Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Contest Alert!

I'm breaking from my little Christmas hiatus just long enough to tell you that there's a fun contest going on over at 5 Minutes For Moms. I've long been a big fan of the Volkswagen advertising campaigns - it seems that they outdo themselves with every new series of ads. I am probably dating myself, but this one below is my favorite of all time. The new series of ads, starring Brooke Shields, really cracks me up. They may even be running a close second to my fave. They seem to be getting funnier and more deadpan with each new vignette.

Enjoy the nostalgic look back. And then go check out the contest. But remember, don't enter. Momma could use the gas money!



Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Let The Festivities Begin!

Last night was our first round of Christmas festivities with family, kicking off a week of presents, cookies, coffee, and connecting with those we love. It was a sweet night, thrown together at the last minute with my sister's family and my brother and his crew. There was lots of laughter and gift-wrap strewn in every corner of the living room. The older kids ended the night by heading over to Uncle Li'l Bro and Aunt R's house for more laughter and A Christmas Story. The younger ones stayed here for a holiday sleep-over. The Boss wrapped gifts and I made another batch of Christmas treats.

Here's the recipe, as my last-minute Christmas gift to you all. It comes from an old church cookbook (aren't those ALWAYS the best recipes?!) and we find that it brings out the kid in all of us this time of year. Enjoy!
Delicious Saltine Bark

40 saltines
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. butter
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 c. chopped nuts (optional)
colored sprinkles or colored sugar crystals (optional)

Preheat oven to 400. Line the bottom and sides of a large baking sheet (I use a Pampered Chef bar pan) with heavy duty aluminum foil. Spray foil lightly with baking spray.

Place saltines side–by–side (not overlapping) in the baking sheet and set aside.

Melt butter in saucepan. Add sugar and bring to full boil, stirring constantly. Boil for exactly 3 minutes, still stirring constantly. Pour gently over the saltines and spread evenly.

Bake for only 5 minutes – do not over-bake. Entire mixture should be bubbly across the surface. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle the surface with the chocolate chips. Wait a few minutes and spread the chocolate evenly. Sprinkle with nuts and/or sprinkles, etc.

Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Remove the block from the pan, remove the foil and break apart in bark pieces. Store in tightly sealed containers in the refrigerator.

Finally, The Gang wishes you all a beautiful and precious Christmas holiday. May you linger long over the table with those you love. May you linger longer under your tree in wonder at the lights. And may you linger longest at the manger, in awe and gratitude at the greatest gift ever given.




Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Can I Get An Amen, Sistahs?!

Dear Santa,

I've been a good mom all year. I've fed, cleaned and cuddled my two children on demand, visited the doctor's office more than my doctor, sold sixty-two cases of candy bars to raise money to plant a shade tree on the school playground and figured out how to attach nine patches onto my daughter's girl scout sash with staples and a glue gun.

I was hoping you could spread my list out over several Christmases, since I had to write this letter with my son's red crayon, on the back of a receipt in the laundry room between cycles; and who knows when I'll find anymore free time in the next 18 years.

Here are my Christmas wishes:

  • I'd like a pair of legs that don't ache after a day of chasing kids (in any color, except purple, which I already have).
  • I want arms that don't flap in the breeze but are strong enough to carry a screaming toddler out of the candy aisle in the grocery store.
  • I'd also like a waist, since I lost mine somewhere in the seventh month of my last pregnancy.
  • If you're hauling big ticket items this year I'd like a car with fingerprint resistant windows and a radio that only plays adult music.
  • It would be nice to have a television that doesn't broadcast any programs containing talking animals; and a refrigerator with a secret compartment behind the crisper where I can hide to talk on the phone.
  • On the practical side, I could use a talking daughter doll that says, "Yes, Mommy" to boost my parental confidence, along with one potty-trained toddler, two kids who don't fight and three pairs of jeans that will zip all the way up without the use of power tools.
  • I could also use a recording of Tibetan monks chanting, "Don't eat in the living room" and 'Take your hands off your brother,' because my voice seems to be just out of my children's hearing range and can only be heard by the dog.
  • And please don't forget the Playdoh Travel Pack, the hottest stocking stuffer this year for mothers of preschoolers. It comes in three fluorescent colors and is guaranteed to crumble on any carpet making the in-laws' house seem just like mine.

If it's too late to find any of these products, I'd settle for enough time to brush my teeth and comb my hair in the same morning, or the luxury of eating food warmer than room temperature without it being served in a Styrofoam container.

If you don't mind I could also use a few Christmas miracles to brighten the holiday season. Would it be too much trouble to declare ketchup a vegetable? It will clear my conscience immensely. It would be helpful if you could coerce my children to help around the house without demanding payment as if they were the bosses of an organized crime family; or if my toddler didn't look so cute sneaking downstairs to eat contraband ice cream in his pajamas at midnight.

