Christmas Without the "Stuff"

First of all, I know it has been forever since I've written a post.  I apologize.  I always say I'll get better, but I never do, so this time I am not going to make you any promises.  I'm posting today and that's all that matters.  :)

We've been focusing a lot in our house on reducing the "stuff" that we've accumulated.  We still have a long way to go, but we're getting there.  Our current challenge is getting through the Christmas season without a.) undoing all we've accomplished and b.) celebrating a wonderful Christmas season that the children will look back on and enjoy.  What are your favorite memories of Christmas?  Mine involve making cookies with my mom, going on a sleigh ride, visiting my grandparents, going to see the Christmas lights and Christmas Eve church service.  There are a few toys that stick out in my memory too, but not that many.  I remember my first Nintendo.  I remember receiving a swim suit that I really wanted.  I also remember this giant bean bag chair that was wrapped in a sheet.  For the most part though, my memories involved things that we did and not the things that we received.

With that in mind, as well as our mission to reduce our family spending, we've decided that Christmas will be different this year.  Each child will receive two or three presents to open on Christmas morning.  When purchasing these gifts, we asked ourselves the following questions:  Does it encourage creativity?  Do they have something similar?  Is it educational?  Will it create a family memory?

If you're considering downsizing your children's playrooms, here are a few ideas that I've compiled for gift giving:

1.  Memberships to some sort of activity (the zoo, the children's museum, the recreation centers, etc.)
2.  Gift certificates to an activity (Frankie's Fun Park, Chuck E Cheese's, miniature golf place, bowling, etc.)
3.  Spa trip - there are many spas that have packages designed for little girls
4.  Trip - It doesn't have to be something huge.  A night's stay a town over at a nice hotel with a pool is an adventure to kids
5.  Tickets - To a play, an aquarium, a theme park, etc. - anything that pique's the child's interest
6.  Books - Be careful here as many tend to accumulate a lot of books too; however, if they are a topic that the child enjoys and you know they'll read it, it may be worth the purchase.
7.  Art supplies - Great for older children.  Inspires creativity.
8.  Family board games can create amazing memories
9.  Electronics and accessories - As with books, it's easy to have too many, but generally they do not take up much room and children get a lot of use out of them
10.  Dress up clothes - Again, creativity!

For fun, here's a list of items that I would suggest not be purchased for Christmas or birthday presents:

1.  Anything that does not come equip with an "OFF" button
2.  Something that will get stuck in the foot of the poor unsuspecting person that steps on it
3.  Stuffed animals (the poor things are loved for 10 minutes and then forgotten)
4.  Toys with a lot of parts (kids are going to lose a part - I promise)
5.  Living creatures
6.  Anything that involves an oven (easy bake, cupcake maker, bug factory, etc.) - that's just asking for a trip to the hospital.  Also, have you ever tried to eat an Easy Bake Oven cake?  *gags*

Our goal is to make this Christmas season very special for the children and to help them understand that Christmas is about Jesus and giving and not about the presents they receive.  To help redirect this focus, we're planning some fun activities.  Here are a few of the things that we're doing:

1.  The children are picking out some of their gently-used toys to donate to charity
2.  We'll make cookies together and deliver them to a fire department, police department or hospital on Christmas Eve or Day (we haven't hashed out the details yet)
3.  We'll celebrate the season of Advent and discuss the events leading up to, including and following Jesus' birth

We'll also go see the lights, attend one or more Christmas parades, and play and sing along to Christmas music.  Hopefully, with all that is going on this year, the kiddos won't even notice that their Christmas loot has shrunk dramatically. 

What are your plans for gift giving this year?  Do you have any other items to add to the lists?  I'd especially love to hear suggestions for the do not buy list.  

All I Want for Christmas... to go to Haiti.  I know people often say "I don't need anything for Christmas/my birthday/etc." but I really don't.  If there is one thing that I have learned since visiting Haiti is that I have more than enough of everything.  I am truly blessed to have a nice roof over my head, a dependable car in the garage, food in the fridge and plenty of extra things that I really don't need.  There is something I'm missing though.  I think I left a piece of my heart in Haiti and I need to go back and find it.  :)

Early next year, I am planning to return to Haiti, this time, with Chris.  I'm very excited to be sharing this experience with him!  With both of us going, it means that we'll need to raise double the amount that I raised for my last trip.  This worries me a little, but I'm sure it will all work out in the end.

One way that Chris and I have discussed raising money for our trip is to ask family and friends to consider donating to our mission trip instead of purchasing us Christmas presents and I would also ask the same for my birthday.  Of course, we do not mean that everyone should rush out and make donations to our trip because of my upcoming birthday or Christmas (although they'd be appreciated!), we just as that, if you were planning on purchasing something for us, that you consider donating to our mission work instead.

Donations may made payable to "Restore Haiti" and sent to PO Box 680278, Franklin TN 37068 with "Chris & Karen Hall, Feb. 16-23 2013 trip" in the memo.  Your donation is tax deductible.

