Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Card

Remember when I threw together this 4th of July e-card at the last minute?

Well, I am at it again. 

From my family to yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving! 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Thanksgiving Memorial

This time last year I was sharing the tragic and sudden passing of a friend's 18 month old daughter on Thanksgiving day. I will never forget sitting around the table as a family, serving up our Thanksgiving meal only to hear from my brother that baby Palmyr didn't make it. I absolutely broke down. Palmyr was the same age as my baby Ezie. They played in the nursery together. She had a twin sister and an older sister Z's age. Her grandfather has pastored our church for 33 years. He was the one to dedicate me as a baby and he baptized me. He dedicated Ezie last year. Needless to say, I have known this family my entire life and when something this catastrophic happens to them it as if it had happened to me.

I had the honor of photographing the girls with some of Palmyr's special keepsakes last spring.

God is so faithful though. He is so merciful in how he heals our wounds and works all things together in His timing for His glory. Palmyr's mom was the nursery coordinator at our church and she had it on her heart to have people make donations to the church nursery in lieu of flowers. The nursery was desperately in need of a renovation. The money came in and the people went to work. The whole project has been a lengthy process, but once the construction was complete my brother was able to go in and put a mural on the walls of one of the rooms. It is absolutely breathtaking.

My iPhone photos certainly do not do it justice.

In case you are wondering this is all hand painted. My brother is such an extraordinary artist.
Several news stations in Northern Kentucky will be featuring this story on Thanksgiving day. If they post it online I will update this blog to include a video of the interview.

That's my Ezie on the far left, Z is the tall boy, and Palmyer's sisters are on the right.

My brother and his son.

Palymr loved to swing. This is an image representing prince Jesus the King of Kings pushing her on the swing. 

Not only is this little girl's legacy honored through this beautiful nursery, but the project continues as they have been able to do more fund raising to see the Palymr's Playhouse Project go global. The next location is in Kenya Africa.

The Lord showed Palymr's mom a vision of a building with a green door and some time later she was looking through a photo album of someone's mission trip to an orphanage that had the exact picture the Lord had showed her. She knew then what needed to happen and after talking with the missionaries there they were brought to tears. The African children were needing a safe place to run and climb and the idea of Palymr's Playhouse was an answer to their prayers.

It still hurts. There will always be a space in their hearts for their daughter, their sister. However the story of what God has done with them and through them is a powerful testimony that will continue to reach so many. Please remember to keep the Keith family in your prayers this week. They will be spending Thanksgiving in Disney Land this year, which I think is a phenomenal idea. The whole Holiday season is not going to be easy though. I am reminded that there are many grieving around this time of year and as we celebrate we can also pray for God's comfort to envelop those that are hurting.

We will never forget sweet little Palymr, and as we remember her on Thanksgiving day we are thankful for the joy she brought in her short time here on earth and the joy we will have when we are reunited once again.

For more information about Palmyr's Playhouse and how you can get involved check out their Facebook page

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Famous-ish Encounters

What are the qualifications for fame? What makes us star struck? Why are some people so obsessed with individuals whose credentials are sometimes limited to being on TV?  I try to avoid it honestly. People are just people. I don't care if you are in movies, recording music, or writing books.

But I do care. A little. If you happen to be someone that I actually know about. Which is rare because I am pretty out of the loop when it comes pop culture. On more than one occasion I will hear a song and "say who is this?" Or "I've never heard them before" Only to have a friend or family member react as if I just shot them with a stun gun. "Have you been living under a rock!?" they ask in disbelief. My answer is, Yes. The rock of motherhood. If it's not on PBS kids or Disney don't expect me to be in the know.

However, with that being said, I do care a little about famous people. I can't help but get jittery over a chance interaction with a celebrity. I compare it to seeing a whale in the ocean. It's so far removed from what your daily routine is that it's intriguing. Maybe you've watched a documentary about whales or possibly even seen one in captivity, but what are the odds that you would happen to see one out in the wild! I had the same reaction when I saw a giant black bear in the woods in Georgia or when I saw  Reba McEntire at the mall in Tennessee. I was unable to photograph the elusive bear or Reba, but it happened. There were witnesses.

Everyone whose spotted a rare animal or a celebrity from a distance pretty much thinks the same thing in both scenarios.

