Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Why Break With Tradition?!

It's time for the annual First Day of School post. And for the "First Time In Forever," you all get the added treat of updated peeks at my gorgeous gang. I know, it's been a while since you've seen their faces 'round these parts o' the blogosphere!

{You are more than welcome for THAT ear-worm... 
it's blasting in the kitchen right now and I succumbed. 
I am weak. I admit it. And now I'm laughing at you
because you are hearing Ana in your head just like I am.}


Anyhoo.

Our "bonus daughter" had a VERY momentous First Day yesterday. She returned to us late Friday night from summer at home with her family in Beijing. She's still a bit jet-lagged and trying not to be anxious about all the SAT prep work she has ahead of her and layered on top of her Honors course load. In spite of it all, she made it to the bus on time and is officially a SENIOR!!!!!!



Today, we sent our LadyBug back to the public school bright and early. For those not following me on F@cebook, she came home in January to do cyber-schooling after some health issues that made the public school pace and routine pretty hard to manage. It was a great season of refreshment and retreat for her and she is confident that she is ready to handle her JUNIOR year. Seriously, how did this sneak up on me like this?


Next to head out the door was Li'l Empress. This girly of ours was so ready for her new school year to start. She's super excited to be in the upstairs of her building - it's a milestone that all the rising third graders wildly anticipate in our little school community. Yes, I said it. THIRD. GRADE.


After Li'l Empress climbed happily on her bus, Mei Mei and I ran inside to finish getting ready for the morning. Then we were OFF to the elementary school for their annual Back To School Celebration. It's always so fun to meet the new teachers, say hi! to the old teachers, and catch up with friends after the long summer apart. I'm particularly thrilled that Li'l Empress is going to be with her sweet little buddy "S" again this year. She's a sweet friend and so very encouraging and kind to all her classmates. It goes a LOOOOONG way for my girl to have that security and confidence in her friendships.

As soon as Li'l Empress' class was escorted into the building to start the day, my little Mei Mei fell apart in a puddle of tears. She kept saying over and over, "I miss my sissen" and wiping her tears with her Beebee. She was a soggy mess by the time we got to the van. It was decided that a little pit stop at the local Chick-Fil-A was in order, to cheer our spirits and distract both of us from missing our Li'l Empress.

Then, suddenly, it was time. Yes, that's right, the day has arrived. Mei Mei began her first day of PRE-SCHOOL today. Oh, my heart. This girl was a STITCH to listen to once I told her it was time to get ready for her drive to school. Giggling to herself while I dressed her. Wiggling in her seat trying to eat lunch. Covering her mouth in "OH!'s" of anticipation and looking over my shoulder on the 5 minute drive to see if we were "dere yet?"


Until we walked into the building. Upon which time she started muttering under her breath, "I not want go pee-kool, Momma" over and over like some tribal chant. I exercised HERCULEAN effort to not crack up and to take her anxiety as seriously as she wanted me to, but man, it was hard. SUCH a HOOT.


Oh, and yes, Yes, that IS in fact the very same dress that Li'l Empress wore on her very first day of pre-school. I'm totally a sap like that and I am so excited that she chose it from the line-up. And that I'm still smarter than my kids most of the time to make her THINK she chose it. Yeah. I still got it, baby!


I hung out with her for about 20 minutes, chatting with the teachers and helping her feel comfortable. It was fun to point out to her all the things that Li'l Empress enjoyed when she was a student there. Once she was sufficiently distracted and feeling comfortable, I headed out and the teachers reported that she only cried for about five minutes. And I didn't cry at all. :)


It sure helped to have her little buddy in the classroom - he's the youngest son of the director from our adoption agency AND LadyBug babysat for him and his big brother all summer long. Here she is watching for his car to pull up to the drop-off door. Both his mom and I got the story later that they held hands when they walked together and that he is her new "bess fren." So cute!!!!!


When we headed back to pick her up at the end of the afternoon, her very first words to us were "I had SUPER! FUN! today! Mom!" She had all kinds of great stories to share and pretty much was wiped out and ready for bed by 6:30.

You might have noticed that BBE has no First Day pictures. That's because the poor kid got hit with a a nasty tummy bug that kept him up most of last night. Prayers that no one else gets it here would be so appreciated. We have BIG family plans for the holiday weekend and we've been looking forward to them for the whole summer long!

So there you have it. The Traditional First Day wrap up. Thanks for hanging in there for it all. Hopefully soon I will have something incredibly wise and deep and important to write about. Till then, all these cute pictures of my kids make me happy. And it's my blog, so that's all that really matters, right?

