Monday, July 28, 2014

Different is Good, Right?

I mentioned last week that this summer both LadyBug and The Boss have some extra time on their hands. Unfortunately, The Boss's recent "extra time" is the sort that none of us ever really want to embrace. Due to a departmental re-organization, he has been on "summer vacation" with the kids and I since early June. It's been quite a strange summer. Most weeks feel like an endless string of Saturdays around here, as The Boss's presence at home during a week day tend to "take us all down a notch or two" as far as routine is concerned. There are definite plus's to that environment for The Gang, especially on the heels of the very difficult and high tension winter we all just survived. I'm trying to stay focused on the plus's but I have to admit, it's not easy most days.

Ironically, the Thursday before he was released from his position, we were sitting on the couch, catching our breath at the end of a fairly "routine" day. I said something to the effect of, "Gosh, I feel like we are really settling into a good new groove. Like our new normal is here and is do-able. It's kinda nice, isn't it?"

I'm not superstitious or anything even close but golly, you can bet I'm never uttering words like THAT again around here. Sheesh.

Anyway, as I was saying, there are some "upsides" to having Daddy home for the summer. We got the gift of extraordinary quality time together as a family before we sent our boy off to Basic Training. There's never going to be another opportunity to have all 8 of us home quite like this again, now that both boys are launching off into the next stage of their grown-up lives.

~ Father's Day, June 2014 ~

~ Time to leave for Basic Training ~

Letting go of Dr. D was is really hard on both The Boss and I. But knowing that he was moving on to do something he has always dreamed of doing and seeing the excitement and joy in his eyes as he prepared to go really has made it easier. He was born to do this life he is pursuing and while we miss him terribly (like, "I hate seeing his empty bed, parked truck, and my empty couch" kind-of-terrible!), we are incredibly proud of the man he has become and the path he has chosen. More substantive letters would be nice, but hey, I know better than to expect a novel! :)

Oh, how I miss this afternoon sprawl!

The Boss was also able to finish the renovation of our deck in record time, since it didn't have to be squeezed in on weeknights and weekends only. We are so grateful that we had planned this project in advance - both because of the good timing for him to do it and the finances required to complete it. I'm tellin' ya, if you don't follow the Dave Ramsey plan for budgeting and managing your money, our gang is a PERFECT testimony of why you should! We don't do it perfectly but losing his income didn't not derail this project financially. And that's particularly awesome considering that we had demo'd the deck in early May when we had some help available to do so. Living without a deck and all that mess out there all summer would have been SUCH a huge and ugly problem for this pool lovin' gang.

Isn't it so inviting?
Come on by, the iced tea is cold and the pool is warm!

And of course, the "Honey Do" list has gotten a lot of attention since the deck was completed. Little niggling tasks that we have been meaning to "get around to," things that we have needed to repair, re-decorate, or refresh, and so on. Those smaller projects are all getting checked off the list as the days go on. He is a putter-er by nature so while he does miss the routine and structure of a work day (eh, who am I kidding, he doesn't miss it yet), he is really enjoying the time to do all this physical labor and spruce up the house and the yard.

Finally, I'm getting to tackle some projects that I've had on my mental To Do list for a long while now. I mean, Daddy is BETTER than a babysitter and he's free for afternoon swim parties. So I've tucked myself away a couple times to sort through mountains of school papers and projects from the last two school years. I purged my closet and dresser. I went through my jewelry box for the first time in probably 3 years. I even got to go through 4 bags of hand-me-downs within three days of receiving them - a record in this zoo lately! I've been sorting, streamlining, cleaning out, and yes, I'm back to writing. A slow and easy start, but I'm back.

The extra bonus of the swim time with Daddy is that Mei Mei is really acclimating to the pool quite well and coming along in leaps and bounds in her ability to trust Daddy and the big sibs in the water. AND she has slept through the night pretty much every single night for more than 3 weeks now. All that sleep has drastically improved her day-time behavior (and mine). AND her language is just exploding recently. She lightens the mood around here daily with the new things she is learning to say and the mimicry she pulls out at the funniest moments! We can't get over what a difference we are seeing in her, now that her surgeries are over and her body has come to its resting place of her new normal. It's really quite remarkable and I know The Boss has enjoyed being here to see the daily little transformations that are yielding a happier more settled and peaceful little Mei Mei.

Mei Mei turned THREE at the beginning of the summer.
Actually, the night before Dr. D left.
This is her cheesey smile on her new Kai Lan bike.

