Monday, December 30, 2013

Beyond Survival: The Spirit of Giving

As Christmas was approaching, Abby was taking her sweet time in getting me her Christmas list this year.  I kept asking and asking and she just kept saying, "I don't know."

Then, at 9:53 PM on Nov. 17, I got this text from her:
I know what I want for Christmas:  use the money that you would use as my Christmas gifts,
 and give it to Africa.

I had been wondering how her trip in October impacted her.  She had been waiting for years to go.  She did amazing while we were there.  Since we returned home, it was hard for me to get her to really talk about it.  

As she and I talked, I explained that she needed to pick a specific place for her money to be given to.  She immediately chose the Halfway House.  
This is where Isaiah and Laila lived for 5 months. 

 This is the place that she mentions every time she is asked about her favorite part of the trip.

She knew that there were 22 children that would spend the week of Christmas just like any other week of their lives.  She wanted them to feel special.  She wanted them to have a Christmas like they most likely never had before.  She was willing to give up some of her excess to help these children experience a little bit of what living Beyond Survival is like.  My heart swells every time I think about it.
We had the help of our friends, Jumbo and Kriek, who were willing to give of their time to do some Christmas shopping for us.  A few days before Christmas the delivery was made to these precious children who captured our hearts in October. 
 They received food and toys, dolls, cars, toy boats, chips, fruit, veggies, rice, peanut butter, jam, cookies, juice and eggs!!  
These two ladies are true examples of love and sacrifice.  
They even made a video to say thank you.
We had tears as we watched it and celebrated with them, my favorite moment on Christmas morning!  

Thank you, Abby, for being an example to our family of sacrifice and giving.  I love the work you are allowing God to do in your heart. 

We have big plans for Beyond Survival in 2014.  There are so many opportunities opening up before us to invest in the beautiful people of Swaziland.  

If you would like to join us in this work to give a year-end gift there are a couple of days left.  Donations can be made by following this link to our website.  All donations are tax-deductible.  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Happy Ending

It has been a week and a half since I have blogged.

You might think that is because of Isaiah's Birthday on Dec. 18, school activities(concerts, parties, finals, basketball), Christmas baking, shopping, traditions, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.

Yes, we have had a lot going on, but that is not the reason I haven't been blogging.

I have had several moments where I wanted to sit down and post all the pics of our Christmas season.

Don't worry, I plan to catch up on everything.  We have done some fun things!!

One thing has kept me from doing that:  MY COMPUTER STOPPED WORKING Dec. 21!!

Let's just say I had a small panic attack and may or may not have woken up in the middle of the night several times in a cold sweat worried about it.

I know it is only a thing.  I know that in the scheme of life, it is really not that big of a deal.

The same thing happened last spring.  My hard drive crashed and I lost 6 months of pictures!!  I was so sad.  It took a lot of time and frustration to get everything back on track.

Just 2 days before it happened I thought, "I need to back this computer up again over break."  Just. 2. days. before!!

With Christmas, Rick was not able to take it in until yesterday.  In the midst of that I got some really devastating news that brought perspective to this situation(I will share more about that in another post).

I decided, "It is what it is.  My life will not end if I lose all my stuff."

BUT, Guess what?  It didn't crash!!  It just needed a new bracket and some wiring that is a pretty common repair.  We went ahead and put in a new battery because it has needed that for months.

All in all, we got away only spending $200 and having all of our data intact.

I was so relieved and so grateful for this happy ending!!  I kind of needed it in the midst of several uncertainties in my life right now.

Let's just say, I will be backing up my computer today!!

Thank you, God for this Happy Ending!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

December Days!

Cody and Lauren finished school yesterday.  Cody officially survived his first semester of High School Finals!!  They are both ready for Christmas break, although Lauren may be doing some Science Fair work during her time off.  

Today, we have 4 class Christmas parties.  I had to send in a box of Caprisuns, 2 boxes of candy canes,  a box of Ritz Crackers, Coffee Creamer, and a Pizza for Abby(since she is gf).  

Sam also has his Winter Concert today.  He needed a shirt, tie, and dress pants for that.  How did we not have those in the hand-me-downs???  I remembered THIS MORNING that he didn't have any dress shoes.  After a mad search through the shoe containers in the basement, I came upstairs triumphant with a pair of shoes.  Sam swears they are tap shoes.  They aren't.  He was miserable wearing them, so we sent him to school in his black tennis shoes and asked him to change before the concert.  Now I am wondering why I even bothered?  Just wear the tennis shoes.  It really doesn't matter in the scheme of life!
December means Rudolph sandwiches in our house
I had to capture this moment for two reasons:
 1.  This is what Laila does at Laura Fowler's house.  I love that she always asks to play with the trains and that is her special thing to do at the Fowler house.
2.  She is wearing her jammies because she had a jammie party at school that day.

