Tuesday, October 7, 2014

To My Sister, That Time Your Baby Needed a Heart Transplant

I so appreciate you, dear readers, for coming alongside me during this time. Your prayers mean more than you will ever know. I feel so vulnerable sharing these things, but I also feel compelled to-sometimes just because it seems it is the only way to keep from completely breaking down...

Dear Robyn,
              We've been sisters a long time now. My whole life, really, since you are the oldest. You never let me forget that fact growing up. And secretly, that made me glad. Glad that went things went wrong *you* were the responsible one, when our parents tried out new disciplinary tactics, you were the guinea pig, when chores needed to be done, you had the lion's share.

    And once we became "adults" (whatever that horrid word means) I liked it even more, and not so secretly. You had the first boyfriend, and I learned how to interact with guys, you got the first job (and then got me a job), you got married first and I was the terrible maid of honor, you had the first baby, and made me a little less afraid to be a mom. And then, we were in it together, new moms, military wives, far from our family. But we had each other. Through babies and deployments, and moves, and crises big and small. We talked for hours on the phone, about everything and nothing.

   And I have never stopped looking up to you. You have always been the put-together one, the organizer, the mother-er, the planner. You do everything with such amazing finesse. And you have always been so strong. I knew you would be there for me any time I needed you. And I took advantage of that, for sure!

   And now, this. Who knew that the Lord had a such a thing in life for you as a sweet, tiny, helpless baby who would need a *heart* transplant? You have always loved babies-for as long as I can remember. When I haplessly tossed my Cabbage Patch kids on the bed, you would tenderly rescue them and chide me for my lack of caring. You loved to babysit, and did it for the chance to love on other people's babies. I was the childcare mercenary-anything for the money. And when you finally had your own sweet little ones, you had reached Nirvana-achieving your lifelong dream of motherhood.

   And now, your maternal instinct is screaming at you, relentlessly. This tiny thing, it needs you, but you can't be everything. You can't heal her with anything you possess. And I know it is the hardest thing you've ever done-to stand waiting. I know because watching this mercilessly pound you is the hardest thing I've ever done. You're my big sister, and I can't make it go away the way you have so many times for me. I can't fix it-like the many times you have remedied things for me.

   I don't know how to make this better. Pretty much because I can't. I say, "I'm sorry" and I quote Scripture and I pray. Oh, how I pray! And pray! And pray. I have become intimately aware of what 1 Thessalonians 5:17 really means. But only God can fix this, only God can see you through it. And I am learning, because of you, what it really means to trust God.

    And so, in this too, you are still going ahead of me. Showing me what grace in the face of great tragedy looks like, what fully relying on an unseen God means. How to give glory while suffering, and do so in a way that draws others closer to the One who deserves all the glory. You claimed these verses for little Gracelyn, but *you* are the one making Scripture true with your life:

"Yet I am always with You;     You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel,    and afterward You will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?    And earth has nothing I desire besides You.
 My flesh and my heart may fail,    but God is the strength of my heart    and my portion forever."
                                                                                    Psalm 73:23-26 (NIV)

  And there is no way that you could be setting a better example for me in this, my dearest "big" sister. You are hope, faith, love, and patience-even though I know there have been many days that you haven't feel that way. You are strong-not of yourself, but because of Whose you are. I wish that I could make this go away... oh, I don't think even you could comprehend how my heart longs to fix this all, not just for sweet Gracey, but for you. I believe, though, that my prayers are reaching the Throne of Grace, and I know that He who began this work in you, He is the One who will be faithful to complete it. And in the meanwhile, know that I am here-however you need me, whenever you need me. Because no one knows like a sister knows, right?

Friday, October 3, 2014

To Gracelyn, When You Were Born

Dear Gracey,
                           I'm your Aunt Clare. We haven't met yet, a fact that makes me super sad, especially since I was there for all of your siblings' births. But it just didn't work out this time. But that doesn't keep me from loving you and wishing I was there to kiss your chubby cheeks!

