Monday, July 27, 2009

Long Time

I think this may be just about the longest I've gone without posting since I started my blog over a year ago! Wow...
I am sitting in the auditorium of my conference between sessions right now, and I don't really have time to write. I'll probably not get around to writing again until I get home on Friday. Actually it will probably be Saturday or Sunday before I have the time.
Just by way of quick update though, it has been an amazing week. On the way out, Matt and I asked God to give us fresh direction in our ministry, to refresh us spiritually and physically, and to draw us closer together in our marriage. He has done all four...abundantly. We've heard from some amazing speakers, participated in worship that makes the hair all over my body stand up from the power of it, done lots and lots of talking and praying together as a couple, and caught up on sleep. And we have enjoyed fun time with friends. My heart is full. My mind is full. I am so content, and I'm excited to see where God will lead us as we return home later this week.
So there's a teaser of what's to come. Maybe when I get home I'll be able to sort through some of the things I've learned and manage to put them to words in a way that will inspire you, too. Alrighty, my break time is over! TTFN!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Official Foodie

I'll never forget it. The fall I was 15, my dad and I went away for the weekend, just the two of us. We stayed in a hotel in Carmel Valley. We went in the jacuzzi, and we played tennis. We strolled the charming streets of Carmel together, just enjoying time away. But the majority of our time was spent eating. See, we had an Entertainment coupon book that was expiring the next week, and Dad wanted to get his money's worth out of that book. So we ate all the regular meals, as well as stopping for coffee, dessert, and candy...all at different places! It was so much fun to enjoy that wonderful food with my dad, at places where we normally wouldn't eat. I think that weekend began my love affair with finding hole-in-the-wall places to eat. Ever since Matt and I got married, we have built our road trips around finding those unique, local places to eat. We almost never eat at chain restaurants. We've found some awful places. But we've also found some AMAZING gems with fantastic food.

As usual, we built this trip around food stops. This time we had recommendations from our friend Jim, who is a foodie just like we are. We pulled out at 7:15 on Saturday morning and drove for a couple of hours before stopping for pancakes at Cracker Barrel. I know, Cracker Barrel is a chain...but their pancakes are SO good! About an hour east of Oklahoma City, we stopped at a little mom and pop place that is known for its ham sandwiches and beef jerky. We bought some jerky and enjoyed it all the way to Oklahoma City. There we stopped at Del Rancho for lunch. Del Rancho is nothing special to look at. In fact, it's the kind of place I would usually avoid. But oh, the food!!! That chicken fried steak was far and away the best I've ever had. The fried okra was awesome, too. And the garlic salad dressing? Ummm!!!!!About an hour after that, our lunch had settled just enough to leave room for a chocolate milkshake from Braums. Oh. YUM!

We had planned on stopping at the Big Texan in Amarillo, Texas, for a steak dinner. But we were still stuffed from lunch and dessert when we arrived in Amarillo. We opted to keep driving because it was only 6:00 and neither one of us were tired. We ended up stopping for the night in Dalhart, Texas. It is this little, tiny farming town out in the middle of nowhere. Right next door to our hotel was a steak house. By 8:30 we were hungry, so we enjoyed steak, salad, okra, garlic mashed potatoes, and chicken tortilla soup together before turning for the night.

On Sunday morning we woke up and my pants had shrunk in the waist! Ha ha, not really. But I'm glad we were only on the road for 2 days, or the pants would start to shrink! We had breakfast in Raton, New Mexico. The pancakes and mexican potatoes were wonderful, but the town was even more special! It is another small town, but it is clean, pretty, friendly, and tucked away against the mountains. We would have loved to have stayed and explored, but guess what? We had a lunch appointment in Colorado Springs!

Once in the Springs, we met up with our friends Gary and Michelle, who took us out for a sushi feast. If you know me, you know that I love sushi, but am generally afraid to eat it in land-locked Arkansas! Why I feel better about sushi in land-locked Colorado, I don't know. Maybe it's that catfish is not considered seafood here...
Whatever the case, the sushi was fabulous! I broadened my horizons a bit, and tried a roll that had raw yellowtail in it, and a slab of barbequed unagi (freshwater eel). The yellowtail didn't taste bad, but I can't get past the texture. It's not chewy, but is does kind of mush in your mouth. No thanks! But I surprised myself by really liking the unagi!
We finished off our night with blizzards from Dairy Queen.

