Happy birthday to me! Happy birthday to me! Happy birthday dear, Amy. Happy birthday to me!

That's right everyone! I turned the BIG 28 years old this year. For whatever reason, being 28 doesn't seem too different from being 27. I think a lot of that has to do with Ryan being older than me. In fact, he's going to be the BIG 30 this year. :) Of course I have already started planning his big day. Afterall, they say that your 30's are the best years of your life, so I want to make sure his birthday starts off with a bang.

I digress.

This is about MY birthday!

Before I share what happened this year, let's go back one year, ok? Last year on my birthday, Noah was only 8 months old. I was still breastfeeding and was READY for a break with my husband to celebrate my birthday. Well, he got sick - really sick - on my birthday. He somehow got the stomach flu and was getting sick all day long. I was stuck hanging out downstairs with Noah all day feeling sorry for myself. I mean it - I was really angry! It was supposed to be MY special day, and Ryan goes off and gets sick. How selfish! I know these thoughts were irrational, but this is a good picture of what was going through my head at the time. Birthdays mean a lot to me. In fact, I usually like to celebrate my birth week! No, I am not kidding. When I was growing up, your birthday was a big deal. It was your special day where you go to pick what you wanted for breakfast, your brother wasn't allowed to touch your presents, and you got to choose whatever restaurant you wanted to eat at for dinner. I usually picked my favorite - PONDEROSA. Again, I am not joking. I've come a long way in where I choose to eat dinner; however, my selfishness and "poor me" attitude were pretty similar to my 8 year old former self.

Ok, so that was last year when I turned 27.

On January 1, 2010, Ryan and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary. Looking back on where we were when we started and where we are now, it was incredible to see how much we've grown in the past 5 years. Marriage is hard work at times, and I was excited to celebrate our anniversary in style! Remember my blog about winning the Traincar Package? Well, we had big plans to cash in our certificate for a night on the town, even if it was freezing outside. Soon after we got home from celebrating New Year's Eve at Tim and Beckie's, Ryan was complaining of a stomach ache. He had drank about 3-4 Pepsi's and thought that the caffiene was making him sick. We went to bed, hoping it would go away by morning. Well, I woke up the next day to an empty bed. I found Ryan downstairs on the couch. He had gotten sick SEVEN times through the night. We think he might have gotten food poisoning because about 16 hours later, he was completely fine again. However, our anniversary celebration was cancelled. Ryan once again spent the day in our bedroom while Noah and I played downstairs. Rather than repeating the same attitude as last year, this time I honestly felt ok about our plans changing that day. I knew he felt horrible, so I just enjoyed dancing and playing with Noah all day. I was even patting myself on the back like, "Wow, Amy! Look how much you've grown up since last year! Good for you!"

The following weekend, I turned 28 on January 10th, and we had some exciting things planned. We were going to go see Avatar in 3D at the IMAX theatre at 3:30 p.m., and afterwards, our friends Kevin and Dalia were going to go out to dinner with us at Scholar's Inn. Ryan and I had eaten there once before and loved it! We were excited to have a night out together with friends. Ryan's parents were going to watch Noah at our house (thanks again!), so they were all looking forward to time together, too.

Soon after John and Gloria arrived, Ryan and I left for the theatre. Avatar had been out for almost a month by that time, so I didn't bother to get tickets online. BIG MISTAKE. Ryan dropped me off to buy the tickets while he parked the car, and I quickly saw a HUGE line and the words "SOLD OUT" written across Avatar's 3:30 and 7:30 showings. I WAS MAD. I stomped out to the car with my arms folded across my chest. Remember all of that "growing up" I had done over the past year? Turns out, I still had some work to do.

We spent the next 20 minutes on our phones, trying to find another movie to see in the small window of time we had before we were meeting our friends for dinner. I'm sure there were lots of other great movies to see, but I wanted to see Avatar. I had been dying to see it since I saw a preview before the Michael Jackson movie, This is It. I WAS MAD - and I decided it was Ryan's fault.

He drove back toward Greenwood, and I was getting sadder and madder with each passing stoplight. This is what was going through my head: Ryan should have planned my birthday. I shouldn't have to invite our friends, find the movie time, buy tickets, make reservations for dinner, etc. He should be the one to do that. It's MY birthday. It's supposed to be all about ME. Now my birthday is ruined. I didn't celebrate it last year. We didn't celebrate our anniversary. And now we aren't going to celebrate my birthday...AGAIN. We should cancel our plans with Kevin and Dalia. Let's just go home so I can feel sorry for myself.

Ryan in the meantime was throwing out ideas to fill the time. He could take me to get a massage or a pedicure. We could go grab a glass of wine for me somewhere. We could have an appetizer somewhere. He could take me to a book store, and I could find a new book to read. All of these ideas I shot down - even though I tried to sound grateful for the thoughtfulness, I was still MAD.

These are the thoughts that were going through my mind next: Amy, you are a real loser. Why do you care so much about a day? Maybe you are missing the point of birthdays and anniversaries. Maybe your anniversary is a day to reflect on being THANKFUL for having another year of marriage together. Maybe your birthday is a day to be THANKFUL for getting another year on this earth with people you love. Maybe it's not about YOU. Maybe it's about something a whole lot larger than your expectations for how these days should be spent.

And that, my friends, is what I call feeling convicted. Tears fell down my cheeks while we sat there in silence. I had no idea what Ryan was going to do to "fix" the day. I felt horrible about my attitude, and yet I didn't know how to make it better.

