Monday, December 31, 2012

# 381 - Holiday Happiness

Every year, we have a family Christmas party at my sister's house with an "International" themed party that includes incorporating foods from different cultures. Last year, we had a Greek themed celebration with the best food you can enjoy!

My youngest niece, Shaye, and Anabel opening a gift.
This year, we had a Thai themed party. We all love Thai food, so this was extra fun. Now, don't ask me if we can COOK Thai food --- ahhh...No. But, there is a little restaurant in the Clear Lake area called, "Thai Cottage" and we love it. A couple of times we've met my sister and brother-in-law there to yum-yum it up.

However, that being said, we enjoyed several Christmas gatherings over the holidays. Of course, we had our private Christmas at home with just the immediate family.

Also, this year, we shared our home again with two special gals who are Wards of the State of Texas --- they will be with us for a couple of weeks, over their Christmas school break. During this time, these girls are treated just like one of our own kids. But, the truth is, they have so much more to deal with every day than the ordinary kid ever encounters. They are older, so they are already very independent, yet still such children needing to see that every household has their own set of problems, no family lives in fairy tale style, yet many households do not deal with the terrible things they have been subjected to in their own childhood home.

At our house, Christmas morning. Stefie is Santa!

Even so, these girls maintain the highest and best attitudes I've ever seen in a child who has encountered horrific abuse. They are always looking for the brightest angle to think about and they do not allow themselves to get bogged down in self-pity or raging anger, to which they'd be entitled. So, I admire these young girls with all my heart. Everyone in our family admires them.

Even so, every kid can do things to grate on your nerves and these kids are no exception. Especially the youngest with her urge to tell you the ending of a movie you have been wanting to watch. I've had to teach her that it's NOT COOL to be the joy-killer of a good plot you've been wanting to watch unfold.

Kids will be kids.

One day, these kids will be fantastic members of society and their wisdom will probably help many others along the way through life. As for my role, I encourage them to always move forward with the BEST of themselves displayed because any of us could use any excuse to share the worst side of ourselves. It's a choice. I'm thankful that these girls have maintained their sweet dispositions, in spite of hardships. They are easy to love, and I'm sure their mother misses them greatly.

As for Christmas parties, our first to attend this year was at the children's group home.

Their Christmas performance was mostly held for the sponsor parents on the night they pick up the kids for Christmas break, then the kids opened their donated gifts with their Sponsors watching the fun.

Glorious moment of finding Jordache shoes in the box!

I've been to several of these parties and they are BEYOND touching. They serve punch and cookies to the crowd and the kids sing beautiful Christmas songs that would melt anyone's chilly heart.

The audience at the group home is ready and eager to see the
kids' Christmas performance.

Anabel is a main part of the Christmas play.
She's wearing the red hat. So adorable! We are so proud!

Afterward, they have a grand Christmas party with a room jam-packed with wrapped gifts and EVERY child gets a bike!
Brice and Stefie are standing next to Marisa and
Anabel's gifts that had been donated to the Harbor.
I am so proud of Stefie, my youngest daughter, she is an official "Sponsor Parent" as well. She did her paperwork to be a Sponsor Parent so she could take the girls to the movies or out to eat or stay with them when I need to go to the grocery store or to the doctor.

As for that gymnasium full of gifts, those are donated by generous people and corporations from around the great city of Houston. These kids might have a difficult life, but their Christmas at this group home is beyond magical. However, I always feel tremendously sad for the kids who arrive to live at this group home the week after Christmas. They will struggle for the remainder of the year to find clothes and such.

Anabel just unwrapped a pair of earrings she
wanted with all her heart!

I had a wonderfully fun time while watching the girls open their many, many gifts, especially because they arrived at the group home with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Marisa is so happy to be getting simple things,
but she won't complain about the new bike!
After opening their gifts, we took their new things back to their cottage rooms, letting them bring a few special gifts with them to our house, but the rest are left behind to make their return to the group home in January a more pleasant experience.

Then, we spent the next few days attending family parties.

So, I believe, for most people in the family, the four Christmas parties we attended were full of love and blessings to last all year long. After all, life is what you make of it. Besides, there is never a good excuse to not put your best foot forward, with love.

This Christmas gift came just in time!

If any part of your Christmas was sour for any reason, then try to focus on the sweet parts. It's the time of year that petty disputes should be set aside and the grander ideals of love and support for each other should be a priority. I guess that's why all of us must put up with odd family members, such as the Uncle Leroy who totes around his mail-order-bride as if he is a winner in the "love" department.

Just as I admire these two kids who no longer have a permanent home of their own, I admire my own two daughters who always take large leaps forward with bravery and honor, no matter the size of the wall they are approaching. My daughters are still young, yet they are definitely two of the STRONGEST and BRAVEST people I've ever known.

