Tuesday, January 31, 2012

daredevil...

Also 10 minutes from our house on Liberty University's campus is a year-round ski slope. (yes, you read that right. Year-round skiing.) Apparently this is the only one in the US, so I guess that sorta makes it a big deal.

As our family was hiking the other day, we decided to stop by the slopes to watch the skiers & noticed they had opened up a large lane for tubing! (not just the bunny hill anymore)

So then, of course our little gal was captivated and just had to give it a try herself. :)

We started on the bunny hill.

Success.

What's faster- a sled or a tube?

Of course it was the sled.

Therefore, our little daredevil then needed a sled. (I love this look on her face before she took off!)

And we're off!

I'm beating Daddy!

Now it's time for the BIG hill... for this hill, we'd have to "couple up." I (Caroline) was Thomas & Daddy was James.

First, we pulled our tubes onto this little escalator-thingy that took us to the top.

Get in the tubes and connect them together...

And go!!!

This was my expression after the first run. :)

Wanna see us go down together? Watch this!

video

Again, again!!

Many more runs down the mountain.

Until, unbeknownst to Mommy, she sees this happening...

Yes, that's her husband joyfully careening down the mountain ALONE, while her almost-4 yr. old daughter waits next in turn.

To go down by HERSELF??? (in between runs, she'd been begging Marc to go down by herself, but Mommy had no idea it was actually going to happen!)

And there she goes!

Here's the video of her first solo run... :)

video

This gal is a daredevil, indeed.
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Saturday, January 28, 2012

hike...

It was a perfect day for a little hike, and we've got one eager little hiker... (we've lived here 4 years now and I still can't believe this is 10 minutes from my house!)





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a gal...

Sorry for such a slow down in pictures lately! Between adoption paperwork, the new Australia news (see yesterday's post), and the beginning of the semester, there's been too much going on and the camera has not been snapping.

Speaking of the new semester, here's a glimpse at our Sunday night ministry team meeting in our basement. We have a GREAT group of students who are eager to serve. This semester Marc is taking this group through a study based off of a book called "Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change" to help equip them to more fully love and minister to people in their lives. In our large group on Thursday nights, he's preaching through the book of Revelation this semester.

But I'm willing to bet that's not why most of you come to this blog. :) Here's what you really want to see...

A gal who's beginning to PUMP all by herself on the swings! (this is a BIG deal!)

A gal who LOVES the game Memory, whether we play it on the tv together or the actual board game.

A gal who's got her own ideas about what she wants and doesn't want, and who's trying to assert her own authority over everyone else's in the house...

And a gal who's always crawling on top of you, eager for attention. And with this face, how can you resist? :)
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Thursday, January 26, 2012

breaking news (but not what you think)...

Breaking news around our household! Let's see... how shall I put this? Well, here goes.... we're likely spending the summer in Australia?!?

Yes. Seriously.

I'm not even kidding.

6 weeks in Sydney, Australia.

Me, Marc, and Caroline.

(did I mention it is all free?)

I know. My jaw was on the floor, too.

For the past few years, RUF has partnered up with our denomination's missions organization, MTW (Mission to the World) to create a mentored summer internship for college students who are interested in being apart of short-term global missions. They call it their "Mentored Thrive" program, and MTW places a RUF minister & his family at each location to be a pastor and shepherd to the small team of American college students working at that location. Basically, he is the guy who debriefs with the team each day after they have served/worked/ministered to the nationals, he meets with each team member for one-on-one meetings, he calls team meetings to discuss any "drama" on the team, he is the "home-base" guy for the RUF students.

Currently, there are opportunities in Scotland, Ireland, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mexico, and more. This year a Thrive program was opening up in Sydney, Australia, and some friends of ours (fellow RUF minister & fam) were slotted to go. Well, in God's usual crazy providences, their family had to back out a few weeks ago, but they were asking the RUF guys if anyone would be interested in stepping in their place.

