Category Archives: Stories

Introducing the Newest Member of the Family

So, it’s been quite a while since I posted anything, but I think I have a good excuse: Robby and I adopted a newborn baby! Our son Owen was born on Easter Sunday (11 days early!) and we brought him home from the hospital two days later. We’ve had our hands and hearts full ever since. :)

Our son's birth announcement, designed by Robby's talented sister, Ashley.

We first found out that we might be able to adopt Owen last Thanksgiving, but since adoptions so often fall through, we decided to share that news only with immediate family and close friends. But God was truly gracious to us, and we now have a beautiful son through the miracle of adoption–and, apparently, one of the smoothest adoptions that our lawyer and social workers have ever seen. Praise the Lord!

We’ve decided to keep many of the details of Owen’s adoption private, since we believe Owen should be the one to decide how that information is shared (although I don’t like the aggressive title, this article has a good explanation of our reasons for being circumspect). But I can share a few things:

  • We were not actively pursuing adoption when we found out about the situation through our pastor. After meeting the birthparents and getting to know them, we all decided to move forward with an open, attorney-facilitated independent adoption (i.e., not through an agency).
  • This meant that we had to complete a full home study and background check in 3 months. We finished our home study just a week before Owen was born (whew!).
  • I have resigned from my job to become a full-time stay-at-home mom, and I am loving it so far!
  • Our family and friends have been so excited for us, and so amazingly generous. Our house is full of baby gear and books, which has given me lots of opportunities for decorating and organizing projects…expect more posts on that soon. :)

Owen is beautiful, sweet, funny, and the light of our lives. We love watching him grow and change every day, and are so thankful that God has brought him into our family. Nap time is almost over, so I’ll wrap this up with a few of the hundreds of photos that we’ve taken over the past two months:

Our first family photo, in the hospital.

Family photo at 4 weeks old.

Recent photo of our beautiful son, taken by Robby's sister, Ashley.


Living Room Redecorating (Again!)

Since finishing my MBA, I’ve found myself with a lot more time to notice little things I’d like to change about my house. And, thankfully, more time to actually do something about it! Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on yet another round of living-room redecoration. I think I’m finally moving closer to finding the right mix of style and function…

The last time I showed you my living room, it looked like this:

Stephenson living room, circa January 2013.

Not bad, but that sofa was just so huge. And so dark. And, I came to realize after months of sitting on it while cramming for finance exams, so uncomfortable. It makes me sad to admit that, because the sofa wasn’t actually that old (you can read about when we bought it here: But, I realized it just wasn’t working well in our space, and so I started warming Robby up to the idea of getting a new one. ;)

My other motivation for getting a new, smaller sofa was that it would allow us to get a bigger dining table. Our old one was cute, but could really only seat two people comfortably, and we’re hoping to have people over more often!

It took a while to get Robby on board with the new-sofa plan, especially when I initially fell in love with a $2,400 model:

So pretty. But so expensive.

Eventually, I came to my senses and realized that a $2,400 velvet-covered sofa just wasn’t affordable or realistic given that we have a slobbery bulldog. So, I did more research on small sectionals with chaises, and kept finding good reviews about the Ektorp sofa from Ikea. I know, 75% of my house is from Ikea, but when you’re trying to live on a budget it’s hard to resist those prices. Plus, the sofa actually had a 10-year warranty and tons of relatively affordable replacement slipcovers.

So, a few weeks ago, I broke Robby down we decided to take a trip to Ikea to purchase our new sofa. In white, no less! I also moved the bouncy chair upstairs and replaced it with a cushy armchair from World Market (that’s a story in itself…we bought the chair the night before we left for Hawaii, only to discover that no amount of shoving would get it into our car, and World Market couldn’t deliver it that night. So we actually sprinted over to the U-Haul place and begged the guy to let us rent a truck 1 hour before closing, just so that we could get the chair home. It’s funny now, but didn’t seem so funny at the time!).