      And I also wish I was there for your mom. We've been through a lot together, she and I. And what she is going through with you is probably the hardest road she has ever had to travel. Because you have a "special" heart. It isn't quite what it is supposed to be, and in your short few days here you've had more medical tests and procedures done than I have had in my whole life. I don't understand it all, but literally part of your heart is missing, and that has caused so many other problems...

    But never doubt for a moment these things: you were WANTED and you are LOVED. Your mom and Dad found out this summer that your heart was"broken" and they never for one second thought about anything but how to help you. All they ever have wanted is to care for you and love you. Your mom's heart is breaking in it's own way because she can't fix this.

   And your Dad, well, I am sure that he is just trying to figure out how to be there for your mom without falling apart himself. He would give his own heart for you, I know. He would give anything to make this better, to make it go away...

   And how do I know this? Because that is how I feel, and I'm not even your mom. But I love your mom, she's my big sister. And its tearing me up that I can't *do* anything. But you better believe, I haven't for one minute quit praying for you. I know the Lord keeps bringing this Scripture to mind for a reason:

"As He (Jesus) went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him." John 9:1-4 (NIV)

    I don't know what is going to happen to you, sweet Gracey. I would love to think that you will be allowed to meet your brother and sisters, know their love, sleep in your own bed, get to try ice cream, fight with your siblings, swing on a swing...  But I don't know that. But I can promise you-your life will be for God's glory. How do I know that? Because it already is! You have been so prayed for-you and your whole family. All of your doctors and medical professionals. Everyone around you has been covered in prayer long before you were born.

   And I believe that you can be healed. That you will get to do all those things and so much more. I have hope-and that is so much more than wishing on a star. My hope is concrete-based on the Truth that is Jesus, and so I don't have to fear. I am sad,sad for your parents, sad for you-this is so hard. But I don't have to fear, because you were created in His image, and not one thing that has happened to you has escaped His notice, never for even a part of a second have you been out of His care. And if I love you so much that I can't hardly stand it, imagine how He feels?

   When we found out about your heart your Aunt Katy shared these verses with your mom, and they became "yours". And today, especially, they hold so much meaning and comfort.

"Whom have I in heaven but you?    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  
My flesh and my heart may fail,    but God is the strength of my heart    and my portion forever." 
                                     Psalm 73:25-26

       He is, Gracey, He is! The strength of your "broken" heart, and mine. I'm so glad that I don't have to rely on my own strength. It is worthless, and so feeble. But the Lord? He is strong enough. Strong enough to heal you, strong enough to see us through whatever happens, strong enough to show His glory through any circumstance, no matter how hard. More than strong enough to be there for you and all our family.

     Strong enough to bear my worries and fears, and strong enough dry all my crying. He loves you, Gracey, and so do I. I won't stop praying...
                                                                                         Aunt Clare

If you are curious about Gracey's condition, or just want to know how to join us in prayer, consider following her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/prayersforg4 
Thank you for praying with us!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

"Practically Perfect" Smoothies

       I hate breakfast. Well, I probably shouldn't put it exactly that way. I just have this weird thing about not wanting to chew that early in the morning. I am fine at about 9:30-10:00 am, but honestly, it just doesn't work to wait that long to eat. If I have pancakes, or waffles, or an omelet, I want them for lunch or dinner. I basically just want to drink my breakfast. I used to always have a Carnation Instant Breakfast drink, but I have been slowly trying to clean up my eating, and while that is fine occasionally, I have decided that having a smoothie in the morning is really ideal. Unfortunately, it took me a really long time to hone my smoothie making technique, mostly because everyone has a different opinion on what a smoothie should be.I had to play around with fresh and frozen fruit, amounts of liquids, and blending times and techniques. So, this isn't so much a recipe, as a how-to fine tune your smoothie to make it perfect for you!

First, the proportions that I use are almost always the same. I add:
-1 c. frozen fruit
-1/2  a fresh banana
-1/2 c. non-fat plain Greek yogurt
-1/2 c. 1% milk
-1/2 c. loosely packed spinach (basically a handful of spinach leaves, baby or regular)
-1 tbsp. chia seeds or ground flax
Serves 1.