Thank you and God Bless!

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"  Matthew 25:40

A Sprint or a Marathon?

When Chris and I first started dating, we stayed up until 2am on a regular basis talking and getting to know each other.  He would groggily walk out the front door and I'd crawl into bed for a few hours before getting up with the kids between 5 and 6am.  I remember explaining my lack of energy to a friend of mine who inquired, "Are you planning on this relationship being a sprint or a marathon?"  I immediately thought, "Marathon!" but realized that I couldn't keep up the pace.  Something had to give.  Chris and I quickly adapted to a new routine that involved more time together on the weekends and less on work nights.  We started into our marathon pace and have been jogging along ever since.

Last school year, I sprinted and I sprinted HARD.  It was the year I did everything.  Well, not everything, but it sure felt that way!  I tried to work around Cadence's school schedule by working from home from 5am until 6:30am and then going into the office from 8am until 2pm.  I was supposed to be finished work at 2pm, but I usually ended up working in the afternoons because there was always something I had to do.  In addition to working, I was a room mom for Cadence's class; I served on the board for my professional organization; I began couponing and even tried to run a frugal parenting site; I focused on raising money for my summer mission trip to Haiti; I attended soccer practices for two children; and, since I wasn't busy enough, I trained for three half marathons.  I did all of this while still trying to keep up with all of my stay-at-home-mom friends when it came to cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and executing Pinterest projects and while trying to keep up with seemingly everyone I had ever known via Facebook.  I was attempting to run a marathon at a sprinter's pace.

This school year, I'm slowing down to the jogging pace that I love and therefore some things are going to have to go.  My children and their activities definitely are not going anywhere and I wouldn't trade them for the world, but that means other things will need to be adjusted.  Other commitments, hobbies and interests that have previously been very important to me will need to go to the back burner for a while to make room.  I'm giving up on trying to keep up with Pinterest and I'm going do the always-dreaded Facebook housecleaning.  ;)  I mean, who really knows 350+ people...?  :)  Please don't take offense.  It is time for me to regroup and focus on what needs my attention the most.  It is time to start my marathon pace especially since this school year is already proving to be a tough run.

Haiti - Day 5

We met for our usual morning prayer on the roof and then headed to the Restoration house for breakfast.  We had spaghetti with sausage that was similar to a hot dog.  There was no sauce, but it was really good!  We also had pineapple, scrambled and boiled eggs, bananas and bread with peanut butter.

I went back to the hill by the castle to carry the sand and gravel down the hill.  I made several trips and then stopped to play soccer with some of the local children.

While I was talking to some of the men the soccer ball came in my direction.  I tried to kick it back but it went off of the side of my foot and fell about 20 feet into a huge canyon full of trash.  I felt terrible!  One of the kids climbed in after it.  He pulled his shirt over his face to protect himself from the bugs and slowly maneuvered his way to the ball.  He had one foot on one ledge and one foot on another.  The ball was about 5 feet directly below him.  He inched his way down until he was in a full split.  He tilted forward until he was upside down and reaching above his head.  He just barely reached it.  He wanted me to take his picture so I did.  He threw the ball up and the kids cheered.  I think I'm banned from playing soccer now.

We had hot dogs, fried potatoes and spicy cole slaw for lunch.  After we ate, we went to the church for the feeding program.  I met Rose again and we spent the afternoon in the church yard.  She drew the a flower in my journal and wrote that she was 8 years old.  I wrote that I was 30 and she was shocked.  I laughed!  We sat in the back of the tap tap and took pictures.  She took several of me and I took a lot of her.  I taught her how to do Chris's "metal face" and took her picture.  I can't wait to show that to Chris and the kids.  We have pictures of our kids doing that since they were babies.  It's sort of an inside family joke now.  :)

That afternoon was spent in the lobby talking with the rest of the group.  I really enjoyed the time that we spent together.  It's amazing how five people that were once almost strangers to me can become some of my close friends in such a short time.  :)

That evening we went back to the Restoration house for dinner.  We had a stew with beef and carrots served over rice.  After dinner, Pastor Lafleur surprised a couple on the other team with a beautiful cake for their anniversary.  It was such a sweet gesture!

After dinner, we went back to the church yard.  There was a toddler walking around in just a t-shirt.  No diaper.  The adults were rehearsing in the church, so the baby was on his own.  I picked him up and he snuggled up against my neck.  I asked how old he was and found out that he was almost exactly the same age as William.  I snuggled with him until it was time to go back to the hotel.

We met for our devotional and then headed off to bed.

Haiti - Day 4

We woke up this morning just before 7am.  Thankfully we had running water!  Unfortunately, there was no time to shower.  :(  We tried calling home but there was no wifi.  We met on the roof for prayer.  Then we went to the Restoration House and had eggs, bread, peanut butter, pineapple, banana and coffee.  It was great!

