At the end of October/beginning of November we visited our dear friends the O’Reilly’s in Reno!  They had moved to Reno about a year and half prior in order for Shaun to attend graduate school there.  We had an awesome time, enjoying getting to be with them, taking in BEAUTIFUL sights and falling in love with Reno! (and all without even visiting the inside of a casino…can you imagine?!)

At an overlook on the way from the airport:


The Truckee River winding it’s way through downtown Reno…


very cool outdoor art installation…


Heck, yeah!


That night we made awesome vegetarian chili (in spite of my marked inability to successfully use their super cool ergonomic can opener) and Kyndra made the best biscuits I’ve ever had in my life while we handed out candy to trick or treaters at the door (including some really bizarre/scary adult trick or treaters with large backpacks – and you just don’t go around getting stingy with candy in the face of that).  And the sweetest part…Kyndra made an amazing cake for my birthday!!  What i had really wanted for my 30th birthday was a trip somewhere, so this was my “birthday trip”!  The cake was UNREAL and I was so touched!!


After a morning walk to get coffee, we saw Shaun’s school! beautiful campus!


We had breakfast at a cool spot in a little mountain town on our way to Lake Tahoe.  As you probably know if you know me at all, I drink a LOT of water.  Like, I can easily go through 64 oz. in any given meal, and usually several of those in between meals as well.  I tend to drive waiters crazy because they’re always having to refill my glass and I feel really bad about that!  However, this restaurant – this place – had it figured out!!!  Brian ordered water and coffee and I just ordered water…he got basically a shot glass, and I got basically a pail.  It cracked us up (esp since that is about how much water Brian drinks in a day). I was soooooo happy!


Squaw Valley…site of the 1978 Winter Olympics.  We hoped this was a much smaler sized replica of the torch…otherwise, come on Squaw!



overlooking Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe…which the pics do no justice to — it truly was “emerald” and all kinds of beautiful greens and blues…


Hiking down to the lake…beautiful yellow aspens and gigantic evergreens everywhere…


Down by the bay!


You know Brian…he dreams of swimming in alpine lakes…and while this one isn’t “alpine,” I would argue the water in november has to qualify it for something along those lines! eek!





treehugger :)


After the awesome hike (with an arduous hike back up, that made me seriously wonder why anyone goes down into the Grand Canyon) we continued driving around the lake and just taking in its changing beauty, listening to great music and having great talks.  We had lunch at a GREAT vegetarian restaurant (it is so fun to travel with other vegs), had drinks at a place overlooking the lake and then caught sunset on a beach.  It was getting chilly, the yoga people were making
weird barking noises and stars were beginning to twinkle.  we sat on a bench just watching the lake change and feeling the cold settle in…it was magical.

(I love how obviously tickled Brian is in this picture)



We headed back to Reno and dinner at a great local pizza place along with a very funny game of Apples to Apples…


Brian tried not to take the cards he was good at winning personally….


next day – beautiful hike through some valley… yup, that’s snow!


the girls…


overlooking a misty lake Tahoe…


California!!!  (half the lake is in CA…which made for a great discussion about the “state line” (that’s for you, Brian ;))


(we’re “hanging 10″ just in case you’re wondering what that awesome gesture is we’re making)

And then back to Nevada!  doing the most “gambling”, ironically, that we did the whole visit…


walking along the lake again…great little walk


We drove out to the site of the Donner Party tragedy.  There was a great little museum and it was so intersting to learn all the history of that event as well as about life during that time…wow, so much respect.  I would so not have made it as a pioneer!  This stone behind me actually made one of the four walls of one of the 3 cabins that people lived out the winter in.


great little guided nature walk…


that night we found a great little campsite for a fire alongside the Truckee River…


The next day…packing up….booo hooooo :(

I can’t believe this is the only shot we got of their super cute house.  They have such incredible taste and we were taking all kinds of mental notes! It was such a sweet and warm home and Shaun and Kyndra were such kind, gracious and generous hosts.


