Thursday, December 30, 2010

A review of 2010

So, what happens in a marriage between a city-boy from the Southeast, who's used to traveling abroad and enjoying the culture of the big city life, and a country-girl from the Northwest who's used to vacations that consist of camping on the nearest empty mountain with a three-walled outhouse (if you are lucky) and only bothering with a tent if there is snow?

Well, I'll tell you in a minute.

First I can just imagine all the people in Washington responding to that last sentence by saying “Hey, we DO go on other vacations! We go skiing and save up for trips to the Washington and Oregon coast. Not that there's anything wrong with camping in the boonies though. What could be better company than God's creation?” And I can imagine many of the people reading this from Dallas thinking “What would you do outside?” This is really funny to me right now, so even if you aren't thinking those things, you can laugh with me as I write this. From here on out expect the “Washington thoughts” to be in blue (for the bitter cold snow and weather there) and expect the “Texas thoughts” to be in red (for the nasty heat and humidity of course.)

The beginning of this year of 2010 began with that very dilemma. We were living in my parents' basement so that we could save money and pay off debt and couldn't afford to live somewhere else while being able to do those two things. It was clear to me that we couldn't continue forever in that same position. Youssef was thriving as a reporter, loving his job and coworkers and boss and the community that he'd become apart of, but even with these things, he still missed being in Dallas and such a big city. “Crazy, man.. I just don't get it.” - “Once a Texan, always a-- wait, his name is what? Do you go to church?” So for better or for worse, I made a plan to work double time on the savings so that we could make the move to Dallas work out.

While I was saving for those 6 months and mentally preparing for a move half-way across the country and leaving everything I knew, I started teaching Lily her letters (she turned 4 at the beginning of 2010) and I began getting into a little more of a routine with reading to the girls (Renna turned 2 in March 2010) and school time. I helped with the kids choir at church and became more involved in the music there with my sister-in-law and following God's leading with sharing and how he wanted me to use my gifts. The girls and I grew closer to my family, and our friendships became deeper. I also learned a lot in that time about relying on God's grace in my life and realizing that anything that I did was all through Him working in me. This applied to the struggles of “trying to be a good wife/mother” in every day life and I realized more fully what Jesus meant when He said “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” For too long I'd been trying to do good things in my own strength and not through God's grace. After realizing this more fully and every day having to remember to rely on His strength rather than my own in everything I did, I found that I was able to do those things that I'd struggled so hard with before. It probably wouldn't look different to anyone else, but it felt quite different to me. The stress and striving and guilt and all the other feelings that come with trying to be perfect on my own were eliminated when I would remember to allow God to work through me.

I don't think Youssef fully realized that he was moving until I'd gotten everything packed into his car. I know quitting the job that he loved so well and leaving us (not knowing when we'd be back together again for sure) was the hardest thing he had ever done. This separation was even more difficult because it was during those first months of my third pregnancy. (We are due to have our third daughter the end of April 2011!) While it was hard to pack and move in that time and be apart, we were both quite excited to know of our third blessing that was coming. Youssef got a job within the first two weeks after moving to Dallas as a research analyst for a graphics and design company. Within just two months, the girls and I were moved into our little apartment here. Again, I don't think Youssef fully realized we were coming until we were actually here. Youssef misses being a reporter every single day and night but is enjoying being in a busy (“big, noisy, stinky, hot, dirty, flat, city.” “colorful, active, fast-paced, eclectic, artistic city.”) place that we are now living in and ESPECIALLY being able to see his family and friends, which he could never afford or had the time off to see before.

The hardest thing about this move has been watching Lily miss her friends and family and getting sad every time she sees pictures of the fun things we used to do. On the plus side, it's been great to see the girls relying more on each other as playmates (since that's pretty much all they have at this point) and seeing Renna grow close to her big sister as well. Lily is falling in quite well to the role of being a great big sister.