For lunch today I had potato pancakes at a New York style deli in Denver, and Matt had a ginormous reuben sandwich. Now we're at our conference location, and we'll be eating college cafeteria food for the next 9 days. And honestly, I'm okay with that. This particular college has really awesome food. Tonight my guts are in rebellion at all the rich food I've been eating. Seriously, I'm so bloated and yucky in my tummy. I'm hoping the caf will have yogurt and a nice, fresh salad. Maybe that will help.

Once I get my camera out of the car and pictures downloaded, I'll post the pics so you can see the scrumptuous fare we've been enjoying. Yes, I took pictures of almost every place we stopped, and of the meals we ate. It will make a fun scrapbook page!

If I get time tomorrow, I'll post the other part of our drive out here, minus the food. Two whole days in the car alone with my sweet hubs...bliss! We talked without being interrupted. Our conversation ranged much deeper than it does with children present. We also enjoyed extended periods of quiet, and music that is too mature for 6 and 3-year-old ears.

Speaking of Snapper and Pepper, they are safe and sound in Arkansas with a friend who is nannying for us. They were thrilled to get to stay with her, and they'll be doing all sorts of fun things.

Alrighty, the caf is open and I'm actually feeling hungry. More later.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Spotlight on Snapper

A few weeks ago Matt and I gave Snapper's room a much-needed makeover. When Debbie moved in with us last year, she got Snapper's pink room, and Snapper moved into the bigger guest room/office. The guest room was a beautiful blue and white. Rich blue on the upper half of the room, with white wainscoting around the bottom of the room. I have a beautiful blue, patchwork quilt that went on the guest bed, and accent pillows, dust ruffle, and valance of Battenburg lace. It was such a fresh, pretty room. But when we moved Snapper into her, her pink things were rather an eyesore. Here are some pics of the before and afters of the room.

The guest room/office when we bought the house

The guest room/office after we painted and decorated it, 2006

Not looking so hot in the middle of moving Snapper's stuff into it

Ahhhh! All fresh and pretty for our little girl.

Her pretty bed.

I also thought it would be fun to show you Snapper's swimming. Here's the video of her race last Tuesday. I was sitting in the thick of a crowd of parents cheering for the other team, so I didn't even try to make any commentary. So proud of our girl!

On a totally different note--Matt and I are pulling out bright and early tomorrow morning for our trip to Colorado. Our missions agency hosts a training conference for all the U.S. staff every other year. We worship together (there are about 5,000 of us!), listen to speakers, and hear about what is going on with the different divisions of our agency around the world. We get to go to breakout seminars about all sorts of great topics that encourage us in our spiritual growth. We also have lots of down time when we can go swimming, hang out with friends, and go see the beauty of the area around Denver. This will be out third time attending Staff Training, and it has been wonderful every time. Matt and I are so excited to have this opportunity to go! I may get in a few posts while I'm gone, but I'm not going to make any promises. Tomorrow night we'll stop in Amarillo, Texas. The next night we'll be with friends in Colorado Springs. From there it's on to Denver! Wahoo!!!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Dash of Pepper

I said at the conclusion of my last post that I would talk a bit about Pepper's year, and how he has grown and changed. Today was his 3-year check-up. He weighs in at 28 pounds, a whopping 20th percentile. On the other side of the chart, he hit the 95th percentile at 3'4" tall. The doctor was very pleased by the weight gain. Until this appointment, Pepper has never landed higher than the 5th percentile in weight. He's kind of picky, and doesn't have a great appetite, so I've always been a bit concerned at how thin he is. The doctor was not concerned at all, just recommended that we give him whole milk for the next year to add some extra fat and calories to his diet.

Pepper's Favorites in the Last Year

Food: "Mac'n'cheesaroni," cereal, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, popsicles, apple juice

Color: Orange

Animal: Cows and cats

Movie: Shrek, The Incredibles, Cars, Wallace and Gromit, Star Wars

Book: Mickey and the Beanstalk

Toy: Chocolate bear, rainbow bear, flashlights, any kind of sword or gun, Buzz Lightyear doll

Best Friend: Isaiah B

Other Pepper Facts

1. Pepper is not a people person. He prefers to be with Mommy, Daddy, and Snapper, and would rather be home than anywhere else.

2. He would rather play with older children, and tends to ignore kids his own age.

3. Swimming is one of Pepper's favorite activities. He wears a suit with foam blocks in it which help him stay afloat. He kicks well and scoots around the pool on his tummy and on his back. He is not bothered by getting his face and ears wet!

4. Other favorite activities include watching movies, jumping on the trampoline, playing in his sandbox, cuddling our kitties, dressing up in Snapper's clothes and shoes, taking baths, and throwing anything and everything.