WOW! Okay, don't make any sudden movements. I am just going to talk quietly through clenched teeth. We've seen pictures and footage of you. We've read about you, but here you are in your natural habitat live and in the flesh!

I am not comparing Reba McEntire or any other celebrity to wild animals, even if the media often treats them as such. It puts it in perspective though.

The internet has been a game changer when it comes to making contact with enertainers you admire. Sometimes all it takes is an email.

For example when I wrote about Rachel Coleman of Signing Time (As seen on Nickelodeon!!!). All it took was a google search for me to send her a link to the blog post and she actually wrote back! It was a sincere heart felt response too. She even gave me and update on how her daughter Leah is doing. It was really cool. The same thing happened when I quoted one of my favorite podcast speakers and I sent him a message and a link to my blog. He responded to my email right away! It's pretty cool when busy people (and that could mean any of us) take the time reply to someone they don't even know.

Then there have been times where I wasn't even trying to connect, but thanks to #HASHTAGS it totally happened (notice how my language and puncuation gets more juvenile the more I talk about fangirl stuff. This is not at all intentional).

First of all I was listening to this audio book called Glitter and Glue, because I had heard it was was good and it was a New York Times best seller so why not?

 I put something on instagram and it wasn't even really about the book, but I did hashtag #glitterandglue and author Kelly Corrigan commented her exact words were  "This makes me insanely happy!"

My respones? I freaked out. AHHHH! Best selling author Kelly Corrigan who I have never even heard of other than listening to this one book actually just commented on my instagram. I made her insanely happy. This must be a big deal! 

That was this summer, fast forward to this week and I came across this funny video about Christian Girl Instagrams.

I posted an instagram. By the way these two just happen to be pics of me, but I do post other things. I promise.

Anyway, who should comment? Christian comedian John Crist who tours with Tim Hawkins and I never ever even heard of him until this one youtube video, but still, A LOT of people have seen this video so again this is a big deal. I'm thinking AHHHHH! John Crist just called me perfect (not really, but I'm fanfirling so just go with it.) I love you too John!!!  

It's funny how little, I mean oh so little, it takes for me to become star struck. My mom is a ticket agent at Delta so she has the best stories about famous people. She's a lot like me though, she will go ga ga over some Pastor that she has heard of from California and Lady Ga Ga herself would be flying and my mom would be like whose that weirdo? I don't think you are allowed to wear raw meat on the plane. For the record I am sure Lady Ga Ga flies on a private jet and I had to do a google search to find about the meat dress because like I said, I am not hip.

Everyone has that story of seeing or knowing somebody who is a somebody. Please tell me your best celebrity story. Even if it's a celebrity that's only a celebrity to you, it's cool. I totally get that. Alright, let me hear it!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Our First Scouting Experience

It was my idea for Z to join boy scouts. I pleaded with my husband as fervently as a top selling Mary Kay lady working toward a pink cadillac.

It's only a $50 fee for the entire year I told him, and you know he has never had a chance to do Soccer or anything. He needs some form of extra curricular activity. He has made very few friends since we moved here. This could be good for him. They even include God in their motto!

After convincing my husband to go to the recruiter meeting I quickly learned that the $50 fee was just the beginning and just the uniform alone doubled that investment. Then between Z loosing his first patch, breaking my neck trying to sell popcorn, and having scheduling conflicts with one event after the other I was really starting to wonder what I had gotten us into.

The popcorn sales were the worst. They wanted each boy to sell a minimum of $275. The popcorn isn't nearly as popular as it's girl scout counterpart, little miss cookie. And it's way more expensive. I was certain we were never going to reach that goal, but he we worked our hardest to do so. He did sales at Kroger, he asked relatives, church members, and we even went door to door in our apartment building. He wore his uniform every time. I honestly didn't expect much from our apartment attempts. I assume all of our neighbors hate us because one has made formal complaints. The kids are really loud. I liken it to a construction truck that beeps to let you know it's backing up, or an emergency vehicle that has a siren to alert "Make Way! Coming Through!". My kids are like that when they go through the halls. They just don't want anyone to get run over so they become as loud as possible to warn everyone that we are exiting (or entering) the building. Not only do our neighbors get irritated by us, but let's be honest, it's not the most affluent community either. I felt guilty even acknowledging that a a $25 bag of carmel popcorn exists! Having said all that, the Lord graciously reminded me that I might not know everything I think I know about all the people I am so quick to judge. Nearly every door we went to made a purchase (granted we were selective about whose we knocked on, but still!). The tenants of our humble apartment building bought more popcorn than anyone. I am glad to say that all the popcorn has officially been delivered and Z sold just over $275.