Like most parents expect...I hope my daughters make fewer mistakes than their parents! If each generation improves, that is beautiful! My mother wanted that great wish for me, and I want it for my own daughters. Do better! Live better. BE better!

By doing our BEST to reach for the highest behavior in any certain situation, we are already doing BETTER!

The middle is my beautiful oldest niece and on either side
are my two special kiddos staying with us over Christmas break.
As for me, I have wonderful memories of this Christmas to locked in my heart forever for me to cherish and to share with very special people in my life. In fact, those who share the most beautiful parts of life with me are my treasures on earth.

The bonds with those treasures grow stronger every day and the future looks brilliant. So, life is made meaningful by focusing on those who have hearts that never cease to bloom. Some people are amazing like that...always ready to be the bigger person. My oldest daughter is one of those people who is willing to go the extra mile, even if she is not met half-way, she still keeps pace to do good in life and to overcome hurdles. She is setting a formidable example for others to follow, and she has earned my respect, my deep respect.

Heather, my beautiful oldest daughter who
made the long trip to Houston with her husband,
Henry, to celebrate with all of Heather's family.
This mother is very happy to spend time with her!

At Christmas time, as everyone opens their presents, you realize certain can't buy love, you can't demand it, you can't even "expect" it. Love is so grand that it can't fit into a box, but we do our best to express our feelings, especially at Christmastime.

Christmastime, along with other special occasions, gives families a chance to share the best of themselves. No matter what the hurdles have been throughout the year, these times give everyone a chance to reach out to each other and to those who keep reaching...I applaud you! It takes great strength and bravery to be the one who reaches out, without excuses to remain cold and detached.

The one who reaches out is the one who will walk away with a deep sense of satisfaction. Those people are the ones who are not afraid to live, to love and to enjoy the best of life.  

Most parents understand this level of love. As a parent, you know your children, young and old, are going to do things that will make you hit the ceiling, but love is something that should remain solid. I've seen wonderful parents tell their kids that they don't agree with certain behaviors, yet they embrace their child and make sure to let them know that their love and patience will be endless. Frustration is a  normal part of being in a family, but the important priority is to remain open and receptive.

For some families, there is destruction on a level that can't be repaired. For my regular readers, you know we have two great kiddos staying at our house for the holidays, but their "normal" home right now is at a group home. I am seeing that there are all kinds of parents, even some who make terrible destructive choices that impact the entire family, yet they still have a warped idea that their kind of "love" is an acceptable weapon.

No one wants to share space with someone who feels compelled to use love as a weapon. Indeed, those personality types will bounce from one person to the next in their love-weapon destructive behavior. Actually, these personality types can be very predictable and soon enough, people around them will no longer seek to receive this person's love because it is unstable and will eventually be used as a tool. The receivers of this "love" will eventually learn that there are some kinds of love that are harmful and certainly not a gift.

That brings me to a lesson I had been taught long without expectations, but keep healthy boundaries in place. It doesn't mean that you must give your LIFE to such people, but you CAN share your life with those who do their best to love in a healthy manner.

People who abuse love will not escape consequences, it does eventually catch up with them...I believe that wholeheartedly. The kids sharing our home have a family member who is warped in their attitude toward the meaning of "love." Regardless, in spite of the person who took these girls forgranted, these kids and their siblings DO have a BRIGHT future in store for them. The lack of healthy love in their life from one individual will not impact the other parts of their lives that are full of love.

Just like I tell the precious girls from the group home, there are some people who are so short-sighted that they cannot savor the best that life has to offer. Some people are so entrenched in their own misery that they must try to spread it around in order to find warped satisfaction. By these two gals already experiencing a person who has abused their love, they have learned that people who abuse love cannot be trusted. 

The two boys and the young man in the distance, sitting at the table, are
all my nephews! Each one is so handsome, creative and intelligent.
I choose to love and to live in the MOMENT...and to be surrounded by a family who is ready to embrace each other through life's treasured moments. Being a mother brings me great joy, and that joy is explored more deeply as my daughters build their own families. There are many, many more special moments in store for me through the coming years, and I intend on making the BEST of each of them!

Being a parent is wonderful, especially when you set the never-ending-example in showing the depth of love that is required of this most challenging position in life...yep, setting an example and demonstrating the depths of love...those would be the hallmarks of good parenting.

Heather and Henry with Tux watching closely.
It's a wine bottle chandelier!
Enjoy the best that life has to give, even with its imperfections!

Friday, December 14, 2012

# 380 - Day of Devastation

Newtown, Connecticut unwillingly became world news today after one of their elementary schools encountered a crazed shooter who had even shot his own mother, then headed to the local elementary school to kill innocent children between the ages of 5-10, along with more adults gunned down in the school, principal included.

