Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Johnny at 6 months


Today you are 6 months old. Half a year achieved, half a year to your first birthday. This time has gone by faster than any other. It seems momentous, for you to have achieved this half year, but it has caught me off guard with how quick it came around.

You are an amazingly easy little man. Over and over again we tell people that if it weren't for your extra appointments here and there and the fact that I choose to pump to feed you, we wouldn't even realize you were here or have any challenges with you. You sleep most of the day, are happy to sit in your seat when we are out and about, love to cuddle quietly when you can, and really only get mad at the end of our little therapy sessions throughout the day. I love to see you looking around, smiling at all you see, reaching for people, toys, and anything that catches your eye. You have really gotten into holding and playing with toys, especially the toys that dangle from your car seat or other baby items which make it easy for you to grab. You have even started reaching for items while doing your tummy time and pull them towards you. This makes Mommy happy because that hopefully means we can coerce you into more movement this way! You like for Mommy to clap your hands and do little hand motions while we sing little songs (you seem to like The Itsy Bitsy Spider and If You're Happy and You Know It). You also like for us to kick your legs around and to roll them up so you are "folded in half". That especially helps you get all your toots out which you are particularly talented at!

 You sleep wonderfully, still nestled into the bassinet portion of the pack and play. You are getting large for it, but we are soon going to move you up to your room and will just make that transition all at once. You have developed a fondness for having a blanket and got very mad at Daddy for not covering you up with a blanket for you to grab with two hands and snuggle up to your face. You don't like having the blanket covering your legs though and you will kick it off several times throughout the night so the blanket is covering your tummy (and sometimes your face) and not your legs. Because we all like it a little chilly in our house at night, I try to keep your legs covered or make sure that I put you into footie pajamas so you don't get too cold. You will sleep from 7:30 to 7:30 with no waking to feed. You are trying to rework your napping schedule a bit, it seems you like to doze through the morning (probably because we are always out running around) and then have a good nap in the afternoon. My best times to work with you on therapy are after lunch and in the early evening. You are snoring less in your sleep which is a good sign for all of your ENT stuff.

 You are exclusively breastfed no longer, you had your first taste of solids on Saturday. You liked the peas ok, but we tried squash for the first time today and you seemed to like that much more, taking half of the container. You may have wanted more, but you were very sleepy. It is easier to feed you than your sisters because you don't grab for the spoon as much, but you have a harder time keeping your head up so that is challenging. Today you were so tired you laid your head down on the tray, took a few seconds to rest, then picked your head back up for more food.

                First taste of squash      Exactly 6 months old at 3:36

You are such a delight, you work so hard at everything we try to do with you so far, you smile for so much, you squawk and talk to everyone, we simply love having you in our lives. We marvel all the time at what an unexpected blessing you are for our family. We never would have known how amazing you would be to us and we are so thankful.

Day of Life 1

6 months old

We love you Johnny. It is indescribable how much, but we love you, love you, love you
and look forward to seeing more time pass with you.

Mommy and Daddy

Monday, April 29, 2013


"It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not 
particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - 
fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, 
boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. [...] If you look for it, 
I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around."
-Love Actually

The above is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies. And it is a quote I have been thinking about a lot lately. The media and society often tell us that love has to look a certain way, sound a certain way, and be a certain way. But just as there are billions of people on this earth, love looks, sounds, is a billion different things. It may not be "particularly dignified or newsworthy", but love can be found in the smallest of actions, in fleeting glances, and in moments often overlooked by ourselves and most certainly by others. 

I see love in so much of my life.

MacKenzie shows love by grabbing our faces and looking us in our eyes then getting embarrassed by such a blatant show of emotion and buries her head deep into our shoulders. She shows love by helping with chores and tasks around the house and asking if "She was a good helper". She shows love by grabbing her favorite book and inching closer and closer to you as you read it until she sits, limbs everywhere, delighting in every word.

Keegan shows love by grabbing your hands and putting them in her lap, or around her shoulder, or by lacing your fingers with hers, lightly stroking them as a reminder that you are there. She shows love with her peals of giggles that she gives freely to anyone and everyone I think in part because she things much of life is funny and in part to make others feel good about themselves, like her laughter is a reward for all the world to cherish. She shows love by unabashedly proclaiming it, for her family, her friends, and interestingly enough, a certain boy or two in her Sunday school class. 

Johnny shows love in his own way, with his smile that is too big for his face, where if you didn't know better you could imagine him screaming "I'm going to eat you!" He shows love by reaching out for your face, in the little baby way, with eyes full of wonder, looking like "Is this person real? Because I think they are pretty amazing." He shows love with snuggles meant just for the people he loves, relaxing his muscles, settling into his favorite crook under your neck, placing his hands on your side or on your chest. 

Love between Matt and I is often times found in those fleeting moments. A quick kiss of a greeting at home or an unexpected lunch out as a family. A grin and hidden laughter at something our wonderful kids have done that we may not want to necessarily encourage with blatant display of humor. A quick brush of the hands stretched out to touch each other as we sit on opposite ends of the couch with our three kids nuzzled between us as we watch a family movie. Or even a resounding and affirmative "I love you" at the end of a disagreement, an assurance that despite our differences, it is worth working through together.