Ryan pulled into Bonefish Grill, parked the car, and said, "We're having drinks." I hestitantly got out of the Jeep and walked into the restaurant. We sat at a nice big booth in the bar, and I checked out the menu. The waiter asked us what we wanted, and Ryan grabbed a soda, while I ordered a Pinot Grigio that Ryan thought I would like (and I did). I still had tears falling from my eyes, and I think our waiter was completely uncomfortable. He would stand about 10 feet from our booth and ask us if we were ok. It was hilarious, but I didn't laugh about it until a little later. There we sat, sipping on our drinks, and all of the sudden this really chipper song came on the radio inside the restaurant. You know, it was the kind of song that says "something is about to change for the better" while you're watching a movie. It was a happy little tune, and after about 30 seconds, I couldn't contain it. I just started laughing! In my mind, I knew the way I was acting was ridiculous, but in my heart, I was still really disappointed (this is where my passion gets in the way). Ryan was laughing, too, and asked me what I was thinking. I told him that I only saw two options moving forward. One, I would plan my birthday from now on - that way I could never be disappointed on MY day (remember, it's all about me, right?), or two, he could make a commitment to plan my birthday from start to finish each year. Ryan chose the latter - he's a great guy like that.

I then shared with him how convicted I felt in the car about my selfishness. It felt good to confess that ugly part of me, even though those moments are never proud ones. We asked our still-very-uncomfortable waiter if we could have some bread and laughed about how we would probably be the worst customers he had all night. I called my friend Dalia to give her an update about the movie. I told her how mad I was about the movie because I didn't want to have to "fake it" when we saw her and Kevin later that evening. She understood because she is a passionate person, too! I enjoyed the rest of my glass of wine while Ryan and I chatted about who knows what. His phone rang, and he said, "Oh hi Rob. Ok...yeah...all right. Well, let me just give you a call, and we can talk about that more on Monday." When Ryan hung up the phone, I asked, "Why is Rob (one of his brokers/friends) calling you on a Saturday?" He convincingly said, "I have no idea" while looking very confused. We were getting ready to leave, so he excused himself to use the restroom. I sat in the booth trying not to make eye contact with our poor waiter until Ryan returned.

Once he did, we got back into the Jeep and drove to Kevin and Dalia's house. They told us to just come over a little early, and we would hang out there until our dinner reservation. After spending a little time with them and their puppy, Max, we got back into the Jeep to head downtown. Kevin said, "Amy, there has been a little change in the plans." Internal dialogue: ERRRR!! SCREEECH! What change? I don't do change! Kevin continued, "Well, we are still going to have dinner at Scholar's Inn (phew!), but...afterward Dalia and I are going to go back to your house and watch Noah so that you can go see Avatar in 3D at 10:30 p.m." We haven't known Kevin and Dalia very long, but I could've kissed them both! My once considered trainwreck of a birthday was right back on track! Turns out that the phone call from "Rob" was actually "Kevin" offering to watch Noah so that we could see Avatar.

We drove to Scholar's Inn and had a delicious dinner! Ryan and I ordered the Shrimp Cocktail for an appetizer and the Filet Mignon (with BeChamel Macaroni & Cheese, Pomegranate Red Wine Demi Glace, Fresh Herb Salad) for our main course. The food was seriously OUT OF THIS WORLD incredible. That filet ranked in my top 3 steaks ever - seriously. Macaroni & Cheese is my middle name, so that was an added bonus for sure. Dalia and Kevin were great company, too, and they seemed to really enjoy their food, as well. We were cracking up because Dalia's "Crisp Lattice Potatoes" that were served with her skirt steak turned out to be some waffle fries, just like the ones from Chick-fil-a. So much for fine dining - hilarious!

Anyway, we drove back to Dalia and Kevin's for a bit and soon after said goodbye so that we could make it to our movie with plenty of time to spare. We had already bought our tickets on the way up to dinner, so we were good to go there. Although we arrived 30 minutes early, the theatre was already PACKED. We were lucky to find two great seats and relaxed until the movie began. Seeing Avatar in 3D on an IMAX screen was seriously out of this world. The story line is incredible and the images you see are amazing. However, seeing a movie like that in 3D turns a story into an experience. I thought the movie was breathtakingly beautiful! I loved every single second of it. I especially loved the spiritual aspect of the movie and found it interesting that the Na'vi (people who live on Pandora) worship a God called Ai'wa (pronounced Ah-way), while the personal name for God in the Hebrew Bible is Yahweh (pronounced Yah-way). The movie focuses a lot on how Ai'wa is everywhere around them and can be seen by looking at the plants and living creatures on Pandora (their planet). I like to believe the same is true for us: God is everywhere around us if we just open our eyes to see Him. The movie touched my heart on so many levels, and in addition, I was entertained from beginning to end! We left the theatre around 1:15 a.m. and made the short drive home. We thanked Dalia and Kevin for helping make my birthday so special and said good night!

The next day was my actual birthday. Ryan brought Subway home for lunch after church, and I opened my gifts. I'll write more about them in a future post - he did great! Noah, Ryan, and I went out for dinnr at Unos Chicago Pizza, one of my favorites where we rarely go, and celebrated my birthday with dessert first and a deep dish pizza second. Ordering dessert first is my favorite! Noah behaved so well all evening, and the waitresses loved him. My birth-weekend was a HUGE success, one that I'll remember for years to come.


A New Name - A New Look

Hello Everyone!
I hope you are enjoying the new look for my blog. When I began writing, it was merely a way to share my experiences throughout my pregnancy with friends and family who lived far away. At the same time, it would help me actually remember all of the little things I would have otherwise forgotten. After Noah was born, I considered not writing anymore. Life was busy with a newborn. Then I realized how many new stories I wanted to share with everyone.

