Meyer Christmas Newsletter 2011


Hello friends and family!

Thanks for saving us time, paper, and postage by coming to our blog to catch up with all things Aaron and Rika in 2011. If you didn't know already, Christmas letter time is one of my favorite times of years, because I love seeing what everyone else has done, even if we've lost touch a little bit. It gives me a chance to live a little vicariously through all of you. (so if I'm not on your mailing list yet, add me! Really! I wanna know!)

After returning from a delightful trip back east to see my family, we got right back into school/work/fun mode. We met up with some friends, Kelli and David from Tennessee-to go snowboarding in Tahoe one weekend, and are still in shock that we live that close to glorious snowboarding.

I was working part time for an after school program, and Aaron was working hard in the dorm and preparing for a mission trip to Thailand. He left in March with many other students and faculty from Rio and together, they helped install a water system in a village to help the nomadic villagers get one step closer to citizenship. Along with working hard, Aaron and the team was treated to a nice dinner and a trip down south to Phuket to spend time on the beach and shopping.

Shortly after Aaron returned from his 2 week trip, I left for Southeast Asia to visit Hong Kong and Taipei for a recruiting trip for Rio. I visited many schools and families over there and learned more than I could comprehend about the school systems and expectations for kids in both places. There were several families who were excited about sending their kids to a less-stressful environment that would give their children more options for universities. I was able to reconnect with friends from high school and our time in Taiwan, and got to mark Hong Kong off of my world travel list.

In April, I also got a call from family that my Grandma Margy was in pretty serious condition. I left that weekend and spent some time with her talking, telling her stories, and listening to her breathe. She passed away a little over a week later, and I was so glad that I got those couple of days to tell her goodbye. She was one of my favorite people in the world and our family celebrated her life together, remembering how special and God-led she was. We're relieved that she is no longer a slave to her Alzheimer's and failing body, but miss her so much.

We were so glad to have a real life summer break! Our dream for the summer was simple. Have tons of fun, act like little kids, and go to Disney Land. We spent a week in June house/dog sitting for the cousins in Southern California and were reminded as we sat in traffic each day, of how lucky we are to live in Nor-Cal. (No offense, guys). Our dreams came true at Disneyland and we even had a friend get us in for free! Best day ever! We spent a day in Loma Linda Land seeing all our doctor friends who are going to let us sleep in their backyards someday when we're broke and homeless, and we gave Bam Bam his first dog beach experience.

In late June and July, both sets of our parents came out to visit and we got to show them our stomping grounds. We spent a lot of time hiking, canoeing & paddleboarding, and showing Aaron's parents the Pacific Ocean and Redwoods. We really wanted to give them a relaxing summer vacation without any pressure, and lots of adventure, and it gave us an excuse to re-visit all of our favorite places up here.

The week that Aaron's parents came, we also decided to adopt a baby. Not like a human baby, but a puppy. We named her Ema (her original name was Mae), and she melted our hearts from the very beginning. Ema is half Olde English Bulldog and half boxer and she's got a mind of her own. We're hoping that Bam's perfect personality will rub off on her, or at least a manner or two.

In mid-July, I started working full-time with the organization I had been with. In becoming a manager, I was suddenly in charge of staffing, programming, discipline, facility management....the list goes on and on. I am glad to get to know the kids and community of our town of Healdsburg better, and it's really challenged and grown my leadership experience.

We put in a garden and barbecued our monster squash and tomatoes all summer and fall. Aaron took off on a motorcycle trip to Northern California and Oregon, and we both got hooked on go-cart racing. (Not to brag or anything, but I am currently second in our Rio staff races).

By fall with school starting, both Aaron and I threw ourselves into work and the last three months have been a blur of projects, kid-stories, highs & lows, and lessons learned. Aaron's a great dean and is teaching an outdoor education class to a group of nature-deprived kids. But most kids are, right?

Our goals for next year? Balance! More travel! No babies! More fun, music, laughter, and peace! And I hope all those things for you as well.

Merry Christmas!

Composting for Dummies


My garden is finally at the place of production. After fighting off weeds, hungry neighbors, and weird bugs, the monster of a yellow squash plant that has taken over half the bed is cranking out some baby squash. I have 3 green bean plants that are hanging in there but not putting out that many green beans, and some swiss chard that couldn’t take the heat. My 12 tomato babies are just about to pop out some huge juicy tomatoes, and my basil is on fire! Also, I have a huge sage bush but have run out of ideas on what to use sage for other than the Thanksgiving or Special K loaf.

Since my garden has sucked me into the mysterious world of the growing seed, I’ve been experimenting with organics and most recently have bought a big old flipable composter. Since none of this stuff is common sense to me, I’ve had to read up and research all the right and wrong ways to garden. Below (for all you nerds out there!) is just a little excerpt from my instruction manual that blew my mind.