Well, Santa, the buzzer on the dryer is ringing and my son saw my feet under the laundry room door. I think he wants his crayon back. Have a safe trip and remember to leave your wet boots by the chimney and come in and dry off by the fire so you don't catch cold. Help yourself to cookies on the table but don't eat too many or leave crumbs on the carpet.

Yours Always,

Mom

Sunday, December 21, 2008

We've Been Elfed!

Send your own ElfYourself eCards


Edit: I don't know what happened to our elves. I'm sorry if you can't see them. I'll try to get The Boss in on the technical difficulties.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Oh My Sweet Mercy!

I am a frequent flyer on the Nestle Coffee Mate website, ya know, because of my affection (nay, addiction - who am I kidding?!) for their Sugar-Free Hazelnut liquid creamer. I got an email notification Friday afternoon that there were coupons available from the site, if I desired to print them. Did I desire to print them? Is the sky above weeping buckets of freezing rain and ice? (For those of you who aren't local, that's a big fat YESSSSS!)

So off I head, to print the little slips of joy. I call them "little slips of joy" because I feel so much better about my little, ahem, habit, when I am getting my stash for cheaper. (Imagine my joy yesterday at my local Giant when they were ON SALE and I HAD A COUPON?!) As I'm tapping my printer case waiting for said little slips of joy, my jaw dropped. My eyes bugged.

Oh My Sweet Mercy.

Look at what was at the bottom of the page of coupons. (Coupons for $1.50 off two creamers, I might add!)

This me pretties, is a Blended Hazelnut Frappe. Courtesy of Coffee-Mate. The only disagreement I have with the nice folks at Coffee-Mate is that this particular confection of perfection isn't just for "when the temperature outside starts heating up." Nooooo, this little treat is and should be enjoyed all year round.

Go there now. You will thank me, no matter the weather.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Family Fortune in the Making?

Last night while The Boss was changing Li'l Empress for bed, he discovered her snacking on a sweet treat. Apparently it's delicious, as she kept going back for more. And more. And was quite disgruntled at his attempts to distract and dissuade her.

He's thinking that he may have come upon a way to secure a family fortune for generations to come. Introducing . . . . .



Li'l Empress's Toe Jam
on Sock Lint


Coming to a Grocer Near You, just in time for the holidays!



Good times.
Mmmmm, Mmmmmm.
Good times.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Baby Got Words

Li'l Empress has recently experienced a mini-explosion of communication. You can imagine how this delights her communications-oriented Momma! Here's a sampling of some of the new words and signs she's using regularly:
  • "Car" - comes out "cahh" - my New England family would be so proud! Often followed by an attempt to say "Vroom Vroom!"
  • "Bear" - comes out in a tiny, sweet little voice, like she's softened it for the cuddliness of the bear she's holding.
  • "Cookie" - one of the gals in our church taught her this, and she's delighted that the treat for saying it is so sweet and crunchy. Just in time for Christmas cookies! Now we have to work on teaching her that "Cookies" aren't for breakfast. :)
  • "Hot" - we made up our own sign to help her stay away from the fireplace. She's transferred it to coffee and food from the microwave. She might just be a genius.
  • "Cold" - she tenses up and pretends to shiver when she takes a sip of cold juice or when we mention how cold it is outside.
  • "Ouch" - we also made up this one, to help her understand that the tree is poky. However, it's turned into a big, adorable game. She pokes the tree, yanks her hand back and yelps, "Owwww" in a really high-pitched girly voice. Cracks us up every single time. Can we say "backfire?!"
  • "Fooof Fooooof" - her attempts to say what a doggy says. She has this adorable little white and pink puppy in her bed that she kisses every morning (thanks Auntie Mona!) and now she says this when she's playing with him.
An added bonus to this language explosion? We all now know where our ears, nose, fingers, and belly buttons are, thanks to intensive tutorials with Li'l Empress. Poor child, I think she may have permanent mental scarring after asking to see Momma's belly button. I know I do, every time I have to find it.

Finally, today's newest development: she said Baby BlueEyes' real name!! He's been home all week with strep and I think his name on her sweet little lips was just the joy-juice he needed. (Well, that an the 2 or three doses of amox he's had so far!)

Here's a sweet video of the two of them playing "Follow the Leader" earlier this morning. Just before the video was taken, she was giggling so hard she almost fell over. I love how she anticipates his movements and does them before he does. He's such a fun big brother. Enjoy the sweet giggles.

video

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Tree Skirt

As I was saying earlier.

I'm gettin'. I'm gettin'.

Nothing like a little bloggy accountability
to motivate a Momma!

The tree skirt. It is finished.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

White Chip Oatmeal Craisin Cookies

BooMamaChristmasTour

As promised on yesterday's bloggy tour of my Christmas decked out home, here is one of our family's favorite Christmas cookies. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do - they are moist, flavorful and so pretty on a Christmas cookie plate. Yum!

