Tuesday, November 29, 2011


A couple months back I made the commitment to make all Christmas gifts this year. Can I just say it has been F-U-N? I've gotten to use so many of my crafting supplies that have been sitting unused since about a year before we moved away from Little Rock. My Cricut die cut machine has been working overtime, as has my glue gun. On our road trips, my crochet hook stayed very busy. The camera has been clicking away. I've also put my sewing machine to good use. The best part...the gifts I'm giving are more beautiful, personal, and special than anything I've ever given in the past! Oh Christmas morning, I can hardly wait for you to arrive! I just wish I could be there in person to give most of the gifts.

I love Christmas, and I love the month of December. Because of all the hustle and bustle of events surrounding Christmas, there are so many opportunities to do fun things as a family. This year Pepper is finally old enough to attend plays and concerts. He can really "get" what Christmas is all about. And he understands numbers and the concept of the calendar. We are capitalizing on this in two ways.

First, we're observing advent. After dinner each night, Matt is leading our family through a neat study he found on some phone app. It focuses on preparing our hearts for Christmas. It uses Scripture, stories, and the history of traditional Christmas carols to focus us on Jesus. Tonight will be our third night.

Second, I'm making a super cute advent calendar. Rather than opening a door and seeing a picture or getting a candy, the kids open an envelope and find an activity for our family to do! I've already got it all planned out. The coolest part is that almost everything is free! Orlando has so many wonderful free events. It is really going to be fun! I worked hard and got caught up on housework this morning so I can make the advent calendar this afternoon. We'll begin this one one December 1 and go through December 24. You know, I think that sounds like a fun December blog focus, and a unique way to approach Project 365 for December! Speaking of Project 365, I haven't forgotten it. I've just been incredibly busy with work, the kids' schoolwork and sports, and other things. Too busy to sit and edit pictures. But they're all safe and sound on my hard drive (and backed up, too!). Life will slow considerably in January. I'll get caught up then.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving A Little Bit Different

Thanksgiving has always been pretty much the same for me. Lovable, wonderful, traditional. The same foods, the same customs, and always spent with people we love. And we've never traveled for Thanksgiving. I remember the Thanksgiving when I was 13. Our family was taking a few months of retreat from the world. We stopped school, stopped church, and stopped going anywhere. Because we were homeschooled, we had the freedom to do this. My vaulting and our 4-H activities are the only things we went to during a 4-month period. In those few months, we spent time getting our home in order. We deep cleaned and purged. We spent more time with our animals. We took long walks in the redwoods. We did a lot of reading. We took naps in the afternoon. And we spent large quantities of focused time as a family. I did not love it at the time. But as an adult, I can look back and see the purpose, and how our relationships were strengthened because of it. That Thanksgiving we didn't even spend the day with family. Instead, we smoked a turkey, made a few pies, and took our Thanksgiving dinner camping. We camped in a very primitive cabin for 3 days at Big Basin State Park in California. We did some cool things like hiking and bike riding. But Thanksgiving was a flop. I didn't like the turkey, and cherry pie doesn't heat up well over a campfire. It felt like Thanksgiving never happened because of the absence of our traditions and the people we usually spent the day with. I said I never wanted a different Thanksgiving again.

That was 19 years ago, and this year I finally caved. When our friends Brad and Kathy invited us to go away with them to their friend's beach house for Thanksgiving weekend, I instantly agreed. The beautiful house is on an island not too far from Fort Myers, Florida, on the Gulf Coast. We had to pre-cook Thanksgiving dinner and take it with us due to lack of oven space in the beach house. We carried all our food and water with us because the only water supply on the island is rain caught in large cisterns. We had to take a water taxi to get to the house. And it was pure bliss. The house backs up to a state park, so our section of beach was very private. Every morning Matt and I got up at sunrise, took cups of coffee, and walked the beach together looking for shells. During the day, we took the kids down to the beach to play. We also had use of a kayak, a jet ski, and two golf carts. Oh, and I made great use of the hammock. The water was 75 degrees, and the air ranged from 76-81. Total perfection. Though the food was different than past years and I was not in my own home, we were able to carry some traditions with us and we spent the day with people we love dearly. Our Thanksgiving weekend was a complete success! Here are photos. In a few the sky looks grainy. That's because I saved them very low resolution for the web.

