Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Posts of 2013

Crystal's Cliffnotes saw its most traffic ever this year, and for that I thank you. And perhaps humbly request that if you like/love/hate something I write to share it.

Some exciting news coming up: look for a new website soon...including a new blog!

By reader numbers, here are the 10 most popular posts of the year.

1) The Hurt of Love UPDATED-- I was incredibly gratified to see that an orphan-themed post got the most hits of any of my 50 blogs in 2013. Click to see who has now found their families, been transferred to a mental institution and aged out.

2) How I Healed {Part I} -- Apparently, physical trauma from birth is more common than I thought!

3) Our Next Stop -- The big PCS announcement! Where did Uncle Sam send us?

4) And She Will Be -- We waited until fairly late in my pregnancy to choose our third child's name. And lots of you tuned in for the big announcement!

5) 5 Sentences Every Father Needs to Hear -- Just in time for Father's Day, too.

6) Candy Cane Complicated (AKA My Big Fat Moving-In Post) -- The Grand Tour of our new British home.

7) 10 Things I'm Loving Right Now -- Who doesn't love a happy blog?

8) Joy Came in the Morning: Avinly's Birth Story -- All about Avinly's grand arrival.

9) While Waiting -- My brother and sister-in-law's "falling in love" story is pretty stinkin' sweet and spiritually inspiring, if you ask me.


10) Love at Spencer's Butte, and All Around the World -- How my worst date turned into the best.

What about you? What was your favorite blog post you read or wrote in 2013?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Puzzle Pieces -- A Poem to My Parents (And Maybe Yours, Too)

Christmas Eve 1991

At year's end, they appeared
The attic delivered one after another
Boxes full of handmade treasures
Accumulated, mismatched beauty
Decked in red and green
I saw and loved each one
But failed to see who propped and placed

At year's end, they appeared
The ovens delivered one after another
Trays full of hand-rolled goodness
Accumulated deliciousness
Spread with frosting and focus
I saw and tasted each one
But never noticed who floured and shaped

Fun in the snow, 1991

At year's end, they appeared
Their hands delivered one after another
Packages full of momentary glee
Accumulated, wished-for fun
I played with and used each one
But couldn't see who pondered and shopped

At year's end, they appeared
Our town delivered one after another
Hours of concerts, pageants, caroling
Accumulated memory-making
Replete with decades-old costumes and tales
I joined in each one
But never grasped the communal weight

Christmas Concert at church, 1993
At year's end, they appeared
Trucks and cars delivered one after another
Caravans of cousins, aunts and uncles
Accumulated, prayed-for reunions
I talked and feasted with each one
But never understood their true family worth

At year's end, it appeared
The box with the pieces one after another
Shelves with nutcrackers proud and painted
Accumulated, snapped-together Yuletide puzzle
I worked side-by-side each night
But didn't realize its forever-yet-fragile nature

At year's end, they appear
My own miniature Christmas lovers, one after another
Three little lives bursting with dreams
Accumulated moments of love and learning
I repeat what I've been told and taught
From oceans away, I grasp the thin thread of tradition

Like the puzzle of times now gone
I search for the foundation first
Locking each piece in place for my babes
Though I have no box for guidance.
Like the nutcrackers on the shelf
I paint on a smile and stand tall
Knowing that in the moment
The picture isn't complete

At year's end, He appears
Our Creator delivered Him, and there would be no other
A baby full of grace and truth
Accumulated eternity in his tiny hands
I now see, and place my unfinished pieces there
For him to lock and shape

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Merry Christmas, Wherever You Are

So this year's Christmas letter will not exactly be traditional. For starters, it's obviously not an actual letter. But hey, this year hasn't exactly been normal, so why not roll with it?

I think I'll branch out with an old-fashioned acrostic, using words to describe our past 12 months with a smattering of year-in-review photos to illustrate.

Move! 2013 was definitely "The Year of the Big Move." Just in case you didn't know, Uncle Sam kicked us out of America and booted us across the ocean to Europe. After four wonderful years in Salem, Oregon, we made the big jump to RAF Mildenhall in the United Kingdom.

With the aid of a Scripture Caterpillar (and the reward of a visit to Chuck E. Cheese), Jack memorized almost 30 verses this year.
Expansion. This year, our little family grew by one with the arrival of Avinly Dawn on April 3. She is now 8.5 months old and one wonderful wild-haired, blue-eyed addition to our nest. She looks just like Nick's mother, is totally in love with her daddy and would rather be held than dressed or clean.