There are four basic ingredients for composting: nitrogen, carbon, water and air. Food consists of two classes of materials, simply referred to as “greens” and “browns”. Green is high in nitrogen and brown is high in carbon. The greens simply provide protein for the micro-bugs, while the brown materials provide energy. Anything in your yard is potential food for these microbes. Layer and mix these materials into the Tumbling Composter, add water and tumble to add air.

When mixed, the critical mass hits the temperature of 140 degrees F and starts to break down, then the magic happens.

Use 25% Nitrogen, 75% Carbon

Nitrogen (green)................ ........................Carbon (brown)

Table scraps, fruits & veggie scraps............Leaves (shredded go faster, best carbon)
Chicken/rabbit manure ..............................Straw
Coffee grounds ..........................................Pine needles (acidic-use sparingly)
Grass clippings ..........................................Wood ash
Garden plants, flower cuttings, seaweed ....Cardboard (breakup)
Weeds ........................................................Dryer lint (?!)
..................................................................Woodchips & sawdust (use sparingly)

After all this is done, the box claims that within 3-4 weeks, I’ll have beautiful, nutrient-rich soil that has a pleasant earthy smell.

I’ve been shoveling leaves, keeping all my compostable food scraps, and am gearing up for the winter garden that I’ll plant when we just can take the squash and tomatoes anymore.

I figure that this composter will pay for itself in about three to eight years. I’m pretty sure I’ll have way more compost than I can handle. Oh well, I’ll just have to share it then!

I think I’m about to outgrow this garden. Maybe a farm next?

Snippets from a boarding school dean's wife...


These are the last days of school. This is the time when many of us, who have lived along with these kids-disciplining, commending, encouraging, advising, and watching-begin to reflect on the actual growth that has occurred in these kids. One example: the freshmen boys. Many of these guys come at age 13 from various family backgrounds and situations. They come as babies, basically. They’ve never done their own laundry, they lose their homework, backpacks, room keys, everything imaginable. But they have grown the most. Most of these freshmen guys are some of the sweetest and most considerate in the dorm. Yes, they’re still boys and are more wild than a barrel full of monkeys, but they are so LOVABLE! Sometimes one or two will come to my door and ask for a snack and I cave every time and beg them not to tell any of the other guys in the dorm. In the beginning of the year, I called the worst one, “Baby V”, because he was the most immature of all. Now, I can’t call him that anymore because he’s grown out of that stage. He's growing up, learning how to share and do his laundry. He sat down with me and opened up his heart about some things that he's been going through this year in his personal and home life and it just made me love this kid even more. I can't wait to see what's in store for him and his other freshmen, now sophomores.

This morning someone left a prank on our door. I’m not going to say what it is, but investigation is underway. It was nasty; a cry for attention. None of the guys will tell us who it was, but we know who knows. This part of living in the dorm is un-amusing and makes me want to really dig, find the perpetrator, and punish them. But really, it doesn’t matter. Because his friends don’t think he’s cool, and neither do I. And he’ll have to live with himself. Another student cleaned it up anyway. He’s the hero in this story. When we found out it was him, we wanted to hug and celebrate him, but we cooked him meat instead.

Friday night was the last full-school vespers and focused on wrapping up relationships through the flower ceremony. After a short talk, the students were given three choices of flowers. Red means, I love you. White, I’m sorry or I forgive you. And multicolor means, You inspire me. I remember doing the flower vespers when I was in high school and how emotional it was for me. It was all about clearing the air with ex-boyfriends, or sharing tears while untangling misunderstandings in friendships.

I loved walking through the crowd slowly, catching phrases from various conversations. “I just wanted to tell you that…” “I’m so sorry for not being there for you….” “It was me who spread that bad rumor about you….” Don’t worry, I didn’t listen in on the whole thing. I gave flowers to students and got some flowers too. Both Aaron and I got the white flowers from kids who had felt bad for things that we’d long forgotten about.

I took my freshmen/sophomore girls to town yesterday for a year-end party. We had a real-life photo shoot then got ice cream. These girls have really been working hard the last month or so, even putting up with my genius idea of starting “Study Hall Bootcamp” where we study hard and silently for 20 minutes, then do 2 minutes if intense cardio exercise. I read somewhere that taking lots of breaks mixed with physical activity helps the information seep into the brain better, or something like that, so we tried it. I have no way to tell if it worked or not but the girls were a lot more focused while they studied.

During the shoot, all the girls hammed it up. We had so much fun, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to miss all of them over the summer. I hope so badly that they find hope and meaning in life, more than just makeup and boys. But how different was I when I was their age?

