trip? The other travelers I worked with called me last night to say that they were making it as far as Miles City, MT today and had to go slow a few times, but things weren't terrible.

I'm not sure when I'll be able to post again, but if I get the chance at all while I'm traveling, you can be sure I will! Thanks for your prayers!!

PS-Friday afternoon, or Saturday and Sunday should be great days to chat if anyone wants to call!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

It's so hard to say goodbye....

Tonight was my last free night in Seattle before leaving. I work Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday overnights, will sleep and pack on Thursday, then take off Friday morning. Wow, hard to believe! This time in Washington has gone really slow and really fast all at the same time. In some ways I feel like I've been here forever, but then it feels like I just came last week...

I worked the last three nights, so after I slept a little today, I drove up to Everett. I was able to meet some family at a restaurant there, and it was really fun to just spend a little time together before I leave. After dinner, we headed over to Maple Park Lutheran Brethren Church for their annual Christmas concert. My mom's cousin, Dennis, directs an amazing choir there. Wow, that church has some great musical talent -both with singing and with instuments! It was so fun to just soak up a taste of Christmas as well, since I don't have a tree this year (or ANY Christmas decorations for that matter) and without the snow it hasn't really felt like Christmas yet to me.

The whole concert was WONDERFUL and a HUGE blessing to me. I didn't think to get my camera out until the very end, but here's a picture of Dennis singing a trio with his two sons. This song actually brought tears to my eyes, it was so beautiful! I should've taken a video instead of just a snapshot... Thanks to all the musicians for a great concert!

After the concert, it was also really fun to visit with old friends from Maple Park. Each time I've been to an LB church out here (this was #4), I'm reminded again how much I've been CRAVING that fellowship. That's definitely one thing I'm looking forward to about being back in the Midwest -attending Oak Hill every other Sunday again!

Tonight one funny thing that happened is that I was thanking one of the musicians (the bassoon player), and in introducing myself to him, he asked where I was from. I've learned in Puyallup that if I say I'm from Minnesota, most people have heard of Minneapolis and that's about it. Well, when I said that I grew up in Minneapolis but spent the last six years in the west central part of the state (my standard answer here), he kept pressing. It turns out his mom grew up in Dalton and went to Battle Lake High School (both towns near Fergus)! I had gotten so used to people not knowing anything about me or where I'm from, that I was surprised when it turns out he knew not only where I was from, but all about my big Erickson family as well! (there are a lot of us out here in WA!) I love connections, and of COURSE that would happen in an LB church, but I had just gotten so used to it NOT happening that it took me by surprise!

At the end of the evening, I had to say goodbye to my wonderful family here. Words can't really express how amazing they've been to me. June and Joel, Erick and Merrily, all their kids and spouses, and others as well have just taken me in and made me feel so at home here. It's been an incredible blessing to me to get to spend this time with them, and I will be forever grateful for their hospitality! THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Space Needle

After my time with Tara's family, I grabbed some lunch (really good clam chowder) at the museum, and then decided to wander around the Seattle Center a little. This is where the Space Needle is located, among other things. The Space Needle is a tourist attraction that hasn't really been on my radar screen, but I decided it was the right day for it.

The observation deck is 520 feet in the air, so there were some great pictures to be taken! Here are the Olympics across the Puget Sound.

This is Queen Anne Hill, that neighborhood where I've found many fun places to visit.

The bare green area in the middle is Kerry Park, that great spot I've taken lots of pictures from. It was fun to see this side of the park!

Downtown Seattle. I especially love that the American Flag is just about the tallest thing in the sky!

Ever since my trip around the peninsula, where I drove to the top and also all the way around the Olympics, I've come to see them as "my" mountains. We had such a fun week together, the mountains and I.

After my time at the top of the Space Needle, I decided to head downtown for one last visit. I leave a week from Friday, but have to work all the days from now until then (except Sunday). It was fun to wander around and soak in the sites/sounds/smells/people-watching. Seattle's been a good city to me! I am happy to report that at the end of the day, I drove right to Peet's Coffee and Tea, (without even using Garmin!) and got a wonderful Peppermint Hot Cocoa, that tasted as good as I remembered! Then I stopped by Kerry Park one more time, where the Lord and I had a good conversation together. It was peaceful, a quiet place in the midst of a busy city, and I got to thank Him for my time here and pray over the next adventure. Here's one last shot of the city at night.

Thanks, Seattle, for this fun adventure!

Children's Museum

On Tuesday I had the great joy of hanging out with my friend, Tara and her family! It was SO fun to see her again, and get to meet her husband and twin girls. Tara and I lived together in Arizona, and the fun story-telling could go on and on! There are lots of stories to be told when six, and for a while seven, women all lived in one small townhouse! We were also joined by Randy and Kari, who were friends I'd spend time with when I used to visit Seattle for YM. Tara and I had been trying to get together a few times since I moved here, but after a few failed attempts, we finally decided to take the girls to the Children's Museum at the Seattle Center. Even at 16 months, they had a lot of fun! The museum had tons of interactive displays with lots of options for kids of all ages.