   I wanted a smoothie that was really cold, but I hated adding ice, which a lot of smoothie recipes recommend. It takes me a while to drink the whole thing, and I didn't like that it would get watered down. I also didn't like the little ice chunks. So that is why you need to use frozen fruit. You can freeze any type of berry, cherry or melon that you want! I love to buy the triple berry blend from Costco, and also frozen pineapple. You can use any combination that you like.

   Using frozen fruit makes for a really thick smoothie. I don't have a high-powered blender (Someday, I would love to!) but the Oster I have works just fine, as long as I am careful with it. I add my fresh banana first, then the fruit. After that, milk, yogurt, spinach. I turn it on high liquefy. I watch to see if it is mixing-if not, lift the frozen fruit up-*away* from the blades. This allows the machine to draw the fruit in from a different angle. It sounds kind of technical, but I was just wished that someone had told me that it doesn't work as well to try to shove the fruit onto the blades! I let it blend for about 30 seconds, re-arrange with a spatula, and then blend again. When everything is evenly colored, there are no visible chunks and it is pulling down in the center it is done.

   One of the most important things to know is: if you want a thinner smoothie that isn't as cold, use more fresh fruit (say, 1/2 c. fresh berries, 1/2 c frozen berries). If you want a thinner, cold smoothie add more liquid. You can swap out the milk for anything, occasionally I will add half milk and half orange juice, but you could use all juice.

   I don't like my smoothies to be super sweet, either. However, sometimes I will use Tillamook Vanilla Bean Greek yogurt-that stuff is amazing! You can use regular yogurt instead of Greek, but you will be sacrificing a lot of protein. And honestly, you won't be able to tell the difference! Once it is all blended together, it is liquid anyway.

   If you are having problems with your spinach not being completely blended in, try blending it with just the milk before you add anything else. Once your milk is smooth and green you are good to go! If you are tasting the spinach, just decrease the amount initially. I have never really had a problem with it. I have never tried adding kale, I have heard that is a little stronger. I just figure that if I don't notice the spinach it is a great way to get some veggies first thing in the morning!

   I also love that it is easy to freeze berries that are past their prime for eating, and they still taste great in smoothies. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries-they are so delicate! Once they are headed downhill, I just wash them, lay them out on a tray, freeze them for 30 minutes to an hour and then put them in labeled ziplocs. Don't skip this "flash-freezing" step, or you will end up with a giant lump of berries that you can't measure. And it will be beastly to blend!

    I have seen where you can freeze your ingredients in individual baggies so that you just have to dump it all in, but I haven't found that to be especially time saving for me, and it also prevents me from being spontaneous with my fruit combinations. I usually have a least two or three different types and I like to mix up the quantities.

   You can also use frozen bananas in place of fresh, I usually cut mine into 1 inch chunks before freezing. That will make your smoothie really thick! I love to use a fat smoothie straw, my sister gave me these great reusable ones. Be warned though: freezing your bananas seems to intensify the banana flavor, and if your banana is overripe it will taste even more that way. Just use those bananas for baking!

    You can also switch things up by adding peanut butter, or protein powder. I also find that smoothies are a great way to use up leftover fruit salad-that usually isn't appetizing to look at, but throw it in a smoothie and you won't even know!

   So, hopefully this will help you to avoid some of the mistakes that I made. Smoothies are really one of the best breakfast foods ever-protein, fruit, some veggies, and all those omegas, minerals and vitamins for around 300 calories? Yes, please!

    If you have any great smoothie tips-especially for those of us without $200 blenders, please share!

Linked up:
"Motivation Monday" at A Life in Balance 
"Pin It Thursday" at Sweet Bella Roos 
"Thrifty Thursday" at Living Well, Spending Less
"Craft Frenzy Friday" at Craft Dictator

Friday, August 1, 2014

So Easy Bleu Buffalo Mac and Cheese


I made homemade macaroni and cheese. I used this recipe. It was definitely easy, and it was definitely quick (I skipped the microwaving portion and simply melted everything on the stovetop in the same pan I made the noodles.) However, it was also definitely...plain. We like flavorful food, and while Josie loved it the way it turned out, I decided it needed a little jazzing up. 

