Happy Fourth Birthday, Edward!

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Yesterday, this special boy of mine turned four years old! One year ago, I wrote about what I hoped his first birthday in a family would be like: Next Year’s Birthday

His fourth birthday was everything we had imagined, and more!

Here he briefly recounted his day with me:

And here I’ll recount the highlights with a few pictures:

Chance’s mom always decorated the main living area of their house when her kids were having birthdays, so we attempt to keep this tradition alive. We waited until the kids were asleep and then decorated our living room and dining room.

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You may remember, Edward is a pretty big fan of all things Frozen, so I chose lots of blues for his big day.

I spent much of my morning making gluten- and dairy-free cupcakes with frosting, so that Edward would have a special snack to take to school.

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And, because this is the internet, I could only share that one photo, and you might believe that all two dozen cupcakes looked that lovely… but because I’m trying to keep it real, I’ll say that those were the only three that looked pretty.

The rest looked like this:

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We did our main birthday celebrating at lunchtime because Nasko was home from school for the day. Edward hasn’t really been a part of many celebrations, so he did not know what to expect! He was so excited to open presents after he ate his meal.

We bought him a kite

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and an Olaf book bag.

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When he finished opening presents, we put four candles into his cupcake, and sang Happy Birthday.

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(You can really hear Nasko sing in this video!)

Edward attends afternoon preK, so we then sent him to school where he was kind of a big deal all day. (Oh wait, that’s everyday. I mean, come on. He’s so cute.)

When he came home from school, there was just barely enough wind to fly his new kite (thank you Jesus). He was delighted, and could have flown it until bedtime!

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(And yes, that’s a Frozen kite. Let it go, just let it go.)

For supper, we grilled steaks, sliced up a plum, and made a bunch of veggies that Edward hated, but at least we served them in the bowls from his native country, Latvia!

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Our evening ended with a popping party in the garage. We gathered all the balloons we had used for decorations, and popped them. Balloons make my children wild, and there was no way I was going to live with those things in my house for one more day. A popping party seemed like the perfect solution!

(Edward got to pop them with a screw drilled into a thin piece of wood. His legs aren’t strong enough/long enough to get the job done. Just one of many odd “handicap accessible” modifications we’ve made here for him!)

Considering all our kids were in bed half an hour early last night, I’d say we had a full and great day celebrating the newest member of our family and his fourth birthday! Happy birthday, Edward!

Fatigue

Ain’t no doubt about it, my life is exhausting.

I’ve heard many mom’s recount the years when their children were preschoolers; they describe those years as being very physical and tiring. I don’t remember who said it, but these days, I relate well to the following statement: “The days are long, but the years are short.”

Everyday feels like I am sprinting a marathon.

Someone has speech homework that needs completed. Potty training means taking trips to the bathroom every thirty minutes. Food intolerances require major meal planning and preparing. Special needs and PTSD beg for structure and routine. In an attempt to save money and be conscientious of the environment, diaper laundry (three separate wash/rinse cycles plus hanging to dry) requires attention every other day.

Three young, dependent children need to be dressed, bathed, cuddled, read to, and heard.

Because some of these busy life circumstances cannot be changed (my middle child WILL get out of diapers, even if it kills me), I’ve been thinking about the areas in my life that CAN be streamlined or made simpler.

Most recently, I read an inspiring book called, “Notes from a Blue Bike.” This book has quickly become the most highlighted book on my Kindle. The author, Tsh Oxenreider, spent some of her adult life residing in Turkey. When she and her young family returned to the US, she was bombarded by the busyness and the exhaustion that is commonplace in our world today.

Throughout the book, she shares the ways that she has helped her family live more simply and more intentionally.

I could easily relate to Tsh, as we’ve spent extended times in other countries. I’ve seen a different, less-exhausting way of life, and I have been intrigued.

In the past few months, I’ve been naturally leaning towards a simpler, more intentional way of living. I’ve become burnt out on decision fatigue and over-extended schedules.

All of this to say, I’ve been inspired to do some extreme spring cleaning!

I have realized that if I spend less time organizing and maintaining our possessions, I will have more time to live intentionally with my children.

Camping helped me to see how few things we actually need in order to survive and thrive (we really did have a great time!), so I’ve been working hard to pare back our possessions and get our house organized.

This spring, I’ve been busy cleaning out closets and organizing toys. I’ve also reclaimed the disaster that is our laundry room.

