Saturday, June 17, 2017

10,000 years and then forevermore!

At the YMCA, where our family has it's membership, there is an elderly gentleman that works out there who reminds me of my dad.   I miss my dad.  Daddy, as I call him.  This August it will be two years since he went to be with the Lord.  I miss him everyday, but special days like birthdays and holidays bring him to mind even more.

I miss his smile. His big hug whenever we would see one another after a long separation.  I miss his laugh.  The way he would get tickled over a seemingly small thing, and wouldn't be able to stop laughing.  I miss his whistling and his handsome crooner voice singing old love songs.  I miss the way he was always willing to serve us kids.  I even miss his grumpy scowl he would get from time to time.  And I miss not having him to call on this special day of the year. 

But daddy isn't missing us.  He is too busy praising the same Lord in heaven that he lived for and so willingly served here on earth.   The Lord he unashamedly told friends and family about.  

This morning while at the Y, I again saw my dad's look-a-like.  As I watched him on the rowing machine and thought of my dad, the song "10,000 Reasons" began playing on my headphones.

"And on that day when my strength is failing, the end draws near and my time has come, 
Still my soul will sing your praise unending.  
10,000 years and then forevermore!  FOREVERMORE!

Bless the Lord O my soul.  O my soul!
Worship His holy name.
Sing like never before, O my soul! I'll worship Your holy name!" 

Thank you daddy for being that strong example to me.  I pray I can be the same strong example to my family, of faithfulness to my Lord.  I pray that I will live for Him and praise Him right to the end, and then 10,000 years and FOREVERMORE!  

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Scott the adventurer

My dear husband,  I am so thankful the Lord put us together.   You are everything I am not.   God made you to be an adventurous risk taker while I tend to want to be as sure as I can of the outcome before making a decision.  You are driven, while at times I struggle to be motivated.  You are about as diplomatic as one can be, and I tend to just say what is on my mind.  You silently work through issues or challenges, while I have to talk them out.  You are someone who is always changing and growing.  You are never fixed because you constantly want to improve, which makes you intriguing and invigorating.  But that also can make it a bit scary for this gal who prefers consistency.

At times, these differences can cause friction.  At times, I just want you to slow down and see things from my point of view.  Enjoy the beauty of the sea shore instead of wanting to be out in the middle of the deep, dark ocean where you can't see the shoreline.

But Scott, I can honestly say, I am so thankful you aren't like me.  If you were, our life would be so different.  And while some of those risks that you have taken brought difficulty and even pain, God gave us the strength and grace to learn from those trials, and He used them to make us both stronger in the end.  They brought us closer together.  We certainly wouldn't be where we are today if you had listened to me and found another corporate job instead of following your heart and opening your own business.  Again, a lesson for me to trust you, even though it can be a bit scary, leaping without seeing where you will land.  

I am thankful that even when we are out in that deep sea, and I feel afraid because I can't see the shoreline, I can be safe in your arms.  Knowing we are out there together is all I need.  I am seeking to trust you as you trust the Lord to lead and guide us. 

I love you, Scott.  Keep your amazing adventuresome spirit.  Know I am by your side.  I may fearfully hide my eyes from time to time, but I know you are looking to the future for both of us.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Who knew biscuits could be so scary?

My husband is a man who loves adventure.  His idea of a vacation would be taking a sailing trip across the Atlantic.  But if you ask me, I am very content to have my feet planted firmly on the ground.  If we are going to vacation near water, give me a nice quiet cottage on the beach and I'm a happy camper.  I would much rather see the water from the safety of the shore.  My husband would love to be out on the water and not even see the shoreline!

Our opposing philosophies are not just seen in our vacation dreams, but in our daily living as well.  My husband's sense of adventure can even be seen in his profession.  He's an entrepreneur.  His entrance into this livelihood, as you can imagine, came a lot more easily for him than it did for me.  

Prior to starting his own business, Scott had worked in the corporate world for most of our married life.  He had worked himself up from store management to being an officer in a fortune 500 company.  But when that company was bought out by another corporation, we knew many of the positions in the office would be changed, including his.  We saw the writing on the wall, so to speak.  We just didn't know for sure when the hammer would fall. 