Snug as a bug in a rug  a.k.a. "Laila Burrito"
 Look at the muscles on this kid.  
 Every time he takes his shower, he has to stand in front of the mirror and 
display the "Gun Show", as he calls it.
 Can you guess what this is?
Hint #1
Hint #2
 Almost Ready!
 Teacher/Neighbor/ Friend Gifts!!
 I absolutely love the card Laila made for her teacher.  She spelled everything all by herself.
Translation:  You are the Best teacher in the whole wide world, by Laila Clapp
The pictures make me think of Minions from "Despicable Me."

A Public Service Announcement:
Since we haven't had our family pictures made yet and in an effort to simplify my life this time of year, I did not send out Christmas cards this year. So, don't be thinking we took you off the list. 
We still love you all!

Carry on, Now!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Story About Life

This is a story about 5 very different couples in very different phases of life that chose to live life in community 3 years ago.  We are a unique group.  We go to 4 different churches.  We aren't the "typical" life group.  We don't agree on everything.  Many thought we wouldn't last.  BUT, we love each other.  We see the value in our differences and embrace those.  I think true community happens when you are willing to be who you are, let others be who they are, and learn from that experience.  The thing that I love most about this group is how much we laugh.  It is truly "life-giving" to me EVERY TIME we gather.  

We have prayed through the many challenges we have faced.  We have endured job changes, financial struggles, health issues, parenting challenges, family craziness.  We have sent gifts to a missionary family in Africa, bought charcoal-efficient stoves for families in Haiti, participated in World Water Day, and supported missions trips to Africa.  We have had picnics, cookouts, movie nights, guys' nights, girls' nights, worship nights, double dates, overnight trips.  We have celebrated births, new houses, Birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, ministry opportunities.  We have been to the Chynoweth's amazing costume parties and my favorite, our Life Group Christmas party.  

It always involves fabulous food, festive drinks, the question cup, a white elephant gift exchange, and  prayers for the upcoming year.  The Fowlers hosted this year.  Their home is so cozy and relaxing. 
  Laura had the table set beautifully
Some of the boys
The girls
This table was full of laughter, good food and deep discussion
 The question cup ranged from your favorite worship song, to what TV show you would like to live in, to what we love about each couple in our group.  
As always, we had a hilarious white elephant exchange.  
Elaina was the lucky recipient of this original, autographed photo of her husband, Garrett
(This gift may or may not have made its debut last year and most likely will become an annual part of the white elephant gift exchange.)

I walked away with this gem
This is Dave Houle when he was a kid.  He created this extremely motivational piece of art. 
I displayed it in our house for a few days until my kids said, "Can we take that picture down.  It is really creeping us out!"
Our night ended with a time of prayer thanking God for what He has done and asking Him to lead us in the new year!
Here's to another year of lives lived together!!  
Love you Houle, Chynoweth, Fowler and Maas Families

Thursday, December 5, 2013


 This boy has 2 speeds:  Super FAST and Asleep
This boy has 2 volumes:  Super LOUD and Asleep
He is passionate, persistent, active, animated, dramatic, charming, just to name a few.

We had a bit of a rocky start to the school year.  I think the adjustment to going to school all day was part of the challenge.  The other factor is that he is always looking for an exception to the rules.  His thought processes go a little like this:  "They don't really mean me, when they say that,"  "This teacher might be different," "If I ask enough times, they will change their minds," "I can sweet talk my way through anything," If I don't get my way, then I will show them," you get the picture.

Every new authority was a new opportunity for him to manipulate the situation.  He LOVED being sent to the office because he got to leave the classroom and got one-on-one attention from the ladies there.

I was going to his school for an open house about 2 weeks into the school year.  I told Isaiah that I was going to see his teacher.  His response, "There are some things I need to tell you.  I might have gotten a little out of hand these first few days of school."  RED FLAG!!!

He has been very creative in his disobedience.  Some of his more notable choices have been:

1.  Telling the whole class that his birth mom was eaten by an alligator (his poor teacher had no idea if this was true or not so she didn't want to correct him for it).

2.  Standing up in the middle of class, while the teacher was teaching, and very dramatically fainting.

3.  Incessant noise making.  It started with whistling.  Then it went to drumming.  Finally, my favorite, practicing his evil laugh.  REALLY?!?!?!

I have to say that his teacher has been AMAZING!  She really is perfect for him.  On the one hand, she loves and adores him.  On the other hand, she realizes how necessary consistency is with him.  You give this kid an inch, he will take 10 miles.  She sees his potential and holds him accountable.  She has done everything she can to help make him be successful.  She talked to other teachers and staff to come up with a plan for him that would lead him towards success.

We offered some incentives and consequences at home to work alongside her.  I told Isaiah, "Your teacher and I, we are BFFs.  We talk regularly.  You can't get anything past us!"  He needs to know that we are a team.

Rick and I sat down with Isaiah to find out what kind of incentive we could offer him to reward wise choices at school.  His answer:  "I want some special time with you and mom."  Okay, buddy.  You got it.  His goal:  6 days meeting certain guidelines set up by us and his teacher.  It took him about 4 weeks to do it, but HE DID IT!!  Over Thanksgiving break we took him out to lunch.  He chose Red Robin.
He talked non-stop the whole time
 Coloring with Dad
He ate 3 baskets of fries with ranch dressing

He loves ordering his own food, asking for refills, and chatting with the waitress.

