Monday, July 4, 2016

...of hacking it

A friend asked me recently how we organized all three kids' clothes in their room since they all slept together. Since moving into our new/old house, I've had to get even more creative, but it's really worked out pretty well! So I thought I'd share what we did just in case it might be helpful for anyone else. 

First of all, all three kids in one room is definitely awesome. Some people fear it and, depending on your kids, it just might not be possible for you. For us, it just worked out. We traveled so much and the kids were in all different kinds of beds and sleeping scenarios that they were pretty flexible. And now, after a year of them all sharing a room, we are able to have a pretty epic happening with one child in the room while the other two sleep right through. We will eventually give Selah her own room, but that won't be for a few years. So here we are, with three kids in an 8x10 ish room, sharing our tips with you!

I knew we wanted a Kura bed from IKEA because we needed a low bunk, since we also have low ceilings and ceiling fans. We ended up finding an already hacked Kura bed from someone and painting it white. 
They actually took two Kura beds and just used the bed part on the bottom. Added drawers and then basically secured the second bed on top of the base of the first one. It gave us two big drawers for clothes storage, but got Abram a little closer to the fan than I would have liked. But their room is pretty cold anyway, so it worked out. I love that I'm still able to say good night to him easily without straining myself to get to him in a really high bunk. 

The problem was that the family that sold us the bed must have had theirs in a different corner than where I needed ours and the end of the bottom of the bed didn't have panels to cover the inside where the drawers are when they are shut. So I thought about covering it with fabric or cardboard and then realized I needed a third "drawer" for a third kid, since the two bed drawers were going to be used for pjs, underwear, and socks. Simon is too little to deal with those big drawers anyway. Enter the IKEA Trones shoe boxes. 
These are screwed into the frame of the bed, so they aren't going anywhere and they are perfect for Simons pjs and socks (underwear won't be added for awhile).
No pinched fingers, super easy for him to open and just the right width of the bed with two of them. So that's pjs and underwear. 

This is the rest of the clothes:

Each kid has a tops and a bottoms box. My motto is, if it's too full to close, they have too many clothes. Actually, I just made up that little ditty just now, but the thought process is long standing. Those medium Trofast bins can hold enough clothes for a season. Changing seasons gets a little tight, but it's worked out well for the last year. They all know which ones are theirs- even Simon and he's gotten really helpful with getting and putting away clothes at not even two and a half years old. So that's great. 

Speaking of Si... We thought he was ready for the side of his crib off and he seemed to handle it well for about a week. Then, his new found freedoms got the best of him and we had to revert, but maybe just temporarily. So I didn't want to keep taking off and putting on the crib bars. So, I just turned the bed around. The chair rail makes it a little wonky, but he hasn't even really tried to push the bed away from the wall and sneak out but once and a stern word has kept him from trying it again for at least a week. 
It may not last, but for now it's working, so I'll celebrate. 

And finally, the one open wall space has a shelf for books, baby camera, sound machine (an integral part of a three kid sleeping room), some artwork, a hamper, and their stuffie storage. Although that's not doing much. We counted tonight and Selah had twenty stuffed animals and dolls on her bed tonight. Abram had 13 and Simon had something like 8. So that stuffy storage needs to start eating some toys or I'm going to force feed it. 

Alright. I'm getting really tired and dreaming about the stuffed animal hamper turning into Audrey Too. Better go to sleep. I'm hoping that this midnight hour will see an end to the 4th of July fireworks that have been keeping me awake. 

Happy July 5th!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

...of too many emotions

8 years ago tomorrow, I married the sweetest, kindest, most Jesus loving man that I know. A few weeks later (after our honeymoon in Idaho), we moved together into our first house. 

5 years ago, this month, we made the final decision to join our friends and the work they would be starting in the UAE and began the long process of actually launching. 

3 years ago, this month, we moved from Sharjah to Fujairah, where we thought we would spend many years to come.

1 year ago, today, we flew from Boise back to Austin to begin a new life here. We grieved as our friends packed up and sold our house worth of stuff in Fujairah. We said good bye to people over the internet that we had planned to be hugging in person that same day. 