   In preparation, Scott began thinking what he would do next.  We knew he would have a year's severance, for which we were very thankful.  My thinking was to find another job within that year in the corporate world.  A safer option.  But Scott had other ideas in mind.  He desired to start his own business so we could remain in our home and be close to our grown children.

The thought of going into business was very scary for me.  We had tried going down that path before.  16 years earlier we opened a small bagel shop with some dear friends of ours.  Scott kept his job and I managed the shop for 6 years.  Our three children were still grammar school age at the time.  Our youngest child had just entered kindergarten when the business opened.  I didn't want to be running the business.  I wanted to be at home, having the freedom to go on field trips with the kids and be the "Class mom".  My heart was not in the right place and while we had that business, I often would teasingly say that someday I was going to write a book telling people 3 simple rules to live by if you were thinking of opening a business.  Rule #1:  Don't open a business if you have to go into debt to do it.  Rule #2:  Don't open a business unless you have at least enough money in the bank to live off of for 2 years.   Rule #3:  Don't go into business if you have young children living at home.  Obviously,  these were not the easiest 6 years of my life, but mostly because of my own lack of trust in what the Lord had for me at the time.  And even though we eventually sold the shop,  it took us years to recover financially.

So, needless to say, when my husband said he wanted us to take a trip to the west coast to look at a few ideas for businesses to start, I didn't jump up and down with excitement.  And even though it had been ten years since we had sold the bagel shop, and God had used those ten years to teach Scott a LOT about himself and about business, every fiber of my being wanted to cry out, NO!  Don't do it again! But instead, I packed our bags and we got on a plane and headed out west.  It was his inspiration trip for "his next big adventure".  I was just holding on for dear life and praying God would change his mind.

While we were on the trip, I had my birthday.  We were standing outside the space needle in Seattle, Washington waiting for it to open that June morning, when my oldest son called my phone to wish me a happy birthday.  He asked how the trip was going and asked me how I was doing.  I shared my hesitation and my struggle.   My son paused, then said, "Mom, do you remember that book you always said you were going to write when we had the bagel shop?"  I laughed and said, "Yes".  He said, "Mom, all those rules are in place now.  If dad is ever going to get the chance to do this, now is the time.  You need to let him do it."  He used my own words against me, but I knew he was right.  I thanked him.  I told him he had helped me more than he could know.  And I decided right then and there I would support Scott in his endeavor.  It didn't mean I wouldn't struggle after that.   Fear was still a daily battle for me.  But I made a choice to seek to trust the Lord in it from that moment on.  

So when we returned from our trip that June, Scott didn't waste any time putting his ideas to work.  One in particular seemed to stand out.  A biscuit shop.  It was providential that he began moving forward so quickly, because just a month after the trip, his job came to an end.  

We had some sweet young friends, Gus and Krysten who decided to go on this crazy journey of a biscuit shop with us.  We began hosting taste tests in our home every Thursday night.  We invited friends and neighbors in to taste our recipes and rate our food.  We did this for several weeks as we perfected the menu.  Every Friday morning as I walked down the stairs to the lingering smell of fried chicken and bacon from the night before, fear again would grip me.  I would have to fight back the tears and pray for the Lord's guidance and for Him to give me more faith.

That faith I prayed for would soon be tested again when it was time to sign the lease on the first location of Maple Street.  The guys had found a spot and invited Krysten and myself to come see it.  We walked through trying to envision the space as a biscuit shop instead of a burrito place like it had previously been.  She and I talked about different ways we could make the decor rustic, and it was almost fun  for a brief moment until I saw that the guys were sitting at one of the tables with the landlord.  What were they doing?  Krysten told me they were signing the lease.  Signing the lease?  Wait!  I'm not ready!  There it was again, that gripping fear.  As we drove home, Scott reminded me to trust the Lord, and to trust him.  He assured me he would not put us in financial jeopardy.  At this point, with the lease signed, I had no choice but to try to do just that, to leave it in the Lord's hands.  There was no turning back now.