Hope your First Days were momentous and memorable too. Here's to a GREAT 2015~2016 school year!!!!!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Summer Fun... {A wrap up and a recipe!}

We started and ended our summer with some pretty significant parties. There's not much this Momma loves more than a big celebration of friends and family. And we've had LOTS of fun entertaining this summer, now that the deck and pool area are finished and the landscaping is grown in. The grass is lush and we still, even months later, are raving to ourselves about how restful and refreshing it is in our backyard. We have our own mini-retreat center after years of battling weeds, ugly rocks, ground-boring bees, and drab, colorless aesthetics. I'm so proud of the hard work that The Boss and my blue-eyed boy put in together to create this haven for our friends and family. 


Freshly washed and ready for the first big event back in May!


LadyBug had a Sweet 16 Bonfire and Night Swim party
on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.


We "upped" the awesome factor by throwing
over 200 glow sticks into the pool once it was totally dark.
It was SO pretty!


BBE filled 11 hanging baskets with wave petunias in brilliant
red and purple for her party and for the second event,
my mom's 70th b'day celebration just two days later.
All these weeks later and the petunias are still hanging in there!!!!

So at the OTHER end of the summer fun was the Pool Party
we hosted for the local-to-us members of our adoption agency community. 


It was a great mix of old friends and new,
including some beloved staff members from the agency.


Everyone brought their own meat to grill for dinner plus a dessert or side dish to share. I'm telling you this because I made this amazing potato salad that MUST be shared before potato salad season officially winds down. I made it last week for a family event at my parents' house and it was such a hit that I had to try it again. Yes, I made it up. It's a tweak on The Boss's favorite Red Bliss Potato Salad but with a couple twists.

Blue Cheese & Bacon Potato Salad


 5 lbs red potatoes, washed and cut in bite-size pieces.
Boiled in salted water till fork-tender
and then set aside to cool to room temperature.


Equal parts of blue cheese dressing and light mayonnaise.
For 5 lbs of potatoes that is about 1 cup of each.
I particularly like this brand of dressing as it's yogurt based 
and so smooth without being too thick or rich for mixing.

**I am NOT being paid to endorse any of these brand name products.**
Oh, how I wish I were.

About 1 c. (give or take to preference) of crumbled bacon
1 medium Vidalia sweet onion, diced
1 (4-6 oz.) container of blue cheese crumbles
Parsley to mix in to taste AND parsley to garnish on the top.


Mix it all together very well, making sure that
 the salad is a little thicker than you wish for it to be when
serving time actually comes. It will loosen up when refrigerated.

This is one of those salads that DEFINITELY tastes better
when it sits in the refrigerator overnight for the flavors to blend. 
It pairs really well with any beef you might be grilling, 
but it's also super yummy with Balsamic Vinaigrette Marinated Chicken!

Next up will be The Gang's annual "First Day of School" post. I can hardly believe summer is over and my gang is all heading off to school already. ESPECIALLY, {gasp} our little Mei Mei. She's heading off to the sweet little pre-school that Li'l Empress attended when she was 3 and 4. I'm under no illusions that this will be an easy transition for her but we've been talking it up big for the last three weeks and her tour of the building and intake assessment will hopefully still be in her memory banks as a positive experience.

Heh.

One can hope, right? Right?! Sigh... I'm not even sure I believe that. But I'm telling myself that over and over, particularly when she melts down over me leaving her side to run to the grocery store or meeting a friend for lunch. EVERY time. Pray for us, ya'll. Just pray.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Here I Lay My Ebeneezer


I had a really cool experience today. The Boss and I took Mei Mei to our local Intermediate Unit location to have an Occupational Therapy assessment performed. Back in June, her speech therapist and I noticed some fine motor skills and a couple processing issues that have been lagging behind. Nothing is super alarming, but when these particular skills are taken in relation or proportion to the progress that she is continuing to make in the other areas of her development, it is worth checking out.

We are preparing to send her to pre-school in the fall and this time of year when her IEP is being renewed, we are especially mindful of all of the areas of development that need our continued attention. The new IEP and the results of this evaluation will also be super useful in determining exactly HOW much she has caught up in the areas that sometimes fly under the radar (ya know, when one is the youngest of 6 kids in a very busy, active household.being made in other areas) and how to get her moving forward in other skills.

The OT also gave us a sensory profile to complete while they worked together at a separate table. (Have you ever filled one of those out?! Oh, man they are so cool. I was really getting into it, thinking about the answers for Mei Mei and then how I'd answer for Li'l Empress. Times like this make me feel like I ought to go back to school and get another degree!)  Anyhoo.... As I was reading the questions and ranging out the answers, I was also listening to Mei Mei interact with the evaluator and giggling at how our girl has grown in the two years since she's been home.