Here I am, nearly 2 1/2 years later, still writing this blog. When I go back through the stories, I know I never would have remembered most of them had I not written them down. That alone gives me the motivation to keep writing! However, as a bonus, I've had so many of you get in touch with me to ask questions about saving money on groceries, preparing for natural childbirth, learning about Dave Ramsey, adjusting to life with a newborn, growing in your faith, working after becoming a mother, etc. The list goes on and on! I am learning that so many of the posts I write are just seeds that get planted and sometimes grow into something wonderful in someone's life in the future. The joy I get from those moments - when I see how something I've written has sparked a positive change in someone's life - is indescribable. When I get a message on Facebook saying, "I saved $60 this week!" or an email asking me to send my immunization schedule that we used for Noah, it feels awesome!

I struggled with choosing a REAL name for my blog. I think it started as "My Pregnancy Blog" and later become "The Abell Family Blog." I wanted to choose something that described me in just a couple words, and in the end, I came up with My Passionate Balance. For those of you who have been reading my blog for any length of time (or even those who know me personally), you have probably quickly learned that I am a passionate person. Even in past job interviews when they've asked about my strengths, I will say that my passion is one of my greatest characteristics. Passion is the force that drives me to care so much about everything that I do, believe in, and say. Of course, there is a downside to being a passionate person, and I try to keep that part in check, sometimes being more successful than other times.

The second part of my blog name "Balance" stems from what I have learned to be the key to so much of my happiness in life. Without balance in any situation, I feel myself faltering. Balance keeps me from working too much or relaxing too much. Balance lets me enjoy my time with family and friends while also enjoying time to myself. Balance is how I am able to accomplish things in my day to day life. Without balance I begin to drown, falter, and lose focus on what is truly important in my life.

Passion and balance are such opposite concepts, yet one without the other in my life seems to lead to chaos. The balance prevents my passion from getting overwhelming to me, as well as everyone around me. At the same time, my passion stops my balance from becoming too orderly and confining. My Passionate Balance seems to perfectly encompass who I am and what you'll read about in my blog. As I wrote above, I want to live a transparent life in hopes of inspiring happiness in others - others being YOU! I hope you enjoy what lies ahead and that you find your own passionate balance in life.


A Mouse Named Mouf

Before I get started with this story, I want to thank all of you for your support after my last post. It felt really awesome to share with you what is in my heart, but I also felt vulnerable and insecure at the same time. I received such an outpouring of love and support, and I can't thank you enough!

Last week was so serious, and this week I want to start the week of with some fun we've been having around our house. Nearly every year for Christmas at my dad and Danette's house, one of their dogs gives me some sort of mouse. Sometimes it's a mouse ornament; sometimes it is a cat toy. Each year it takes me back to a summer day in high school when I went toe-to-toe with mouse for the very first time (and hopefully the last time) in my life.

I woke up and went downstairs to watch some TV while my dad and Danette were both at work. Our dogs, Agatha and Murphy, were home with me, too. Murphy was a little dog, but Agatha was a bigger dog full of shaggy black hair. As I was sitting watching TV, Agatha came stumbling into the room, walking around the room in a really unusual way. She was sort of stomping her feet on the ground if you can imagine that. I kept hearing a "meep, meep, meep" but couldn't figure out what it was. Agatha laid down and started pawing at one of her feet, and the "meep, meep, meep" got louder. All of the sudden, it hit me - there was a mouse stuck to Agatha's foot!! My dad had put one of those sticky pads down behind our washer, and the mouse must have gotten stuck on it. Then, in her curiosity, Agatha must have been swiping at the mouse and gotten the entire pad-with-mouse stuck to her paw. SICK!

I was F-R-E-A-K-I-N-G out! Immediately I started sweating and panicking, and frantically called my dad at work. He picked up the phone, and I was crying and telling him what was going on with Agatha and the mouse. I have no idea what was going on at work, but he said, "Amy, I can't handle this right now!" I was so mad/freaking out still that I hung up and called Danette at work. I had her emergency paged, knowing that I would scare her, but what else was I to do. Agatha was in a panic, and I was losing it. I could feel the lump welling up in my thoat, and I was close to losing it. I had no idea I was so grossed out by mice! Danette quickly called me back, and I explained the situation. She asked if I would be able to cut Agatha's hair away from the sticky pad to release it from her paw. (My stomach just turned over as I remembered this next part). I got out the scissors and pulled the sticky pad away from Agatha's foot (shiver). I was SO scared that I was going to accidentally cut the mouse while I cut her hair (SICK!). I began trimming the hair little-by-little, and Danette stayed on the phone with me like a 911 operator during an emergency situation. As I cut more and more hair, I could see that poor mouse's body smashed against the sticky pad, but it's little eyes were so scared and the "meep, meep, meeping" continued. I was crying a lot harder by now! I felt so bad for that little mouse. As I finally cut the last few strands of hair, Agatha was free. Now it was just me and that poor mouse. I was shivering and crying and holding back from throwing up as I ran the mouse-and-sticky-pad combo to the doorway and chucked it into the street. Classy - I know. Once Danette knew that Agatha and I were safe, she hung up the phone. I think I stayed in the house all day, afraid to look into the street to see that poor, sad, scared little mouse lying there.

Side note - I still struggle to this day with killing anything. If I find a spider in our house, I turn a container upside down on top of the spider and wait for Ryan to get home so that he can kill it.

My dad called later that day and was CRACKING up! He apologized for hurrying off the phone but was laughing about what Agatha and I endured earlier that day. When he got home from work, I think my dad disposed of the mouse properly. Sorry, Mouse. :(

So back to the present, I get a mouse every year in remembrance of that horrible day. This year I got a particularly nasty mouse. This one was so drab with rubbery, gross skin. When you squeeze this mouse, it feels like there are guts inside it. NASTY.