Jude learned how to ride a bike at the advanced age of two this year.
Roundabout. The move from America to Europe has been full of little quirks, twists and turns...literally. We are learning how to drive on the left, navigate roundabouts, shop with pounds and decipher British slang, among other fun learning experiences. As to whether the kids (especially Avinly) will develop an accent, only the next four years will tell.

Just a few weeks before Avinly showed up
Roller coaster. Even though Nick was very ready to leave the world of Air Force recruiting and return to working on his beloved jets, it was hard to leave Salem. We made amazing, lifelong friendships during our four years there. And with only one grandparent left between the two of us, we know our time spent with loved ones in America is precious and oh-so fleeting.

Nick and Jude
Yahoo! With three small children, the Kupper house is never quiet, especially when Nick walks through the door. Most nights feature discussions on "What was the best part of your day?" (where, strangely enough, Avinly always says "Milk!"), wrestling matches, story books, songs and always prayers to God, thanking Him for our many blessings. I often get comments from strangers in public like, "My, your hands are full!" No matter how much spit-up my outfit features or how little sleep I got the night before, I try to smile and say, "Yes, full of good things!"

Avinly, one day old and ready to go home
 Change. 2013 has been full of it. In addition to Avinly, we gained a new sister-in-law when my youngest brother married and two new cousins (pictured below, born right before and after Avinly). Jack started kindergarten at Salem Academy in the States and is now in "Year 1" at Gayton Church of England Primary School in the UK. Jude conquered potty-training and training wheels. Nick switched jobs and we switched continents. Time marches on.

Three generations!
Happening. The Kuppers had a jam-packed year, even without the move. We took several trips to Sunriver and the Coast with both friends and family, hosted our exchange student Celia for another five fun-filled weeks, vacationed at Disneyland in September and traipsed all over Oregon trying to fit in our "to-do" list before we jetted over the Pond.

Bedtime with Jude and Daddy
Run. Of course, it wouldn't be Nick and Crystal without running and racing. Nick trained hard and PRed (ran a personal best) at the annual 4th of July "Butte to Butte" 10k in Eugene. And I ran several fun competitions, including a sub-27-minute 5k at 34.5 weeks pregnant and the same half-marathon in October that I ran while 17 weeks pregnant with Avinly last year.

36 weeks pregnant
Individuals. 2013 was definitely a year for each of my kids to show a little bit more of their personalities. Six-year-old Jack is quite the student who loves to read, decorate, plan our social calendar, engineer the next big invention and talk to anyone who will listen. Three-year-old Jude, meanwhile, just wants to play ball; any sport will do. He's also quite goofy and hammy, much more so than Jack ever is. And Avinly appears to be taking after her oldest brother -- she loves people, chattering and interacting!

May Day stealth mission!
 Service. As the boys get older, it's been so fun to teach them about giving to others. This year, we've studied about the global orphan crisis (especially those with special needs), hurricane relief in the Philippines, packing shoeboxes for impoverished kids worldwide and a host of other creative ways to give back.

Going for a 28th birthday walk in the Oregon rain
 Tech Sergeant. On January 1st, Nick sewed on the rank of Technical Sergeant (E6). He reached this milestone fairly young, simply because he is fantastic at his Air Force job and works very hard to provide for us. Woo-hoo and we were/are so proud!

ilestones. Jack now has lost four teeth and is learning to add and subtract. He loves to read and rides his bike to and from school every day. Jude learns new words constantly and is developing his sense of humor, which in turn makes us laugh. He can count to 20, knows all his letters and loves to weigh himself on the bathroom scale. Avinly, meanwhile, quickly learned that the best way to get someone to pick her up is to scream her head off. Works like a charm. She also is thisclose to crawling and pulling herself to standing!

 Anniversary. Nick and I have now been married nine educational years. We are still novices at this marriage business, but it certainly is a fun classroom!

Mother's Day
Success. We may not be the richest, fastest, smartest, tallest or most well-known, well-connected family in the universe (although I still maintain that Nickolas IS the best-looking man around!). But we are together, we are alive, we are growing every year, we are loved. And that, to us, is success.

Father's Day at the ball park
This year, more than ever, the Kuppers have realized how special our friends and family are. And we have vowed to not take them for granted from now on.