Anyway, once we got the new furniture in place, our living room looked like this:

New sofa and chair!

Living room, different angle.

My parents actually took our old leather sofa. They’re redecorating, and it fits much better in their big house! When they came to pick it up, they brought an old friend with them…Robby’s old, old dining table and chairs, which they’d been using since Robby and I got married and decided to keep my smaller table!

The table and chairs were in pretty good shape, and were the bigger size that I wanted, especially with the leaf extension. But, I didn’t love the color (cherry-stained wood with forest green accents). Here’s a REALLY old picture of the table, I think from 2004 when Robby first bought our house (check out the old kitchen, too!):

Dining table way back when.

Bad lighting, but you can sort of see what I mean about the colors. So, I started another DIY project: refinishing the furniture! I decided to go with an antique pine stain (to coordinate with our other furniture) and black accents. It took a LOT of sweat equity over several weekends to strip off all the varnish, apply multiple coats of stain and paint, and seal everything, but I’m really happy with the results!

Close-up of the refinished table and chairs. One of my more successful DIY projects, I think!

I also decided that the old dresser we had in the dining area felt a little big for the space. So, we moved it upstairs and replaced it with two floating shelves that we had once used underneath the bar counter before we remodeled the kitchen (you can see them in action here, before they fell down…whoops: Here are the new shelves:

Refinished dining set and new floating shelves. Much lighter than the old dresser, I think!

So far, the changes seem to be working well for us. The new sofa and chair are super comfortable, and the room seems bigger and brighter. We even had some friends over for dinner and were able to fit 4 people plus multiple serving dishes on the table, hooray!

Sadly, though, there’s one catch. I had talked myself into the white slipcover for the sofa, reasoning that I could just bleach it anytime it got dirty. And then, on our very first day with the new sofa, Lucy jumped on it with muddy paws. I washed everything (which took hours), and then, a few days later, she did it again. Argh. It actually bugged Robby more than it bugged me, and he started hinting that maybe we should look into getting a different-colored slipcover.

Before spending money on that, though, I decided to try to salvage our initial slipcover investment by dyeing the white fabric a darker color. I settled on the Pearl Grey color by Rit, and went on a grand tour of two Michaels and a JoAnn Fabrics to find enough boxes to dye the whole slipcover (you need 1 box per pound of fabric, and our slipcover weighs 14 pounds).

I’m still working on finishing the dye job (the final load is in the dryer right now), and sadly, it’s not going well. :( I don’t know if I didn’t use enough dye, or if there was just too much fabric in the washing machine, or if the dye was just off, but all I know is that the slipcover is supposed to be this lovely shade of taupey grey:

Pearl Grey

But, instead, it’s this strange shade of pale blue with random grey splotches:

Yeah, that doesn't look like the box AT ALL. So frustrating.

Waaaaahhh! I’m going to try to salvage things with another batch of dye (darker grey, from a different brand), and smaller loads, so we’ll see if that helps. I’ll let you know how it goes, but we may be saving up for another slipcover soon. :/

My other upcoming project is to add some distressed, antique-stained pine planks to the top of our coffee table. Partly to make the table look more interesting, but mostly to cover up the area where I spilled nail polish remover and ruined the paint on top (sigh…).  Oh, and I’m also brainstorming ideas to replace the cheap Target-clearance art that’s currently hanging over the sofa with something a little more sophisticated. Wish me luck with my never-ending DIY-decorating quest!


You know that Andy Warhol saying, ”In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”? Well, for me, the future arrived this week. And my fame actually lasted for 22 minutes of air time, because I was a contestant on Jeopardy!

Don’t believe me? I have proof! :)

Yep, that's Alex Trebek.

And, my cheesy “Hometown Howdy” video, with a shout-out to JPL and MSL:

This whole crazy experience started back in 2010, when Robby learned that Jeopardy was holding its annual online qualifying test. We both took the test, and a few weeks later I got a phone call. It was a Jeopardy producer, telling me that I had passed the test and inviting me to a live audition!

