Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Five Years Ago today

Do you remember what you were doing 5 years ago today? I, for one, will never forget.

Andy and I had been separated for the better of two weeks as he left Caedmon & me in South Carolina to begin his cross country trek to California. He drove to Texas, loaded a U-Haul with all of our stuff that was in storage, and then drove that U-Haul (pulling a car) from Dallas to San Jose all by himself. In the week before Caedmon & I arrived, he was attempting to find/rent somewhere for us to live AND get moved in...all by himself! He was my hero.

August 26 was the day Caedmon & I were scheduled to arrive in San Jose. But after the computer system in Atlanta crashed causing a dreadful travel experience with an almost 2 year old, we finally made it on August 27. We were deliriously tired, but oh so excited to be HOME!

It was the strangest feeling. I had read books where missionaries said that when they landed in China or Ecuador or _______ that they felt like they were finally home. I never understood that until I landed in California. I had been raised all my life as a Southern Girl (capitalized on purpose as that term is a proper noun), but you would have thought I was born and bred for the Silicon Valley.

That season of our lives was so full of excitement and promise. God had given us a God-sized dream, and every day we were watching it unfold before our eyes. We knew no one when we landed here, but one friendship at a time, one cookout at a time, one playgroup at a time, God started forming a network of people who would become South Bay Church.

As I look back over the past 5 years, my heart is BURSTING with joy and gratitude for all that God has done. South Bay has grown from 3 families to over 1500 people in weekly attendance. We've seen hundreds of people surrender their lives to Jesus and find new life in Him. We've seen marriages restored, people begin to thrive as they use their gifts, and community grow.

We've watched our almost 2 year old grow into an almost 7 year old. We've journeyed through an adoption and had our hearts hijacked by a gorgeous Ethiopian little boy who is now our son. We've felt the indescribable strength and love of a community of faith as South Bay grieved with us in our miscarriage and cheered wildly when we announced our current pregnancy.

Sometimes people thank us for being willing to move here to start South Bay Church. But let me tell ya, it is pure JOY for us. While they thank us, we just thank Jesus that He brought us here. There is no where else we would rather be and nothing else we would rather be doing. What a privilege it is to serve the King!

Here's to the next 5 amazing years! (And the 5 after that, and the 5 after that, and the...)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Happy Birthday to my sister

From the time I was born, she was my best friend. She had 3 years on me, so she already knew her way around the world. She had so much to teach me.

Today is my sister's birthday. And there's nothing quite like the relationship two sisters can share.

She has a prominent place in every childhood memory. 

She was always so much more brave than me. I loved that about her.

She let me tag-a-long, even when having a younger sibling around wasn't ideal.

Cleaning a fish we caught in the lake. It was also on this trip that she convinced me that if you poop in the lake, it sinks. That is so NOT true!

My mom says that we would play together for hours, completely self-entertained. 

We rocked those white sweatshirts. 

Ah, the 80's... Don't miss the feathered bangs, pink socks & matching hair scrunchy.

Prom night for me. Attending a wedding for her.

We are serious about our dessert. It can be dangerous.

We loved a good road trip. Grand tour of the West with our parents in high school. Trip to the Florida/FSU game over Thanksgiving weekend. 10 days in Israel. A month in Venezuela. We were always at home if we were together.

Floating in the Dead Sea in Israel.

We're a good team. She is more fun. I am more funny. Together, we're always laughing. 

True to form, she went totally above and beyond to make my engagement special. She and Andy worked together to plan the most amazing surprises for me that night. She is one of the most thoughtful people I know...a scrapbook of our 10 month engagement, homemade purses, monogrammed burp cloths, planning special family vacations... and on, and on I could go. She is always thinking of creative and meaningful ways to express love to others.

She now has FIVE (count them, 5!) boys ages 7 and under. Although that's a formula to test the sanity of any person, she has never been more full of grace. She loves and laughs her way through motherhood, albeit with a tear here and there as well. All that practice she had nurturing me as a child is going to good use!

Instead of sharing a room like we opted to do most of our childhood, we now live about as far apart as two people can and still be in the continental US. Our road trips these days are in minivans with a kid's DVD on in the background. Our phone conversations typically last 5-10 minutes while one of us is driving from one place to another and most are ended with a child screaming and an abrupt, "I gotta go," click. But we get to journey through these years as moms with young kids together. We still understand each other in ways that few can relate. Our times together and heart-level conversations are all the more cherished because they are all the more rare. 

Of all the wonderful gifts that God has given me in this life, 
having Stephanie as my sister has got to be close to the top. 

Feliz Cumpleanos, Hermana. Te amo mucho!

"There is no better friend than a sister. There is no better sister than you."

Friday, August 23, 2013

Lake Tahoe

Today is the day. After a glorious week at Lake Tahoe, we will be heading home to San Jose. My amazing husband took the boys on an ultimate Boys' Club adventure this morning and left me at Starbucks to read, relax, and blog. Great way to end a great week!

