Friday, July 25, 2014

We are now the FOUR Stahls!

I'll have lots more photos and many more words, but right now I'll just write that our family of three is now officially a family of four.  Today Jaden's (yes, this is the first time I've written her name online!) caseworker called to say she's no longer in foster care, and is now our adopted daughter.  Our adoption finalization date is Tuesday, and it's a formality but a significant date for us - one we'll celebrate from now on.

So here are a couple of photos from our week-long vacation to the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky.  We had a fabulous time!  

Thank you, Lord, for my family!
Day 1 of our vacation. Jaden picked a flower and I asked if I could put it in her hair and take a picture.  She takes my breath away.

Jaden's favorite Biblical hero is Moses, but she was transfixed with this animatronic Noah at the Creation Museum.

The girls posing in front of the Dinosaur Stamps from around the world. 

The Insectarium at the Creation Museum as fabulous and creepy. Since Jaden had learned about butterflies in school this year and had a field trip at the Butterfly House, she was especially interested in this exhibit. 

Daddy's girl at lunch.  Looks like I was laughing and so the photo is blurry.  Ugh.

Jaden is a hugger!  Yay!

The girls had a horseback riding lesson on our trip, and Jaden fed her apple core to Alannah's horse, Pepper.

"I'm pretty good at riding a horse because I rode one when I was two years old," was the phrase we heard several times before and after her adventure. 

Alannah rode a Palamino named Pepper. 

Jaden rode an Icelandic Pony with an ethnic name none of us could understand.  

After horseback riding, we went on a picnic to Harsha Lake & Dam. It was a glorious day!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

I Found My Thrill . . . on Blueberry Hill (Jam that Is)

The first week that our foster daughter, J, moved in with us was the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve. At one of the first meals we ate together, she asked excitedly, "Can you teach me how to make jam?"  Of course, she meant RIGHT NOW, so I shared the bad news that we had to wait until summer for her lesson.

Yesterday was Family Friday - Michael's one day off in the week and my day off - and we went to the park and then the beach and on the way home we stopped at my favorite grocery store. This store is run by Mennonites and boasts of bulk foods, bulk spices, beautiful produce, a bakery that I avoid because just looking at all of those cinnamon rolls makes me gain five pounds, and great cheeses and meats.  I go a few times a year and stock up on baking supplies, spices, their homemade honey roasted peanut butter and more. This is the place where I buy bulk fruits and veggies.  Last year our garden was a bust, so I bought a bushel of Romas to make sauce.  J has told me several times that my sauce is "the best" although I think she's biased.

Anyway, I bought five pounds of blueberries yesterday to make good on my December promise to teach J how to make jam. Today she helped me sort the berries, take off a few stems, use the immersion blender (she was in heaven!), add the lemon juice, sugar and pectin. She ladled about 5 of the 14 jars, and I showed her how to clean the jar rims before putting the lid on. 

As usual she had a plethora of questions, and, believe me, she remembers the answers to every one of them. I pulled the jars out of the boiling water and set them on a towel on the counter. She heard a popping noise, and I explained that was the sound the lid made when it sealed. Every time she heard one pop later, she was so thrilled.

And then we made dinner together.  Alannah has folded all of the laundry I've washed today, and J helped me make a quadruple batch of laundry detergent.  

So it's been a busy Saturday. We normally do chores on Saturday, but not this many! Michael had a private baptism this afternoon, and he should be back from the 5 p.m. worship service soon. 

Tomorrow is a day of rest, and I thank the Lord He created the Sabbath day for us to worship and renew.  

Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy 238th Birthday, America!

We went to the fireworks display in a little neighboring town last night with my parents, sister and nieces. We got there early and the fireworks lasted about 20 minutes, which seemed just about perfect to me.  We were in sweatshirts and even Michael wore longsleeves and jeans. 