White Chip Oatmeal Craisin Cookies

1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 ½ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp table salt
¼ tsp baking soda
2 cups quick oats
1 cup craisins
1 cup maraschino cherries, drained and chopped
2 cups white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375. In large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Add to creamed mixture slowly until well blended. Stir in oats, craisins, and cherries. Add white chips.

Drop by rounded teaspoonful, 2 inches apart onto sprayed cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes, until edges are lightly browned. Yields about 6 dozen.

If you use the red and the green cherries, divide the dough in half before adding the two separate colored cherries. Hand mix the cherries in for two mini-batches. (Otherwise the dough will get muddy looking and the cookies won't be as pretty.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Joining The Fun!

BooMamaChristmasTour

I'm all about joining the fun over at BooMama's Christmas Tour of Homes this year. For one, it helps not to have to come up with anything witty or original to write about. My brain is fried from a quick shopping trip this morning. Which was interrupted by a call from our sweet and cheery school nurse. Seems that the ONE morning of mild temperate weather, perfect for running Christmas errands with a baby on hip, is. NOT. gonna. happen. Baby BlueEyes is running a slight fever and has a headache and sore throat.

I finished the trip in warp speed and headed back to town to pick the sickie up for a long nap at home in his bed. Li'l Empress is all tucked into her crib for a long (oh, please Lord, let it be sooooo long!). I'm about to sort through all my receipts and shopping lists to figure out a game plan for my day out Thursday. But since I find myself with some time to spare here at home, I'm joining the fun earlier than I had scheduled for myself in the list-making part of my brain. I'm hoping to escape back out for some errands tonight when The Boss returns from work. Flexibility is the name of the game these days. Huh. My least favorite thing in the world. Flexibility. Huh.

So, slip on some cozy slippers and grab yourself a mug of tea or hot cocoa and join me for a tour of my home, all decked out for Christmas. Feel free to nosh on the White Chip Oatmeal Craisin Cookies on the counter. I'll post the recipe for them tomorrow, promise.

A couple days ago, I showed you our Christmas tree (sans tree skirt, which still needs to be mended. I fell asleep during Numbers - gasp!- and didn't get to it. I'm gettin' - I'm gettin'!)


Below is a homemade Christmas tree from my oldest and dearest friend. One of the hallmarks of her family is the beautiful handmade gifts they always give. This was a gift when The Boss and I were newly-weds and I still love it. It's like a puzzle, in that it is two pieces that are notched together to form the 3-dimensional tree. Comes apart for flat, easy storage, too. Does she know me or what?!


Here are several snowmen (below) that I have somehow collected over the years. I love them, but honestly, I never set out to collect snowmen. Maybe when people are thinking of gifts for me, the rounded bottom-heavy little guys just remind them of me. This is just the top half of a floor-to-ceiling bookcase. It has a twin and they both are flanking our huge picture window where the tree is centered.

Here is our gorgeous family room. I can say that because The Boss made this entire wall with his own little hands. Built the shelves, tiled the fireplace. Put the mantle together and trimmed it all off to look as if it's all built in. He's a genius DIY'er.

This adorable snow-couple below was a gift at a Yankee swap. They were THE hottest item being snatched up with each new number drawn. I was soooo excited to win them at the end. Aren't they just the cutest?!

This is the left side of my mantle. The bow tree is one of the first Christmas decorations I made for our apartment as a newly-wed. I love its simplicity. The fabric tree was a treat to myself at an after-Christmas H*llm*rk clearance sale. I wish I could find a bunch more like it. I would love a collection of rustic, simple Christmas trees.

Now we come to my favorite, favorite, favorite Christmas decoration. Our nativity set was something we bought together one night at Hershey Christmas CandyLane's many little gift shops. It was more than we could afford that first Christmas together, but I just knew I'd never find a nativity set I loved more. And all these years later, I still haven't found one I like as much as this one. With the possible exception of the adorable Little People nativity set. My word, have you seen that thing? Talk about cute and eternally minded at the same time.

I digress. . . Here it is, my perfect and beautiful nativity set.

Finally, here in the corner of my as-yet-unfinished dining room is a little vignette I made at the last minute. I realized that our dining room was looking sparse compared to previous years. With it gated off to protect Li'l Empress from tippy chairs and a glass-doored china cabinet, I guess I forgot to dress up that room too. So out came the boxes again and Voila! The little tree was purchased with the intention of creating an annual Advent tradition that was eternally minded and folk-arty at the same time. So far, it's done a bang up job as an additional decoration. We're still working on the concept of creating a tradition for it. But hey, I got the tree purchased and it can earn its keep holding all my crafty ribbon bows till its real job comes along, right?! And how cute are those gingerbread men? Their cheery little smiles always make me grin.

There you have it. The Gang's house is all ready for Christmas. Now if I could just get myself out of the house for more than 1.35 hours of concentrated errands and listifying. Then I could get all my shopping and wrapping and baking done. Then I could be all ready for Christmas. Excuse me while I go and breathe deeply into a paper bag. I'm starting to hyperventilate at the list that is currently forming and re-forming in my head, even as I type. It's like it has a life all its own in there.

