Monthly Archives: March 2011

An Unexpected Joy


My little lady

Swinging in Green

Showing off his treasure

I love unexpected joys.  I love when I go to a restaurant and find out that kids eat free that night.  I love going to a party where I think I won’t know anyone and end up talking all night to someone I haven’t seen in years.  I love going to weddings and finding out it is an open bar.  I love when Brian comes home from work a bit late because he stopped by the flower shop.  Well, today I was blessed again by an unexpected joy and though I first explained it as random, I know it is anything but.


Today my family and I loaded up the car with the donations that we received from our “We’re So Lucky” party.  We had loads of clothes, some food, and quite a few toys, and headed to the Motor Inn.  We went there without a plan, and were just hoping that whoever was working the front desk would be as nice as the woman I spoke with last week.  It turns out Mr. Frontdesk wasn’t friendly, but he told us that there is a woman whose office is in the conference room and she is the one who could probably help us.  The conference room, wasn’t at all what you might expect, and the lady behind the desk was busy with another woman so we waited…and waited…and waited.  We actually waited an hour and never spoke with her.  At one point I had to ask Mr. Frontdesk if there was a potty Piper could use.  He said no, and I figured the tree in the parking area would have to suit then.  In the mean time we met some of the residents of the Motor Inn.  Brian chatted it up with a man who has a son in the Air Force and a granddaughter Piper’s age.  I spoke with a woman who moved into the Motor Inn on Christmas Eve with her 3 young sons.  And Piper played on the playground with 2 little girls.  Everything about the Motor Inn intrigued me as I thought that I had no expectations.  The signs on the “conference room” had posters of United Way, the address and hours to the nearest soup kitchen, and a tutoring advertisement.  It seemed like a perfect location for this organization (United Way I was assuming), to set up an office.  There was a playground, obviously catering to the long term residents with children, and every bit of grass area had fences around it.  As we were waiting, this lady, dressed like a nurse, walked into the conference room, grabbed a bag and left.  She seemed really bubbly, and I couldn’t figure out what her deal was.  Why was she dressed like a nurse, but was act like she worked here, knocking on doors and going into rooms?  So, when I saw her again I asked her.  I asked her if she worked at the Motor Inn, because I was anxious to talk with someone and unload our car. She said that she works for the Illumination Foundation, which I had never heard of, but will try and briefly explain what it is.  The Illumination Foundation tries to provide services to break or prevent the cycle of homelessness.  There are a few different aspects of IF and one is that they provide a place to live for people who are being discharged from the hospital but don’t have a home to return to.  Susanna, the cheery nurse, is a full-time RN checking on these patients.  And then, hanging from her lanyard was an I.D. that said Biola University.  Small World!  It is so weird that I even saw her lanyard, because it has turned to the backside, which is where her Biola card was.  And what is even more strange, is that she still had her Biola I.D. even though she doesn’t attend there anymore.  I told her that I had some donations and she thought that was great.  We talked a bit and she asked me how I heard about Illumination Foundation, and I told her I hadn’t.  I had looked into another nonprofit called MIKA thinking that it would be best if we went through an organization for our donations.  I just tend to think that it is better to join forces, especially if there is a group out there that already knows the ropes.  MIKA, wished me “luck” for my “We’re so Lucky” bash, but wasn’t able to help.  So we went to the Motor Inn on our own, without an organization, and as I said without a plan.  Susanna, took our donations, introduced us to Roslyn, the lady behind the desk, and gave me a brochure on Illumination Foundation.  I am excited!  I am excited to have seen the faces of some of the folks that will benefit from our donations.  I am excited that these children have a support system and that their parents have a plan of action.  I am excited of the possibilities of where this can go.  IF has a monthly BBQ where you can volunteer and meet the families, as well as volunteer opportunities for weekly tutoring.  My friend had suggested doing an Easter egg hunt or some other activities down the road after I had checked the place out and I can see this organization being open to ideas and willing to allow us to get involved in a variety of ways.  I am excited for the unexpected joy that came out of meeting Susanna, hearing about Illumination Foundation, and for the future possibilities of serving these families.