The house faces the intercoastal waterway. This was our house for the weekend!

Thanksgiving dinner with wonderful friends.

A different--yet delightful--way to spend Thanksgiving weekend!

We found this gopher tortoise just cruising along the beach.

Matt and Pepper built a shell garden. The shells were plentiful on this beach.

A relaxing afternoon on the porch.

Matt spent much of his weekend underwater, looking for bigger shells. He was rewarded with this one!

We did Snapper's 9-year portraits at the beach. This is one of my favorites.

This one is my very favorite.


And this is me. Hee hee!

Headed home after a very restful, refreshing weekend. Now I can enjoy Christmas!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Abby Update and Dinner Theater

After 5 days in the hospital, Abby is home! A pediatric neurologist who specializes in seizures came in to examine Abby's case. After watching video, reviewing records, and studying Abby's EEG results, it was determined that Abby is not having seizures! The EEG was normal. She never lost consciousness. And when she appeared to be having a seizure, they were able to stop it by tickling her foot, and none of the anti-seizure medications worked. It would appear that Abby's "seizures" are really "Abby-isms." They get worse when she is tired or stressed. The doctor said they seem to be a coping mechanism. Lotte and Clay are going to do some research to see if they can figure out another answer. Possibly the issue is developmental or sensory. We are all very relieved, though, and we thank you for your prayers.

On a totally different note, I sat eating dinner with my family last night, and I felt like I was watching a production unfold. I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and jotted down notes while we ate and talked. I must have spent half of dinner looking over at Matt, sharing meaningful glances and internal laughter of delight at the conversation around the table. I am so glad I took notes because it was too sweet of a moment to forget.

While were eating the extremely delicious chicken that Pepper helped Daddy cook...

Pepper: "This chicken is yucky, but I'm still going to be a cook when I grow up."
Snapper: "If you're going to be a cook, you have to taste the food you're making so you know if it's good or bad."
Pepper: "Not this cook! I'm going to be a not-tasting cook. I'll just make the food but not eat it."
Snapper: (in some sort of French-British hybrid accent with nose in the air and a superior expression on her face) "You must taste the soup, just a wee taste from the edge of a spoon. Oh no, this soup needs salt, Just a pinch, mind you." (shakes imaginary salt into an imaginary pot of soup and gives it a stir) "Oh dear, still not quite right. Must add some more salt to make a delicious dinner for our guests." (takes another imaginary taste) "Ah yes, much better. Now you see that you absolutely must taste what you serve if you are to be a cook."
Pepper: "Nope. Not going to taste it. Actually, I'm going to be a cooking pilot so I can have coffee and food on my airplane. And I'll have a cooking machine. Please pass the celery."

After gagging on a celery string, Pepper asked Daddy to put peanut butter on the celery because he likes it better that way. While Matt got the peanut butter from the pantry, Pepper began to sing the Peanut Butter Jelly song, substituting "celery" for "jelly." Ha ha!

My newest addiction is Pinterest.com. Have you discovered it yet? It is an AWESOME idea-sharing website. You can create virtual bulletin boards where you can post just about any website/recipe/tutorial/craft/decorating tip/etc. that you like. I am using Pinterest as my idea bank for my homemade Christmas. I've also found some other great ideas that I'm implementing in my home, such as The Thankful Tree. I made one for our kitchen table, and the kids are loving it. After Pepper finished his food last night, he wrote out a tag to put on the Thankful Tree. While he wrote, he recited Psalm 118:1. "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good." That started us on another conversation altogether.

The verse I have tied onto the vase that holds our Thankful Tree is 1 Timothy 4:4-5. "Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks. For we know it is made acceptable by the Word of God and prayer." Using the verse on the tree was taking the verse slightly out of context, but it fit the project. We decided to read 1 Timothy 4 together so we could understand the context of it. The first part of the chapter talks about people who are hypocrites. They use their own legalistic following of the law to puff themselves up, when in reality, they aren't living in relationship with God. They focus specifically on what foods you can and can't eat. That reminded Snapper of when Daniel and his friends refused to eat the rich foods of Nebuchadnezzar, choosing to eat only vegetables instead.

Snapper: "They wouldn't eat the meat that had been donated to the Babylonian statues of stone. They would only eat the salad that had been donated to the Lord Jesus our Christ."