We worked like crazy people getting the store ready to open.  The guys got the equipment, worked on the build out, hired a few employees, finished a myriad of details.   Krysten and I finished the last of the recipes, stained walls and tables, painted the entire space for what seemed like endless hours.  Finally, it was the night before the store was to open.  We were all exhausted.  It had been a very fast 5 week transformation, but also because we did most of the work ourselves, it seemed like it had taken ages.  One last trip to the office supply place to get register tape.  REGISTER TAPE!  A seemingly simple task, but as I stood in the isle of the store, I became paralyzed by my fear. A wave came over me and it took everything I could do to keep from crying.  I knew if I started, I probably wouldn't be able to stop.  I left the store with no tape.  I went back to Maple Street where Scott greeted me.  He could tell I was struggling and said, "Come with me."  We got back in the car and he took my hand and said, "It's going to be alright."  I nodded.  And even though I still had fear, I knew I could believe his words.  It WOULD be alright.  God had always been faithful, and He would remain faithful.  Scott took me to the office supply store.  We bought the register tape together.  We drove back to Maple Street and joined the others in getting the store ready for the next day's opening.  

Fast forward 4 1/2 years.  Here we are with 9 stores (working on store 10).  Has this journey changed me?  Do I still have struggles with fear?  Surely I've got this thing figured out by now, right?  Yes, this journey has changed me, but not how I would have guessed.  Bottom line, I have learned that I don't have it within myself to trust.  I don't have it within myself to not have fear.  It all has to come from the Lord.  Every ounce of faith I have is a gift of grace from God above.  And if this journey has taught me anything so far, it is how frail I am and how great God is.  More than ever, I see that I need God every hour of every day.  And I pray God will continue to lead and guide that husband of mine while he continues on his adventures. 

This picture was taken on a trip we took to Seattle a couple years later.  We went back to just enjoy the west coast!
You can find details of this trip on my blog, Planes, Trains and Automobiles (and buses and boats) 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

What is your season?

Several years ago (I'm going to show my age here a bit) there was a company that would hold parties where they would do an assessment on your skin tones to determine what colors looked best on you.  They categorized their findings by the four seasons.   They would say, "You're a spring!" or "You're a summer!".   It was quite the rage back in the 80's! So if someone asked me then, "What is your season?"  I would say I was a spring, which meant I was to wear pastels.  So not only did I have the big 80's hair, I had the lovely peach outfit to accompany it!!  I will spare you the picture!

But now when we think of our "season", it has nothing to do with the color of clothing we wear, but rather where we are in our life.  Are we young and single?  Married with little ones running about?  Empty nesters?   

Lately I have been pondering my "season".  I, like so many others my age, am a full time caregiver of an elderly parent.  I care for my mother-in-law who lives with my husband and myself.  She has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's with Lewy Bodies Dementia. She is still in the moderate stage of the disease,  so has been able to maintain some of her independence, for which we are very thankful.  But each day, we see a tiny bit more of that independence slip away as she progresses in the illness.

This new "season" has brought many changes into my life, as you can imagine.  I see my own freedoms slip away.  I now need to schedule my errands and outings with friends and family around the days I have my part time assistant here to help.  And sometimes I find that it's just easier to stay home.  I don't mean for this to sound like a pitty party.  That is not my intent.  (Trust me, I've had my share of those parties all on my own!)  What I want to say is, this is a SEASON.  Seasons change.  They morph into the next.  It's the way God created them.  Each season has it's purpose, and each one is dependant on the one that comes before it, and looks to the one that comes behind it.

There are days when I feel like I'm in the "dead of winter" in my heart.  I don't feel growth.  I feel dormant.   I sometimes allow the bitterness of the season to engulf me.

Amy Carmichael referred to it in her writings as "The bare bush in the snow".  She said, "You were like a leafy bush, and many little things came for you to shelter.  You were not great or important, but you could help those little things.  And it was the joy of your life to help them.  
Now you can do nothing at all.
Some desolation - illness, monetary loss, or something you cannot talk about to anyone, a trouble no one seems to understand - has overwhelmed you.  All your green leaves have gone.  
Now you cannot shelter even the least little bird.  You are like a bush, with it's bare twigs.  No use to anyone.
That is what you think.
But look again at this bare bush.  Look at the delicate tracery of it's shadow lines on the snow.  The sun is shining behind the bush and so every little twig is helping to make something that is very beautiful.  Perhaps other eyes, that you do not see, are looking on it too, wondering what can be made of sun and snow and poor bare twigs?...
The spring will come again, for after winter there is always spring.
When will spring come?  When will your bush be green again?  When will the little birds you love come back to you?  We don't know.  But we do know that sun and snow are working together for good.  And these hard times will all pass as a dream in the night.  All that seemed lost will be restored."