   Joel and I have recently discovered that we like bleu cheese. I also love anything involving buffalo sauce. I love Frank's Red Hot (a friend turned me on to the wonder that is buffalo chicken dip), and also I am obsessed with Wishbone's Buffalo Ranch dressing. So, I started poking around the pantry and came up with this easy Bleu Buffalo Mac & Cheese "recipe".

"Bleu Buffalo Mac & Cheese"
You will need:
-seasoned breadcrumbs (I used Garlic and Herb)
-blue cheese crumbles
-Buffalo Tabasco (or your favorite buffalo sauce)
-grated cheddar
-one recipe of your favorite homemade mac & cheese.

The base macaroni and cheese recipe I used is here and is perfect because it isn't too salty. The other ingredients are so salty that you will not want to use any extra salt!

I didn't take exact measurements, but this isn't a recipe that requires perfection. The key is to not go overboard with the bread crumbs. You will also want your mac & cheese to be hot, because you won't be heating it, just browning the top.

      Place about half of the mac & cheese in an oven proof dish. If I had to guess, it was probably about 2 1/2 c. Sprinkle 1/4 c. of grated cheddar over the top. Sprinkle 1-2 tbsp. of breadcrumbs over that. (You literally want to sprinkle, not cover. Start with a small amount and add more if you like). Sprinkle 1-2 tbsp. of blue cheese crumbles over that. Then liberally shake Tabasco over if you like it spicy, it basically looked like I had garnished mine when I was finished. Then place under broiler and broil under bubbly and golden brown. Make sure to get it nicely browned to take the raw flavor out of the breadcrumbs.  Serves two generously.
     I reheated the remainder of the macaroni today and fixed this again, and had it for lunch with a green salad. It was such a nice twist on regular mac. And I didn't even miss the meat! Although you could easily add grilled chicken to it if you don't do vegetarian. You can also up the heat level by adding more buffalo sauce. Halving the recipe is perfect for families, too, since we had plenty of plain mac for the kids. This Bleu Buffalo Mac is definitely a grown-up version!

Linked up:
"Thrifty Thursday" at Living Well, Spending Less 
"Pinterest Foodie Linky" at A Life in Balance

Monday, July 21, 2014

"You are My Sunshine" Sip & See Baby Shower

            I am betting that you totally forgot that I promised you a full reveal of the "You are My Sunshine" shower I helped plan. But I didn't! And what could be a more perfect theme for these hot summer days? I loved working on this shower (It didn't hurt that I teamed up with my incredibly talented family for this one-my mom is the original "hostess with the mostess" and my aunt has thrown many a fab party herself!).My youngest sister was also invaluable.

     This theme was so fun-I decided on suns for my motif and the color scheme was orange, yellow and gray with liberal doses of white. It was definitely "sunny" and so cheerful! This shower was a little different than a traditional shower. "Sip & See" is a great southern term for a shower that you throw *after* the baby is born. This particular sip & see was for four moms. Definitely four times the fun!

  The lighting in the church basement is less than ideal for photos, but I think you can still appreciate the cuteness. The largest element was one of the cheapest: the giant sun backdrop is white wrapping paper (from the Dollar Tree) and then I traced a giant circle on yellow poster board and made the "rays" from streamers in yellow and orange.

The giant jar full of lemons and tangerines was another great inexpensive element. The church owned most of the glassware that I used which significantly reduced the cost. I whipped up the pom-poms from cheap yarn, and wasn't sure what I wanted to do with them. In the end I put them around the jar on a white cake plate and it turned out to be one of my favorite things. A sweet church member carefully re-created the fruit stacks from a pin I sent her. She had never made melon balls before-but didn't they turn out great?

My sister, Kelly, made these great Oreo Cloud Cheesecakes. I will try to get her to post the recipe. We liberally sprinkled them with orange sugar and topped them with a Sixlet pearl. The "cake stand" is just a white plate balanced on an overturned orange planting pot. Use what you have, I say! My mom already owned the fantastic chalkboard table signs, they added such a great touch. The table runner was flannel cloth from Joann's- it was a great price, and I thought it was reminiscent of baby blankets. And *chevron*-need I say more?