They had a HUGE party last night for the boys of the pack in celebration and the kids had the best time. I ran into a fellow tiger cub mother that I have connected with in the midst of this scouting experience. The story of how we met is actually quite interesting.

This is a horrible picture. We had just spent two hours in a sweaty venue late at night.

You see, I met this mom at Mother Son Night. We knew our boys were in cub scouts together

 (I even posted this picture of our boys in a previous blog post before these events took place).

We spent a lot of time chatting that night and really hit it off. We finally decided we should exchange numbers and get together some time. I gave her my number and she put it in her phone. Then she said "How funny. I have your number already" and showed me that I was indeed in her contacts. She had my first and last name (and my last name was spelled correctly, which can be tricky). So then she called me so that I could have her number and I said "Oh my goodness! I already have your number too!" There is was on my screen, her first and last name with her cell number. I had no idea how this could be. This was the first time we had met (so we thought). We tried to figure out if there had been some kind of scout meeting where information was given, but I was never at any of the events she was.  It just didn't make sense. Fortunately, there is a little notes section in my phone's address book where I had typed the word "park". I saw that and asked her "Did we meet at the park?" After seriously racking our brains trying to figure it out, it hit me, when and where it was. We had met at the park two years ago before either one of us lived in the current city where our boys attend school now! I kid you not! In fact we live in Ohio now and the park is an hour away in Kentucky where we both lived at the time! Sorry for all the exclamation marks, but isn't that crazy? JUST CRAZY! Obviously we got along the first time we met, but we never followed through with our attempts to connect. Then two years later our boys are in cub scouts together we meet again and would have never even remembered our first meeting if it weren't for our phones!

So it is a small world after all and I guess I'll admit that cub scouts does have it's benefits.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

SJ Latest Vocab Explosion

This was one of my most recent updates about SJ's progress in her cochlear implant journey, which was posted August 12, 2014.

"I feel like we have been at a stand still over the summer. I always keep a log of new words and phrases that I notice SJ saying and the last time I did an entry was the two months ago. Maybe some of it's because I have been too busy to notice, or maybe it's because she was on vacation and out of school so she is just plateauing. Or perhaps this would be a slower time anyway. These burst of vocabulary breakthroughs do tend to happen in waves."

I tried to stay positive, but when I know SJ has so much catching up to do it is hard to see so little progress. Fortunately we did have another wave of new words come last month. She was suddenly communicating so much I could barely keep up.

One day in September I dropped Z off at Sunday School, but since there are no classes for my youngest children I just take them to have donuts with my mom (their Me'me'). I told my mom that was one time I was a little grateful that SJ couldn't talk too much because if she told her brother he was missing donut time he'd be upset.

 It wasn't but a week later that we were going to do our donut tradition and SJ piped up "Donuts with Me'Me'?" I couldn't believe my ears. She wasn't copying something I said, she just had the language to say it herself and I was blown away. Although it was also a little comical since I had been trying to keep our donut outing a secret!

Another time shortly after that I was trying to convince her to wear a headband.

She used to wear headbands all the time to keep her Cochlear Implants on until one day she decided she didn't like them anymore. So now we keep the CI's on her ears with special tape. It's technically used for wigs and toupees. Anyway, I prefer the headbands for various reasons so I thought I would see if she would switch back, but she clearly told me

"I don't like headband. I like tape."

This is a big breakthrough for her to be able to express her desires so clearly. It certainly alleviates a lot of frustration for both of us.

I have just a few more stories for you, and for me actually because I want to look back this time next year and remember what her sentences were like.

One night SJ brought me a package of Oreos and with a sheepish grin she lifts up a finger and says "One?" Then she says "Not two. Not five." As she shakes her head. How can I resist? I tell her okay then she immediately asks "One for baby Ezie?" Again I was just amazed at how much she was able to communicate and it certainly is hard to turn down requests when she does!

  These last two milestones were SO exciting for me and I will never forget them. You know how you can't really see your children grow, but sometimes you see growth? Well, maybe that doesn't make sense, but that is what these were like.