Noah was being fussy one night, and I remembered this game that he likes to play at the library. We say, "Little mouse, little mouse, are you in the red house?" You pick up the red house and say, "Nooo. Little mouse, little mouse, are you in the blue house?" And the game continues until you uncover the mouse. Noah gets so excited each time we play at the library, so I grabbed the mouse from upstairs and started playing the game with his toys.

We quickly learned that Noah takes after his mommy when it comes to mice. He loved playing Litte Mouse, but if we brought that mouse anywhere near him, he would start shuddering and shivering, too! If Noah was the one to uncover the "house" where the mouse was inside, he would lift up the house and jump a mile backwards the second he spotted that mouse. This game went on for a good hour that night. Although he still was scared of his new friend, at the end of the night, Noah made sure to say, "Nigh', nigh' Mouf."

The next morning when Noah woke up, the first thing he said was, "Hi Mouf! Hi Mouf!" He totally remembered his little buddy from the night before. Ryan put Mouf on Noah's high chair tray, so when I sat Noah down for breakfast, he pointed and yelled, "Mouf!!!" but shuddered away from him. This love/hate relationship continued for days. Noah always wanted to know where Mouf was and wanted him near but not so near that it invaded Noah's space.

Noah finally started carrying Mouf around by his tail, but after walking around for a few seconds, Noah would look down and act surprised to see Mouf and chuck his poor friend across the room just like I had done years ago. Slowly, as time has gone on, Noah has become more and more accepting of Mouf and likes for him to be near while he plays. Noah still points at Mouf every now and then and exclaims, "Ewww!!! Ewww!!!" All I can do is empathize - I've been there before - and hope a real "mouf" never finds it's way into our home again.

Even Kya tolerates Mouf


A Glimpse of My Heart

Ever since I opened this blog to the public rather than by invitation only, I've noticed that I've held back at times, not wanting to be so open about my thoughts and feelings. I have worries about being so honest. Will people think I'm crazy? Will someone use my blog against me someday? Will someone's feelings get hurt by what I write? So, sometimes in order to protect my own feelings and what is truly in my heart, I decide not to write these thoughts down.

Today is different. I feel like I can't contain what's in my heart right now. I don't keep a journal - this blog kind of serves as my journal - and I don't know that I could put into words what I'm thinking if I had to say them aloud. So instead, I'm taking a risk and writing everything down here in my blog.

Despite never growing up in a church environment, I have always felt God's presence in my life. We found our church home on Easter 2006. I have grown more as a person and learned more about God's teachings these past 3 1/2 years than I can ever remember in years past. For the past 3 weeks, Pastor Danny has led a sermon series called "The Story: Step into Something Greater." During Week 1 he talked about the 5 major "Acts" of the Bible.

Act 1. Creation: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1)

Act 2. The Entrance of Evil: The serpent (Satan) coerces Eve to disobey God's only command, not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Act 3. The Fall: Eve eats from the tree and gives an apple to Adam. Sin enters the word.

Act 4. The Rescue: Jesus is born, lives a life without sin, and dies on the cross as payment for our sin so that we can someday be reunited with our Father. Without this sacrifice, we would spend eternity separated from God.

Act 5. Restoration: Jesus returns! A new heaven and a new earth are created.

The key question that Pastor Danny posed to us at the end of Week 1 was "Will you wake up and see the bigger story and choose to step into something greater?" Although his question did not fully makes its impact until a week later, my heart and my mind are now consumed with his question.

During Week 2, Pastor Danny talked about how lost people (those who are relationsally disconnected from God) matter to God. The Bible says, "...there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." Pastor Danny than shared that God calls those who are found to join Him in bringing those people far from God closer to Him. Matthew 4:19 states, "...follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." I love that phrase "fishers of men".

We also watched a video that day, and the statement was written, "God is far less concerned about what you can do and far more concerned about what He can do through you." Isn't that beautiful? Sometimes it feels so overwhelming to know all of the sad circumstances in our world: abused children, hungry people, Haitians grieving loss of everything they once had, etc. I feel so much stronger knowing that I am not alone fighting these battles; instead, God is working through each one of us toward the greater good.

The first two weeks of this sermon series really got me thinking about the bigger picture. Of course there is grocery shopping to do, diapers to change, work to be done. All of those things are essential to daily life. What I'm truly realizing is that how quickly the days, the weeks, the months, and the years are going by. I think it's finally sinking in how short this life truly is. What do I want to accomplish? What kind of mark can I leave on the world while I'm here? What can I do to help other people find the real message of unconditional love, forgiveness, and salvation that I'm learning about on a daily basis? Placing faith in God and His son, Jesus, isn't just about going to heaven someday. Greater than that awesome gift is getting to live life every single day, walking beside God every step of the way. If God is with me than who can be against me?

I often think about the day that this life will pass, and I will be in my eternal home. I wonder, "Who will be beside me? Who will be waiting for me there? Who will join me there someday?" I think about people I love, people with whom I want to spend eternity. I can't imagine life in heaven without every one of them. I think about strangers, the manager at CVS or our neighbors down the street, who could be living a richer, fuller life if they would place their faith in God and His son. I think we can all find satisfaction in this world without living a life of faith. This world provides all sorts of satisfying things such as other people, money, materialistic items, power, and fun experiences. What is true about all of these things is that they will someday fade away and no longer exist. All of those things will fail us at one time or another. The money will run out. The people will let us down. The TV won't work. We won't find joy in the experiences. What will be left to bring us true happiness and joy?

