Friday, January 27, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When Books Make Me Barf

Appetizing, huh?  Over the past two weeks I've been stuffing my brain with some heavy books and, quite frankly, it's a mess in there.  Because this blog gives me a place to chronicle what's happening in our lives, I want to attempt to highlight just a bit of what is moving my heart these days.

Do you ever have that insatiable appetite to gobble up everything you can about a restless stirring.  That's where I am.

It's hard to pinpoint when it started, but these past few weeks kicked off with reading 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker.  (She "fasted" from seven areas of "excess"--taking on one "excess" each month.)  Actually, back in the late fall when I watched the promo for the book, I knew it was going to scratch some sort of internal itch.  Just the preview was all that I needed to start taking on recycling with gusto (no more cardboard in my garbage can), to look even more closely at food labels and to scrutinize even more of what we're doing with our resources (and where what we consume comes from).  My overall take-away was that I have been blessed with MUCH--what am I going to do with it? 

I loved 7.  But there was one part when I had to put it down and walk away.  It was the part when she talked about how much money we have within the church.  And how just a portion of that could help stop some of the most horrible effects of poverty.  But it's being used to build bigger buildings and better programs and coffee bars, etc.  So not cool.  Actually, it's appalling.

...I don't want to be a part of that.

Then I picked up Donald Miller's A Million Miles In A Thousand Years.  I know that I have just this one life to live and I want to make the most of it.  That's really what his book was so much about--how our lives are a story that we get to write. What an opportunity!

Okay, so I want to live a "rich" story making the most with what I have been given.  What does that look like?  How do you do that?

In 7, Jen mentioned her previous book, Interrupted, the story of how her family followed the call to make a difference to the people in need in Austin.  I read about their journey to trust God as they left everything familiar and easy to start over from nothing, starting with a clear call to reach the poor and hungry. 

Take away--God is moving hearts to reach out to those in need.  Where do I fit into that?

Not sure what to read next, I glanced through my Kindle selection and saw that a year ago I had started Francis Chan's Forgotten God--time to clear the unfinished clutter on my list and read it. 

At the end of the book he talks just a little bit about how hearing about child sex slavery completely burdened his heart.  How when he thought of how young the girls were he could only imagine what he would do if it were his children.  How he would do anything to make it stop.

I paused.  Woah...little girls like my girls?  No.  This is not okay.

That week, on a whim, I followed a link on Facebook to awesome company that sells shirts (and hoodies) and donates $7 of the purchase to a new cause each week.   It sounded intriguing.  The cause that week happened to be Sex Slave Trade.  I still didn't know much about it, but I watched the video for the Somaly Mam Foundation--and I was horrified--horrified--by ages of the girls.  4 or 5.  No!

Later in the week I came upon a recent podcast about, again, Sex Slave Trade.  My stomach churned.  I listened. 

Then, I read the book, Passport Through Darkness.  And I felt even more sick.  The stuff I was reading was not some made-up horror story--it is real life.  Real life as in life today.  Not fifty or even twenty years ago--No, stuff happening within the past few years of my life.  I had no idea.

Literally, half-way through the book I had to escape.  I gathered everyone into the van and we went to Dunkin Donuts before dinner and we ate donuts.  I wanted to make the sick feeling go away.

Kimberly Smith tells her story of working primarily with women and children in Sudan.  She writes about terrible acts that I can only barely speak in a whisper and about how no one cared to stand up for what was right. 

I saw myself in her book--the story of a mom with three young children--my children's ages--whose village was attacked--how they fled on foot.  How she watched all of her children die horrible deaths in the pillage.  I saw J--the father who prayed that he wouldn't be at work when the attackers came to his village.  How he was at home when the enemy came--but that he still couldn't protect his wife, children or neighbors from unspeakable deaths.

Poverty and it's effects are beyond heartbreaking.  But this--what I am reading and hearing and seeing--it is human suffering born of purposeful, direct acts of evil.  I'm having a hard time comprehending it.

On top of that she shares how many children in just one community were eaten by wild animals (278 in 10 months!).  Eaten alive.  I can not process this.  How is this okay?  Why isn't more being done?

Then she talks about how when she comes home to the States she shares what she's been experiencing with Churches--and too many of them tell her that it's too hard to listen to and they aren't interested in making people feel bad. 

What does that mean?  What does that say about us?

And then I realized that I was one of those people.  I mean, there is so much hard stuff in the world--can I really stand to hear another sad thing?  I have seen the links on Facebook and I haven't clicked on them.  Ugh...  I don't want to be that way.