J is in school a lot so SJ always asks "where daddy?" and I tell her "Daddy is at school" One day she didn't even ask where daddy was because she knew the routine by now, she simply said "Daddy with teacher?" I turned around wondering if I heard her right. Did you say "Daddy with teacher?" and she said yeah. Again I was stunned, because she had put the pieces together. I never said daddy was with a teacher, but she knew what school was and that there were teachers and that daddy was probably at school.

A similar breakthrough happened when J was calling my name from the other room and I heard SJ say "Mommy?" and he said "Yes, I need mommy. Can you get her for me?" She said "Okay"(which usually sounds like oh-hey) and I heard her little feet pitter patter down the hall. I was excited to see what she would do because this wasn't the norm at all. I knew for sure she wasn't going to say Mommy, daddy wants you. but as she approached the doorway she declared with confidence. "Mommy, daddy talking." I said, Okay! Thank you! and squeezed her so tight she was probably wondering what in the world the big deal was.

There have been lots of little connections happening. Phrases like "I need help pajamas" and "That mommy's coffee" and "I will hold it". Her teachers and therapist are much better at explaining exactly what all of the milestones are and the new goals of syntax, phenomes and receptive learning. All I know is that things are clicking in a new and exciting way. She has gone from just learning vocabulary, labeling, and reciting to actually understanding and communicating her thoughts and needs. We still have a long way to go and there are many times we just flat out can't understand her, but I am happy with the recent progress and it just makes me more excited to see what comes next!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Signing a Prayer for Operation Christmas Child

It's that time of year! National shoebox collection week begins on Monday. That means that thousands of people, at thousands of locations around the country, will be collecting millions of gift filled shoeboxes for children in need around the world. I know it sounds overwhelming, but it's quite simple really. It's all about spreading the love of Christ through a little Christmas gift.

SJ was excited to find the shoebox table at Chic-Fil-A!

I know you can buy plastic tubs or get designated pre-labeled boxes, but we actually went the traditional route this year and loaded up one of SJ's old shoeboxes. First we watched a video of what Operation Christmas Child is all about. Of course I'm the one that ends up crying, because it's so touching to see how happy and grateful the children are and how God orchestrates just the right package for specific children.

Next, we went to the store and picked out a t-shirt, some toys, tissues, wash clothes, and toothbrushes. We also sent a photo of our family, and Z wrote a note since he is the only one of my children that can write and he was the one that chose to do a package for a boy his age. Finally we wrapped the box (with the lid still separate so that it can be opened without unwrapping). We had a bookmark that we picked up at the church that had a prayer guide on it listing specific pray needs dedicated to each day of the week. It was a nice reminder of what the main priority is in all of this.

The kids fought over who got to carry the box to the church so I confiscated it. It stands a better chance going through warehouses and cargo planes across the ocean than it does staying in tact in our household with three children! I wan't sure how much my two youngest ones (Ezie-age 2 and SJ-age 4 who is deaf) really understood.

A photo I took on my phone wen Z and SJ were signing.

But as we sat in the Sunday school room waiting to find out where to drop off our box I watched Z signing to SJ and explaining to her that the box does not belong to us, and it is going to FLY away. She said and signed "Fly?" and as I watched them communicating in multiple languages at once I realized that the sign for "fly" or "airplane" is the same as "I love you". Fly (the verb pertaining to airplanes) is just tilted and in motion.

As their little hands made the motion of the airplane over the shoe box it was like they were covering the box with love. The flying box that was full of love was going to make it's way across the world to children that spoke yet another language. What an awesome reminder that God speaks a language beyond all of our barriers. We are connected through Christ and we have this oportunity to reach out across those borders in a way that says I LOVE YOU to God's children on the other side of the world!

I think we will make it a tradition to sign a prayer for Operation Christmas child every year. Your children may also enjoy learning some new signs and covering the flying boxes with love. Christ's love is really what it is all about. No matter what kind of box you use, what you put in it, or how many boxes you choose to fill, it's all about the love that covers it. The love of Jesus.

If you are looking for information or details so that you can participate last minute then check out Samaritan's Purse. I especially recommend this adorable how to video. This is a big week for this project and they need all the prayer and help they can get!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Mother Son Night

I have mentioned in my 31 Days of Teachable Parenting Series about being fun and spontaneous. Last year I implemented this by starting a tradition of taking my son Z out for special time with mom. Last year we had a blast participating in Chic-Fil-A's Mother Son Date Knight. It was such a refreshing opportunity for one-on-one time with my oldest that when I saw that Z's school was doing their own mother son event I jumped at the chance to participate! At this age I am blessed to admit that Z gets just as much (if not more) excited about these outings than I do. He even put it on the calendar for me. Does it get anymore precious than that!? 