Lately, because I am so thankful for the time and resources to do so, I am working on exhibiting love for others and gladly receiving it in turn. It has been a love-fest around here lately, over and over friends have posted examples of love on Facebook and through text messages. A quick trip to the grocery store for a friend with sick kids. Picking up coffee and a favorite candy for a friend having a bad day. Random play dates which leads to wonderful Mommy time as friendships are furthered at all ages. Bringing over lunch or dinner for a friend in need. 

And as it is with women of a "breeding age", always looking for love in a new person. Sending text message of love and prayers. Praising steps in adoptions and squealing with delight when pregnancies are announced. Counting up expecting friends and wondering who will be next, always speculating on every mention of feeling under the weather or frequent trips to the restroom. Sitting with friends watching their bellies move with new life. Worrying with friends desperate to be in that position themselves.

It's all love being exhibited in a thousand different ways. We show love how we can. Sometimes we need more love than we can give, sometimes we are blessed with boundless supplies and energy and it spills out for others to lap up. There is an ebb and flow and I have found the more you give, truly give, expecting nothing in return (except for maybe a smile and a hug), the more you get. Your own stores of love are rarely depleted when you give, love has the tendency to multiply in that way. Often we are asked if we ever slow down, and we do, but much more than that, the more we give to others, especially in building and maintaining relationships, the more fulfillment we receive. 

So we work to continue to love, our family and our friends and I think you will find it, all around us.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
-1 John 4:8 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ole Faithful

I woke up this morning and stumbled into the kitchen to pump just like I do every morning. I sleepily began pumping, waited for Matt to grab the newspaper, and trolled the Internet to pass the time away as I extracted milk for Johnny's breakfast. We sat and talked about our day and wondered if we had time for a big breakfast or not with the distinct "whir-whir" of the pump rhythmically sounding off in the background. As my pumping session came near to the end, instead of a "whir-whir" I hear a "whiiirp", noting, another, fainter "whiiirp", followed by silence. Confused, I looked down at my tubing to see if something was disconnected, then to the plug to see if it had somehow come loose from the wall or the pump itself. I turned the pump on and off and unplugged the power adapter to see if there was just a little hiccup in the system. I turned the pump back on and was met with a barely audible ticking sound. My pump died. I will say that this isn't a huge surprise. I have used my pump and used it hard for a total of about two and a half years. Even in the less used time periods of those two and a half years it was being used twice a day and as Johnny is given pumped milk only, it has been used a lot more over the past six months. It was a little unexpected that it went out with little warning though. While it had been showing some signs of weakness lately, I wouldn't have thought it would completely give up in the middle of my most crucial pump of the day. Typical luck.

Surprisingly, I was a little sad. That pump made it possible for me to provide the food of my choice for all three of my kids so far. I knew in an instinctual way which setting to put it on and could pretty much operate it in my sleep. Friends and I joke about each pump "sounding" different and for some reason I always thought mine said "White girl. White girl" as I pumped away (friends who have "heard" me pump can confirm this). I even pumped better with my pump than with the hospital grade pumps when Johnny was in the NICU. A lot of it probably has to do with association and responses and what not, but still, I liked Old Pumpy.

Needless to say, we had to go purchase a new pump today. It smells new, it has perfectly clear tubing, a clean set of bottles, and all of the accessories to go with it. They have made a couple of design changes to it, I like the additional room and the mesh pocket they added. Some of the changes will take getting used to, the actual pump is now on the right side of the bag which means I need new muscle memory. Also, the manufacturer wanted to make things a little smoother which is great because it is less noisy, but it is not what my body is used to which may be a bit of an adjustment. I haven't had any problems with it yet so it may just be mental, but I like my old pump! O well. We have to move on.

On my to do list for tomorrow is to call the insurance company. I should have already called them to acquire one for free through them as it is part of our new plan. Now I will see if they will reimburse me for this one, if not I am still ordering one for backup. No more emergency trips to the store for this pumping mama!

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Johnny is exclusively breastfed no more! Just a few days shy of being 6 months old, we made the plunge to give him some solids and went straight for veggies, some delicious green peas. It was a bit harder than feeding the girls because he is still working on neck and trunk muscle control. Also, our OT recommended that we feed him with the spoon sideways for two reasons. First, it helps reduce tongue thrust which is a habit they like to break for kids with Ds anyways and it reduces the amount of food pushed back out of the mouth. Second, kids eventually feed themselves with the spoon sideways so it makes sense to have them used to that. I think he liked the solids, he certainly licked his lips and the spoon a lot. He took somewhere between a third and half the jar, but I have a feeling that as he catches on he may enjoy eating a lot!

Examining the first bite

Um, Mommy, are you sure?