In my frustration with the lack of ANYTHING happening adoption-wise in our life, I spontaneously blurted out to Marc, "What if we just GO? Maybe we should do it."

I must admit, my initial intentions probably had very little to do with Jesus. :)

Nevertheless, we decided to check into the opportunity. (of a lifetime, no doubt!)

And of course, it sounded right up our alley.

  • A small church plant in Sydney with a huge explosion of college students.
  • The students are from 4 different universities, and almost all from various places in Asia.
  • The missionary/pastor is eager to get a team of RUF students to come and build relationships, share the Gospel, and help in outreach for their campus ministry & church.

The more the idea sunk into our heads, the more it excited us and seemed to be the perfect timing. Our possibility of having a new baby before July/August are highly unlikely, and so this may be the last summer for awhile in which we could do something like this! (each summer, we've turned down the opportunity to do one of these Thrive programs b/c I wanted Caroline to be old enough to handle all the travel...)

So it's looking like we're moving forward! We've got some paperwork & interviews to complete, but Lord willing, we're going Down Under!

I'm excited & nervous beyond belief, but overwhelmed with gratefulness to the Lord for this opportunity. I know the Lord will stretch us and grow us. Now I can't wait to get a much bigger, global perspective of His Kingdom! (and yes, I'm also very thankful they'll speak my language and we'll be able to navigate Marc's gluten free diet in such a big city...)

And if in God's providence, this opportunity doesn't work out, I know He is in perfect control. Nevertheless, we're excited!

Speaking of God's crazy providences, here's another one. Our niece, Callie, is currently IN Sydney this week for a grad-school conference she attended, and she actually WENT to the church plant & met the missionary on Sunday! Small world, eh?

So, yeah. I may have a few too many irons in my fire between adoption stuff and now THIS?! :) I know, I know. We live a crazy life. And we pretty much love it like that.

Here's a few specifics to pray for now:
  • We need students to go! They're looking for a team of 10, with an even number of guys & gals. Oh how I'd LOOOOVE for some of our own RUF students to raise the money & come with us, so pray to that end! (we are announcing the trip tonight at RUF, though we don't have a $ amount yet for them.. but if any of you RUF students are reading this blog.... hint hint....) We will also get the word out with RUF's across the nation in the event that we don't have all 10 team members come from Lynchburg.
  • Pray for all of the logistics to come together-- all of the applications, interviews, passport/visa stuff on this side of the world as well as all of the logistics on that side of the world as we continue communicating with the missionary there.
  • Pray for God's will for us to be clear in this-- my heart feels torn at times thinking about leaving the country for 6 weeks with the "what if" potential of adoption hanging in the wings, but I also know that I don't need to sit around my house for 6 weeks just waiting by the phone and hoping, too.
  • Pray in advance for our hearts in this endeavor, but especially for sweet Caroline! She is telling everyone she's going to Australia, and that you have to take a BIG plane there and fly ALL day. (oh, she has NO idea... and neither do I, for that matter!...) It's going to be a huge culture shock for us just to go from life in a small town to living in a downtown HUGE global city, taking public transportation everywhere, and lots of WALKING, I'd imagine. (not to mention we'll be transported across the world, to a different day & season...) I have no idea how life will look like with a 4 yr. old in a major metropolitan city, but we're up for the adventure!
If any of you have BEEN to Sydney before or have traveled overseas with small children, I would loooove to hear from you! The extent of our familiarity with Australia is going to Outback Steakhouse. ha!

Let the adventure begin! We'll keep you guys posted. G'day! :)

Friday, January 20, 2012

word from the outside...

I can't believe it was one year ago today that we finally received Caroline's official diagnosis of alopecia.

After surviving an entire YEAR filled with anxiety, heartbreak, despair, and desperation trying to figure out what was happening to my child and why she was beginning to resemble a cancer patient, we finally got the verdict that we had been longing for:

HEALTHY.