This was a work trip for Andy, and we just got to tag along. Plus we got the added benefit of seeing Andy at lunch and in the evenings for family fun! The boys and I used our mornings for school. I use two different age-appropriate curriculums for the boys, but some fun activities they do together. Tracing letters on a paint bag was a big hit.

It has been all ABC practice for Sammy this week. Who knew there were SO many different games and ways to reinforce letter sounds and letter recognition?! Thank you www.confessionsofahomeschooler.com for all of the ideas!
The boys raced to find the letter I called out.

After we wrapped up our schoolwork, Andy took a lunch break with us each day. We picniced by the pool and swam for a bit. I love how Sammy wears these googles.

Check out how his ears are smashed forward. Funny kid.

 Caedmon's awesome version of a dive. Makes me laugh every time.

And his specialty, the backwards cannon ball.

On afternoons that it wasn't raining, we would head over to the playground. I think a summer uniform for boys should be swim trunks, flip flops/crocs, and optional t-shirts.

Caedmon has never met a stranger and jumped right in this family's baseball game!

I just can't get enough of these smiles...

All this activity required some refueling and nothing's better for that than a little ice cream...

...and a quick nap wherever you can catch one.

For a special treat our last night, we let the boys do this bungee jumping trampoline. They had been eyeing it all week so Andy & I shamelessly used it as bribery, I mean, an incentive for good behavior throughout the week!

His expression is bursting with excitement!

He figured out how to do a flip!

After we did homeschool all morning and activities all afternoon, we would meet up with Andy for dinner and some family fun. He even gave me some alone time to refuel on three different occasions this week. It has been lovely!

Andy had the idea to take the boys on a hike this morning before heading home. He's been sending me pictures all morning and my heart is just overflowing with gratitude. I feel so, so blessed that we've gotten to spend this week here, that our family is making such wonderful memories together, that my boys have a father who is fun & creative & invests so much in them. Those two little guys have NO IDEA how blessed they are to have a dad like Andy Wood, but I know full-well and I am so smitten with him. He is always surprising me with just how awesome he is.
I am headed home to San Jose with my heart refreshed and my mind filled with snapshots of great memories. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Homeschooling: Round 2

We officially launched into our second year of homeschool yesterday and we just happen to be at Lake Tahoe for the week. Not a bad setting to kick off the first week of school! Our hotel room has a dining table that is perfect for school work in the morning, while the hiking trails, playgrounds, beaches, and pools provide lots of options for “PE” and afternoon fun! I know, I know, we’re ridiculously spoiled.

And, I’m a little tired.

The lazy, laid-back days of summer made me forget how mentally and emotionally engaged you have to be (all. day. long.) when homeschooling. I gotta build up my stamina again. Last night Andy mentioned something about wanting to read a book after the boys went to sleep. I just looked at him cross-eyed and opted for a mindless movie instead. 

I never did a year-end review of homeschool last year...partly because we fizzled out without much of a sense of completion. It was rather anti-climatic. Let’s just say, I’m glad that we had Kindergarten and Pre-K 3 as a “trial run” of sorts as I am quite certain I would not be in the runnings for any Teacher of the Year award. I could never shake the feeling that every day when we actually completed our school work (which was typically about 3 times a week) I deserved some sort of certificate of achievement. I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to lose that feeling once you’ve truly embraced your role as a homeschool mom.

In all honesty, last year was a bit of train-wreck for me personally. I came out of the gate really strong with all kinds of creativity and motivation. Then November rolled around. All of my energy from November through April was spent keeping afloat in a sea of grief. April and May gave way to morning sickness that left me on the couch asking my 6 year old if he could please make a PB&J for himself and his brother for lunch. Not the most awesome version of me. 

When another wave of guilt would hit me, I reminded myself, “It’s just kindergarten. He knows how to add and how to read on a first grade level. He’s gonna be okay.” 

And he is. We’re off and running with TWO whole days behind us! “Ain’t nothing gonna break my stride. Ain’t nothing gonna hold me down. Oh, no.” (Until we hit NOVEMBER...as a new family member will be joining us and I haven’t quite figured that one out yet.) But, hey, TWO whole days is worth celebrating! Ice cream, anyone? 

Friday, August 16, 2013

And her name will be...

Names have always held a lot of significance for Andy & me. When we discovered that our firstborn would be a boy, we immediately began thinking through all sorts of name options. It’s a daunting task-- selecting a name. You feel the weight of labeling another human being for the rest of their lives. Plus, you don’t want your kid to be the one all the other kids make fun of at school because their name rhymes with something horrible! Talk about pressure!

As we prayed for our unborn son, we prayed that God would use him mightily in His Kingdom. We wanted a name that reflected that prayer, so we decided on the name Caedmon (wise warrior) Elliott (near to God). A wise warrior who is near to God is a powerful weapon in the hands of the King!

After over 3 years of infertility, God blessed our home with a beautiful little boy for whom we had prayed a thousand prayers. I deeply resonated with Hannah, in the Bible, who wept and prayed that God would bless her with a child. I also, like Hannah, was committed to dedicate this child wholeheartedly to the Lord. That is why “Samuel” felt like the perfect name for him. After all, Samuel’s mom and I had a lot in common.

