Saturday, July 6, 2013

What a Difference a Day Makes!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Three years ago yesterday, we got a call that changed our lives forever: a baby boy had been born 17 days earlier, and we were being given the chance to become his parents. You can read that blog entry for more on that momentous day, but as I've thought a lot about that day this week, never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate reliving it...

But then this afternoon, I got another call...

Jadon's birth mom had a baby girl 24 days ago, and long story short, we are now being given the chance to become her parents.

I had so many plans for this week, this summer, this year...but now all those plans have been wiped away in an instant and we are giddy thinking about bringing home OUR DAUGHTER!
Giddiness is pretty much the constant underlying emotion...but it has been accompanied by a fair share of other thoughts and feelings...
What are we going to name her? Ariana and Eliana are two names we have thrown around for fun in the past...but now that push comes to shove, there are a ton of other options out there! Which one is right for this baby girl we have yet to meet?
How am I going to survive TWO sleepless children?!?!
I'm going to have my long awaited daughter!!!!
Wait, is this it? Could this be our family? We've always thought we were 2 kid people...and now we have a girl and a boy. Hmmmm...after so many years of waiting and longing, it feels weird to just be done...
Oh shoot, what if Jadon's mom keeps popping out babies? Hmmmmm...
Oh man, how am I going to take Jadon to Legoland and the beach this summer with an infant?
Oh do I pack a diaper bag for an infant again?
Oh wow! I'm going to have a daughter in our pink bedroom!
Yikes, how is Jadon going to react? He's really good at being an only child!
Awwww, I'm going to miss these days of Jadon and I. This is a sad end of an era.
Aw crap! How am I going to balance TWO needy kids? (just this morning I told God that I was exhausted and really couldn't do this parenting thing without Him...and that was with just one child!)
But WOOHOO!!! We have a daughter!!!

Over a week has passed since that momentous day, and most of the feelings of fear have drained away to an overwhelming sense of peace and understanding that God has orchestrated all of it...
Because, oh yeah, the story didn't end after that phone call! When Jim got home a couple hours later (after a brief 3-min. conversation where I told him the exciting news before he had to rush off to another meeting), he eagerly asked me for the details as we prepared dinner for company, and then added that he had some other big news to share. It turns out that he also had a life-changing conversation that afternoon, with our college-aged pastor, who had just accepted a call with his wife to serve in the UK with a church planting movement...and they are starting in September...which means they need to leave New Song in August...which means, long story short, that Jim has decided to step out of 15 years of youth ministry into an adult ministry role!
That sentence looks so much less momentous in type than it felt that evening in our kitchen! This is huge. For virtually our entire relationship (we started dating in February 1997 and started youth ministry that fall) we have served teenagers together. We love teenagers. (Although lately, we have been feeling our age more, ha!)
So indeed, what a difference a day makes. In this case, what a difference an hour made! Within 60 minutes, we accepted "challenges" that are drastically changing the course of our lives. But again, although overwhelmed, we are really, really excited.
So excited, in fact, that we decided to make one more huge decision 2 days later: We decided to officially become a minivan family!
We have been thinking about getting a new car for a year or so now. My 1997 Saturn has 210,000+ miles, and while the engine works great, "nothing" else does (broken AC, heater, windows, locks, ceiling fabric, side mirror, etc...). But when we decided to invest my car fund into our next movie project (which, as yet, God has still not given the green light), we knew that my new car dreams would have to be put on hold for awhile, until we got the money back or we truly "needed" it.
During this time, I went from avoiding the thought of buying a minivan like a plague, to realizing that a minivan was the car that really made the most sense for us. I kind of had a moment where it was almost like God was challenging me on my pride. "You think you're too cool for a minivan? You're a mom, Rachel. Embrace it!" Well, if you put it like that, God! So I humbled myself and looked at a Toyota Sienna...and totally fell in love!!! At least, I fell in love with the SE ("sport") model, 2011 or newer--which had just a touch more of a "cool" factor, ha! Unfortunately, those models are relatively few and far between. Which makes good deals on them even fewer and further between. Over the months, I gulped at the price tag I'd be paying...and Jim flat out balked, "We aren't those kind of people!" Well, since I didn't have the money anyway, I just had fun occasionally looking and dreaming. And as I looked, I one time told God, you know, it would be fun to have cool rims on my car. (I know, girls aren't supposed to care about rims, but a neighbor down the street has a Sequoia with cool rims, and I really like them :))
So back to last week, long story short, Jim and I looked at each other and realized my car during the summer really would be miserable for an infant, and as it is, we had a tough time fitting everyone/thing in it that we needed many times. This was it: it was "time" for a new car. Since I couldn't sleep for the first 3 days after hearing all this news, I spent my sleepless nights scouring the internet, and ultimately found only 1 (that's right, ONE!) used Sienna SE within a 200 mile radius that looked like what I wanted, and 2 new cars within a 100 mile radius that were a color that I wanted (hey, I figured if I was going to go new, I might as well get exactly what I wanted, right?!). And guess what, they were all at the same dealership in Escondido. So on Friday afternoon, after Jim "generously" offered to stay home with Jadon (hey, he came home early from work to do it), my dad and I went to Carlsbad first to check out their SE (it wasn't the right color, but it was so close to home, I just wanted to get a feel first)...and then we made it to Escondido, and while I really liked the new ones (with dual DVD entertainment!), when I saw the used one, I had to laugh, and I knew immediately that it was mine. It didn't have the DVD...but it did have custom rims! Ha!