My heart's desire is to live a transparent life in hopes of inspiring happiness in others. Living a transparent life makes me feel afraid because I know how exposed I will be. I know my thoughts will be rejected, and people won't always respond as I hope they would. But, like Pastor Danny said today in Week 3 of our series, "Nothing can happen to us apart from God's will." This thought gives me courage that even when my fears come to fruition, my transparency might also encourage or inspire someone else. Maybe God will still use that situation for the greater good.

This summer my friend Aly gave me a One Year Bible - New Testament, and I LOVE it! I know you could easily read the Bible chapter by chapter each day, but there is something about having it all divided for me that I just really like. Each night before bed I read my daily reading and write down at least one Bible verse that spoke to me in a journal my mom bought me years ago. I recently started reading Revelation for the first time, and I'm quickly realizing what an intense book it is. There is a lot of symbolism that I don't fully understand, but what I do know is that Revelation captures what will happen at the End of Days. The thought of this world ceasing to exist both excites me and scares me all at the same time.

I think between Pastor Danny's sermon series, which has forced me to identify where I am in this "bigger story", and reading about the End of Days in Revelation, I am seeing the world in a way I've never viewed it before. Going back to Pastor Danny's question from Week 1, "Will you wake up and see the bigger story and choose to step into something greater?" My answer is YES. I am awake. I do want to step into something greater. I want to live a life bigger than myself. This is a glimpse of my heart.

Last night I had a dream, an overwhelming dream that has left me intrigued and fascinated all day. I dreamt that I was in a building, one similar to our church, and the auditorium was filled to capacity with people. I found myself in a room behind the stage, and all of the sudden, I saw Jesus descending into the room. I ran out to tell everyone in the auditorium, but when I got there, the people had already seen Jesus returning to earth. A large number of people had left altogether, and I couldn't understand why. Jesus stood at the top of the stairs, and I fell to my knees and put my forehead to the ground. I remember thinking in my dream, "How will I spend eternity in Heaven?" At that moment, while on my knees with my head to the ground, I thought to myself, "I could just lie like this forever." I had never felt so much full satisfaction in my life. It was truly incredible! As I looked up, still on my knees, I saw a waterfall flowing down in front of the auditorium. Jesus told us that he loved us so much that he sacrificed his own life so that we could spend our lives and eternity with God. He walked over to the waterfall, where a cross was suspended in the air right in front of the waterfall. Jesus took his place on the cross, as if to say, "I would gladly give my life all over again if it would bring you back to me." I turned and looked to see someone I love very much staring back at me. He started asking me about having to make this change or do this act or be this kind of person. When I answered him, I said, "All you have to do is tell God that you love Him, that you believe that Jesus died for your sins, and ask that God forgive you. Ask God to come into your heart, and when He does, He will work through you to make your life more fulfilling and wonderful than you could ever have imagined. You, too, will jump into something greater if you let God lead you for the rest of your life." Then I woke up.

I'm still left to wonder, who will I spend eternity with in heaven? Whose lives will be influenced by this blog? How can I let God work through me without getting in His way by being to fearful to share what I'm learning and how my life is changing every day? This, again, is a glimpse of my heart. Thank you for letting me share with you.


Snow Baby Video

This video is too good not to post on my blog!

Snow Baby

This winter has seriously been colder than any winter I can remember! I'm sure there have been plenty of winters in the past with temperatures between 6 and 18 degrees for weeks in a row, right? Every winter I ask myself, "Why do we live in Indiana?" Every year I quickly remember all of our loved ones who live here, and the dreams of warmer climates, sandy beaches, and sunny days melt away.

Last week we got our first big snow! When I say "big" snow, I mean 5 inches. Yeah, it's pretty puny when you think about states like Montana or life in Lake Tahoe. This was Noah's first REAL experience of playing in the snow because last year he could only sit in the snow. Ryan and I were so excited to break out a sled that my Dad and Danette got Noah and have some fun!

As things like this always go, you spend 80% of the time preparing to go outside to play and 20% of the time actually playing. Fortunately, Noah's still in diapers, so we didn't have to worry about getting him all suited up only to find ourselves undressing him so that he could go to the bathroom. Finally, a plus for wearing diapers! Ryan and I broke out our old skiing and snowboarding gear, and I have to say, I was really craving those slopes again. It seems like a past life when we used to go on those adventures. Hopefully I'll get to blog about going again this winter. Anyone want to come?

Once we got outside, we plopped Noah down in the sled and pushed him down the itty bitty hill in our backyard. This sled also has a rope pull in the front of it, so Ryan pulled Noah around our yard while Kya ran circles around us. Noah LOVED it! What he did not like was the cold wind whipping his little cheeks, but even so, Noah really seems to enjoy himself.

After being pulled around the yard a few times, I decided to teach Noah one of the greatest things about being a kid - eating snow all you want without people looking at you like you're crazy! Of course I had to demonstrate how to do it, and I immediately realized that it must've been at least 4 years since I last tasted cold, delicious snow. I'm going to make it a priority to eat snow at least once every winter! Are you truly living if you're not eating snow?

Yes, that is Noah's Cozy Coupe frozen in the midst of the snowy backyard. OOPS! Can I blame that on Noah? Still too young to have to pick up his own toys? Ok, I'll take responsibility!

We were probably outside for maybe 10-15 minutes, and when we brought Noah inside, his cheeks were so perfectly pink. He seriously looks like a baby doll here!