Lily is quite helpful and VERY active. She always is working on projects and art and asking to do more school and is quite creative. She also loves to play games and LEGOs with her Daddy and listen to me read books aloud. We are reading some of the Tinkerbell fairy books aloud along with the usual picture books. She enjoyed listening to “The Christmas Carol” throughout December and asking questions about it. Lily will be turning 5 January 4th, and though our school time has been pretty sporadic, what with the move and all, she can write and read her name very well and almost has all the phonetic sounds of the letters down already! Lily is really excited about her little sister coming and especially about the visit we are going to make up to Washington in January (just us girls.) As tiring as her energy makes me sometimes, I really enjoy having such a creative little craft buddy. I'm constantly running out of projects for her to do though and having to make another trip to the dollar store to collect more coloring books or painting things for her! One of the girls favorite things here has been seeing so many squirrels in the parks and around our apartment.

Renna makes up sweet little songs and both girls sing a lot and like to pretend together with their little toys and dolls and make them “talk” together. Renna is still quite dramatic and feels things deeply, yet most of the time I'm learning that her “drama” is actually her way of being humorous. I'm learning to parent her a little differently as well so that her humor and imagination is nurtured. Focusing on that rather than the drama that isn't appropriate has been helpful. She's grown and matured so much in just this past year and it's wonderful to see her sweet temperament coming out. She reminds me some of how Anne of Green Gables was with her highs and lows. Dramatic despair moments and then be on the wings of jubilant excitement. Sometimes I wonder how that is possible though (really) to be crying and upset and then when a nap is suggested her face completely will change to a grin and an assurance that she's “happy!” But this definitely keeps the day's interesting! I love hearing her sweet thank you's and reminders to pray before we eat and her love of all things “tiny.” I think once she fully accepts that she's not the baby anymore she will be a wonderful and helpful big sister after Grace is born.

Along with adding a school time for the girls this year, I was quite busy creating new works of art to sell which are now in Cafe' Brazil near down town Dallas in the bishop art's district. And before you ask, I'll tell you... they were selling better in Spokane. Ha! I knew it. Dallas isn't even better for that! - What? You must just need to do a little more advertising is all. Becoming a famous artist though doesn't appeal to me as much as using my art and creativity to bless my family with scrapbooking and making story books for my children. Most of my day is taken up with making food or cleaning up after food or the girl's messes, and when I squeeze in something creative the tidiness of the house (that I'm not great at keeping up anyway) goes down hill a bit more, but that's all right because I have everything that I'd always wanted - a loving husband and children!

I'm often asked “So, how are you liking Texas?” and I should probably answer that question better here. I generally answer with something polite about the few things that I'm enjoying here. I like seeing the friends that I made back in the day and also making a few new friends. Most of my appreciation about where we are now is simply because we are in a normal apartment instead of an unfinished basement, but that doesn't have much to do with Texas or Dallas specifically. The novelty of the many buildings and lights has worn off on the girls a bit. Essentially there's a lot of traffic and way too many people. That's RIGHT! Run away while you still can! In general it's too hot but I've enjoyed the cool fall-ish days that they call winter here. I also enjoyed taking the girls to go swimming at the hot tub here at the apartment when we first moved down in October. But, of course, I knew that I was a country girl when I made this move happen. Yet, would it have been more fair to insist we stay where we were so that Youssef could continue to give up what he wanted so I could be where I wanted?

Morpheus - "You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."

So, back to the question at the beginning of this letter. The answer that we came to was to move here so that Youssef could not only see his friends and family and enjoy the city life but also work toward becoming a teacher so that we'd have the summers off to travel back to see my family. I know he'd love to use those summers to do some work at The Miner as well since he misses reporting so much. It could help them during their busiest time of year and also earn us a little extra money to help with the travel expenses. I'm anticipating that time in the summers as the girls and my favorite memories when they've grown up, but being in Dallas for the school year will give the girls other opportunities that Youssef would like them to have. He's currently going through the process of getting a teacher's certification so that he can teach high school English. He would still love to become a professor at a university and the longer term goals might include a doctorate in the philosophy of education so that he can eventually teach teachers. This is a lot to accomplish of course, but each stage of our lives felt like it had a lot in it and sometimes difficulties that (at the time) seemed impossible to overcome.