One of the biggest projects I’ve tackled though, has been creating a “capsule wardrobe.” I had way too many clothes. Like, way too many. And with all the decisions I make through the day (what to pack for Nasko’s lunch, does Edward need to wear a coat, what time should Louis go to bed since he took an exceptionally long nap, etc.) I didn’t need to be wasting precious brain power on creating outfits everyday. One would think that more clothes would mean that the decision of what to wear would be easier, but actually the opposite was true. It did not seem to matter how many clothes filled my closet, I still felt as though I had nothing to wear.

So, I’d had enough a couple weeks ago. I completely emptied my closet (and, ahem, Louis’ closet) of all my clothes. I dumped them all on the bed.

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For each and every article of clothing, I asked myself, “Would I wear this TODAY?”, “Is it appropriate for spring/summer?”, “Does it work with my lifestyle (mom of boys)?”, and “Do I have anything else that is similar?”

A true capsule wardrobe contains closer to thirty articles of clothing, but answering these questions honestly, I was able to pare down to around 60 items (plus a small tote of winter stuff)!

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My closet now contains things that I would actually wear. Also, there’s room to see what items I own.

Then, using the app, Stylebook, I spent one day photographing and organizing my clothes.

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I can now look on my phone in the morning, and see what clothes I own. I can even save outfits so I know what coordinated well together.

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Using this app, I can even track which clothing items I am actually wearing, and which aren’t getting much love. I’m hoping to be able to be more drastic about paring down my wardrobe after using this app for a few months.

Next up, is organizing my desk. How about you? Are you doing any spring cleaning in order to fight fatigue?

On Camping…

Last weekend, Chance and I decided it was time to torture ourselves, so we packed up the family and went camping for the first time!

I mean, seriously. Camping is much like our normal living, but way more inconvenient and a ton more dirty.

Chance grew up camping (so if he were writing this post, the tone might be slightly different) and he thought our boys would love it as much as he did. What he didn’t realize is that camping is a lot of work as an adult, and a lot of fun as a kid!

He prepared for a few days, and on Friday, after a meeting at Nasko’s school, we set off for Grafton, IL to Pere Marquette State Park.

While we were away, I jotted a few notes about camping, and took a ton of pictures. Here are those collections:

As we drove south, Louis successfully changed his iPad app to Spanish instead of English. He thinks it is hilarious and cracks up every time a word is spoken. This could be a long trip.

On Friday night, we stopped in Grafton for supper. We used the internet to research if there were any allergy-friendly restaurants (already embracing rustic, unplugged camping, you know) and we found a place with lactose-free ice cream! Everyone was happy about this discovery!

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We then drove to the cabin we had reserved. Chance grew up camping, but I can count my personal camping experiences on half a hand, so I think cabins (as opposed to tents) are going to be our thing!

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Why my three year old is crying:
– As soon as we arrived, he indicated that he hated the cabin. He doesn’t want to “go night-night outside.”
– He wants to take a shower at night. 
– The next morning, he doesn’t want to take a shower. 
– He (of course) doesn’t want to take a nap. 
– He doesn’t want to leave. 

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I was quick to set up boundaries and rope off the unsafe sections of our site. The is where Louis parked himself when I said, “You may not step on the road.”

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Chance did an excellent job planning and packing and preparing for this excursion. He did all the cooking as I did much of the child-chasing.

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Edward LOVES helping Taty! Maybe he can do all the packing for the next trip!

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Louis is going through a growth spurt. This was his reaction to the news that Taty only made him THREE hash brown patties, one sausage, and 1.5 eggs. Chance ended up making him two more hash browns. No joke.

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Nasko thinks camping is playing your iPad in the cabin, on your bunk bed instead of in your room at home. Roughin’ it in nature with that kid.

Here we are, ready to walk on a trail. We hadn’t let the kids have their iPads all weekend, and they were excited to see them for the short car ride to our hiking spot. Chance and I contemplated leaving the kids in the car and hiking by ourselves…

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After we finally got them out of the car…

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Louis is definitely his father’s son, and adores camping. As soon as he woke up on Saturday, he exclaimed, “Outside?” and went on out. He then pointed out every tree, bird, and camper on the way to the bathroom.

We really did have a great time while we were away. It was nice to be able to play with the kids and have minimal distractions. We didn’t pack any toys for them to play with. They had so much fun exploring and making their own fun.

It was also nice that Chance did all the cooking. I believe we’ll continue camping…

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The best part of camping is when your children are all finally asleep and you have full access to the fire and the jumbo marshmallows. Chance and I were able to perfect the roasting of those suckers. Sorry you missed out, kids.