But before we had to be at the airport, we picked up incredible sandwiches from Rubicon deli (once again, perfect for vegetarians!  seriously loving Nevada by this point) and headed to Pyramid Lake.  This was north, rather than south, which made for some different and beautiful scenery.  Instead of the mountains, greens and huge trees we found near Lake Tahoe, we were in the middle of the tans, beiges, and browns of the dessert, and in the middle of no where was a super deep, turquiose lake!  This lake was ANCIENT and had neat history.  We visited a museum that talked about the Native Americans who made their life around there for centuries as well as currently…very cool.


picnic on the beach!






Brian doing no justice to “the shaun”



thanks for a great visit, O’s and Reno!  Hope to see you again really soon!



I can't remember why she was so tired or naked, but isn't she darling?


After a few big weekends (work events the prior two) we were ready for some family time away, so we spent a day hiking in Bob Sandlin State Park (about 20 minutes from
the lakehouse).  It was such a beautiful fall day…we were teaching
Clara colors using leaves, flowers and sky :)

Here we are at Mamaw and Papaw's house the following weekend enjoying some good East Texas four-wheelin'!  We went in to meet Brian's second cousin, 3 times removed (or something like that).  They were visiting from California and were very nice! 



Throwing rocks into the pond!


One Saturday, we had "KidVenture" – a time for families and small group leaders to hang out together outside of church on Sunday.  We painted pumpkins in a nearby park.  It was a great day!



We took a trip to the Hall Pumpkin Farm in Grapevine:

riding a tractor:


in the hay house:


little cowgirl



We had a very wet October, but it was beautiful weather when it wasn't raining.  Lot of days with the windows left open!  

Brian got to hear Newt Gingrich speak at the FW Club…I think it reminded him why he voted for and is proud of Barack Obama 😉

We paid off Brian's car, making us almost completely debt free!! 
(almost because we still have a small loan on the a/c we had to replace last summer; big loan on the
house) What a GREAT feeling to get that deed in the mail!!  thanks, Dave Ramsey!

We decided to find out if we were having a boy or girl this time around…I just REALLY wanted to know and while Brian still wanted a "delivery surprise," he VERY generously and kindly agreed to let us find out.  I had the doctor write it down on a folded piece of paper and it took every ounce of self control I had not to open it.  I gave it to my mom, who had very kindly agreed to bake us a cake either pink or blue and cover it in icing so we couldn't tell the color…then we would cut into it together that night.  

And when we cut into it….we saw….the color pink!!!  AND FREAKED OUT!!!!  We were soooooo excited!!!!!  We both would have been so happy with a boy, but we really wanted a girl.  Kristi and Dad were there, too, and they were equally ecstatic!  It was just the greatest feeling and still a great surprise – even if didn't happen at her birth.  Here is a pic of the cake along with the paper from Dr. New that very clearly says, "Girl!" 

I had really been thinking it must be a boy because my pregnancy has been SO different.  I have definitely been sick/naseaus, just not NEAR as constantly or much as I was with Clara.  I have a miracle drug- zofran- that really helps a lot. 


Brian joined a Tennis League for the fall and had a ton of fun (he enjoys anything that involves sports and competition).  Clara and I enjoyed coming to some of his matches and cheering him on.  He was battling it out for first place in the league below – and he won!  It was such an intense game…I was honestly kind of amazed.  this picture was taken right before he literally did a frontward somersault across the court.  I didn't use a flash (I didn't want to embarass him; he had already told me I couldn't bring "Go Brian!" signs) so it isn't a great pic! 


He ended up getting third in his division, which meant he made the playoffs!  Especially considering it was his first time playing that was awesome.  He got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, which just gives him a LOT of fuel for the spring league ;)  Now let's hope that Clara inherits his athletic abilities and not mine!

Clara rocking out:


Like Daddy, like daughter…


I was a witness in a custody trial for some good friends and IBC'ers who were fighting to keep custody of the little girl they had fostered for the first 18 months of her life, before being returned to her bio parents that had proven time and time again dangerous, incapable of making safe and wise decisions and positive on drug tests.  The whole experience was incredibly eye opening and a real test of faith.  In the end, Rylie was left with her biological parents (as Brian put it, "It's like it has to be 'too late' before they can do anything"); completely devastating.  That is all I'm going to say about that.  

At the end of October, we visited our dear friends the O'Reilly's, who had moved to Reno.


(more on that in it's own post!)

Clara spent time with her grandparents while we were in Reno.  Here she is at Mimi and Papi's house – learning her alphabet!