Full interactive conversation.

{Almost} complete sentences.

{Almost} completely understandable to a stranger.


And big dashes of her own little {okay, who am I kidding, HUGE!}
personality thrown in just to keep the evaluator on her toes.

It was pure delight to observe and think on for those moments. I know I'm biased, but the evaluator commented several times about "how much fun" this kid is. Make no mistake, she had to be brought back to task quite a few times and reminded to use her polite kind words to express herself. But she really was so much fun to watch.

I sat there for a few seconds as it was wrapping up, just immersed in gratitude. I'm so thankful for the moments when God stops me in my hustle bustle to show me where we've been and where we are heading. It was so much MORE than the assessment of skills in that moment, it almost felt "holy" - like my very own "Ebenezer."


1 Samuel 7:12 (NIV)
“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up
between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, 
saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”


"Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing"
by Robert Robinson, 1757

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I'll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I've come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I'll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.



Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Revving High

Driving home from the dermatologist the other day, I was choosing winding country roads to avoid the summer construction on the main thoroughfares. About 5 minutes into my meandering way, I found myself behind a candy-apple red new Porsche Boxster. It was stunning. Sleek. Shiny. And oh! so! RED! It was GORGEOUS. Really, just drool-worthy even for a non-car girl like myself.

As we were driving, I noticed that the sedan in front of the Porsche was holding very tightly to the 35 mph posted limits. Driving sedately and carefully around all the curves and over the hills. I also noticed that the Porsche was revving pretty high. At the intersections, the driver was gunning it while he waited for the sedan to move through the stop signs.




I found myself empathizing with the Porsche and its driver. It's an obviously high-performance machine, built for speed and power and finesse. The driver was being responsible and choosing to obey the laws of the road. He could have easily pulled out and whipped past that bland, tan sedan with a burst of power that would leave us both in his dust. But he chose to hold the course and rein in what is obviously incredible (and untapped) horsepower. I could almost feel their combined frustration and restraint in my staid Mom-mobile behind him.

In that moment of empathizing with an inanimate object and a total stranger, I think I heard the Lord suggest to me that this must be exactly how Mei Mei feels most days in our life together. I almost laughed out loud at the analogy but the more I've thought about it, the more I realize it to be true. She's by far and away the highest horsepower of the 6 of my Gang members. She's revving on high all! the! time! Except when she's asleep. She is exuberant! She is excited! She is high highs and low lows! Reining her in is hard work. Teaching her to follow the rules of the road brings me to my knees, figuratively and literally, more times than I ever remember with even my "high revving" soldier boy. Frankly, for this "older" momma, that is sometimes exhausting! It's kind of hard to be that honest about it but for those of you who are blessed to know Mei Mei in person, you know exactly what I'm talking about and are likely nodding your head with a big ole smirk right now.

This analogy that the Lord dropped in my heart gave me a fresh dose of compassion for my girl that sometimes is sorely lacking. Frankly, it's embarrassing to admit that, too - my compassion is far too often flagging when it comes to the all-consuming task that parenting her can be. I struggle sometimes with how BIG! this girl makes everything to be. It's inconvenient to "go there" with her in her great! big! feelings and great! big! expressions. It sometimes gets in my way, thwarts my agenda, pushes my plans to the side. See? Embarrassing character flaw, for sure. In the wake of that reminder, I've been counting it as God's graciousness in showing me this word picture, complete with the sounds of revving engines in a quiet countryside,
Romans 2:4 "Don’t you realize how patient he is being with you? Or don’t you care? Can’t you see that he has been waiting all this time without punishing you, to give you time to turn from your sin? His kindness is meant to lead you to repentance." ~ from The Living Bible
And though it's a few days late, I can't leave the post without celebrating Mei Mei's birthday. She's an astounding FOUR YEARS OLD now. As tired as I find myself to be at the end of every day, her spunky, (mostly) joyful, and exuberant spirit is a gift to our family than cannot be measured. She is funny, sassy, mischievous, and ALL! IN! with whatever she does. We are so thankful, and yes, humbled, at the privilege of parenting her. Even on the days that the big! feelings! are great big cranky feelings. I cannot imagine our home without her and I'm grateful that the Lord sustains me with encouragement for the task. Especially when it comes in the shape of a gorgeous red Porsche.


Happiest of Happy Birthdays to Our Mei Mei!