Piper has been so cute through all of this.  She has so many ideas of how to help.  She told me that we could go to the mall and go to Pottery Barn and buy toys for the kids that don’t have any.  That’s a very nice idea, but I was thinking Big Lots was more up my alley.  She commented that we have a lot of dishes so that we should probably give them to the people that don’t have any food or dishes.  And then this week she was busy making 2 books for the people at the motel who might not have any books.  I got to write the words.  On the opening page I was prompted by her to write, “I love you, you are my best friend.  I hope you love this book, it is from your best friend Piper.  If you don’t have a church we could tell you where Rock Harbor is.  We might give you a map.  We might.  I like this book and I hope you like it too.  Love, The Ristows”.  One page was her “very best scribbles”.  And another was the a picture of the world, on her globe she had a dot for New Orleans, a dot for Africa, and then a giant circle for Disneyland.  The perspective of a 4 year old, funny.


Joys and Girls



I’m a performer, an untalented performer, but a performer nonetheless.  One of my first big breaks was playing Joseph in the Christmas play my sisters and I put on for our parents.  The big star of the show was a Cabbage Patch doll.  I went on to perform on stage doing Talent Shows at school.  When I was in 1st grade my friend and I won for our song and dance to the Rainbow Brite song, “Paint a Rainbow”.  There were other school performances throughout the years, “Splish Splash” and “Cold Hearted Snake” and the rap my friends and I made up, “Super Dino”.  Post divorce I got into rap music.  Maybe it is how an 8 year old rebels.  Okay, I am kidding, but it was also the Christmas after the divorce that I remember another one of my attempts at rapping.


We are natural, we got it from the One above

We preach to others and give them our love

Everyone is natural, can’t you see?

Yes, everyone even you and me


Yep, I remember the words even.  Don’t ask me what I meant by natural, I must have just felt that the word fit despite the fact that it adds absolutely nothing to the rest of my “song”.  The following year a couple cousins, my sisters and I danced to the song “Ice, ice baby”.  Now who didn’t love that song?

No one trained us to perform (obviously), or forced us.  We just wanted to.  Growing up with sisters that is what we enjoyed doing.  We enjoyed putting on shows for family, neighbors, and friends.  We liked practicing and dressing up.  The whole nature versus nurture thing, it was part of our nature.  And it was fun!  Heck, a couple years ago my sister, nephew, husband and I practiced and learned the dance to “Soulja Boy” and after our annual Christmas Chili Cook-off we were once again performing for the family.

And now I have daughters, and not just daughters, but daughters with girl cousins!  While my sister and cousin were visiting from Arizona, the kids all decided they were going to put on a show for us.  It brought back so many memories of my childhood and my living room debut all those years ago.  It brought back memories of fun times with my cousins and practices in the front yard, garage, or bedroom.  So the other night I sat and watched my daughter dance to a Justin Bieber song and I couldn’t have been happier.  And though I never thought his music would be playing in our house, “Never say Never” never sounded so sweet.  But don’t think I am content being in the audience now, I am already learning how to dougie ;).  If you don’t know the song, Teach Me How to Dougie, then you must not be in direct contact with teenagers.  Lucky you!

May I just add that Piper does have a matching sweatshirt like everyone else in the video, but could not be convinced to wear it.  Reverse psychology even failed to work this time.  While I might be happy about her not needing to fit in in her teenage years, in the video she looks like the odd one out.  So be it.

The Claustrophobic Life


I think I am a claustrophobic person.  I took Piper to a restaurant with a play area and she got scared when she was way up high in the tunnels.  I had to go up and rescue her.  Not fun.  I came down that slide hot, sticky and sweaty and feeling very nauseated.  The stench that fills those tunnels didn’t help. I told Piper that I was not going up there again, so she better think twice before she gets herself in a position that is too scary for her.

I am sure that many of you can relate and might have suffered a similar reaction. It is funny, however, that when it comes to our daily lives we seem to prefer the claustrophobia.  We visit the same stores, take our kids to the same park, call the same friends and choose not to leave the 2 mile radius around our house unless we must.  We don’t really care what’s going on around us because it doesn’t really affect us.  It doesn’t interfere with our day to day lives, so we tend to disregard it as not important.