 One of the biggest challenges was making this enormous institutional space feel homey. I brought in a white book shelf and styled it with a variety of orange and yellow items collected from my mom's and aunt's houses. The vintage blocks are one of my favorite things! My daughter drew the chalkboard sun for a touch of childlike whimsy. My aunt put together the pennant out of scrapbook paper from Hobby Lobby. The majority of these things are mostly unimpressive on their own, but when you group them together by color they create a vignette that feels casually intentional. The sun in the frame was created by Kelly.

  I balanced the bookshelf with this little "reading area" on the other side. The Beatles quote was a fun little last minute choice. My mom owns so many fabulous chalkboards, and this window pane one is probably my favorite. And overturned bucket served as a little table for a basket of vintage Little Golden books. The printable is a freebie from here.

   The grouping of pom-poms and lanterns anchored the seating area. They are mostly from Hobby Lobby. I know how to make giant tissue poms, but it was basically the same cost-wise (and a lot easier effort-wise) to buy them. It is a lot harder to make things look "effortless" and not planned than you would think! Basically my strategy is hang a few, re-arrange, hang some more, look for bare spots, leave, come back and continue to re-arrange until the last possible moment...easy, right? ;)

  Balancing the food table on the opposite side of the center seating area was the gift table.  I added balloons (use a marble to get them to stay down). This was where the fabric garland ended up-it added wonderful texture. It was so easy, I would make another in a heart beat.

My mom asked the guests to bring $5 and under small unwrapped gifts for each mom. She arranged the gifts in these great metal baskets she found at Fred Meyer. She tied ribbons on and attached tags with each honoree's name. They were a huge hit. So much more thoughtful than a gift bag!

   Can I just say how much I love this window frame? I used it at my sister's wedding. Go forth and buy an old window frame-you will be shocked at how often you can use it! My mom has such a great eye for this kind of thing. I made the sun on the back side with paper from Hobby Lobby. My aunt added the garland. The adorable print is from here-I added the chevron paper strip to tie it in a little better.

   Each guest received a unique Scripture verse as part of their gift. I typed them up in Word and embellished with various ribbons, papers and jewels that my mom had. Since there were four, each major area of the room had one. I choose verses that focused on the sun or light. Oh, how I love Scripture! It is always so appropriate. I wrapped the tea lights in washi tape.

   This mini candy buffet centered the coffee area. Peach rings, lemon drops and orange slices were too perfect for the color scheme. And anything you put in a glass jar is just going to look cuter. A simple sheet of scrapbook paper and some mini scoops completed the display.
   Another scripture and some more lemons made a cute display with a vase of the most perfect orange Gerbera daisies I've ever seen. Everyone thought they were fake!

  More flowers on the beverage table- along with another chalkboard, more tea lights, another scripture, a cute metal bucket for the straws and cups and a perfectly matched bottles of Martinelli's cider (from Costco). The statement piece here? A handcrafted stained glass piece, my sister's senior art project. Is that not *too* perfect?! You can't pay for that kind of matching. I love how this shows that you can repeat elements but switching them up around the room keeps it from feeling too matchy-matchy. I propped the chalkboard up on an overturned bucket to give it some height. Lemonade filled the glass beverage dispenser.

   I don't advocate procrastination, but I truly make some of my best decisions last minute. My mom purchased these yellow mini legal pads for a game she planned. We quickly ran washi tape across the top and stamped the top page and poof! Instant favor! We filled a bucket of them and they looked so cute. The stamp is from Hobby Lobby.

   I was thrilled with how it turned out! Every time I am asked to plan something like this I completely freak out. What if the inspiration well has run dry? What if I abysmally fail?  What if the guests make fun of it? What if I forget something really important? And then I remember the real reason for these things: to bless someone by showing love.

"Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people." Ephesians 6:7 NIV

And honestly, as cheesy as it sounds, you can't really go wrong. No one really has expectations, and usually any effort you make is met with gratitude. This one was definitely a success!

Interested in seeing more of my inspiration? Follow me on Pinterest!

Linked up:
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