So. It's a different summer than we had imagined or planned for ourselves. And a very different kind of productivity than we had envisioned. But we're finding the new groove to it and I'm working on appreciating the time we have as a family as much as I can without worrying too much about the job leads and paychecks and insurance issues. THAT kind of worry messes with my momentum in serious ways. I'm finding it to be an hourly choice to alternatively focus my attention. It's not easy and while I do enjoy that he and I are getting these tasks done with unusual (for us) timing and focus, I do have to work to not camp in the worry-tent. I guess I can be thankful for that - it's keeping me sharp and on my spiritual knees at the very least.

It's different. I'm working to find the good in this kind of different.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Art of Distraction

Li'l Empress very often struggles to express difficult or negative emotions with her words, resorting instead to copious amounts of tears, feelings of anxiety and rejection, and a bit of a "poor me" complex. We've been getting some great help and tools to equip her to grow in this area of her emotional development. And in the process, I have realized that some of my parenting tools are a tad stale. I also have discovered that I don't use "distraction" as a tool often enough. 

Earlier this week, she had come to The Boss and I with a very minor offense and was on the cusp of turning it into a full-blown melt down in which she was being wronged in the very wrongest possible way, from which she would likely never, ever, ever recover. Ever.

Ummm. Yeah. Okay. Really?

In a flash of brilliance that I can ONLY attribute to the grace of the LORD ALMIGHTY (Cuz I was feeling far less than brilliant. Ya feel me?) I asked The Boss to stop his job hunting for a moment and do an image search for the infamous Grumpy Cat. Just that quick change of focus and the resulting images was enough to completely overcome any offense she was nursing.

So I had her pick her favorite, grumpiest face. I explained that she spends too much of her day looking like that over the littlest stuff. That THAT face should be reserved for really big stuff. We went on to have a fairly hilarious discussion of what things warrant THAT face. And I had The Boss print her favorite picture of the crabby kitty.

Then I cut apart the pizza box from dinner.
(Don't judge. I ran errands and grocery shopped all afternoon.
You want that I should cook TOO?)

I pulled out the markers, the glue, and the scissors.

There was cutting, gluing, and affixing to an old paint stick.
Took me five minutes.

credit: found on the internet
This side says, "A little LESS of THIS, PLEASE."

And this side says, "A little MORE of THIS, PLEASE."

I've used our new sign about four times in the last two days. She might have to work really hard to fight the smile that the feline provokes in her. But at least she's not fighting with her sister. Or fighting more tears. Oh, thankyoujesus.

So what funny or distracting parenting tool have you found to change the mood in your home? Fill me in here in the comments or write your own story of summer drama and creative interventions and share the link. I'll be sure to come by and learn from your flashes of brilliance, too!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

DIY: Shabby Chic Photo Gallery

LadyBug and I have been working (albeit at a decrepit, arthritic snail's pace, I admit) on some inexpensive re-do's in her room to update it and to reflect more of her love of all things vintage. Last fall, she and The Boss turned a solid white, kind of boring bookshelf into great multi-purpose storage for her room.

The first pass of sanding it down.

The finished product.

Pretty, functional and a loooong way toward finishing off her desired look. But we both knew we just weren't done yet. Curtains to replace her former little-girl-esque sheers are STILL not hung. Updated wall hangings have been added slowly over the last 8 months. Storage that is both pretty and functional had already been tackled last summer. I love watching her sense of style unfold and taking our time with this room is proving to be a great way to get to know her better.

There was a huge blank space on the wall above her bed that we just kept meaning to get to. Now that summer is here and both she and The Boss have some extra time on their hands, I put an idea out there for her to consider. She got on board really quickly and we got down to it. I had first seen a similar project using big huge French doors and black and white photos in a DIY design magazines and used the idea of it to inspire LadyBug's creativity after she and I saw something similar on our new favorite DIY show.

My great friend came through with FREE frames to get us going.

What a cutie pie!!!!

After The Boss safely removed all the glass and cleaned up the splinters,
LadyBug painted them both with a light coat of creamy off-white latex
that we already had in storage.
Then LadyBug sanded very strategically and sparingly
to achieve that vintage look she loves.

Shaggy's girlfriend came up for the afternoon
to join in the creative process.
Incidentally, she has her own blog. You should check it out!
Your tummy will thank me, I promise.