The bumbo wasn't working out so we (dangerously) switched to Mommy's lap

I think he likes it

Satisfied and not too messy

He got a bath after this to get all of those peas off his face and his hands! I think it is charming that all three kids so far have gotten their first meal in that green Bumbo!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Close in Age

I know a lot of people think we are nuts, being on such an "aggressive breeding schedule" by having three kids in three years and one week. The truth is, I never thought I would want kids this close. I am so glad that we were open to it. When Mac turned 6 months, I was craving another kid and another pregnancy. We were happy to find out shortly after that we were in fact expecting a younger sibling for her. After Keegan we purposefully waited a few additional months to get some of our finances in order and to extend out my ability to nurse her since I had so many troubles nursing Mac when pregnant with Keegan. Many, many, many people outright tell us they think we are crazy, many more so probably say things behind our back about how close our kids are in age and the fact that three (and hopefully one day four) is out of the norm and we probably should rethink that. But we love it and I would say 98% of the time handle it exceptionally well. We are blessed with amazing kids who we find to be charming, brilliant, and beautiful in a number of ways. We have stressful times, but they do not define our life with three kids three and under. And there have been so many benefits to having them so close together.

On the logistics side of things, it just makes so much sense to us to have them all near in age. We wake them all up, change two diapers and take one to the potty, get all three dressed (or help Mac get dressed), get milk cups for two and a bottle for one...it's just an endless checklist of basically the same thing for all three. Their needs are fairly similar at this point, lots of snuggles, reading, and simple games and toys. The girls naturally look to one another as a play mate, confidant, and someone to help them. So often now we find them speaking their own little kid language, giggling endless peals of laughter over things that only three year olds and unders find hilarious. We have heard reports of them playing together on the playground at school and of Mac going to find Keegan outside during a fire drill to make sure she wasn't scared and to explain to her that everything was fine. They so often crave to be together and we often hear one of the other saying, "C'mon sissy!". And now they work hard to give attention to their brother, snuggling with him, encouraging him, bringing him toys, and talking with him trying to gain one of his squeals of delight.

So our life may not work for everyone, but we are so happy with the life we have chosen...it's a great one!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Johnny "Wait and See" No More?

"In Him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in His holy name.
                                                                                                         -Psalm 33:21       

About a year ago we began our initial round of visits to Dr. Norton that come with a positive pregnancy test. I had already had one ultrasound at this point and would receive that fateful 12 week visit in mid May. I would hold my breath as the ultrasound tech searched for the heartbeat, waiting to hear that confirmation that my child was alive. Each ultrasound with each pregnancy went like this. Even if I felt movement every hour of every day, I would still lay with sweaty palms, not breathing until I saw the flutter of a heart or heard that galloping beat. I looked at Johnny's heart at least once a month during his pregnancy. Once we were sent on to Fetal Cardiology, I learned his heart well, the flashes of bright light that indicated holes because blood was crossing over the septum (the wall between the two side of the heart), the thin wall to the top of the ventricles that they couldn't see well and weren't sure if they should label as a defect or not, his "perfect, textbook" aortic arch that the Cardiologists lingered over because it looked exactly as it should. I spent hours watching his heart beat and hours still praying that his heart would stay strong and would withstand whatever it needed to. We had prepared ourselves for surgery at this time. The doctors were all but sure (95%) that the thin wall in his ventricles was in fact a VSD (Ventricular Septum Defect- or a hole in the bottom two chambers of his heart) and that would need repair at about 6 months. As much as we were assured that this was an easy and common surgery, it worried us, all heart surgery is scary, especially for the mother to a small child. At 8 days old, I cradled his little head while the tech looked again to see what they might need to do on his heart. I stretched out his tiny arms while Matt pinned down his hips so we could get x-rays of his chest for the doctor to have the full spectrum of information he needed. It was hard and it was draining. As we were getting used to, we would have to wait and see. 

Today we received wonderful news. After an echo and a quick exam, we were given a resounding "Congratulations" from our doctor who all but cleared us from cardiologist appointments. At 8 days old, Johnny had 3 VSDs and now has only one remaining as the muscle wall has grown together and replaced those gaps with muscle wall. The remaining VSD is detectable by echo, but is very small and is only slightly audible. In fact, Dr. Wolfe let me listen to it, it barely made a swish sound as Johnny's little heart beat away (approximately 153 beats per minute). In addition, all babies are born with an ASD (atrial septum defect). Basically, when a baby is in the womb, they receive oxygen from the mother through the umbilical cord. Because their heart doesn't have to function normally, a hole is present between the left and right chambers. When the baby is born, a skin flap gets pulled in and closes over that hole (hopefully). Johnny technically had an ASD because all babies have ASDs when they are born, you just don't know about it because not all babies have echoes. So they have been monitoring his and there is still a small hole in that area, but Dr. Wolfe couldn't even hear it on the echo which means it should be gone soon. So we proceed like normal, no special instructions, and we can go back when Johnny is 5 to double check on everything.

Which means, in case you didn't see it up above, we have been cleared. We have been cleared. I cannot tell you how elated I am to type that, say it, and realize it. We have been in "Wait and See" mode with Johnny for almost a full year now. Over and over and over again we have been told "I don't know" from doctors, specialists, therapists, and others in the medical field. And I am ok with not knowing everything, but it was hard to always come away with several different scenarios of what may be going on. And I know that the doctors we saw were doing their best and I find little fault in our specialists, in fact I feel extraordinarily blessed with all of the doctors we have gotten into see. But now we can finally check something off of our medical list of "to dos". Instead of prepping him for heart surgery, we are filing away Dr. Wolfe's contact information to refer others who may need him. And while this is a huge relief, we have really been at peace with the last few appointments Johnny has had at various places because we have really had to give this over to God. The more we wanted answers, the less we got. And the more we have turned things over, the more resolution we have gotten. Like I said last week, God has a better story written for us than we do. He knows the end, from our perspective, things are still in the rough draft/editing mode so it seems kind of messy to us. While we don't expect everything to be this resolved (with any of our kids), it is kind of a welcome change. 

