Saturday, September 24, 2011

Thinking About Christmas

I've been crunching the numbers, and our Christmas budget is going to be very small this year. In all reality, it is probably even too small to do Black Friday shopping. I am going to have to get creative. Oh wait...I already am creative! And this year I have a new friend. Its name is Pinterest. Have you discovered this amazing networking tool yet? Pinterest is my new best friend. It allows people to share links to things they like. This ranges from suggested reading lists, to recipes, to home decorating ideas, to CRAFTS! I am all about the crafts, and I have two amazing friends here in Orlando who are just as creative and crafty as I am.

Browsing Pinterest tonight got me thinking a lot about Christmas, and all the people I usually have to shop for. I have 3 nephews, 4 nieces, and two more nieces on the way. And then I have several young cousins that I love to send gifts to. And then there our siblings...9 between Matt and me. Don't forget our parents. And our grandparents. And the kids' teachers. And Snapper's swim coaches. And our wonderful friends. I have never done elaborate gifts, but even when I buy simple and on sale, it still really adds up.


I am sticking my neck out here and making the bold, brave (or stupid) decision to make all of my Christmas gifts this year, with the exception of Christmas jammies and stocking stuffers. I will make everything else. I am super excited at the prospect. I will still have to buy all the materials, but by shopping the sales and using coupons, I am very confident my budget will be in much better shape than if I were buying everything ready-made.

Did I mention I love crafting? This will be an awesome challenge for my creative juices, and I can't wait to see what I come up with.

Tracie and Micael, I challenge you to join me on this!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

THE Party of the Year

Last week our beautiful Snapper turned 9. Because she didn't get to have a party last year, we had a special party this year. She invited 10 special friends, all of whom are testimony of God's goodness to Snapper. She has the sweetest friends. We took the girls on a trip around the world...without ever leaving our house. This party was a tremendous success. In case you want to duplicate it, I will post my supplies list and estimated cost.

I created a plane ticket invitation using my digital scrapbook supplies and Photoshop, and printed it on white card stock. I have the template if you want it, and I am happy to share.
Total Cost of invitations (including envelopes and postage): $7

Check-in for the trip
I made a passport for each girl using navy blue poster board, white card stock, and a gold marker. The girls signed their passports when they checked in on arrival at the party. I created the passport pages using my digital scrapbook supplies and Photoshop, and printed them at home. Email me if you want the template. I copied the emblem from the front of my real passport using a gold pen.

 For each country, I created  passport "stamps" for each country, and printed them onto stickers. The stickers I used were Avery 8293 labels. I already had these, so they aren't counted in the cost. The girls collected a stamp in their passport at each new country they visited.

Total Cost of check-in: $4

Stop 1: China

Decorations: I made a Chinese flag our of poster board. The table was spread with a white sheet. I hung red paper lanterns from the ceiling. The lanterns were purchased 3/$5 at Party City. Snapper found a Chinese calendar somewhere, and she added that to our decor, too. A few traditional Chinese songs downloaded from iTunes onto my iPod set the mood perfectly.

Activities: First, the girls decorated lunch bags with markers and travel stickers. They all very creatively decided to make their bags into suitcases for the trip. I love that they came up with that! 

Our other activity in China was fishing. The girls raced to pick up Swedish Fish using chopsticks and dropping them into a Chinese takeout carton. The Chinese takeout cartons were super cheap at the local Chinese restaurant. The girls got a kick out of this game.

 Favor: Takeout carton and Swedish Fish
Total cost of China: $23

 Stop 2: Ireland

Decorations:  I made an Irish flag out of poster board, and hung it over the television in the living room. I cut a big shamrock out of the leftover green poster board and taped it to the side of the television. I hung strips of orange and green streamers from the ceiling for an extra splash of color. 

Activities: Matt connected my laptop to the television and showed Irish dance videos off YouTube. The girls were enthralled, and had fun trying to imitate the moves of the Irish dancers. While they watched, I had two other moms help me do the girls' hair. We did two French braids halfway down, and tied the braids together in the back with orange and green ribbon. Then we curled the hair that was hanging down.

Favor: Hair ribbons
Total Cost of Ireland: $6

Stop 3: Italy

Decorations: I made an Italian flag out of poster board, put a red, plastic, Dollar Tree tablecloth on the table, and twisted red and white streamers over the table. I found an Italian flag centerpiece at Goodwill for $1. I later saw the same centerpiece at Party City for $5. I had Italian music--Il Volo and Josh Groban--playing in the background.