As I think about my season, another thought comes to mind; the season my mother-in-law is in.  Her "bare bush".  How dormant must she feel?  Her "spring" will be an eternal one!  But for now, she is here in her dead of winter.  In need of comfort.  In need of care.  In need of sun.  

A "little bird"?  In need of shelter from a leafy bush?

So in the midst of this season, engulfed by the bitter cold, I will strive to let these words seep down, like fingers of sunlight to refresh my soul:  "He will not fail you, who is the God of the sun, and the snow."

So, what is your season?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Christmas 2016

I wasn't going to do a Christmas home tour blog this year.  Most of my decorations are used year to year, so I thought why post again?  It will look pretty much like it did last year, right?

But after getting things out, and decorated, I decided to go ahead and post pics of our 2016 Christmas.  Why?  Because my sister asked me to.  :-)  So this is for you, sis!

Welcome to our Christmas home!

Stepping in the house, you are greeted by the lighted garland on the stairs and one of my favorites, the "Merry Christmas" sign made by my sister.  Her online shop is "White Hen".  You will be seeing more of her work throughout the home.  I admit I'm a bit obsessed with her work.

Our living room has taken on a little different look this year with a different furniture and tree placement.  This is the first time I've placed the tree in this spot.  I love it in front of the window.  You can see it almost immediately when you walk in the front door.  

The sofa table is in front of the window on the other side of the tree.  

The sunroom is used primarily as overflow for the living room.  But I love sitting in there in the mornings for my Bible study time.  It's so peaceful.

This "Oh What Fun" sign was a gift from my sister.  I LOVE it!

In the dining room, we added a new hutch this year, replacing my old buffet.  So I tweaked that end of the room a bit.  I love the sign that is above the hutch.  I had my sister busy doing several other signs for me (I'll show you those later).  I found this at a friend's online shop, "The Feathered Nest".  It's perfect for this space.  And of course, my white ceramic tree had to sit atop the hutch.  I added some green miniature trees in some of my white ware to finish off the space.

The table is centered with more trees.  I used an apothecary jar and homemade snow globes to keep with the tree theme of the room.

My small buffet on the opposite wall adds to the tree theme in the room.  Above it I hung a chalkboard I made using an antique frame and 1/4 inch plywood.

This year, I painted and moved my buffet from the dining room to the kitchen, making a space for a coffee bar.  I hung the open shelving above it for storing additional coffee items.

On the opposite side of the room, I have a small live tree, decked out with kitchen utensil ornaments.

At the top of the stairs is my new favorite room in the house.  I transformed my craft room into a room for my grandkids to stay in when they visit.  I love how it turned out, but mainly, I love that I have a place that is special for them when they come!!

This little sign is so precious to me.  Made by my sister (again, you can find her at her online shop on Facebook as White Hen).  For the season, I simply adorned the shelf above it with bottle brush trees and hung a little garland from the shelf.

These little dolls are adorable.  They are from an online shop called "Cuddle+Kind".  When you purchase one of their dolls, they donate 10 meals to needy children.

In the master bedroom, I didn't change much from my decor I used last year.  But I did add this adorable sign also made by "White Hen".

Other spaces upstairs are the guest room, office and landing.  All have small touches for the season.  

So whether you pull out the old decorations, start with new ones, or do a combination of both, Christmas can be fresh and beautiful adding a beauty to your home that you only get to see for a short time every year.  Enjoy it!  Drink it in!  But mostly, as you find joy in your decor, remember it is all in honor of the real meaning of Christmas, the celebration of the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Misplaced Hope

In July, my daughter got her license to foster children and soon after, she received her first placement,  an adorable 14 month old baby boy.  We were all excited and overjoyed with the addition to the family.  The bond he had with Bethany was immediate.  It has been so sweet to see him grow and blossom under her love, nurturing and parenting.