I don't know if they are any cooler that the usual ones, but I couldn't help smiling as I thought back to my earlier prayer. And the van has a sunroof, which was my favorite part of my Saturn until it broke ten years ago. And it came in quite cheaper than I had planned, enough for Jim to even be fully on board. Based on the circumstances, I'm pretty sure God handpicked this van out for me. And I love it!
SOOO, here we are at my parents' house in Shaver Lake, getting ready to head to Jim's parents' house and then Donner Lake with his family...and on MONDAY we are going to make a "quick" detour and meet OUR DAUGHTER!!! She was born in northern California, and since the foster systems in different counties don't all work the same, there are some delays in getting the paperwork in order and changing the jurisdiction to San Diego County so that we can actually bring her home. So while we are thrilled that we finally get to meet her, we are praying that we will actually get to go pick her up for good while we are up here on vacation. Otherwise, her social worker up there will bring her down by the 20th at the latest. Woohoo!
(We finally got to see a picture of her, and oh. my. goodness, she is the cutest thing ever!!!!)
Another prayer we have is for Jadon, who is really good at being an only child...and has been very passively resistant to this new idea of having a sister. But, for the first time today, he actually talked about her on his own (usually he changes the subject or walks away or just stares blankly when we talk about her).

God is so good, and we are so excited to be embarking on this new leg of our journey through life.
What a ride!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

DIY Measuring Stick Height Chart

Pinterest struck again at me as I kept seeing various versions of the Measuring Stick Height Chart. Apparently it's a knock-off from an original Pottery Barn find. I couldn't find the PB one anywhere, but I scoured the internet looking at the various tutorials, and finally came up with my own rendition...which I love!!!
This DIY project is totally doable. It took me a few days worth of nap times, but doesn't require any special tools or skill.

Materials needed:
board (I used a 2" x 6" x 6' pine board (about $7 at Home Depot)
stain (I used Minwax Polyshades--love this stuff!--in Espresso Satin)
paint pen
hanging hardware

I started out with my 2"x 6" x 6' pine board.
Then I stained it with some stain that I already had (and love!)
This shade can get pretty dark, but with only one coat, it was perfect for me. I love how it really emphasized the grain and "movement" of the wood. Beautiful!