While Caroline's hair was slowly falling out, many of you remember she was experiencing a number of other health-related symptoms: TERRIBLE diapers (oh, they were awful!), dark circles under her eyes, lots of eczema, paleness in her face, etc. Various medical tests did suggest that she might have an intestinal malabsorption issue (such as celiac), and with our gastroenterologist's blessing, we decided to launch into a gluten free diet to see if that would possibly help. (I say that so matter-of-factly now, but at the time it was the toughest challenge I've ever been given and I'd say sheer PANIC would better describe it...)

Then ensued a looooong year of "nutritional therapy," as we were seeing small ups and downs in her symptoms. But the hair kept falling out, and no one knew exactly why. All I knew to do was to trust our doctors and keep doing everything in my power to get my daughter "well." During that year, my entire day revolved around food for Caroline--- acquiring it, preparing it, cooking it, serving it, cleaning up from it, etc. When I wasn't cooking, I was tirelessly researching online for answers or in therapy to cope with the emotional toll it was taking on me.

I remember taking Caroline to the grocery store, and each time she would point to the cabinets of doughnuts and say so innocently to me, "What are those, Mommy?"

Just thinking about that time exhausts me now, and it still breaks my heart. It was indeed, painful.

But praise God that He didn't leave us there. Little could I feel His leading at the time, though intellectually I knew it was there. It's only in looking back that I can now see tremendous blessings in what we experienced. It's weird to say it, but in some ways, I needed to go through that. It continues to shape so much of me even now.

It was a year ago today that the doctors at Duke Children's discussed Caroline's case, and our dermatologist (whom we LOVED) gently gave us the verdict:

Caroline has alopecia totalis. She's probably looking at a lifetime without hair, but she is completely HEALTHY. (Turns out the horrible diapers & other symptoms were due to an intestinal parasite that we were able to treat easily.... so at least we weren't crazy thinking something was very wrong intestinally for a time!)

After all the hours upon hours of worry, of researching, of doctors appointments, of COOKING without end, of crying out to the Lord.... the message I got on January 20, 2011 was

STOP.

Really? Really? my heart wondered if this was really true.
Are you sure? (I'm such a second-guesser by nature.)
I don't have to DO anything?? (I'm also a do-er by nature, too.)
How can I be so sure that what YOU'RE telling me is THE truth? I couldn't help but think.

But he was right. And I had to trust. Not my feelings inside, but trust this word from the outside.

I thought my daughter was sick.
The word from the outside said: she is NOT.

I have to keep DOING- this all rests upon ME!
The word from the outside said: STOP.

But something is really WRONG.
The word from the outside said: It's okay.

Though we did immediately stop all of the gluten free restrictions on her diet, I've gotta admit- it felt WRONG giving her the stuff initially. I felt guilty, like I was giving up! Now I realize I was still listening to the fears in my heart rather than trusting in the word from the outside.

You know, faith is much this way, too.

I am guilty. I am a mess. I can't get it together.
The word from the outside says: RIGHTEOUS.

But I can't forgive myself. And I can't stop myself.
That word says: FREE and APPROVED.

I'll do better this time. I must try harder.
The word from the outside says: STOP. I already did it for you.

When Jesus justifies us and stamps a HUUUUUGE declaration of "righteous" on us, it's difficult initially to trust the word from the outside. Most often we keep believing the feelings from within.

I was forced to stop all of my efforts for my daughter. And initially it felt so wrong to not "DO" anymore. But one year later, I am still being challenged to rest in those words from the outside, especially those of my Great Physician. I am not called to DO. I am called to TRUST.

Over the past year, there have been set-backs and days when I grieve the fact that my daughter will have to grow up bald. Honestly, people's reactions can be so stupid and so hurtful sometimes. I don't expect there to ever be a day where I never feel the heartbreak anymore, and why should I? It's the HEARTBREAK that turns me BACK to Jesus. What a journey He has given us, and I know He will be with us through it all.