Blog entries like this make me so glad that I started writing this blog two and a half years ago. I would never remember the details of simple days like playing the snow. I am so thankful for the time I have to document our lives, and I hope all of you enjoy it, too. I'm starting to have anywhere between 30 and 100 hits on my blog every day. When I started writing, my audience was much smaller. Now that so many people are reading my blog, I love the comments you leave and the emails I receive asking about different things I've written about at one time or another. I would love for more of you to leave comments. As we head further into 2010, are there certain things you'd like for me to write about? I'm making some changes to my blog - the name, layout, design, etc. I hope you enjoy what the future will bring!


New Years Eve 2009

A picture Ruby (age 4) took of Noah and me

Happy New Year! Our friends Devin and Abigail asked us what we would call 2010. Would we say "two-thousand ten" or "twenty ten"? Well, so far I've been calling it "two-thousand ten", but they made a good point - it's not like I called 1994 "one thousand, nine hundred, ninety four." It's kind of funny when you think about it.

We found Noah like this, watching TV with his buddies.

Noah, Ruby, and Isaac

Anyway, once again this year we got together with some friends from church, just like we did in 2008 and 2009. There were 8 adults and 8 kids, and everyone seemed to get along great! We started the evening off with an omelet bar and pancakes. The kids eat first, and then the adults scarf down some delicious food, too. Beckie is really clever and takes the extra toppings, eggs, etc. and makes everyone a breakfast casserole for the following morning - that way no one has to cook a big breakfast the next morning after staying up late. BRILLIANT.

Beckie and sweet Kayla, the youngest babe in the bunch

This was the first time we've ever been able to take Noah to a get together, and for the most part, just let him play by himself with the other kids. We checked on him from time to time, but he's really starting to hold his own. It was nice! Usually, he goes to bed around 7 p.m., but since it was a special occasion with lots of fun kids to play with that night, the little guy made it until about 9 p.m. When we finally put him down for bed, I think he was asleep before his head hit the pack n' play.

The guys played tennis on our Wii, while the girls played Word on the Street. The concept was simple, and we had a lot of fun playing it! Beckie prides herself on winning and really hates to lose - probably worse than anyone I've ever known. So, I want to publicly announce that Angie and I beat Beckie and Jackie during our second round of Word on the Street! Can you hear the applause? I'm still basking in the sound of it.

Ryan playing the new Mario Brothers with the kids

Next, we pulled the guys in for our traditional game of Moods. This game is hilarious!! There are 10 different cards on the board with different moods (e.g., romantic, zany, jealous, etc.). You roll the 10-sided die and the number that you roll corresponds to a mood on the board, but no one gets to see what number you've rolled. You draw a card and have to say that phrase in whatever mood you rolled. For example, you might have to say, "Don't touch it. It's dirty," in an "ashamed" voice. Yes, that totally happened, and it was hilarious! Then, you get points if you guess the speaker's mood correctly. Plus, you earn points if you are the speaker, and people correctly guess the mood you are depicting. It is hilarious! Last year, we were so busy being entertained by this game that we totally missed the ball drop. I am not joking.

This year we kept our eyes on the clock and a few minutes before midnight, Beckie and I started pouring sparkling white grape juice (my favorite) into enough glasses for all of the adults and kids, who were still going strong! The countdown began, and when the ball dropped, I gave my husband a smooch, wished him a Happy 5 Year Anniversary and started clinking glasses and saying, "Cheers!" to everyone in the room. Noah woke up from all of the excitement, so Ryan and I packed up our things to go back home. We had a great time with our friends! It was a great way to ring in 2010!

Noah in his sleep sack and sock hat - ready to go back to bed!


Christmas Tour - Part V

Our Christmas adventures continued as we loaded up the CR-V one more time the day after Christmas to go celebrate with my dad and Danette. When Noah woke up that morning, we already had the car loaded up and ready to go. Noah scarfed down a banana, and we put some Cheerios in a snack trap. Seriously, what we would do without the snack trap? I'd probably have 300 Cheerios and Goldfish spilled all over my car rather than just three or four. Kya joined us for our trip up north, too. After a quick stop at Hardees for our favorite bacon, egg, and cheese biscuits, we were on our way!

Sidenote - Kya and Noah are really becoming best buddies. She is so sweet to him, and Noah just loves her. We have been really strict with Noah about how he treats Kya, making sure he is always gentle and kind to her. We want him to be good to all animals, and you just never know how a dog will react if you get a little rough.

The ride up to my hometown went really smoothly, but we had one small pit stop to make before going to Dad and Danette's house. I had been in touch with an old friend, Desiree, about a possible Christmas present for my Dad and Danette. She is getting her photography business off the ground, so we bought a gift certificate for a 2-3 hour session fee and a CD with digital images from her. We met at the one and only doctor's office in my hometown, made the exchange, talked for a few seconds, and then we were off to get to Dad and Danette's house for lunch.

Once we arrived, we carried our belongings up to the second floor and settled into my old bedroom. My brother and Kristen had already arrived, and before I knew it, we were all enjoying a wonderful Christmas lunch. Noah was whining through the meal quite a bit, which I still haven't gotten completely comfortable with yet. I ended up deciding to let him just play with the toys while we ate. Sometimes you just have to pick your battles, and I didn't feel like fighting him if he wasn't going to eat anyway.