Here it looks like…

Here, it looks like being absolutely carefree.

Here, it looks like only wearing the clothes that make you feel comfortable (and sometimes publicly stripping off the ones that don’t).

Here, it looks like not understanding social boundaries.

Here, it looks like acting on impulses, and realizing what has happened after the fact.

Here, it looks like crying when things are very frustrating and overwhelming.

Here, it looks like not being afraid of hardly anything.

Here, it looks like dangerous obsessions.

Here, it looks like a team of people working together to provide an education.

Here, it looks like reenacting and recreating in play, rather than inventing and imagining.

Here, it looks like not caring what others think about who you are or what you like.

Here, it looks like defiance and sneaking.

Here, it looks like brown hair and brown eyes.

Here, it looks like long legs and long eyelashes.

Here, it looks like handsome.

Here, it looks like autism.

Nasko was recently given the formal label of “institutionalized autism”. This form of autism is a rather new diagnosis; it is given to adopted children who exhibit autistic tendencies – not necessarily because they were born with autism, but because they were socially neglected and abused. Their behavior has been shaped negatively and their response is similar to a child with autism.

April 2nd is Autism Awareness Day. Around the world, families are sharing their personal stories of what autism looks like. The goal of this day is to increase awareness and understanding, but it is also being used to celebrate the wonderful children who happen to have a diagnosis of autism.

Here, it may look like we have been burdened with an autistic child. In reality though, we have been blessed with a child who happens to have autism. He is carefree, impulsive, crazy and emotional. But most of all, he is ours.

Here, it looks like love and acceptance.

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Sunday Dinner Crockpot Pork Tenderloin (Gluten and Dairy Free)

Occasionally, someone will ask how I am surviving by feeding my family completely gluten and dairy free.

They obviously weren’t here when my eight-and-a-half year old fit perfectly into a 3T swimming suit yesterday. Evidently my kids are skinny and starving…

But in reality, we do eat well here.

I’d like to occasionally share a gluten- and dairy-free recipe with you all, BUT, let’s keep in mind that I ain’t no food blogger.

I’m not going to go all Pioneer Woman and share a picture of every step of the process. I have this herd of little people who are always (ALWAYS) hungry (despite their skinny legs), and if I took the time to document each step of a recipe, meals would start to run into each other!

And we cannot have that.

So, instead, I’ll snap a crappy, slightly unappetizing, cell-phone photo of my food, and post the recipe that I altered and used.

You are welcome.

Today’s recipe is a pork tenderloin recipe that I found through Pinterest and then didn’t follow hardly any of the directions, prayed, and left the food unattended for a few hours before coming home to deliciousness.

And that, in a nutshell, is how I cook.

Now, I must give credit to Birmingham Mommy for this recipe, but like I said, this is not her recipe at all. She calls for marinading the pork a few hours before cooking it in the oven. Friends, I was still thawing my pork ten minutes before we needed to leave for church. (Totally forgot to get that out the night before; whoops.) Some people just ask too much…

Also, I doubled this recipe. We had enough leftovers to cover a second meal. If you are not feeding three future teenage boys, you will probably not need to double this.

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Sunday Dinner Crockpot Pork Tenderloin and Sauce

Ingredients:

2 T. vegetable (or peanut) oil

1 2-3-lb. pork tenderloin

1⁄2 cups olive oil

1⁄3 cup soy sauce*

1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar

Juice of 1 lemon

1-2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce*

1-2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped (can use dried spice as well)

2 tsp dry mustard

Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1/2 cup chicken broth

2-3 T. cornstarch

*Be mindful that many soy sauces and Worcestershire sauces contain gluten. If you are cooking this to be gluten-free, double-check your ingredients to be sure that WHEAT is not listed. Aldi’s store brand of soy sauce is gluten-free. And cheap. You are welcome.

Directions:

Heat 2 T. of vegetable (or peanut) oil to medium-high heat in a large, flat skillet. Sear the pork tenderloin until all sides are slightly browned. Wear your apron over your church clothes.

While it is browning, combine olive oil, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, lemon, Worcestershire, parsley, dry mustard, pepper, and garlic in a large measuring cup. Whisk ingredients together. Convince Louis to stop throwing a fit because it is not iced tea and he would actually not enjoy a drink of that…

After the tenderloin has been seared, place it in a crockpot. Pour the liquid mixture over it. Turn the crockpot on (high for four hours, low for eight**). Pretend you aren’t going to be late for church.