Carry on. Tour the homes. Sip eggnog in your jammies.
And say a prayer for me, ya'll.
I might just lose my mind between now and the 25th.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Conversations in the Kitchen

Picture this scene: I am mixing a gooey dough, and dropping it by ice cream scoops onto a baking stone. Christmas music is blaring in the background.

Shaggy enters stage left, sniffing the air and groaning appreciatively. He snags a finger-full of raw dough and groans some more. He mumbles through a mouthful of the gooey-ness:

"Mmmmmm, these should be our new currency."

I laugh and slide the stone into the oven. The aroma coming forth is nothing short of heavenly. Seriously, Shaggy wants his mansion in glory to continuously smell just like this.

What was I making?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

So Excited To Share

For a little more than a year now, I've been following the adventures and excitement over at Ni Hao Y'all. In typical blog-addicted fashion, I can't really remember how I found Stefanie but once I started reading, I was hooked. I was so hooked, in fact, that I literally spent hours poring over her archives and reading through the adoption sites she had for her individual children. Hours of laughing and crying and delighting in the story of this big, happy, multi-cultural family of hers. Hours of winter and spring afternoons paging through her very prolific and hysterically funny wrap-ups of their various happenings and mis-adventures. Hours of being lost in her witty story-telling and heart-tugging advocacy for adoption and special needs children.

Okay, so at this point, I feel I must confess.

My name is Gang's Momma and I'm addicted to Ni Hao Y'all.

Further, I am Stefanie's own personal blog stalker. I think I am addicted to Stefanie herself. It's an innocent addiction (and harmless, I promise, Stefanie. IF I may be so lucky as to have you chance upon this humble blog. Oh, vapors and frenzy at the thought!), but serious nonetheless. For example, this summer, the four kids all stood by the sliding glass doors sunscreened-up and towels at the ready. Waiting for me to finish reading the posts I'd been unable to get to earlier in that week. They stood there, calling to me of their readiness for an afternoon in the pool. Growing increasingly impatient with my "Just one more minute, please!" They stood there, antsy and pinching each other when tempted to interrupt me just one more time. At one point, I'm certain that little legs fell asleep and testosterone-raging violence broke out. The details are fuzzy, as I was engrossed in the day's events in Stefanie's house.

All of this is to say that in Stefanie's blog posts, (look at me throwing her name around like I'm a close personal friend or something. I'm shameless!) I have found a kindred spirit, IF I may be so bold (OH, the boldness!). Her heart leaks out all over her posts. Her heart for her hubby. Her passion for her kids. Her mission to share the word with the world about adoption. Her zeal and drive to see special needs kids from all over the world find loving and godly homes. Her consuming desire to make a difference in the lives of as many of these precious kids as possible. Her challenge to the church to BE the church to a child. It's all there - and all wrapped up in each post is her overwhelming need to do it all in a manner that brings the most glory and honor to Our Father.

This woman, to me, is the embodiment of James 1:27:

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless
is this: to look after orphans and widows
in their distress and to keep oneself
from being polluted by the world."

Yeah, she could be my next celebrity crush. She's that amazing to me. Which is why I am so excited to share with you a new site that she and several other adoptive moms have launched. It's actually been up and running for a few weeks now, but I've been having a hard time finding time to put thoughts together (I've been relying heavily on my Post Options to schedule posts in advance and pounding out several posts at one sitting lately. Don't you just love that option?!).

Introducing:

No Hands But Ours

This new site exists to be a clearing house of sorts. A place where anyone interested in adoption, specifically special needs adoptions, can come and gain insight from other families who have been there, who are there and who are making it work. A place where you can read helpful information from the point of view of professionals AND those of us who live with various special needs every day. Where you can read inspiring and amazing stories of families that God has knit together from over the world. Where you can be encouraged and make contact with adoption agencies, specialists, experienced parents and others who can partner with you at any particular phase of your adoption or parenting journey. It's beautiful, it's hopeful, and it's exactly what I would expect from a woman of excellence like Stefanie. (Again with the familiarity, like I actually know this woman! Who am I kidding?!)

As a brand-new mom of a daughter with special needs, I find myself poring over this site frequently. I have gleaned so much from these moms and their stories. In fact, one of my most favoritest gals, Kateri (from Blessed Beyond Measure) has already shared her family story here. I am so excited to know that some day, I might actually be able to be a support for another mom who has been where I am now. I might actually be able to help connect families with resources that will enable them to parent with excellence as they meet the needs of their precious little gifts. (OMIGOSH! I just skipped over to the new site to grab the code for their button, and my little blog is listed under family blogs related to hearing issues. I'm on their radar - Stefanie knows about me. Little Ole Me!)