Today we're celebrating our one year of acceptance! No more wondering! No more crazy allergen free cooking! I couldn't love my sweet & fiery daughter any more if she had a full head of wavy brown locks. And you know what she & I ate to celebrate?

Yep. A doughnut. :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

gratefulness in the paperwork...

Can I, as an infertile woman, just complain for a minute?? I'm sorting through the MOUND of paperwork that I have to navigate in order to just be QUALIFIED to adopt (our last homestudy was in Texas, so now that we're in Virginia, we've gotta do it all over again...), and today I'm finding myself struggling with my attitude towards it all.

You see, to have a baby, most couples...

  • Decide (or don't) to "try"
  • Snuggle up close
  • Wait a month (or so)
  • Announce it to the world
  • Endure 9 months of pregnancy (which, in all honesty, I'm not jealous of...)
  • Welcome baby to the world!
Simple enough.

But if I want a baby, I have to...

  • Fill out an adoption application, which includes lots of basic information with proof of birth & marriage certificates and a $100 application fee
  • Answer several pages of questions about our personalities, why we want to have a child, why we'd make good parents, etc.
  • WAIT. (to see if we've been approved thus far...)
  • Okay, we've been approved. NOW we must:
  • Sign a corporal punishment statement
  • Give a monthly budget.
  • Provide our yearly income information
  • Go to the police station to be officially fingerprinted, fill out tons more papers, pay $50 each to run a FBI Clearance on us
  • Get a criminal history check/disclosure statement
  • Go have a notary, pay a fee & send off different papers to the capital of Virginia to release information
(Keep in mind that anyone else just "gets" to have a baby with no questions asked! As we continue...)
  • All of us have to go get a physical exam & a tuberculosis screening from our doctors so we're confirmed to be physically fit to handle a baby
  • Obtain a driving record for each driver in the home.
  • Get a minimum of 3 reference forms of folks who know us & can vouch that we'd be good parents.
  • Send in a current credit report.
  • Provide a sketch of our home's floorplan, marking where exits, smoke alarms, & fire extinguishers are.
  • A copy of our most recent 1040 Tax Form.
  • A proof of income and employment verification for each parent.
  • 3 homestudy visits with a caseworker (and a $1,600 fee at the first visit), one of which has to be in your home
  • WAIT. (while the caseworker finishes and files your homestudy to the state)
  • Attend a weekend of mandatory adoption training in March.
  • Put together a profile of our family including pictures. (basically a brochure about ourselves for potential birthmoms to compare us with other adopting couples)
  • Tell the whole world that we're hoping to adopt in case we are fortunate to meet a birthmom on our own and pursue a private adoption. (vs. a much more expensive agency adoption...) This would be our preference to find someone through word of mouth like we did with Megan. (Caroline's birthmom)
  • WAIT another indefinite amount of time.... and WAIT. And WAIT. And hope that someone will see our brochure and want to meet us.
The process could end here. This could all be in vain at this point. But let's assume we find a girl who would like to meet us and begin talking about adoption with us...

  • Begin a relationship with a birthmom, talking through expectations, hopes, plans for contact after the birth, etc.
  • LOTS OF PRAYER that she would continue to like us & would be committed to making an adoption plan with us. At any point, she has the right (as she should!) to change her mind and parent the baby, so it is truly walking by faith for us at this point.
  • Pay money out the wazoo. Thankfully for our last adoption we were able to raise a good chunk of money through a fund at our church to help us out. Plus there's lots of good tax deductions you get when you adopt.
  • If the baby is in Virginia, after the birth, Virginia law says a birthmom can change her mind up to 10 days after the birth. (Texas law was 48 hours) Our little adoption agency then has some designated sweet little foster families that care for the baby during that time. (which would be much different for us than how we were able to take Caroline home from the hospital...) After those 10 days are up, there is an adoption placement and you finally...
GET A BABY.