The names of our daughters reminds us of those times in our lives and how we learned to trust God through it all.

LilyAnne was born when we were dealing with a lot of financial problems and the triplex and so on, but her name reminds us of how God clothes the lilies of the field and Anne means graceful as well which reminds us of those times when we lived on God's grace and the help we received from our Christian friends.

Renna means song and her middle name means "beautiful one from heaven” and she was born in a time in our lives when we were learning to praise God and be content, and specifically when I was starting to sing again because I'd finally worked through some hurts in my past.

Now Grace Natalie is on her way and as always we are in need of God's gift of grace in our every day lives. Not only for the future plans, but for right now as well and finding a balance to what we both want.

Sarek to Spock from "Star Trek" - "You will always be a child of two worlds. I am grateful for this, and for you"

At every stage of our lives God has proven Himself to be faithful and going with us no matter what “mistakes” we might make along the way and no matter where we go. In the end, it's not about where we live that puts us “in” or “out of” God's will, but rather being who He's created us to be. A lot of my journey as a wife has been understanding Youssef more and going on that journey with him so that he is where he wants to be and where his full potential can be met. Even defending his need to move to Dallas to the other people that we were around in Washington. (“Why do you want to move THERE? Gross.” “Now, why hadn't you moved here sooner?” Yes, sorry to burst your bubble, dear Texans.. it's really only the Texans that like Texas so much.. not the rest of the world “AMEN!” “They just haven't lived here yet.”) As much as Youssef talked about why it would be “better” to live in Dallas (jobs are more plentiful, more potential to provide for us, etc.) it has never been about that at the heart of it all. At the center of it was finding a life that answers the question at the beginning of this letter. I think it does make Youssef feel better though to hear the “You lived on WHAT a year in Washington? How is that possible?” when he would try to explain the circumstances of our move to people here rather then “Yeah, it can be pretty tough when you are first married... why I remember when...” But yes, it really was never about the money so much as trying to find a life and job that could answer our dilemma. Youssef lived for 6 years in Washington often being misunderstood and I suppose I will experience some misunderstanding as well living here, but I know that if this is better for Youssef then it is better for our whole family.

Hebrews 13:5-6 “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, 'I will never leave you or forsake you.' So we can say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?'"

I will probably always rather live in Washington, and maybe we will again someday, but we're going through this stage first. And as always, God has come with us, giving us the grace to face each day and each new challenge because He is in us and we are in Him.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Cuting out Christmas cookies! -revised-

Here we are cutting out the cookies! It's so fun that the girls are both at an age where they are really enjoying this! I'm really glad that the gluten free recipe that I sort of fixed up worked out so well.

"What... I didn't bite the head off of this cookies that I was supposed to put sprinkles on." ;]
Lily did a great job on her decorating and put white stripes and red sprinkles on the candy cane cookies. :]
Ta Da! They are beautiful! Renna did a good job on the sprinkles. ;] Hey, if anyone wants the gluten free sugar cookies recipe from me, just let me know. I don't have time to post it right now.. Maybe I'll have time to add it later.

And now, here is the softest Christmas cookie that is gluten free that I've seen.

Cream together--

3/4 to 1 cup sugar (I use raw sugar and use 3/4 of a cup if you are going to frost them well and 1 cup if you are going to just add some sprinkles... see end note about rolling them out as well and sugar.)

1/2 cup soft butter

1/8 tsp salt

2 egg yolks

1 egg

1/2 tsp Almond OR vanilla extract

Dissolve 1/2 tsp baking soda in 1 T. Hot water and add it in as well

1/2 cup sour cream (the "secret ingredient") get the REAL stuff btw... the kind that just says "cream" as the ingredient.