Clara also had fun at Mamaw and Papaw's!

She was there for Halloween and got to go trick or treating with Sophie and Aidan (how cute are they?!):


At Grandma Rhea's:


Trick or Treat, Mema!


Clara had some blue candy- can you tell??


What a fun night!


Denise took some sweet phot
os of Clara while she was there…






Our friends the Harrell's came over for dinner and rockband – fun stuff!!


good friend Makenna – sweet girls!


Clara always asks to call Mimi and Papi – here she is talking to them on video AND the phone. Technology these days is amazing and allows for closeness even in spite of distance – we are so grateful!  They sing songs, do puppet shows, read stories…


Our children's ministry staff had a surprise shower for Melissa (on left) and her darling Ethan.  I am so grateful I get to work with people I want to be friends with, too.  What a great group!


Drew turned 2 – wow!!  Here is his party…all of the kids were excited about the presents – eek! 


Clara was ESPECIALLY excited about the cupcakes!
I had even scraped off a big chunk of extra icing and yet before I knew it – it was in her mouth! 


Later that night, I decided that toddlerhood is, in fact, a contact sport, and the players that night were Clara's forehead and a very hard piece of pavement.  Leaving the Rhodes' house, Clara launched off the curb at a dead sprint (not realizing there was a curb there) and the resulting splat was so loud people way in the backyard heard it.  It was HORRIBLE!!!  She was crying, I was crying…  Brian was out of town (camping with Richard and Shaun down near Austin) but fortunately, Julie's mom and sister in law are nurses so they were able to check her out and check for a concussion.  I don't know HOW she wouldn't have gotten a concussion.  Over half of her forehead was instantly covered in a HUGE swollen red and purple goose egg.  I felt so bad for her!  when she eventually calmed down, my dear friend Suzanne rode back home with us so she could keep an ice pack on her and keep her awake.  I'm so grateful for such loving friends!  I kept Clara up for a few hours but eventually decided she was ok.  She woke up every hour or so crying but the next day seemed ok!  I have so much respect for single moms – they have to handle things like that on their own all the time.  What strong, amazing women! 

Our family participated in the DFW Walk for Huntington's Disease Society of America.  Eric was one of the organizers and it was an honor to be a part of this great cause, even in spite of the rain!  Even Captain (Ranger's mascot) came out:


Happy 28th birthday, lil sis!!


I think there was a game on or something…


That wasn't the only birthday in September– I turned…30! :O  I am VERY excited to enter my 30's!  Brian was so sweet to make the day very special and memorable.  We went to dinner at joe t. garcia's with my parents and close friends, and then went to see Julie in "The Music Man".  She was absolutely spectacular!!!  It was a wonderful musical and a wonderful night!




The next day was so nice…Mom and Dad took care of Clara and I went and got my hair done… it was time to become blonde again.  I was missing my old self and Brian had just been kindly tolerating my fun all year…  It was an INSANE process but boy did she make me blond (we're talking all over – as in every strand of hair – "highlights" that took 140 packets for those of you that means anything to…all the other students and teachers kept coming by to see, as it was the most that anyone could recall anyone ever getting).  I had been told it would take several more times of dying to get back to my blond, so I told her, "just make me as blond as you can."  I should have been a little more careful…considering I wound up a total bleach blond.  I went from one end of the spectrum to the other; I decided I would have a little fun being super blond for awhile!  What was nice, though, was that I got to sit in a chair for 7 hours getting basically a head massage and read a good book and some magazines…it was the most relaxing day.

And then when I came home, Brian had a surprise waiting!  he had booked a hotel and tickets to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and my parents were going to take care of Clara at our house.  It was so perfect!  We got dressed up and went to the orchestra at the Meyerson-an absolutely beautiful concert hall.  It was such a neat experience, and a first for us.  We sat in the choir circle, which is essentially the area ON STAGE behind the orchestra, so it is a really neat view of the orchestra and then everyone watching them.  Of course, you als
o know they can see you, too, so I have to say it was one of the most still experiences of my life.  Brian had printed out an explanation of the pieces they were performing so we would know what the heck we were listening to!  I felt so 30 and grown up 😉  


We stayed at the Hyatt downtown and it was absolutely beautiful!  and the view was spectacular…here is the view from our room:


Mimi and Papi took Clara to Kid Kountry park in Coppell while we were gone:



Our sweet baby girl, bald virtually her entire first year, finally had a mullet/Einstein-ish 'do going on that needed a little help – so Clara got her first haircut!  Hair salons for kids have come a long way since my day (as in, they exist)…Clara got to sit in a car and watch cartoons and all sorts of other fun stuff, making it a very un-traumatic experience.  She looked so cute and OLD at the end!