Can you see why I might be a tad bit bitter at this point?? :)

Of course I say all this very light-heartedly, though, for 2 reasons:

1) I know that once a little guy or gal is placed in my arms by another HERO! of a birthmom, I'd do it ALL OVER again for him/her without another thought. I'm not called to have kids like everyone else-- I'm called to adopt! And...

2) The person who has the hardest job in this process is not me. It's the birthmom, because as she's making the most painful and sacrificial decision of her life to place her baby, it's HER that has to grieve. (By the way, we NEVER, NEVER say "give her baby away," as in "she gave her baby away"-- that sounds so uncaring, doesn't it? Birthmoms don't give their babies away-- they PLACE their babies with loving families of their choice to give the child more than they are able to give them at the time. Anyways, back to birthmoms...)

It's HER that has to grieve.
It's HER that has to find the strength to get up the next day without a little one snuggling by her side as her body is screaming to her that she should be providing for a child.
It's HER that has to figure out how to move forward with her dreams in life.

As difficult as it is on my end of the adoption process, it is a cakewalk compared to the pain a birthmommy has to face and deal through.

And with that, my attitude changes from one of bitterness and complaint to utter gratefulness at God's plan. Would you pray with us that we would be given the greatest privilege to welcome a second baby into our home?

Monday, January 16, 2012

potential future career paths #18...

As I'm rapidly approaching 4, it's getting closer and closer to the day where I'll need to declare my life-long ambition, folks. TIME IS RUNNING OUT. (okay, not really, but taking a look at what I'm doing now makes it fun to dream about what I might potentially do with myself in the future!)

Maybe I'll be...

...a disinterested choir teacher...

...an aerobics instructor...

...a college student... (except my head would need to be buried in a cell phone for this to be truly accurate...)

...a culinary chef...

...a taxi driver or a tour guide...

...radio traffic controller...

...a linebacker...

And I need your help for this last one. I know there's gotta be something that this could prepare me for...

Let's hear some of your silly guesses & we'll pick a winner!
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Sunday, January 8, 2012

the messages i am sending...

So it's January. And that means that many of us out there are resolving ourselves to eating healthier and losing some weight through various diets, exercise programs, you name it. Gym memberships offer discounts. Treadmills are on sale. (Isn't it funny how many of our resolutions have to do with our body image??)

A friend of mine loaned me a Jillian Michaels workout video last week, and for fun, Caroline and I exercised together a few times. (It was quite entertaining at first for her... after the 3rd time? Not so much...) But as Jillian Michaels (a personal trainer on the show "Biggest Loser") was calling out her oh-so-"encouraging" comments across the television to me as I'm panting desperately for breath, I started listening to what she was perhaps really saying underneath it all.

Having a great body shape will make you happy...
You are only desirable if you look like this...
Kill yourself to look like a twig because beauty is worth it...
You need to look great in a swimsuit... of course...

Okay, that's probably WAAAY-overanalyzing Jillian's intents, and it's not like I'm anti-J.M. now or anything!, :) but as I'm watching the dead-panned look on my daughter's face as she is staring intently at the screen, telling me she wants hair like "that girl," she's receiving some kind of messages even now...

My sinful heart places way too much value on beauty. On wanting to be attractive and have others think I am. Alopecia was probably a blessing of the Lord to grow me in this area, because it has forced me to become extremely sensitive to matters of body image for my daughter's sake.

A few years ago I attended a training seminar for RUF Wives on eating disorders & body image from a professional counselor who works for an intake facility of people with these types of serious problems. And one thing he said to all of us wives & mothers really stood out to me. The greatest predictor and influence upon our children having future body issues is their parent's view and treatment of their own bodies.

Basically it's this--- if I'm deeply dissatisfied and insecure with my own body image, she is also most likely to carry it upon herself too.