Now, in a separate bowl mix the dry ingredients---

1 & 3/4 cup brown rice flour

1 & 1/4 cup tapioca startch

1 & 1/2 tsp xanthan gum

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin

1/2 tsp nutmeg

Add this flour mixture to the first bowl and mix. You want the consistency to be pretty soft, but just firm enough to be able to take a spatula and pile it all into a lump in the middle. It will be sticky, but not runny.

Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

It's probably best to use cutters that aren't any bigger than 3x3 inches because gluten free things tend to crumble more easily, but experiment to see what works for you and what you like.

When I rolled it out (about 1/4 of an inch thick) I needed a lot of rice flour (of course) and it's good to not try to roll out the entire thing.. take no more than a quarter of it at a time and just keep adding a bit more from the bowl as you need it. One thing that I also did after testing the first cookies.. was that I used the 3/4 cup of sugar and found that if I sprinkled some sugar with the flour while I rolled it out it was REALLY good and didn't need any frosting or anything. Though, it still tasted good with frosting and sprinkles too. I personally don't like them super sweet.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 for 6-9 minutes. Gluten free things tend to dry out more quickly so try to bake it so it's *just* under being browned on the edges. You want it done of course, but still fluffy!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Celebrating Christmas a little differently this year...

So, I like to scrapbook. Scrapbooking is a great way to save memories and so forth, but it also is a way for me to reflect on what we've done and how we do things. I started seeing a pattern in our Christmases - all the pictures were of people opening presents. EVERYTHING was about opening presents! It made me wonder why.. and what Christmas is truly about. Why is the focus on presents? Last year Lily and Youssef talked about what they were going to get for at least two months... they both stressed about it and talked about it. Lily seemed worried that I'd forget what she'd asked for... Youssef was worried that the thing for him would be the wrong size, and so on. Why did we spend SO much time thinking and talking and fretting about gifts?

Not to leave myself out of course because I spent most of the month MAKING gifts or PLANNING gifts or something to that effect. I didn't spend extra time with family and making memories.. no.. I got stressed and "under a deadline" .. and the question is.. why should we do it that way?

Of course, the more I thought of this and talked to Youssef about it, the more we decided that we wanted to start doing things differently. But how?

The plan this year has been to let the girls pick a toy out when we first put up our tree so that they have something small and new to play with and enjoy, but the anticipation and stress does NOT last all month. Hence, on Christmas it's not going to be about presents and "what do you want for Christmas?" mindset.

I think I've talked a little bit on here about what we've been doing DURING the holiday season.. reading "The Christmas Carol" out loud while the Daddy plays lego on the floor with the girls, buying a few new games so we can do more fun stuff as a family (the girls get to unwrap the games and even the few small toys that they've picked out to keep that fun anticipation and festive feel to make it special.) We have fondue together and the girls get candy a bit more often than usual. ;]

But all that is DURING the Christmas season... what should we do ON Christmas?

Well, I've been planning for a while that we'd probably do a birthday cake for Jesus because the girls are little and that would be a way for them to understand what we are celebrating. I did want to do stockings and have tiny gifts in there as well for Christmas morning and talk to them about the story of St. Nicholas (great VeggieTale version btw!)

The main focus though would be on giving a present to Jesus (by giving to someone else who needs it) like choosing a charity or something. If you think about it.. how much can we save by NOT giving just a couple gifts. Gifts run between 20 to 50 dollars! I love giving toys to my kids (as evidenced by the WAY too many toys that they have!) but really.. how many more things do they need to play with? I loved letting them pick something small out because it made that toy much more special and wasn't about the "amount" of "things" they were going to get. As in "Madame Blueberry" (another VeggieTales.. you can tell how old my kids are!) Bob says "How many things do you NEED to be happy?" And Larry says "I don't know.. how many things are there?" Yes.. this is definitely the mindset. I remember thinking that way as a kid. The one toy wasn't enough.. I had to have the matching thing and then the other thing and then the WHOLE set for it to be just right. It feels like such an ingrained thing that it's hard to NOT think that way.