Early summer in Central Oregon
So to that end, thank you for whatever role you have played in our lives. We are so grateful for each and every one of you. 

The whole family
Hugs and kisses to you all across the miles. 

May your friendships be rich...

Jack and his best cousin Josh at summer camp
May your milestones be worth remembering...

May your memories be colorful and rich with meaning...

May your weekends be filled with people and things you love...

Runaway Pumpkin Half Marathon with my mom, dad and uncle
May the joy of a child born for us all bring you peace and lasting contentment.

Much love from the Kuppers, and best wishes for a wonderful 2014!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Candy Cane Complicated (AKA My Big Fat Moving-In Post)

From America to Britain, from Salem to Gayton, from Beth to Acorn, from Marion to Norfolk, from Chauncey to Oak House...one way or the other, we are here and in a house.

Welcome to 9 Acorn Drive, AKA the already-named Oak House, in the town of Gayton, the county of Norfolk, the country of England.

Don't trip over the boxes or children piled up everywhere, please.

The kitchen. The red is my favorite feature!

It may not look super-impressive to you, but this house has a normal-sized fridge/freezer...AN EXTREME RARITY IN THE UK!
An important feature for all my PNW visitors: a built-in cappucino maker. You're welcome.

I took these photos before the movers arrived. Because I figured my readers didn't really care to see giant walls of boxes. Care to join me on a tour?

But first, here's the skinny on how we found this place: my friend Kim back home has a friend who has a friend who just so happens to be stationed at RAF Mildenhall like us. She said, hey want me to hook you up with someone I've never met but who knows my friend?

Why not? So first via Facebook, then via Bob Hope (no, not the man, the indoor playground on base!), I met Liz.

For the first time in our 9 years of marriage, we have a staircase. Nick, as you can see, is pretty happy about that.

Liz is a super-cool and crafty Montana mom of two boys whom I immediately liked. She lives in Downham Market, which she immediately liked when she first moved there 18 months ago. "You should try to find a house there," she said.

And so I did. Try, that is.

I had been searching online for a house with Mildenhall (the town where Nick's base is) as the center. And the pickings were pretty slim: 1200-square-foot houses being described as "extremely spacious" by letting agents, no garages, NO CLOSETS, small and cramped rooms, and did I mention no closets? And all pretty spendy. I knew we could make it work if we had to, but I held out hope for something better.

The living room. Nick has only set it on fire once so far.

So when I moved my online pinpoint from Mildenhall to Downham Market, I discovered something amazing: the further you got from base, the better the houses got. And then I saw this house.

It looked amazing...but it was a 45-50 minute drive from base. I should have known better than to show it to Nick; he immediately started drooling and said to call the letting agent. Once he gets an idea in his head, it's there for good. (I am a prime example).

The piano room
Long story short, I came alone (yet somehow with 3 small children), I saw that the bathrooms had vanities (another rarity here) and that the kitchen was red and I fell in love.

Jack saw that it had a trampoline and some play equipment. I told him those things don't come with the house. "Actually, these ones do," the agent said. "The owners are moving to New Zealand and can't bring them."

Jack smirked and reminded me that last week he had prayed for a house with a trampoline. And I knew that we were meant to be here.

The utility room
The cool part? Kim, my Salem friend who introduced me to Liz, is a real estate agent. I would never have seen this place if it wasn't for Liz. So Kim, in other words, unwittingly found me a house on the other side of the world. She's good, folks.

Another view of the utility room. It's larger, thankfully, than most master bedrooms here in the UK.

Since then, it's been pure craziness. Moving internationally is wild, moving in December when you're easily guilted by perfect Facebook photos of your friends' perfect Christmas memories is a jungle on steroids. Part of me wants to title this post, "THIS IS THE WORST TIME OF THE YEAR TO MOVE EVER!" But then I think about the disaster in the Philippines, and the homeless, and Pastor Saeed, and the older Reece's Rainbow kids who are coming close to forever losing their chance at finding a family, and I realize that just to be sheltered, warm, fed and together is such a gift.