After breakfast, Pastor Lafleur discussed the tasks that we were to complete.  I chose to work on the hill by the "castle" house.  We hauled gravel, concrete and cement blocks down a very steep hill on a pat that was about a quarter of a mile long.  It was very hot.  At least yesterday we were able to take breaks in the shade, but today was just sun.  There were two small shady spots, but even they didn't seem to relieve the heat.

After a few hours we headed back.  The walk through the village was pretty.  The hard work was totally worth the view.  On the way back someone pointed out what they thought was a catholic church.  I peaked into the "church" but didn't see a cross.  I said that I didn't believe it was a church and returned to the road.  We later found out it was a voodoo temple.  I'm glad that I didn't have any part of that.  A few other individuals stepped inside and took pictures.  That worried me a little.

I was tired after lunch and could have easily taken a nap, but it was time to go to the feeding program.  As soon as I stepped on the church yard, I felt Rose grab my hand.  She has the most beautiful smile.  She pulled me around the side of the church and asked me to paint her nails.  I gladly so so even though it meant painting over yesterday's manicure.

Other children started to gather and Rose tried to make them go away.  She told them I was *her* sponsor. I gave Rose some stickers and a piece of candy and told her I was going to give some to the other kids.  They crowded in.  There were probably 60 or more surrounding me.  I told them to get in a line.  A gentleman came over and helped control the chaos.  After the majority of the kids received a treat, the man told them we were done.  Rose zipped my back pack closed.  As we walked away, there was a little toddler about Liam's age wearing a t-shirt and diaper looking at me with huge, hopeful brown eyes and a cupped, outstretched hand.  How could I say "no" to that?  Even the man who had been helping me said "Awww..... baby."  I reached into my bag for one last sucker.  It was great to see him smile.

I was fortunate that day, to meet Rose's family.  She lives with her aunt, grandmother and cousin.  Her mother died when she was a month old.  That broke my heart into a million pieces.  In my mind, she had a mommy that loved her very much and she went home to her every day after school.  I could tell that her family loved her but I was very sad that she didn't have a mom.  I enjoyed speaking to Rose's family about her.  I learned her clothing size, shoe size and other information that I didn't previously have.

After the feeding program was over, we went back to the hotel and everyone was excited to hear about my meeting with Rose's family.  It was awesome to share my story with them.  That night, at the Restoration House, we had what can only be described as liquefied Cinnamon Toast Crunch for dinner.  It was good but hot.  Looking back, I'm not exactly sure how I feel about hot porridge when it is so hot outside.  :)

My Eight Month Journey

This is sort of a difficult topic for me.  Have you ever looked at a picture of yourself and thought "Wow, that's not a very good picture."?  I'm sure we all have.  Well, last November, I looked at a picture that downright terrified me.  After having three kids and turning 30, I had come to terms with the fact that I'd never be a supermodel, but wow, that picture... was baaaaad.  Until that moment, I didn't realize how much I had changed over the last few years.  I knew that I wanted to look different.  Better.  Not thinner, but healthier.  Not skinny, but fit.

Three weeks prior to this picture, I had run my first half marathon.  One would think I was pretty fit, but I wasn't properly balancing my diet and exercise.  In my mind, I could drink a few glasses of wine or beer because I ran 5 miles earlier that day.  I could eat whatever I wanted, because I was running.  Unfortunately, it doesn't work quite like that.

For the next eight months, I made my health a priority.  I watched the foods that I ate.  I met with a trainer.  I regularly did cardio and weight training.  Did I slip up?  Sure.  I still enjoy dessert from time to time.  I'll have a few beers with friends occasionally, but not every day.  Do you know what I've learned from this?  I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything.  I love going to the gym.  I love running.  I love eating fresh veggies.  I love feeling great.  I've also learned that a great support system is key.  In addition to my husband and kiddos, I have a wonderful group of ladies that have have cheered me on every step of the way.  I'm a lucky girl.

I'm down just over 30lbs from my November picture and my dress size has gone from a size 14 to a size 8.  I'm still a work in progress and I plan to continue training and pushing my limits.  I enjoy the challenge.  I'll never be a supermodel and that's okay.  I am happier and healthier, and that's all that matters.

Haiti - Day 3

We woke up at 6:20 a.m..  We've been showering at night for 2 reasons:  1) It is hot, so it is a great way to cool down, and 2) we are nasty when we come back to our room, so we have to shower.  This has been helpful for the mornings though as our hair dries mostly during the night.  All we have to do is change and head out.

We rode the tap tap to breakfast and enjoyed the same eggs with onions and spices as the day before.  We also had mango, banana, peanut butter on bread and coffee.  I also had a small piece of cheese that was similar to farmer's cheese.  It was delicious.

After breakfast we met to discuss what project we'd be working on.  I chose to work on digging a trench to pour concrete in order to build an extension on one family's home.  Currently a mother, father and 3 or 4 children are living in a 2-room house.

The work was challenging but fulfilling.  I swung a pick ax and shoveled gravel and hard dirt.  I stopped for a few minutes to play with some kids.  I gave them stickers and let them run off with my iPhone and camera.  One boy discovered Robot Unicorn Attack and laughed and laughed as he played it.  I retrieved my camera long enough to take a video and thought of my brother-in-law and that, because of him (because he introduced it to me), kids in Haiti now love that game.