The audition was held in a hotel ballroom in LA. There were about 75 people there, and we ran through a bunch of practice tests, mock trivia rounds, and anecdote-telling sessions. Totally nerve-wracking! I didn’t think I had done very well, until a few weeks later when I got another phone call asking me to be an alternate on the show in September 2010. (They always have a local contestant stand in as an alternate in case one of the players drops out).

I didn’t get picked to compete on the show in 2010, but I did get to spend the whole day on the Sony Pictures set. I watched the taping of 5 episodes of Jeopardy, and got to eat lunch in the Sony cafeteria. The highlight of the day was spotting Tobey Maguire a few tables over–not that I knew it was him until someone else pointed it out! I’m not very good at recognizing celebrities.

After the long day of taping, the producers told me that they would keep my name on file for 18 months and call me if they had an opening on the show for me…and that was the end of that, or so I thought! I went on about my life until I got another surprise phone call in February 2012. This time, the producers told me they had an opening and asked me to come in for a taping in March.

I immediately called Robby and freaked out…and then I called my hairstylist to get my hair looking presentable for TV. :P Robby spent the next month trying to get me to practice my clicker skills, and I tried really hard not to think about the fact that I could potentially humiliate myself on national television.  I thought about studying, but wasn’t even sure where to start, especially since I had so much actual studying to do for my MBA classes. In the end, I memorized the names of the first 10 English monarchs and looked at some lists of classic literature titles, but that was it.

The day of the taping, Robby and I woke up at the crack of dawn and headed out to Culver City. We were almost late because of the traffic, but he got us there just in time! While Robby met up with my mom and sister and waited in the guest area, I spent a few hours playing practice rounds with the other contestants, doing sound checks, perfecting my anecdotes, and letting the makeup lady plaster me in super-thick, super-dark makeup (ick!). And then, the taping began…I watched the first round, and then the producer called me over and told me I was up next!

I chatted with my competitors–Blythe, an attorney from Washington, DC, and Dan, a theology teacher from Chicago–while the sound guys hooked up my microphone and the makeup artist dusted my face with a bunch of powder. Suddenly, Johnny Gilbert’s voice was booming across the stage with the words, “This…is…JEOPARDY!” and the game was on. I was so nervous that I almost threw up, but I forced myself to focus on the clue board and my clicker. Once the game got moving, it felt like everything just became a blur.

I remember talking to Alex (my anecdote was about how I met Robby…and about how I knew he was the one for me when I found out he catalogs his own books!). I remember how relieved I felt when I answered my first question correctly, and I remember that I was in the lead at the end of the first round. Double Jeopardy was kind of a blur, and I wasn’t ringing in fast enough to build up any cash. So, I ended up in third place, with $8,200 going into Final Jeopardy. The category was announced as “First Names”…not very specific.

My dad and I have had all kinds of debates about final wagering strategies over our years of watching Jeopardy together, and his philosophy of “go big or go home” kept running through my head. I also heard Robby’s voice in my head telling me that he loved me and would be proud of me even if I lost everything. And so, I decided to do something crazy and bet it all! I entered my $8,200 bet and waited for Alex to read the final clue.

The clue was: “A wife of King David & 2 of our early first ladies shared this name derived from Hebrew for ‘my father’s joy’.” As soon as I read the clue, I got excited. I knew the answer!! My in-laws and I had read through a Beth Moore Bible study on David two years ago, and it included a story about David’s wife Abigail. I also thought of Abigail Adams, and the Hebrew word “Abba,” or father. The famous Jeopardy music started to play, and I quickly wrote down my answer.