Lunch was fantastic, as usual, and after putting Noah down for a nap, it was time to open some gifts. We gave Dad and Danette their gift certificate, and they seemed excited for a chance to have some family pictures taken this Spring outdoors once the weather warms up. We also gave Dan and Kristen Partini, a board game we haven't played, though it looks like it will be fun. My Dad and Danette gave Ryan a bass guitar, and he loves it! Their dogs, Luca and Jada, wrote us a Christmas letter, which is always fun to read out loud. Again, I'm saving my gifts for a future post - I can't wait to share everything with you! :)

When Noah woke up, he opened his presents, too. He had received such awesome presents from everyone already, and my Dad and Danette were no exception. They got him two sleds (one saucer because they are the fastest and one that Ryan, Noah, and I can all fit on when we got sledding!), a set of MegaBloks, a horse's head on a stick (do you know what I'm talking about??), a Quad, Melissa and Doug's cookie set, a train, a wooden puzzle, and some really cute clothes. I think my favorite is this little Charlie Brown t-shirt. He wore that the other night with a pair of jeans and looked so cute! They picked out some guitar pjs and a t-shirt, along with a Pink Floyd t-shirt. What's wild is how much he loves every single thing they picked out! He thinks he is such big stuff when he rides his little four-wheeler around the house.

That evening we went to The Brownstone for dinner and met up with my cousin Joey, his wife Katey, and their kids Sidney and Aubrey. We had a nice visit with everyone, and once dinner was over, Dan and Kristen were off to Fort Wayne. The snow had been coming down for awhile that evening, so I'm glad they left at a decent hour. Even though my hometown is only 2 hours north of Indy, the weather is really very different! They will get several inches of snow, and we will get nothing. Plus, since there are so many country roads, they just don't get cleared as well as the city streets.

We went back to parents' house and tried to watch one of Ryan's favorite movies, Private Eyes. As per usual, I fell asleep in about 30 minutes. I still have never seen that movie beginning to end. I slept like a rock that night and can hardly remember the walk upstairs to bed.

We woke up early the next morning to go to church with Dad and Danette. They have been going to the United Methodist Church for several months now, so I was excited to attend their 8:15 a.m. contemporary service. I feel silly writing this, but I like to be honest in my blogs, so I'm going to tell you the truth here. I was nervous taking Noah to the nursery that morning. In fact, I tried to keep him with us during the service for as long as possible. At our church, there is a safety net for the kids. For example, they do criminal history checks on volunteers. There is a computerized check-in and check-out system, and there is actual security on duty during the services. This helps the paranoid part of my brain relax during church. My parents' church does not have these types of safety features for kids. When Noah became too noisy and busy to handle during the service, Ryan took him out to check out the nursery. When he came back empty handed, I asked, "So did you leave him in the nursery?" Ryan replied, "Yeah, there was just one other kid and his mom hanging out down there." I had to laugh to myself - I had gotten all worked up for nothing. SURPRISE!

Before taking Noah to the nursery, though, Pastor Rob did a little "children's discussion." All the kids went to the front of the church, and Pastor Rob used a fun toy to help share a message from the Bible with the kids. Ryan took Noah up to the front, sat on the floor, and watched as Pastor Rob shared his message. It was really sweet! I snapped a quick picture on my phone just to capture the moment.

The message Pastor Rob gave was really good! I remember going to that church from time to time and not really understanding the message. I don't know if it was my age or if the message had so much scripture that I didn't understand - I don't know. Regardless, I really enjoyed this one! It was also awesome to hear that even though the church is really small, they were able to raise enough money to feed a group of children in Africa for 6 months. Isn't it amazing what we can do if we work together??

After church we had breakfast at Bob Evans, and just like the day before, Noah was pretty out of sorts. He barely ate his brunch and was whining a lot - everyone's favorite when they are trying to enjoy a delicious meal! We drove back to my parents' house and put Noah down for a nap. I think he slept a good three hours that day. In the meantime, Dad, Danette, Ryan, and I played the new Mario Bros Wii Game. It was hilarious!! I seriously also peed my pants a few times laughing so hard. Danette had never played a video game like that before, so she was especially hilarious to watch. :) After playing for awhile, Dad, Ryan, and I fell asleep for a bit and didn't even hear Noah when he woke up. Luckily, Danette got him out of bed, so not only did we get a little extra sleep, but we also dodged a poopy diaper - AWESOME!

The snow was still coming down, so we decided we better hit the road. After a nearly tearful goodbye (it's always hard to say goodbye!), we were out the door. The normal 2 hours, 15 minute drive ended up taking us FOUR hours. I'm pretty sure we went 30-40 miles per hour the entire way home. It was pretty insane, but we took it slow and steady and didn't have any problems.

By about 5:00 p.m., Ryan needed a break from driving, so we stopped at McDonalds for some dinner. We almost never give Noah fast food, but this was a special occasion. We bought him a Happy Meal, including French fries (GASP!). He ate all six chicken nuggets, and I'm guessing he would have eaten the entire container of fries had I not cut him off. Ask Dad and Danette - this kid likes his fries.

Did you know McDonalds has special toys for kids under 3 years old? Noah got a cell phone with his Happy Meal, and I snapped a quick picture of him chatting with his friend, Evelyn. Please notice all of the grease and nastiness on his little face. :)

Four hours later, we found ourselves at home! Hallelujah! What was the first thing I did when we got home? That's right - I took Noah on a ride down the driveway on his new sled!! You can barely see us in this picture because it was so dark outside! Noah smiled the whole way down.

We let Noah play for about an hour before putting him to bed. He was asleep in no time! Ryan and I were so glad to be home after a fun week of touring around to our family's houses, celebrating Christmas with everyone. I think we parked it on the couch and stared silently at the TV until one of us was finally tired enough to say, "Let's go to bed." We had a lot of memories for the Christmas 2009 Tour and went to sleep excited to see how we were going to spend our last days of 2009.