This is the world we live in.  It's the place where we get to use our gifts and talents and time and resources to make a difference.  If I don't listen, then why should anyone?

So, my head is a whirling mess of jumbled up priorities and sadness and hope and a bunch of other stuff.

Crud.  There are questions like--Should I buy this really nice, pricey shirt that blows the budget or buy this inexpensive shirt that might profit and encourage slave labor?  Mix that in with if children are being sold into sex slavery as nearly toddlers while others are being eaten by animals, and if neighbors are killing neighbors and no one is making it stop--where does that leave me in my little world where my biggest worries are if my kids have the right healthy snacks to eat?  I can't seem to reconcile the differences.

It's a mess that's pushing me back to the basics.

For the first time ever, I am going to try to read through the Bible in a year (with friends).  If I really believe that there is more to this world than I can see with my eyes--that there is a Creator who made us to know and love Him--a God who does not want us to be orphaned, hungry and hurt beyond repair--a God who made each one of us special--then a really good place to start would be to read His whole Book. 

And these accounts of children dying and being sold into slavery and being abandoned are making me hold my little people even closer.  I am so very aware that the simple act of holding their hands is an extravagant blessing.  I am so thankful for them and I am holding them tight.

I know I can not change the whole world.  But I (a jumbled mess) can play a part in it.  Starting right where I am..

(I'm also reading Led by Faith: Rising from the Ashes of the Rwandan Genocide and The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine.)

Monday, January 23, 2012


Today we did a long-overdue quick craft.

M and T had profile cut-outs of themselves on their doors apparently from way back when T was a baby and M had a chin-length bob.  It was time for a little updating.
Oh, the chins!  I LOVE the chins!  T's even has a roll!

I snapped a few side-views of their little heads.  
Seriously--check those eyelashes!

Uploaded them to the computer.  Printed them, cut them out and then traced them onto scrapbook paper.  

And to get all wild and crazy ;), this time we did pattern on pattern.  Pattern on pattern chosen by them.  Hold onto your hats! 

Again, those eyelashes...  She loved the bird on this paper.

He liked all of the "bubbles."

Her little neck is missing--it was hidden under her sweater today. :)

The finished product.
My, how they've grown!  
(Beza's is on her future room. :)  She's still bunking with us (in her crib).)

Happy Monday!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday Funnies: Not Her's Mommy's Answer

Today I was hanging out with M and I asked her what she wants to be when she grows up.

M: (Thoughtfully) I don't know...
Me: Hmm...(laughing) when I was in kindergarten I wanted to be either a teacher or a secretary (M calls them "sehcreters.")
M: Oh yeah!  I know what I want to be--I want to be a principal!

Why a principal?  Well, to make the rules, of course.  Her dilemma--she wants to be a teacher, too.  So her first point of action as a principal would be to make a rule that principals can be teachers at the same time. :) 

Love how true our little first-born, deep thinker's answer is to herself. :)

Got to spend the afternoon shopping for jeans for this girl stuck between sizes.  We touched almost every pair of size 5 and 6 jeans in the entire mall--checking for the softness factor.  Jeans aren't known for their softness.  No dice.  We did however come home with enough on-clearance, soft, jersey-lined, khaki cargos to last until she's 10.  Whoo-hoo! :)

 (Bears in Slings from 12/21/11.)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Favorites: The Grocery Store Story That Makes Me Laugh

I've recently started to follow Inspired to Action--an awesome, encouraging blog about being the best mom you can be.  Three of my most favorite things from her blog (besides her honesty) are...

1.  Her free e-book about Maximizing Your Mornings.

2.  A daily prayer calendar for you children.  It's posted by my mirror.

3.  This post, Survivor: Suburbia – The Grocery Store with Children Challenge, about grocery shopping with three kids.  HILARIOUS!!!  I convinced J to read it and he totally cracked up, too.  Mostly because we felt like maybe she actually went grocery shopping with us--it's all SO REAL! :)

Here's a small excerpt:

The Participants

To prevent any harm to real children, participants are required to carry a slippery octupus (to simulate an infant), a deaf monkey, the howling kind (to simulate a toddler – who is apparently deaf to all parental commands), and a repetitive, inquisitive parrot who incessantly asks questions. Incessantly. With the questions. Repetitively. A lot. With the questions. Repetitively. (To represent a school age child).
They have to be carried and herded in from the back of the store parking lot because a car full of teenagers will take the only close up parking spot. The participant will have to carry 50 pounds of offspring and pull the remaining child by hand through an obstacle course of flying shopping carts and whizzing cars. Halfway to the store, it will begin to rain, and the participant will be required to return to the car for the green bags and sippy cups.

