Friday, November 30, 2012

Let the Advent-ure Begin

I've been working on multiple Advent projects this year and I'm worn out.  I just tried decorating my front porch with poinsettias and a Christmas tree and couldn't make anything work.  I guess the creative juices spilled out at my trip to Walmart this morning.  *sigh* 

Here are a few tips on the projects I did and their sources.  

#1: Advent Calendar
Original Project from Pinterest:
Click here for tutorial.
My tips for beginners & non-sewers: find white stickers instead of embroidering the numbers (iron-on digits don't come that small and are expensive if you find them).  Hot glue all the felt INSTEAD of sewing.  Find one large piece of white felt (it comes by the yard) instead of the white squares.  Here's my finished project:

  #2: Reindeer Art
Inspiration came from a pillow knock-off and again, my sewing skills are threadbare so I did craft paper instead.  

Here's the pillow:
Click here for PILLOW tutorial
I used her pattern for the reindeer (print off, at a smaller scale if necessary, using two pieces of 8x11 printer paper).  Cut out the pattern and trace it onto 12x12 craft paper from Hobby Lobby.  After you cut the reindeer, tape or glue it to the back of another piece of 12x12 craft paper.  In the large frame section, find a 12x12 frame ($5 when half-off). Easy peasy and about $6/piece.
My final project:
#3: Daily Advent Traditions & Bible Reading

I need structure and knew I would especially need it to accomplish our Advent/Christmas goals and traditions.  Inspired by a "Christmas Fun List," I mapped out the 24 days leading up to Christmas and assigned each date a Bible reading and "fun" event.  
Click here for source
...combined with The Jesus Storybook Bible reading plan...

Click here for reading plan
Here is what I made:

And without getting into too much detail, start a new Word doc, make a text box, give it a border/frame, use some pretty fonts and holiday colors, and copy and paste the box until you have 24.  Shoot me an email or comment if you want me to send you my original Word or Pages doc.  

Happy Advent-ing!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Enough, already :: Christmas

Can you feel it?  That tug, that hunger, the inner discontent that starts as soon as Thanksgiving whisks away at midnight?  Black Friday is such an appropriate title.  Like a widow clothed in her shades of gray, grieving the loss of content.  The loss of happiness.  The loss of satisfaction.  She ventures out to find happiness.

It's a stronger pull this year.  The temptation is deeper, the callings are louder, the reminders are EVERYwhere.  My mind is overwhelmed with the sales, bargains, coupon codes, free shipping, door busters, and TODAY ONLY.  

Please, stop.  My weakness is begging you to stop.  But you just get louder, like a train engine coming down the tracks of consumerism and materialism and acquire-more-ism.  But will you deliver me...or slaughter me?    

I pray before I enter the winter wonderland of the red bulls eye.  I inhale and remind myself I have a list, for Pete's sake.  I don't need another holiday hand towel or snowman door mat or new bathroom towels or even a 70% off t-shirt.  My kids have enough clothes.  I have plenty of ornaments from last year and I really don't need antlers for my mantle.  And Pinterest is not helping my endeavors, either.    

Can anyone out there relate?  

Let's fight this together.  Let's not collapse under the very-real weight of want-want-want.  Let's model for our children who watch-watch-watch how we spend-spend-spend our money.  How we react to sales and gifting and the expectations of an invisible someone who will never be impressed by or satiated with our receipts.   

But then I turn.  Oh, Jesus.  You are the source and You are enough.  You are the humble King who has a great plan for my money and my traditions in a time of year we should be longing for YOU.  

Good News: the longing we feel is for Jesus.  The Messiah.  The baby King who arrived after hundreds of years of people standing watch for redemption and soul-begging rescue.  People were weary and discouraged and beyond empty.  Can you imagine how foolish they must have felt?  But can you imagine the heart ache?  That He would just come and banish enemies and restore health and wholeness and deliver healing.  That the dead would rise and the sick would be healed and the orphans brought into families and the poor given riches.  Yes, come, come, come.  

