Saturday, October 26, 2013

Where Two Souls Meet

As my 16th summer dawned, I had a few goals: earn some money at my assortment of part-time jobs. Pass driver's ed. And get my first kiss.

Yes, at the ripe old age of 15, I still hadn't been kissed. Thankfully (because who wants to be the last one?), three of my best friends also held that title. We made a somewhat odd wager over who would be the first one to leave the club. Typical teenage girls, no one bet on themselves, because each of us just knew we were the ugliest, most un-cool ones in the group.

Just a few weeks later, my childhood crush kissed me (right after I got out of driver's ed for the day, in fact. Now that's efficiency!
). And I journaled the hecked out of the moment.

"The room suddenly seemed to get so quiet...I looked up at him, my own heart beating wildly...I thought I was going to melt...I had always thought I would think all this stuff before and during my first kiss, but I didn't [Adult Crystal inserts: yes, deep thoughts like where do I put my nose? What if we crash teeth?]...I was kind of in dreamland [Adult Crystal again: obviously! Dramatic much?].

I'll spare you the other eight pages.

The first-kiss and I didn't work out. But two years later, I accidentally fell in love with one of his best friends. And though I initially fought it desperately, (I mean, c'mon! Nick Kupper? It was tradition for me to reject him. Papa from Fiddler on the Roof and I are in full agreement about the value of traditions), I had to eventually admit to myself that something bigger than the two of us was taking over. In a matter of weeks, I went from not even really liking to him to waking up thinking about his smile.

And his lips. And then I would freak out. I couldn't kiss Nick; it was just too weird. But apparently, teenaged Crystal was okay with weird.

So on Saturday, October 26, 2002, I came up with a game plan. We had been dating about a month at that point and I felt sure it would work. THE PLAN was pretty complicated: don't leave Nick's house until he kisses me. Brilliant, eh?

Sometimes, simple is the best way to go. We did kiss that night. It wasn't earth-shattering. In fact, I didn't even write about it in my journal until late December. And even then I glossed over the fact, because, after all, I had a reputation to maintain (apparently only to myself) and I didn't want to admit this one little fact, even to the privacy of my beloved journal:

I wanted to kiss this boy every day for the rest of our lives

Since then, plenty has changed. We're no longer high-schoolers snatching quick kisses before the bell rings. I rarely worry about the state of my facial T-Zone as he leans in. My parents haven't gotten us in trouble for making out on the front porch in years. His house on Cloverdale -- the place where it all began -- belongs to someone else. When I drive by, I wonder if the owners have any idea how sacred that spot of carpet in the living room is -- that place where we stood, arms wrapped tightly around each other, tentatively making our first imprints on the other's soul.

I used to keep count of the times our lips met. That practice had to go by the wayside fairly quickly.

Since then, we have kissed in two continents (soon to be three!), four countries and six states. We have kissed behind waterfalls and in lakes. We have liplocked while driving (with no accidents or fender-benders, I'll have you know), dancing, holding our babies, running and biking. We have sneaked kisses while dashing out the door, dressing screaming little ones in pajamas and doing yardwork. We have attempted to memorize each other's features before TDYs and deployments, knowing we wouldn't be able to kiss again for months.

We have kissed through three pregnancies and subsequent non-sleeping newborns. We have connected through nine years of marriage and 11 years of togetherness.

Have we changed as people since we first kissed exactly 11 years ago today? Of course. We've fought; we've broken each others' hearts; we've used our mouths as weapons when we spoke words of division and negativity. Then, energy spent, we've picked up the puzzle pieces and glued our marriage back together again...

With a kiss -- our mouths no longer used to hurt, but heal.

Maybe I'm no longer the unsure teenager convinced she isn't worthy of a cute boy's kiss. But I AM still that same girl floating on a cloud every time Nick leans in.