Here I am with R:

Here's Tara with C:

And here R and C really enjoyed splashing around as Chris looked on. I was so glad he could take the day off so I could meet him as well! Thanks for the fun day hanging out! You have a beautiful family, Tara! And I'm so sorry that I have no pictures to post of Randy and Kari's family.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Purple Mountain Majesty...

On Saturday we experienced a beautifully clear day here in Seattle. Every time it's clear out, I think to myself "this might be the last time I see the mountain before I leave". Here it was at sunset:

Then, I've been wondering what the view would be like farther down the road. I found this great spot about six miles south of me:

This trailer park has the view I had been hoping for when I moved to Puyallup!

As I headed towards home again, I realized the sunset colors were getting better and better, so I stopped again at "my" picture-taking spot. This is what Katherine Lee Bates meant when she wrote "America, The Beautiful".
Verse One:
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

The lighting kept changing, and my philosophy is definitely "why take one picture when you can take a dozen?!"

Monday, December 10, 2007

Spending Time with Friends...

Quite a while ago I made plans to spend this last weekend in the Portland area. I was looking forward to seeing Steve and Shannon and Bennett (my second-cousin and his family), and also Rebekah and Chuck (my aunt's sister and husband). I was going to head there on Friday, and then on Saturday night head a little north to see friends Chris and Carrie and their boys, hear Chris preach on Sunday, and spend the day with them before heading home on Monday. That was the plan.

Then, you may have heard, there was some flooding in the area. Thanks to those of you who have called to hear how I am, but I'm happy to report that I wasn't affected here in Puyallup at all. The worst area was about 45 minutes south of me where entire towns were pretty much wiped out. Awful. For some amazing pictures, go to Chris and Carrie's blog (link on the side).

One of the huge results of this terrible storm was that I-5 was closed for quite a few days. It's the freeway that goes from Canada to Mexico, and is really the only good way to get from Seattle to Portland. After doing quite a bit of checking on the WA-DOT website, I learned that the only good detour was about 6-8 hours out of the way, going through central WA then south. There were too many of the smaller roads washed out to make anything else feasible. I was so disappointed not to be able to make this little trip! I've only been to Portland once (HLA Band Tour 1994, one quick night, no sightseeing) and I wanted to see the city, hang out with Steve and Shannon, play with Bennett (born the same day as David!), visit with Bec and Chuck, and see their beautiful new home. It was going to be a full weekend!

Well, on Saturday I talked with Carrie again realizing that I-5 had opened up. Even though I had by then scrapped the whole adventure, I knew I still wanted to be able to hear Chris preach and spend time with their family. So, I decided to pack up and hop in the car. I'm so glad I did! I got to Kelso, WA about 8pm and Carrie and I went straight over to another church where they were doing a live nativity "Journey to Bethlehem". For some great pictures, check out Chris and Carrie's blog again. It was an amazing live, interactive walk through ancient Bethlehem. Very cool!

On Sunday, it was so good to be in Chris' Sunday School class, and worship at Faith Fellowship. I love the advent season, and it was good to talk about Peace this Sunday. That evening was the church's annual Christmas Party, and it was really fun to get to visit with many of the different people there, and enjoy some great food and fellowship, along with a white elephant gift exchange! Here we are at the end of the night. I forgot to take too many pictures earlier!

Today we drove around so I could see a little of the Kelso/Longview area. We stopped at this great Japanese garden and wandered around a bit. I love this beautiful bridge!
A pond with a waterfall that goes back into the big lake.

William is always good about saying "cheese!"

Andy, just "hanging out"!

I didn't get any pictures of Zac alone -sorry about that! He's not usually in one place too long to snap a picture!

After driving over a HUGE bridge that spans the Columbia River, we did something I hadn't even put on my radar -we got to go to Mount St. Helens! It's fairly close to where they live so we took off. We stopped at the Visitor Center quick, then headed up. The clouds kept getting thicker and thicker and we weren't sure that we'd be able to see anything. And, there was more and more snow on the ground that started to make things slippery. Just when I was thinking that we might have to give up and turn around, we could see the sun shining through the top of the clouds and we finally broke through them. The view was AMAZING!
What you can't see in this picture is how COLD I was feeling! Brrrr....

In this picture, you can actually see all the way from the bottom of the valley that was filled with ash, up to the top where the very top 1300 feet were blown off during the eruption of 1980. There is now a crater where mountain used to exist.

Mount Adams in the distance... another part of the Cascades.

Our view on the way back down. If you ignore the reflection of Chris' red shirt, you can see that we were above the clouds. The boys agreed it felt like we were in a plane flying over the clouds, and it was quite spectacular. It was amazing to be in this bright sun one minute, then after driving down again, we were under a huge cloud-cover.

Thank you Chris, Carrie, Zac, Andy and Will for the great weekend! It was so fun to see you again and spend this time together! Thanks for your hospitality!