After you return home from church, prepare your starch (this could be minute rice made in the microwave – no one is judging – or potatoes that you had already peeled, cut, and covered with water so they’d be ready for boiling and mashing when you arrived home with your angels***.) I think we can all guess which starch I chose.

While your starchy item is cooking, use a baster to remove the liquid from the crockpot. Heat it over medium heat on the stove. As it begins to bubble, make a slurry of chicken broth and cornstarch. Slowly whisk the mixture into the sauce in order to thicken it to the consistency of a runny gravy.

Remove the pork from the crockpot. Let it sit briefly before slicing. This is a good time to do quick diaper changes (I’m here to help).

Serve with the sauce drizzled over slices of pork and the rice/potatoes. Green beans would have been a nice additional side, if it hadn’t been grocery day.

Enjoy! Do necessary clean up, then take a Sunday (or Tuesday, or Friday) afternoon nap.

**Pork is done at 160°.

***To make it dairy-free, use chicken broth for mashed potatoes, instead of milk or butter.


Teaching Your Toddler the ABCs


 

After posting this video on Facebook a couple months ago, I had quite a few people ask me how I taught our (then) 19 month old his ABCs. My degree is in Early Childhood, and much of my working experience is with children three and under. I’m hoping this blog post will share some answers and encourage other parents with some new ideas

 

Disclaimer: This is not a formula for success. This is our personal experience. It worked for Louis. It might not work for Nick and Sally. As my father-in-law recently said, Louis is HUNGRY for knowledge. He wants to learn and desires to be taught. Much of his learning has honestly taken place by accident, or even without me! I have followed his leading in all of this. I have never pushed him to learn something he did not care about.

 

My hope is that you can glean some ideas for teaching literacy to your little ones – mostly because literacy can be relationship-building for the two of you. It is not my desire that every child will be able to regurgitate the letters on flashcards before their second birthday. It is not helpful if they can read, but you haven’t provided the lap for them to snuggle into. The following suggestions I make are to be motivated by love and interaction.

 

Amen and Amen. Yes?

 

I chose to start teaching Louis by focusing on the uppercase letters. The lowercase alphabet is easy to grasp after the uppercase is mastered.

 

How To Teach Your Toddler the ABCs

 

1. Read books about the alphabet.

 

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It doesn’t matter what age they are, read to your children. We started reading to Louis at an age when he had no clue what was happening, but he totally understood that we were talking to him, and that we were focusing on him.

 

Also, it’s important to read the same books over and over and over. As adults, we may become bored while reading a certain book for the 27th time that day, but our children are drinking in the words, the rhythm, and the tones. They are listening, they are learning, and they are memorizing.

 

We let Louis know that reading was important. If he brought us a book, more often than not, we stopped what we were doing in order to read to him. Many suppers were served a few minutes late because I had to read about that crazy pigeon before I could finish cooking our meal!

 

Louis can “read” many of his favorite books to himself these days. He imitates the same tones and expressions we have used when reading the book to him (1,000 times or more!!)

 

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For teaching your children the ABCs, it’s important to read books specifically about the letters of the alphabet. Encourage them to interact with the letters in story form.

ABC book suggestions (all approved and endorsed by Louis):
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Alphablocks

DC Superhero ABC 123

No matter what book you are reading (ABC or not) be sure to look for uppercase letters throughout the text or illustrations. Point these out occasionally.

 

2. Interact with the alphabet.

Nasko has taught me the importance of hands-on learning, so we have tried to use that with the other boys as well. To accomplish this with the alphabet, we have been very intentional about buying toys that have to do with the alphabet. Here are some examples:

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Louis’ favorite though, have been these extra-large alphabet magnets that we bought before Nasko came home (there are cheaper magnets available, but these are big enough to not be a choking hazard). Despite buying them for Nasko, they have become Louis’ THING.

Louis was only 14 or 15 months old in this video.

From early on, he has loved carrying the magnets around the house. We always keep them on the dishwasher or the bottom section of the refrigerator. The important thing is to have them at your child’s level that they can touch them and hold them.

This video was taken the day that I realized Louis really wanted to learn his letters! He kept bringing me the magnets and asking me to tell him what they were. He was 17 months here.

 

3. Sing the alphabet.

(This video was from a few weeks ago.)

Try to sing the alphabet daily. The best way to do this is to incorporate it into something you are already doing – hand-washing, brushing teeth, before a meal, etc. At our house, we sing the ABCs during almost every diaper change. Considering we change roughly 13,000 diapers everyday, the traditional alphabet song got a little boring after a while. We have learned five different versions of the alphabet song (did you know it can be sung to the tune of “Mary Had A Little Lamb”? Go ahead, try it.).