Alannah spent the night at Grammy and Papa's house with her cousins, and J asked if we could talk when we got home. I opened the sofa bed and found a Barbie doll and a plastic doll which she wanted to play with after I got sheets and a quilt. I casually said, "I thought you wanted to talk."  For a moment she wanted to play, and then she handed me the dolls and said, "People are more important than Barbies."  I was so moved. She was echoing my words to her from the past few months.  Slowly she's learning that relationships are more important than material things.  She continued to say that our neighbors prefer to play outside than play Barbies, and even though she would like to play Barbies, she said her friends are more important and she loves playing with them.  

Today J and I went to Mom's to pick up Alannah, but I took fabric and a pattern to make J a dress with mom. I never use patterns as I simply upcycle skirts, so this was new territory for me.  We didn't finish the dress, but I hope to do so tomorrow.  We came home and got ready for our bonfire we'd been planning all week.  J invited Angie and the girls and Alannah invited Mom and Dad, so at 8 o'clock we had company and a fire. I had bought sparklers and when it got dark the girls lit them and twirled around the back yard. 

After everyone left, the four of us sat around the dying embers and did our new tradition. We don't have a name for this tradition yet, but basically each person tells the other three people something they admire about them.  This was our third time doing this, and I think all four of us enjoy hearing the encouraging words.  I'm always surprised at how poignant the girls' words are.  J asked if she could say something when we were all done, and so she exclaimed, "I love that we are all WEIRD!"  We all laughed and agreed that we are very weird and we love that too.  

So today is America's birthday, and I'm so happy to live herd with my family.  What a lovely, amazing, creative, casual two-day celebration!  Thanks be to God!

Monday, June 30, 2014

One, two, three

I did not blog last week because we had a terrible week. I love blogging our challenges and victories, but not our defeats.  We were defeated last week and through the power of the Holy Spirit and forgiveness, we are back on track.  Last night was the first good night sleep I've had all week.

Our family devotions were lovely tonight, and we watched "Mary Poppins" together (well, J and Alannah watched while I listened and sang, as my eyes were still dilated from an earlier eye appointment).

We have a new neighbor that is a year younger than J. This little girl's name starts with an "A".  "A" invited the girls over to swim on Friday, and I got to know her parents and gaze in wonder at her six-month old brother. When it was time to leave, I gave the girls a five-minute warning. Five minutes later I said it was time to leave. Both girls groaned, and I began counting. See, both girls take their sweet time responding to my requests and they are in the habit of negotiating. I'm taking a hard line and counting to three when they don't comply because I want respectful children. If I reach "3" then they lose a privilege. Alannah got out of the pool right after I said, "One."  J took five minutes to meander out of the pool after I got to "Three", and so I told her that the next time she was invited swimming that she could not go. She panicked.  "Please!  Pick another privilege!"  I told her that she wouldn't learn to listen if the privilege wasn't special.

On Saturday we got an invitation to swim at my friend Anggie's house the next day, and I had to take a deep breath before reminding J that she could not go.  She did not argue and was resolute in her disappointment. When we got home, she was happy to see Alannah and me. I asked if she would get out of the pool when I asked from now on, and she emphatically nodded her head and replied, "YES!"

Today Michael got to see J's stubborn side when he took her for a check up at a new doctor. He wanted to remove the wax in her ear, and after 90 minutes and several attempts, his nurses were unsuccessful. She didn't want to take ear drops at home, but she couldn't bring herself to relax for the ear irrigation.  Tonight I suggested that we use hydrogen peroxide in her ear, and she immediately began to screech and sob.  Alannah offered to have me do her ear too, and Michael asked if I would irrigate his first. What a strange family we are.  I hope no one asks what we did tonight.

Anyway, I asked the girls to lay on the couch in spoon fashion, and Alannah was laughing and giggling while J screeched as she was being held.  

I looked J in her eyes and said firmly, "I will do Alannah's ear first, and then yours.  Do not move your head or touch your ear or else I will start counting to "Three" and you will lose a privilege.  This will not hurt, but it will sound like fuzzy bubbles in your ear."  

So I poured the solution in Alannah's ear and then poured it in J's as she screamed. She began to thrash.  


She stopped thrashing as the screaming continued. "It hurts!  It hurts!"  Michael said she was like this the entire time at the doctor's office. 