After several hours of work, we wet back to the church.  The kids were playing and we joined them for a minute.  They wanted me to hold their lands and lift them in their air.  My arms were exhausted from picking and shoveling but there is always enough strength left for that.

We headed to the Restoration House for lunch.  On the walk over, a boy kept saying "iPod? iPod?"  I smiled and then he said, "Justin?  Justin Bieber?"  I never wished so hard that I had Justin Bieber before on my phone.  Here is this kid, who may not have running water, but he knew what an iPod was and he knew who Justin Bieber is!  How cool is that!?!  A Restoration House, lunch was an amazing stew with beef, carrots, potatoes and dumplings.  We also enjoyed a Coke. :)

After lunch we went to the church to help with the feeding program.  Although it was a littel crazy, it was amazing seeing all the kids.  The best moment of my day was when I started asking for Rose, my sponsor child.  One child said that she was Rose's cousin and that he'd go find her.  A few minutes later he returned with a beautiful little girl in a blue and white dress.  It was Rose.  I said, "My name is Karen.  I am your sponsor."  She didn't understand and looked at her cousin.  He translated.  Her eyes got wide and she smiled.  She threw her arms around my neck.  It was like receiving a hug from an angel.  Best.  Feeling.  Ever.  I walked her back to the church and took pictures of her enjoying her lunch.  It is amazing to see that I really can make a difference in some one's life.

Rose left and I played with the other children.  We painted their nails and then one girl wanted to paint my nails too.  Some of the children ran off with my journal.  They drew pictures for me and wrote messages to me in it.  The children understand and respect things that we let them borrow.  I had no problem letting a child walk around the community earlier that day with my camera.  I didn't mind them wearing my back pack or sunglasses or playing with my phone.  I knew it would all come back to me.

After playing for a while it was time to go back to the hotel and prepare to go out to dinner.  We came back to the hotel and I called my mom and Christy.  Our group chatted in the lobby for a while and then went to our rooms to take showers.  We went to dinner in the city at a place called "Sesonet" (or something similar to that).  I had roasted goat with fried plantains, fried potatoes, tomatoes, cole slaw, rice & beans and water.  I was on the verge of panic before dinner because both Candice and Elena felt sick and I just knew that we were all coming down with the flu.  After dinner though, they felt much better and we determined it was due to the heat and over exerting themselves.

On the way back to the hotel we rode in the tap tap (instead of the van that we rode on coming to dinner).  Riding through the city while sitting on the roof of a pickup truck almost gave me a heart attack.  It was much different than the slow bumpy roads near Restoration House.  I was white-knuckled the whole time.  It was nuts!

We arrived at the hotel and had a brief devotional.  I tried to take a shower but the water was ll gone.  No shower for me.  :(  Also, that meant that the toilets didn't flush.  Fantastic.

Please visit Restore Haiti.  Learn how you can sponsor a child for only $30 per month.  For non-reoccurring donations, consider providing over 400 children with a chicken leg for $250 or a glass of milk for $150.

Haiti - Day 2

We woke up at 6am and, having showered the night before, were ready and on the roof by 7am.  We prayed, took some pictures in our church attire and then went downstairs to go to breakfast.  

Breakfast was scrambled eggs with onions and spices.  There were fresh magoes and the best pineapple I've ever had  We also had some bread and peanut butter and the sweetest coffee on the planet.  

After we ate, we went to church.  The children were still in their service so we watched them sing.  It was amazing how well behaved they all were.  They listened, participated and recited bible verses from memory.  After church, we played with the kids for a while.  Candice gave out a handful of candy.  Mark, as if in slow motion, made the mistake of pulling out a whole clear bag full of candy.  The kids flocked to him and in a moment he was over run.  :)

The church

The kitchen just outside the church were all of the meals
for the feeding program are prepared

We went into the adult church.  Haitians know how to do church!  They all sang and participated.  They were excited to be there.  They even sang a song in Creole and English. It was great to be able to understand all of what they were singing instead of just fragments.  We introduced ourselves to the congregation and then listened to a plea from the pastor.  Apparently, the land in front of the church does not belong to the church.  The owner wants to build on it.  If he does that, he'll put a fence around it.  The church is located right on the property line, so a fence would block the doors.  The church has until the end of the month to raise $8,000 and prevent that from happening.  They are convinced though that God will provide a way and the money will come.

♪♫"I won't go back.
I can't go back
to the way it used to be
 before your presence came and changed me."♪♫

After church, we went to the pastor's house for lunch.  We had hot dogs, fried plantains, fried dumplings, fried potatoes and cole slaw.  The slaw had some sort of citrus in it and was very good.  After we ate, we went back to the hotel to rest up.  We were all still slightly sleep-deprived and Monday was going to bring a lot of hard work so the down time was welcomed.  