This site is worth every minute you will spend surfing around on it. But be forewarned. Once you start reading the stories, once you start looking at the little faces who have been given the precious gift of a loving family and a "brand new start," you will totally get sucked in. Your family might not see your face for hours. And when they do, it might be splotchy and red and your eyes might be swollen from the tears you shed while you read. Unless you are one of those really, really annoying people who can cry pretty and dainty. (But that's a whole 'nuther post, isn't it?!)

Go now. Read now. And give Stefanie and the gals some bloggy love. Let them know that you are standing with them in their mission. I'm so excited that I get to share the news with you!

Friday, December 12, 2008

My Christmas Tree

I've noticed this week that several bloggers are posting pictures of their decorated Christmas trees. They range from the tiny to the gargantuan. From the ornate and elegant to the homey and folksy. After my series of posts about our weekend o' holiday fun, I figured I'd better get on the ball and show you the results of our labors. We moved the tree into our (as yet unfinished) front living room, to minimize the number of times a day I'd have to instruct Li'l Empress to "look but don't touch!" Here is our tree in all it's fullness and glory. As you can see, our tree leans toward the kitschy and folksy end of the spectrum. Pretty much a folk-art masterpiece, in my humble opinion.



If you look closely, you'll see our Christmas Angel atop the tree. That beautiful angel has a story all her own. One that I have been working on in my head. One that you'll have to tune in soon for - getting it from my head, out my fingertips, and onto the computer screen takes more time than Li'l Empress has been affording me this week.

Excuse the appalling lack of a tree skirt. When we unpacked this weekend, we noticed that the skirt has a large tear in the hem. It really needs to be mended before Maggie kitty picks at it and permanently ruins it. Again, time has been tight this week. I'm planning to fix it tonight while I watch Numbers and The Boss sleeps next to me on the couch! (Yes, just about the perfect Friday night, don't ya think?!)

A Beautiful Letter

You really must head over to Mary Beth Chapman's blog today. She has only blogged a few times since the passing of her precious daughter, Maria. This particular post is beautiful, raw, and very real. I have been a long-time fan of hers, watching the way she ministered to her family behind the scenes over the years. My respect for her grew tremendously when she spoke openly about her struggles with depression and the healing journey the Lord has had her on.

Today, I am especially grateful for her candidness and vulnerability. This a morning I've been struggling and praying through a particularly difficult issue in my heart. I found a quiet moment in the chaos of my morning to sneak into my Blog Reader and this post was waiting for me. Just what I needed. To gain some perspective. To get my focus off myself. To remember to choose gratitude and joy. To be reminded that no matter how hard things may be, or are, I have much to be thankful for. This woman has suffered a loss that can, and has, crippled many a Christian. Yet she chooses joy. Sometimes minute to minute. But she chooses it. She's a hero of the faith to me.

It's what I needed today.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wordless Wednesday


A bit of a preview - The Gang's Christmas card in the making . . . .

Edit: none of these made the final cut. These were the trial runs!

for more Wordless Wednesday fun,
head over to 5 Minutes for Moms.
It's THE place to be this week :)

Oh My McDreaminess!

You have to head over to 5 Minutes for Moms - today's post is all about Patrick Dempsey. His interview via conference call with the blogging moms, his career, and his new scent, Unscripted, through Avon. Don't enter the contest, though. The Boss has been hunting for a new cologne (don't ask!) on and off for about 2 years now and I think this just might be the one. I can't really fathom that a cologne can smell better on The Boss than the one he currently wears, but it seems as if The Boss needs more variety than that in his toiletries (who knew?!). Free smells great to me, and I have smelled this one already. It's McDreamy.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Super Saturday

Li'l Empress slept AWESOME, through the whole night, Friday night. She'd been waking quite frequently and fussing every night for a whole week. Sometimes the fussing would be enough to require an entire "replay" of our night-time routine, sometimes not. But sleeping with one ear on the monitor in anticipation that the rustling would become crying is exhausting and both The Boss and I were so thankful for a solid night's sleep.

Saturday, my side of the family trekked together to the local tree farm. We filled three cars to over-flowing with our many layers, blankets, extra coats, and a wagon for the little girls. The anticipation and excitement was infectious. I don't know about the other cars, but our van was full of Christmas music (badly but enthusiastically sung), pictures snapping, and giggles from the girlies in the back seat. Uncle Eddie was providing great entertainment making faces at them while he followed closely behind our family-mobile.

Li'l Empress had fun hunting for her first Christmas tree!
She loved the bumpy rides through the trails and sharing the wagon with Teagan.

Teagan with her Mommy and Daddy and their perfect tree.

The tree farm was PACKED with families. I even saw few doggies hitching rides in wagons and inside their human's jackets. We tromped around looking for the perfect three trees, each family finally scoring plump, fragrant Blue Spruces. As we waited in the long lines to have our trees shaken and bundled for the trip home, we sang along to the carols being piped throughout the farm. At least, some of us sang. The younger generation cringed while we grown-ups sang operatic versions of "O Holy Night" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Oh, what fun to embarrass our kids with some good, light-hearted frivolity!