The girls flipped the dried and sanded frames over
and used a staple gun to attach chicken wire to the back.

Even BabyBlue Eyes got in on the action.
They used hammers to sink a few of the stubborn staples
and to nestle the ends of the wire more tightly against the frames.

These girls aren't just a pair of pretty faces, my friends!

The Boss hung the frames on the empty wall.

And LadyBug got busy with the clothespins
and cute pics of her BFF's that she's been saving for a while now.
Once she's home from her youth retreat, I'm pretty sure that space
will fill up fast with quotes, more pictures, and other momentos.
I can't wait!

I love the finished look.
It completes that space so perfectly
and is so complementary to the already-existing
cottage-y feel her room has.

BEST of all? This great project only cost us
LESS THAN $20 with materials to spare!!

Now if I could just figure out the curtain dilemma.
But that's another post for another day, my friends.
SO. What crafty things are you doing this summer? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. Feel free to even leave a link and I'll come on by.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Good Bye Kitty

It's a super sad day for The Gang. Today, The Boss took our diva kitty girl, Maggie, to be put to sleep.

It's been a long hard road for her these last 10 months. She started having seizures back in September of last year. Each month they've gotten progressively more intense and more difficult from which to recover. Around January or so, she started losing control of her bladder with almost every seizure. And then in March or April, she started to have lingering temporary paralysis of her hindquarters after almost every one. By May we knew we were looking at having to make a pro-active decision about ending her life humanely. In addition to the sadness of the condition and the unsanitary nature of losing control of her faculties, we knew that the increase in frequency during day time hours likely meant she was having seizures at night and when we weren't around to witness them. That's no way for my girl to live.

This week, she had what seemed to be the "mother" of all seizures to date. It was terrifying for us all to watch. And we said, "enough."

But it made it NO easier to actually pack her up into her crate and send The Boss out the door to the local SPCA to carry out our joint decision. In fact, since Tuesday, she's been so "normal" and affectionate and interactive that we really were second-guessing ourselves right up until he walked out the door this morning.

Please indulge me while I take a look back at my diva kitty girl. She was a gift to our little growing family and tolerated the many changes of 17 years with grace. Such a tolerant kitty - two big moves, four additional kids, and countless bonnets, blankets, and stroller rides. She never understood that she was "too big" to be a lap cat and though she permanently stopped lounging in my lap shortly after I got pregnant with LadyBug, she was a regular on The Boss's lap every night after the gang headed off to bed. These last months, she couldn't always make it up to the couch but settled at our feet or on the low ottoman for some late night foot-warming. She will be missed.

 First days home, in June 1997, at only 8 weeks old.

Her favorite perch when "play time" with Shaggy and Dr. D
(almost 3 and 18 mos at the time)
got to be too much stimulation and she needed a kitty nap.

One of her favorite perches in this past year,
tucked away in a corner but still in the middle
of The Gang's activity.

A tearful good-bye for this momma.

Beautiful girl, you will be missed.
April 26, 1997 - July 11, 2014


I can't believe this is what jumpstarted my blogging brain again. But at least SOMETHING has. Man, the drought of coherent thought around here has been a drag. Stay tuned, I have some catching up to do in this "family scrap book" of mine and some give-aways coming up soon, too.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Your Mom

"Your Mom" jokes are all the rage here at The Gang's house. Shaggy brought them home with him from his YWAM experience, changing it up to make the "your mom" ending super-hyper spiritual, Christian-ese. They are usually quite funny and creative. However, Li'l Empress hasn't quite gotten the hang of them yet. This happened this morning over breakfast.

Li'l Empress sniffed and grimaced while she asked
"What smells like rotten egg in here?"

Baby BlueEyes (oh-so-lovingly) responded quickly,
"You smell like a rotten egg,"

Just as quickly, Li'l Empress started to shoot back,
"Your MOM.... "

And just as quickly, she trailed off in a whisper, looking around uncertainly,
"... is cute."

Do you think this means that the "think before you speak" message is starting to become the rage, too?

One can hope.

One can always hope.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bitter Winds is Available NOW!

By now, you all know that I'm a crazy Kay Bratt fan.
 I love her books. I love her heart for the children of China.
I love being friends with an author. I know, I'm a geek :)
So it's not going to be any surprise to you that I'm happy to share
about her newest release, available as of yesterday,

You can order your own copy HERE!