Not long after entering her home, we found out the mother's rights would be terminated.  At the time, no family members were stepping up to adopt the little guy, and Bethany gladly raised her hand to say she would adopt.  The paperwork was filled out in early October, and we began hoping for the adoption to be finalized by Christmas.  What a gift!  My daughter to have a child and us another grandchild for Christmas!!

Not long after, our hopes were dimmed.  A person with family connections showed interest in adopting.  Because this person had family connections, Bethany was told they would most likely be chosen over her.  We all have been reeling over this news.  We went from thinking we might have this little fella as a permanent member of the family, to being fearful he may not even be with us for Christmas.  This HOPE we had was being dashed, right before our eyes.

Isn't that the way it so often is in life?  We have hopes in one thing or another, only to have them dashed or disappointed?  Relationships, financial security, health, the list goes on.  All important, but  the problem we have is if we are hoping in them, our hopes are misplaced.  Hopes in anything on this earth will always end in disappointment.  Because hope doesn't exist here on earth.  Real hope only comes from above.

I think it is fitting to focus on something to hope in this time of year.   This time of Advent.  This time leading up to Christmas.  The reason the angels sang and shepherds visited the manger was because the real reason for hope had finally come.  Jesus!  This one whom the world had awaited!  
We sing about that in carols at Christmas every year.  

"Come thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art.
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart."

He is the only one we can place our hope in and not be disappointed.  He is the true and living hope.

Now, what about our daughter and this child she desires to adopt?  Have we lost hope that it can happen?  Does she just give up and not pursue adoption?  No!  We still pray things will work out there.  She hasn't given up.  But not because she has hope in the system.  We certainly have seen that the system is flawed on more than one occasion.  But for the very reason I mentioned before, we have hope in the LORD!  And can trust HIM!  We don't know the outcome, but we can trust this little guy to HIM and trust the Lord will put him in the home HE sees fit.  And we can rejoice even now, knowing where ever this child ends up, is what the Lord deems best.

 We can be thankful no matter what disappointment we face, we can know we have real hope in the Lord. This Jesus who was born in a manger to set people free.  This Jesus who grew up to die on the cross to redeem our sinful souls.  This Jesus is our hope.  This Jesus is our salvation.  Place your hope in Him today!

"O holy night the stars are brightly shining.
It was the night of our dear Savior's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt it's worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices
O night divine.
O night when Christ was born.
O night divine.  O night divine."

*Inspired by the adult Sunday School lesson taught by Allen Pellum at Community Bible Church, Dec. 4, 2016.  Advent Week One: Hope.  

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Waco or Bust

There's an old postal motto which says, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds".  Well, when it comes to two sisters going on the trip of their dreams, the same can be said!

  Like so many others, my sister Jo and I have been dreaming of going to visit Magnolia Market since the show "The Fixer-Upper" came on HGTV.  So we finally did it!  We booked her flight from Wisconsin to Jax, then planned for the two of us to head west to Texas.  A two day trip, but everyone says to drive so you can carry all your treasures back with you!  So this is what we planned to do.

What we didn't plan, was for a hurricane to land in Jacksonville at the exact time her flight was suppose to land!  Seeing the storm coming, we moved her flight to arrive a day early.  We waited out Hurricane Matthew, making sure the family was safe and there was no damage to our home.  Thankfully all we experienced was the loss of power, so my husband urged us to head out the next day.

When we got in the car, loaded up and ready to go, it wouldn't start.  Crazy!  I had just driven it down the road to grab some breakfast!  My husband was still determined that we were going to have this trip of a lifetime, so he went down and rented a car for him to drive while we were gone, and we transferred our luggage to his car and headed west.  A few hours behind schedule, but we were off! Not even Hurricane Matthew could stop us!  
And 2 days later (16 hours of driving time) we arrived in Waco!!  Woot!  

The first thing we did was head to the Silos.  We knew it would be closed, but we had to see it.  Even closed, it was an impressive sight.  And it certainly whet our appetites for the next day! 

Fortunately, the Silos Bakery had opened a few weeks before we visited, so we planned to go early the next morning to have breakfast before shopping.  The bakery opens at 7 AM, and the staff is friendly and welcoming.  (We should know... we went to the bakery at least 5 or 6 times in the 2 days we were there!!) 