7.5 months ago, I heard our sweet baby #4's heartbeat for the first time and they gave us an official due date of June 14th (today). 

5 months ago, yesterday, we held our sweet baby Jo in our hands after losing her at 18 weeks. We knew, if she made it, she would have had Down Syndrome and most likely many medical issues, but we knew that we would endure and be better people by God's grace if He had given her to us. But, in His sovereignty, He knew that taking her home at that moment was the best thing for us all.  

This week, they are finishing remodeling work on that same house we moved into together 8 years ago and we should be moving back in at almost exactly the same time we moved in 8 years ago. 

This month, and specifically this week, will always be an emotional one for me. Filled with joy and sorrow, but especially and always peace and amazement at the goodness and faithfulness of our Heavenly Father throughout every aspect of this life. 

"Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

... of bread!

Alright. I'm finally sitting down at the computer (whaaaaaat?!) and posting the recipe to this plantain dough I've developed. This might be similar to another recipe out there, but I haven't ever seen it, so I've been working on this for awhile and now, I think, it's ready to share! Since starting the Auto Immune Protocol diet last year, I've been searching for a good pizza dough recipe. That's where this recipe started. 

With more or less coconut flour, this dough can be used for pizzas or sandwich bread (more) or muffins (less). So, here it is!

Plantain Dough
Preheat oven to 365.

-1 just ripe plantain (yellow with just a little black).
-2.5 tbsp coconut oil
-1/4 cup coconut milk
-1 tsp baking soda
-1 tsp apple cider vinegar
-1/4 cup coconut flour (for muffins), add 3 more tbsp coconut flour (for pizza or "bread" dough)
Peel and cut plantains into large chunks.
Blend with an immersion blender until smooth.
Add all ingredients except coconut flour. Mix well.

Add coconut flour and mix well. Muffin dough should be still be a bit... creamy. At this point you would add in anything you want for muffins (I've made "cupcakes" by adding raw cacao and vanilla extract - no sweeetner, the plantains are sweet enough already). Spoon into muffin cups and bake until just browned on top and a toothpick comes out mostly clean. It's been awhile since I did the muffins, but it's probably at least 20 minutes.

For dough, it should bond together well and not stick to the bowl.   
Press dough 1/4 inch thick until desired size (pizza obviously bigger than bread). The right side is to show the amount I used to press a 6" diameter piece of bread.
The whole amount will make about 3 personal pizzas or 6 pieces of bread. If you aren't making all of it at one time (not sure how well pre-made ones would heat up), the rest can go in any kind of container for use within the next few days. 
When you use it again, it may be slightly brown on the outside and look marbled when it mixes with the still yellow inside of the ball. This is ok. Might even make it look fun. As long as it smells good, you should be good to use it :)
(This is when I used it for a burger after a day in the fridge. You can see the marbling. Still tasted great!)

Anyway, bake at 365 for 18 minutes. The sides may start to brown if they are too thin, so pack up the sides so they are the same thickness as the rest of the bread. You want to make sure they are baked through and fairly stiff. 

For Pizza dough, bake for 14 minutes, take out, add toppings (I love no-mato sauce, onions, mushrooms, sausage and greens!) and bake for another 4-5 minutes.

Otherwise, sandwich it up!!

This bread is definitely sweet, so be prepared for that. I love that about it. My go to lunch recently has been a salmon or tuna salad sandwich (canned salmon or tuna mixed with celery, onions, mashed avocado, coconut milk, dill, tarragon, garlic powder, and salt). Yum, yum!

Hope you enjoy!

Friday, March 25, 2016

... of freezing time

Up until literally today, I couldn't wait for my kids to grow up. "When he doesn't nap it''ll be so much easier!" "When she's in school, it'll be so much easier!" "When he can help with chores, it'll be so much easier!" Then today, all of a sudden, I felt this overwhelming desire to freeze time.  Today (a day I spent mostly laid up in bed) I realized: It's not ever going to get "easier".