Because I still want to kiss this boy every day for the rest of our lives.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The 15 Things I'll Miss Most About Salem

Ever heard that story about the old man on a bus? He meets two newcomers to his town. "How did you like the last place you lived?" he asks each of them. One says she loved her last home -- the people were wonderful, the scenery astounding and the life fulfilling. He smiles at her and says, "So shall it be for you here."

He then asks the same question to the man. "Oh, it was awful," he replies. "The people were rude, there was nothing to do and I was miserable a lot."

The old man smiles again and says, "So shall it be for you here."

If that's true -- if you get out of a place what you put into it, and you will see what you choose to in a location -- then I'm gonna love the tea and cookies out of Britain.

And while we look forward to the adventure that is England, I definitely have certain things I'm going to miss about my beloved Salem.

In no particular order, here they are:

  • The State Capitol in springtime. Oh dear goodness, it just doesn't get any prettier than when those cherry blossoms are in full bloom! And the site of the "Oregon Pioneer" -- covered in gold paid for by schoolchildren, I think -- always makes me smile. It's shiny, even on rainy days. Not to mention very helpful for navigating when you get lost (ahem).
Heather Boyd and a satisfied client...or not.

  • The people who keep me physically sane and decent-looking. Every woman knows a critical component of happiness is finding an amazing hairstylist and masseuse. If you're local and looking, check out Stacey Smith at Russell's Salon on Commercial for fabulous hair, and Heather Boyd at Caring Touch Massage for kink-free muscles (call 503.316.8108 to schedule an appointment). You're welcome.

  • The A.C Gilbert House children's museum. Quite possibly one of the coolest places ever for both kids AND adults! Great rates for yearly membership and perfect for any sort of weather. We love this place!
Okay, so our Little Caesar's guy is less like a tall black dude and more like a super-thin Hispanic...but you get the idea.

  • The dancing Little Caesar's Guy on Lancaster. He's out there most days of the week, rain or shine for hours at a time. And he's always happy. Mr. Caesar's got some moves, too!

    • The clearance racks at Safeway. When I get shampoo for 27 cents, it is a serious high for me. Definite highlight of every Friday!

  • New Hope Foursquare Church. I've written about the love we feel for our church before, and I'll say it again: New Hope is full of awesome people and stories. From the former Mexican coyote to a dear friend who escaped from Nazis in Berlin to another couple who runs orphanages all over South and Central America, New Hope has an international family feel. We're all sinners, we all love God and each other, and we all love to laugh. Doing so together is even more fun. :-)

  • Riverfront Park & the Carousel. So maybe old carousels are a dime-a-dozen in Europe. But for now, we're still enamored with this one.

    • The people I see while running. I know all the regulars and have given them names. There's The Russian, Cowboy & his Eskimo, Santa Claus and Santa Claus' Daughter, Geisha and Little Pinwheel for starters. They have very active lives in my imagination (it helps pass the time while pounding the pavement). All of them smile at me and some even call out encouragement. And when they stop to talk to each other, it kind of blows my mind -- new plot twists for my running stories!

  • Salem Academy. More than just Jack's school, SA has been a source of friendship, baby-sitters and pleasant Friday nights for our family. We love stepping outside every fall and hearing the marching band play, the anthem sang and the crowd going wild for Crusader football.

  • The Apocalypse RV. This is probably going to be the weirdest item on my list. But for some reason, this mysterious RV cracks me up. It randomly appears in parking lots all over North Salem and has since at least the last election. Strangely, I've never seen its owner and am not sure I would want to! I don't agree with your methods, man, but thanks for the color in my day.

  • The MOPS group at Court Street Christian Church. There is a reason I keep business cards for this group in my running stroller and purse and hand them out to moms I meet at playgrounds. It's simply fantastic, that's why!

  • Downtown. Pedestrian-friendly, free parking, right on the river, great shopping, historic, beautiful buildings and a mysterious past. Nick and I had a great date night a while back taking a haunted walking tour of the area. If you can keep a straight face, you should try it, too!