5. Pepper reached some great milestones this year. He was potty trained 2 months before his 3rd birthday. He memorized Ephesians 6:1, Psalm 23:1, and Ephesians 4:32 this year. He graduated from using a sippy cup to using a regular cup! Thanks to the refrigerator agnet set, he learned all his letters and sounds this year! He also knows his colors. He can ride a bike with training wheels. He is able to dress and undress himself. In fact, he is very particular about his clothing, and has a better sense of color and style than does Snapper!

6. One of my favorite things about Pepper is his sweet singing voice. He carries a tune beautifully, and speaks more words together in song than any other time.

7. Time out is the most effective form of discipline for Pepper. He needs the time to sit quietly and process what he did wrong. Spankings don't seem to bother him a bit.

8. Daddy has become Pepper's hero and main comfort person this year. I knew it would come, and I'm so glad it has. I still enjoy that Pepper is a cuddler, and he loves Mommy time. But nothing is sweeter than seeing my son follow and copy his daddy's every move.

9. Pepper and Snapper have a very sweet relationship. Sure, they bicker and frustrate each other like all siblings do. But most of the time, they are very close buddies. Pepper tries to protect his big sister. And big sister enjoys helping and caring for her little brother.

10. I have no doubts that Pepper is a healthy boy with male hormones. He is fascinated by female anatomy and often makes his thoughts loudly known. I know, TMI, but it is pretty funny, and I wanted to write it down so I won't forget later.

I am so thankful God blessed us with Pepper. He has a definite propensity to find and make trouble. He is into EVERYTHING! But he has a tender, compassionate heart, and is receptive to the Word of God. He is cheerful, has a great sense of humor, and a delightful, easy-going personality. He is loved by everyone who knows him. Thank you, Jesus, for choosing this child to be part of our family. I love you, my spicy Pepper boy!

Pepper, 1 day old

First Family Photo

Mommy's baby boy

Little pumpkin, 3 months old

6 months old

Begin birthday tradition! First birthday

One year old

18 months old

Second birthday

Two years old

2 1/2 years old

Third birthday

3 years old

Celebrating 3

Life is so busy right now. We are getting ready for a 2-week trip to Colorado for a conference. That means cleaning, laundry, and packing, as well as preparing everything for our house sitter. Add swim team practices, swim lessons, and swim meets into the mix, and life is moving pretty quickly right now. However, we did take the time to stop and celebrate Pepper's third birthday last weekend.

On Sunday we had a pool party for him down at our community pool. We served pizza and watermelon. Instead of cake, Matt made a mud pie. It's tradition in his family. When Matt was growing up, his mom noticed that at her kids' birthday parties, everyone ate the ice cream, but a lot of kids didn't eat cake. She solved that problem by making the switch to homemade mud pie. Here's the recipe.

1. Soften one carton of ice cream in the refrigerator for a few hours, until it is soft enough to spread. You can choose any flavor for this. Matt likes chocolate chip the best, while mint chip is my favorite.

2. Crush one package of Oreos (not Double Stuf) in the bottom of a 13x9 baking dish.

3. Spread the ice cream over the top of the Oreos.

4. Drizzle the ice cream with Hershey's syrup.

5. Freeze until firm.

The party was very laid back. The adults swam with the kids. We ate food. Pepper opened presents. We all visited and relaxed. It was a fun party.

He LOVES this dinosaur from his buddy Seth. He named the dinosaur Precious. I'm still laughing about that!

Monday was Pepper's true birthday. We got up early enough to open presents before Snapper's swim team practice. The tradition from my childhood that we've adopted is to decorate for the birthday child. My mom used to set up all my stuffed animals around my bed. She made signs with encouraging messages and hung them around my room, along with balloons and streamers. My gifts were all arranged with the stuffed animals. Since both my kids are light sleepers in the morning, we have adjusted that tradition a bit. Instead of decorating their rooms, I decorate the mantle in the living room.

Pepper's gifts from us were a Nerf gun, a cap gun, and a new bike. Snapper and I went halves on buying him a bike helmet. He was equally excited by each gift.

After swim lessons, we went and got Happy Meals from McDonald's--birthday boy's choice--and met Matt at work for lunch.

On their birthdays, I like to take portraits of the kids, but our afternoon portrait session got rained out. We hung out at home, and then when it cleared up, we went to Matt's softball game. Pepper loves to watch Daddy's ball games. It was an 8:30 game, so we were out late. Matt topped off a great day by helping take his team to victory--18-3!