I will miss seeing pictures of that amazing little heart, but it is nice to have that worry gone too.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mac update


You are three and half going on older than Mommy! You know so much more than you should and we  are amazed by your brilliance. 

It is funny to write these reports because you say the funniest and strangest things and it is difficult for us to keep track of it all. Your vocabulary is definitely maturing and you dialogue more with people when you have questions or people are asking you things. You also repeat a lot of what we say in different situations to try and test it out. You have recently started asking if things are "perfect", "Mommy was our nap perfect?", "Mommy is that letter perfect?", "Mommy was our surprise perfect?". It is a word that I use when we are practicing your writing so I think it is interesting that you have applied it in numerous different situations. You tell your sister "It's ok sweet baby girl" if she is upset which is what I tell both of you when you are sad. You have also picked up on a few of my phrases that I wish you hadn't like "Seriously?!?" when I am frustrated and "C'mon guys" to traffic when it is stopped. Around us you will ask a multitude of questions that range from what you see to what you read about, but other people find it surprising when we say you talk so much. I wonder if you are being shy, cautious, or a combination of both.

You are very much into princesses and dress up right now. You love all of the princesses and rotate through which one you like the most. Just now you told me that you love Merida because she likes to climb and previously you have told me you like her because she loves her mommy. I'm glad you got the point of the end of the movie! If we go over to Avery and Alli's house, you will automatically run upstairs to put on Alli's Cinderella dress and shoes. The other day you wore them so long they rubbed blisters on your feet! Your love for reading continues to grow. I am looking forward to you learning more and more about reading because I think you will enjoy looking through books and discovering new stories and information all by yourself. You still love The Magic School Bus books, but will sit through anything people will read you. Your favorite stuffed animals right now are three little puppies, one is the Sandy dog we got you when we took you to go see Annie. You enjoy putting together puzzles and playing with small toys too. You love to play outside and "climb trees" and we try to encourage you looking around and exploring a bit on your own. This usually involves you carrying around a big stick you found in the back yard and looking for flowers and acorns.

As far as general eating habits go, your appetite varies. You will always eat tons of oatmeal, eggs, rice, and beans, but other foods change from time to time. Lately you have really liked having raw carrots with your lunches and were particularly delighted with Quaker Oatmeal Squares with yogurt for breakfast. You like to snack on popcorn or goldfish, especially if the goldfish are rainbow colored. For treats you like ice cream, candy, or fruit snacks, and sometimes cookies. If we give you a cupcake or cake, it is usually the icing you eat first. You sleep well at night, but are trying to give up your afternoon nap. I understand that it may be soon for this to happen, but sometimes you won't sleep at all and other times you will sleep three hours. So I still lay you down (in the same room as Keegan) because I think you still need it. You are in 5T to 6 clothing for the most part, your legs are usually too long for 4T pants/dresses/skirts.

We love you Mac. You will sometimes come up to us and cup our face in your hands and tell us you love us too so I guess we are doing something right in raising you! We love our snuggles with you and your independence all at the same time and marvel at how fast you are growing up. You are an amazing little girl and we are proud to call you ours.

Mommy and Daddy

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Keegan Update

Keegan Joy,

You are growing out of little toddlerhood into older toddlerhood or young girlhood. It is amazing to us to wake up every day and see how you change, it happens in hours sometimes. I love to see the changes you make and you astound us many, many times a day.

Your vocabulary and speaking has exploded over the past month or so. While you knew a lot of words, you weren't as willing to speak a lot or communicate your needs, thoughts, or wants. Now that has changed. You string many words together into complex sentences and will repeat back the sentences we work on with you. You have gone from one word demands, to nice, well phrased sentences that clearly tell us what you want. Instead of saying "Up", you will say sweetly "Pick me up please Mama"...how could I say no to something like that. It is funny to watch you speak because you kind of roll your tongue around in your mouth when you talk (I'm not sure if this is a normal kid thing or something we need to watch as you grow), but it does make you stumble over a couple of words. Instead of "Howard" when we ask you our last name you will say "How-dard", which I find completely endearing! You are very much into talking about yourself and other people. We had to work hard to convince you that while your middle name is Joy, other people have different middle names. You kept calling your sister Kenzie Joy and your brother Johnny Joy. It probably doesn't help that we call Johnny, Johnny Boy sometimes.

When you play here, you sometimes play independently and you sometimes play with your sister. A lot of times you guys can be found doing dress up or tromping around outside in the yard. You really like to read and have started memorizing the books we read on a more frequent basis. You also like musical toys and will trigger them to start over and over again so you can dance to the music. You are a huge caretaker and love your multitude of dolls and stuffed animals. Some of your favorites right now are a white pony, your Minnie Mouse doll, your Merida doll, and the Baby Belle doll. You also like to just be near others while they are doing something, like sitting in Mommy's lap or sitting next to your sister while she reads or plays. You like to color some, but will quickly get bored with that.