  • Plato's Closet & Once Upon a Child. If you know me, you know I love good deals. These stores (PC for adults and OUaC for kids) are most definitely steps up from Goodwill and the Salvation Army. You want to make me happy, just give me $20 and set me loose in one of these stores.

    And finally...

    Salemites. If I had to narrow it down to one, this would be it. From the old man who left pennies for Jack to find all over Safeway to the stranger who loaned me her son's shoes for half an hour (those are some stories for another blog), this community has embraced me as a mother, woman and citizen. All the awesome businesses and buildings in the world would mean nothing if not for even better people.

    Your turn, readers! What would YOU miss if you left your town or city?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


The October leaves, breathtaking in their colorful, end-of-season splendor, have been leaving the safety of their home bases and heading somewhere new. Each maple, birch and poplar leaf is especially bedazzling right before they fall; each color its richest in the days before it departs its secure perch. The branches are left bare, but everyone knows they will be abundantly full and green again someday.

So too do we follow in the path of autumn's leaves, breathing in a rich, final October in this season of our lives.

 Our social calendar has never been so full. Every evening includes dinner with friends and family we love; every day seems to bring one more, "I'm going to miss you guys so much!" as we make our rounds saying goodbye; every moonlit jaunt home features one last round of, "We have the greatest friends in the world," tummies and hearts full.

We drink it in, knowing we may never see certain people again this side of heaven.

It has been a month of lasts: last MOPS meeting, last church service at New Hope, last Duck game, last day at Salem Academy, last time at a certain friend's house...last time at Skate World.

Well, to be fair, I really did think my last time at Skate World would have been back in middle school.

This past Sunday was our last time at New Hope. We've been going to this church for almost four years, and it has meant everything to us as a family. Two of our children were dedicated here. Nearly all of our Salem-area friendships have been cultivated here. We have met God here. We have grown as a married couple here.

We have truly lived here.

And what a month of living it's been. Our friends and family have gone over the top in blessing us with meals, borrowed cooking supplies, furniture and baby-sitting services. My thighs have the three extra pounds to prove it.

The thoughts swirled around as the music played. We are so incredibly wealthy in love, I realized, and the familiar lump of sadness made its way into my throat.

And then Pastor Abe had the nerve to play the last scene from It's a Wonderful Life. When Harry raises his glass to a houseful of George's friends and says, "To my big brother George, the richest man in town," I started sniffing. And when George reads the inscription from Clarence the Angel that says, "Remember no man is a failure who has friends!" the tears flowed freely.

They kept coming when Nick and I walked into Old Spaghetti Warehouse the next night, expecting a quiet dinner with Dave and Kori, two of our best friends here. Instead, we were met by a roomful of people waiting to toast us in our next stage of life.

We ate and laughed the night away (or more realistically, until our baby-sitters had to go home). The party isn't over, either; we have a dinner date tonight with the Stuckers, another tomorrow with the O'Connors, and so on and so forth right until we leave.

I may not know much, but I do know this unchangeable fact: in the areas that really count -- love, friendship, loyalty and relationships -- Nick and I are rich beyond measure. And I think Clarence would deem us wildly successful.

I do, too.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

An Open Letter to WWII Veterans on the Government Shutdown

Dear veterans of World War II:

I've always been a history buff. I got that from my dad. He used to let me stay up late with him and watch PBS documentaries, often about the war you men and women so bravely fought. I quickly became fascinated by the idea that a group of youngsters just a few years older than myself could save the world.

Because that's what you did. You stared death straight in the face and didn't even flinch. I know, because both of my grandpas were in the Navy during WWII, while one grandma was a "Rosie the Riveter." The other was a British war bride.