I cannot fathom any evil being darker than a person who is able to walk into an elementary school and gun down child after child after child and adults, destruction at its most debased level.

I cannot imagine being an adult of such heavy responsibility while in the midst of young children being slaughtered, the overwhelming urge to protect them is known as you realize your job might require you to forfeit your life in such service.

Christmas is near, school holidays are almost at hand, and this school, like all others around this nation, was full of the joyful anticipation attached to this beautiful holiday. This should have been a happy time with a holiday approaching for these children to spend more time at home, with their families. Instead, this will be a time when many of these families will be preparing for funerals.

For many families who lost loved ones in this massacre today, there won't be a joyful anticipation of opening Christmas presents in a few days because they will instead be wrapping up the most precious parts of their lives with finality, enclosing a future lost and burying potential.

As a mom, I cannot grasp the depths of such horror, tragedy and unending loss. The magnitude of sickening sadness for this school and community is almost too much to witness at a "safe distance" because all of us who have a loved one can feel the dread of such a loss. I cannot comprehend the level of devastation this community will be facing for a long time.

All I can think is that the survival of those left will need to focus on the beauty that came from the lives of those innocent children and from the adults who were an integral part of their community. Honoring the ones lost today can be served by living a good life for them...somehow turning the evil into helpful knowledge that might make a difference elsewhere.

This Christmas, there will be more angelic voices joining Heaven's choir, but I sure do wish they would have had more time here on Earth to sing with beautiful childish voices and I know the adults taken from their families will have their own voices missed with heartaches. Somehow, it's the voices we long to hear once again.

Yet, in their silence, they are heard.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

# 379 - Might We Have a Buyer for the House?

After having our house on and off the market for a few months, we have been starting to wonder if this economy was going to ever deliver a qualified buyer to our doorstep. It's a tough world out there in today's non-thriving economy.

Anyway, this past weekend we had a couple come look at our house and these buyers took a look at our friend's house that is for sale across the street. Wouldn't you know it? We put our house up for sale and our long-time neighbors decide that they want to do the same.

Copycats. Blah for the competition on the same street!

Over here, at my lovely abode, you will get a beautiful home that has a backyard with a vegetable garden and chickens. Over there, at the traitor's house, I mean, our neighbor's house, you get an extensive outdoor space with pool, outdoor kitchen, patio, etc., but no green space and the backyard is much smaller than ours. Besides...Who wants a pool in this tropical weather section of Texas? Hey...our lot is larger and we have a detached garage.

Am I selling it to you?

I promise you that this "chicken house" is more memorable!

I will miss our unique foyer - so far away
from the kitchen sink, just the way I like it!
We have fun with our neighbors. Often, we will be looking across the street at each other as we all gather into our vehicles to leave for our houses to have showings. We all park down the end of our street and watch. We watch the families go from their house and then we watch as they walk across the street to our house.

We all go home from our hiding spots around the corner and as we're exiting our vehicles across from one another, I yell across the street to my neighbor, "I hope they enjoyed visiting your termites!"

They laugh and give me a smirk while saying, "At least they're more quiet than your ghosts!"

Yep, it's fun around here.

To make the excitement build, this last potential buyer has let both of our agents know that their decision is down to either our house or the one across the street. Little did the buyer know, we are all friends and have already made a pact to not further reduce the sale's prices of our homes, which we have ALREADY done, neither one of us is willing to reduce further.

That being said, if the family wants a jam-packed summer wonder-land backyard, but not have room for a shed and to have a driveway that cannot fit but two cars, then the house across the street is for them. That house is decorated beautifully. She knows how to stage a house like it's going to be in a magazine.

My house is "homey" and not always matching...just the way I like it.

If that family wants our house, they get a LOT of driveway, a detached two-car garage, larger lot with a pool-sized backyard and lots of green space. The chickens are NOT part of the deal.

I guess we'll see what the buyer decides. Our house is less expensive, of course. We don't have all the money put into the backyard that they do, but we must be content with laying under the sprinkler in the summertime.

Maybe the buyers will submit an offer this week. I guess we will see. It's up to the Good Lord. If He wants these people to buy our house, then it will happen. Our neighbors are itching to move because they already have another house in line to buy, just about two miles from here, closer to the bay.

As for us, if we sell this house, then we will be thrown into the topsy-turvey world of trying to get settled in the country. We might have to get an RV put at some half-way point between the land and downtown Houston, but we'll at least get a start on building our cabin. Things will be high-pressured, that's for sure.

The good part will be...we will be able to have very peaceful days on our land in between the chaos of moving and trying to get everything in order.

If our house sells, I will know that it is meant to be. We will be making a huge leap into the country, full-time, and I admit...I AM TERRIFIED!