Head over here to read the rest and to find all kinds of inspiration for moms. 

Happy Friday! :)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

There's a Jar For That (And One of my Favorite Things About Starting The New Year)

When the New Year started we brought back the "Diamond Jars" to help reinforce some good habits with the small crew.  

When they get "caught" doing something well they get a "diamond" dropped in the jar.  It makes a satisfactory job-well-done clink.  

On the flip side, they can also lose a "diamond"...or two. 

When the jars are full they get to go to one of their favorite Inflatable Jump Play Places.

Needless to say these jars are very powerful. :)

 We're also going to start trying to teach them about money by giving them an allowance. 

I think that the plan is to give them $10/week.  So, yeah....We're two weeks in and those jars are still empty..we have some catching up to do...

Anyway...Nine of that will go into "Give" and the remaining dollar will be split between "Save" and "Spend."  Interesting distribution, huh?  

Here's why--and this is one of my most favorite things--on New Year's Day they each picked their own child to sponsor through World Vision.  (Very inspired by this.)  They each picked a little person with their same exact birthday.  M is sponsoring 6-year-old Bongekile in Swaziland and T is sponsoring one-month-shy-of-4 Breiner in Columbia.  

They LOVE writing letters to their new friends (and I love that it can all be done online--that walk to the mailbox is my undoing. ;).  And they've been accumulating a nice stack of drawings and stickers to share.  (Once we add some photos of us I will actually have to make that walk. :)

Sidenote:  See T's sweater? I love that sweater.  Him?  Not so much.  He does however have an affection for Superman.  I thought I would be so clever and I ironed that patch right on that sweater.  Seemed like a win-win.   Handsome warm sweater superhero-ed up.  But apparently the appeal of the Superman badge is not stronger than his dislike of the stripes.  And so despite my efforts, most of the time the sweater remains in his "not my favorite" pile. :)

 Here's to a New Year with jars full of "diamonds" and making new friends all over the world.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

One Word

I've been reading on blogs and in magazines and I have to say I agree--January is a great time for a "fresh start."  I feel like I've been spending the past few weeks sorting and purging and rearranging our stuff.  And I've been cramming in books that are totally messing with me.  And it's good. :)  

I love, and to be honest, am a little bit scared by, the unknown possibilities that come with a new year.  I think this will be a big year for finding direction--direction with careers and schools and children and, well, life. :)

And that is why my word for the year is
(Sweet) Together.

Because no matter what lies ahead on this great adventure, we're in it TOGETHER.

As a new year starts I am so very thankful for the people who I get to walk through it with.  
Including the photographer. :)
The Lettered Cottage

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sunday Funnies: The Dealer

T peddles iphones like nobody's business.  As a matter of fact, at least once a week, he gives me 3 or 4 new ones.  And if you come over--he'll give you one, too.  

And that would be because these days his distinction between reality and imagination is still a bit blurred. 

Dude is so enamored with our phones that he decided to "make" his own.  The backs of beginner "I can read" books have numbers on the back.  Numbers that apparently look like iphone apps.  He even swipes his finger across the cover to change the "page."  

While on the topic of these books, I must mention that he has become obsessed with making sure the price is covered.  Apparently this is from something I must have done with a Christmas gift?  He covers (or gets in in the general vicinity) the price with a sticker saying, "Ain't (I have no idea where he got that from) it polite to cover the price?" Yes, yes I suppose it is.

When he isn't dealing iphones, he's giving me a hot steaming cup of black coffee--just the way I like it.  It's in the shape of that CAT guy. 

Or, the other day we were shivering after getting in the car at the grocery store.  He asked if I was cold.  I was.  So he told me, "No problem.  I'll turn on your fireplace."  He likes to pretend that we each have a personal one.  "Are you feeling warmer now?"  Why, yes, I am.  Thanks for taking such good care of me, Buddy.

And just the other day Jimmy Fallon was doing a bit with Elmo on Sesame Street about the word "Inspect."  At the end they "inspect" us.  T totally thought they were actually complimenting his shirt and smile. 

This kid never fails to make us laugh. :)  

 A winter bubble swim.