Activities: The girls made their own pizzas on individual flatbreads. While the pizzas were cooking, they had salad. Drinks were their choice of sweet tea or water.

Total Cost of Italy (mainly for food): $40

Stop 4: France

Decorations: I made a French flag out of poster board, and covered the table with a blue, plastic, Dollar Tree tablecloth. The soundtrack from Ratatouille--which we already had--provided nice background music. I borrowed an Eiffel Tower statue from a friend to round out the decor.

Activities: I purchased a pad of Acrylic paper at the craft store. I drew a large circle (~6 in. diameter) on each paper. I made artists' pallets out of white paper plates, and put a dollop of 7 different colors of acrylic paint on each pallet. I gave the girls plastic cups of water and a variety of paintbrushes (which I already had), and asked them to use the paint fill their circle with a colorful design. I will be mod-podging their beautiful, creative artwork onto a canvas to hang in Snapper's room.

While the girls were painting, the other moms and I gave the girls French manicures, using $1 bottles of white and clear nail polish from Walgreens. Tip: Wait 1 minute after finishing the nail paint, then dip the fingers in a bowl of ice water for 30 seconds. It causes the nail polish to harden quickly.

Favor: Tube of lip gloss
Total Cost of France: $14

Stop 5: Mexico

Decorations: I made a Mexican flag out of poster board, and spread our two Mexican blankets on the lawn for the girls to sit on. I found a pinata at a local discount store for less than half the cost of the same pinata at Party City. I got all the pinata candy at Dollar Tree.

Activities: Pinata! While Matt helped the girls with pinata, I made tropical drinks to carry out to them. For the drinks, I used a 50/50 mix of generic lemon-lime soda and fruit punch from Dollar Tree. I got the little umbrellas to put in the drinks from Dollar Tree also. Pineapple slices were a nice finishing touch in the drinks, too.

Favor: Candy and little umbrella
 Total Cost of Mexico: $22

Stop 6: USA

Decorations: I covered the table with a blue, plastic Dollar Tree tablecloth. I left up the red and white streamers from when this room was Italy. I removed the Italian centerpiece, and replaced it with an American flag, also from Dollar Tree. I got lucky and found red star confetti in the clearance bin at Party City. 

Activities: Cake, presents, and dancing. I downloaded some popular kids' dance music from iTunes, and it was a great hit. As soon as Party in the U.S.A.  by Miley Cyrus came on, the girls burst into song. I was lucky enough to get it on video. I absolutely love 9-year-old girls!

Cake: Snapper wanted two kinds of cupcakes, so that's what I made. I borrowed a friend's cake decorating set and put swirly buttercream frosting on the cupcakes. I topped the chocolate cupcakes with blue sprinkles, and the confetti cupcakes with red sprinkles. I looked everywhere for flags of the nations toothpicks, but I couldn't justify spending $5 on shipping for the $1.99 picks from Oriental Trading Company. I ended up making flag picks to go in the cupcakes, using flag images from the internet, printed on card stock and glued to toothpicks. 

Cha Cha Slide by Mr. C
Cupid Shuffle by Electric Slide Dance Party DJ's
Party in the U.S.A. by Miley Cyrus
I Like to Move It by Party Cats
Who Let the Dogs Out by Party Cats
Chicken Dance by DJ's Choice
YMCA by Party Cats
I Gotta Feeling by Black Eyed Peas
Rods and Cones by Blue Man Group
I Speak No Americano by Yolando Be Cool and Dcup

Favor: Flag pick, Passport
Total cost of U.S.A. (including cake ingredients): $12

Here's Snapper with her BFF, S, at the end of the party.

I don't have enough great things to say about this party. All week long I have received emails from moms telling me how their girls are still raving about the party. Snapper comes home from school telling me that her friends keep thanking her for the party. I think I have shared enough here to help you duplicate the party if you so desire. It was a blast, and I know Snapper has a wonderful store of memories from it to stash away.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

He Gives and Takes Away

Whenever there is a lot of stress in my life, my body responds by throwing off my cycle. Yesterday morning I finally started, 2 weeks late. Last night I started having bad pain down in my guts, and I assumed it was from eating pizza and a cupcake at Snapper's party yesterday. I am gluten intolerant, so abdominal pain is normal when I eat gluten.

But then I realized I was having a miscarriage. I lost a tiny baby last night, about 6 weeks into my pregnancy.

On one hand I am deeply sad. I am fascinated by the combination of Matt's and my genes, and the beautiful kids we have produced. I would have loved to have seen another one, to have had the privilege of raising another flesh-of-my-flesh little one. On the other hand, I see this loss as a tender gift from a God who loves me more deeply than I have ever loved my kids. He has a plan for me, and having this baby would have stopped His plan from moving forward.