Bitter Winds is the third in the sequential story line of Benfu and his family. The story this time focuses on the relationship between twins Lily and Ivy. Lily is blind and desperate to prove to her family that she is capable of growing independence befitting her adulthood. This need for independence is most greatly hampered by strong-willed Ivy who, for all intents and purposes, acts as Lily's guide, interpreter, and protector. She, of all the sisters, particularly seems to relish the role of "big sister." As the girls set off on a bit of an adventure, which Ivy is pretty opposed to from the start, things happen that jeopardize not just Lily's independence but ultimately her very freedom and well-being. The misunderstanding sets of a series of events that forces Ivy to face some hard memories and then some hard truths about who she is, who they are as sisters, and where they are "heading" in their lives. I won't ruin the story line for you but I really enjoyed the revelations that they faced about themselves as unique individuals separate from their twin-ship as well as the things they learned and ultimately cherished about their equally unique bond of sisterhood. The way they come back together as strong, independent, and ultimately healthy individuals greatly enhances not just their relationship but that of their whole family, too. That message of strong family ties built amidst hard, heart-wrenching tragedy and self-sacrifice really resonated with me.

Along the way, almost as a back story connecting much of the the details that support the girls' escapades, is woven an expansion of Li Jin's (or Dahlia's) story from Tangled Vines. She's come into Benfu's fold, learning to embrace her role in the new-to-her family that has longed for years to have relationship with her. She brought with her a son and a companion named Sami from the days before she was found by Linnea. But she also brought along a huge heart for serving the disenfranchised and a big vision for creative practical ways to do that. The unfolding of the community that she builds while she is learning to live in this (again) new-to-her expanding family is really well written. On a personal note, I had the privilege of visiting the "complex" or compound of Living Hope International's Beijing home back in April when we adopted our Mei Mei and when I read the descriptions of the shelter that Li Jin creates and crafts into a community, I completely relate to what is happening in her heart and mind. I keep picturing the physical surroundings of the LHI home when I'm reading and it's really a fun way to connect with the story.

Throughout the whole book, Kay does an excellent job of creating vivid pictures with her words. The little glimpses into everyday life in the bustling streets of China. The peeks into lives of street vendors and Benfu's whole "common folk" family. These all are things that keep me reading and make me want MORE of this mysterious land from which my daughters came. Her descriptions and understanding of Chinese culture draw me in to that mystery but also make me acutely aware of the common ground between the regular every day there and the regular every day here. I'm so grateful for what I learn about a culture different than mine when I read these books. But I'm also really thankful for the reminders I get along the way. Family is family, where ever you go. There's pain, there's difficulty, there's hardship. But there's also great joy and love. There's someone who has your back - even if you think you are the strong one who has always had their back. Those lessons are timeless. They are also the biggest reason I find this whole series so meaningful. I can't wait for more stories about Benfu and Callie's beautiful daughters!

*I was provided with a free,
Advance Reader's Copy
in exchange for a fair review of this book.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Miss Particular

The control issues that our Mei Mei experiences affect a lot of our daily life. It's exhausting sometimes, but we're taking the philosophy that we're building trust and confidence. So that if she's feeling uncertain and a choice about something small makes her feel more peaceful and secure in our interactions, we give that latitude.

It's bigger than the old adage "choosing your battles" with this kiddo. It's more about helping her feel that her voice matters and that her feelings count. So that when and if we arrive at a bigger issue where there can be no choice, she feels safe and trusts us. More than any other time in my parenting, I feel as if this kiddo has us on a huge learning curve and we're all kind of finding our way together in this particular lesson.

We know how ridiculous her need for choices can get, we all try to make them non-issues when we can. As I sit her typing this, she's "helping" her big brother put away the dishes and he's cracking up because she insists the forks go in the spoon slot. He's really good-natured about it and he knows he'll have to fix it when she tires of the task. We've come a long way, baby.

Thank goodness for this and for the other light-hearted funny moments that make the learning enjoyable along the way. These are the moments that keep us all sane.


Yesterday, while The Boss was getting a plate for her strawberries, he was grumbling a little bit about how picky she is and how a bowl would be just as good as a plate, even though all the bigger kids had plates with their berries. He walked back over to the cupboard and pulled out a plate and walked back to Mei Mei.

When he set the plate full of berries on the island for her, he said, "I'm going to change your name to Miss Particular, Mei Mei."

Without skipping a beat, Li'l Empress piped up (in her cheery, eager-to-please voice), "I am gonna keep my name the same, right Daddy?"