Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Crazy Days of Summer (part 3)...

And so, bright and early Monday morning, the 7 of us loaded into our 8 passenger SUV (the small kind) and started singing, "California, here I come...".  Actually, there was no singing...most of us aren't morning people. ha!   But, we did squeeze into the car (luggage rack on top) and we did start the long day's drive.  The seating arrangement for pretty much the entire trip was, Brian and Cooper in the front (height won over age), Gatlin and Bennet in the middle (with one seat down in that middle row so that the computer could be there for movie watching, and so I could stretch out my legs onto that seat, when needed, as I've had four knee operations and can't have them bent for long periods of time - yes, insert sad violin music here).   We made a hotel reservation in Amarillo for the night, and drove the 15ish hours to get there.  Honestly, not too bad.  I find the car to be relaxing - it's just really nice not to be able to do anything but sit there and fall in and out of sleep.  We got to Amarillo at 11:00.  Went to sleep and got up early the next morning to do the same thing again.

However, I thought that both days were going to be 15ish hours of driving...lo and behold, the second day was 17ish hours.  Fun stuff right there.  So, after 17ish hours of driving that day, we made it to California.  People asked me why we didn't divide it into three days, but honestly, we just wanted to kick it out and get there.  I have family in Oklahoma so we could have stayed there, but then it would have been getting it all out of the car and putting it all back...nope, just decided to suck it up and go for it.   Cooper help Brian a little with the driving, so it just really wasn't that bad.

**inserting an important note** As soon as we found the first In-n-Out burger on our journey, we stopped and ate there!  We absolutely LOVE In-n-Out and thank the Lord, the new kids do, too.  It would have been tragic had they not.  ha!!   Crisis averted.

Now, I have to tell you that we had THREE people offer to let us stay with them so that we didn't have to incur hotel expenses.  Isn't that amazing!  Friends that offer to let SEVEN of you stay in their home are true friends, indeed!  Our awesome friend, Laura, actually moved out of her house and into another friend's house so that we could have her place to ourselves and nobody would have to sleep on the floor.  Can you believe how wonderful my friends are!!!  

We hit the ground running in CA and it was first things first - a trip to the salon to get hair cuts for everyone.  We have a great guy in Tennessee that we use, but we also adore our girl, Ivonne, out there, so we wanted to not only stop in and see her, but also let her make us all beautiful for our time there.  We rotated in and out of her place and figured out which of our favorite eateries we would hit first.  We decided on Philippe's in downtown Los Angeles, which is famous for their dipped beef sandwiches.  They are SO good and I crave them often.  Our friends, the Shada family, joined us for lunch and it was wonderful to see them AND have a delicious lunch!

It was really great cause we were there on a Wednesday and Cooper was very excited to go to Wednesday night youth group.  We are so blessed to have fabulous churches both here and there and the kids are active at both.  Cooper has often led worship for the youth group out there and was thankful to get to hang with his buddies that night.  On one of the days (I just can't remember which one) we had lunch with the Roberts family.  Dave is the pastor of our church out there (Montrose Church) and his wife, Cyndi, is a sweet friend of mine, and their two youngest daughters, Sunni and Brandi, are friends with Cooper and Gatlin.  They treated us to a delicious Chinese lunch and I was so glad that we got to spend a little time with them and that they got to meet the new kiddos!

Thursday was a busy day because we were blessed by a professional photographer named, Deidhra Fahey, who offered to take pictures of our family for FREE.  This one brought me to tears because I have been wanting new pictures so badly, but just haven't been able to spend the money on it right now.  So, when my friend told me that Deidhra wanted to gift us with a photo session, I was just blown out of the water.  A true blessing from God.  Honestly, I'm not making enough of this....I had been thinking about this pretty much every day for a long time cause we just don't have very many pictures of the new kids in our house.  Honestly, we don't have a lot of pictures of anyone, but we do have a couple large pictures of Cooper and Gatlin from when they were younger and I've been wanting to replace those with a family picture and then individual pictures of each of the kids.  But, like I said, that costs money, and when you've just adopted three kids, there's not much (if any!) left, we just haven't been able to look into getting pictures made.  Deidhra blessed our socks off.  She took individual pictures of each of the kids, and then the five of them together and then our family.  THEN, to top it off, she asked if Cooper and Gatlin could come back another day so that she could take head shots of them for their acting!!   The pictures she took are AWESOME!   I will admit to breaking down like a baby and crying in her den when I saw them.  It blows me away when people do stuff like that as a blessing for me.  It is just so humbling.  I can't express the gratitude I have for Deihdra and the blessing of the pictures.