The concept for Mother Son Game Night was that each mother/son combo was a team that would compete for tickets against other mothers and sons. At the end there would be a raffle drawing with prizes. I wish I would have had some photos of all the amazing minute-to-win-it games that they had set up, but I was under strict orders by my date that I was not to bring my camera. I am glad he told me and I respect that. It's hard as a photographer/blogger to put down my monstrous SLR, but I am glad I did because how would I have been able to do the sack race? 

Or my favorite game, and Z's too, where you had to hold a ball (about he size of a basketball) in-between the two of you without using your hands and then race against the other team to the finish line without dropping the ball! We lost, but they gave us an honorable mention for our technique. I pretty much did a sideways gallop down the course. 

Even though I wasn't able to get any photos of all the games I sneak in a quick session outside of our apartment before we left. 

We chose to be the western team because we are from Texas, so it seemed to be a good fit.

Although, just because we are from Texas doesn't mean we own Texas stuff. I had to post an ISO status on Facebook and was so pleased with how my church friends really pulled through for us! 

Z's entire outfit was a loaner from someone that saw my request online.

I borrowed the hat and boots from ladies at church, but the cow belt is a part of my Chic-Fil-A cow day costume.

One of the highlights of the evening for me was when he gave me a rose. At first he said that I could NOT post this photo on Facebook, but then later he changed his mind about it. Cutie. 

This was the caption on the instagram I posted that night "I have had a rough week, but getting to spend Friday night with this little cowboy made up for all of it." 

I was able to leave all the stress at home, loosen up, and just enjoy the best company any mom could ask for. 

The evening ended with us getting the boot in the photo booth line. It was really long, and they had been going all night so we just happened to show up a little too late. I was bummed, but then it occurred to me "There's an app for that". So I immediately downloaded a free app on the spot and we did our own version of the photo booth.

I can't share about this evening without giving a big shout out to Z's school for placing so much value on the family unit. The event was free and even included a meal for the mothers and sons. They had encouraging quotes and decorations throughout the school and "Bob Barker" was the host. It takes a lot of work to pull something like this off and they did a PHENOMENAL job! 

If you've got a little guy at home I would encourage you to find a reason to go out together. You'll both be glad you did!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Deep In The Heart of Texas

I haven't blogged in a  week. That almost never happens! I have a good excuse though. We drove from Ohio to Texas and my schedule was packed even tighter than my suitcase.

For those that don't know, I spent 15 of my 32 years in the Dallas area and they were very important formative years. So, I have a heart connection with that place and the people there. The trip had it's ups and downs for sure, but I would rather focus on the ups.

First of all my best friend flew in from Michigan and we even stayed in the same house so that was tons of fun.

We just happened to be doing our mascara side my side looking into tiny mirrors. Plus we were both sporting messy buns and black jeans. I had to enlist her brother to take a photo. 

We went to many cool coffee shops. I probably had more coffee that week than I drink all year. 

I am a diva when it comes to my macchiatos. Donavan nailed it. 

I photographed a wedding for a dear friend. I'll share more about that later.

This is me with the beautiful bride at the rehearsal dinner. 

And there was the dancing. Oh the dancing. 

We also celebrated the 5 year anniversary of the coffee shop that we helped establish. 

I love these people so much! 

Plus we got to revisit our old church.

We met in our twenties, but we make the 30's look good right?

J lead worship along with others from the team that had moved away. It was the most amazing refreshing time of being in the presence of the Lord. I did not want it to end! 

The arts have supremely high value in this community that we have grown up in. It's shaped who we are today. It was great to hear J play at open mic night. 

This is an older picture. I did not get to see Michael this visit, but I was blessed to discover some of his Dallas street art in Lower Greenville. I love how his hands really tell the story in the above photo (truly an artist with paint stained fingers). This particular piece shown below was for his Handle With Care project which is a non profit organization that uses arts to fight human trafficking. You should check out what Michael and his team are doing. They have a really great mission and God is doing some amazing things through the program.

It's hard to believe so much happened in such a short amount of time. I am so grateful for all of these people and the opportunity to share life with them.