We met in the lobby and enjoyed a few Prestige beers.  In that heat, it was the best beer I had ever tasted.  


After our rest, we got back in the tap tap and went to the Restoration House for dinner.  Outside, Pastor Lafleur told us about his childhood and about the cycle of life in Haiti.  He said that his mother went to school for one day.  She did not have a pencil, so she came home and asked her father for less than a penny so she could buy a pencil.  He told her that he did not have the money to spend on school as he could barely afford to feed them.  The pastor further explained that that is the choice that most Haitians have to make:  go to school, eat, or have a roof over their heads.  The pastor's mother never went back to school.

Education was very important to Pastor Lafleur's mother.  She sent the pastor to school and therefore he grew up without much food.  He said that he remembered going four days without food.  His mother put salt in some water and gave it to him to make him feel full.  The pastor says that he "ate books" so he could eat later.  He ate knowledge so he could have a better life.  He finished every year at the top of his class.  One year he was given a can of peas and a small amount of money for his good grades.  A few days later, on Good Friday, the pastor's mother told him to wait by the road for the bus to pass.  Her boyfriend drove the bus and he would give the pastor some money so that his family could buy dinner for Good Friday.  The pastor waited for the bus for eight hours.  When it finally came, there was a different driver.  The pastor went home without any money for their Good Friday dinner.  However, because of his good grades, his family was at least able to eat the peas.  His mother used the money that came with them to buy a small amount of charcoal so she could cook them for their Good Friday meal.

The story really really made me stop and think.  I thought of all the times I've said "I'm hungry" or my kids have said "I'm starving."  We've never been hungry and we most certainly have never been starving.  We are very lucky.  After the story, no one rushed to the dinner table that night.  in fact, we all ate slowly and savored every bite we had been blessed with.

Dinner was rice with chicken legs and peas.  We also had turkey and potato salad.  The potato salad was purple from the beets that were in it.  They were amazing - and I hate beets.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and tried to call home but there was no wifi.  We spent some time doing our Bible study and then headed off to bed.

Please visit Restore Haiti.  Learn how you can sponsor a child for only $30 per month.  For non reoccurring donations, consider providing over 400 children with a chicken leg for $250 or a glass of milk for $150.

Haiti - A Memoir (Or So It Would Seem... )

Since we returned home early on Sunday morning, I've been thinking about the best way to "talk" about our trip with my Facebook friends.  I don't want to write a summarizing post and risk missing the small details that made the trip special, but I also don't want to overwhelm you all with the 77 pages that I wrote in my journal.  I think the best way to share my experience with you is the same way God shared it with me, one day at a time.  Here we go....

Day 1

Today has been my first full day in Jacmel, Haiti.  Friday night, we met at the church at 11:30 p.m.  We drove to Atlanta and arrived at the airport at about 3:30 a.m.  I honestly thought we were leaving too early, but it seemed to be a good amount of time - especially with all of the luggage we had.  Between the six of us, there were 12 carry ons and 11 large checked bags.  We checked in at 4:30 a.m. and headed to security.  My carry on back pack set off their alarm so it was fully searched.  I'd really like to know what set it off so I know not to pack that again.  It took almost an hour to get us all through security.  We found our gate and Mark, Elena, Kristy and I went to grab breakfast.  My last full "American" meal was an omelet, sausage, bacon and cheese sandwich on a croissant with a diet Pepsi.  It was awesome.

On the way back to our gate, I passed a vending machine that had items one may need while flying.  One of those items was a Kindle - a Kindle in a vending machine!  Only in America....  

We sat down near the gate and Mitch and Candice went to get some food.  I saw that I had missed a call from Big Jake (my father in law) and called him back.  I promised to be safe on my trip.  When I hung up they began boarding the plane.  The four of us stood in line and kept letting people ahead of us since Mitch and Candice had not yet returned.  They appeared just as the airline called final boarding and we were off!

Once in Miami we found out that our next flight had been over-booked.  The airline was offering $800 vouchers to 6 people that would give up our seats.  It was very tempting but we had people waiting for us in Port-au-Prince and we did not need to delay the.  The flight was so crowded that the airline gate-checked most of the large carry on bags.  I couldn't help but think of the "United Breaks Guitars" song when I overheard one of the employees complaining that they were up to four guitars.  

We were warned that the airport in Haiti would be chaotic.  It definitely was.  We filled out customs and immigration forms and then waited in a hot, sticky mess of people to go through immigration.

The immigration officer took y passport and documentation.  He stamped them and gestured for me to keep going.  He didn't ask a single question.  The immigration area provided the last opportunity for a bathroom until we arrived in Jacmel.  You'd better believe that I took advantage of that opportunity!

The majority of our luggage was thrown in the floor, despite the conveyor belts.  After some searching, pushing and some mild panic (we thought a bag was missing), we found all of our bags.  We then paid a gentleman to help us and began to venture out of the airport.  Several men rushed our carts, trying to "help" us.  They were looking for tips.  We kept saying "No merci!" but they kept coming.