Pepper is such a delightful little boy. In my next post, I'll talk a bit about how we've seen him grow and change in the last 12 months.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fishy Fishy

The summer Snapper was 4 we started her in swimming lessons. Our friend Cheryl from work gives free lessons to staff kids. It's a real blessing for us, because lessons are so expensive! Snapper's lessons that year were a nightmare. She would not do anything Cheryl asked her to do, and alternated between screaming and crying the whole time. By the last day she would willingly put her head under water, and jump into the shallow end.

Last summer, Snapper was more cooperative, but still fearful and reluctant. By the end of the summer she would swim a frantic half-lap, and then freak out if I wasn't right there by her. She also got up the nerve to jump off the diving board, but she was always afraid, and panicked as she swam to the side of the pool. She was by no means water safe.

This year, our community pool offered swim team for ages 5 and up. We decided to give it a try in the hope that it would help Snapper overcome her fear, and become a stronger swimmer. It has done just that. We joined the pool on June 10th. On that day, Snapper was not able to swim the width of the pool. One month later, she has sprouted fins and gills. She swam in a swim meet 2 weeks ago, and placed 2nd in freestyle, and 3rd in backstroke. On Tuesday, she swam in another meet, handily winning her age division in freestyle and coming in a very close second (0.1 second behind first place)! Cheryl is giving Snapper and Pepper lessons again now, and Snapper is a different kid from previous summers! Now Cheryl has moved on to teaching Snapper some stroke technique. She is proficient in freestyle, capable in breaststroke, and is growing in her backstroke ability. She also dives fearlessly off the diving board, and is working on improving her racing start dive.

Our goal is to get Snapper onto a year-round swim team, starting in September. We have found a good team that is reasonably priced and has s great practice schedule. Snapper is beside herself with excitement! She loves to swim. Loves practice, loves lessons, and lives for her Tuesday swim meets! We are so proud of her, and SO glad to have finally found an activity that is a right fit for our quirky, fearful girl.

Here are a few pictures from the first meet. I was a timer for the second meet, so I didn't take my camera to that one.

Warm-ups with the team

Last-minute racing dive instruction from Coach Jim, while Coach Caitlin looks on

Awards ceremony

The first ribbons she has ever won!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Sweet Breath of God

Last night was a tough night. Snapper had a swim meet, in which she did very well! Swimming has been such a perfect fit for her. I'll blog about that later, though. The swim meet ended at 7:30. I brought the kids home, and Matt headed up to the office to make phone calls. In case you're new(er) to my blog, Matt and I are missionaries with an organization that for privacy reasons, shall remain nameless. We are fully funded by concernced individuals who have a heart for seeing families stay together and succeed. Because we rely on support, Matt and I regularly have to work at raising more support to keep our paychecks stable. It is hard work, but it is also extremely rewarding. We have built some wonderful friendships with our dear supporters, and we love them so much. Anyhoo, our support has been a bit on the low side (actually, a lot on the low side) recently, so Matt had lots of calls to make.

When the kids and I arrived home, I got them into their jammies, gave them a snack, and tucked them into bed. I encountered three problems:
Problem #1: Matt is the king of bedtime in our house. He always puts the kids to bed.
Problem #2: The kids are sick. We are waiting on some test results to verify whether or not we have whooping cough here. There was such an improvement in both kids today that I think we just had really bad colds.
Problem #3: Last night was Pepper's second night alone in his new bedroom.

To make a long story short, I spent 2 hours trying to get Pepper to stop screaming, crying, and making excuses trying to stay up later. And for 2 hours Snapper did all she could to disrupt progress, including singing at the top of her lungs in her bed, getting several drinks of water, kicking the wall, and screaming about "monsters in the closet." Hello...monsters? Since when has she been afraid of monsters? Since never! So I found myself home alone and very tired with two feisty stinkers who did not want to go to bed. To add to the chaos, our kitties, Pixie and Zoe, were bound and determined to cause trouble. They were racing all over the house, streaking in and out of kids' bedrooms, clawing furniture, and pouncing on my feet every time I walked down the hall. CRAZY HOUSE!

I stood there in the hall feeling like I was going start pulling out my hair at any second, and then the phone rang. It was Matt. Every part of me wanted to tell him to come home now and deal with the (monsters) children. But then, like a lighbulb turning on, I had this amazing thought: What if all the chaos and frustration are satan trying to get Matt away from what God wants him to be doing? If I give in to the frustration now, Matt may miss out on an important conversation with someone, and satan will have gotten the upper hand.

No way, Jose!