As a teacher, I know that experience is key to learning.  If you want a child to remember something then a first hand experience is vital.  It is so much more effective than reading from a text.  You can show a child a picture of a cow, or take your child to the farm where he/she can not only see the cow in its environment, but touch it, smell it, hear it, and let’s hope not taste it.

While living in Germany I knew that it would be for a short time, so we spent our weekends and holidays experiencing all Europe had to offer.  I told my German friends that I was going to Neuschwanstein Castle, the one Walt Disney got his inspiration from and they would tell me that they had never been there.  It is the same for us living here.  I live less than an hour away from Hollywood, but I could probably count on one hand the number of times I have seen the Hollywood stars on the walk of fame, and I have always wanted to hike to the Hollywood sign but I never have.  I finally went to the Grand Canyon in 2008 for the first time even though my family lives in Arizona and I was born there.

So let the journey begin!  Whether it is fear that is stopping you from trying something new or just the routine of your life that so easily ensnares us, I encourage you to make an effort to step out.  Let us not be stuck in a rut, but let us get out there and experience something new.  I think that I am going to try a new class at the gym that I am interested in.  I know a bit of fear has prevented me from doing so already.  Secondly, I think I will finally visit that sushi place that I walk by all the time but have never gone to yet.  And how about you?  What would you like to do?  Leave a comment and let me know!

P.S.  The “We’re So Lucky” party was a success.  More photos and info on that soon!  I purchased a green pepper for way too much money, cut it in half to make a shamrock-like stamp.  I also cut potatoes for stamping.  But the kids method of choice was with their hands…of course.

Shaken and Stirred


We don’t own a T.V.  It seems like you really don’t need to these days.  Everything can be found on the internet if you really want to watch something.  I have never been one for following a particular show, but Brian and I both like news shows.  We are like a retired couple when it comes to our shows of choice.  Last Sunday, we put the kids to bed and turned to 60 Minutes on our computer.  The episode had a clip on the homeless kids in America.  I couldn’t help but cry.  It wasn’t that these kids were truly suffering in the sense that you might expect.  They lived in motels, so they had a roof over their head, and their clothes were nice and clean.  Many of these families were living in up until the housing bubble burst in 2008.  They had houses, multiple cars, vacations.  But it was short lived.  One boy commented in the show that the experience has really made him grow up and mature.

And that’s what brought tears to my eyes.

I suddenly related to these kids and their situation.  For me, life changed when I was eight and my parents divorced.  Prior to the divorce life seemed carefree and good.  And then my life was turned up-side-down.  My dad moved in and out of motels.  My sisters, mom and I moved in with my grandparents.  I had to start making my own lunch, doing laundry, helping with dinner, and needing to go to daycare before and after school.  Not horrible things, I know.  However, those were just the outward signs of what was going on internally.  I was forced to grow up.  I was aware of my parents “problems” now and aware of the financial burden they were feeling.  As a mother now, I realize that I just want to protect my children.  I want them to stay innocent for as long as possible.  I don’t want to enable them and baby them forever, but I want to teach them to make their own lunch because I think it is important, not out of necessity.

The stories I have of the years after the divorce are crazy.  Really, they are!  I was talking to my sister today and she was flooded with memories when I mentioned calling the motel and asking for room 212.  That’s where my dad lived, at the Robinhood Inn in room 212.  He also became a taxi driver so that he had a car.  I remember him driving us home with a Christmas tree on top of the taxi.  Seriously embarrassing.  My dad was an embarrassing kind of dad anyway, so our new situation didn’t help.