Finally Candice recognized Jean Mary and Mitch saw Chris.  We followed them to the van and our luggage was loaded.  There were three vans total.  One for luggage, one for a group from Tennessee and one for us.

It seemed like it took forever to get through the sea of vehicles around the airport.  If there are traffic laws in Haiti, they are not obeyed.  There were no speed limit signs, no lines on most of the roads, very few street signs and only  handful of traffic lights (which, surprisingly, were obeyed).  The horn is the most used signal in Haiti.  when approaching an intersection, the first to beep the horn proceeds.  When passing, the horn is beeped to signal the other person to move over.

Driving through the city of Port-au-Prince was eye-opening.  I knew going into the trip that it was a poor city, but seeing it really made it hit home.  It was obvious that the poverty existed long before the earthquake, but the quake definitely didn't help.

We drove passed several tent cities - all still occupied at least to some degree.  There was trash everywhere.

People rushed the van and tried to sell us drinks, ice cream and art.  It was very overwhelming.  We passed the capital building.  The dome was almost completely collapsed by the earthquake and the remainder of the building was in shambles.

The entire drive through Port-au-Prince took a little over 2 hours.  The poor road conditions and non-existent traffic laws made for very slow travel.

Outside of the city, we began our climb into the Haitian mountains.  If Port-au-Prince were on one end of a spectrum, the mountains would be on the other.  The road was very narrow and winding, but I didn't feel like I was in danger.  I enjoyed the ride and barely flinches as we swerved around cars, livestock and people.  The driver slowed down for me once so I could get a nice picture from the top of a mountain.

The air was so much nicer up there and, for the first time since arriving I thought, "The temperature might not bee too bad!"  It turns out though that Jacmel is not in the mountains.  It is on the other side in the elevation of hot and sticky.

We went straight to the hotel and unpacked the luggage.  We were given our room assignments.  Kristy and I shared a room that had a full sized bed and a twin sized bed.  The bathroom had a toilet, large shower and a sink.  No mirror.  There was a five gallon bucket in the shower.  This could be filled and used in case the water didn't work.  That happened once on our trip.

Back in the main area of the room I thought I was seeing things.  There was an air conditioner!  Praise God!!!  Throughout the rest of the trip, we referred to this wonderful amenity as the "magic box."

We had about 20 minutes to comb our hair, drink some water, check out the rooftop and meet in the lobby to go to the Restoration House for dinner.

We rode in the back of the tap tap which is a pickup truck equip with either benches for sitting or rails for holding on.  It was a fun but bumpy ride.  We passed several children playing near the road.  They smiled and yelled "Blanc!  Blanc!"

We arrived just in time for dinner.  After the blessing, we ventured over to the spread.  I don't know what I expected the food to be like, but I know it wasn't that.  We were served an amazing stew with potatoes, dumplings, beef and vegetables.  We poured the stew over rice and drank either mango juice or water.

After dinner, Pastor LaFleur  briefed us about what to expect while we were here.  We went back to our hotel on the tap tap and met on the roof top to discuss our day and pray.  As we had been warned, the power turned off at 2am.  It took 8 minutes for the generator to turn on.  After that, the "magic box" was back on and we were very happy.

Join me next time I have 20 minutes to myself for Day 2.  In the meantime, please visit Restore Haiti.  Learn how you can sponsor a child for only $30 per month.  For non reoccurring donations, consider providing over 400 children with a chicken leg for $250 providing the same children with a glass of milk for $150.

Signs of a Working Parent

A week or so ago, I sat down to a meeting for my professional organization at a nice restaurannt.  I looked down at my hands and immediately put them in my lap.  There were Oreo cookies under my fingernails!  You see, I had just left Cadence's class where I read them the story "Diary of a Worm."  After the book, I made them a 'dirt and worms' treat using chocolate pudding, gummy worms and crumbled Oreos, the evidence of which still remained on my poor hands.  I quickly excused myself to the restroom to wash my hands.  While washing, I thought of several other things that have happened to either Chris or I that remind us, and the world, that we are working parents.

Here are a few:
  • I've had a pacifier fall out of my pocket in the middle of a conference room full of attorneys.
  • A shirt and tie is normal apparel for Chris when coaching our 4-year-old’s soccer team.
  • I've walked into an office meeting singing “fruit salad…” to myself, only to have someone respond “yummy yummy!”
  • I've had to stop court hearings to take a 15 minute pump break in the empty visiting judge chambers.
  • My designer diaper bag now functions as my brief case.
  • My 8-year-old has been on a “field trip” with me to serve a subpoena.
I'm sure there are more, but that is all I can think of right now as I've probably blocked the rest out or forgotten them due to lack of space in the 'remembering' section of my brain with all of the PTA meetings, court schedules, soccer practice schedules, work deadlines, birthday parties and professional meetings I have stored up there.