You are very much a ham who likes to make people laugh. You have started your own version of "potty" talk by running around going "Bootie, a bootie, pootie, a pootie, tootie, a tootie". You think it is hilarious and I try to tell you that is potty talk without making a huge deal out of it. We can't let our guard down with you. If you make us laugh with a facial expression or something you say then you will do it over and over again to see our reaction. In general, you love to cuddle and laugh so tickling you is great way to bond together with you. Mommy tries to snuggle with you for a few minutes each morning in your bed and after your bath so you get the snuggle time you need. You will move our arms to be around you or on top of you depending on how you cuddle with us so you have extra physical contact and love. We need to work more on you obeying when we tell you to "Come on". When Daddy has been around lately you like to play chase so he will come scoop you up. It had only been at church, with you running across the big open field in front of the building, which we were fine with because there is no danger there and it got out a bit of extra energy. Recently though you have started running away in other situations (not into the parking lot thank goodness) and we need you to obey better on that. It is very hard not to laugh a bit as your chubby little legs carry you across the pavement or grass and we hear your shrill shrieks and your voice saying "Run away".

 There are some general things that Mommy wants to remember. First, you still wear the best sleeper crown. Given the opportunity, you will sleep from 8:30 to 8:30 and will nap for three hours in the afternoon. Your favorite snacks are raisins or fruit, but you will often eat some goldfish or crackers. Your favorite meal is spaghetti, eggs, or peanut butter and jelly. You really like pizza, but only if it is cut up into small bite sized pieces. You are wearing 3T clothing right now, with a few 2T items interspersed. You aren't super crazy about cake, but you really like ice cream or candy (maybe we should get you ice cream with candy on top, that would knock your socks off). You love when Mommy sings to you, but you are picky about what song you want to hear. Today you asked Mommy to sing the Ariel song and I was glad that you were satisfied with "Under the Sea" because I'm not sure I have the vocal range for "Part of Your World".

Keegan, we love you and think you are absolutely brilliant. We think you are a funny little kid and while you can be quite ferocious, you are Mommy's little Sweet Pea!

We love you!
Mommy and Daddy

Monday, April 22, 2013

West from the Guys

Today we have a "guest blogger". Chris was the initiator of the supply drive for West and he and Matt drove the supplies up to West Thursday night/Friday morning. Here is what he has to say about the amazing project!

 Donation Drive for West, TX 
April 18th and 19th, 2013 

The truck arrived at the house around noon Thursday. I called Ashley Howard that morning and recruited her as our Communications Director. She went into action immediately and emailed, facebooked, texted and called everyone in our community to bring donations by Thursday evening. Big thanks to Ashley for stepping up. 

It started raining when I picked up the truck. Luckily it quit before donations started rolling in. 

The donations started to really come in after everyone got off work. Thanks to everyone that took the time to donate and spread the word. And a special thank you to our small group wives that stepped up and coordinated, ran errands, shopped, picked up, and worked through the afternoon and evening to support the drive. Honestly, I was a little worried that there wouldn’t be enough donations in the short time period. But I gave it over to God, prayed about it, and the response was amazing. 

Loading, about 10 pm, almost finished. We could have stocked a Wal-Mart with the volume and diversity of items donated. 

By Midnight we had a 24’ truck filled about 4’ high with donations for the people of West. After everything was loaded, Matt Howard and I left around midnight and headed to West. We arrived about 3 am, and caught a nap in the truck. It got a little cold, down to about 35F, but for just a few hours. We got up about 7 am, and headed over to the Czech stop for some awesome kolaches and coffee. 

We were then directed to the West Fairgrounds to unload the donations. There we found a donation center crawling with volunteers early in the morning, many of which were high school students. Most everyone was local to the area. 
Ron helped us unload the truck, which took much less time to than to load. About 20 minutes. Ron lives in West, and is a proud member of the Fighting Texas Aggie Class of ’97. We spoke with a friend of Ron’s whose home was in the evacuation area. He had not been allowed back in yet, but knew the windows of the home had been blown out. He was worried that the rain the night before had done more damage. Yet, without a home to sleep in the night before, he was there helping at the donation center. You could really feel that this was a close community and everyone was there to help out. While we were there, we did see some folks come through and pick up supplies. Grocery stores had donated the large banana boxes; those in need came through and picked out whatever they needed from the huge rows of donations. 

I took a final snapshot of the empty truck before we left. It was invigorating to be the hands and feet of God and share our blessings with our brothers and sisters in need. We drove through downtown, but the area affected was still evacuated. We did not get a chance to see any of the destruction. We turned the truck on to I-35 and headed south from West. 

That would be the end of the story, but 15 minutes after we left West (or 12 miles south of West), we had mechanical problems with the truck. I think it blew a head gasket from evidence from the water in the oil. Now we were the ones in need, in need of a new ride home. What started out as a less than 3 hour drive home, turned into an 11 hour adventure. In the end we made it home safely, and as Matt and I kept saying, we were thankful to the Lord the truck broke down after we left, and not on the way there. 