Since I was in third place, my answer was revealed first. Alex confirmed that I was right, and for a moment, I was winning with $16,200. Yay! Unfortunately, even though I doubled my money, it still wasn’t enough to beat Blythe and Dan since both of them got the answer correct. Dan ended up winning, while Blythe pulled ahead of my by $3,600 to take second place. And just like that, it was all over. My microphone was unhooked, I signed the prize form (as the 3rd-place finisher, I only got to keep $1,000 of my winnings, boo!), and then I ran to meet my family outside. We did some hugging and some excited squealing, and then we headed back to Pasadena for lunch.

The episode finally aired yesterday, and ever since then I’ve been inundated with calls, text messages, Facebook posts, and emails from friends and family. And also from a few complete strangers who found my work phone number/email through Google, which is a bit creepy…good thing I have pepper spray and campus security guards nearby, just in case!

I’ll end this ridiculously long post with a few random observations on the whole experience:

  • The set looked exactly like I expected it to from watching on TV, but the audience area was smaller than I thought it would be.
  • Getting the buzzer timing right is really hard! You have to wait until a light goes off, and if you buzz in too quickly, you’re locked out for half a second.
  • Watching yourself on TV is excruciating…especially when you look like an Oompa-Loompa thanks to a ton of dark makeup.
  • Everyone I met was so nice! It was fun getting to chat with the other contestants and hear their stories. And the producers were hilarious.
  • My TV career is over–I have no desire to do anything like this again, although I do plan to play lots of bar trivia with Robby!

European Adventure, Part 3: London

On Thursday, we hit the Rome train station bright and early. Our plan was to head back to Florence to meet Ashley, and then the three of us would take a train to Pisa, fly into Gatwick, and take the Tube into London.

Checking out of our hotel in Rome. The elevator barely fit us and our luggage!

High speed train!

Unfortunately, our plans changed a bit when the train from Rome got delayed and we missed our connection in Florence. That left us scrambling for another route to Pisa, and we weren’t sure where Ashley was since our phones didn’t work overseas. :( Robby figured out that we could get to Pisa in time for our flight if we took two different trains, so that’s what we did.

We made it to the Pisa airport, checked in for our flight, and then wandered around, looking for Ashley. We eventually bumped into her, and discovered that we had been on the same Florence-to-Pisa train! When she saw that our train from Rome was delayed, she decided not to get on the original train, and ended up taking the same detour we did. Eventually, we all got on the flight and made it to London uneventfully.

London was cold and drizzly as we made our way to Victoria station on the train. We didn’t want to walk to our hotel in the rain, so we hailed a classic British taxi!


We were pleasantly surprised to find that our hotel was new, gorgeous, and super modern. Our room had a full kitchen, free gourmet snacks and drinks, and even a washer-dryer! Best of all, Robby found a deal online, so we paid less than half of the standard (super high) room rate. :)

Our awesome hotel room.

After checking in and resting for a bit, we decided to venture out for dinner and some sightseeing. We found a great little pub and loaded up on burgers, bangers & mash, and beer.

The pub!

Then we made a big walking loop around the West End, from Big Ben and Parliament to Buckingham Palace. We ended up near the London Eye, and on impulse we decided to take a ride. It was scary, but the views were amazing!

Big Ben and Parliament at night.

Boarding the London Eye.

View from the Eye.

View of London from the top of the Eye.

After our late-night “flight” on the London Eye, we headed back to our hotel for some much-needed sleep.

Friday morning, we woke up early, hunted down some coffee and pastries for breakfast, and took the Tube to the Tower of London. We spent several hours exploring the Tower, from the Crown Jewels to the Armory. Robby was especially enthralled!

Robby outside the Tower.

Robby, looking kingly. :)

View of the Tower Bridge from the walls of the Tower of London.

Robby wearing a replica of a medieval soldier's helmet.

Irish Guardsman outside the Crown Jewels.

My own personal guardsman. :)

We found a fairly swanky restaurant for lunch, and built up our strength for a trip to Westminster Abbey. We spent some time looking at all the monuments and tombs, then took the Tube up to King’s Cross Station to hunt down platform 9 3/4. :)

Take me to Hogwarts!