Monday, April 20, 2015

My Letter to The Children's Place

I can't believe that this is what is bringing me back to ye olde blogosphere, but here it is, warts and all.
Thank you for taking the time to consider feedback from your customers. I am a long term shopper of The Children's Place, having found your products when my oldest son (now 20) was only about 2 years old. For the most part, I've been very satisfied with the quality and the variety of offerings you carry for children. I'm not at all happy that the (local to me) store has closed but I'm making due on that angle. I'm writing to you today because I was so disappointed by my experience when shopping the piles of graphic tees for young girls at your (alternative to the local to me) location.
All the tees that have little girl faces on them were very Caucasian-looking girls (wide eyes, long flowy hair, typical "white girl" features, etc.). There were NO "girls of color" featured on any of the tees stacked in the displays at all. I fully realize that this might be true of just this season's offerings, as in the past I've been happy to find one tee or so every couple seasons. But yesterday was the final straw for me - I have to speak up. I find this lack of diversity in your product lines very alarming in this day and age.
When I inquired to an employee who was working the floor, she encouraged me to speak up. She and her fellow employees (who were lovely and very friendly and helpful. AND were beautiful African American ladies who shop there also!) stated that they too had noticed the lack of diversity. As a mom to two gorgeous Chinese daughters, I feel that the products I buy for my children should be representative of the vast differences that exist in our culture, that we should be applauding the differences by showing beauties that are far more representative of the many families who shop at stores like The Children's Place.  As I stood in that store observing the clientele, I noticed many families of varying ethnicities. I heard mommas speaking Spanish, Korean, and English. It was a truly diverse crowd in there trying to find great bargains and outfit their kiddoes for spring. The products on your shelves and racks need to do a much better job of addressing those demographics!
Moving forward, I hope that you will please consider a more wide-angled approach that will honor the diversity and the beauty of ALL of your customers! Again, thank you for hearing me out and allowing a venue for customers to share this sort of feedback.
Sincerely,
The Gang's Momma

Monday, February 2, 2015

DIY: Family Photo Wall

Last year, shortly after the holidays, I spied a cute re-vamp of a family's photo collection and tucked the idea away in my mind for future reference. Then in June, when The Boss lost his job and we had lots of projects lined up that were free or really inexpensive to fill some of his time, I pulled out the idea again from the recesses of my brain and got him going on it while I was using the days to sort through end-of-the-year school papers for each kid. He took a ton of frames from storage and various spots all over the house and spray-painted them all a high gloss black. This part of the project was totally free, as we had the paint (we always have glossy black spray paint, it's a staple!) and the frames were mostly sitting in storage unused and dusty. They turned out beautifully and it was a quick and easy way to create a unifying theme for the big project I had brewing in my head. I started a file folder of all of our most current favorite pictures of the Gang and started printing and tucking away other things I wanted to round out the project.

However July got really busy with some other pressing projects and then so many other issues took over (many of which I'll share in my coming series of gang member updates). Finally, during Christmas break, when The Boss was working from home and the bigger kids were free to watch the two little girls, he and I dug in and finished the project. Here's a peek, with a progression of the two days' worth of work.


This is how the big wall started out. I loved the simplicity of that large twig wreath over the couch but other members of the Gang made fun of it regularly. I moved it to the front living room and the proportions there are much better for the new space but some gang members still mock it. Sigh.


I had this family photo from November 2013 put on a large canvas, thanks to a great coupon code from my sister to Easy Canvas Prints. It was a new idea to me, though I'd seen others do it and I'm really pleased with the way it turned out. I am thinking of other projects now that I can do to update and freshen our walls around here!


This was the starting point, using our family photo as the anchor. We had previously placed all our favorite pictures into the newly sprayed black frames and tried really hard to get a good mix of shapes and sizes and orientations of the pictures. To give us a better perspective of what the final product would be, we laid the pictures out on the floor in front of the couch, arranging and re-arranging with help from LadyBug, who has an incredibly artistic eye. Her suggestions and tweaks were almost always "spot on!"


We just built on the anchor line and filled in with a combination of posed and candid shots. We also included some of our favorite artwork from our different trips to China that have meaning for us. But something was not quite right. It just felt, even with the couple pieces that we were still fitting into frames, that something was off-balance.


Baby BlueEyes came in from playing with the little girls and agreed that something was "missing." Right away, he said, "Hey, what about the 'Our Family' quote you have up in the dining room? That's black and white and it's a perfect size for the big empty space you can't quite fill."

Well, what do you know? He was right! It's a perfect fit for the space! Apparently, HE has a great eye for aesthetics as well. I'm still impressed by his suggestion!