All in all, I am still honored to have been a part of such an amazing and fulfilling day. There is some quiet chatter about a group of guys heading up there to do some manual labor (patching roofs, fixing windows, clearing debris) so I will keep interested parties posted on if that develops any further. Currently, the town of West is asking for monetary donations which can be through an organization or people could use gift cards (like Home Depot) to make the necessary repairs on their homes.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


I have been working with my mom here and there since MacKenzie was born at her catering and wedding planning company. We have had all sorts of adventures with the business and I should really devote some time to writing about some of the funnier situations that we have been apart of at these events.

In catering (or food service in general), things often do not go as planned, in fact, no matter how much you plan, you are usually on the brink of catastrophe. Servers get sick with no replacement, power breakers get tripped, something (or someone) gets left behind, or a multitude of other fiascos are always on the verge of happening. On some of the worst days, all of these things happen at once. We adjust and improvise (stopping at WalMart to buy George Foreman grills because of power difficulties with cooking our food has been my favorite so far) and replan for the next time, but it always keeps you on your toes.

Last night was a fancy event for my Mom's work. It was a 50th birthday where the wife was surprising the husband with a party that rivaled a lot of weddings. Everything went perfect. Nothing went wrong. Two people had to ask us for salads when they came in late and one lady asked us for more cocktail sauce and that was it. One of our servers was a no show, but we didn't really need her anyways. We had plenty of food, everything was cleared from the tables quickly, dishes were washed on time, there wasn't a single thing that needed to be done or that we were rushing to complete. We were all poised and waiting ready for the shoe to fall, but it never did. So it almost made it unenjoyable because we were waiting for the "bad" and we kept racking our brains trying to figure out what we had forgotten about!

I am glad that we finally got a perfect event under our belt! Good job to Mom and all of the crew. How do we make that happen again?

Saturday, April 20, 2013


The guys finally made it back home after 9 last night. They ended up being rescued by Matt's mom part of the way and another buddy of ours the other part. I wanted to let the kids have a chance to see Matt so we all waited up (plus I was sitting some of the kid waiting for their dad too) and then HAD to all visit for a bit when the guys finally did get home. Thus it was another long night.

Matt passed out once we got home and managed to sleep until 10:30. When I woke up we were informed that Chris had gotten sick over night and so he had no recovery sleep. We are praying that he feels better and gets some rest soon.

Today is a day of resting and relaxing for Matt and the kids. We are busy regrouping, snuggling, and enjoying one another. The past two days have worn us out in a good and satisfying way, but we are thankful for a good day of rest.

Thanks again to all who have helped so far. I know a lot of organizations are getting more supply drives and funds ready for the people of West to rebuild their little town.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Day Like No Other

I can't say that yesterday started out like any other day because it didn't. Matt had a dentist appointment and got done just as I was headed to take the girls to Mothers Day Out. So it felt exceedingly special for the girls to have their Daddy help walk them to their classes and wonderfully special to me to be asked out to breakfast by my Hubby. As we ate breakfast (and satisfied my craving for Eggs Benedict), we got a call from a good friend of ours.

After hearing the reports of what happened in West, Texas this week, our friends felt mobilized to act. They very much desired to help and took a leap of faith that they could encourage others to assist in their efforts. They rented a huge moving truck and set forth the lofty goal of filling it up by midnight that night to get supplies to the people of West by this morning. Phone calls began which lead to emails and more phone calls, dozens of text messages were sent out, and an obscene amount of Facebook status updates to try and reach people in our community who wanted to help. I also knew there would be people who wanted to help us out, but for whatever reason may not be able to make it to our drop off site, so I volunteered to drive several loads of stuff for them. 

The day was amazing and one I hope to never forget. I traveled around Northwest Houston collecting donations of items and money from 11 people. Countless people made their way over to the drop off site with items from their houses or items they set out to buy specifically for this purpose. I received phone calls from people who heard about what we were doing and met up with us hoping that we were legitimate in getting these resources to people who needed it. Early in the day, I worried that our goal and sites had been set a little too high as I looked in the moving van and saw little of it filled, but through the hours, more and more items arrived to cover the floor of the van. Several friends had just dropped off loads of stuff from their houses for a church garage sale two weeks prior and were able to make quick sweeps of their houses for items that were needed more by others. One sweet girl in our group donated several of her Littlest Pet Shop toys so some of the kids would have something to play with. One mommy with a newborn who I know can't fit size two diapers yet went ahead and gave us a couple packs as she was not in need of them yet. A friend of a friend on Facebook mobilized her church and brought two loads full of stuff, excited to be a part of something great.

As I made my rounds, I prayed that the kids would stay in a good mood and those prayers were answered beyond belief, they were perfect through the process and were amazing little troopers through it all. MacKenzie inquired as to why we were getting things and I told her in the simplest way I could, "There were people who had a fire and lost all of their stuff so we are collecting things to give to them." She accepted the answer and that was enough for her. Along the way we picked up milk and eggs for one of the friends we were stopping to get stuff from and I explained to her that we were helping our friends out, which she really liked. When one family brought two SUV loads of Costco items to our house, the girls helped carry boxes of Macaroni and Cheese to the truck and their little besties helped load stuff into the truck all day. 