For graduation weekend, there was a handful of guys whose parents couldn't come for various reasons; mostly international students. On Saturday, the school puts on a big parent appreciation program for the parents who have come for the event, and these guys were given special permission to skip it. So they came to our house and cooked. It was all they wanted to do. These guys, from Korea, Hong Kong, and China, cooked tons of chicken, beef, and even a special tofu number for me. After stuffing our faces, we all sat around and the guys shared about their experience in the States, and we laughed at all the cultural differences between all of our respective countries. We spoke of China power, eating dog (more common in Korea than China, it turns out), and where these guys are going from here. That afternoon, we became a family.

Now the kids are gone. Graduated, home for the summer, releasing us of all of our expectations of them. The campus is still, bright, beautiful. We try to eat outside as much as we can. Aaron and I are re-discovering the art of reading. We’re racing go-carts, walking the dog, shampooing our carpets, cleaning the house and messing it up again. Summer time never felt so good!

Living Online-


I think we all spend a little too much time online. I know I do. I saw this video and couldn't help but chuckle at the ridiculous-ness of it. So funny and so true!

Getting paid to play


I don't know if I've explained my job yet on the blog, but I get paid to play with kids after school. Yes, we still do the boring stuff like homework, but we spend the rest of the day playing playground games, discovering nature, and learning new skills that the public schools don't have the budget to teach. These kids, who I now think of as my kids, are predominantly 2nd generation Mexican kids between the ages of 5 and 12, and there's about 16 on average each day.

The age group is difficult because it spans over a huge difference in interests and capabilities so I constantly have to plan each day with the age thing in mind. We also have a very limited budget, which actually makes it easier to get creative with thinking and inventing games and activities. That being said, here are some of our favorite games/activities.

Capture the Flag
Ultimate Frisbee (just taught this one, with a playground ball though)
Fitness tests

Learning computer skills
Nature hunts
Cutting up paper and throwing it all over the floor
Cooking...and eating!

And the funniest to me, Memory. They go nuts over memory. I took the video of it on Friday, but here's a pic...the kids get down right vicious playing Dr. Suess memory. Just wish my brain was as bright as theirs' are.

Playing Money Management (do any las vegas kids remember this? I created my own, less-cool version of my 5th grade teacher's game, and these kids go crazy over it!) Actually, I'm going to just talk about this one really quick. Every Friday, I count up the "money" that the kids have earned during the week by doing their homework and helping out with tasks around the club like cleaning or reading to the kindergarteners. Then they gather around the game board which is just a poster board split in half between "Busy City", and "Rikaville". Their goal is to save up enough money to eventually move out of the child-laboring factories and live on the magical islands of Rikaville, while getting an education, working, and paying bills.

Quick story, I draw names each week to select 4 kids who have an event happen to them. One girl, who just graduated from fake law school rolled the dice and ended up having a baby. She bothered me all afternoon about it, because she was adamant that she was not ready for children and had a career to focus on. I told her that this is just a game, but sometimes in life, parents have kids that they're not really planning for and at first they're upset but usually (and hopefully) come around and see how beautiful and sweet this precious baby is and are changed forever. She didn't buy it and asked if she could give it away. I eventually told her she could put it up for adoption for $5000 (the price of a house). We'll see what happens. She's 10, and says that the baby idea is giving her nightmares.

I have two more weeks with these kids and then I'm not sure what I'm going to do for a job. I have some photography jobs and weddings over the summer but am actively looking for the full-time deal. Five different part time jobs just aren't cutting it anymore.

Special Sauce


A couple months ago, one of the groomsmen from our wedding, who's also a good friend of ours, went on a cross-country trip while living in his van and graced us with his presence for a couple of weeks. He taught me something that changed my life and my relationship with pasta forever. And now, I'm going to bestow this knowledge onto you, you lucky goose!

Remember last fall when I attempted (and succeeded) to can an entire bucket of roma tomatoes? Well, this tomato sauce kills that homegrown version because of it's simple yet fresh and balanced flavor. Ready for it? So easy! Go!

(this is my amended version which I made this weekend for a make-your-own pizza night with some students).

1 large can of tomatoes (get crushed if you don't have one of those handblender whiz thingies)
1 can of fire-roasted tomatoes (adds an extra zest-you don't have to though)
a little bit of sugar
salt to taste
3 cloves of garlic (or in my case, i used 3 of those frozen cubes of garlic from trader joes'-it's deliciously garlicky!, but you don't have to do this part either)
half a stick of butter (secret ingredient! don't leave this out!)
Half an onion

Prep time: 3-5 Minutes, makes enough for pasta for 4, or pizza for 8

Throw everything into a pot and boil, then simmer for an hour or so while stirring occasionally. Don't do anything to the onion, just stick it into the pot and the layers will eventually separate as it cooks.

After a while, take it off the stove, pull out the limp onion layers, and serve. If you used whole tomatoes, just whiz it up til smooth.