We've already discovered that there are intricacies to a five year old boy's personality that do not exist in a two year old's. e.g. lying. So while he won't throw as many temper tantrums, he will sneak pieces of candy out of the Ikea "pick a mix" and hide it in his pocket taking little bites whenever my back is turned (Tuesday). Then a whole conversation about stealing and lying will ensue in the car with an eventual temper tantrum over the discipline I've decided to issue (not getting any of the candy I had actually paid for)

Before we know it, he will be a teenager. Lord willing, he won't lie to us regularly, but he will be a teenager. We all know what that means...

Oh, Lord... what does that mean?!?!

I had to go into Simon's room and wake him up from a dead sleep at 6pm because he had taken 2.5 hours to finally fall asleep for his nap, He is deliriously adorable when I have to do that. He always starts jabbering about stuff right away. Today, it was cars, as he heard one zoom by on our street right as I got him out of his crib. So we walked next door to the guest/work room with the "car watching" window. He was still a little out of it and his face was frozen in a stare waiting for a car to drive by or his senses to return (whichever happened first). And I just stared at his little profile. That nose and those cheeks. That straw colored, uncut hair. Those blue-green eyes. That innocence. And I cried.

Yes, he's mischievous, but he's also sweet. He will bash apart a painstakingly made Lego car one minute, and go give the sweetest "sa sa (sorry) Abey" hug the next. And then perform the ritual all over again. Soon, he'll be the Lego creator and I won't be able to hold him after his nap and gaze into his face, because if he's anything like his brother, he will never sit still long enough for me to get a good look.

And in that moment I felt time slipping away. I suddenly regretted all the times that I wanted to rush them through this (or any other) stage in their short little lives. They may not remember these days, but their dad and I will. And I want to cherish them forever, not have a hard time remembering because I was so focused on getting to the next, "easier" stage.

So, here I am, at 12:45am trying to cherish that sweet moment from today. And for my sake and theirs, I'd like to be better and writing and sharing about our daily life and experiences on here so that we will all have a way of remembering the days that I know are fading away much, much too fast.

.  (Thanks to Erika Knox for these adorable pictures of our little people!)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

...of the same, but different

When we came back to Austin from the UAE and Quinn started back at his old job and we went right back to the same church and are even a few months away from moving back into our old house, we struggled with feeling like the previous two and half years just didn't happen. Sure, we had another child, but it all felt the same as it had. Except that our hearts were completely different. God had pulled us out of our former comfort zone and opened our hearts and eyes to a people who desperately needed His love. So when we came back, we were like different people in the same life. Even though those two years were less than we had planned and the memory of them gets further and further away, He still used them to shape and transform us in ways we never could have imagined. It was like we had entered some kind of time warp where everything was the same and different all at once.

Then, just a few weeks ago, when we discovered that our fourth baby, Joanna Lynn, had Down syndrome, everything changed again. In the five short weeks since we have been given that information we have grown to love her dearly. We delved into finding out more about what would make her special and different and I spent a lot of time reading stories and watching videos of amazing kids and people with Down syndrome. After knowing that the Lord had laid that condition so specifically on Quinn's heart, we were positive she was meant to have it and it made us very excited to meet her and add her to our family. Quinn was sure that she was the child the Lord meant for us to raise, but I always knew that losing her was a real possibility and that maybe her life was meant to lead us into caring for a different child with Down syndrome. We didn't know the extent of her physical issues and were waiting with anticipation for next Tuesday when we would have her 20 week anatomy scan with the specialist and get more specific information.

I felt her move a few times around 16 weeks and knew that the movements should get more and more pronounced. When her heart rate was 181 (just above the very top of the normal range of 120-180) at 16 weeks and her movements got less pronounced and spread out and eventually stopped around 17 weeks, I kind of knew in my mom heart that we had lost her. I hung on until 18 weeks hoping for her movement to start again, but scheduled an appointment with one of my doctors this past Monday at 18 weeks. 

When they couldn't find her heartbeat, my heart still broke. My sweet regular doctor was rushed in to confirm and he found that she was only measuring at about 15 weeks. There is no way to know exactly when she was officially healed and went to be with Jesus, but she probably stopped growing and passed away sometime last week. My doctor reminded me of what I already knew: that this meant she most likely wasn't "viable", meaning God knew the extent of her physical issues and it was the most merciful thing for all of us for Him to take her home now. 