By singing different tunes, I hoped that Edward and Louis (and Nasko) would learn to say the actual letter names, and not just attempt to glide along with the tune. More than likely, you probably grew up gliding. This is evident by the fact that a majority of kids don’t learn to separate L M N O P until they are in kindergarten.

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Singing the alphabet to multiple tunes SHOULD help alleviate this problem!

(This video is from yesterday!)

 

4. Play with the alphabet.

If you want to get moms all riled up, mention the topic of giving a toddler a digital device. I’m not here to argue about brain development or the benefits of technology at a young age, but I am here to say, “I STINKING LOVE OUR IPADS.”

There are so many instances where being outnumbered by your children (who thought that was a good idea?) can be rather frightening. In those moments (restaurants, long car rides, mommy-needs-a-time-out, the 4:00-5:00 PM hour) it’s a wonderful thing to just hand your child an electronic device that contains nothing but educational games.

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I have scoured the internet for the best ABC toddler apps. Some of them cost a little bit of money, but I’ve found that you have to pay a little to get the quality learning materials. ABC book suggestions (all approved and endorsed by Louis):

PBS Kids Video (not a specific ABC app, but it contains PBS shows – many of which focus on letters and reading)

ABC Farm, ABC House, ABC Food, ABC Go, ABC Music

Wee Sing ABC

Elmos Loves ABCs

 

These last two are Louis’ absolute favorites:

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ABC Videos by StoryBots

The StoryBots videos have been life-changing in our house. The developers wrote and recorded songs for each one of the letters of the alphabet. They are clever, catchy, visually-appealing, and super educational. Louis LOVES them. He can sing many of them with minimal prompting.

If I had to choose one single thing that piqued Louis’ interest in learning the alphabet, it would 100% be these videos. He absolutely loves them.

You can see him dancing to the video about the letter “I” here:

Louis’ favorite is probably the letter I. Nasko loves M. Edward, naturally, prefers E. Mama’s choice is always B (“bananas are a fruit that is fun to eat, you gotta bounce-bitty-bounce to the boppin’ beat now!”) and Taty likes P!

We like to let these play on our TV as we are cleaning up from dinner in the evening. The kids dance and sing along, and the quick tempo keeps us adults cleaning! (I think my level of dorkiness is through the roof now, eh?)

 

5. Highlight the alphabet.

All this step requires is being mindful of your surroundings. As you are out and about with your children, point out the letters on road signs. Show them the uppercase letters used on food packages and other products you buy. Especially be on the lookout for items that are at the eye-level of your children.

Recently, Chance took Louis to Walmart and Louis walked right up to a big chip display and named every letter on the sign. The display was only about three feet tall, so the letters were right at his height. He was able to point to them and touch them as he named them.

In your home, give your children the opportunity to notice the alphabet naturally. This vinyl cut out is on our wall:

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My kids love to point out the letters in it.

Also, we have used name card and a name chart for determining who prays for each meal. We draw out a name card and ask the kids to each look at the first letter and then the whole name. This helps them learn the letters associated with the people in their family.

 

6. Share the alphabet.

Finally, encourage your children to share the knowledge that they have acquired. Ask them to identify letters for your friends and family when they visit. Have your children demonstrate what they have learned for those people around them. The praise and encouragement from others will motivate them to keep learning.

In our house, this translates into Louis labeling his letters for our dog.

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Louis regularly follows Allen around the house, trying to impart wisdom. We encourage this, as it gives Louis someone else with whom to practice!

Again, remember, building a relationship and a love of learning is the most important thing at this toddler stage. Not everyone’s children will be able to identify the upper and lowercase alphabet by the age of 21 months (not to mention sing it, identify 1-10 and count to 13, but that is neither here nor there). God has given every child a different personality with different interests.

Your child may be speaking in paragraphs by this age (Louis is a very quiet kid who is trying to sail through life on one-word phrases). Every child is different. Enjoy spending time with your children. 

 

At the top and bottom of this post, I included a “Pin It” button. You can pin this post to one of your Pinterest boards in order to reference it later. (Figuring out how to add this button made me feel like a real, grown up blogger!)

30 Things

Since yesterday was my thirtieth birthday (WHAT?!) I thought I would share thirty things about me (that you may or may not know) here on the blog.