It's okay...I'm calm again. The good thing is, we just got new IPhones that get great reception on our land, so I will be able to FaceTime with my family members. This means my cell phone has abilities to talk and to see the person talking on the screen, so we can check in on a regular basis. I can talk with Deputy Dave or my sister and then turn the camera around to show the pretty skunk crossing my path. It'll be GREAT!

On the bright side, it will be INCREDIBLE to not have to pay on this mortgage --- this massive house has become a ball and chain. It's too much for me to keep up with on a daily basis. I clean room after room after room that no one uses. The study remains in a perpetual state of disarray. I have almost 3,000 square feet of floorspace to keep clean and that's nothing to sneeze at. I can easily take away half of this house, approximately 1,500 square feet, and still be gloriously happy. Not to mention, no more carpeted stairs to deal with every day as I try to hunt down my favorite broom and then realize the stairs need to be vacuumed, one by one, back-breaking yukiness.

However, I do love this house. It's a beauty. The "WOW" factors will be missed, but we will just have to create some new "WOW" factors in the country. I do think we'll enjoy having company more often in the country than we do in the city house. No one will have to wonder about where to find a spot to park!

So, my anxiety is churning tonight. I'm wondering if I am going to be spiraling into a world of non-stop packing and stress from knowing our house is about to belong to someone else.

Then again, the buyers could choose the house across the street with the money-siphoning swimming pool. Hope they don't like to have their money siphoned; I hope they like sprinklers.

Friday, December 7, 2012

# 378 - "Flowers in the Attic" Distraction

Pardon me for not writing very much lately...I've been keeping my nose in book after book. I've been addicted to a series of novels that my brother-in-law teased me for not reading YEARS ago.

I've head about the "Flowers in the Attic" books, but I had never read them, not until I stood in an aisle at Half Price Books and began to sift through several of V.C. Andrews books. I wondered if Andrews was a male or female. The answer was soon revealed in her later published books with her name Virginia Andrews as the author.

And I realized the reason I had not read "Flowers in the Attic" when I was younger...for I was only eleven years old when this book was published, not exactly prime reading material for a child of that age.

Standing in Half Price Books, I noticed there was ONE book left on the shelf, titled, "Garden of Shadows." "Garden of Shadows" had been written as a prequel to "Flowers in the Attic," so I grabbed up that solitary battered book with that title and added it to my basket growing heavy with many books by Andrews.

I have now read of this series...
"Garden of Shadows"
"Flowers in the Attic"
"Petals on the Wind"
and I am now finishing, "If There Be Thorns."

However, there are more books written by this author and I am going to Half Price Books to get ALL that I can find, tomorrow.

I don't want to give away the meat of these books, so don't read anything about them on-line because it is amazing to read it first-hand and to feel the story unraveling. I can say that these books have held me spellbound.

As I read "Flowers in the Attic," I told myself that this kind of story is so outlandish that it had to be based upon real-life circumstances. Only real-life could be so crazy. Then, I discover, the story of "Flowers in the Attic" is indeed based on a true story. It's disputed, but Virginia Andrews stated it had been based on a true story...the length of the attic-time-frame had actually been six years.

So, for the past couple of weeks, I've been reading these books. At my age, I've discovered that it takes me longer to read a book. Years ago, I'd eat-up a novel's words within two days time. These days, I find my eyes passing over printed words with more delicacy, as if I've learned to savor each line, sometimes having to reread the same line several times to let it soak into my own thoughts. Even so, this series has been difficult to feast upon, yet I keep going back for more.

It sickens me.

It disturbs me.

It haunts me.

Yet, even now, as I welcome two little girls into my home who've been cast into the CPS system due to their own home-of-horrors, I know such distorted family dynamics can be a reality for some people.

Even so, there is no "perfect" family out there to be found. Imperfect people form imperfect families and this is the truth of life. Our own imperfections give us the very reason we should be compassionate with the imperfections of others. The moment we become hardened and crass toward others in our desperate attempt to make others into our idea of what is acceptable, we have become unacceptable ourselves.

Still, this is also the reason we should try to give the BEST of ourselves to others. Giving our best is not play-acting, it is offering the side of ourselves that is above our own set of problems and above unrealistic expectations of others. If we all tried to give our BEST, then our discord would be reduced. However, when you don't get the best from someone, the solution is not in becoming worse than what you are despising. Lord knows I've travelled a bit down this road to discover this for myself. The old saying, "If you can't beat them, join them" is not always the best path, unless you want to veer toward self-destruction and become what you struggle against. Worse, you might become a darker version of what you fear.

"Flowers in the Attic" is the start of showing the destruction this kind of thinking can cause for the one who is hurting and lashing out. It seems the whip always cracks back around to injury the one controlling it, no matter the reason.