I cried so much that day that it hurt. But the hope we have in knowing that we will see her again someday is beyond compare. I'm not sure how old she'll be or whether she will be "our daughter", but I'm sure we will meet her and somehow we will know. When we told Abram that Joanna had already gone to heaven to be with Jesus, he was sad for just a split second as he processed and then his face lit up and he said, "But she is the most lucky one, because she is the first one in our family to get to meet Jesus! I want to meet Jesus!" Amen, sweet little boy. Amen.

We are now on the other side of another time warp. It was shorter this time, but just as epic. Four months ago, we though we'd be adding a fourth child to our family. One month ago, we thought we'd be adding a special needs child our family. Today, we only have three earthly children in our family again. We are back where we started, but as completely different people. We still believe that God wants for us to be involved in the Down syndrome community in some way. We don't know what that will look like, but Joanna's life will have a ripple effect in our lives and hopefully in other lives as well.  We've already had some dear friends tell us that God used her to place Down syndrome on their hearts as well and they are praying through what that could look like for them. Praise God for her big, little life.

I thought it might be more appropriate to wait for a bit to process longer, but tomorrow I go in for the procedure that will remove her body from mine and I would love prayer. Writing this all out has also helped with the grieving process. I also feel that this is the best way for us to glorify God in this. We trust Him and believe that He is completely sovereign over it all and there is so much peace and comfort in that, it's incredible. I know, too, that I am not alone in this. The women I know who have been open and transparent about the children they have lost have given me a lot of strength these last few days. Quinn and I were talking about how, for reasons only really known to Him, God adds thousands of "babies" to heaven everyday who never saw the light of our sun or breathed our air, but are experiencing His presence in the fullest, healed and whole. And it's for His glory and our good. How amazing is that?

Thank you for all of your prayers for Baby Jo and our family and your many words of encouragement since my last post. We asked for prayer for her healing and a strong body and He has absolutely answered those prayers! She will always be our gracious gift from God and our beloved fourth child and we wouldn't change that for anything.

I'll end all of this with the first and third verses from a song that has always been a favorite of mine, but didn't truly have personal meaning until the last year. It now gives me so much comfort.

"When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
'It is well, it is well with my soul!'"

"And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll.
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend.
Even so, it is well with my soul."

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

... of a gracious gift from God

As we have resettled and felt a calmness and stability in Austin that we knew was from the Lord, we started praying about and considering adding another child to our family. We felt like we had room in our heart and our home and so, with a lot of peace and excitement from us and the kids, we found out in September that we were expecting a baby in June 2016!

We have held off telling more than close friends and family until we made it through the 12 week ultrasound appointment when we would make sure everything was looking normal. That appointment was a few weeks ago.

We saw our new little squirrel wiggling around and measuring right on schedule. But after the ultrasound, at my nurse's visit, they told me that the baby's nuchal translucency (a space at the back of the neck, used for indicating a possibly chromosomal abnormality) was a little big. Not too much, but enough to cause some concern. They suggested a non-invasive blood test that could detect an abnormality with near perfect accuracy. It could also tell us the gender. I went ahead and agreed to the test so that we could have some peace of mind, regardless of the outcome.

During the week that we waited for the results, we tried not to dwell on it too much. We prayed a lot and did some research. Quinn and I had been pretty sure that we were going to have a boy and had picked out the name Moses John, but hadn't been sold on any girl names. That week, I randomly came across the name Joanna in the Bible. I had never even noticed it before in Luke 8:1-3 and 24:10. But she was a woman who was healed by Jesus and then followed him and financially supported him throughout his ministry, death, and resurrection. We loved the fact that the name also means “whom Jehovah has graciously given” or “gracious gift of God”. That week, I was suddenly and inexplicably sure that our baby was a girl who would be named Joanna.