 The decor of the bakery was so Joanna!  Fresh white subway tile and black cabinetry with wood floors.
 And the baked goods were beautiful!  It was hard to decide... so we tasted pretty much everything while we were there!!
We can recommend the Silo cookie, the nutty cinnamon roll, the orange cranberry biscuit,  
the almond pastry, the cupcakes... like I said, pretty much everything! 

Even though the Magnolia Market doesn't open till 9 AM, after you grab your breakfast, the grounds are open for you to explore.  There is plenty to see.

 For my sister Jo, it was 1,159 miles to Waco.  For me, 1,054!

Chip and Jo thought of everything.  Their attention to detail is incredible.  We walked around with our mouths hanging open, so taken by everything.  Who sees an old abandoned silos and thinks of creating this?  Chip and Joanna Gaines!  That's who!

I love the way they used the metal structure from the Silos to hang swings for the kiddos 
(and the adults!).

Once inside the shop, it was a whole new level of amazement.  All the vignettes were gorgeous!  I apologize for not having more photos.  I was so overwhelmed with the store, I didn't even think of taking pictures!!  Every table and every display was equally inspiring and beautiful to take in.  We walked the store about 4 times, to make sure we didn't miss anything.  Then we came back later after having our lunch and shopped again.  THEN came back the next day and shopped more!  And every time, we saw things we didn't see before.  There is just so much to see!

The main room  opened up into another huge room.

And there were a lot of associates who were eager to help you find what you are looking for. 

When you got to the counter, the team member made you feel like you were the only customer they have had all day.  They took time to chat, find out where you were from and hear your story.

And did I mention lunch?  No need to go anywhere for it.  There are food trucks lined up outside in the courtyard, which give you a wonderful array of options.  Pizza, grilled cheese, crepes, Asian food... and the list goes on!! 

Once you get your food, there are dozens of white picnic tables to sit at.  Some under their recently built pavilion, and some under umbrellas, but all providing shade, and all beautifully adorned with Jo's touch.

This old truck was parked in the courtyard.  Another fun thing to explore.

After splitting a yummy grilled cheese sandwich, we made our way to the garden shop, Magnolia Seed and Supply.  Again, so much to take in.  The greenhouse is currently being built and will open soon.

There were several of these precious ferry gardens throughout the garden area.  You can buy the pieces in the Feed and Seed shop to make your own.  When my grandbaby, Hazel gets a little older, this will be on my list to do with her for sure!!!

I don't think there was anything the Gaines didn't think of.  They have included every family member in the visit to the Silos.  The open courtyard has toys for the children to play with.  It is all not just family friendly, but family ORIENTED.

You certainly won't leave empty handed, hungry nor disappointed!!

After having about as much fun as a human being should be allowed to have, we headed over to Harp Design.  It's just a short drive from the Silos.  Their shop was filled with great home decor pieces as well. And their employees were equally friendly and eager to tell THEIR story.  We loved that!  
We left with bags filled with Harp Design goodies too!

After shopping Clint's shop, we headed out to McGregor, TX to find the Gaines' B & B. 
 The Magnolia House.

On the way, we took a little detour (after driving right through McGregor without realizing it... yes, it's small!).  But the detour allowed me to see some beautiful countryside and meet a few new friends.  

I mean, when else is this city slicker going to see goats?  And horses?  And cows?!!  

And they were very obliging to pose for me!

(Actually the cows were along the interstate on the way home, but they fit the story here, so there you go.)

"You crazy lady!!!"

So, after making our way back to McGregor, we found The Magnolia House.  SO charming! Just like it is in all the pictures.
Next trip, I will be booking the place, for sure!

On the way out of town the next morning (after our 5th or 6th visit to the Silos Bakery), we caught the sun coming up over some iconic places in Waco.

And THIS is why we drove!!!  Not one regret!  4 days on the road, over 2,200 miles covered, tons of quality time with my sister, visiting the shop of our dreams... SO worth it!  I'm so thankful my husband pushed us out the door, and didn't let the storm or the broken car stop us.  

Would we do it again?  You betcha!