These books make you realize that the "normal" family full of fights, disagreements, and even of betrayal, is still not anything past ordinary human behavior. However, some people can cross the line of selfishness as they wander into truly evil territory. That's the devastation of "Flowers in the Attic" for the reader...that such evil can exist and seek to destroy lives, even the lives of innocent children.

Sadly, the author, Virginia Andrews, died in 1986, but the book "Flowers in the Attic" was an immediate best-seller of 1979 and was made into a movie that had been terribly altered from the novel's key points, mostly because the content of the novel was too harsh to put on the big screen. However, there are supposed talks in Hollywood these days of re-making the movie to actually follow the novel. I will watch the old version, but I know it will be disappointing. Originally, Wes Craven was set to produce the movie back in 1979, but script changes caused all kinds of uproars and a fierce departure from the book resulted with the film. However, in this old version of the movie, the author has a cameo part of a maid scrubbing a window clean, and I will mainly watch it to honor the author of these books.

Of course, as always, a movie cannot ever capture the depth of a book because the details are usually described with precision and revelations are made that cannot always be included in a movie due to time constraints. If I don't read the book, I always feel cheated of storyline.

So, tonight I will be finishing the last few pages of "If There Be Thorns," and I will be sad for all children who experience consecutive horrors that would make most of our childhoods seem dreamy. Heck, all of us have our own little horror stories, but I am so darn grateful to have had a nutty household during my childhood that never went beyond hurt feelings and frustration at one another, even though we endured more than our fair share of mighty fierce belt whippings. Still, it was not all that bad. In fact, after reading "Flowers in the Attic," in comparison, I can say my childhood was outstanding. I feel rather elated to have had such a great childhood of immense freedom for being outdoors was my true treasure while growing up.

If you haven't read this series, be sure to find an old version of "Garden of Shadows," because it leads up to the story that is "Flowers in the Attic."

And, prepare to find it difficult to put down these books.

Friday, November 30, 2012

# 377 - Ring ding-a-ding Day at Texas State University!

This week, my "baby" girl received her class ring from Texas State University. Am I proud? Yes, you're darn tooten! Stefie is a sassy little thing, barely 90 pounds, but she felt ten feet tall as she heard her name called from the podium to prompt her ring ceremony walk.
Texas State is a unique university in the Texas Hill Country. It has the San Marcos River winding through the town, which eventually leads to the Guadelupe. If you've never been to Texas, then you might want to know about this major recreational activity that many, many Texans have experienced...floating the river, me included, YEARS ago.

Old Man River - - - San Marcos

As part of the Texas State Ring Ceremony tradition, the students receive their rings and then dunk them into the river. Paying tribute to this tradition, the university sets up an elaborate waterfall, filled with water from the San Marcus River and as the students are handed their ring, they then walk to the waterfall and dunk their ring into the water so that all can go through this ritual, whether they make it to the actual river, or not.

Of course, the students are encouraged to take their ring to the actual river for an official ring dunking, on the spot. I can only imagine how many rings are floating at the bottom of that river!

As for us parents, this moment was a tremendously positive memory --- to see that kid walking in all her cuteness to get her ring --- it was a lot of fun. And since she looks so darn young, not at all like a 22-year old woman, my husband was yelling, "I'm so proud of my thirteen-year-old daughter!" It was quite humorous.

Now, we've seen both of our daughters receive their university rings. Our oldest, Heather, received her ring from Texas A&M. The big moment at that massive university was simply waiting for the chance to sign for the ring, but Texas State is small enough to actually still call each student's name in an official ceremony to get their ring. Both experiences have been wonderful.

The Sisters --- My Girls!

I can tell you one thing...Texas State is an awesome university and a perfect fit for my youngest daughter. The college town of San Marcos is jam-packed with every restaurant and store imaginable, enough to rival any metropolitan area. In addition, the town is comprised of rolling hills and trains tooting their horns on the various tracks, to make it feel like an authentic old town combined with awesome technology and convenience of today's time-frame.

Best of all, my husband's Aunt Normandy, who is right around 80 years old, showed up for the ceremony. She had received her own ring from Texas State during her youth, sometime in the 1950's.

I took a photo of these two gals together and of their hands displaying their Texas State rings. Since this aunt never had children of her own, she is especially proud to have family following in her footsteps.

Over 60 years difference between aunt and niece's ring day!

For the celebration dinner, we took the kids, including our awesome new son-in-law, Henry, as well as Stefie's sweet boyfriend, Brice, to Outback Steakhouse --- the restaurant of Stefie's choice. Being the Ring Girl has its advantages!

Dinner was delicious and we enjoyed an evening of fun conversation revolving around football, funny television shows, the history of the Berlin Wall coming down and other interesting topics. Then, our oldest daughter kept saying, in a too loud voice, that her husband's dinner of pork smelled like a "fart." I wanted to explain to the neighboring tables, "She's a degreed Biology major...please excuse her sense of 'scientific' terms during dinner." A fart? Really?