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1. I know every single word to the Big Bang Theory opening theme song.

2. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I typically told them that I wanted to be a mom. (Except for that short period when I wanted to be a firefighter and a “monkey-trainer for the movies”.)

3. My first car was a white Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme convertible. It leaked where the top met the windshield. While impractical, it was still awesome. Eventually I traded it because whenever I would turn on the air conditioner, the car would die. Still awesome.

4. I watch Judge Judy almost every day. It reminds me of my grandma who also watched religiously.

5. At any given time, my purse contains 3-5 small airplanes and two horses.

6. My children think that postage stamps are stickers.

7. I was voted “Most likely to succeed” in high school. So… there’s that.

8. I’ve only broken one bone in my body – my wedding ring finger. It happened exactly one week after Chance bought me an engagement ring. We are still married. Take that, universe.

9. When my college roommate set up a blog in 2005, I thought she was crazy. “You mean you’re going to write a journal online? For the whole world to see? Who in the heck would read that?” Ahem. Point taken, universe.

10. Until they built a Disney World in Hong Kong, I had been to all the Disney theme parks (FL, CA, Paris).

11. If I were stranded on a desert island and could have three things, I would want the following: my iPad (even if there’s no wifi, I’d still have some books), comfortable shoes, and a jar of coconut oil (so many uses, you guys!).

12. My favorite color is brown.

13. I have way too many books on my Kindle App, and not enough time to read them all. 841, to be exact…

14. The things I miss most with my gluten- and dairy-free lifestyle are glazed donuts and cookie-dough blizzards from Dairy Queen.

15. I have recently started using essential oils. I did a TON of reading and research before making any purchases. I buy them through Plant Therapy because it is not a Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) company. Their oils are cheaper than the more popular brands, but hold up just as well in all the scientific tests.

16. My parents would not let me see a PG13 movie in the theater until I was actually thirteen. Titanic was playing at my hometown theater for around 15 weeks. During week 14, I turned thirteen and was finally able to go on my first date to see the movie.

17. Simultaneously, I was the secretary for four different organizations in high school.

18. I like to binge-watch HGTV shows. I have convinced myself that I am a pro at home renovation, but in reality, I can hardly push a drill forcefully enough to keep from stripping a screw.

19. We travled a lot when I was a kid, but we usually traveled to places that were far away – Europe, Hawaii, Japan, Colorado, Cancun, Vegas etc. For this reason, I have never been to the more local tourist destinations/traps. Chance’s dream is to drag me to Branson.

20. I am a horrible speller.

21. Cayenne pepper has ruined too many new recipes, so I rarely ever use it when it is called for.

22. I was the smallest kid in my class most years growing up. This meant I was always chosen to be “sent right over” in Red Rover and I was a flier during my two-year cheerleading career.

23. A friend tried to teach me to play guitar once. I don’t have natural rhythm or a musical ear. During my second lesson, I asked him how I would know the rhythm in which to strum. He answered, “You’ll be able to tell by listening.” I quit playing the guitar that day. There was no hope.

24. I have to sleep with the blanket pulled up over my ear, otherwise I feel cold. Once I fall asleep, the blanket is moved and one of my arms is usually found above my head. During one of Louis’ sonograms, he was sleeping in this same position. (Arm over head, not blanket over ear. No blankets in my uterus. Awkward.)

25. My parents are older than Chance’s grandparents.

26. I have never read any of the Harry Potter books. I am afraid I would be confused by all the weird character names and locations, so I have just never tried reading them.

27. I am rather popular on Pinterest. One time, I logged into the app on Chance’s phone and forgot to log out. For a whole day, Chance was getting notifications of activity on what he thought was HIS (under-used) Pinterest account. He could not believe all the people who were re-pinning his 10 pins.

28. In my lifetime, I’ve had a bajillion cats, one dog, six beta fish, and two mice. I currently only have one dog, and that is plenty.

29. I am the most ticklish behind my knees.

30. I fully expect that year thirty is going to be the BEST year of my life!

For The Love #forthelove

I am not southern.

The furthest south I have ever lived is in Carlinville, IL. It’s barely south of our state’s capital.

I’ve visited the south occasionally. I’ve benefitted from their southern hospitality (see also: needing someone to help three college girls change a tire on a six-lane highway in Alabama).

I can barely force myself to call it soda (it’s pop, you guys) even though everyone here calls it that. I can’t even BEGIN to grasp the concept of calling it “coke.”

This week though, I have regularly found myself saying the very southern phrase, “For the love!”