Mommy on a Mission (Trip)

It seems like I'm always on some sort of mission - a mission to be a "super mom", a mission to run a half marathon, a mission to get the kids to soccer practice on time, a mission to be a successful professional, etc.  There's always something going on.  Through all of the commotion and chaos of life, I sometimes forget to slow down and listen to the most important mission.  It is not the ones that I create for myself or for my family, but the one that God has created for me.  Its a lifelong mission full of laughter, tears and surprises.  I don't know all of the details of the mission He has created for me, but I know that there is one and try to listen when He give me hints. 

About a year ago, my neighbor and friend told me about her mission trip to Haiti.  I was immediately interested.  It was if someone said "Go.  Do that.  Help them."  From that point on, I knew that I wanted to be part of that mission.  On July 7th, I'm going to Jacmel, Haiti with a group from LifeSong Church in Lyman for a week.  We will be working with an organization called Restore Haiti.  The group that I'll be travelling with will be bringing new bras (in all sizes) and gently used, modest dresses to the women there to wear to church (many women do not attend church if they do not have a dress as they feel embarassed).  We will also have the opportunity to work on construction projects, assist in the food clinic and spend time with the people there.  I am looking forward to the trip and for the opportunity to contribute something to these people.

I will miss my family.  They are supportive of  my upcoming trip and Cadence wants to come along (maybe someday).  It will be hard to leave them, but I know that Chris is very capable of holding down the fort while I'm gone.

The cost of my trip is approximately $1,350.00.  Our group will be holding several fund raisers (so watch for news about those!), but ultimately the responsibility for the cost rests with each of us going on the trip.  I ask that you please keep me in your prayers as I prepare for this trip.  If you are able and would like to make a tax deductible contribution to the cost, please let me know and I'll provide you the information.

If you'd like to check out the information on the organization that we will be working with, you can visit their website here.

A World Without Facebook

I'm a little over half way through my Lenten fasting from Facebook (I think) so I thought I would share some of the things that I have accomplished in my time off.

1.) Disney Trip with the family - I've posted about this separately, so check it out. I'll add some pictures to Facebook when I'm back. :)

3.) Run for Your Lives - A Zombie Infested 5K - This was a fun run! It was in "Atlanta" (which is in quotation marks because it was an HOUR away from Atlanta so actually NOT in Atlanta, but whatevs). It rained for the three days leading up to the race and I've NEVER been so muddy. Here is my grand finish.

4.) Milling My Own Flour - I started this just before Lent, but I'm really getting the hang of it now. This weekend, I baked four loaves of bread for the upcoming week. It is sooooo good and so much more healthy than the stuff from the store.

5.) Losing Weight - Speaking of being healthy, I've dropped 14.5 pounds since Thanksgiving. It is slow coming off, but it's getting there. I meet with a trainer and am training for my first Tough Mudder run in October.

6.) Half Marathon Training - Speaking of training, I'm running another half marathon on April 21st in downtown Greer. I'm really excited about this run.

7.) House Cleaning - Starting this week I've begun gutting my house and doing my spring cleaning. My apologies to anyone that has stepped foot in the disaster area known as my house recently. I promise it is better now. :)

8.) House Decorating - I have a plan for the downstairs. Now I need the time, money and motivation to execute it. Renovating Chris's house a few years ago left me without the desire to ever do house projects again. I think I'm finally getting over it though.

9.) Haiti - This will be a separate entry soon as well, but I'm attending a mission trip to Haiti in July. I'm very excited to have the opportunity to meet and help the people there and do God's work.

10.) Becoming More of a Hippie Mom - Is that possible? Yes! We now proudly buy 75-90% of our meat from a local farmer; we drink raw milk also purchased from a local farmer; and, as I mentioned before, we mill our own flour to make bread. The grain comes from a local distributor as well. In a few weeks the farmer's markets will be in full swing, and I'll be buying all of our produce there. I'd love to grow it myself but, alas, my thumb is NOT green. Although, I did just plant a fig tree in our backyard. Please cross your fingers for me that it survives and flourishes!

So there are ten things that I've been doing while away from Facebook. :)

Our Disney Trip and Useful Tips for Families with Small Children

We just got home from our first Disney World trip with all three children. We had a great time during our short trip and we learned a lot about flying with small children, Disney with small children and just traveling with small children in general.

Friday morning we surprised the children by waking them up super early and telling them we were going to Disney World and that we would be flying. They were so excited! We got to the airport with our three children, three carry on bags, three car seats, stroller and diaper bag. Allegiant Airlines kindly checked the car seats, carry on bags and stroller at the check in, free of charge. I had read several places online that it is okay to bring liquids in excess of the three ounce limit if it is for your child. I brought a few juice boxes and some yogurt for the kids. When we got to the TSA check point, I unzipped my lunchbox containing said juice and yogurt and showed it to the TSA agent, who was very nice. She asked if I was responsible for the contents of the lunchbox and I said I was. I then received a lovely TSA pat down. Apparently, that is required since the TSA could not test my kids' juice boxes and yogurt since they were sealed. This brings me to Tip #1: If bringing yogurt, applesauce, juices, etc. on board a plane for your children, make sure it is contained in something that can be opened. Otherwise, you may have the pleasure of really getting to know your TSA agent.