After a few minutes of crying, J giggled when Alannah talked in a funny voice.  Then she giggled when Alannah called her "Mr. Grumpy Pants," a nickname Alannah only uses when J is crying or anxious because it always makes J laugh.  She cried, then giggled, cried, then giggled, then wouldn't stop giggling. A few more minutes of this and the peroxide was done bubbling and had done it's job.  

J was truly surprised when it was over.

I looked her in the eye again and said, "Tomorrow when I do this to you, you will not cry like you did tonight."  

She looked back at me and said in wonder, "I'm all done?"  


I thanked Alannah for comforting J through this ordeal.  This was a loving, creative, sisterly thing to do, and I am so proud of her.  

Parenting.  It's not as easy as 1-2-3, but it's the most rewarding thing Michael and I have ever done.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Blessing of Fathers

Yesterday my parents came over for a picnic to celebrate Father's Day. Michael made a couple of racks of ribs, I made alfredo, asparagus and served a ton of fresh veggies while Mom made baked beans. Yum. We had great conversation during dinner and then Mom and I went to the garden to plant the two 8" pots of lavender I bought earlier in the day.  She trimmed the spent poppies and irises while I made a small dent in the weeds.  After they left I continued weeding until it was nearly dark, plus I got out my Grandma's Schwinn bike and it arranged in the garden with a basket overflowing with silk flowers.  It's now officially summer!

I've had a headache all week but I did not want to cancel our engagement.  I'm so glad I didn't. We gave Dad a Detroit Tigers tee-shirt and most likely he wore it today.

We considered heading to the Bavarian parade today, but Michael wanted to stay home and work on projects.  Woot!  Is it Mother's Day?  

Worship was awesome! Trinity Sunday is the only day of the year we recite the Athanasian Creed.  When I was a kid I thought it took half an hour to say it, but it's not quite that long.  We sang "Do Lord" and I smiled the entire time.  Summer worship is at 9:30 and so we were home to give Michael his presents before lunch.  He wanted a new electric griddle with warming tray.  He registered for a griddle as a wedding gift and has asked for new ones for Christmas every 5 years or so.  With a smile on my face I told him he wasn't normal.  He grinned back and agreed.  "I just want the girls' pancakes to stay warm!" What a dad!

Our sun porch as been a large catch-all for a couple of years, and today we removed the 11 foot church pew that's been along the wall since we moved in and proceeded to clean it for a sitting area.  Oh, my, it's lovely!  I need to make some curtains, and the wood stove needs to be removed, but it's a good start.

I did more weeding after we finished the sun porch, and Michael dug two holes - one for a new hydrangea and one to transplant an unknown purple perennial. 

The girls played with neighbors most of the day, although J helped a little with the sun porch. She helped decorate for VBS yesterday and today Alannah helped too.  

It's now about 7:30 and I can take inventory of the day and say "THANK YOU, GOD for all of the blessings today in worship and at home."  So very very grateful for my dad and for my husband who is an awesome dad to our girls.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

A beautiful weekend

I am blessed to love my job, but I do miss being home with my girls during summer vacation.  I cannot make up for being gone during the week, but I can be present with them on the weekends, and so I did just that. 

On Saturday we met my sister and niece and went shopping for summer clothes and clothes for me to upcycle. We found some great deals on shorts, tees and even some cute summer dresses.  I bought some second-hand skirts to make into dresses for J.  We had fun at lunch, and J growled, "I like chocolate milk" to mimic a favorite cartoon that she and Alannah watch.  Angie thought she was serious and said, "They have chocolate milk here. Do you want some?"  My girls thought that was the funniest response ever.  Oh, inside jokes are only fun when you're on the inside, huh?  

Alexa spent the night, and we enjoyed her company as always.  Love that girl so much.

Sunday morning was our contemporary service, and J went early with me to church to rehearse our intros.  She rehearsed with me yesterday too after asking if she could sing too.  She saw Alannah rehearse on Thursday with the choir, so I said "yes" but I did not give her a microphone today. She and I both did not have a mic, and I was happy when she sang loudly and with her whole heart.  Michael said that she sang with her mouth open so wide that you could put three fingers into it.  Ha! That's a trick I teach my choirs to get the most volume during the forte portions of the song.  She's a natural!