A quick power nap and an Expedition full of stuff

Later in the evening four of us went to Walmart to purchase supplies to fill the truck further with money given to us from friends in our community. With a plan in our minds, we divided and conquered, purchasing the items we thought would be needed the most. I was in charge of baby items and was able to purchase 6 big boxes of diapers, 4 boxes of baby cereal, 20 containers of baby food, 6 boxes of pre mixed formula, and 17 sets of clothing with the money I collected. We also purchased clothing for the adults effected, blankets, sheet sets, towels, and countless toiletries. We calculated under and were able to go back to fill up an additional cart with bottled water and purchased more formula and diapers as well. As we were checking out, we had a few inquiries for what we were doing, one man overheard that our donations were for West and paid $100 worth of our items on the spot. I quickly thanked him and ran to get more diapers and formula as we head that was what they needed at that time. I hope he knows how much that meant to have more money come in at an unexpected time to bless these people. If you know this man, by chance, please tell him thank you again for us. He was at the Spring Cypress and 290 WalMart at about 10 last night. 

At the end of the day, we had the floor of the moving van pretty much covered. Matt and our friend Chris downed an energy drink and set out to get the van there as soon as possible. I am so proud of my hubby for taking a vacation day to help others, to be willing to accept a little bit of discomfort by sleeping in a very cold van, and to put himself out there to do something for someone who needed it. The kids and I crashed at our friends house.

This morning they got there and were overwhelmed with volunteers ready to help unload. It took 20 minutes to unload the van and get things sorted out into the areas it needed to be in. While the guys were fully prepared to stick around and help out all day, they said at this point there was little to do. The people of West were thankful for all of the donations pouring in, but they were already mobilizing themselves to facilitate the distribution of the supplies and in helping one another out. The town was working to make good on the help people had given them, my heart goes out to them even more.

Emptied in 20 Minutes!
As I wrote yesterday, "What would happen if you let God write your life story?". I was called (literally) yesterday, and I answered, and it led to one of the best days I have ever had. I was able to connect with others, to organize a plan, to spend time with my family and friends. I laughed harder than I have in a long time yesterday and I felt energized despite my exhaustion. In letting go the things that I wanted to do yesterday (and today), God wrote a better day for me than I could have ever planned. He set a path in front of me and gave me the support and the ability to forge that path completely. Maybe I should turn more days over to Him and see how many more great days I can get.

Thank you to everyone who assisted us, in whatever capacity. We truly appreciate everyone's efforts.

Oh yeah...and Matt and Chris broke the truck...so they had to be rescued just north of Waco...good job guys!


My heart is so full. I have been collecting donations for West, Texas today and things have literally poured out of people's homes.

I will post tomorrow more about our adventures.

Really struck by a sign of church I passed by today
"What happens when you let God write
your life story"

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


We love to eat a big delicious breakfast, but so frequently lack the time to do so. Many Saturdays we are on the go as soon as we can all manage to fall out of bed and get dressed, other Saturdays we often have big plans for lunch and don't want to eat too large of a breakfast in light of that. Sundays are also busy as we go to church. I always try to make a good breakfast for the family on Sunday mornings, but it is usually a good breakfast of homemade oatmeal (with dried fruit) or pancakes which are really easy to throw together.

Because we miss out on big, yummy breakfasts, we have been eating Brinner (Breakfast for Dinner) more the past few weeks. When you consider that strawberries are on sale a lot right now and breakfast ingredients are usually cheap, you can make a healthful meal for a decent price.

Last week I had a scramble with toast that I duplicated into an omelet tonight for dinner. I threw in what we had, eggs, cheese, ham, spinach, tomatoes, and topped it off with avocado. Since the girls can be picky about their food mixing up, I made them plain scrambled eggs with all of the toppings on the side. Paired up with toast and strawberries, it was a delightful meal for all.

Two weeks ago we had a country breakfast where I made potatoes (sauteed in olive oil with salt and pepper), served it with scrambled eggs, and made buttermilk biscuits topped with gravy. I could eat this every week. I love pairing eggs with potatoes (egg and potato breakfast tacos are my favorite) and there is little better in the food world than peppery gravy covering up a tender and fluffy biscuit.

I've been having a hankering for breakfast quesadillas and eggs Benedict lately so maybe they will appear on our Brinner menu soon!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Month of Wedded Bliss

My little sister, little JJ, the girl who locked me in the laundry room and threw a dead squirrel at me, has been Mrs. Brown for a month. Surprisingly to many, Jessica was born to be married. She has oooed and ahhhed over her new hubby, Bob, for the past month, relishing in newlywed bliss and making each of their experiences as a new married couple as memorable as possible.

Jessica had spectacular attention to detail for her wedding. She drew out tablescapes, planned, rearranged, and created her vision for her perfect day. I sincerely hope that they night was everything she wanted it to be. That the little things that didn't pan out were ok with her and the big memories that were created were wonderful for her. Jessica custom made a lot for her day and hand picked many items for the wedding/reception. There were times she was frustrated, but I get that, she wants things a certain way and when they do pan out her joy is tenfold and when they were difficult to obtain then the frustration was all the more increased. She should know, the food was fantastic, the music was perfectly planned, and the weather could not have been custom ordered to be any better. I am so glad for her.