SO EASY! And, I might add, perfect for the creative types like me that hate recipes and are determined to tweak and change depending on mood, the weather, or other variables. The smartest thing to do with this recipe is make a bunch of it and keep it in the fridge for a quick and easy meal.

The Garden-


I have never been good with plants. It's funny, I like plants, but I've never been successful at keep plants alive for any period of time. However, since we've been here and have been blessed with the promise of a more permanent living arrangement (something I haven't had since I was about 14 years old), I have had this little sprout of a dream to grow my own food.

I wrote several articles on gardening and interviewed many seasoned growers about what it takes to start a garden and I was convinced that I could do it. It's taken a couple months but we have just installed and planted about 15 little plants that will hopefully give us some good food this summer.

We tried to be cheap as possible but it turns out that the cost of a garden still comes with a price tag. Here's the major expenses of starting a garden:

Soil-$40 (a special kind, supplemented and mixed with local soil)
Plants-around $15 or so
Shade-$15 for a 6x3 piece
Wire for mole prevention-$12
Plant food-(hey i need all the help I can get!)-$10
Watering device-$15

So it was about $120 to start this garden. We used recycled wood from a barn that was torn down as well as invasive bamboo to hold the shade up, because our poor little plants were about to die from all the sun they were getting. My hope is that we will be able to keep it up and the up front costs won't be as high next year. Plus, garden veggies are WAY better tasting than store bought vegetables. Here's what's in the garden:

garden beans, basil, yellow squash, swiss chard, spinach, red pepper, sage, eggplant and some tomatoes in a planter.

I want to repeat that I still don't feel like I know what I'm doing because there are so many factors that I'm still learning about with predators, soil types, composting, and taking care of a garden. So I'm just learning as I go along. So far, most things are still alive, and I only have about two pepper plant casualties that were fried by the hot sun.

Tornado Alert-


For four years, I lived in eastern Tennessee, the exact part that was thrashed by an almost mile-wide tornado this morning. The devastation is unbelievable. One of my professors's house was completely flattened. I've heard that there are over 60 reported dead already in the area and searches are continuing. NPR did an interview with an Alabama fire fighter this afternoon who survived, along with his family, as his house was ripped to shreds around him. Also, while he and his wife were gathering his three young sons, his oldest, 8, was sucked out of the house like a "slingshot", and the father had no choice but to stay in the house with his family. After some short amount of time, his son walked back into the house, guided by his father's flashlight. And he was fine, aside from a few scrapes and bruises. The fire fighter had lost everything but sounded just elated in the interview. He had lost his son and all of his stuff, and then moments later, discovered what he actually cared about more than anything-his family. What a guy!

My heart goes out to all my friends and Tennessee family, for enduring such frightening storms that created damage so unbelievable that the landscape looks like something out of a sci-fi end of the world movie. It's a terrible tragedy but makes me thankful for the actual important things in my life.




Spring is here, the rain has ceased, and it takes every ounce of self control for me to keep myself inside.

Since we live in one of the most beautiful locations in the world with eye-catching pop colors of flowers, I've been doing tons of photo shoots for friends, couples, and families. Wedding season brings lots of brides searching for photographers, and I've been trying to spread the word around town for my photography business.

Anyway, for the first 10 new Healdsburg clients, I'm running a $75 portrait session special to bank on that old advertising method called word of mouth. So spread it!

On a side note, Aaron's back from Thailand, which makes me oh so happy to have a reason to change out of pajamas for the day and cook other things beside Lean Cuisine for 1. It was getting a little crazy when I started coloring everything possible-lamps, my dog, my hair, the walls, the was time for him to come back and bring sanity back to our home. Maybe one of these days I can talk him into posting a little blog about his trip. His pictures are amazing.

We are toying with summer plans right now...Aaron doesn't have to work and I am trying to get out of working for the Boys & Girls Club, and just focussing on photography. We're open and ready for visitors! So make your reservations today!

Separation Anxiety


My dog is laying across my lap, peacefully sound asleep. Every once in a while, he starts to snore a bit and it makes me laugh because he sounds like an old man. Bam is so sweet and loving, not a mean or angry bone in his body….until he did this to my house.

Let me back up. A week and a half ago, Aaron left for Thailand for a mission trip. He and some other faculty and kids from our school went to go help create a water system for a small village and help these villagers eventually gain papers to get their citizenship, working alongside ADRA. While planning for this trip, Aaron and I thought, no problem-so we’ll go a couple weeks without seeing each other, it will be good for us, and yeah. Fun! I had to stay around here and work and the trip was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

A few days went by and I started leaving Bam Bam at home while I went to work in the afternoons. Usually he does fine for up to about 5 hours, and that’s the amount that I work every day. On Monday I came home to find my living room a total mess. Torn up umbrella, my photography reflector (!!!), shoes, a hat, a pillow with stuffing all over the floor….I was livid. This dumb animal! How in the world could he do that?! It’s like this sweet little lamb-dog turned into the incredible Hulk and stormed around the house determined to destroy!