Three months ago, Matt and I began moving forward to start an adoption. We are beginning our foster/adopt training with the county on Tuesday night. I have read extensively about adoption, foster care, and the issues we will face, and to be honest, I am scared out of my mind. There has been a part of me that has been doubting whether or not we can do this, whether I am willing to disrupt my easy, happy life to welcome a wounded child into our family. I asked God several times this week to close the door on adoption because I am scared and because I am selfish.

God is not closing the door. He is speaking reassurance to my heart. On Tuesday, as a direct answer to prayer, He provided a special babysitter for us on nights when we have our training. We needed someone who could either drive, or lived close enough for us to take home late at night. We needed someone who could stay up late on school nights, because we won't get home from our class until 10:00. We needed someone who could give us a low rate, because our finances are so tight right now. The young lady God provided is on Snapper's swim team. She swims at the same time Snapper swims, but with a more advanced group. Her sweet mom will play with Pepper in the pool while the girls swim, then will drop them off at our house. She is homeschooled, so staying up late isn't a problem for her. She lives 2 minutes from our house. Because she is 13, her rate is $5/hour, which is half the going rate for the other babysitters I considered! Confirmation #1.

To some, a lost baby may seem a harsh way for God to speak. It does not seem that way to me. Here is how I see it. We have lost 4 other babies in the past. The last one was in August of 2007. Since then, Matt had an illness that the doctor told us would leave us infertile. That was confirmed by no pregnancies in the last four years. This precious baby reminded me that God is the one who opens and closes the womb. He is able to open my womb if He wants, even though we are "infertile." But His plan for us is not to have any more babies. He gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. I know our baby is happy and whole with Jesus.

On Tuesday, Matt and I will be moving forward with our adoption plans. I am sad about our baby. But I am no longer afraid. I know with confidence that this is God's plan, and He will give us what we need as we adopt.

Friday, September 16, 2011

My Week in A Frame

On Saturday
Snapper had a swim meet, her last in the 8&Under age group. Since we were on the road so much this summer, she missed 7 weeks of summer practice. I wasn't expecting much out of her at this meet, so I didn't break out the video camera. Big mistake. Snapper took 1st place in Butterfly, swimming 25 yards in an incredibly fast 17 seconds! Considering there were 43 others in her age group who swam Butterfly, this was a huge accomplishment! She finished the the day with a 1st place, a 2nd place, and two 3rd place ribbons! 

On Sunday
HAPPY 9TH BIRTHDAY SNAPPER! After church, Snapper and I went with friends to see the Central Florida Ballet's production of 9-11: An American Moment. We met with our church small group in the evening. I cried all day. Cried and cried. 9-11 coincided with a hormonal wave that rendered me useless all day. On the way home from church came the car incident.

On Monday
I had a productive day at the office. I have been assigned a very awesome project that is fun and exciting to work on. I am not at liberty to say what it is, but it is really great, with the potential to have a huge impact on thousands of kids. I have been plagued for a few days by a feeling of being fuzzy in my head. I am pretty sure it is hormone related. I hope it's hormone related.

On Tuesday
Snapper called me from school right before my Bible study started. The dramatic monologue went something like this.
Mom, (sob sob), I am at the nurse's office (sniff snort). My teacher sent me to call you (cough gag sob sob). I just know (hiccup sniff) that you forgot (gag snort) that I have chorus after school (hiccup) today. I just KNOW that I will be standing ALL ALONE (whimper) on the car ramp after chorus (sniff sniff) because you won't remember to pick me up. (WAIL). And poor Pepper (cough cough hiccup) will be terrified because he will have to ride (sniff) the bus (snort) alone (choke gag WAIL). I started thinking about it during class (sob) and I got all worked up (sob) and I started coughing and choking (cough cough choke choke cough gag hiccup). So my teacher made me come call you to calm me down (WAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIL)! But I can't (sniff sniff) calm (snort gag) down (hiccup hiccup cough). I think I have pneumonia and I am going to DIE (WAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIL sob sob sob). 
And I thought I was having hormonal trouble!
By the way, not only had I not forgotten about chorus and late pickup, I had prepared Pepper to ride the bus alone. He was thrilled, not terrified. And I had reminded Snapper that morning that I would pick her up after chorus at 4:00. *Sigh*

On Wednesday
I spent a delightful morning working on plans for Snapper's birthday party which is this weekend. The theme, which she came up with by herself, is a trip around the world. Two weeks ago I made awesome plane ticket invitations, which I won't post because they are full of identifying information that I don't want floating around cyberspace. Today I made a passport for each girl coming to the party. They are also awesome. On our way to Awana in our van--which happens to be our only working car--it made a funky noise, the speedometer quit working, and the transmission got stuck in second gear. We took it to Auto Zone and had it tested. The problem is electrical, and the source is up inside the dashboard. This is not going to be a minor fix. *Sigh again.* The happy news of the day was that Pepper got his Sparks vest at Awana!