After the episode I was moved to action.  The next day I drove down Harbor Boulevard and wrote down the names of motels that looked like they could house some long-term residents.  I was planning on having a garage sale this weekend, but instead I decided I was going to bring my clothes to these people in need.  Fifty students in the school district call the Motor Inn on Harbor Boulevard home!  This is the same school district where individuals have been known to donate millions of dollars to their local schools.  I emailed my friends, and now I am getting you who are reading this involved too.  We are having a “We’re so Lucky” Saint Patrick’s Day Party.  It is an opportunity for people, who may not have much to give, but they have something, to come together.  We will have a golden coin hunt for the kids and green snacks.  And in return I am asking that everyone bring some donations.  Maybe you have gift cards that you don’t necessarily need left over from Christmas, or perhaps you buy in bulk at Costco and could donate some jars or cans of food.  Perhaps you have diapers that your baby has grown out of, or clothes.  When we all come together with our small things we can make a big difference.

If you are local and would like to come to the “We’re so Lucky” party it is this Thursday at 11am @Harper Park in Costa Mesa.  If you cannot make it, but would like to donate please contact me.

Here is the link to the 60 Minutes clip:


Fun and Free Activities in Southern California


If you know me, and more importantly, if you know my hubby, then you know that we are well known for our skills in finding fun and free (or inexpensive) activities.  I plan on making this a regular part of the blog, perhaps a separate tab and I will let you know what is going on, but this is a last minute update for those of you who are local.  Stay in touch, and you will see more great things, I promise!

The Orange County Museum of Art has something called 2nd Sundays.  The admission is free to the museum and they have wonderful activities for the children.  We have gone the last 2 months and really enjoy it.  I hesitate to say this part, because I don’t want the competition 🙂 but there is a survey you can fill out when you leave and you can win a $150 gift certificate for the museum store.  We won the January drawing!  So, in February my husband and I both filled out a survey.  We didn’t win this time, but you can be sure that come this Sunday we will be trying again.  This Sunday, the illustrator of the Fancy Nancy books, Robin Preiss Glasser, will be doing a reading, signing and activity between 12:00-2:00.  For more info go to this website:

Secondly, on Sunday also, is free entrance to Tanaka Farms.  There will be strawberry picking and more fun family activities in support of National Agriculture week which is apparently this coming week.  You can also check out there website at:

A humble beginning…


You may have heard of the best selling book by Rick Warren that was ever so popular about 6 years, The Purpose Driven Life.  A great book, so I hear.  I have actually never read it, but I own it.  I should probably pick it up and read it sometime because even though it became way too trendy for my taste, I heard that it was really good and really powerful.  Whether or not the book actually lives up to the hype, I really like the title of it.  But a purpose driven life, doesn’t just happen, it starts with a day. It starts with a purpose driven day.  An accomplished life starts with an accomplished day.

Since moving back to the States 6 months ago, I have felt compelled to live my life intentionally.  We had a great time living in Europe.  Half of the time it felt like we were on vacation, in fact, we were on vacation half the time.  We had a lot of reasons (or excuses depending on how you look at it) as to why we weren’t doing “more” in the grand scheme of things.  The biggest reason: language barrier.  And now that we are here in sunny SoCal, I feel compelled to act.  I don’t just want to be, I want to do. I want to do things that are intentional, I want to do things that are purposeful, and most of all I want to do these things with my kids.

A woman in my Bible study group, told me that her New Year’s Resolution was to be intentional.  And that is when I decided I was adopting that word.  I was already striving to do so, but now I have a word that I can think of each day.  Each day!  Each day we have the opportunity to do something, to change something, whether great or small!  Every great thing starts with a humble beginning, with a thought turned into an action.  Baby steps, you know like from that movie “What about Bob?”

I am ditching the excuses and have embraced the opportunity to instill in my children what it looks like to serve others.  I am their role model and I want to take my job seriously.  Piper, at 4, is so very aware of what it means to give and I love it.  A few months ago we started carrying food in our car to pass out to people who were in need.  We have on many occasions handed food out the window of the car.  However, the other day we drove right past because the light was green.  Piper asked, “What did that man’s sign say?  I think he needed something.  I think he needed money or food or something, why didn’t we give it to him?”  My every action, or lack there of, is being internalized by my children and forming the way they view others and the world.  At that moment I was so aware of the impact I have on her and all the more want to be an example.