Monday, January 09, 2012

2011 Card (In Tweets--If We Tweeted)

(For today, I'll let this up EXTRA-LARGE. :)

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Sunday Funnies: Christmas Card Out-takes (and one of my worst photos ever)

So...this year for our Christmas "Letter" we wanted to show the happy "Christmas Card" us versus the "real life" us.   A concept that required not one, but two photos. 

As usual December was ticking right along with zero photos.  Feeling the crunch two weeks before Christmas, J and I hatched a last ditch plan to try to take our own family portraits.  

After naps we dressed in fairly respectable clothes and packed a bag of our more "usual" looks.  We drove to a nearby Church and found a lovely tree to use as the backdrop.

Then we set up the camera on a step-stool.  J used the "smile" feature.  Basically anytime the camera detects a smile it snaps a shot.

A few out-takes from Round 1:
Actually love this one--we're all laughing at something. 

Then there are the headless J ones.  And I suppose you could also call us foot-less. 

I think I might be baring my teeth...?

 And this would be the "I'm laughing at J because he's about to fall over" one.  Really laughing... :)

Clearly, something was downright hilarious.  But, I'm the only one laughing.

So, those were the "Christmas Card" us photos.  After that we all scurried back to the van and changed our outfits right there in the parking lot.  It was a balmy 35 degrees.  We changed quickly. :)

I'll post our letter tomorrow, but for now, I will leave you with one of the worst photos of myself. (Mom and Dad have the "garden photo" in their possession--that probably is the worst. ;) 

This was the result of setting up for the second round of photos and checking the camera to see if it was still working well in "smile" mode.  I kept making large toothy expressions to make it snap.  Apparently this pose looks "happy."  Seriously, doesn't it look like someone photo-shopped it and put my smile on upside down?  Not to mention the apparent neck strain it took to pull the look off. CRACKS ME UP! :)

And that was a good Sunday night laugh. :)  
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Melkam Genna

Today was Christmas in Ethiopia. :) 

We celebrated with our own coffee ceremony and popcorn.

And then, while exchanging gifts is not a part of Christmas in Ethiopia, the small crew finally exchanged the gifts they picked out for each other at the dollar store. :)  

Hopefully next year we'll add some Ethiopian cuisine to the celebration.

Melkam Genna!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A little TOO prepared? Christmas Week in Review

Because I can't even remember what I had for dinner last night.  Wait, I just couldn't even remember what I just ate--okay, because I definitely have a horrible memory--even though all of our Christmas decorations are tucked back into their bins, if I don't post about our Christmas week, I will obviously forget too much of it. :)

To recap--Christmas was on a Sunday.  We almost always spend Christmas Eve with my family and Christmas Day with J's.  And we try to have our own Christmas here the day before we go.  That was Friday this year. 

I strongly dislike packing.  It makes me grumpy.  I didn't want to make our Friday Christmas grumpy--so we packed all of our bags and presents into the van on Thursday--a whole 2 days in advance.  That never happens!

T had a horrible cold all week--you know the feverish, hacking cough (with a hundred reminders a day to "please cover your mouth when you cough!"), and a whole box of tissues gone kind.  Beza woke up croupy and not quite herself on Friday--later in the day we found out she had an ear infection.  M woke up on Saturday with an upset stomach from cold-related issues.  Don't we sound like perfect company?  :)

Because we didn't want to give anyone (especially our great-grandparents) the gift of a virus for Christmas--we didn't make it "home" for Christmas Eve--the first time ever in 33 years.  It definitely felt a bit sad--but we tried to make the most of it. :)  

On Christmas day the crew seemed a bit better and our chances of passing on our bug seemed a bit less risky so we made plans to finally make it "home" for Christmas.  And we still got to see all of my family and J's family late that day--so thankful! :)

The Week in Pictures
The Christmas Birthday Cake.  After doing the Jesse tree for the first time this year--such a fun way to celebrate that after God promises all through the Bible that he will come--he did come on Christmas Day.

Nothing like a doughnut to make you feel better.

Practicing superhero poses.

When we finally made it "home" this rocking horse was waiting for Beza.  Great-Grandpa made it all by hand.  Incredible.  He made T that wooden box in the back filled with custom-made fortress blocks.  And for M, he made a special jewelry box with beautiful inlaid wood.  All keepsakes for sure.

Fun gift-opening with J's family on Christmas night.