Later that day, I headed down to our local crafting store and found the script-style letter "W" to add to the top of the arrangement. And there you have it! Our Family Photo Wall is done. Well, almost done. I've got about three or four other pictures I want to print and add. I'll just  move the picture of my handsome soldier boy up a little bit. But that's the beauty of this arrangement. We have a good amount of wall space still to work with AND we have things placed in a way that I know exactly what I can add and where.

I got so excited by all the work we finished that day that I took some extra time that weekend to find frames for all our updated cousin and extended friend & family pictures, too. I love having all the people we love best in pictures where the kids can see them and stay connected that way. Some of the annual Christmas cards we got were just stunning and lent themselves well to framing, too. There's a really inexpensive idea for you - at no extra charge! Take those Sh#tterfly cards of your sister's kids or your best friend's family and frame them! Youarewelcomeverymuch :)

I'm so pleased with the project and the whole thing cost us less than $100, canvas, mats and lettering included. Even when I go and print the three or four pictures I am working on, this will still come in under a hundred dollars. SO exciting to have current pictures of our gang - I seriously still find myself looking at the wall and sighing in happiness.



Friday, October 3, 2014

DIY {Card Catalog Upcycle}

At the end of August, I was out walking in our neighborhood with LadyBug and came across this gem sitting at the end of a drive-way, waiting for the trash service to come by. I hustled back to the house and asked The Boss to heft it home. I had a PLAN!


That afternoon, I posted a picture on my F@ceb00k wall and started a guessing game with my friends to see who might be able to "see" what it could become like I was seeing it in my head.  I guess I drove a couple friends crazy - I even got some private messages IMPLORING me to spill the beans to them! What fun my friends are!!!

The Boss had some sanding and glue-ing to do, as the laminate on the top and back were a little water-damaged. But in short order, he finished that step and turned it over to Baby BlueEyes to remove all the hardware and clean out the drawers. Like how he saved the tedious part for the kid?! Ha!!!


We had some dark primer in the basement. There was some skepticism about whether it was still good because we are pretty sure it was from painting our kitchen beadboard, back in 2010. It went on smoothly enough so I think we're good. All those little drawers standing up with their new primer remind me of little soldiers for some reason.



After The Boss did a TON of reading about creating a faux vintage look, he started by painting a base coat of the milk-chocolatey brown that we used in our dining room back in 2009.  Are you sensing the theme here? Yup. Upcycling on the cheap, using what we have on hand as much as possible. That's the goal!


The next coat was a thinned-out glaze of black with plenty of brush-strokes left to create a washed, worn kind of finish. This part is always hard for The Boss. He's such a perfectionist and the uneven, randomness of this look really stresses him out. NOT enough to hand the paintbrush over to me, but enough to make him doubt himself and second-guess my vision (that he already, admittedly, struggles to see the way I see it)


I am, oddly, NOT a perfectionist in these kinds of projects. I have a general ballpark in which I want the look to fall but if it's close, it's okay with me. I like the lack of symmetry and the quirks of hand-finished work. It is definitely NOT how I operate in most other areas of my life. Which might add to his stress, now that I think about it. 


Once a couple coats of a polyurethane were applied to seal and protect it from the wear and tear of all our big and little Gang members, it was ready for some after-market add-ons. The Boss spent almost an hour at L0we's the other day, texting pics of various leg styles and lengths to me. We settled on these and he spent his day off (from his part-time job at T@rg3t) finishing the legs to match the cabinet. Pretty impressive work, if you ask me!


He brought it in to the house and added the legs while Mei Mei looked on. Her first response when she saw it standing up was, "Oooooh, WOW!" My thoughts exactly, sweet girl! Look at how perfectly those legs blend in color, shape and size! And being the detail-nerd that I am, I'm also excited about how closely the knobs of the table match the turn-work on the legs. I know, NO ONE would notice that. But I do. And I love it!


What's even more perfect than the spot-on match is that the legs and the hardware to attach them are THE ONLY expenses we incurred to finish this project. I love me some cheap upcycling!!!!


The Boss and Mei Mei sat down and put all the brass hardware back into each drawer. And re-tacked each card-plate in the original holes. Well, to be more accurate, Mei Mei cheered daddy on and sang songs from Frozen while Daddy worked the hardware. Heh. 


The excitement was growing - I started cleaning the spot I planned to put it. Oh, man. There was a lot of dust back there... I think someone needs a re-definition of the chore card labelled "Dust Downstairs." Harumph...



Finally, it is DONE and in its new home. I could NOT possibly love it more. Really. It's so much better than I pictured it. It's absolutely my new favorite piece in the whole house.