I've heard the stories, I've read the first-hand accounts, I've watched the movies and I've cried over the images. Your generation -- so young, so green, so full of promise -- literally stopped evil in its tracks.
My grandpa, James Elton Lanier, U.S. Navy

Your generation, like any other, wasn't perfect. It saved Jews while mistreating its own American soldiers of different races. It spoke of honor and valor overseas while ignoring injustices in its own backyard. An unplanned pregnancy and subsequent adoption was something to be ashamed of and kept in the shadows. Domestic abuse and addiction often remained hidden and glossed over instead of being dealt with, and children and marriages suffered mightily.

But still, time and time again, I have been left in awe of what American soldiers, sailor, Marines and airmen accomplished in the 1940s.

In short, the life I enjoy today -- the freedoms I so easily take for granted -- can be traced partly to you. And so I gladly stand and cross my heart when the Anthem plays. I teach my children about honoring the flag and the values it embodies. And when my 91-year-old grandpa (the one grandparent I have left) can't remember a blessed thing thanks to the progressing effects of dementia, I remind myself that it is a privilege to take care of a veteran. Reminding him 33 times what time dinner will be is the least I can do for someone who fought for my freedom.

4 Generations of Riddles, starting with my Grandpa Dale, former U.S. Navy

So today, as I watch the news and see what state our country is in, I cringe. And from the bottom of my heart, I want to apologize.

I am sorry that your own nation now barricades you from your own memorial.

I am sorry that you are being used as a political pawn in a fight that most of you have zero control over.

I am sorry that your sacrifices have been forgotten by a generation obsessed with their own comfort.

I am sorry that today's young people do not emulate their grandparents' commitment to marriage, choosing to ditch their vows because modern society elevates "following your heart" over fixing what's broken.

I am sorry that this country does not value its most vulnerable citizens the way you did when you liberated Europe's concentration camps.

I am sorry that in today's world a real man is seen not as someone who protects and provides for his family like you did, but someone who pays for his girlfriend's abortion or child support.

I am sorry that so many of you sit alone in nursing homes with little companionship because the rest of us are too busy.

I am sorry that patriotism and dissent are now seen as suspicious.

I am sorry that hard work is now seen as optional, and personal responsibility and moral absolutes to be mocked.

I am sorry that so many know more about the battle between Kimmel and Kanye than the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Grandpa Dale receiving a medal at a VFW ceremony for his service
As a people-pleaser, I admit I say the word "sorry" over far too many things I have no control over, from the weather to other people's reactions. Sadly, there's not a lot I can do to rectify this situation, either -- except pass on the same sense of right and wrong to my three children that you demonstrated constantly from Pearl Harbor to V-E and V-J Days.

It's not an arrogant sense of "We're America, we know better than everyone else and we never make a mistake." It's not a holier-than-thou attitude of imperialism and manifest destiny. It's a guiding principle of everyone's right to a life free from terror and persecution through community, sacrifice, hard work, education and grace.

You didn't get everything right; no generation does. But you certainly came far closer than anything I've seen or studied in my 28 years. You deserve medals around your neck, not metals that keep you out.

And for that, I am sorry.


A Grateful Granddaughter

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

10 Things I'm Loving Right Now

1) Autumn in the Willamette Valley. I mean, seriously. Get out of town. Could the leaves be any more vibrant, the air more crisp, the football more exciting, the bonfires more tantalizing or the scenery more breathtaking? I think not. I can't tell you how many times I've been driving down the road in the past two weeks and have been left speechless by what my Lasiked eyes are seeing.

A walk through the country with my baby-wearing husband. It's hard to decide which one to look at!

2) Cowgirl Dirt Cosmetics. I can't remember where I heard of this Montana-based company, but they had me at the name. And everything I've ordered, from the foundation to the cover-up, has been fantastic. Bonus: everything is all-natural, the customer service has been killer (I LOVE family businesses!) and the prices are decent.

3) "Sunday Picture" rejects. Because sometimes, it kills me to just show one. Avinly, why oh why do you have to be so ridiculously photogenic? ("Because she's my daughter," Nick-the-wannabe-model says.)