Hitching a Ride, Part I

Hitching a Ride, Part II

We headed back to The Gang's house for hot cocoa, coffee, and hanging out. Li'l Empress somehow discovered the nifty noises she could make the top of my whistling tea kettle, and I could NOT believe how long it entertained her. I'm sure the extreme reactions she got from her cousin prolonged the fun. Enjoy the video below - her giggle is contagious!

video

Later in the day, The Boss rolled out the cookies while LadyBug and Li'l Empress watched and begged for scraps. Li'l Empress really enjoyed her first bite of our family's favorite cookie. In fact, when we cleaned her up and took her down from the counter, she was downright miffed.

The night ended early, after LadyBug took her first shower in four weeks and cheered while doing it. I cheered too: bending over the tub twice or three times a week, to wash my 9-year-old's hair while attempting to keep her cast dry was NO PICNIC for me either! Everyone headed off to bed full, warm, and looking forward to Sunday's special occasion and afternoon holiday fun. . .

Monday, December 8, 2008

Free At Last, Free At Last!

LadyBug is rejoicing. LadyBug is free. LadyBug is itchy and peel-y.
(Is it just me, or is this kid growing up right before my eyes?! OY.)


The cast is gone. It was fun and exciting way to start our weekend o' holiday fun here with the Gang.

Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of the actual removal process. I was holding a grumpy baby who didn't like the sight or sound of a saw on her sissy's arm. As this was our third cast, I'm kind of immune to the sound of it now, but it was all new to Li'l Empress and the LadyBug.

Comforting Li'l Empress gave me some good snuggle time. I was more than happy to envelope her with my fuzzy sweater-clad arms while talking to LadyBug to distract her mind from the process. After 5 nights in a row of terrible sleep, grumpy Empress was turning mean and the cuddles were a pleasant (albeit brief!) diversion.

After LadyBug was safely delivered to school to show off her pale, white, peeling arm (yummo!) I got Li'l Empress fed and down for a nap. Well, sort of a nap. If you can call waking and babbling after only 1/2 an hour a nap. But it was the break I needed and as long as it was happy babbling with her polka-dotted puppy and her blankie, I let her stay there a little while.

Our pretty little cousin, Teagan, came over for the afternoon and evening once the rest of the Gang was home from school and we had a good time watching the two little girls interact. Poor Teagan - she'd had such a busy, crazy week and then Daddy plunked her down right in the middle of the chaos of Friday afternoon with the Gang (who am I kidding, every afternoon is like that!). She was a trouper though and the night ended peacefully with Auntie reading a good night story and singing the Winnie the Pooh song to her while Uncle Boss fed Li'l Empress a bottle. I did have to make sure I was out of sight of the Empress when holding Teagan though - she's got a jealous streak a mile wide!

The night ended by whipping up a batch of our favorite Christmas cookies for The Boss to roll out and cut on Saturday afternoon. We all headed to bed where visions of hot cocoa and Christmas trees floated through our dreams. The festivities were only just beginning . . .

Sneak Peek

The elves at the Gang's house were very, very busy this weekend. Many tiny little hands (and not so tiny, too!) participated in all sorts of holiday frivolities and festivities over these last three days. Here's a sneak peek at just one of the little elves taking a snack break in the middle of the action. I'll be back later with much, much more.


In the meantime, head over to the brand new site hosted by 5 Minutes for Moms. It's called 5 Minutes for Giveaways. They're just crazy to sharing the fun over there. Tell them The Gang sent ya!

Friday, December 5, 2008

One More Thing . . .

Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention that 5 Minutes for Moms is giving away a bed. Seriously, they are giving away a bed. A whole, shiny, pretty new mattress.

Don't go there now. Don't enter.

I want to win the bed. My back wants to win the bed. My hips want to win the bed. My kids want me to win the bed. So I quit griping about my aching back and hips.

The Twisty Turny Tale, Part 2

**This is part 2 in the telling of a series of events that the Lord has recently allowed us to experience, in the journey of the adoption of our Li'l Empress. If you haven't yet read part 1, I encourage you to head back to yesterday's post first. It really does need to be told. For Li'l Empress's benefit as she grows. For my benefit, to remind me of the faithfulness and love of My Father. For your benefit, to read and see that the Lord is good. He cares about you. He is in the details of your life. He wants to weave a tale for you.

Here's where we left off:


My little girl has had far too many
major "good-byes"
in her little life already.

The really exciting thing to me about this statement is that the Lord allowed it to be the primary reaction to this unfolding story for a reason. You see, I found all this out just at the time when I was feeling weary. Tired from the nights of rocking her heavy little body to sleep in my arms, standing droopily by her crib. Tired from not having my regular date nights out with The Boss. Weary from wondering how long adjustment and transition takes for a 15-month old baby girl. I've spoken before of her strong will. That alone is an exhausting adjustment. Add the task of intentionally setting the tones of security, unconditional love and sense of enduring family, and you can see why I was tired. Please understand. I rejoice in this gift we call the Li'l Empress. I am so joyful to have my darling dumpling in my arms at last. But the week that this story began to unfold, I was tired.