Our little double garage. Our van doesn't fit, and to get MacGyver in, you have to fold the mirrors in. But hey, it's a garage, which is quite a find around here.
Some cliffnotes on British houses, and ours specifically:
  • Though the house is only 4 years old, it still doesn't have closets. This is a sore sticking point with me, obviously.
  • The doors do not have deadbolts; each individual door and window has its own key. In other words, this house has about 30 keys and I have locked myself in at least 3 times. 
  • Kitchen sinks here do not have sprayers.
The utility room bathroom
  • The walls are made of concrete, not drywall. So if you notice a sprinkling of bruises on any given limb of mine, don't worry. 
  • Bathrooms don't have any outlets (except for a shaver plug; I have no idea why) or light switches. Instead, you dry/curl your hair elsewhere and the lights have long cords. Apparently, they don't worry about strangling lawsuits here. P.S. Jude is thrilled. With the cords, not the lack of lawsuits, although I'm sure he would be given the chance. 
  • No screen doors; instead, they have window vents.
The kitchen leading into the dining room
  • Each individual plug-in has its own off/on switch. Of course, it's not like we can use the vast majority since we have all American appliances and only two transformers that we drag all over the house. I will never take my Scentsy warmers for granted again.
  • The garage doors don't roll back, they lift up. 
  • No hoses or water spigots out front. Apparently washing cars in such a mud-infested country is not a high priority. 
  • The toilets hook straight into the vanities. 
The lovely-sized backyard, complete with trampoline and playground

Raised garden beds and a clothesline!

The kitchen leads to the entryway and utility room
The good: 
  • This place has 6 bathrooms. I would trade 3 of them, however, for a closet. If the Church of England doesn't have a patron saint of closets, it should. And fittingly, he/she wouldn't have any pockets. 
  • Celia gets her own room. I'm praying this entices her to visit often. 
  • For anyone who is thinking of visiting, you don't have to worry about your accommodations. You get your own guest suite, complete with bedroom, master bathroom and lounge area that closes off from the rest of the house.

Celia's room

Our room, with a view into the backyard

Thank goodness the owners had to move internationally. This wardrobe just wouldn't fit in their carry-on.
  • Speaking of visitors (and oh, we want you), we are only 20 minutes away from the beach, 15 minutes from the Queen's summer home and less than a 2-hour train ride to London.

Our bathroom, with a towel holder that even I have to bend down for.

Our shower

The family bathroom
  • We live in a town of 1400 people. Lots of farms and pretty views. Not so many sidewalks, street lights or other safety features.
  • The church here is called St. Nicholas and was built in 1216. 1216, folks. Prince William, Prince Harry and Pippa Middleton attended a wedding here a few years ago. To which my mom will roll her eyes and say, "So?"

Avinly's room, of course. It was already pink.

Jack and Jude's room

It's so weird that a) our stuff actually made it all the way across the world and b) they managed to fit a semi on our one-lane road.

  • Acorn Drive has about 10 houses. The occupants include several doctors and scientists and one Formula One racer at the end. And then there's us.

The boys' bathroom

The hallway leading to the guest suite

The guest bedroom...not quite ready for visitors, but by next month, it will be!
As I unpacked box #198 (at least that's what it felt like), I pulled out a bar of soap and smelled it. Tears pooled in my eyes before I even realized why.

I closed my eyes and was transported back to a great hall back in Sunriver, Oregon. People milled around the booths showcasing their Christmas crafts and homemade goods for sale. Mom and I strolled, stopping at every booth, examining almost everything in Riddle woman tradition.

We came to the Bend Soap Company. A lifelong sucker for the smell of peppermint, I zeroed in on the candy cane soap but didn't buy it.

Guest bathroom, or "ensuite" as the British call it
Christmas morning came, and of course, the soap was in my stocking. I didn't think much of it at the time; it was just some yummy soap that smelled nice from a mother who loves to buy me little things she knows I like.

But now, surrounded by the flotsam and jetsam of 9 years of marriage and 6 years of motherhood, this soap suddenly meant so much more. They say the sense of smell is most strongly associated with memory, and I guess it's true.

Because in that moment, I would have traded anything just to be shopping with my mom again.

Life goes on in the midst of a move, especially with a future interior designer in the house!

The candy cane is so much more than a sugary December treat. It was created to represent the great Shephard's suffering (google "legend of the candy cane" sometime). The sweetness is ever-present, yes -- but it also is mixed in with the red, the representation of Christ's blood shed to save us.

And this move has been like that. Gratitude for what we have, sadness over what we're missing back home. Sweet yet bitter with the knowledge of what someone else suffered so we could be free.

It's candy cane complicated.