I voiced that thought to Matt and asked him to pray for me. He spoke briefly with Snapper on the phone, and hung up. Then I got up, put on my big-girl panties, and went back to Pepper's room for Round 7 of bedtime routine. When he would not stop screaming, I gave him two firm spanks on his litle bottom. To my surprise, he instantly stopped crying and sweetly asked for a big blanket. I got a quilt from the hall closet and tucked him in. He said, "Goodnight, Mommy. I loves you" (He also said goodnight to the Jesus picture on the wall by his bed, and goodnight to the Jimmie Johnson poster on the wall at the foot of his bed. Then he rolled over and closed his eyes.

I went back to Snapper's room to tuck her in again. And there she was, little angel, peacefully snoring away in her bed. In the time it took me to walk to Snapper's room, to check on her, and to walk back to Pepper's room, he had fallen fast asleep, too. I went downstairs, baffled at the sudden turn of events. And there, on the living room floor, lay Pixie and Zoe, fast asleep.

When I sat down on the couch and listened to the quiet, I realized what had happened. I had recognized what was happening in our house. No one will ever be able to tell me that spiritual attack isn't real! It is real. I asked Matt to pray for me. He did, and he asked Snapper to pray for our home and family, too. She did.

And the sweet breath of God swept through our home, bringing peace and comfort. I can't properly describe the dramatic difference in the feel of our home. It happened in the blink of an eye. It went from psycho house to safe haven, just like that. I got down on my knees there in the living room and thanked God for His presence. For His care. For His peace and love. It was quite an awe-inspiring experience, and I just had to share it with you.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What I've Learned has been a while since I participated in What I've Learned This Week, hosted by Musings of a Housewife. What I learned this week explains why I haven't participated.

1. Pay attention to the warning screens your computer gives you in the days prior to a crash. It is serious...and yes, the computer really is going to crash.

2. Back up your photos on and external hard drive AND cd's. BUT...make sure you check each cd to verify that it burned properly, and check your external hard drive every so often to make sure it has backed up properly. I went to print some May pictures today, only to discover that my April/May photo cd did not burn right. And those two months of photos did not back up on my external hard drive. They are gone. I am sick over it. I am just super thankful that I had already selected my photos for scrapbooking from those months and burned them onto a cd. At least I have the highlight photos. But I'm still sick over the loss of those photos.

3. When your computer finally gives up the ghost, be very firm with the Best Buy Geek Squad about your expectations of them. Ask that every conversation be documented. Write down the names of the associates who helped you.

4. If you ever do buy a computer at Best Buy, make sure you purchase their product replacement and service plan. IT IS WORTH THE $300 YOU WILL SPEND ON IT! This time they shipped our computer to the manufacturer who determined it was a faulty computer and they gave us a brand new computer! 2 years newer than the one we took in for repairs. Faster. More memory. And oh, so nice!!!

5. Having a brand new computer is wonderful! Thank you God!

Monday, July 6, 2009

4th of July

I have always loved the 4th of July. My childhood memories of the 4th of July include neighborhood block parties, parades with the neighborhood kids (where we decorated our bikes and rode up and down the street while my mom played patriotic music on a tape player in our wagon), swim parties at our house, lots of watermelon, fireworks at Fort Ord, and the annual watching of "Yankee Doodle Dandy." As usual, my mom took advantage of the holiday as an opportunity to celebrate. Good, good memories.

Since moving to Arkansas, our celebration has been quite different. First of all, July is too hot for block parties and kid parades. Second, there aren't a whole lot of big fireworks shows to choose from, so the main shows are very crowded. BUT...I never said different was bad.

Each 4th of July here has been different and special. Last year we went to Jackson, Tennessee with our friends Brian and Carol, and spent a very relaxing 4 days at Carol's parents' house, playing canasta and eating yummy food. This year we stayed in town and had a blast.

At lunch time we went down to our community pool for a potluck swim party. We ate hot dogs and potluck food, and the lifeguards led games for the kids. Popsicles and watermelon added a special something to the afternoon. In the evening, we joined our friends Jim and Karon, and went out to Karon's parents' house in the country. Yes, we ate. Yummy food, and lots of it! But the main focus of our evening was fireworks. In my book, being able to shoot your own fireworks is more fun that watching fireworks, even if our fireworks aren't as impressive. The fireworks were interrupted by a thunderstorm that came crashing through, soaking the yard and cooling the air down to a pleasant 74 degrees. We took advantage of the rain delay to eat the homemade ice cream Karon and her mom made. Oh. My Gosh! It was so good!
It was dark by the time we finished the fireworks and headed home. All the way home I could see fireflies twinkling in the woods.

Here are a few pictures of our evening. I left my memory card at home, so my camera sat very sadly in the bag. I commandeered Karon's camera, though, and did my best with it. It was a good camera, I just don't know it like I know my own camera.