Isn't that just like our Father?! He knew I was weary. He knew that for all the joy and excitement we were experiencing, the honeymoon period was over and the work of real life was settling in. And He lovingly orchestrated these events in such a way that I could receive them for what they were: treasures and peeks into my daughter's first year.

As an outstanding and extravagant "ribbon topper" to the amazing gift of insight to Li'l Empress's life, these generous and thoughtful contacts from China Care were able to forward to us a series of photos taken by their staff members as part of their documentations and records of the children to whom they minister. We have 60-70 pictures of our girl, throughout her entire first 13 months! What a gift. What a priceless, precious gift. For us now, and for her as she grows. To see her growth and changes and development. To see her little personality start to emerge as she grows in her awareness of the camera. To see tangible evidence that she was loved and nurtured, and I might add, apparently very well-fed if her chubby cheeks are any evidence at all!

The extravagance didn't end there. They also generously forwarded three (yes, THREE!) videos featuring Li'l Empress in all her cuteness, interacting with the camera and with her foster parents. We are over-flowing with gratitude. We are humbled by the knowledge that this is a rare treasure. We are more humbled by the fact that this is rare treasure that most adoptive families never get to experience. We went into this adoption knowing that we may never have more than a cursory medical report or two on our child. We knew we were okay with that and knew that God could and would cover what we were missing, both in our knowledge of her past and in the journey to becoming a family. He has. And He will continue to.

Now, thanks to this twisty turny tale of events that we couldn't have made up if we tried, we have more of our daughter's story - with its own tale of twists and turns that carried her to us. And we give thanks.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Twisty Turny Tale, Part 1

Several weeks ago, a reader I didn't know I had (thanks Sandi!) left me a comment regarding a picture she had seen of The Boss, Li'l Empress and I on our Adoption Day. The picture was posted over at Found Cameras and Orphan Pictures. It's a website dedicated to uniting lost cameras, memory sticks, and pictures with their rightful owners. Apparently, the owner of the site also posts pictures of orphans and/or their new families occasionally in an effort to help adoptive families gather more information and pictures of their children or their trip, etc.

Well, gather information we did!

After a series of email exchanges and connections all over the world, we have learned some great background on our precious girl. Stick with me, the story isn't that complicated, but it's still all new to us and we're praying and processing through what it all means for our family.

Apparently, the orphanage to which Li'l Empress was brought at her finding is one that is largely supported by a not-for-profit organization called China Care. In a nutshell, and in my own words, China Care exists to support and provide resources to orphanages across China. Some of these resources include, but are not limited to, formula, medical supplies, foster parent training and group home staffing. Li'l Empress lived in the orphanage from August '07 until November '07, at which time she was placed in the group home run by China Care under the orphanage's jurisdiction. Now, we knew that she was very blessed to be at her particular orphanage, as our research had shown it to be a very well-run, clean and pleasant orphanage. As orphanages go, of course. But to know that she was able to be in a smaller home environment, with a maximum of 10 babies and more individualized care, attention, and stimulation has been a priceless gift for this Momma's heart.

Further, we learned that China Care later placed Li'l Empress in an individual foster home in April '08 while she waited for her forever family. We have known about the foster parents since July; we even have pictures of her in their home and in her foster mother's arms. But to know that it was under the covering of this reputable and caring organization that trains their foster parents and provides them with resources is another treasure. I've said here before that we are so grateful to her foster parents - it's obvious that they prepared her well for her new family by loving her and modeling family relationships for her. She is well on her way to attaching deeply and firmly to us all and we know that they had a part to play in that. It's why we began praying for them as soon as we knew about them.

The new piece of the puzzle for us is that these foster parents actually had petitioned to formally adopt Li'l Empress themselves. My heart aches for the pain that they must have felt when they were denied. She was already "tagged" for the international adoption program. In their generous and loving relationship with her, they gave our daughter a firm foundation of confidence and security. Knowing that they loved her enough to want to make her their own forever-girl makes my gratitude and respect for them go even deeper.

However, at this point, I must point out that our instincts to parent her according to the attachment parenting philosophies that we dabbled in with our biological kids were spot on. (thanks, Teresa J, for sharing that awesome Dr. Sears book so many years ago! Who knew the journey we'd take with it on our nightstand all these years?!) Actually, it was far more than instinct. It was the divine hand of God, leading us to a resource that would benefit our whole family and provide a great foundation for understanding the needs of an adopted child. You see, with all this new information that I've been gathering and processing about Li'l Empress's first 13 months of life "before us," one major thing has jumped out at me over and over again.

My little girl has had far too many
major "good-byes"
in her little life already.



Come back tomorrow
for the conclusion
to the twisty turny tale . . .