From there we went straight over to a studio taping of the Disney XD show, "Pair of Kings".  My friend, Kathy Musso, got tickets for us to see the taping and meet the entire cast.  Honestly, could I be anymore blessed by my friends, I don't think so!!  What a BLAST!   We've been to a few show tapings and it is always such a fun time, but this was extra special since Bennet, Kaleb and Kali had no idea what to expect, and they just love the show.  We got to take pictures with everyone and it will be something they will never forget.  I owe Kathy a world of thanks for making it happen!!  I hope my friends know how truly grateful I am for their acts of kindness towards us.

Ok, I can't remember what we did on Friday (maybe that was the day we ate with the Roberts?) ha!   But, on Friday night we went to one of our favorite little restaurants called, Sharkey's.  It's nothing fancy, but their nachos are SO yummy and I knew Bennet would love that.  We let our friends know that we would be there from 7:00-9:00 and asked for anyone who wanted to, to come by and hang out with us.  It was so fun to gather there with so many people who have prayed for us during our adoption journey and so many who have given so much to us.  Loved getting to visit and catch up with these precious friends that we just don't get to see often enough.

On Saturday we headed to the beach.  It was a gorgeous 85 degrees inland, but when we got to Malibu, it was only about 70.  Oh my!  I should have worn sweats!!  It was chilly, folks!!   The kids didn't care one bit.  They LOVED the beach.  They ran around like crazy people - in and out of the water - in the sand, under the sand....they were in heaven.  It was so much fun to watch.  Courtney Hitchcok and her daughter, Bryce, joined us, as did the Charles and Shada families.  OH, but poor Cooper woke up feeling really sick and Brian had to take him to the CVS clinic, where he was diagnosed with Strep.  It was such a bummer.  He stayed home all day Saturday to rest and get better.  We stayed at the beach for a couple hours (and did I mention we had In-n-Out for lunch!!) and then home to get ready for our dinner at the Shada's house.

Our friends, Dean and Linda Shada, let me invite a group of people over to their home for dinner Saturday night.  I just love them.  I love knowing that they wouldn't mind at all if we invaded their home.  True friends!   I made White BBQ chicken and Dean grilled it for us and then everyone else brought a side dish.  In addition to the peeps at the beach, the Gipson family joined us and it was so great  getting to spend a little time with them!   We all had such a nice time visiting and catching up and, of course, eating!!   Man, I love my friends.

And, the blessings from friends just kept on coming.

To be continued...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Crazy Days of Summer (part 2)...

So, yeah, we decided that it would be smart to go ahead and move Cooper down to the basement and make that his bedroom.  We thought about this prior to the new kids coming home, but I really wanted him to be upstairs with all of us cause I thought that would help with the bonding process.  I just didn't want Cooper to always be down in the basement and we never see his sweet face.  So, it was decided at that point that Gatlin and Bennet would share a room and Kaleb and Kali would share a room, and Cooper would keep the room upstairs by himself.  This was all great, in theory, but then the kids got here.  The, "It'll be fine for me and Bennet to share a room" wore off 15 minutes after they were home.  LOL   Actually, the room, itself, was never really a problem.  BUT, whenever there was a problem, which, in truth, has been somewhat often, the room became an issue - somehow separating them and putting Gatlin back in her own room was always the answer to any and every problem (from Gatlin's perspective).   For Bennet, she wanted to "be in the room with Gatlin for forever", but couldn't quite change the behaviors that were causing Gatlin to not want that.  In truth, there is a significant maturity level difference between pubescent, 11-year-old Bennet, and hormone-crazed, 14-year-old Gatlin.  So, after 5 months, in order to make the transition as easy as possible on everyone, we decided to change the rooms.

In truth, by the 5th month, Bennet, too, was ready to change rooms, but she wanted her OWN room.  Oh, it's always something.  ha!!   But, somewhat reluctantly, she finally unlocked the door and let Kali into their new shared bedroom.  LOL   We took Gatlin's name off the wall and put Kali's up there - and Bennet moved to the bigger, bottom bed, and Kali went to the top bunk (which was a fun change from the bunk she shared with Kaleb where he was on top).  And, lo and behold, Kaleb ended up with his own room.  We just figured it made the most sense to go ahead and separate the boy/girl room sharing and give Kaleb the room with its own bathroom, thus leaving the three girls to share the other bathroom with all their girl stuff.  Kaleb didn't actually love the idea of a room by himself, but he is trusting me that, at some point in the near future, he'll be very happy about it!  (:    And, can I just say, that moving Kali and Bennet in together has been so great.  They are much better roommates because they are both very nice and neat, unlike Gatlin, who is just a wee bit messy (like her mother was at that age - so she comes by it naturally).   They also both get ready for school very quickly and therefore, wake up at the same time in the morning.  Gatlin takes a wee bit longer (and no, she didn't get that from me, I'm fast!) so wakes up earlier and doesn't have to tip-toe around, which she is thankful for.