When we got the call a few weeks ago, we were told with 99% certainty that our precious baby girl, Joanna Lynn, does have Trisomy 21 or Down Syndrome.
Baby Jo: 12 weeks

It has been a very surreal experience processing what this will mean for our family. I think the scariest thing for us right now is the fact that, even in the second trimester, the chances of a miscarriage are still relatively high (we have heard percentages ranging from 15-40%) in babies with chromosomal abnormalities. The likelihood really depends on her level of health problems that are already present. We had a specialist appointment and sonogram last week and she is still measuring pretty much right on schedule, but does have a few things with her heart that do seem to confirm Trisomy 21. We will have a more thorough scan at 20 weeks (which is normal), when it will be easier to tell what kind of physical issues she might have – namely with her heart. 

The day after we found out, Quinn shared with me that during worship a few months ago (before we were pregnant), he felt like the Lord randomly spoke to him that we would take care of a child with Down Syndrome. He hadn't told me, because he thought it would scare me. I'm glad he didn't, because it would have. But knowing now, it gives us so much peace. We hope that it means that JoJo will be that child, but if for some reason the Lord takes her home before her birth, our knowledge and perception of Down Syndrome has grown and changed so much that I can't imagine that we wouldn't seriously consider adopting a child with that extra little chromosome in the future. But we do feel that God led us to her name for a reason and we are praying and asking for prayer for her to be “healed” like her namesake, in that she would have a strong and healthy heart, brain, muscles, thyroid, immune system and all of the things that babies with Down syndrome tend to, but don't always, struggle with.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers for our family. We believe in God's power. We believe in His sovereignty. We believe in His promises. We have been though a lot in this last year, but are truly being given peace by truths like the one in James 1:2-4 right now: 
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
We are absolutely certain, now more than ever, that our Lord is good and His mercies endure forever and we feel so blessed and honored that He would desire to give such a special gift to our family. 

Abram is understanding of the situation and prays almost daily for her to make it to out to meet us. He celebrates my feeling her movement almost more than I do :) Selah has had a lot of completely expected three year old questions and comments about Down Syndrome. Simon has no clue that we are even having a baby, but I think being an older brother in general will contribute so positively to the development of his personality. 

We felt like this would be the best way for us to share such intense and surprising information with friends and extended family. We aren't ashamed of the fact that we are carrying a child who almost certainly has a chromosomal abnormality, so we aren't afraid to talk about it with people, but it is a heavy topic and we have learned that most people need some time to process through it and think about it before having to respond. Responding in the moment can lead to not knowing what to say or worrying about saying something "wrong"- at least I know that's how I would be. So as we meet many of you in the next few months, feel free to talk about it with us if you want or not if you don't. Like I said, we are far from ashamed or sorrowful. In fact, her name honestly feels the most perfect because she has already been an incredibly gracious gift from God for our whole family. 

We hope you have a joy filled Christmas and thank you for caring enough to read through this very long post :)

Friday, August 21, 2015

...of being still

Quinn has been back at work for a month. The first week I started out "well". By that I mean that I did a lot with the kids and the kitchen was mostly clean, the laundry was mostly taken care of and I cooked most dinners. As the weeks have gone on, though, it has become glaringly apparent that, because I have been working from my own strength, I have been slowly depleted and brought to the bottom of my barrel.

Today was hard. Yesterday was Chic-fil-A and mowing the lawn with a hand mower and going to bed with a sinus headache. This morning was a play date with a close friend, whom I love. But our boys also reeeeealllly love each other and when they get together we end up spending most of the morning yelling corrections at them in the other room or upstairs at the top of our lungs and then trying desperately to return to some encouraging and affirming conversation with each other about what God is teaching us. It's filling and draining at the same time - if that's possible.

Anyway, all of those things added up to my body kind of lashing out at me. For the sake of stress and weight gain and an accurate visit with the rheumatologist last week, I have abandoned my Auto Immune Protocol diet completely. I think it was helping, but it was also causing stress which didn't quite cancel out the diet, but sure made me a hot mess a lot of the time. So in anticipation of lab work and x-rays at the doctor, I threw almost all of the diet completely out of the window. And let me tell you I am NOT. GOOD. It took a little while, but now, after consuming a #1 with no pickles and a Dr. Pepper at my very friendly neighborhood Chic-fil-a, I could easily lay in bed all the next day overcome with pain from approximately seven joints in my body and a brain fog and depression that could lay up the happiest of people.