We rounded off our day with a dizzying trip to Topshop (a UK clothing store similar to H&M) before heading back to the hotel to rest a bit before dinner. Our plan was to walk toward the Millennium Bridge and St. Paul’s cathedral and find some dinner along the way, but we were soon stopped by a downpour. We took shelter in a pub, which had unfortunately stopped serving real food for the evening. Thus, we ended up having potato chips for dinner before staggering back to our hotel and falling into bed. Sort of a weird way to end our time in London, but the day overall was pretty great–I just wish we had had more time!

Sadly, Robby and I had a pretty early flight back to LA on Saturday morning, so we had to wake up early, pack up our stuff, say our goodbyes to Ashley, and catch the train to Heathrow. Thankfully, our flight back to LA was uneventful (though sooooo long!), and we made it home around 4pm on Saturday (LA time). Lucy was super excited to see us, and we were happy to be home!

Overall, our trip ended well even though it got off to a bad start. I’m still sad that food poisoning prevented me from really experiencing the sights (and food!) of Italy, but I loved, loved, loved seeing London with Robby and Ashley. For me, the highlights of the trip were:

  • Our 3 amazing hotel rooms. Robby planned our travel, and he did an awesome job with the accommodations!
  • Shopping at the Prada store and getting an amazing wallet. I felt a bit like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. :P
  • Seeing historic sites in Rome.
  • My one and only cup of gelato–stracciatella and coffee flavors!
  • Getting to ride the high-speed train in Italy.
  • Exploring London by night.
  • Yummy pub food.
  • Seeing the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey.
  • Riding the Tube.

There were a few things I wish had gone differently (sickness, obviously, as well as cold, rainy weather and lots of time spent travelling to and from different places), but I guess that means Robby and I will have to go back sometime and see more of Italy and London. I’m definitely ok with that! :)

European Adventure, Part 2: Rome

Our high-speed train pulled into Rome late Tuesday afternoon, and we struggled to haul our luggage through the narrow, bumpy streets to our hotel. When we arrived, our room unfortunately reeked of cigarette smoke. Robby asked politely if there was another room we could stay in, and the hotel staff stunned us by moving us to the penthouse suite, which came complete with its own private rooftop terrace! Holy cow, the room was awesome (although the mattress was super hard!). :)

Nice hotel room!

Our sweet rooftop terrace! Unfortunately, rainy weather prevented us from really using it.

After checking out our room (I may have done some excited squealing!), we ventured out to take in the ruins of ancient Rome at sunset and have some pizza. Unfortunately, I think I tried to do too much that day, and had a bit of a meltdown/relapse after dinner. :(

I had mostly recovered by Wednesday morning, so we started our day with an ambitious walk toward the Vatican. Along the way, we saw the Trevi fountain and the Pantheon:

Robby near the Trevi fountain.

Bad self-portrait by the fountain. I loved all the mythical details!

Pantheon! Crazy that this 2,000 year old building sits right in the middle of a modern city.

Inside of the Pantheon.

Tiny car! This one's for my dad. :)

When we arrived at St. Peter’s, we were surprised to find that there was a huge event going on, with tens of thousands of people gathered on the plaza.

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

The massive crowds prevented us from seeing the Sistine Chapel (boo!), and it had started to rain, so we ducked into a nice little osteria for some pasta (sadly, it was the only pasta I had our entire time in Italy!). Because of the rain, we headed back to our hotel. We had planned to see the Colosseum that afternoon, but I was so wiped out by everything that I ended up sleeping the rest of the day and into the evening. I wasn’t about to leave Italy without having some gelato, though, so I begged Robby to find some for me, and that’s what I had for dinner. :)

The next morning (Thursday), we woke up early, ate a bunch of pastries at the hotel’s breakfast bar (yay!), and headed off to the train station to move on to the third and final leg of our European adventure–London!