We sang Here I Am to Worship, Blessed Be Your Name, Offering, Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) and Victory Chant

We went to lunch together and then for a drive up north. The weather was mild and sunny with a delightful breeze. Michael had a hospital call and a communion visit when we returned, and the girls played for a couple of hours before they invited their friends over to play and have a light dinner. 

Tomorrow is another day of work for me, a blessing for which I'm so grateful. I have much to be thankful for this beautiful Sabbath day and every day.  God is good all the time!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Up Up & Away!

What a beautiful weekend it's been!  I'm not talking about just the weather - and it's been glorious - because our family time has been so meaningful too. 

Yesterday my parents took Alannah to a Loon's game and so Michael, J and I went to dinner and then a drive.  We saw many balloons descending into Frankenmuth and made plans to attend the Balloons Over Bavaria this afternoon.  We packed a picnic and found a shady spot to relax before the festivities began. 

The girls quickly asked for money to play on the inflatables, but Michael and I stood firm: picnic and balloons only.  Both had been excited about our plans until they saw the inflatables, and we wanted them to be content with our original plans.  I was not surprised when they both stopped begging.  

We were the only ones in the area, and we sat under a shady tree. The cool breeze was so refreshing. The crowd was far from us and was entertained by a dog competition and dog-themed craft show. I took pictures of both girls individually while the other interacted with Michael. J sat on my lap and I rocked her.  Michael told Alannah a story.  I took Alannah's picture.  Michael held J on his lap.  Then the three of them reclined on the blanket and laughed and giggled.  

Then the crowd came our way and our peaceful picnic was invaded like Normandy. Plus, half of the people there had dogs, or two or four dogs.  I love dogs, but I don't like weaving around the walkways dodging poop or getting slobbered with water by a shaking dog (This really happened. So gross.), or having to move out of the way as two dogs attacked each other.  Cesar Milan would have been so disappointed with some of these dog owners.  

Anyway, the girls picked their favorite balloons from a brochure and were delighted to watch them launch. I got more great photos and we all oohed and ahhed over the beauty of them in the sky.  

During one trip to the porta-potties, Michael and J took quite a while to return to our blankets and Alannah kept asking, "Where are they?  I want to play with J?  Where is J? Do you think they are okay?"  Over and over she asked, about 20 times at least.  

"Sounds like you miss your sister," I commented. 

Alannah responded dryly, "Well, you won't play tag with me."  As soon as J got back, Alannah reached out with one finger and gently touched J's arm.  "You're it," she said softly.  J's eyes lit up and she pounced. 

Oh, man, we had a great time. 

The girls brought Love-A-Lot and Olaf and played Talk for the Babies with them the entire trip home. J spoke for Love-A-Lot and said, "It's been the best day ever!"  Hmm... Methinks she had a great time at the festival!

It's hilarious listening to them talk to their kids about consequences and to hear J count "1 . . . 2 . . . " as she expects Love-A-Lot to obey her.  She talks "firmly" to her as "a parent does to a child."  Michael and I sat in the front seat and just shook our heads in bemusement at both of them.  

At one point they compared arms and determined they had the exact same tan. I cannot express fully J's joy at that discovery. Considering we've been planting annuals and the garden and today they wore bathing suits and played at the neighbor's, I was not surprised they're both a little tan. 

The girls made plans when we got home.  "We are going to play together! We are going to eat ice cream together! We are going to dress Love-A-Lot and Olaf together! We are going to watch a movie together!"

After baths, when they were in their jammies before the said ice cream was consumed, I spoke softly to Alannah.  "Perhaps you could admit that you love having a little sister." She downplayed my request for a moment and then agreed with me with a twinkle in her eyes.  This is every dream come true for Michael and me. 

Maybe we are doing more to teach them than we think we are.  Maybe the Holy Spirit works in them more than we imagine.  Maybe  . . . just maybe, God can use two sinful people to impact two amazing girls eternally.  That is my prayer and my one desire.