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

Another fabulous use for a cat door!

And another reason that Dr. D is quickly
becoming known as the "crazy fun" brother!

*For more Wordless Wednesday fun,
head over to 5 Minutes For Moms!*

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Recipe, You Say?!

I humbly apologize. How cheeky of me to rave on and on about the fantastical goodness of my newly favorite Thanksgiving stuffing! How utterly ridiculous of me to use all manner of lofty adjectives to share with you the awesome awesomeness of this delightful blend of bread, seasonings, and butter - and then leave you with no recourse but to ask me for the recipe to create your own dish of deliciousness.

How crafty of me to know that you'd ask and I'd get another blog post out of the deal! (Insert grin here.)

Without further ado, or ranting, raving, or groaning while I sit here munching on gooey left-overs cupped lovingly in my hot little hands, I present to you:

Apple and Sage Stuffing

1 small sweet onion, chopped

3 small celery ribs, chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed

½ cup butter or margarine

3 small granny smith apples, peeled, seeded and chopped

4½ cups chicken or vegetable broth

½ tsp. dried parsley

¾ to 1 Tbsp. dried sage

1½ tsp. dried rosemary

1 tsp. salt

¾ tsp. pepper

1½ to 2 lbs. bread cubes (I used soft bread cubes, bagged)

(If you use the dried bread cubes, increase the butter and broth to soften.)

In large skillet, saut̩ onions, celery, garlic and in the butter till tender. Slowly add broth, apples and spices and allow to simmer together till tender and flavors are blended Рabout 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and add bread cubes a little at a time. Stir up from the bottom with a wide spatula just until all ingredients have moistened the stuffing. (I used a combination of honey crisp and granny smith apples.) You might need to add more broth if you like your stuffing particularly moist. We prefer gloppy gooey stuffing, so I did add more at the end.

Bake in a sprayed 9x13 baking dish for 30-35 minutes at 350, or until lightly browned and heated through.

And just because I love you all so much, here's my traditional left-over Thanksgiving casserole. Obviously, depending on the side dishes left over, it varies from year to year. But it's scrum-diddly-umptious every single year.

Left Over Thanksgiving Casserole
Generously spray the baking dish. Line the bottom of dish with a generous layer of your left-over stuffing, pressing it firmly to form a crust.

In whatever order you prefer, continue layering left-over turkey, vegetables, and sides.

Pour gravy as final layer and top with dollops of mashed potatoes across the top of the gravy.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to one hour, till heated through and bubbling.

Sprinkle potatoes with a bit of parmesan cheese and bake an additional ten minutes, till cheese browns up lightly. Serve with extra gravy on the side in case it absorbed into the layers.

As you can guess, this one is a recipe that you have to do "by feel" for the ingredients and how the flavors blend and how the layers "handle each other" by texture and thickness. It's trial and error, but you can't go wrong with Thanksgiving dinner in one dish :)
So, there you have it. Some goodies for you to share with your friends and family. Or, if you are like me, to hide in the back of the fridge and sneak when no one is looking. Hoping all the while that The Gang has forgotten that there's stuffing still left over from Thanksgiving dinner! Shhhhhh!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Tis The Season

Check out the fun going on over at To Think Is To Create. You might even win the big prize. Although, I am just frugal and selfish enough to admit that I hope I win! I'm sure once you see the winnings, you'll understand why and be ever-so forgiving!

By way of reporting on Thanksgiving goodness, we had an AWESOME first Thanksgiving with our Li'l Empress home. We hosted the holiday here for 15 family members, ate ourselves silly, laughed and talked all day. The most exciting part of the whole day, aside from sinking my teeth into my mom's amazing pumpkin pie with home-made whipped cream, was how deliciously yummy and moist and fantastical my new stuffing recipe turned out. I don't mean to brag here (well, not completely anyway), but I think it was the best stuffing I've ever had. I was totally experimenting by smashing a couple recipes together and seeing what happened, so you can imagine how grateful I am that I stopped to take notes along the way. A repeat performance is definitely in order. Mmmmmm.

The weekend was spent with more eating, laughing, hanging out and relaxing with some of our oldest and dearest friends. I've mentioned them before. We met them shortly after we got married and have enjoyed 18 years of growing together with them. It's good times when you can hang out in your jammies almost all day with a family and not even feel more pressure to "entertain them." Good times, indeed.

And tonite? Yup. I took that super-di-duper fantasticalness and made my traditional left-over stuffing and turkey casserole with it. More deliciousness all over again. Oh the joy. Oh the groans. Oh the straining seams. Those are just my reactions! You should have heard the rest of The Gang. The sad thing is, I was wearing my stretchy lounge pants for dinner tonight. Ugh.

Come back again soon. I have an interesting and twisty-turny story to tell you all. An amazing tale and a gift that most moms of internationally adopted children never get to experience. Yes, that's a shameless plug to get you back. But I promise, it'll sooooo be worth the effort.