When you have a daughter with alopecia totalis, this just can't be. I want my daughter's understanding of beauty to be shaped by the Lord's approval of her, not by the messages of our culture or of my own insecurity.

I find myself ever aware of what messages am I sending.

How do I talk about my hair as I have a bald daughter watching on? I don't want to complain about bad hair days anymore, because you know what?! At least I've GOT some! I must be careful to check my own heart about the value I am placing on appearance, because its tendency in me is to run amuck. I mean, what woman do you know who is completely & totally 100% satisfied with her body & beauty? (and the beauty/cosmetic industry would like to make sure that we don't ever get that way, right?) Read this incredible article "How to Talk to Little Girls" for practical ideas on how to come and talk to MY little girl! (please!)

The counselor/trainer offered us some tips about how to talk to our young kids about food even now. He encouraged us not to talk about the D-word ("diet") around our kids, and not to put food into such strong categories of GOOD and BAD. (but perhaps using terms like "treats" to be eaten only on occasion-- "we don't eat them everyday or they would make our body sick," etc.... one time our pediatrician told Caroline when she was 2 years old to eat lots of food that grows out of the ground, because THAT food is better for our bodies than food that comes in boxes. That has been SO helpful to talk about with her since then-- at times she gets excited to name the foods on her plate that came from the ground. But there doesn't need to be an overly negative focus on the other foods that didn't, you know?) He told us it is helpful to teach our kids how to realize their own hunger cues, and to only eat until their body tells them it is full.

Here's where it gets closer to home, though.

The Lord's providence is quite crazy sometimes. I say that because I have an extremely rare birthmark that runs up and down the entirety of the back of my right leg. It's so rare that dermatologists are legitimately amazed when I happen to show it to them, as they've usually "never seen one in person." (boy, that makes you feel REAL good, lemme tell ya...) It is not one of those cute "tea-stained" birthmarks, either. It probably looks more like the back of my leg was burned in a fire from top to bottom. It looks like it is painful. Thankfully it's not at all.

So though it's mostly only a cosmetic issue (similar to alopecia) I have carried (and still carry) immense insecurity about my birthmark throughout my life. (Ironically, it showed up when I was about the same age as Caroline when she started losing her hair...about 2 yrs old.) My mom took me to doctor after doctor, unsure of what it was and what was happening to me as it stretched farther and farther up and down my leg. (sound familiar with our story?) As a young kid, I remember painful treatments doctors tried on it, where they literally put something on each spot to "puff" the skin up high. I wanted to hit the ceiling-- it stung so bad. Nothing helped, and to ever think about having it removed would leave a far worse scar than the birthmark itself.

All my life I have carried the insecurity of it, and it probably shapes more of my body image and insecurity than I even realize. You will probably NOT see me in shorts or short skirts where my legs are exposed. (unless it's a setting like a beach where it's necessary... but I'll try to hide myself when able then, too...) Thankfully I can just wear pants and cover up.

But wait!

Isn't that what I'm wanting to teach my daughter not to do?

More than anything, I want her to know there is NO shame, NO need to hide, NO need to cover up her head. (unless she feels at some point she wants to, and if that day ever comes, we'll have lots of good talks about beauty and our motivations for covering up, etc.)

So you see now why I must be careful with the messages I am sending to her. They are messages that I must begin to believe myself.

You are beautiful, just as you are.
You don't have to cover up to be beautiful.
Your approval doesn't come from people, but live in light of the fact you already have the complete approval of your heavenly Father.

The problem isn't with my birthmark. Or with alopecia. Or the fact that both my adopted daughter and I have extremely rare physical traits that cause stares and teasing from others. The problem is in my heart. My deep insecurities. My fear of rejection. My fear that you'll cringe if you see it, and you won't like me half as much. My inability to rest in my justification.

My spiritual journey has always involved struggle to rest in Jesus' approval of my body above peoples'.

And now the Lord is asking me to teach that very message to my precious little one.