BUT, in order to make the room changes, we had to change some things in the basement, which, when we first moved into this house 14 years ago, was Brian's studio (now he has a free-standing studio next to the house).  The vocal booth in the back of the basement has been a music room of sorts (guitars and drums in there) and then the rest of the room was a game room, with a pool table in the middle.  So, first things first, we had to sell the pool table, not only to make room, but also to pay for the new shower we were adding to the bathroom down there.  A friend of ours lined up the plumber to put the shower in and we started the process.

Oh, but I haven't yet mentioned that we were anticipating company and were trying to get the shower done before they got here since they'd stay in the basement while here.  But, pretty much everything that could have gone wrong with the bathroom renovation, went wrong.  It wasn't our friend's fault, it was just a comedy of errors.  Like, the shower didn't fit through the door - had to take the door off.  Then, they had given him the wrong size shower and it had to be returned.  The flooring was taken up and was supposed to go right back in after the shower installation, but when they tried to put it back in, it no longer fit the new flooring had to be purchased.  Things weren't drying and therefore couldn't be completed.  And the hot and cold water were backwards (which still has to be fixed!).  So, it was just kind of funny since we were trying to hurry and quickly get it done, which, of course, we should have realized jinxed the whole thing.  ha!!   So, I let our friends know that, yes, they would have a shower, but, no, it would NOT be pretty.  Thankfully, these sweet friends couldn't have cared less about such things.

We had an awesome visit with Nick and Ann Tunheim (our precious friends that we went to Ethiopia with for court and then, Brian and Gatlin went back again with them for the Embassy appointment).   They were here for three days, but OH, did I mention that my best friend, Angela, and her four boys, were in Atlanta shooting a movie and she called two days before Nick and Ann were arriving and said that she and the boys were done with the movie and were headed our way for a week long visit!  HA!!  I loved the fact that we were going to get to see them (cause they live in California), but the timing was hysterical.  SO, they got to our house the next day.  They ended up staying in a hotel though cause the basement really was too much of a disaster area at the point they got here.  So, we spent a couple awesome days hanging out with them and then Nick and Ann got here.  That weekend was our awesome adoption agency's reunion so we spent Saturday and Sunday with our amazing friends that we've met on this incredible journey.  And I'm telling you, it is really quite a miracle how God weaves our hearts together with others so quickly.  Dan and Tara Quinn brought their kids over for a swim on Friday afternoon and we just had a blast hanging out with them.  Nick and Ann stayed for that, too, and then at the end our time with them, Angela and the boys came back to our house to stay with us for one night before they headed back to California (so yes, Nick and Ann out, Angela and the boys, in - it was so funny, but you probably had to be here).   And oh, it was such a huge blessing that one of the Chick-fil-A stores in town had their large nugget trays on sale for half price cause I, seriously, took advantage of that FIVE times!!!  SO perfect for the large groups we had over in July - and so very yummy!

I was doing laundry and packing suitcases that entire weekend as company was coming and going, because on Monday morning we jumped in the car and drove THIRTY TWO HOURS to California.

To be continued....

PS.  I want to touch briefly on the Bennet/Gatlin relationship.  I don't want anyone to think that we're having any extreme issues over here - but I do want to be honest with everyone cause it's not always peachy, either.  The girls are sisters, and as sisters, they bicker.  Ok, they fight.  ha!   They both have areas they need to work on - and they are.  Bennet needs to work on not purposefully "pushing Gatlin's buttons" and Gatlin needs to work on not reacting so strongly when she does.  It is a process and we are working on it.  But, one thing I do realize is that I'm grateful that they both feel so bonded to each other that they are comfortable arguing.  Yes, at times it's a lot of drama.  Ok, a LOT of times it's a LOT of drama, but we just happen to have two very dramatic girls - and it's that high drama that makes me know that they are not in our family by mistake, God knew they belonged with me.  He knew I could handle it (oh, please, God, help me handle it - LOL) and He knew that I could understand their ways, since I, too, loved looking at myself in the mirror when I would cry...oh wait, that's another story!   Anyway, I believe that the issues we have are just normal sibling issues that every family has.  We are blessed beyond measure.