On Tuesday, I was smarter. I left the TV on for him to have some “company”, I picked up the important things from around the floor and took him on a 2 mile walk to wear him out for the long afternoon away. When I came home, curtains were shredded, one of Aaron’s shoe had a big bite out of it, and other stuff was torn up and spread across the carpet. Again, I cleaned everything up and stayed far away from that animal who had once again messed up everything. How could he?

On the third day, I got even smarter. I figured, he just destroyed stuff because we have so much of it to be destroyed in our living room, so I put him in our bathroom, put everything away, put the radio on high after a long long walk, and I left. When I came back, the rugs were like mops and there were chunks of drywall across the floor. Bam had eaten a wall. Or at least a large chunk of one. Instead of getting mad this time, I looked at my dog, who was beginning to shake in anxiety. He wasn’t the Hulk, he was only a scared little guy who thought that his mom was going to leave and not come back just like his dad.

Bam was never this destructive but he knows that Aaron’s gone and he is just a little depressed and insecure right now. Yesterday and today, I had Bam stay with a sitter and I’m slowly trying to get him used to a wire crate before he does more damage. I had a long talk with Bam’s previous owner, who is a gem, by the way, and she gave me the inside on what to do with Bam and how nervous and emotional he is with his relationship with his humans.

The day I talked with Bam’s owner, I had a whole blown out emotional break down. I kept thinking, if Aaron were here, he’d know exactly what to do! And I lost it. Anytime I thought about Aaron or how much I missed him, tears would quickly spring to my eyes and I’d be completely gone. I hadn’t heard from him in a whole week, and hadn’t let myself even think of him much because I wanted to be strong.

So, like Bam, I was going through some major emotional separation anxiety over my Aaron. (but unlike Bam, I didn’t try to destroy everything in the house with my teeth-I actually went on a psycho cleaning frenzy instead).

I really think it’s a miracle because on that toughest night, I got my call from Aaron, and we poured our hearts out to each other. Turns out, he missed me a little too.

I kept wondering why Bam, despite all my care and love and affection towards him, still felt abandoned by me every day during those 5 hours. And my mind immediately goes to the feeling of being abandoned by God. I’ve had a lot of these conversations lately. Students, telling me that they don’t think God cares about them anymore. And hey, I feel that way occasionally too. But here’s the thing, God’s not like me in that he leaves for a few hours and always comes back. He’s always there, we just don’t always realize it. And that’s what’s getting me through these last few days until Aaron comes home. I know I have a security even greater than my husband’s, and my cutie little dog. And He never fails to bring me comfort when I need it the most, whether it’s in the form of a phone call or a hug or a friend stopping by to see how I’m doing.

So I guess we all get a little separation anxiety every once in a while. And that's okay. It's not too hard to clean up after.

Your story is being written-


I'm tossing around the idea of writing a fictionalized account of some short stories from my growing up years. Here's some suggestions from "blue like jazz" author, Donald Miller.

Are you living a great story with your life? from Donald Miller on Vimeo.

buy his new book here:

Le Tour de Home!


In an attempt to lure you all here to come visit, I will take you now on a virtual tour of our abode. This is a pretty big deal because we never clean it this clean. Maybe I shouldn't be saying that. I just don't like to clean that much-it really is my personality! Cleaning really wears us ENFP's out-there's always something more interesting to do. That being said, Aaron and I romantically attacked this place Valentines' weekend and I just had to take pictures so I could remember this event always.

And just think, if you come to visit, we will break out the big guns and get it back to the way that it looks on the Internet. Really. Just for you. Feel special now, k?

Before we get any further, please understand that we live in a converted apartment (formerly 4 dorm rooms) in a boys dorm. It's wild.

The first room is our living room/music/media room. Yes, those are floating shelves made of vintage books, and my lovely husband did mount our guitars on the wall. The piano was given to us by my grandparents. (see previous post). We both play anything we can get our hands on, and we often just leave our apartment door open to guys to come in to jam.

This is my office. Aaron gets his own office in the dorm so this is where I throw all the bills and papers I don't want to deal with. Since I work from home doing freelance work, I thought that I would use this workspace to get all my stuff done. But it gets a little lonely so I usually work from the couch in the living room.

This is a little embarrassing. We're into vintage photography and cameras and have recently accumulated around 14 or so cameras. Enough to teach a class. We do have a darkroom for processing black and white film, and are just getting that up and running.

Some of our random photos that I taped to the wall for inspiration.

Here's the kitchen, a nice big square kitchen. Most of our stuff was given as gifts (recognize the dish towel, Monika?), or bought at our local Salvation Army. My coffee maker is my favorite part of the kitchen. Only cause it makes me my coffee.