May we all be a little more aware of the messages that we're sending....

"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight." 1 Peter 3:3-4

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

away in a manger...

Well, here it is. (Better late than never?) Here's the 2nd time our little church's children's choir ever sang, and this is what they prepared for our Lessons & Carols service in December! (with one of our junior high violinists playing beautifully in the background) So proud of them! (and who knows why my daughter had to pick at her fingers throughout the song?!? Good grief.) :)

Monday, January 2, 2012

hands of love #23...

Oh, do I have some incredible recipes for you, so get your pens & paper ready!! (I'll wait.)

It's so exciting when you find those KEEPER recipes, you know? The ones you know you'll be adding into your regular repertoire, not just saving for special occasions?

And because they're naturally gluten free, (no special modifications needed) they're great for anyone whether you're GF or not!

Got your pen ready yet? Ooh, I am so excited to share these!

Made for my sweet little family with hands of love...

Southwestern Salad with a Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette. Whenever I make mexican food for company, here's THE salad I'm making to go with it. It is DELISH. I didn't go all out like the recipe calls for-- didn't get cojita cheese (just sprinkled on some of the mexican cheese I already had), didn't have any pumpkin seeds on hand, didn't put any tortilla strips (though I could've put a few of our tortilla chips broken up on top), and didn't have any avocado on hand, either. But whatever. It was soooooo good.

HERE'S the 2nd greatest recipe of all time, folks. I'm serious. (the first one is at the bottom of this post!) Best chicken I've ever had hands down. The meat was literally falling off the bone-- unbelievable. And get this-- it's made in the CROCKPOT!!!! (woohoo!!!) So easy. Here's the recipe. (and I'm liking the blog I found it on, too. She even includes how to use the bones from the chicken to make homemade chicken broth to use when cooking rice or quinoa or for soups, etc.) MAKE. THIS. DISH. (and then let's rejoice at how yummy and easy it was together!)

Broccoli cheese soup. (in my feeble attempt to try to eat more vegetables & a little less meat in my life)

Speaking of no meat, this meal was entirely made up of veggies!! It's pasta sauce with mushrooms (instead of meat) over spaghetti squash for the "noodles" with a side cucumber/tomato salad. No meat, and no starch. This type of meal is definitely the way to pack in some veggies, though I have to admit I'm hungry a couple of hours later....

For any of you who haven't tried using a spaghetti squash before... Just cut it in half longwise, scrape out the seeds, rub a little olive oil on the side with the seeds, place it face down on a baking sheet, and cook it at 350 for 40 minutes or so. When you take it out of the oven and turn it over, use a fork to gently scrape out the insides & it will instantly come out as "noodles." You can eat the noodles with white sauce, with marinara, or maybe just sprinkle on some parmesan cheese if that appeals to you more.

It's worth trying! Caroline definitely prefers the real noodles, but I can still get her to eat these if I top it with enough sauce. :)

A cobb salad using leftover ham from Christmas dinner.

And HERE it comes, ladies and gentlemen... THE recipe of a lifetime, especially for you gluten-free'ers... (drum roll here, because I, of all people, am NOT a good dessert maker...)

a FLOURLESS chocolate cake!!!!!!! (did you catch that? Flour-LESS!!!) And it's SOOOOO easy to make! Whether you're gluten free or NOT, this is like the silkiest tasting brownie you've ever had-- serve it warm with ice cream on top & it's to DIE for. TRUST me. NO more brownie mixes! THIS is it. I've already made 2 of these things for company THIS WEEK. :) Outback Steakhouse (which is very gluten-free friendly, by the way) has something similar to this on their regular dessert menu, and Marc says this rivals it.

Flourless Chocolate "Cake"

9 ounces of semisweet chocolate, chopped (get the good stuff at the grocery store that comes in squares-- ours is in the health section-- I used a combo of dark & milk chocolates for mine)
1/2 cup butter (or Earth Balance spread, for dairy free)
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
a little cocoa powder

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease an 8 inch round cake pan, and dust with cocoa powder.