That made me laugh, and we had to do a little bit of clarifying. Our evening Bible journey took us back to the book of Daniel, and the circumstances that brought Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar's palace. Matt told the kids that God caused the enemy to prevail. Both kids were really into our discussion, so Matt wisely used it as a teaching moment. He asked how God could let bad things happen, or even cause bad things to happen if He is a good God. Without missing a beat, Snapper launched into an explanation. She is a deep thinker, and she never fails to astonish me with what she puts together in her head. She spoke too fast for me to write down word-for-word what she said, but here's the gist of it, as close to how she said it as I can remember.

Snapper: "Sometimes things happen that seem really bad to us, but they are part of God's plan. God allowed Joseph to be abused by his brother, sold into slavery, falsely accused, and forgotten in jail. But God had a plan that was bigger than what Joseph could see. God's plan was for good."

Matt played devil's advocate and asked Snapper how God could use the death of a baby for good. Or how He could make something good out of a tsunami wiping out a whole kindergarten.

Snapper: "I don't know how anything good could come out of it, but I'm not God. God is good. And His plan is better than our plan. Mom, God even let your mom die from cancer. I don't understand why, but something good came out of it. If your mom hadn't died, I wouldn't have Salty in my life, and she is really special." (Salty is my wonderful step-mom.) "We don't have to have all the answers. We'll probably never know all the whys. But we can trust God because He knows the answers. We just have to trust Him."

At that point, we turned the conversation to the character of God. Before the kids ran out of steam, they told us that God is:

  • Good (Snapper)
  • Loving (Snapper)
  • Gives good things to His children (Pepper)
  • Provides (Snapper)
  • Answers our prayers (Pepper)
  • Forgives (Pepper)
  • Knows everything (Snapper)
  • Is everywhere (Pepper)
  • Is faithful (Snapper)
Most of our dinner conversations aren't this deep. But when little hearts are open and ready, we jump on it. Our whole ministry revolves around the importance of teaching kids who God is and why it matters. This conversation last night confirmed for me yet again how critical it is that our children know God. It is a learning curve for me, incorporating God's attributes into daily conversation. But I'm getting it, and so are the kids. Want to know more about how you can teach your kids who God is? Visit our ministry website and click on Family Adventures. It is a free devotional series for parents to use with their kids. The activities, stories, and discussions are wonderful. Check it out!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Weekend on Deck

During this time of year, the pool deck is our second home. Snapper has swim team practices 4 days per week. And from September-December, and again March-May, she has meets just about every other weekend. We've just entered our third year of swimming, and I feel like we finally have this routine down.

Here's what a meet weekend looks like for us. 

Friday Night
  • Wash towels/parka/team clothes if necessary
  • Pack the cooler. Typical meet fare includes: string cheese, yogurt, fruit, carrots, chips and salsa, turkey slices, peanut butter rice cakes, water, and Gatorade.
  • Pack the clothes bag. On cold meet weekends like this one was (it was 45 degrees when we arrived at the pool yesterday), we pack: Parka, sweats, team hoodie, under armor, 5 pairs fuzzy socks, Crocs, slippers, team t-shirt, gloves, ski cap
  • Pack the swim bag. Our swim bag always includes: A book, Snapper's Nintendo DS, towels for after warm-up and each event, 3 pairs of goggles, 2 team caps, and Mom's clipbox.
  • Load the clipbox. It is a plastic box with a clipboard on top. In it I keep: 2 highlighters, 2 sharpies, 2 pens, USA motivational time standards, Florida Age Group Championship time cuts, and the heat sheet. I use all of those items to get Snapper ready for her swims, and to keep track of how she's doing.
Saturday Morning
  • Wake up at 6:00 and get dressed for the meet.
  • Eat a high-protein breakfast. This morning we had apple slices, sausage and scrambled eggs.
  • Load the car. Besides the cooler, clothes bag and swim bag, we take: our canopy, 4 chairs, a thermos, cocoa mix, and cups, blankets, camera bag, advil, and visors/sunglasses/sunblock.
  • Make sure Pepper has an activity bag packed. He usually brings: his travel Lego table, his Leapster and games, and a few action figures.
  • Warm-ups usually start at 8:00, so we leave our house early enough to arrive 15 minutes prior to warm-up. Today we left at 7:15.
  • Arrive at the meet. Set up camp, write Snapper's events on her arm with a sharpie, and debrief with the coach. 
  • Snapper warms up while we finish setting up camp.
  • Enjoy the meet! Today it started at 9:00. Cheer for Snapper, cheer for teammates, visit with other parents, take photos, take video, get critiques from coaches, make memories, have a great time. We always manage to have a lot of fun.
  • When the meet is finished--today it finished at 12:45--pack up camp.
  • Go out to lunch with favorite friends from the team.
  • Head home.
  • If the meet it a 2-day meet, we put wet gear/towels in the dryer. I refresh the cooler and highlight Snapper's events on the next day's heat sheet while the towels and clothes dry. Then I repack the clothes bag and swim bag. Snapper always likes to have a soak in a hot tub while I get ready for the next day. 
  • Repeat Saturday
  • Download photos from the camera and camcorder, and upload photos and video for family to watch.
  • Record Snapper's times in my swimming spreadsheet.
She had a great meet this weekend. In December, our team is traveling to a larger, regional meet in Gainesville. In order to swim at that meet, the kids have to have earned qualifying times. When those times were posted, we were really excited to find out that Snapper was qualified for several events! This will be a very fun experience for her because the meet is being held at the University of Florida pool, and we will be staying in a hotel! What an exciting thing for a 9-year-old! 