While I was waiting for that to dry, I printed up my numbers and letters. Based on the suggestion of one blog, I used Century font, size 175 BOLD for the numbers, 85 BOLD for "BRITTS" and 100 for "family". I experimented with the caps/no caps and came up with caps for our last name and lower case for "family", which made both words about the same length.
The next day I came back and started tracing the inch marks and numbers. (This was the most tedious part.)
First I had to measure off the inches. This plunged me into an unexpected decision: how long did I want each line. Some boards that I saw on Pinterest had all the lines the same size; others looked more like a ruler with different sized lines. I ultimately decided on the varied line lengths corresponding to 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, etc... (except each mark measured an entire inch rather than a fraction of an inch). And after experimentation, I made the foot marks 2" long, 1 and 2" were 1/2" long, 3" was 1" long, 4 and 5" were back to 1/2" long, 6" was 1 1/2", 7 and 8" were back to 1/2", 9" was back to 1", 10 and 11" was back to 1/2", and then I came back to the 2" long foot line. (That sounds really complicated! Just look at my finished product and hopefully you'll understand what I mean...)
I think that part took me almost an entire nap. Oh yeah, and I started the bottom of the board at 6" so that I could then hang it 6" off the floor. (Don't forget that adjustment!)
Then it was time for the numbers. First, you scribble the back side with pencil, so that the lead will transfer onto the wood. I'm not sure this is totally necessary since you're making an indentation anyway, but this part is pretty easy and I think the lead helped me to see the lines a little better.
 Then you tape the numbers in place. This took more experimentation because everyone seemed to be doing theirs differently on Pinterest. Some had the numbers sideways, some right-side-up. Some had the numbers tighter to the side and some closer to the middle. In the end, I decided I liked the look of having the numbers read right-side-up when the board is hung vertically (instead of sideways like an actual ruler). I also decided I liked the numbers to sit right on the edge of their inch marking (rather than off the end of it). Take your time figuring out your preferences, because there really are so many options!
 Then, pressing really hard, you trace each number. Thanks to the wood grain...and my hand feeling like it was going to fall off!...mine were far from perfect. But they merely needed to provide a basic outline for me to fill in with paint.

 Once all that was done, it was time for the fun part--filling everything in with paint. Again, I had more choices. Most of the boards I had seen were either white or black letters/numbers...and I couldn't figure out which I wanted.
Finally, I decided on black, and simply used a black Sharpie, which I have tons of. It came out really good and I really liked it...until I pulled my face away and realized that the letters/numbers were barely visible since the stain is so dark.
 Sooo...I guess that made my decision for me. I made a "quick" stop at Walmart and picked up this white paint pen (the last one in white! whew!)...and retraced my steps (literally!)...
 Much better!...
 Then I sealed it with a thin coat of this Polyurethane spray I already had...
 And then I attached the mounting hardware...(I was trying to do this on the cheap, using stuff I already had, and so I experimented with a few creative solutions before finding this picture hanger in my odds n' ends box.)
 And whala! There it is at the top of our stairs. I love it! (Of course, once I got it up there, I realized that the mirror to the left of it--which was black--didn't not work I took that down, gave it a couple coats of white paint, sanded the edges for a slightly distressed look, and then topped it with the polyurethane spray for a slightly yellowed finish like the old door.)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Jadon's Construction Themed 3rd Birthday Party

I have a love/hate relationship with Pinterest. I really do enjoy it. But man, can it suck up a lot of time (that I don't have!)...and it creates in me a sort of lust for things that I don't need. But it sure does make party planning easier!
About 4 months ago, my friend Lindsey told me about this birthday party she had just attended that was a construction theme. She thought it would be perfect for Jadon. My initial reaction was ambivalent. It sounded cute, but I didn't want to just copy someone else. But then I started thinking about it, and it was true. Jadon loves all things tractors/tools/destruction. And then I got on Pinterest...and oh. my. goodness. I was hooked!
So, here is what we came up with. (I take no credit for any original ideas. Check out my Pinterest board to get to my original sources.)
First, I had to decide on graphics and invites. I found several that I liked:
The first one was my first choice...until I found the second one, and liked the orange stripes and yellow truck and number at the top better. But Jadon doesn't really care about dump trucks, he likes tractors...So then I found the third one, which fit the bill, but I still liked the bold graphics of the second one better.
Bottom line, none of them were perfect. So what did I do?...
I decided to design my own! (duh. What any normal person would do, right? Okay, maybe not. I'm a little crazy like that.) So I dove into youtube videos and online tutorials for Photoshop, and ultimately came up with this:
 And then on the back I was able to personalize it, too, asking guests to consider bringing a few dollars to donate to Jadon's World Vision sponsored kid, Misael, instead of bringing a gift for Jadon.
I discovered these orange envelopes I bought on clearance (for some reason?) years ago, and added the cute little tractor graphic on some address labels, and whalaa! I think I still like Invite #2 (with the dump truck) better graphically, but I'm pretty happy with how these turned out. If anyone cares, the font I used was called Wicked Grit. It's one of my new favorites!

Then, since I had already created the basic graphics, I was able to use it for a bunch of other projects, including a special birthday t-shirt for Jadon (too bad white is such a lousy color for a little boy who loves to get dirty!).