2. Melt the chocolate & butter separately. (I did this easy breezy in my microwave)

3. Mix melted chocolate & melted butter, stir in sugar, eggs (already beaten), & vanilla. Pour into prepared pan.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out on a wire rack and cool completely. Slices can also be reheated for 20 to 30 seconds in the microwave before serving. (serves 8)

It's probably not too hard to convince you guys to make this one, eh? :)

Hope you can enjoy the labors of these hands of love!
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Sunday, January 1, 2012

top 10 of 2011...

Happy New Year!

As I (Amy) look back upon 2011, I would say it was a year of regrouping for our family. I can't believe it was only a year ago(!) that we received Caroline's official diagnosis of alopecia, after we had been through such a previous difficult year of trying everything we could to get our daughter "well." (more on that later this month as we approach the anniversary...) But once we had the diagnosis and were able to "stop" so much of what we were doing because she WAS well & healthy, this past year became learning how to live in light of alopecia.

2011 was the year that I accepted alopecia.
I learned how to adjust my eyes. And my expectations.
And see bald as BEAUTIFUL.

I know as the years march along, alopecia will only be a PART of our story. I know it won't DEFINE us quite as much as it has the past two years. But as I look back upon where I was with my daughter's baldness verses where I am now, I am thankful for how the Lord has ever so slowly and quietly worked in my heart. I know that in a sense I will always be "grieving" for that loss and I don't ever have to "arrive" at a place where I don't feel pain about it anymore, but thankfully now, I can say with confidence that I am thankful for all the things he has taught ME through this.

After such a trying 2010, 2011 was about finding a new normal. We had hoped initially to adopt another baby in 2011, but it was the Lord's best for our family to give us time to heal and just enjoy our little family. In 2012, we're ready to move forward and are now praying that God will bring our family a second baby to love and adopt. But if another year passes without a child, we want to graciously accept His good plan for us. (whatever that is...)

Here's a look back on the memories we will never forget from 2011! (in no particular order)


10. Our Fall Break at Hilton Head Island. It was a joy to watch Caroline at the beach, and it was on this vacation that we made the decision to begin the paperwork to pursue a second adoption.

9. Caroline's third birthday. Shortly after our diagnosis of health, this birthday was a bigger celebration for all of us than Caroline even realized.

8. 2011 marked the completion of Daddy's hands of love! It was quite an endeavor to build this massive swingset in our backyard (which I still think looks more like a hotel than a playset!), but we are thankful for it as we've watched Caroline enjoy hours of fun and counting...

7. Our Mother's Day getaway to Baltimore, MD, was among the top memories for all of us! Caroline still talks about going to the aquarium!

6. Crabbin'! It was SO fun to go crabbing at the Outer Banks as a fam! Caroline got VERY into catching the crabs & if you click on that link, you can watch her tell you ALL about it... :)

5. Our "staycation" where our family came to OUR house for vacation! Just seeing how the Lord is working in our family is gloriously beautiful. Through His providence, He brought 5 cousins to our family that we would've otherwise never known, and now we are so proud to call them OURS! It was so fun the evening we stayed home and made smores in the backyard together.

4. 2011 was momentous because it was the first day of preschool! With her friend-since-birth, Leah, in her class, Caroline loves, loves, loves, LOVES going to school.

3. Our family came together to pull off quite the shindig for our niece's wedding in September!

2. Enjoying Thanksgiving weekend with our family on MY side! We had a GREAT time in Texas with our family, seeing old friends, meeting our precious new nephew, Alex, and visiting with birthmommy Megan & her family!

1. Getting to have our first Christmas at home as a family! (What would a top 10 list be without Christmas, afterall?)


We are so thankful for 2011 to regroup as a family, and we look forward to what the Lord will bring in 2012.