These knives were meant to be with us. Aaron loves knives, I love color, and they're Kuhn Rikon-like our blog. It's so cool. We brought the burly one on the right back with us from Taiwan. It will cut anything. I cut the tip of my thumb off this weekend with my new mandolin slicer. That is not in the picture, and a little off topic-I just thought of it because it still hurts a little to type the spaces.

The fridge is cluttered, but I love it. If you send us a picture, we will attch it to the fridge until it falls off.

This is what I see when I look out my window this week.

This is my dresser made from pecan wood. It's gorgeous and we got the whole set (2 dressers, 2 nightstands) from an old couple in town for around $200. It's the circle of life. Hope we can hang onto them forever. I want to paint them some amazing color but my grounded husband likes them classy.

This is our bedroom. Kingsized bedframe/headboard found on craigslist for $100 and carried home on the roof of my Neon from San Jose. Bam isn't supposed to be on our bed but I used him as my model so he can stay for a little while.

Now you can come visit. We have guest rooms too that I'll feature later on some blog when I have nothing else to write about. In case you didn't know, Northern California is a top-rated destination and there is so much to do here. Think of all the money you'd save by staying with us!

The Scary Internet is Eating Our Children!!!


While working with kids, I often hear complaints from other educators or adults on the dangers of media or how much time these kids are spending on their phones, computers, ipods, and any other portable device. I’ve recently been a part of some very meaningful discussions in how raising kids is like a war between good and evil, only the good side is vastly overwhelmed by all the powers of the bad. It makes me shudder to think about bringing a life into this ever-changing world of evil and danger.

We really do have the odds stacked against us. According to studies by the Kaiser Foundation in 2009, kids between 8 and 18 are averaging 7.5 hours of media consumption per day. Yes, even school days, and much of the time they are multitasking between two or more media devices. So what are they doing during all this time? In my observations, I have seen that most of the media consumption is social. Kids are juggling between facebook and texting and are holding fifteen different conversations with fifteen different people simultaneously. They will reply to a status merely seconds after it was posted. Students at are our school are connected even when the Internet’s out, the electricity is off, and they are room-bound for disciplinary reasons. The guys have already figured out how to reach around the Internet filters with the same method as citizens of China, to access Youtube and Facebook. I see Internet bullying and gossip happening on a daily basis. Kids will write hurtful words on someone’s wall that they would never say to their face. Others stay up until the wee hours of the morning playing video games or texting and barely make it to class the next day.

So the discussions I am hearing by staff around me, the administration, the parents, and teachers are mostly, what do we do now? How do we set up a system that regulates what our kids are watching, consuming, viewing to protect them from all the awful stuff that’s out there? Do we make our Internet filtering system stricter, take away cell phones, march to take down Facebook? Or are we asking ourselves all the wrong questions?

Maybe we should be asking ourselves, how can we instill standards in these students that they will be able to take from here and teach boundaries for a world that is ever changing? What many of us don’t understand is that our way is not real life; theirs’ is. These kids and every generation from here on out will not have lived a day without the Internet or cell phones. Like it or not, mass media and its consumption is here to stay. Yes, in the great battle, the odds are against parents, educators, mentors, and leaders. However, KIDS ARE NOT DUMB! Kids can tell the difference between someone who genuinely takes an interest in them and someone who just wants to enforce a bunch of rules and regulations. I bet you money that if you offer to take a kid to Taco Bell, they would much rather spend time with you than a bunch of fake cyber facebook friends. This year, I’ve discovered that all of these devices are not the enemy. They can be used for good.

As long as adults distance themselves from kids and what they’re into, it will be more and more difficult for them to get a glance into these kids’ lives. Good news, everyone! Kids still have active imaginations! They still get excited about noble causes and are moved to action by youtube documentaries and stories! They are creative and find joy in making projects with their friends. And…kids like you, and want to know you and want to learn from all of those embarrassing stories and mistakes that you made when you were their age. Because when all is said and done, you weren’t so different from them, were you?

So instead of cowering in fear at the Twitter, why not join? Subscribe to these kids’ blogs, comment on them, encourage good writing, or comment on their photos. Let them teach you how it’s done, and then they’ll be willing to take values and lessons from you. I do believe in regulation and giving kids boundaries in their consumption, but this cannot come before a relationship. Rules and regulation must be founded in something deeper. Just ask the creator of those ten commandments.

Luckiest Girl in the World


I hope in 50 years I still feel this lucky to be with you, Aaron. I love you with all my heart and am so so happy to be with you every day of my life.

Nanna's Handkerchiefs


It's been a while since we've updated, but I wrote this a few weeks back. Please forgive me!