Overall, this day with Stefie was a wonderful time to share with her...seeing her earn a token of her hard work was rewarding in itself. Plus, her ring was fairly gorgeous.



Our grown daughters; they are getting to the point to where
they will be doing things, for better or for worse, with their
own growing families. It sure won't be easy, but it will be
worth it. Once our kids start having kids, they will learn how
challenging life can REALLY be...CAN'T WAIT!
I am delighted to be the proud mom of a Texas State student. Being a Native Texan, I understand the pull this university has upon Stefie. In my opinion, they are blessed to have her...she is one smart doll.

Yes, I'm strutting proud Momma gear!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

# 376 - An EPIC Thanksgiving Adventure

I am lying here tonight, listening to a terrible storm pass over the house. In the dark I sit with my laptop propped on my legs as lightening flashes to light up the room. Creepy. So far, no power loss.

The thunder is rumbling and storms are expected to continue until around 4:00am. Guess I'll use this nerve-wracking time to catch up with my blogging. Yes, I love storms...No, I don't like lightening. Not this close. I can hear everything, the house is so quiet and still.

It's suddenly more quiet because for almost two weeks we've had two girls in our home for the Thanksgiving holidays, kids who have been living in a group home for several months. I sometimes sulk and feel as if I have a reason to throw a pity-party, then I remember there are kids like who no longer have a home to call their own and who no longer can be with family members they love and adore. For them, their life might change in a flash at 3am, without warning, without a chance to leave home with anything but the clothes on their back.

I am yanked back into knowing life and its tussles aren't so bad. Sometimes, you have to go through an attitude adjustment and put others before yourself. Sometimes, that's the best prescription for enjoying life as it tries to bang you around. I like fighting back by trying to reach out to others. I guess that's the great strength of my marriage, we make a good team when it counts. On a bad day, we can be like two opposing pit-bulls, then, on a good day, with a common goal, we become like lobster and butter.

He's the lobster.

Hey, work with me.

These girls, 16 and 13, have brought incredible joy into our home over the past couple of weeks. In spite of their challenges, they have fantastic attitudes. They pray before every single meal, even if they are sitting down to eat a snack by themself.

Sunday we had to take them back to the group home. We will get them again for two weeks of Christmas holidays. But, Sunday was very difficult. Both girls were extremely anxious about going back. Throughout the day, they kept telling me they were nervous and wished they could stay.

At one point, I grabbed them with a big hug and said, "Ok, it's decided, I'm going to keep you girls forever...when the SWAT team shows up, we'll just hide you in the chicken coop." At least that got them laughing. Deputy Dave said, "I think we better follow the law, even though I think ducking behind the couch is a better hiding place."

Anyway, we decided to take them to get a surprise on the way back to the group home...the short journey we were postponing with all our might. As we drove up to Dairy Queen, we told the girls they could order a large Blizzard.

Now, for those of you who don't know the South, there is a iconic diner called Dairy Queen that every Southerner has enjoyed. And a "Blizzard" is a cup full of ice-cream, blended with your choice of candy. Everyone in these parts knows what a Blizzard is...they've been around since I was a youngin.

So, we drive up and ask them what kind of Blizzard they'd like to order. The girls looked at each other with perplexed expressions, "We've never had a Blizzard...What exactly is it?"

Heart sinks to my feet. What Southern kid doesn't know the taste of a Blizzard? Well, I'll tell you, the two girls in our backseat were too old to not know.

Needless to say, they each got a Blizzard while we two were too dumbfounded to do anything but get their treats and drive slowly to the group home, which was within 3-5 miles away.

Stefie had come home from college for the Thanksgiving holiday break, it was great to spend time with her too. Actually, the day after Stefie took the girls to the movies to see Red Dawn, Stefie and I went to the movies to watch Breaking Dawn Part 2 --- it was awesome.

Stefie, always wanting to do her part, had gone through some of her clothes and jewelry and gave them a lot of things...even a purse. The 16 year old didn't even have a purse. Everything they are wearing is second-hand donations that had been made to the group home. I'm glad to have added a few nice things to their wardrobe. So, we had a lot to take back into their group home. They had come to us with backpacks and left us loaded down and with Blizzards.

So, lugging into their temporary home on grounds partially funded through the State of Texas, many kids residing there because of CPS intervention, we had to leave these two wonderful girls with words to remember that there ARE people out there who care about others, even a stranger. There ARE people who will open their home to children in need, but it's not easy. For us, being a Sponsor Parent is not a role that is's all on your own dime. I told the girls that made them extra special because any Sponsor Parent who takes them into their home is doing so as a volunteer. In this economy, that explains the reason the group homes are suffering a great shortage of sponsor parents. Mostly local, home-town church folks who, like the girls, will never have a perfect life, but at least they're willing to share what they've got with the less fortunate.