And then there's the screaming. My kids are screamers. Not sure where I went wrong, but their frustration comes out as screaming. The baby just screams. The big kids usually scream each others' names. But someone always seems to  be screaming. I always seem to be mediating negotiations over magnet tiles and explaining over tears that just because someone pretended to do something like rip your dress does not mean that it actually happened and you don't need to act as if it did.

Oh, and then the guilt. To get through the pain, the depression, the screaming and fighting, I have been retreating to my bed and often calling up my favorite babysitter: Netflix. After about 1.5 hours of just laying there trying to pray or distract myself while my kids' brains are filled with sometimes not the most educational of television shows, the guilt wins out. I pull myself up by my boot straps and we suffer together through the rest of the afternoon and into the evening until Daddy comes home and none of us is a very good welcoming committee.

Today, when I got to guilt part of the cycle, I lost it. I left the kids with their sitter, took my yoga mat outside, lay down in the sun, let the bugs crawl all over me, and I cried. I could see Abram and Selah at the kitchen table eating oranges and watching "Angelina Ballerina" and not even noticing that I was gone. I talked to God and asked a lot of questions. Why hadn't he just healed me? What am I supposed to do? Start taking $35,000 a year medication or restart literally the strictest diet known to man? Why did it all matter? How was I supposed to get through all of this without losing it and running away or locking myself in a closet and never coming out or throwing all the toys away (which actually probably wouldn't be so very bad...)?

Then, I felt like he told me to stop talking. I was reminded of His words "Be still and know that I am God" (Ps. 46:10) and "The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent." (Ex. 14:14) And, right then, there was breeze that hit me that hadn't been there before. I could hear the birds and the wind and I saw the millions of tiny ants in the grass going crazy. I needed my heart to be calm and quiet in the moment for His Spirit to help me to realize that it wasn't just that moment. That was exactly how I had been (and always have been) functioning. Constantly moving and going and asking and talking and figuring and planning and plotting and visiting and cooking and writing and sewing and shopping and driving and making lists and even really good, Godly things like praying and reading and journaling. But I have a very, very hard time being still and silent. He wants me to read, so that when I am quiet, the Spirit can bring up those words in the right moment and speak exactly what I need to hear. Because those words are living and active! Sometimes it's hard to know what to read in the Bible on any given day. I always want what I read to apply directly to my life that day. But when I just spend everyday reading His Word, wherever I may be and then allowing time to pray and then just be quiet and listen, He can bring up exactly the right truth or command or promise for my day or moment.

I am wearing myself out by trying to be strong. But I know that the truth He has given me to cling to specifically during this joint aching, toddler screaming, Netflix-guilt stage of my life is: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Cor 12:9) I think I may have already even quoted that specific verse in one of my five blog posts of 2015, but it has got to be my anthem this year - and forever. But if I only ever write it or read it and I never just listen to it, then I will never get it. And so the command and promise that came to my mind today is one that, ironically, is technically a response to being worried and anxious about food! "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you." (Matt 6:33)

After this quiet moment with God in the sunny yard, I came inside and the rest of the afternoon I was in awe at the gentleness and patience that I had with the kids. This is a not bragging on myself. I do not normally have that. I was a high school teacher. I think the thing I've said most in my life is "Are you kidding me?!" But this afternoon was calmer and quieter and gentler. There was still pain and there was still screaming, but there was also a tangible sense of God's grace and power resting on me through those things that just made me more in awe of how true and good and living His Word really is. And how worthy He is to be sought through that Word and truly listened to every. single. day.

Now for your viewing pleasure: a glimpse at a normalish afternoon in our house. I knew I was recording and Selah was (obviously) at least somewhat aware of the camera, but it is mostly unadulterated Smith family banality. And I may have been a little more calm that afternoon due to that lovely little cup of coffee I was enjoying.

Khallas (Enough).