He informed us during this lunch that he would be having/adopting 100 children when he is married.  They would be living in a hotel in Vegas.  He would drive a school bus to get everyone places.  Most importantly, we can visit any time we want.

I love this boy.  He is my son.  I believe the battles we will fight for him, with him, and over him are not over.  Adoption is not an easy road.  When you are in the process of adopting it feels like the battles are there, and don't get me wrong, those battles are real and so hard.  BUT, they don't end there.  Now we have him.  He is ours.  We are now in a battle for his heart.  A battle where we say, "No matter what you do, no matter what you say, we ALWAYS love you.

For now, we are making progress.  I choose to embrace those victories. I choose to celebrate with him.  I choose to love him now just like I love him on the days when he has chosen foolishly.
He is my son and that's what parents do with their children.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


We woke up this morning very disappointed.  The forecast for the weather last night was an 80% chance of 4-6 inches of snow last night with an additional 5-8 inches today.  We were guaranteed at least a 2 hour delay, but were pretty confident we would have a snow day.  When we looked outside this morning there was NOTHING.  That meant no delays and definitely no closures.  How could they be so wrong? 
 The thing they weren't wrong about was the temperature.  
 When I dropped the kids off at school the temperature was 5 degrees with a windchill making it feel like -12 degrees!!  I am wearing my cuddle duds today and even wore a winter coat with gloves, something I never do! (I just don't like to wear winter gear.  It is bulky and when you get inside you have to carry it around everywhere with you.  I would just rather get inside quickly and avoid it all together.)

It is no secret that I am not a fan of snow.  I am even less a fan of cold.  I feel like I can't catch my breath and my teeth hurt.  I would have preferred a snow day so we could stay inside all day and avoid the chill that I cannot get to leave my body!!

Of course this morning called for some warm drinks
(hot chocolate for some and chai lattes for others)
Then, the snow started.  Who knows what it will accumulate to.  I am just wondering if it is going to get bad out just in time to pick up the kids from school.  
 The bummer is that these frigid temperatures are supposed to last until at least Monday.   The highs each day are only in the teens!!!  The bright side is that Cody's 6:00AM bball practice was cancelled.

I have been working hard getting ready to set up my Swazi Sales table at church this weekend.  I came back with so many great items in so many beautiful fabrics.  I get so excited every time I get to sell this stuff because I have seen with my own eyes the difference it makes in the lives of these women.  This is all about sustainability and empowerment.  I am amazed at their talent and creativity.  I cannot think of a better Christmas gift to give than one that literally brings life and hope to a family.  We get really cool products from Swaziland and they get the opportunity to live BEYOND SURVIVAL!!!  Now that is something to be excited about.
Just as my own form of rebellion, I got this hand soap out today for us to use!  
I also listened to my favorite Christmas song as I drove through the snow,
 "All I Want For Christmas Is A Really Good Tan"
On the outside, I am in CO, but on the inside, I am at the beach!!  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas..

…in our house today!

I must begin this post with a note to self:  Don't EVER try to do Christmas decorations beginning at 5:00 in the evening again.  You will not enjoy it and will be ready for everyone to go to bed when there is still tons of work left to be done.  Oh, and don't forget that EVERY time we put up Christmas decorations, Rick has to stop in the middle, go to Walmart, and get new lights.  Yet another reason to begin this process earlier in the day.  (Having that Charlie Brown episode on the DVR was a brilliant way to occupy these crazy kids while Rick went to Walmart to pick up new lights.  ALWAYS be prepared in that way.)

Now, back to those of you who are reading the post:

I am not good at decorating.  I don't particularly enjoy decorating.  I do enjoy the finished product.  For all of these reasons, I put Abby and Rick in charge of our Christmas decorating.  I basically have jobs that I complete in the process in order to be useful, but just do what I am told.  I don't get excited about this process.

I did choose to engage the process this year by playing Christmas music loudly in our house and baking chocolate chip cookies for us to enjoy during the oh-so-painful process
Rick and the kids bring all the boxes in 
 These two were pretty excited.  I don't want them to miss out on our traditions just because we have older kids.  It is so easy to stop doing them.  I am determined not to do that!!
 I want you to notice Lauren in each of these pictures.  
She thinks she is so clever with her poses.
 Sorting and fluffing the branches
 The tree in our living room is 19 years old!  Rick and I got it our first Christmas as a married couple.  It is still going strong.  We are baffled every year that there are still needles on the tree after 19 years of vacuuming a floor covered in therm!!
 We don't do a real tree for two reasons:
1.  We have too many allergies. 
2.  I don't need another thing to keep alive!
 Now she has Laila posing with her
 Thank you, Lord, for giving me a husband who likes to decorate for Christmas!
 Still fluffing

 This is the 19 year old tree with Rick's and my ornaments
 The kids' tree in the Family Room with their ornaments
 Isaiah made this picture at church on Sunday
The reason we celebrate!!