While I was home on vacation in Maryland, my mom let me pick out some of my Nanna’s handkerchiefs that she got when she moved Nanna into a nursing home. They are beautiful, vintage, colorfully embroidered handkerchiefs that are still in pristine condition. My Nanna was always a well-taken care of lady. She always had to have her hair “just so” and if anyone ever inquired about her age, she would coyly answer, “I’m 39-plus”. She still gave this answer even when her face began to sag and her hands began to shrivel.

When we were kids, we’d visit our Nanna and Bompa in their house in San Francisco. Although it was a small house, we never tired of all the nooks and crannies that begged to be investigated. Nanna was old school. She never owned a clothes dryer or dishwasher and fought with all her might against getting a microwave or garage door opener. Nanna and Bompa owned just about every National Geographic magazine ever printed and we would go down into the basement to crack open the crusted, yellowed pages to see the monkeys of Burma, or the hill-tribe people of Thailand. My favorite discovery that I made in Nanna’s basement was the Re-Gift Cupboard. I am pretty sure that any time Nanna and Bompa received a present that they didn’t want or need, they’d put the object into this cupboard and stock up until a holiday or birthday came around. From this cupboard, we received very strange presents, definitely not intended for children. Letter openers, a pen, monogrammed handkerchiefs, and a thick-handled magnifying glass were some of the gifts we received from this cupboard. I would visit the cupboard from time to time, just to check on the inventory. Nanna also had an assortment of plants throughout her neat little house. I always noticed that they seemed much shinier than my mom’s plants and I asked her about it one time. She beckoned me over to her and whispered her secret into my ear. “I smear a touch of mayonnaise around each leaf and that really makes them shine!”

I saw Nanna the day before Aaron and I left for Taiwan and she was a little bit tired looking, but she was her old self-funny as ever, stubborn, warm and loving. While we were gone for a year, she had a series of mini-strokes and dementia slowly took over her mind. After many trips to California, tears, conversations with family, and tough decisions, Bompa informed my mom and uncles that they needed to be taken care of full-time in a nursing home.

Every time I visit Nanna I almost don’t recognize her. I never thought my own grandma would be one of those sad old ladies in the nursing home who doesn’t know where they are or why they’re there. Her decline has taken a toll on all of us, but especially Bompa. He is in his mid-90’s and although he’s very tired, he’s very much mentally there. Bompa worries about Nanna all the time, and he is heartbroken that he’s slowly losing the love of his life. Nanna lost a lot of weight and her formerly wavy hairdo has fallen to her shoulders in a straight, limp mess. Because their stages of health are so different, Nanna and Bompa have rooms on different floors of the facilities and Bompa tries to see Nanna every day but admits that it’s hard to see her declining so rapidly. When The Notebook came out, I thought it was a nice story but I never thought I’d be witnessing a love like that with my own grandparents.

Although Nanna was confused and a little delusional when we visited for Thanksgiving, she never failed to offer me food or something to drink. Taking care of people is so innate for her that I don’t think she’ll ever lose that instinct.

I think it’s strange that ladies used to keep handkerchiefs in their purses to blow their noses and stuff, but when my mom gave them to me, she said that they were to catch the tears. I think there are about six in all, each one so different and varying in color and pattern. As many weaknesses as Nanna had (she was so stubborn and maybe a little spoiled), no one that knew her could argue that she is possibly one of the most colorful people they’d ever known. Nanna had a big heart and always yearned to take care of people all around her, from the gays on Stockton Street in downtown San Francisco when she volunteered with the health van, to my ragged high school friends when we spent a long weekend at her house, to the ducks that knew where to get the good crumbs on her back porch. I will keep a couple ‘kerchiefs in my purse, just to remind me of Nanna and just in case someone around me gets a little weepy.

Another blog?


Yes siree...I have just launched a blog for my photo business, Rika Fotografia. The Facebook page just went out too, so make sure you "like" that, okay?

Read my current post on Rika Fotografia for free design downloads. And just 'cause some of you are asking, yes, the Rikon Expedition will continue. We'll just blog here on a more personal level.

While I'm on the blog note, I wanted to highlight a few of my fav blogs of people I know. Ed and Jaela have started a blog called "Marriage Flavors", and has discussion on various aspects of marital life. The most recent one asks the question on whether it's okay to have close friends of the opposite gender after you're married. Interesting.

Another blog that I just discovered follows a couple of my friends from Southern on their year-long quest to travel the world. I got hooked on it over the break and have been trying to get my travel fix vicariously through these wild guys! It's called the wholeworldround. Right now, the two guys, Jeremy and Bjorn are in China on their way to Siberia. So rad! On part of this trip that I think is great, is that these guys take time in some of their travels to do mission work.