Instead of using my beloved Cricut for the typical banner, I continued my Photoshop endeavors and created an easier one using the same graphics:
 The tractor graphic also was useful to personalize the party favors. I just switched up the colors, added a few layers (including each child's name), and made them into 2" circles, which I then printed onto full page labels and punched out with a 2" hole punch (very valuable purchase!). For the favors, we had cheapo Oriental Trading Company hard hats along with some of Jadon's favorite tools: a  hammer from Oriental Trading Company (inflatable for safety's sake!), a tape measure (99c Store), and a flashlight (and batteries, from Dollar Store), plus a construction cone cup (which were probably not worth their $2/each, but they were so cute I couldn't help it!). I stuffed it all in Home Depot aprons, which Home Depot generously provided for free (that was a pleasant surprise!). I just had to call ahead of time so they could order enough. Just another reason why that's my favorite store (besides WallyWorld, of course!).
It was so cute to see all the kids having fun with their "tools"!
Pinterest was so helpful/annoying at providing tons of great ideas from party decorations other moms came up with. I ended up finding these "Detour" signs at Birthday Express, where I found the cone cups. We bought inexpensive stakes at Home Depot, and then Jim had the idea (miraculous rarity--decorating is not something he enjoys!) to string caution tape (we already had a roll, but you can find it at Home Depot) between the stakes and along the fence. Nice idea, babe! That made a perfect detour away from our front door to the gate to the back yard.  
 We already had a helium tank from a previous party to inflate yellow, orange, and brown balloons. Then we hung the aprons from the fence with signs that said "party area ahead: hard hats required" (didn't get a good picture of that) and "hard hat area."

 My favorite sign I got from someone else's party. Ha!:
I made all the signs on Photoshop, although Publisher would work just as well. I considered printing them somewhere else so as not to be limited to 8" because of paper size (12" would have been so much cooler!)...but printing them at home was so much more cost effective.
And of course, the piece de resistance, was my dad's tractor, which set the scene perfectly...and was fun for kids to climb around on. Great timing on that big purchase, dad! 
I did splurge on the big "Jadon's Birthday Construction Zone" sign. I "designed" it (simply!) in Photoshop on a 20"x 30" canvas, then saved it as a jpeg and had it printed up at Costco for $8.99 (and this month's coupon book conveniently had a $1 off coupon for photo poster prints, yay!). Then I glued it to a basic foam core poster board from Walmart. The whole project came to just over $10.
I had a lot of fun with food ideas, again, all copied from others' parties posted on Pinterest. Most of the foods were Jadon's favorites, along with a few things that were just too cute to ignore.
 Drink station:

 Utensils as "tools" in a cute tool tote Austin had made me in a woodshop class.
 For "substantial food," we ordered to sandwich trays from Costco (so good, and so easy!). Carrots and ranch dressing were "bricks and mortar." Mini oranges were "wrecking balls."
 Wheat Thins and cheese slices were "pavers."
 Cheez-its were "Builders' Squares."
 And stick pretzels were "lumber."
The sweets side was my favorite. (of course!) My favorite of the favorites was the chocolate-dipped rice krispy treat "paint brushes." So cute! (Oh, and I discovered a handy product made by Wilton specifically for tinting candy coating/chocolate that doesn't change its consistency. Definitely worth it!) We made "soil" out of pudding cups topped with Oreo crumbs and a gummy worm...and a little "dig in" topper on a toothpick. I bought peach licorice for orange "rope" (it was cute, but not as tasty as I'd hoped) and rootbeer stick "beams" (which, if I had it to do over again, I would have called "rebar"). When I ordered the rootbeer sticks, the company accidentally sent me rootbeer rock candy on a stick, so I put those out, too, but couldn't think of anything clever to call them. Another one of my favorite ideas that I gleaned off of Pinterest was chocolate donut "spare tires." Ha. So cute! And then I found these gummy tools at Oriental Trading Company, too. I was going to put them in the pinata, but then I ran out of room, so I put them on the food table...but I think they would have gone better in the pinata. 