On Thursday
Since we now had no working cars, my friend Tracie loaned me her van for a couple of days. Matt spent the morning running errands, including picking up the parts for the Cadillac that a ministry partner bought for us. I spent the morning with my friends Tracie and Micael crafting and working on details for Snapper's party. Snapper won a special award at swim team, an award for being the hardest worker in her level! Matt was able to fix the Cadillac with no trouble! We are thankful for God's provision, and that Matt is handy.

On Friday (today)
Confirmed. The fuzzy head was hormone related. The hormone wave has washed out, and my head has returned to normal.
Matt is sick today. This is a problem because it is crunch time for the party, and I was counting on his help. I had to wait until today to buy most of the party supplies, because I just didn't have the money until today. Matt is a total wimp when he gets sick. A head cold (like he has now) may as well be scarlet fever according to his level of neediness. He naps in the living room because he wants to stay close to me. I just have to shake my head and smile, and keep Emergen-C going into him. 
Snapper came home from school with her weekly grade report. For the fourth straight week she got 100% on her grammar test, 100% on her math test, 105% on her spelling test, and a B on her reading test. This perplexes me because grammar, math, and spelling require consistent work and thorough understanding in order to receive such good grade. The reading test each week, on the other hand, is take-home, open book. An A should be pretty much a given for Snapper. Her downfall each week has been the essay question. Somehow she manages to write random gibberish that doesn't even remotely relate to the question. Today she earned 0/11 points for the essay question. I am truly perplexed. 
Pepper has stayed on green (perfect behavior) for three weeks in a row now, of which I am quite proud. He also got 100% on his math test this week. His perplexing behavior today was that he peed in his pants at school. When I asked him why, he said he didn't know he had to go potty. That, my friends, is a big fat bologna sandwich. Pepper has not wet his pants, or his bed, in well over two years. When I questioned him further, I learned that his favorite buddy had an accident today, too. Hmmm...suspicious? Yes.

Saturday (tomorrow)
I have ten 9-year-old girls arriving at 11:00 for a trip around the world. Snapper didn't have a birthday party last year because we had just moved here. We are making up for it this year. While the party is not an expensive one, it is really creative, and promises to be the party of the year. I have heard from several moms whose daughters have never been so excited about a birthday party. With the general trend being to have parties at the movie theater, bowling alley, Build-A-Bear, or another party venue, I think all the girls are ready for a classic, at-home party. I promise I will post photos soon. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Opportunity to See God Work

"All our human problems can be traced to our view of God." --Bill Bright

If God loves me, if He is always with me, if He is all-powerful, and if He never changes, then my problems cease to be problems; rather, they become opportunities to see God work.

A few days ago, I started up the Cadillac, and it made a funky noise. Then it shook all over and shut off. I waited a minute and tried again. Then it was fine. Day before yesterday, the Check Oil Level light came on, even though we had just put oil in last week. Tonight, on the way home from Life Group at church, the car overheated and shut off. As Matt checked the engine, the kids and I prayed, offering our situation up to God and thanking Him for this opportunity to see Him work.

This story becomes more meaningful with a bit of background on where we're coming from right now. Due to circumstances beyond our control, our trip this summer (which I must add was a required trip, not just a vacation) went significantly over budget. Those expenses came out of our ministry staff account right before our paycheck processed. This coincided with the Labor Day holiday weekend, and all of the donations that normally hit our account on the 5th were delayed. The combination of this resulted in a short paycheck for us this week. When I say short, I mean in $1.34. Yup, $1.34. Enough for a pack of gum and a laugh. There are still bills to be paid, and the pantry and fridge are running low. We haven't been worried at all, because in the last 7 years we have been missionaries, God has always provided for us. And we have seen some very lean times. But God has always come through. If I try to analyze where we are right now, I know I will be overwhelmed. That's why I decided right away to give it to God and let Him handle the details. And guess what? He will.

Praise #1: The car hung in long enough to get us to Auto Zone. When it shut off, we were safe and sound in the parking lot.