This is the drumbeat that fills our home during Advent.  That our children would hear the rhythm and groans of mankind and creation as we say come come come out of brokenness and weariness and all things imperfect and less-than.  Let's lead our families to the radical-truth source of Life and fill our homes with the purposeful Light that gives to those in need and sees this time of year as an ode to the people who waited for Him and reminds us that we still long for His return.

Come, King Jesus.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Giveaway Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered to win the $50 Tiny Prints giveaway. Congratulations to Julia K. for her winning entry:

My fave holiday tradition... either the no holding back Chinese restaurant meal after church on 12/24 or Jesus' yummy birthday cake, complete with singing, on 12/25. 

You'll be receiving your promo code via email soon!

P.S. If you're wondering about the technicalities of how we got our winner, I wrote everyone's name of their own piece of paper and my husband drew the winner. ;-)  Fair and square!!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Our First Giveaway!

I love the holidays.  Thanksgiving and Christmas and their merriment are life to my soul and carbs to my hips.  This year has flown by and it's hard to believe that November is just a couple weeks away, which means that Christmas is not far behind.  So let me take a moment to tell you about one of my favorite online sites.

Tiny Prints Christmas Cards Bliss

They have done an amazing job at bringing print products and design into the world of trendy and fabulous.  Baby showers, birthday parties, pre-wedding events, and birth announcements are just the beginning of their wide array of designs.  Best of all?  Christmas cards!  Take a moment to visit their website and browse their designs.  Upload some photos and you'll have your Christmas cards ready in no time!  

*Links Removed*

And since Tiny Prints is sponsoring this post, let's take a moment to do a Giveaway.  One winner will receive a promo code from Tiny Prints for $50 off your total order (discount does not apply towards shipping and cannot be combined with any other promos).  All you have to do is tell us your favorite holiday tradition (in the comments below) and one lucky winner will be randomly selected after the contest ends at midnight on October 29th.  Please include your email address when you post your comment.  Winner will be announced by Sunday, November 4th and you will receive the promo code directly from Tiny Prints.     

Click here for Special Offers and Happy Holidays!

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Story of Olivia, part 2: Death

I just love writing about my baby girl. Thanks to everyone who read Part 1 yesterday.

Thursday night was a sleepless one and I was up early, grieving and trying to make a good decision.  We were leaning toward going in that morning but I just felt all this hesitance.  Maybe it was nervousness.  Yeah, I was definitely nervous.  Nervous about labor.  Nervous about being in a hospital.  Nervous about holding Olivia and saying goodbye.  I wondered if I would ever want to leave her.  Would holding her for hours be enough?  
I sat in the dark, on the edge of my bed and couldn't get a thought straight in my head.  As someone who wants wholeheartedly to follow the plans God has for my life, I felt this conflict between wanting to hear the Lord about the timing but also needing a deep, personal conviction that I was doing the right thing.  In the midst of all my rambling thoughts, God came near.  I knew that day, June 22, would be Olivia's birthday.  *sigh*  More like deathday.

I looked briefly at my phone and there was an email from a friend who had a similar experience years before.  The first piece of advice she gave was to not wait to go to the hospital and it confirmed what I had just resolved.  Time to get ready.  Time to take a pill that would start contractions.  Time to pack a hospital bag.  Time to come face-to-face with the inevitable.

(There are some practical things here that I would suggest for anyone going through this process.  Things like contacting a photographer if you want pictures and how you might pack differently for a stillborn delivery compared to a "normal" delivery.  I'll write that another time.)

We checked in at Labor & Delivery at Harris Methodist downtown and they called me a "TLC" patient and put us at the end of the hall, where we wouldn't have to hear the joy coming from other rooms.  The staff was truly remarkable and it exceeded my every hope for the care and compassion they extended towards us.  I felt loved.  They cried with us and made us feel like family.  Even now, thinking back, I am amazed at how things fell into place.  Thank God.

Hours and hours of nothing but napping, staring blankly at Brad, checking email, and watching stupid TV.  I got to eat lunch, which I hear is unusual for a labor patient, but they brought me a salad, lasagna, breadsticks, and carrots.  It was good - is hospital food supposed to be good?!  I took a second nap around 3:00pm and when I woke up, I still hadn't dilated past a 1.  Brad and I looked at each other and knew it was time to get this show on the road.  They started me on Pitocin at 4:30pm and contractions finally started getting regular and more intense.