So, back to the point. I wanted the focus this year to be on giving to a charity to teach the girls how that's like giving a present to Jesus for His birthday, but I hadn't found anything specific until today.

Perhaps this is a weird thing to talk about, right? As Christians we are supposed to be all humble and not let other people see how or that we are giving. I'm not sure why that is.. it could be that we are gratifying our own pride by being so "humble" and "secretive" about giving. I don't know how NOT to be transparent and sincere about what I do (hence all the blabbing on this blog).. but it's never to tout what I'm choosing to do. I always hope that whatever it is that I share.. be it some creative project or something that God is teaching me, that other people will simply be encouraged! Doesn't mean you need to do the exact same thing of course, but you never know... maybe God will use my words to bring a much desired change in someone else's Christmas as well as in ours. I love hearing about what other people are creating or changing in their lives, even if it doesn't apply to me it's encouraging to see how other people are growing. :]

Now to the POINT of this blog post!
It's because I found the perfect "gift for Jesus"!!!!!
(At least from our family) :]

Some friends of ours that we met way back in the day when we lived in Spokane and went to the same church are adopting for the second time!!! They are a wonderful family and have such a great heart for children and learning about other cultures and so forth.. I spent a couple hours this morning reading their blog. Anyway, they are getting a grant to match dollar for dollar to help pay the adoption expenses and the grant closes the beginning of February. So this is the time to put what we can into it. They will match dollar for dollar up to $2,500. Info on how to give is on their blog in the link below.

This is where we are putting that money that would have gone to extra toys or knickknacks that would be left unplayed with after the first few days or left to collect dust in an overly crowded house.

I hope some of you will be led to join us in this effort to give a child a wonderful home! Even if you simply choose to forgo a couple gifts to help fund this grant that would be WONDERFUL!

Merry Christmas everybody!

James 1:27 "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this : to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

Monday, December 06, 2010

"On the first day of Christmas"

Okay, so it's not technically the "first day of Christmas" but... we are doing some things differently this year. For one thing.. I decided that I didn't like Christmas day to be a gigantic flury of opening presents. I mean.. really.. WHY do I spend the entire month of December making gifts and dealing with my own deadline rather than spending extra time together and doing fun stuff during the whole season?

This year the girls each got to pick out a little toy in November to get out that "I want this for Christmas" mood... Lily had a lot of ideas of what she wanted and had to pick her one favorite. It's great because she's STILL playing with it (and we let them open those toys right when we decorated after Thanksgiving) and she hasn't been as fretful and telling me what she wanted, because.. she already got that special thing. Well.. I decided that I wanted to pick something out for them as well and so they got one other toy for Christmas.. which is what they are holding in the picture above. And they got to open them today after Daddy got home!
While I was setting up dinner and Youssef was helping, the girls played happily with their new toys (that they opened right when Daddy got home) and the rest of the night was enjoying fondue together... which we will be having a lot more of in the following weeks!
We put a tea candle under the fondue pot instead of the oil thing... the tea candle kept it from getting cold but didn't make it boil like the other annoying thing did! Anyway, it was a great temperature for the girls and they were totally into dipping. :]
Renna was into it for really the first time too which was fun! She didn't always dip, but liked the special forks and foods. I love making this for dinner because we just keep having leftovers and keep adding to the leftovers and the meal just keeps lasting. :]
This was about 7 at night I guess, but the girls have been wearing their new jammies pretty much all the time.

After dinner I made some homemade dark hot chocolate (I'm getting good at making it *just* right) for our dessert and we all got a candy can. Just got my order today from this natural candy place! I've got it all rationed out for December and some of the candy I ordered will be for stockings or even later for the girls birthdays and so forth. Lily is holding up a maraschino cherry. I got a jar of them from that same candy place. They are more for Youssef and the girls since I'm not super into them, but they tasted right and didn't have all the nasty stuff that the "normal" ones have.

I didn't load pictures of this, but after dessert we read from the "Christmas Carol" while Youssef colored with the girls.