And it's not easy. We told the girls that we didn't have the extra money to run around town, but we have enough comforts here at home to have a grand old time. And that's exactly what we did with the exception of one trip to MacDonalds and for Stefie taking the girls out for a day of fun. Other than that, we had lots to do at home.

Christmas break for the kids is coming soon. I know there is a chance they could be united with their family and gone in a blink of an eye, but we will try to be here for them for as long as possible. I hope they do get the chance to be with their family again, at least before the "age-out" of the system.

Regardless, the girls and their Blizzards put on a happy face for us as we departed. There were a few tense moments of separation anxiety on behalf of all of us, but we got through it.

Photo: This is the one that's the best!

After the hugs and smooches on the cheek good-bye, the girls' faces lit up as the other girls in the group home came to the front door to nosy about and all was well as we walked out the door while hearing, "We got to take baths in a jacuzzi tub! It was EPIC!"

For me, I'll miss their EPIC laughter in the house and hope to hear it again over the Christmas holidays.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

# 375 - Two Beauties Join our Family!

Our extended Thanksgiving holidays are extra special because we have two kiddos who are guests, well, they are treated like family. Rissa and Teeta are glad that we are their first Sponsor Parents. These sisters just want to be together.

A facility nearby allows children who are a Ward of the State of Texas to be taken home every other weekend and holidays with Sponsor Parents. There is no incentive, no pay, nothing. This is something you do because you want to help children.

These kids with us for the next couple of weeks are 16 and 13, they remind me to put life's hardships into perspective. You know the old saying, "No matter how bad you got it, someone else has it worse."

Regardless, these kids are resilient. They are always ready to laugh, to smile and to have fun.

Teeta immediately became attached to our chickens. Every day she goes outside and sits among the chickens, she holds them and feeds them. She loves gathering their eggs.

The older sister Rissa is a bundle of theater and arts performances...loves to dance, to do magic card tricks, and to read and write. She tries her best to be a good student.

I am glad to share our home with these sister for the Turkey Holidays. Over the next couple of months, they'll be here on a regular basis. I don't know what will happen when we move. The house is back on the market and we already had a showing this weekend.

If the house sells, we'll be out of Harris County, which may put a halt to us being Sponsor Parents. I'm not sure. The state facility really need the Sponsor Parents to live in-county. This is understandable.

The best scenario would be to have the girls' home situation resolved so they could move back in with their mom and siblings. However, I'm not so sure that will be possible.

No matter what, we'll do the best we can for as long as we can. That's the important part.

Meanwhile, we are giving them a safe place to lay their head. We bought enough food to fulfill a teeagers' ultimate-foodie dreams. Deputy Dave cooks them whatever they want to eat. Today was lasagna.

And we have great talks...proving these kids are articulate and introspective about their lives. Tomorrow, I'll show them a few video games. I can only imagine the fun they'll have playing the PS3 games, especially the "move" games.

It's nice hearing kids laugh in the house, but I am still grateful we had our two children young, and I do appreciate the hard-earned quiet I have come to appreciate!

For now, the girlie-giggles are fun to hear as they watch the next movie.

Smile my darlings. Smile and be joyful.

Monday, November 12, 2012

# 374 - Move the Shed & Back-Up Heat

I miss the fresh air of the country. And, on our acreage, you can actually see the Fall colors throughout the landscape.

Sometime over the next few weeks, we will be going to look at a few houses that some of the builders on our list has constructed. Need to see their work up close.

Even if it is chilly, we will probably camp-out on the land and savor each moment in nature. Last year, we camped, without heat in 42 degree weather and that wasn't fun. It was so cold that we called the big dogs to get into bed with us. Howdy laid across me for most of the night, knowing I was shivering. He gives off more heat than an electric heating pad. The dogs made all the difference to our level of comfort.

It's a good thing to teach your dog to cuddle.

We have this nice-sized shed on the back-side of our property. It sure would be nice to have it moved to the area we set up and work around, mostly. This shed could actually be a great temporary quarters during cold weather and it would allow us to leave a few things on the property as we get closer to staying there full-time.

Yes, it's a nice shed and we sure could use it. Moving it is on my list of priorities. Maybe the Deputy can hook it up to the tractor or truck and slowly drag it around to the right side of our property. It sure would be a fun undertaking! Perhaps I can enlist my brother to come out and help move it.

I'll let you know how it goes.

For our upcoming camping trips, just in case, we will be buying a little heater. Then, we won't be hypothermic and having to deal with worried family members back in the city who are concerned were going to become Texas country popsicles.