Without sounding prideful or arrogant, I want to share a particularly intimate part of the story that I was most nervous about.  At this point of the story, I'd had three babies and knew the pain of childbirth.  I knew about transition and the ring of fire.  I hadn't forgotten the excruciating pain, like some women describe "not remembering" once they have the baby in their arms.  I told the nurse that I would want medication or an epidural when my pain level reached a "7" but I hadn't felt much more than 2-3 most of the day.  The sonogram that morning showed that Olivia was breech and they were concerned about her coming out bottom-first or feet first.  They were concerned about my placenta detaching (it often doesn't when delivery is so pre-term) which would require surgery if I didn't have an epidural.

But I wanted to birth her like I birthed my other kids.  I wanted to be connected to the process and really have a sense of what was happening.  I didn't want to be groggy or foggy once she was born but I had a realistic understanding of what labor would be like and didn't want the pain to make an already emotional situation, worse.  Once the Pitocin kicked in, the contractions were so bearable, I could hardly believe it.  My pain level went from a a 5...and then it was at a 6 and I was about to ask for some Demerol.  My all-day, amazing nurse was getting ready to leave (shift-change) and so she and the new nurse stood at my bedside and ran through the day's events.  I close my eyes and breathed through another contraction and could hear Joanie saying "She hasn't felt any pressure" to which I said, "Actually, I'm feeling a little bit of pressure."

Here I was, two hours into active labor, and at a TEN.  Time to push.  Too late for an epidural and too late for Demerol.  They told me to push but I couldn't.  I wasn't ready.  I didn't want it to be over.  I wanted Olivia inside me and with me and near to me.  I put my hand on my abdomen and whispered,

"Jesus, we ask for effective contractions and pushing.  And, baby girl, it's time to go."

And just like that, she came out entirely with a swift contraction and not a push on my part.  The placenta came with her and they could immediately see the cord wrapped several times around her neck had caused her death.  There were no angels singing and the room didn't fill with any sense of purpose or peace.  I just felt the tears roll down my cheeks and could hear Brad sniffling, as he pressed his forehead against mine.  The midwife, Candis, was crying as she prepared Olivia to be wrapped up and put in my arms.

Precious feet.
Oh, she was beautiful.  Her eyes were open and she looked like all of our kids wrapped up into one sweet little face.  Brad held her and cried and kept saying "She's ours, she's our daughter."  It was such a strong moment to see my husband at the worst moment of his life.  He was so brave for me and so good to Olivia that day.  We said goodbye and kissed her feet.  And I will miss her forever.
The hospital made imprints of her hands & feet that we will treasure always. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Story of Olivia, part 1: Life

Writing is so therapeutic for me.  My sister-in-law, Carol, gave me a journal within a day or two of losing Olivia and it was (and continues to be) a way to remember, grieve, and heal outside my own head and heart.  So here I am with a story to share about a little girl whose life has forever changed mine.

Shock and surprise cannot begin to describe how I felt when the "positive" showed up on that little white stick in February.  Tucker was 13 months old and we had gotten rid of all our baby gear and clothes.  Most of all, we had kinda completely resolved to be done with the pregnancy/newborn phase of life and assured ourselves, if EVER again, Tucker would be in elementary school before we'd consider another baby.  I'm thankful our plans didn't pan out.

As I approached the 2nd trimester, I was put on strict bed rest after bleeding and cramping.  Much to our relief, the baby was healthy but there was a tear on the placenta that threatened the pregnancy.  Oh, how I fought through the fear and uncertainty.  When we came out on the other side, I had the fiercest love for and attachment to this sweet baby.  The tear healed and the pregnancy moved forward.  A double stroller took up too much room in our garage, and pretty soon, we were buying pinks and bows and looking forward to another little girl.

Part of my intense connection to Olivia came from a deep sense that she would not be born a healthy baby girl.  Whatever you call it: I had a gut-feeling, sense of God, discernment and inner voice that knew she wouldn't live. So I fought against those things with every ounce of mama-heart, rockin' inclination towards her with every breath and beat of my heart.  