More importantly, I am glad for her commitment. I am glad that she has faith and trust in a man and that she is willing to tie herself to him, to make a promise and a pledge to work for one another. I got more than choked up giving me speech on her big day, as I reflected on how Matt and I have "journeyed" together over the past (almost) nine years. That being together has made every difficult step of the way easier and that the joyous times have far outnumbered the tense times in our relationship. Matt and I have faced some difficult times in our relationship that have been manageable with having one another by our side. Jessica and Bob will face these times too. There will be lost family members, hard times with work, challenges with children (maybe...hopefully!), general stress of life, and times when you struggle to breath on your own much less pay attention to someone else's needs. But I assured her that they will be able to work through it. I assured them both that sometimes it is a fight and a struggle, but we have found that so worth it. If you look at your relationship as a road, you can forge the road your own way, finding your own path, but you can also know that there are others who have gone down the road before you to help you from time to time. And reflecting on it now, there may be times that life picks you up and puts you on different roads, sometimes together and sometimes apart from one another, that is when the real work comes, when you have to push through to get back on the same road together.

I am so excited to see where things go for Jessica and Bob. I am immensely happy for them and know that good things lie ahead.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tiny Blessings Drop Off

Today was our long awaited day for our first drop off of our blessing gowns for Methodist Willowbrook Hospital. All day I eagerly anticipated being able to see this project finally reach the stage of handing them over. I also looked forward to meeting the women who will be in direct partnership with us, as a liaison between all of the quickly growing volunteers we have and the families who need our help.

I never anticipated it going so well. The nursing staff was completely gracious, had dinner, drinks, and dessert for us. They sat and visited with us, admired our work, and we had a really good time getting to know the person we will be in direct contact with the most. It was exciting on so many levels. It was so nice to get their stamp of approval. We have poured our hearts into these little gowns and hats and while mistakes are cheap in our line of work and we are flexible to adjust to their needs, we still hoped we were on the right track. As far as we can tell we exceeded their expectations. They softly stroked and ooed and ahhhed over each item they looked at. Throughout our visit, we kept exchanging "thank yous". They are thankful for the chance to better serve their patients and we are thankful to find a ministry that allows us the chance to be at home with our kids, but to still serve others.

On a personal note, it was so exciting to me to look forward to the possibility of one day sitting in an L&D break room on my own shift. It was so neat to look up on the monitor and see the women's contractions, knowing they were laboring away in their rooms, ready to usher in new life and to think that these women get to do that every day they work. They must have vast stores of good memories to help them deal with the harder times that will lead them to use our gowns. It was also wonderful to have Johnny with me, to show him off, and to proudly exclaim that he was born there (on Halloween I would happily add).

If you would have told me all the wonderful things that I would be a part of a year ago, I would have been pretty skeptical. But the more I do, the more I pour out, the more I receive, and the more I am fulfilled. Thank you to God, who knits us together and knows us beyond how we know ourselves. While we don't understand why some lives do not make it beyond the womb or may not make it far past the womb, we pray for comfort and strength for these families. We are honored to be a part of meeting their needs and we pray that we will continue to be guided on how to serve them.

If you drift through Facebook, please check out our page to keep up with what we are doing. We are Tiny Blessings and will continue to post as we work hard on these items.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Trusty Ol' Kitchenaid

For our wedding almost nine years ago, we received enough gift cards and duplicate presents to purchase our KitchenAid mixer. Matt thought it was sort of silly to spend all that money on an appliance, but he sure stopped fussing about it when I made him cookies and cakes using it! The mixer has made it through several moves, 5 wedding cakes, endless birthday and shower cakes, dozens of batches of cookies, and many, many more delicious desserts. I love my mixer and love that I can be creaming butter and sugar together while I gather ingredients for my next step. I work this mixer hard and as such, the first three settings on the mixer are getting a little hard to use. The first setting doesn't work at all and the second and third definitely protest as I move through them trying to slowly incorporate flour or sugar into whatever I am making. The rest of the settings still work great however so I am having a hard time justifying buying a new one. I definitely covet a shiny new red mixer, but the old one works so well. It will also be hard to let this one go when it is time because it was very exciting for us to get to buy one of the big items we wanted of our registry all of those years ago.

After having my mixer for this many years, I would definitely be hard pressed to go without for a long period of time. I think when I do get a new mixer I would definitely get an extra bowl and an extra paddle for cakes and other recipes that would benefit from mixing or beating separately. We got one of the larger motor, larger bowl, lift style mixers originally, but I would probably switch to the smaller standard size next time around so it can fit easier under a cabinet or on the counter top. The mixer can be hard to clean, especially when flour flies everywhere from being mixed at to hight of a speed (since the first three speeds are pretty much dead) and the bottom of the bowl needs to be scraped frequently as the paddle doesn't reach the bottom (a design flaw that I believe was corrected in the smaller models). I think it is a great machine to have lasted this long with how hard I use it and highly recommend this brand to anyone looking for a mixer. There are cheaper mixers out there, but few have this kind of power and durability.