Although this guy doesn't blog super often, his photos are absolutely incredible. I went to high school with Brandon and he's just totally taken the fashion photography world in the northwest by storm. He's also shot a few of our classmates' weddings and the photos take your breath away. His photos are intimate, a little vintage-y, funky, beautiful. Check him out, his name is Brandon Witzel! Update: I just talked to Brandon and he wants to make sure I let you know he's a wedding photographer. So go get him! Wedding Photographer man!

On a totally different note, I can't forget to mention a friend from college, Daniel, who is currently battling cancer, and has been for the last few years. His blog, Precision Points chronicles his treatments, his thoughts, and his faith. Daniel is such an inspiration and I get shivers reading some of his thoughts, such as how it feels when a seizure is about to hit, and all the raw fruits and vegetables he blends to treat his cancer with all forces possible. I did an audio documentary of Daniel and his wife Logan a few years ago and he is probably one of the strongest people I know.

The last blog that I'm highlighting on this slow Sunday evening always brings colorful inspiration to my life. Joy Nudd is the author of the Cobblestone Rue blog, which features very cute, modern styles for life. Joy was my boss/friend when I did my photography internship during my senior year of college. Joy is incredibly talented in business, marketing, hunting down great finds on the internet, and being a fantastic mom to her two adorable girls.

If you haven't yet, you should definitely add these blogs to your Reader.

A tribute to vacation!



Christmas Break and then some:

I love working in education because we get nice long breaks. None of this “3 weeks a year” of vacation business. As soon as the kids left Rio, our minds were flooded with ideas and possibilities of things to do. Even though we were stuck with miserable, rainy weather, we still dreamt of setting up a dark room, turning some wooden bowls, visiting old friends, going Christmas shopping! I even had time to take a much-needed CPR class for work as well as work on my upcoming website.

After a week of doing random things around the house and town, (btw, Aaron set up a sweet sound system that goes through our house. We can even control the song and volume through our phones, which are attached somehow wirelessly to the computer which is attached to the tv, which is attached to the speakers. Don’t ask me how-he’s a miracle worker!), we decided to spend the day in San Francisco to check out the Christmas Eve action in the City. We went to the Exploratorium, which I used to visit as a kid, and Aaron got to experience it for the very first time. However, the museum closed several hours early, and our only other appointment that day was the midnight mass service at Grace Cathedral. We had SO much time to kill. So we went down town, and went to the mall like a couple of teenagers, then went to look at the ice skating rink in Union Square, then attempted to eat at the Cheesecake Factory at the top of Macy’s, and were rejected due to the 120 minute wait.

We eventually found some food and went to kill some time at a café and found ourselves at the only open espresso bar in the area which happened to also be a hookah bar. We did not partake of the hookah but it was rather entertaining and maybe slightly ironic to be spending Christmas Eve with a bunch of Middle Eastern guys smoking the hookah. Actually, it was awesome.

And so was midnight mass. So glorious! All the instruments and singers were in tune and their tones rose to the heights of the massive cathedral. It was very heartwarming, especially since we’d spend the entire next day, Christmas Day, traveling.

I love going home. I love my family and our rebellion against tradition. We opened presents one day late and had a big big Kwanzaa brunch to celebrate the day that none of us know anything about. We also brought with us a couple of kids from China, who are juniors at our school, so that they could experience the culture and entertainment of a “typical” American family. Or rather, that we could have an extra element of entertainment.

We took the kids almost every day to downtown DC to see the monuments, museums, trains planes and automobiles. We took them ice skating, shopping, and out to eat. Lucky kids!

My mom decided to start a new tradition this year of taking her favorite daughter (me!) to a spa for a facial. Wow! Mom, my face is still thanking you. We had some really great bonding time in between shopping and entertaining people and my parents remodeling their bathroom.

I got to see old friends-Juan Pablo Ariza and his lovely new wife, Erica. They are super cool and are changing the world for the better. I’ve known Pablo since 2nd grade and I’m always astounded at how grown up he is. He’s going to be a pastor, and will such a good one. I also got to see one of my best friends in the world, Ansley, who is another world changer. She’s studying public health/nurse practitioning/mid-wifery at Emery in Atlanta and not only is she a selfless, giving beautiful person, but she’s a lot of fun too. We ran all over DC area going to the Newseum, sampling coffee, trading in movie tickets for later times, and tasting delicious cupcakes. She is definitely one of those BFF, buy a friendship necklace, call up anytime kind of friends. Ansley, I love you and one day is not enough to catch up!

One of the best parts of this little vacation was our Gemmell music day. The 3 of us did music for church and then we had the 2011 Gemmell House Concert, where we had about 40 people show up and many of them performed. Random, unplanned, interesting, crazy. Technical difficulties have momentarily prevented these performances from being uploaded to youtube.

I love vacation! But I do have to say, it’s good to be home and surrounded by teenage boys who think it’s a treat to eat my burnt attempts at sweet potato fries.