And it’s all because of this book:

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And this author:

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Jen Hatmaker is a Jesus-following writer from Austin, TX.

You know, the deep, deep south. She apparently uses phrases like “for the love” and “bless”. She drinks her “coke” and hangs out on her porch year-round (jealous).

She writes a blog and loves the oppressed. She and her husband have planted a very radical church.

I’ve been following along with Jen’s blog and her books since she adopted her kids from Ethiopia in 2011. She has blogged very openly about the struggles of adopting and acclimating her children to a very different culture. I actually shared a couple of her posts here on my blog, right before Nasko came home. (Here and here.)

Her book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, was the first of many things that wrecked my view of the world shortly before we went to Africa for the first time.

I was able to meet Jen at a conference last year. I waited in the “autograph line” and when it was my turn, I said something along the lines of, “I didn’t bring anything for you to sign. I’m really not into that sort of thing. Actually, after reading your book, 7, and then visiting the poorest of the poor in Africa, I got rid of all of my books that I had in print and I now exclusively read digital books. We’re constantly working to simplify and pare down our possessions. So… Not really sure what I’m doing in this line [other than spewing run-on sentence, obviously], but I did want to meet you. Thanks for writing about adoption and loving the oppressed.”

Then, we went on to have a brief conversation about my adopted son Nasko and our work in Africa. We also discussed the sweet, sleeping baby I was wearing on my back.

The conference volunteer who was taking pictures captured this million-dollar shot to memorialize our brief encounter:

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Uh YEAH. That. I was apparently in the middle of my run-on sentence.

She got this one too:

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Jen was kissing Louis’ head. That’s the best picture we got. For the love…

Well, as you can tell though, I have great respect for this southern belle. She is absolutely my favorite female author.

When she announced a couple weeks ago that she was building a “launch team” and looking for ordinary people to write her book endorsements, I quickly filled out the application form. Originally, the team was going to be a first-come, first-serve type of thing, but eventually a launch team of 500 was hand-picked.

From what I understand, one qualifications of being on the team was having a “large social media presence”. So, apparently, all these years of dinking around on the internets has finally paid off, because of more than 5,000 applicants, I was one of the 500 that was chosen for the team!

I’ll write more about the book closer to its release date in August, but so far I’ve really enjoyed interacting with the launch team community and reading the digital copy of the book. I’ve also had the opportunity to interact with Jen some during this process. (And now that I’ve unearthed the very flattering photo of our meeting, I’ll probably need to share that with her and the community as well…)

I feel very honored to have been chosen for this launch team. Now, I must finish reading the book and write up my endorsement…

(You’re going to want to pre-order this book from here or here. Just do it now. For the love…)

A letter to Nasko, THAT child

This post is completely based on my reflections after taking a class entitled “What About ‘That Child?'” at the national Hearts at Home conference last Saturday. The course was taught by Rachael Carmen. She has raised a “That Child” and lived to tell about it (in addition to having six other children).

Her class was very impactful to me, as I have been struggling with our “That Child,” Nasko, for some time now.

Many of the truths Rachael shared spoke directly to me; I want to remember these truths from this day forward. I hope I will look back and reference this post on the hard days. This post is for me.

I am writing this post to Nasko, as I know that I owe him some apologies for my negative mentality, and for the times I have forgotten to show him love and grace. This post is for him.

I know that many of you have struggled with your own “That Child,” as I have been flooded with emails since writing “The Ugly“. This post is also for you. 

Dear Nasko,   I’m going to lay out a few facts:

You are difficult.

You are unpredictable.

You are freaking fast.

You are exhausting.

But you are a blessing. _DSC4538

The world sees that you learn differently. You don’t sit still and cut nicely on the line. You practically jump on top of the line while chopping at it, instead. Because of this, the world would label you as a burden.

Recently, I have allowed the world to impact me, and I have agreed. I felt that you were a burden.

But you know what? God (who is bigger than the whole entire world) reminded me that you are not a burden. You are a blessing.

For real. He wrote about it in His story book – the Bible. It says specifically in Psalm 127:3, “Children are a gift from the Lord.”

Nasko! You love gifts! You can totally understand this.