The Crazy Days of Summer (part 1)...

I immediately put "Part 1" in the title because I just know this is going to be WAY too long if I don't divide it up.  This is my own bad fault since I haven't posted for so long.  I know many of you are just crushed over that hard reality.  ha ha ha ha ha (and the ha's could go on and on - ha!)   So, I'll start writing and at some point, I shall decide that it is a good place to stop, as not to bore you to tears.  You can thank me later.

Honestly, this has been the busiest summer I can ever remember (um, yeah, probably because we have five kids now instead of two, I know).  It doesn't really feel like we had much break at all.  In fact, we barely did.  From the day regular school got out, the three new kiddos went directly into their ESL summer school.  They did that for one week, then went to Vacation Bible School for a week, and then back to the ESL school for two weeks.  Then, the twins went straight into their Princess/Warrior church camp the following week and Gatlin headed to basketball camp.  After that, we were already into July.  What in the world!!  

In the midst of that, we also sent Cooper and Gatlin to their church camp.  We had kids all over the place and, to be honest, this mother hen prefers for all her little chicks to stay in the chicken coop.  I know there are moms out there who can't wait for their kids to go off to camp, or for school to start back up, or whatever, and it's to each her own on that....but I'm just not one of those moms.  I love being with my kids pretty much all the time.  I just think they're great people and I really enjoy being around them.  I've home schooled Cooper and Gatlin for their entire education and I'm just used to them being here - it's what I like.  So, for all of them to be coming and going takes a little adjusting for me.  And, there are a few tears every now and then as the days drag on til they come back home.  But, I know that this is all preparation for the day that they will actually fly the coop and have their own families, blah blah blah blah blah - I can't even type that!!   LOL

In July we celebrated Gatlin's 14th birthday.  She just cracks me up - oh, the teenage drama.  So, on her actual birthday we didn't do anything - well, if I remember right, I got a little cake from Publix and stuck a candle in it for her and we ate that after dinner - but as I tucked her into bed, there were tears.  It was the "worst birthday, ever!"  Oh my.  Now, mind you, there were plans to have a bunch of her friends over for an informal party the following night, but apparently we really needed to "fuss" over her a little more that day, and we failed.  Well, particularly me.  I failed.  I should know by now that these "fussings" are very important to Gatlin.  The "fussings" are apparently her love language.  So, after many tears and much soothing from me (I seriously had to pull out her baby book to remind her how many wonderful birthday parties I had planned for her over the years - there were pictures to prove it so it couldn't be disputed!) - she finally went to sleep and was hopeful that the next day would be better.

The next day, 10 of her most awesome friends came over to celebrate her.  They swam, ate Chick-fil-A (now, how can I not get the 'Best Mother' award for that!!), laughed, ate some cake (TWO different ice cream cakes from Baskin Robbins - hello!!), swam some more, played video games and then four girls slept over.  As I tucked Gatlin into bed, her exact words were, "Mom, this was the BEST BIRTHDAY, EVER".  LOL   Oh, what a difference a day makes.  I sure do love that precious, dramatic, beautiful, crazy, dramatic, silly, funny, dramatic, 14-year-old girl.  So thankful that she's mine. (And yes, I took lots of pictures of her and her friends, in case I need them next year to remind her what a great Mom I am.  LOL)

The next week we were blessed big time by a visit from my sister, Jenni and her kids, Jon Mark and Hannah.  Jenni is a missionary in Thailand so it was awesome that while she was in the states for a very short time, she and the kids came to Nashville to see us and meet Bennet, Kaleb and Kali for the first time.  (She was staying in Oklahoma to be with my mom during her cancer treatments).  We loved having them here and just did a whole lot of nothing.  As always, it was sad to say goodbye, knowing we won't see them for at least a year.

That same week, Cooper went on a mission trip to West Virginia to work on some construction projects for people in need there and to also spend time with some inner-city kids.  He also led worship with the band, so you know he absolutely loved that.  The Lord is really developing him into a confident worship leader.  His guitar skills are fantastic and his voice is beautiful, but his leadership is becoming the thing that I am most excited about.  Can't wait to see what the Lord is going to do in and through him.  

And, we started a "small" construction project and room rearranging.

But with that I shall be continued....