Look-a-like shirt fun with my family on Monday.  They went patriotic this year. :)  The baby is clearly having a blast. :)

 Later on Monday we got to go to a beautiful (and LARGE) Christmas party with my Dad's family (he has 11 siblings).  Loved seeing everyone.  But what did we take a picture of?  The people we love?  Nope.  The sticky bun.  The family recipe sticky bun.  The sticky bun with a side of carrots and green beans.  Good, good stuff... ;)  

We loaded up the van with way too many gifts (Thank you everyone--we'll think of you every time we use them!) on Tuesday to come home.  

And Wednesday, well, Wednesday was my birthday.  The big 3-4  (I keep telling myself that in 10 years that number will sound sooo young and so I welcome year 34 with wide open arms. ;). 

How did I spend such a momentous day?  Re-decorating, of course. :)  Putting away the Christmas decorations and adding some "winter" touches  (in other words, leaving the white lights on the mantle because I'm not ready to part with their warm sparkle just yet.).  And taking down the Christmas tree.  The poor tree wasn't well-watered during it's first week with us.  Four weeks later it was basically tinder.  If you even breathed beside it, it rained needles.  For real.  

Like that all the way through the dining room (including on the table covered with ornaments), the hallway and the kitchen.  That's a lot of needles.

We spent the rest of the week getting well and hibernating, really. :)  And now we're totally ready to start a fresh new year--looking forward to what's ahead! :)

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A Public Service Announcement--About Rice (for Play)

Yesterday we finally made our own "rainbow" rice.  

So fun.  And so easy!

We followed this tutorial.  The vinegar is a bit, hmm..pungent--but it's fading. :)  (Other recipes suggest rubbing alcohol.)  Also, I was completely out of red liquid food coloring--a somewhat necessary primary color. :)  I did however have a fine stash of gel food coloring--it totally worked and the colors were awesomely vibrant!

We keep it in a large plastic bin and we've been playing with it "gently" in the kitchen.  It looks like rainbow sprinkles--so fun!

Play Rice Public Service Announcement
(To make the obviously obvious, even more obvious.)

Pre-sandbox, I thought that a rice bin would be really fun.  Especially because if they played in it outside I wouldn't have to worry about cleaning it up.  Brilliant! (I thought.)

One fine day, rice play went a little crazy.  There was easily more rice on the deck than in the bin.  But no worries--it was outside!  And I could just sweep it up.  Later.  Or tomorrow.  You know, clean once instead of twice.

It got dark.  We went to bed.  It rained.  On the rice.  Great gobs of rice.  On the deck.

We woke up to a sticky rain-cooked paddy of rice all over the entire deck.

At first it was kind of funny.  And then, not so much.  It was sticky.  And then it was pasty.  And then plastered to the deck.  It caked the brooms.  It firmly ground itself into the spaces between the boards.  It took days of sliding butter knives through the cracks to make a respectable difference.

And so, while it now seems very obvious that rice and moisture don't play well together (unless you're eating it, of course), if you're like me and you just kind of roll with the weather as it comes (you know, never knowing the forecast in advance), I strongly suggest cleaning up stray rice if you take it outside. :)

circa 2008

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Sunday Funnies: Christmas at Present Speed

One hour of Christmas "morning" condensed into 3 minutes...  (Suh-weet.)

Song: Christmas This Year (2010)--TobyMac
A few things to know.
1.  We celebrated Christmas on Friday--so that (in theory) we could go to PA early on Christmas Eve.

2.  We started by opening some gifts that M made for each of us just a few days after Thanksgiving. They had been stashed under her dresser for over a month.  She could barely contain her excitement that it was finally time for us to open them.  She made me some bookmarks and she made J a kite.  They are tucked away in a memory box.

3.  Have you ever seen anyone clean up wrapping paper that fast?
4.  Beza thought the video camera was a mirror.  She kept watching herself in it.
5.  T is swinging around a spiderman on a retractable string.  A few hours later he cut the string--just trying out some scissors. :)

6.  Speaking of T--he actually looks like he's flying in his cape.

7.  The nerf guns?  Yeah, they're a "Daddy gift."  It's all fun and games until someone shoots their eye.  But really, when does that happen?  The very next day, actually.  The offender?  J.  Yep, he was trying to be all sneaky sniper-ish and got T right on the eye.  Thankfully the projectiles are soft.  And T is forgiving. :)

8.  One of their most favorite gifts?  That cardboard house (a steal on Black Friday).  (Beza and M each got a house.  T got a spaceship.)  Genius. 

9.  I see more shots of my backside in this video than I (quite thankfully) see in an entire year.  :)
10.  Loved spending the day with 3 little people this year...

(And the rest of Christmas--well that's a story recap for another day...)