This is pretty much how our Christmas times will be going... special fondue dinners together and reading and playing together. I also just got my order today for four kid games. We do a "game night" every week and didn't have much of a selection, so each week in this month the girls will get to unwrap a new game for game night and we'll get to play it together till there's just one left on Christmas. They won't get any toys on Christmas from us.. just some tiny stocking stuffer things for fun, like play dough and a little sticker book and small stuff like that from the dollar store (along with some candy again) .. anyway.. it will just be fun, but not the giant flury of unwrapping all at once thing. No, we'll enjoy and savor all of this and being together for the whole month!

So far it's been really great! Just enough anticipation without anyone losing the excitement (from the anticipation getting drug out too long), fun movies like the VeggieTale ones and good opportunities to talk to the girls about Jesus and why we celebrate certain things. I've got some ideas floating around for a better way to organize what I want to teach them during this season and what I'd like to focus on... I decided not to try to do it THIS year, but perhaps a children's book will need to be created that I can use with my own family. We'll see. :]

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Holiday and school time

Lily has been going through "Sing Spell Read Write" which I'm super impressed with so far! It was a bit pricy, but considering that it will go through two other kids and reading is such a VERY important step to the rest of school I wanted to get something really good. Renna joins in as well with the singing and likes the story time of course (in the picture above she's practicing her cutting abilities with some scraps of paper.) I read to them while Lily colors some of the pictures, but I have to pay attention when Lily does the manuscript writing. I'm pretty picky about making sure she writes them so they look like the letter and they are formed the right way, BUT she works really hard and earns a sticker for every two pages of her school (she does four a day)
The picture above is the "raceway track" that goes with the reading program and under it is our little chart of stickers. Once she earns ten stickers she gets a "prize" from the dollar store. It's usually a puzzle (she adores puzzles and is quite good at them!) or a coloring book or some paper dolls or whatever else we find there that she'd like. She loves to paint so that's a big deal. She also gets a sticker sometimes for cleaning up her room or something like that. So far it's been a great incentive to help her push through hard tasks and finish well. (Some people might call this bribery, but I'd like to point out that it's no different than a pay check! Seriously, even if someone really likes there job are they going to do it as well without ANY incentive? Even us home-makers often make incentives for ourselves, like planning to do something fun after cleaning the house, etc. Anyway, I rest my case.)
Renna is showing off her new panda and pj's. She liked these fuzzy ones that said "Joy" better than any others we saw and the panda laughs. ;] The other night (for "lego night") Youssef put the train together under the tree and it's often left going around the little people nativity. It's amazing how many toys we ALREADY have. They definitely didn't need much more (in the toy department) to make this christmas fun.
had to get a picture of Renna's naturally curly hair. It either is all cute and ringlety like this or she will look a bit like a mad scientist with it going everywhere and not in the perfect curls. If I get it wet and let it dry on it's own though it will do this. I just can't cut it yet!
This was just tonight after we'd made a bunch of cards and colored and stuff with Lily's new real box of crayons! I'd only ever gotten her the junky crayons from the dollar store that are mainly wax. These crayons are all nice in a box and have a brighter color to them. She's showing of HER new jammies that we just got today. I hadn't planned on getting her any because she sort of still fit the ones from last year, but these were on sale for $5 and she needed something that fit better and were lighter weight. Renna needed warmer ones because she kicks off her covers and gets cold and Lily snuggles under her blankets and gets hot. Anyway, it's always fun to have new jammies during the holiday's. The girls tend to wear them most of the time anyway. I wanted to get them some new clothes as well.. just a couple comfy outfits for Christmas, but I might not have the money right now... maybe they'll be on sale though AFTER Christmas... not ideal, but it would work.
Here's Lily's school station in the dinning room. She put up the crowns and jewels on the wall all by herself (after coloring them and cutting them out herself too!) I'm glad she likes to do projects so much... it keeps her happy and busy for a LONG time. Which is really nice because she's the type that needs a lot to do for her busy little mind and body.