The rest of the flight was pretty uneventful except that it was a bit bumpy at one point and Cadence yelled "Are we going to crash!?!?" Tip #2: Explain the concept of turbulence to your children ahead of their first plane ride. Liam spent the entire plane ride tucked into my Ergo. I touch more on baby wearing in a little bit.

We arrived and had lunch with one of my mommy friends and her daughters. After lunch we tried to check in to the hotel, but there wasn't a room ready for us. We headed to Downtown Disney for some shopping and to meet Chris's aunt for dinner. When we got to Downtown Disney, Gabriel immediately went into a full blown meltdown because we "told him we were going to Disney World." I explained that Downtown Disney was part of Disney World, but he wouldn't hear any of it. He was curled in a fetal position in the floor board of the rental car sobbing. This brings me to Tip #3: If you are arriving in Orlando in the earlier part of the day and not planning on visiting the parks until the next day, either a.) change your plans and go that day or b.) make it very clear to your children that they will see Mickey the next day.

After dinner we checked into our room. Chris headed out to the store to pick up a few things. There are a few things that we always bring with us into the park. Tip #4: Pack an empty soft cooler in one of your suitcases. The night before going into the parks, put some water bottles in your freezer (Tip #4a: ALWAYS get a room with at least a kitchenette.). In the morning, pack your soft cooler with the frozen water bottles, some juice and some soda. Put some cookies and crackers in your diaper bag or backpack. Tip #5: Keep some beer in the fridge for after you return to the room.

On Saturday we went to Magic Kingdom. We brought the stroller, my Ergo, our soft cooler and our diaper bag. The Ergo was worth its weight in gold in the parks. Seriously, if the only two days I ever used it was this past Saturday and Sunday than it was a well worthwhile purchase.Tip #6: If you are a baby wearer, for the sake of your sanity and the sanity of your family, do NOT forget your carrier of choice. I was able to wear Liam on Snow White, It's a Small World, Peter Pan, Aladdin's carpets, all of the show type rides, the carousel and many more. It was amazing! He was able to nap, undisturbed, through several rides. Best. Idea. EVER. The stroller ended up being more of a luggage cart than anything. I contemplated leaving it behind the next day, but it was a nice thing to have. We would basically park it in an area of the park and ride everything around that area. Then we'd get our stroller and move to the next area. It held our snacks and drinks and was great when one of the big kids got tired or we needed a portable time out spot.

Obviously, there are some rides that you cannot wear your baby on. For example, I would not suggest wearing a baby on Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, etc. ;) Tip #7: For those rides that your baby cannot go on, go visit a cast member at the entrance to the ride and ask for a rider switch ticket. One parent can take the bigger kids (or just go by themselves) on the ride. When he/she comes off, the other parent can take the rider switch ticket and go in the Fast Pass lane. The bonus to this is that a person with a rider switch ticket can have up to two additional people with them. Therefore, Chris could take Cadence and Gabriel on a ride. When they got out, I'd take Cadence and Gabriel back on the ride in the Fast Pass lane. It worked beautifully!

We were only in the parks for two days, so we did not want to spend a lot of time waiting in lines to see the characters. I highly recommend scheduling at least one character dining experience while you are there. Last time we visited we did two and this time we did one. I don't think the kids felt like they missed out.

We went to Epcot on Sunday. Tip #8: If you can, plan to spend two days in Epcot. We had to zoom through it since we had to do it all in one day, but we still had fun. Epcot is my favorite park, and Chris's too, so we would have liked to spend more time there. We got a table at the Rose & Crown about thirty minutes before the fireworks. Tip #9: The Rose & Crown has a private viewing area for the fireworks. If you get a table there, your server will escort you out to the viewing area just before the fireworks. It is well worth it! It was rainy and yucky outside and we were able to wait for the fireworks to start in the comfort of our dry dining room, sipping on a beer and munching on a cheese platter. Fantastic.

We thought we woke up this morning in plenty of time to eat our free hotel breakfast (another must for traveling with kiddos) and get to the airport. However, it took us about 20 minutes longer than anticipated and the drive to the airport took another 20 minutes longer than anticipated. Before I knew it, we were arriving closer to an hour before our flight took off rather than the suggested two hours. I was starting to worry. Tip #10: Allow yourself more time than you think you could possibly need in getting back to the airport. We dropped off our rental, checked in and got up to the gate about 25 minutes before our scheduled departure time. A few minutes later, an airline employee came over the speaker. I expected him to announce boarding. Instead, he announced that our flight was delayed for about two hours. Luckily, the airport had a kids' section that was showing kid-friendly movies. We watched movies for the next two hours and then boarded our plane.

All in all, it was a great trip. It was a little stressful, but we survived. We'll definitely do it again when Liam is a little older and can enjoy it more.

Here are a few pictures. The first is my favorite as it pretty accurately sums up the chaos of the weekend. :)