There were a few more times she wanted to try for this weekend: 50 breaststroke, 100 backstroke, and 200 IM. She swam her heart out both yesterday and today, and earned qualifying cuts in all 3! In addition to those, she will be swimming 50 freestyle, 50 butterfly, 50 backstroke, and 100 IM at the Gainesville meet next month! She is also qualified for 100 breaststroke and 100 freestyle, but opted to swim the other events instead. She may get to swim on a relay team too, but we won't find that out until later. We are super proud of Snapper. She has worked really hard for this, and her diligence and determination is paying off. Here are a few fun photos from this weekend. 

Sneaking a peek at mom during warm-up

 Waiting for the Medley Relay with buddy T

She swam the breaststroke leg of the relay. Here's her awesome start!

Going fast in 100 backstroke! The writing on her arm is her reminder of what events/heats/lanes she is swimming.

Snapper had a fabulous 50-yard breaststroke swim today.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


This is my baby cousin Abby. She just turned 1 last month. I am introducing you to her because she is in desperate need of all the prayer she can get. 

3 days ago, Abby's parents noticed that she would occasionally stiffen up and stare into space for a few seconds. After seeing it happen several times, they decided to take her to the doctor. The doctor identified seizures and admitted Abby to the hospital for tests. That was yesterday morning.

She had several seizures yesterday evening and the doctors were able to see them. Her MRI and EEG came back normal, and everyone had a good sleep last night. But early this afternoon, the seizures started getting worse. Abby's whole body is now being affected. The seizures still aren't violent, but they are getting more frequent and are lasting longer. After having 15 seizures in an hour this afternoon, the doctor gave her anti-seizure medication and another shot to relax her muscles.

Sadly, she did not respond. As the evening has progressed, the seizures are getting worse. No medication is working, and the doctors can't figure out what is wrong. I come to you this evening asking for prayer for precious Abby. Please pray that she would be able to relax and rest. Pray that the doctors would be able to find out what is causing the seizures, and that they would figure out a medication that will help Abby. Pray for Abby's parents Lotte (my first cousin) and Clay. Needless to say, this is a very frightening, helpless place for them to be as parents. They are trusting God through it, but that doesn't take away the pain. Please pray that God would give them peace and comfort. As selfish as it sounds, please pray for me, too. I am also feeling helpless and so far away. I am in Florida and Abby is in California. Not that I could do anything if I was there, but at least I would be there to pull close to my family.

I know from personal experience that prayer is powerful, so on behalf of all my family, thank you for praying. I will update as soon as I know more.

Here's a photo of Snapper with Abby when Snapper was in California this summer.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Caught in the Act!

A picture is worth a thousand words. I'll let these pictures do the talking. But first, let me set the scene. All morning on Saturday, the house was filled with the laughter and other happy noises of my two children. Then, around 11:30, I noticed that the house had gone silent. But then I heard a rustling in the kitchen. And I noticed that the pantry light was on. And I remembered that the Halloween candy is in the pantry. And I grabbed my camera. And this is what I found. BUSTED!