You know how excited you get when it is Christmas and there are big boxes all wrapped up under the tree? Remember how you spend days saying, “Bus? Dogs? Toys? Neck Pillow? Horses?” You spend hours guessing what could possibly be inside, and then when it is time to open the gifts, you can hardly contain yourself as you rip off the paper! IMG_3193

Those gifts make you so happy! You cherish them, love them, and play with them. IMG_3194

Nasko, YOU are my gift. God brought you to me – not in a box with wrapping paper, but on an airplane, from an orphanage! I spent years guessing what my “gift” would look like, but when God finally brought me YOU, I was SO excited. IMGP4076 IMGP4189

I am not being punished by having a child who doesn’t learn and grow in the same way that other children do. I am blessed to receive a gift so great as you.

Nasko, in your three short years home, you have taught me so much.

I am the mom that I am today because of YOU.

You have taught me about being flexible and fun and active. Your enthusiasm for life is contagious, and I have learned to get excited about the little things. IMG_6390

I never used to care if an airplane was flying overhead, or a bus was driving by. I rarely even noticed the neighborhood dogs before you came home. And can you believe that we used to kill off those yellow weeds flowers that grow all over our yard? And finally, have you seen my toe-touch on the trampoline? I mean, killer.

Nasko, I grow tired of asking you to pay attention to the tasks at hand. I feel like I could record myself saying “Please leave the dog alone.” And I know I probably say “Stand still and listen to me!” in my sleep every night, but those traits are part of what defines YOU.

And YOU are a blessing. You are a gift. And you have taught me how to be a mom.

Thank you.

I thank you. Your younger brothers thank you. IMG_6503

Nasko, I don’t know what your future holds. I don’t know how far you will go. I don’t know if you will ever even have the ability to read and comprehend this letter, but I do know that God knows. He knows exactly what your future holds.

I have spent many of my recent days worrying about your future. I have wondered what you will be capable of, and where you will go. I have wondered what might hold you back, and what you won’t be able to do. IMG_6154

But you know what, Nasko? When I worry, it is like I am telling God that He is no longer allowed to be the boss. It is as if I am telling Him that I know more than He does, and I can take care of everything.

If I am going to put God on His throne, and allow Him to be the king of my life and the king of your life, then I have to trust Him. I have to stop worrying.

If I believe that God, the boss of our lives, the king on His throne, cared enough to take you from a past of trauma and abuse and place you into our loving and safe family, I can trust that He has your future completely figured out as well. IMG_7213

Nasko, thank you for being a gift that was worth waiting for. And if you continue to teach me all about being the best mom that I can be, I promise to trust God with your future and enjoy each and every day that I get to spend with you. _DSC4535

Love,

Your forever mama

A copy of the audio from Rachael Carmen’s class, “What About ‘That Child?'” can be downloaded here.

Fun in the Sun

I wanted to share a few (ok, a lot) of pictures from our time in Florida a few weeks ago.

My parents inherited my grandmother’s condo in Naples, and they were encouraging visitors this year (now that we’ve been there, they might not be so eager next year!)

Our time down there was very nice. We had mostly good weather and we really enjoyed the sunshine.

I considered writing, “Our time down there was very relaxing,” but that would be a lie. Vacation with children is about wearing them out and surviving it, not about relaxing. It was nice to have some different scenery and warmer weather though!

Here are our pictures:

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The day we left, I realized I had gotten rid of my tennis shoes and never replaced them (like, months ago. Winter brings out the inactive side of me, apparently…) The morning we flew out, I ran to Sherman and got this number at the used clothing store, The Clothing Rack. I love them.

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We left around 5:00 in the evening. Nasko and Edward understood that we were going to be flying. Both boys were very excited.

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Louis, on the other hand, was not so interested in sitting still while flying. Gone are the days of flying 26 hours with a super compliant baby.

We arrived in Naples around midnight, so we had some sleeeeeepy boys on our hands. Overall though, they did well. I fell in love with our rental car that first night. (It was a 2015 Toyota Sienna. It was the size of a small house. Quite the change from our gas-efficient Mazda 5.)

My parents had rented a crib and had two other beds already set up, so we got the boys to sleep very quickly after we arrived.

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Some people slept kind of hard. This is his unaltered, honest-to-goodness bedhead.

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What then followed was six days of fun!

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We spent some time on the beach…

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We swam in the pool…

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(This kid kept giving the owl poolside hugs and kisses.)

We relaxed…

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And enjoyed the view…

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(This is the condo building.)

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We kept busy by going to the zoo…

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And the park…

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(I think my dad had the most fun at the park!)

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And we ate well!

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(That is the biggest piece of tilapia I have ever prepared.)

We had a great time in Florida. The warm weather gave us hope that the sun would eventually shine again in central IL! (And it did. One ice storm later, but we are finally enjoying nicer weather!)