Five months into the pregnancy, I noticed that I hadn't felt her lively kicks and movements.  She was little enough that I wasn't too concerned until a solid day of her inactivity put me on high alert.  I was sitting at a Chick-Fil-A on Tuesday evening with my kids and then it happened.  This exhale of life.  My stomach dropped and my heart stopped and I knew that she had died at that exact moment.  It was the strangest and worst feeling, like my body knew what my consciousness didn't.  

We couldn't find a heartbeat through the doppler and a sonogram confirmed she was no longer alive.  What a horrible moment, to lay there with your husband holding your hand and see this lifeless image of what had been a moving baby girl just weeks before.  The shock was overwhelming and bizarre and unnatural.  The experience is awful for any mother but I had only ever known home births, which ended in squishy newborn goodness.  We tried to wrap our minds around birthing a stillborn baby and doing it in the hospital.  Because the hospital doesn't induce on weekends, we had to decide if we wanted to come in the next day, Friday, which felt rushed, or wait until Monday, which seemed just too far away.

I remember just sitting on my couch that afternoon in shock.  I wasn't deeply emotional but I did feel a creeping of sadness.  I was irritatingly logical - thinking about returning the new stroller and car seat and wondering what I needed to do about her baby clothes.  I was disappointed that we wouldn't have an additional deduction on our 2012 taxes.  Again, annoying and practical.  But when you lose a baby after 20 weeks, arrangements have to be made.  Cremation or burial.  Would I have an epidural and pain medication?  What caused her death and would the delivery answer that question?  For whatever reason, the logical thinking helped us (me!) make some good decisions, not emotional ones.

Worst of all, she didn't have a name.  Believe me, the list was long and creative and unique.  "Olivia" was on there but we dismissed it quickly weeks before.  "Jane" had been my grandmother's middle name and we'd considered it before but it didn't feel right.  It's weird how we name our babies, imagining them at different stages of life with THE NAME.  Getting called at school.  Applying for jobs.  Running around a playground.  We pick names because we imagine life.  But late that night, I knew her name was Olivia Jane.  It would not have been her name if we had gone full-term so God had a hand in the timing.  Such a mystery to me!

I will continue this story another day, maybe even tomorrow, but my emotions are raw and tired.  There is so much goodness in this story, so much glory and light.  I promise: the best is yet to come.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

things are not... they seem.

I posted a Facebook status last week where I poked fun at my horrible day.  My youngest broke a new blender and I yelled.  I got distracted while my oldest was watching a YouTube video that included cussing and some not-so-great advice.  I was annoyed by the onslaught of happy, giddy, gag-me posts that have been filling my newsfeed for days, weeks, ever.  The response to my "keepin' it real" post was overwhelming.  

Can someone explain why we wish happy birthday to our children who are not on Facebook?  Like our two-year-olds?!

Why do we post lovey-dovey messages to our spouses but not ugly fight retorts?  (You were such a jerk to me last night and I'm withholding sex tonight.)

I wonder how many single moms feel deep pain when we boast in the gifts, flowers, and chocolates our awesome husbands give us.

Wow, that is a huge engagement ring.  But I have single friends whose ache for a husband is often crippling and you just reminded them of their very stinging pain, emptiness, and loneliness.  

Really, your morning sickness is terrible?  Poor you, to have a healthy baby growing in your belly!  Do you know what I would give to have a healthy baby in my womb?

Oh, and another sleepless night with a newborn?  I had a baby two months ago and her heart wasn't beating.  I would sever a limb just to be able to wake up every hour throughout the night with her.

I struggle constantly with comparison, insecurity, and frustration in just about every area of life: my parenting, my wife-ing, my weight, my contentment or lack thereof, my menu planning and grocery shopping, my addictions, laziness, and bad habits.  The list goes on. I have a feeling most, if not all, of us come to Facebook at somewhat low moments to find a little escape from our weakness.  

Only to be reminded that everyone else's life is perfect.  And full.  And organic.  Organized.  Blissfully serene.  Filled with artsy Instagram photos.  