My favorite part of the party was the activities. For some reason, I didn't find as many (easy) entertaining "construction" activities for toddlers to do as I expected, so I had to adapt a little, but I think everyone ended up having fun.
Knowing my child, and his "proclivity" toward lack of structure, I tried to think of activities that could be as spontaneous and free as possible. I grouped them in stations that kids could wander between as they wished.  Here was our "construction zone" that included building blocks my dad had made (a couple of years ago) out of scrap 2x4s that he cut down and sanded smooth (great free toy for active boys, although the sanding does require time and patience!). The other activity was a "nailing station" using an old styrofoam icechest (I had seen one where each kid was given an individual block of styrofoam, but that was way too pricey for me...especially when Jadon found the old ice chest in our garage!), a cheap bag of golf tees, and a couple of 99c store rubber mallets (which Jadon LOVES to use around the house as hammers, anyway...I figure the rubber is a little safer than a metal hammer...)

Good thing Jadon was the birthday boy, because he had far too much fun running up out of nowhere and knocking over other peoples' towers (as seen in the last picture!). We are working on that, but he's on a slow learning curve!

 Also thanks to Jadon's destructo-man tendencies, you can see the sad state of the icechest by the end of the afternoon! But even the debris proved salvageable. The kids loved hammering tees into the styrofoam way more than I'd anticipated!

I also turned a little inflatable pool and 2 orange table covers into a color-coordinated sandbox, that was a non-stop hit all day.

Jadon's trampoline was also a fun hit. We filled it with orange, yellow, and brown balloons to start, but those quickly popped and/or floated out. But the kids still enjoyed it. My favorite part was toward the end when only a few kids remained, and Jadon convinced them all to play "shark" with him, using their flashlights as guns.

The activity I was most uncertain about was painting. It just seemed like it had the potential to become a huge chaotic mess. On Pinterest, I had found several parties where they painted giant houses made out of cardboard boxes, but that required too much work for me after I discovered these cute little birdhouses in the dollar bin at Joann's Fabrics. I bought a pack of Crayola washable paints, some brushes, and a roll of 13-gal. garbage bags to use as smocks...and then put out the trays of paint with trepidation and apologies to the parents...and I couldn't believe how smoothly--and successfully!--it went. Even the older kids and some of the parents got into it. And Jadon! (Instead of painting a house of his own, I think he just added personal touches to everyone else's!)

The only activity we had to "orchestrate" then was the pinata. I had seen this great tutorial for a construction cone pinata...and then personalized it to make my own...and was thrilled with the results. Knowing how rough my child can be, I made it extra durable (with extra layers), but the rope still broke out of the top hole, so if I had it to do over, I would probably lower the rope hole and beef that section up even more. Even so, all the little kids got a chance to swing at it, and even some of the bigger kids...and everyone had fun charging for the loot. (Here's my tutorial for how I made it.)

All that was left after the pinata was the cake...a birthday staple that I have relied on Albertson's bakery for the last 2 years but decided to do it myself this year. I bought this super cool pan at Bed Bath & Beyond that  allows you to make any letter or number, so I had to make a "3," and then, thanks again to ideas from Pinterest, I decided to turn it into a road. My dad helped to frost it (he used to decorate all of ours growing up...all 6'5" scruff of him!), and I think he did a great job.
Because I wasn't sure how many people the cake would feed, I also made cupcakes. Oh! Great cake trick I discovered/attempted for the first time. I'd always heard that you could substitute apple sauce for the oil, but I was always skeptical. Great news: it works! The cakes turned out even more moist than usual, and I think they just tasted better. I also attempted my own buttercream frosting, but it got way too melty way too quickly, so I will definitely be experimenting with some more options there...

 Jadon couldn't wait to blow out his candles...but then the wind did it for him. Bummer! But he didn't let it phase him, and instead decided to claim the whole cake quickly for himself...along with a couple of cupcakes! (Don't worry, he didn't finish more than a couple of bites!)

All in all, I think everyone enjoyed the party, especially Jadon. And I had a ton of fun putting it together.

Special thanks to Sam Jeet, who photographed the event! Even though I still had to play with my new camera, it was nice to be able to relax knowing that someone else was there to capture key moments. If you live in the San Diego area, I would highly recommend her services.

Oh, and besides having a ton of fun, we raised almost $100 for Jadon's World Vision sponsored kid, Misael. People tended to ignore the suggestion to not bring Jadon any gifts, but they were more-than-generous with both boys. It will take a few months for World Vision to tell us how specifically the money will be used, but it will definitely be a blessing to Misael, his family, and his community!