Christmas Tour - Part IV

Remember the day when you were little, and you stopped believing in Santa? Wasn't it such a sad day? I found out just days before my seventh birthday. A couple weeks ago I wrote about an old Christmas Memory. Well, after seeing Santa with my own eyes, I had to go share the great news with all the kids in my kindergarten class. Just when I thought they would start "ooing" and "ahhing" over my amazing story, instead they laughed - they couldn't believe I still believed in Santa. I ran home from school that day, tears streaming down my face. I remember sitting on my dad's lap that evening and telling him what happened. I said, "Dad, is it true that there really isn't a Santa Claus?" He brought out the pictures he had taken that Christmas of his friend Dave Thompson dressed up like Santa to surprise me. My brother had been in on it the whole time, too. I was crushed. Because I didn't really have a deep understanding for the true meaning of Christmas at that time - or for many years after that - the "magic" of Christmas really didn't seem the same anymore...

...that is until we had Noah. I get to live in the magic and wonder of Santa Claus all over again now that we have kids! It is a huge perk of being a parent! :) Yes, there are dirty diapers. Yes, there are long days. But, you get to BELIEVE all over again - maybe not in just a specific person, but in the acts of loving one another, giving gifts to those you love, helping those who need it, and thinking of others more than yourself. That is who Santa Claus really is, right?

So when our Christmas Eve celebration with Ryan's family ended, we stopped by to see our friends, the Larsen's. Ryan has known Paul and Marie Larsen since junior high when he and their son Jason became best friends. Jason recently got married to an awesome girl named Kim, and they had a son named Chase. Then, they moved away to North Carolina, and we miss them immensely! Anyway, they were in town for the holidays, so we stopped over for a bit to have a visit with them before heading home. Chase is getting so big, and we had a great time visiting with our friends.

Once we finally got home, it was time for some real fun! Ryan's parents had surprised us with a snowblower, and Ryan took the box and made Noah a house out of it. He has honestly played in that box a ton! Would you believe that Noah, Kya, and I all fit inside the house with the door closed? If only I had a picture to prove it.

Next, it was time to pick out some cookies for Santa.

Noah picked out a nice sugar cookie for Santa, but then he ate it.

Then we poured Santa a nice cold glass of milk.

Noah was so sleepy, despite eating half of the sugar cookie, that when we put him to bed, he fell asleep in no time. It was time for Santa's elves to get to work! Noah's little kitchen and all the fun Melissa and Doug food was ready to go!

The Christmas tree lights were shining brightly, and the stockings were ready to go. All that was left to do was to go to sleep and dream of what was to come the next morning.

Noah slept until about 8:00 a.m., and I felt the excitement of Christmas morning. Ryan, Noah, and Kya waited at the top of the stairs so that I could capture everything.

Once Noah spotted his new kitchen, he began playing...

...and playing...

...and playing. Seriously. he did not stop playing with his kitchen the entire day except to eat or sleep. Santa did really well!!!

I made breakfast that morning: Crescent French Toast, Scrambled Eggs, and Bacon.

Noah even got to dip his French toast in syrup for the first time. He loved it!

After breakfast Noah went back to playing with his kitchen again. We tried to show him other unopened gifts, but each time the tantrum got a little worse. I think he was so overstimulated by all his new toys! We decided to put him down for a morning nap, and once again, he fell asleep immmediately. Ryan and I opened out gifts. We decided to put a limit of $100 on our gifts this year. I bent the rules a little, getting him $100 worth of gifts from me and then another $20 worth of gifts from Noah. I got him a Chord Finder, a new pair of Sketchers, and a Resident Evil Wii game. Noah "picked out" a new t-shirt and a new book called Save Me From Myself, which is about the lead guitarist from Korn who left his life of drug addiction and fame when he became a Christian. I think Ryan read it in two days, which means it must have been good because Ryan doesn't like reading. Once again, I'm going to save what I received from Ryan for another post. Stay tuned!

After opening presents, I started our Christmas meal - Kelli's Tasty Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, and Green Beans Almondine. As I was heating up the roaster that Kelli let me borrow, we smelled plastic burning. Sure enough, I left the knife that was inside its plastic case in the roaster. OOPS! Fortunately, it wasn't too big of a mess. Ryan saved the day and pulled the grossness out of the turkey, and before I knew it, that bird was roasting and making the house smell sooo good!
When Noah woke up from his THREE hour nap (note: he slept 13 hours the night before), we took him into the living room where his other presents were waiting to be unwrapped. He wasn't that into opening them, but once he saw what was inside, he was excited! He also loved his new puzzle, slinky dog, and Polar Express book.

Noah loves his new "ta-tar!"

Before I knew it, the turkey was ready to be carved. I have never made a turkey, let alone carved one, so I did the best I could.

Lunch was DELICIOUS! I quickly learned that turkey truly is one of the easiest things you can make. See, look at Noah already diving into it. Oh wait, I forgot. He spit out my turkey and ate chicken nuggets instead. Oh well!

We spent the rest of the day playing with Noah. Once he went to bed, Ryan and I played video games instead of watching our traditional "It's a Wonderful Life." Now that I think of it, that makes me sad because I love that movie. Guess what we're going to be watching tonight?

We had a perfect Christmas together as a family. As I feel my heart growing closer and closer to God, Christmas is meaning so much more to me now than it ever has. Knowing that Jesus was born solely for the purpose of saving US just amazes me more and more. I don't know if I'll ever truly be able to wrap my mind around His life and His sacrifice. My hope is that as Noah grows older and someday learns that a man named Santa Claus does not really put his gifts under the tree, he will still keep the spirit of Santa Claus alive, loving others, helping others, and giving to others. And most importantly, I hope that Noah will also understand that Jesus is the greatest Christmas gift of all.
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