For Olivia's memorial, I got pearl pink balloons to line the sidewalk to our front door.  The idea was inspired by Pinterest.  I love this look and wanted the "feeling" in this photo to set the stage for our goodbyes.  (Courtesy of Sweet Rose Studio.)  

As we began to replicate, I realized quickly that this is a snapshot on an apparently calm day - no wind, no breeze, not a breath in the air.  The reality was that our balloons moved and swayed and bent left and right and twisted and tangled.  We scrapped the idea when we realized that it was not practical, pretty, or everything I had imagined.

The beauty in this photo communicates something that just isn't true.  Snapshots and statuses are too often the result of the impression we want to give to others.  We place the idea that we want in people's heads of our lives, marriages, homes, character, and personality.  

I have to remember that every time a wife gloats about her husband's character, there are a dozen moments she doesn't honor or trust him.  That for every ultrasound picture showing a growing baby, there are a dozen women who struggle with infertility and infant loss.  I have to remember that out of a hundred pins on Pinterest, a wife with kids will probably only actually make one recipe and maybe, just maybe, do one DIY project.  That for every photo of cute kids in trendy outfits, there are a lot of un-captured moments of yelling, meanness, and impatience with our kids.

Welcome back to my messy little corner of the world.  I hope you feel in good company here.    

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Faith Can Move Mountains (and Sell a House)

We are in the process of selling our home, and, like most people selling their home right now, the market is not in our favor.  It's a frustrating process that has reached its spiny little fingers into the deepest parts of my heart and scratched at my roots.  It's left me red-face and impatient as I get my house cleaned with two-hour notice. Then it laughs out loud as the tears stain my face with the feedback after a showing.

And it's only been 24 days.  

Before you think this is a depressing post, let me say that this story will have a happy ending.  But you need to understand our dark night before you can see our glorious sunrise.

We purchased our home in 2007 and put no money down.  It was just before the market crashed and our excellent credit got us a loan that took nothing from our pockets.  Monthly payments were manageable on our small insanely tiny income but we thought owning a home was the best investment of our money.  We hadn't been in the house for more than a week when we realized our neighbor's outdoor dogs - a pit bull and German Shepherd - barked.  All the time.  At everything and especially at us and our kids.  We asked them to remedy the situation and their response was less than satisfactory.  

The neighborhood began declining as foreclosure hit homeowners and more renters moved into the duplexes.  Grass yards grew high, dogs ran loose, and code compliance set up shop on our street.  (Ask me sometime about the pit bull and terrier I loaded into my van with two kids and drove to animal control.  Geez.)

In 2009, we listed our home FSBO (For Sale By Owner) and had one showing in six months.  It was frustrating but a reasonably low-cost experience.  Fast forward to putting our house on the market in February of 2012.

The first realtor suggests listing the house for what we owe on the house.  Holy crap!  Between realtor's fees and assuming there would be repairs and paying for their closing costs, we'll go $10k into debt.  Good thing we didn't like the realtor (not because of his price suggestion) and go with someone we really like and who thinks we can list it for more.  House is on the MLS February 18th.  

Week 1: no showings.  Eager to keep the house clean.  Wiping counters every night and completing loads of laundry like it's going out of style.

Week 2: no showings.  Less excited about keeping my house tidy so dishes pile in the sink and finger prints stay on the front glass door.  Oh well.

Week 3: Zoe runs into the house screaming about something in the backyard.  I follow her out to find a pit bull's head through my fence and ferociously growling/barking/snapping at one of our tortoises.  I yell for it to get back and the owner finally comes out and proceeds to start cussing at my husband and they have a yelling match over the fence.  Mind you, this is the first time (since July of 2007) that we've ever talked to the dude.  I'll let you imagine the names I was calling him in my head.  My husband handled the whole thing perfectly and I was a beaming wife while giving the loser neighbor an imaginary finger.

Isn't this awful?  Aren't you completely discouraged and depressed?  We were.  I mean, sitting in tears and just baffled by our life and wondering why we don't just walk away and risk all the implications of a foreclosure.  Seriously.  Our night is blacker than black.  Oh, just you wait for this!