Aunt Krissy even came for the momentous occasion: 


afterward, we picked up Chipotle and took it to the lake and had a picnic!  what a special night :)  It is silly, but I have to admit I got a little teary – and Brian did, too.  Our baby girl is growing up!

Picnic at lake


Two other big nights were the fall volunteer Kick Off event for Children's Ministry (super fun and great start to a promising year of ministry) as well as "Create a Rhythm".  Our early childhood team worked really hard to put on this parenting event, teaching parents of preschoolers and toddlers how to be weaving faith teaching into their daily routine.  We were so pleased by the response and hopeful about what God is going to be doing in the lives of families.  

At Brian's work, he was redesigning their main presentation, which he really enjoyed doing.  He loves presentations!  He also had some other big projects he was working on: Golden Pyramid submissions, a couple of proposals for programs and a possible new website! 

Our little 22 month old:


She can climb up and over the sides now!  There are more and more things she is doing on her own… 

One of her new things – "shushing" people when someone is "sleeping": 


She has new words and phrases every day.  How I wish I had written those down!  She says, "I love you" and "I miss you" very regularly (and unprompted) – music to our ears!  She loves saying, "C'me ear" (Come here) and "C'me on".  A super cute development is adding, "Mommy" or "Daddy" to everything ("Yes, Mommy," "I miss you, Daddy," etc.)

a great month!


"Mow" (like "mouse" without the "se" is what Clara says, or rather, shouts with great excitement) every time she sees Mickey Mouse, so it seemed an appropriate title for our trip to Disneyworld!

She had no idea who Mickey Mouse was (or another of the other Disney characters, for that matter) before our trip, but boy did she loooooooooooooove him by the end!

Brian's boss, Tom, decided to send Brian to the Disney Institute, a 3.5 day training academy they do for business professionals that teach them the "Disney way" of doing whatever subject focus – things that Disney really excels in that can help other companies if they apply the same kind of practices, culture, ideas, strategies, etc.  Brian's institute was on "Brand Loyalty."  This was so perfect for him as the artistic/marketing director for The Miller Company (since he has so much to do with their "brand" as a company) as well as his role as a salesman, since SO MUCH of what the Miller Company does is help other companies with their internal and external branding.  Getting to attend this alone was a HUGE blessing to Brian and such an exciting opportunity, but then on top of that, Tom said, "And I'd love to send Laura and Clara with you." WOW!!! :O  Brian has been working really hard and turning out great stuff for TMC and I think this was one way that Tom wanted to recognize and reward that.  I was so proud of my hubby!  and so loving his boss!! :D  So Tom provided our airfare and the hotel while he was at the Institute (which included his park tix).  And then, on our own, we came a few days beforehand and got to enjoy the park as a family!

One extra blessing was that, for the time we were "on our own," we had booked a package that included staying at one of Disney's "budget" properties, the All Star Music hotel.  It was a cheapy place but we didn't care – we just wanted to be there!  However, a few weeks before we left, I got an email that said we could have a free upgrade to one of their top tier resorts if we wanted, and of course we wanted!  I was SO excited to tell Brian!  (I think, because of the economy, their budget places were selling out but the pricey places weren't, so they just wanted to open up more budget rooms rather than letting some places stay vacant, so by clearing us out, they could get more guests…so we were happily cleared).  We wound up then staying at the Saratoga Springs Resort.  Part of the deal they were running at the time was that if you booked park tix and hotel, you got the dining plan for free…wowsers!  That saved us over 100$/day and we got to eat at some really neat places that we otherwise wouldn't have!  Disney was quickly becoming one of my favorite places on earth, and we hadn't even gotten there yet 😀

We came 3 days before Brian's Institute began.  It was our first big trip with Clara and that made it soooooooooo special!!!  We LOVED LOVED LOVED having her with us!  She did GREAT on the plane and the bus ride to the resort.