Little do they know, we are very experienced campers, and like I said, we have dogs, big dogs. We have back-up heat.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

# 373 - Unique Kitchens are Great!

Searching the Internet for pictures of kitchens is something that is not easy to do, especially since I am drawn to kitchens that are rustic in appearance. I do not really want too many upper cabinets because the space could be better utilized by other means.

I've had a couple of kitchens with white cabinetry in my day and I must say, they were not any harder to take care of than the country-green painted cabinets I have today. The white was actually easy to maintain --- I painted them with paint designed for bathroom/kitchen cabinetry, and it was scrubbable. Loved it!

I also keep extra paint on hand in an empty water bottle with a clean stone or glass bauble dropped inside, ready for quick touch-ups. You just shake the bottle, dip in a touch-up sized paint brush and your life is less complicated! In fact, I do this with ALL left-over paint, for every room. It has saved me frustration for countless paint-touch-ups.

I love the shelving.
As for the country cabin, I adore elements that are rustic. This island with the plank top might not be good for a chopping block because of the cracks, but it is beautiful. The towel hanging rod is a smart idea. I would have one side with hooks to hang big, frequently used utensils, etc.

I nearly dropped when I saw this kitchen. Our second home in Germany had a kitchen that was extremely small, but the wall had tile, just like this, and it had white shelving that we installed. Perhaps that is the reason I love this look and the reason I appreciate the functionality of having shelving instead too many upper cabinets.

The kitchen in the photo below is so nice, but I'm not so sure about the hanging carriage lights. I like the warm colors.

For some reason, I am drawn to a kitchen with warm wood elements or a mixture of white and warm, natural wood. However, this kitchen with the country red and white checkered accents is like a magnet.

Incorporating some of our German memorabilia from the years we lived overseas will be a part of our country kitchen design. However, true German kitchens are high-tech master-pieces, like their vehicles. There's not really a rustic German design. French rustic, yes, I love that look...Julia Child is the master! American pioneer, yes, I love it.

If I could get this trivet, I would. I had to read it a couple of times, then laugh. So true.

I guess the country cabin will be so far-removed from a cookie-cutter designed house that it is difficult to find a kitchen I can decide upon. So, it becomes a question, or a series of questions about the elements I'd prefer to have in a kitchen.

1. Less upper cabinets of typical kitchens, more shelving for cookbooks, large pots and such.
2. Wood, need areas with wood, unpainted.
3. Area with pegboard, even a small area, to hold favorite cooking utensils and prevent counter-top clogging
4. Triangle design of kitchen with cooking, cleaning and refrigeration.
5. Area of hanging pots with lids slid over handle for easy pairing and retrieval.
6. Love sheet metal or stone at area under serving bar, no sheetrock to paint and scuff.
7. Lighting, under-cabinet and inside glass cabinet lighting.
8. Dining area adjoining kitchen must have wall space to accommodate my German Shrunk (china cabinet).
9. Large farm table is a must --- only one dining area with ample seating for our growing family.
10. One sink faucet with one handle --- having two faucets to adjust for temperature is not the most bacterial resistant method nor more convenient, love the faucet that detaches to make a sprayer, kind of like the one used in restaurant kitchens.
12. No sheetrock on backsplashes, must be tiled and sealed for easy clean up.
13. Most lower cabinets will be slide-out drawers, not caverns.

Love the stone walls. Always love stone and wood together.

I suppose the stone would have to be sealed?

I am getting close to being able to draw out the kitchen design. I've seen a LOT of kitchens, especially because I was a Real Estate professional for years...when houses are your business, you see a lot of kitchens of every sort.

From my point of view, the people who would spend a small fortune on their kitchens were never on the mark. The more functional kitchens might have provoked a second-thought, but those were usually the most memorable. The only problem with having an out-of-the-box kitchen in a cookie-cutter neighborhood is that it is so scary to depart from the "norm."

Me in an unglamorous shot, in my "now" kitchen.
It seems that more and more people would LOVE to own a kitchen that is less about selling cabinets and more about individual preferences. Catering to your own tastes is the best part of home-ownership. Even places we rented throughout our lives were fun to decorate with our own flair, but getting to build a country cabin is taking this freedom to a new level.

Getting some distance from city-suburbs house-next-door expectations will keep you chained to the status quo. It is a challenge to look at kitchens in a different way. I can see that my cookie-cutter brain-washed mind will encounter some struggles with this country cabin, but I believe obstacles can be conquered so that a new way of life can be enjoyed.

After all, I did love our little German kitchen that had a huge picture window, the kitchen that was devoid of upper cabinetry. It was small, but I loved it; however, back then we didn't entertain on the scale that we do now and our family wasn't this size. Heck, we were basically the only ones in our sibling groups that truly had a family. Now, the chain reaction has taken on immense proportions. It shows during every gathering we host. Also, neither of us knew how to cook like we do now. But, I loved the uniqueness of that little kitchen and am looking forward to having something different once again.