Praying in bed two nights later, I expressed to God how much resistance I felt...not so much by our circumstances but more just by praying and feeling this huge wall.  Were we missing God?  Was our timing wrong?  Why didn't we feel a sense of God's presence in all this?  Just as I poured this out to the Lord, I had this incredible vision.  (Side note: I love hearing the Lord and believe He speaks in a variety of ways but this ranks as one of the most clear ways I've seen God and heard Him speak.)

I saw God sitting in front of me, in a casual way but behind an open curtain.  His demeanor relaxed, He started beaming and rumbling with this deep, Daddy-laughter, and he looked right at me and said: 
"It would be my JOY to sell your house."  
Even now this brings me to tears.  
My heart leapt and everything in my world aligned.  
Then I heard the numbers 11 and 7.

Brad left for work the next morning before I had a chance to tell him about all this.  At 9:34am, my phone rings and it's the showing service calling FOR THE FIRST TIME to schedule an appointment for noon.  That day.  March 7.  Oh my GOD, He is good!  Do you know we've had four showings since that morning?!  Do you know that the road work that has ravaged our street since January finished this week and left us with the most beautiful asphalt?!  He is making a way where there IS NO WAY our house will sell without putting us into serious debt.  

For those who have had a sign in their yard for weeks and months and maybe even a year: TAKE HEART!  Ask God what He will do for you and live by FAITH and not by sight or circumstance!

Monday, February 6, 2012

four (frugal) beauty secrets

I love beauty, shampoos and conditioners, lotions and body washes, nail polish and scrubs. If I could add one room to my house it would be an Ulta. No joke. As much as I love a new shadow or top coat, my budget just hasn't allowed for excess so I've had to learn how to splurge on a dime. So here are my four favorite frugal secrets that are little more fun than drinking more water or removing your make up at night.

1.  Face. Speaking of face washes, Olay and other top labels have been making a big fuss about their cleansing systems - a powered scrub brush that sells for no less than $30.  Ironically enough, today's Target Daily Deal is a whole set that, even at nearly half off, sells for $35.99.  Here's my frugal alternative: for $1.99 you can pick up these little items at Target (by the cotton balls): 

There are twelve sponges in here and about once or twice a week, use it when you wash your face with cleanser.  Try it out before a big night out in case you experience some redness or flaking.  

 2.  Nails. Nothing can replace a great pedicure at your little salon down the street.  I just can't afford the $30-50 visit more than every couple of months so I've learned to do a great pedicure at home.  (This also applies to manicures.)  Consider taking half of what it would cost to get your toes done and invest in great products.  OPI top coat, a good nail file & buffer, and two colors (one nude/neutral and one statement).  The OPI top coat will make the color last days longer than most brands found at the drug store.  Purchase from Ulta with a $3.50 off coupon and you'll get the supplies you need for under $20.  

3.  Hair. My favorite little secret relates to the hair washing habits of stay-at-home moms.  I don't shower very often...really.  All you women know that it's more than a ten-minute shower; it's a total reset that leads to at least 30-40 minutes of recovery.  So while I don't shower very often, I kinda hate using expensive products when I'm just staying at home (who wants to waste great hair on an insignificant day?!).  But I'm not always happy with the results of cheap products.  So here's whatcha do: buy a set of cheap shampoo & conditioner (my choice: Suave Professionals Rosemary Mint, less than $2/bottle) and use those on regular washings.

Then on days you've got a hot date (or a play date!), use the good stuff.  Ulta and Beauty Brands often have liter sales between $11-14 (match with a coupon for even more savings).  The liter will last a looooong time; you can actually use Matrix or Biolage or Paul Mitchell, and not feel an ounce of guilt.

4.  Make-Up. Finally, splurge on make-up from your favorite fancy department store...but only during Bonus Buys.  You'll be amazed at how your stock will grow with useful stuff that you  Like Clinique at Belk is having a huge Bonus that's FREE with a $23.50 purchase.  

You get:
lip gloss
lip stick
shadow duo
face scrub
and a cute cosmetic bag
Not sure what to get?  Let me recommend their Butter Shine Lipstick in Delovely ($15) and Touch Base for Eyes in Canvas or Up-Lighting.