Praise #2: My bestie Tracie was able to be there in 10 minutes to help me with the kids, to feed us dinner while we waited, and to take us home.

Praise #3: Our friend Amanda was willing to let us use her AAA if we couldn't get an additional tow using our AAA.

Praise #4: Our AAA worked with us and was willing to tow the car home.

Praise #5: While we were waiting for AAA, a mechanic randomly came over to talk to Matt. He looked at the car and found the problem. The water pump tensioner broke, destroying the water pump, the water pump pulley, and the water pump belt. It is relatively easy to fix, and the parts aren't horribly expensive. The mechanic told Matt exactly how to fix it.

Praise #6: One of my church friends texted me in response to my SOS post on Facebook. She and her husband offered to help pay for the parts, and to help Matt put the parts in.

Praise #7: Another dear friend here who is also a mechanic called and offered to help however he could.

Praise #8: My children, as well as several friends, were able to see God respond to our needs. The kids and I thanked Him in advance for His provision, and they saw Him in action in a very tangible way.

This isn't over yet. We still have a wad of bills to pay. We still don't have a dime in our bank account. Though part of the money for the repair is coming on Tuesday, it isn't enough to buy all the parts we need. But none of this is a problem. Our family is trusting God to work, and we are watching expectantly to see what He does. No matter what, He gets the glory because without Him, we can do nothing to fix this. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Final Meet

Tomorrow my baby girl will turn 9. For a swimmer, this is a big "aging up." Swimmers go from swimming 25-yard races as 8&Unders, to swimming 50 and 100-yard races, and even a few 200-yards, as 10&Unders. Today was Snapper's last meet as an 8-year-old, and she was amazing. She won her butterfly race (1st out of 46!), and finished 2nd or 3rd in the other strokes. She dropped time in 4 out of 5 races, too! It was a great way to finish her 8&Under swim career. She's moving on up. I put together a fun video of her swimming the last two years. Watch if you want. I'm so proud of my little swimmer girl!

Highlights of 8&Under Swimming

Friday, September 9, 2011

Project 365: Week 23

We finally got around to hanging most of our pictures. I haven't had these out since we left Little Rock.

After two nights of sleepover at her friend S's house, and a day at Universal Studios, Snapper was worn out. She slept for 3 hours that afternoon, and still went to bed at 8:00. 

Pepper got a can of magic webs (silly string) from Nana for Christmas. He had been saving it for the right time. This was the right day!

Homework routine. Snapper gets all cozy in her blankets every day, and diligently does her homework. Zoe is faithfully there with her each day.

Pepper checked out "Can I Play Too?" from the library. This is now his favorite book. Lots of laughter while we read it together...over, and over, and over.

Homework together at the kitchen table. This is my favorite time of day, getting to sit and talk with them as we learn together.

Pepper's homework this day was to read his book to 3 different people. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Plastic Autumn

I am jealous. I am sad. I am homesick for Little Rock.

I get on Facebook every morning, and all sorts of friends all over the country are posting about how excited they are to have fall weather.

I love fall. It has always been my favorite season. In past years I wrote special posts about how much I love fall. Here's one of my fall posts from 2008.

I love the cool weather, the crunch of the leaves, the fall scent in the air, the fun decorations, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and looking forward to Christmas. I love taking photos of my kids surrounded by the rich colors of fall. And now I live in Florida. Instead of crunchy leaves, I have blooming hibiscus in my front yard. Beautiful yes, but a poor substitute for my favorite maple tree on Green Mountain Road in Little Rock. While my northern friends are cozy in their new jeans and sweaters, my kids are wearing their tired, worn-out shorts and t-shirts to school for a few more months. I am hoping we can make Snapper's shirts hold out until November. She is growing, and she has worn most of her clothes to death. She only has six shirts that are in decent enough condition to wear out of the house. While stew and soup recipes are beginning to pop on on many friends' blogs, I am still cycling through salad recipes, alternated with evenings of grilling out to keep the house cool. We have no migratory birds passing through. Oh no, we are beginning to have our annual fall invasion of Love Bugs. Gross. In Little Rock, I used to love decorating my house with fresh fall leaves, bringing a splash of color and the woodsy scent of fall inside. Now I have to raid Hobby Lobby to create a plastic autumn in my home. I have yet to find a candle that can recreate that beloved scent. Crank up the air conditioner and cook some beef stew and pumpkin bread. As long as I don't have to go outside, I can create the illusion of fall. I guess it is better labeled as a delusion. Boring Plastic Autumn.

I'm sure that when I am romping on the beach in January, my jealousy will have faded. But for now, *sigh.*