Little did we know at the time how deeply significant the meaning of his name would be. Our Samuel (meaning ‘God has heard my prayer’) was given the birth name “Wondimu”, which we kept as his middle name. We thought it was ironic, however, that Wondimu means “brother” and at the time of his birth, Sammy was an only child. How divinely beautiful is it that Samuel Wondimu’s name means, “God has heard my prayer for a brother”! God hears the longings of an orphan’s heart long before he is able to express them.

The journey to the birth of our 3rd child has taken us on dark, winding roads that often left us feeling lost and confused. We knew God had a plan for us, that He loves us completely, and that He is perfectly in control. But the aching in our soul was deep. After  6 years of infertility and losing a baby last November, Andy & I know full-well what a gift a child is. Life is so precious and never to be taken for granted. This baby girl that I now carry is a gift of grace from a merciful God. 

That is why we have selected the name Karis (meaning ‘grace’) Joy for our daughter. God’s grace to us has brought us joy. Indescribably joy. Joy with such anticipation that the sight of her name can bring tears to my eyes. 

She is our gift. Our long awaited gift of joy. 

My sister monogrammed all these beautiful things for Karis!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Home Improvement

Andy and I are not home-project kind of people. I think this can be boiled down to 3 main reasons.
  1. Neither of us have the skill set needed for even minor repairs. We can’t fix a leaky faucet and we will stare at a hole in our wall until we pay someone else to come patch it. We’re doing good just to change a lightbulb around here, People. Andy tells me, “I am not your Handy-Man. I am your Andy-Man.” Noted.
  2. Home improvements require money. When we moved into our house a year and a half ago, there were several things that we needed to spend money on to make it more homey. But we ran out of cash before we ran out of projects. So several things that have needed attention for some time have been left undone as we’ve saved up some more cash.
  3. Neither Andy nor I enjoy shopping. We avoid retail stores like the plague and would much rather spend an evening cuddled on the couch watching a TV show than surfing the Internet for rugs. Plus, the “visual design” component of my brain never developed, which makes picking out curtains and hanging pictures a rather daunting task.

But, alas, the time had come to give a little attention to the homefront and I must say that I am right proud of ourselves! We have gotten more accomplished around our home in the last six weeks than (probably) the last 10 years of marriage!

I felt particularly motivated because of some significant deadlines: 
  • Homeschool starts August 19
  • Andy’s brother is moving in with us for the Fall on September 4
  • Baby is due on November 9

I’m pretty sure that I won’t be super productive once homeschool starts back up and ESPECIALLY once our Little One arrives. So we had a small window between family vacation and school starting to get it done!

Here’s a list of some of things we’ve gotten accomplished around these parts the past 6 weeks:
  • transformed my school room / office into a bedroom for Andy’s brother
  • painted nursery
  • bunked boys beds and transformed half of their bedroom into our school room
  • painted outdoor patio and bought some patio furniture
  • single-handedly put together 10 (TEN!) pieces of furniture!
  • purchased a vehicle
  • lots of cleaning, organizing, odds & ends type projects
We are in desperate need of a garage sale as our garage is becoming scarier and scarier to go into...like a black hole of STUFF.  But we’ve made a ton of progress and we are closing in on the finish line. Whew! 

And it’s a good thing, because school starts on Monday!

Monday, August 12, 2013

2013 Tour de Family

We got home from our 2013 Tour de Family over a month ago, but I thought a few fun summer pictures are always in order. I took about 600 pictures and have narrowed it down to 15. This will hit a few of the highlights!

Both Caedmon & Sammy had a blast getting buried in the sand on the shore of 
Lake Michigan by their Uncle Josh (Andy's brother). 

Jamie, Caedmon, me, Nanny, Marcy (Andy's mom), Sammy, Andy, & Josh
Caedmon can hardly contain his excitement! 

Andy, Josh, Marcy, Nanny, & Jamie
relaxing in the shade while the boys play at the playground 

Caedmon, Dalton (Andy's brother), and Sammy 

Ice cream from "The Yum Yum Tree" on a summer night
Sammy, Olivia, Danielle (Andy's sister), Denise (Andy's stepmom), Andy 

A scavenger hunt for the grandkids from their Mimi.
The disguise glasses were a crucial part of the experience! 

Andy's dad, "Papa", helps guide the scavenger hunt 

Andy's grandfather 

My mom & dad (CC & Pops) with their 8 grandkids
3 more grandkids are on the way! 

The Cloud Family altogether at the beach 

These kinds of stunts are only pulled AFTER all the kids go to bed! 

It rained A LOT while we were in South Carolina and, with 7 boys 
ages 7 & under, we had to get creative. GI Joes were a favorite. 

Wrestling matches with Andy were another big hit! 

We attempted a trip to the zoo. This picture was taken during the 15 minutes 
that we were there BEFORE it started raining again. Boo! 

And, what's the 4th of July without a water balloon fight with your dad & grandpa?!

These trips are about making memories that we will all cherish forever. It is worth the effort to invest in these precious relationships. Our boys are smothered in love, special outings, and lots of ice cream each time we head East. They LOVE it!