Clara on plane 

(here was a high powered business exec with laptop (wonderpets DVD) and Starbucks (juice))

After checking in, the first place we went was Disney's Hollywood Studios.  Clara is already wiped out and the fun has just begun!


It was soooooooooooo exciting!!!!  I felt so overwhelmed and choked up!  (emotional?  hormonal?  yes, maybe)  But it really is like you're a little kid again, and the world is magical and happy!  I had been to Disney several times before (thanks, Mom and Dad!!!) but this was the first time as an "adult," and I had a whole new appreciation for it.  I think I was more excited to see Brian's reaction than Clara's — she just wasn't old enough yet to really "get" it, but Brian had never been, so it was really neat to see the wonder of it all through his eyes.  What a special place – I'm now in that annoying club that thinks it is one of the greatest places on earth!

Our first stop was lunch at the Sci-Fi Drive-In, and WOW was that a cool restaurant!  The tables were 50's cars you sat in, the whole room was made to look like an outdoor drive in, with stars above in a domed sky, and facing a giant screen that played funny clips from old sci-fi movies.  And the pasta we had could not be beat!


the pics do it no justice since it was so dark in there! :P 


off to our first show – Beauty and the Beast! (brian hadn't gotten up the guts yet to do Tower of Terror, even after I shared with him that it was some family friend's of ours 5 year-old's favorite ride :D)



We rode several great rides after that!!  (I don't think I'll ever forget the car stunt show)  Something that was so great was that Clara (lil' shorty) and I (lil' preggo) could ride/do almost everything in the parks – there were only a few roller coasters in each park that we couldn't go on, so we would just wait while Brian did those (I INSISTED he do them; he felt bad leaving us, but I wanted him to get to experience everything!).  Here is Clara in front of "Mann's Chinese Theater" – she liked the lions.  Is she not the cutest thing you've ever seen?!


My two favorite people…


We went to bed that night SO TIRED but excited for the next day!

Here we are waiting for the bus to Magic Kingdom.  Clara LOVED wearing her ears!  our room is in the building in the back left of the photo.  Saratoga Springs had a horse races/New York early 1900's theme going on…



We got to Magic Kingdom just in time for the opening of the park – they had all the characters out and they were singing and I really did tear up- boy, they know what they're doing!


"It's a Small World" was definitely her favorite!  She kept gasping and dancing and pointing at all of the dancing dolls!


For the most part, the rides (even really, really not-scary ones) still
scared her a little, probably just because it was dark and she couldn't
understand what the heck was going on or where she was…  she would
just kinda take it in, very serious, every now and then turning into my
side.  Sometimes she would light up and giggle and those were the best
parts!  I do think she liked all the new experiences, I just don't
think she knew what to do with them!

Mickey's Philharmagic:


In Fantasyland:


We were so blessed to be there during this time of year (end of August)– we practically walked onto most rides or into shows; there were only a few times we waited more than 10 minutes our entire trip for anything.  It also helped that I had planned our days using it gives you a customized plan for each park telling you where to go and in which order so as to reduce wait times and maximize what you can do – I highly recommend it!  They also have crowd calendars which I used to pick which park we would go to each day.  I might be a little "psycho" when it comes to planning but it paid off!! 😀 and I'm all about having a plan but also being flexible within it.  We adapted based on our needs during the day and it all worked out great! 

Jungle Cruise – classic!


Tiki!!!  (brian calls clara "tiki" a lot, especially when he is tickling her :))


That pic came right after Clara peed in line for the Arabian carpet ride…and by peed I mean made a puddle on the sidewalk – YIKES!!!  Because she had been doing so good potty training all we brought with us was pull up diapers, which we learned early on are NOT very absorbent AT ALL.  She soaked ME at the super cool car stunt show at Hollywood Studios, made me question what else I've sat on unknowingly before on airplanes, caused quick changes on board an in-motion bus and on…  I'm sure she is going to love hearing one day about how she peed her way across Disneyworld.  It was INSANE!  It didn't seem to matter how often we changed her or asked if she needed to potty… by day 4 we finally discovered