4) Fit2B's New Stuff. You may have heard me rave about my favorite online fitness site. Guess what? They've got some new stuff happening! I'm loving the way they now list their workouts alphabetically (so much easier to find my top routines!) and are even on Roku!. Remember, you can always enter the code CRYSTALKUPPER at checkout to get 3 months of 24-7 routines for just $20.

5) Trampoline Pow-Wows with Aunties
. I'm seriously soaking up the preciousness of these last few weeks in the U.S. as we make the rounds saying goodbye to family and friends. Drink it all in, little man, because pretty soon these moments will be Face Timed instead of face-to-face.

 6) Homemade wooden blocks for a good cause. My Vancouver friends Mark and Rebecca Jenks brought home Gavyn and Veronika from Eastern Europe last year. Both babes are awesome, beautiful and blessed with an extra chromosome. It's been such a wonderful experience that the Jenks are returning for a 12-year-old girl, also with Down Syndrome.

To finance the adoption, they are selling these handmade wooden block puzzles.
Mark is a really talented guy! We bought a space-themed set for Jack's birthday. It teaches him the planets on one side with a puzzle of a shuttle on the other. Perfect for all ages because the little ones can stack and destroy while Jack pieces together and learns! P.S. Mark has a James Bond accent, and if you're lucky, you'll get to hear it when you buy a set.

The farm set -- another great choice!

7) Husbands who gladly pitch in with laundry...and find new methods of baby transportation.
And who look cute while doing it!

8) When communities rally around their own. Check out this awesome clip from friends just a few counties south. I needed some good news, and this story provided it.

9) My dog. In a complicated, angry world, Klaus only shows me love. And I dig it. Metaphorically, of course; he's the one who does the digging.

And finally...

10) Morning hair. You're welcome.

I'm turning the tables: what are YOU loving right now?

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Tale of Two Thomases

Every August, Nick and I get excited. Yes, we love celebrating our anniversary, we love going to the coast, but to us, August means something more.

It means the beginning of Duck football. And when we say "Duck football," it's usually whispered in reverent tones. We love the game that much.

And yes, that might be why I went into labor early with our firstborn (our quarterback got injured and I was really upset), our second child could correctly identify a touchdown before he knew his ABCs and we have paid a ridiculous amount of money for cute Duck headbands for our daughter.


On Saturday, Nick and I watched as our beloved Ducks whomped the Washington Huskies 45-24 in Seattle. A player we've been keeping an eye on all season is Thomas Tyner.
A local Oregon boy, he was one of the nation's top recruits last year as a high school senior from Aloha. And as a college freshman, he's proved just as exciting to watch as a Duck as he was at the prep level. True to form, he played very well in his limited minutes. He's quick (did I mention he's also a track star?), agile, strong and smart when he runs.

"Man," I told Nick, "Wouldn't it be awesome if one of our boys grew up to be as awesome as Thomas Tyner?"

On Sunday, we went to First Baptist Church in Eugene. And we learned about a different Thomas.

Thomas Long was born at 28 weeks weighing only a few pounds and with cerebral palsy. He has a lot of medical issues. He can't dart around a defender, bench press twice his weight or even toss a football.

But put him in his wheelchair and take him running, and he's quick to smile and love life.

Thomas just finished his first half-marathon last week. And as he spoke to us through labored voice, he reassured everyone that God can use us exactly how we are. He doesn't require perfection of body, mind or heart -- only a willing spirit.

I couldn't help but think of what different lives Thomas Tyner and Thomas Long lead (though they booth cheer for the U of O, of course!). And yet they are both using their bodies to their maximum potential.

As much as I love football, I have a feeling Thomas Long has learned more in his lifetime about grace, patience, love and compassion than Thomas Tyner (or I) ever will.

"Man," I told Nick, "Wouldn't it be awesome if one of our boys grew up to be as awesome as Thomas Long?"