Well, we made it through the first full week of 2014! Happy New Year!
It was nice to be home the last two weeks after traveling the last four weeks. Every trip we made was so special and exciting, but with two trips to Cincinnati, one trip to Chicago and one to Dallas, we were a bit road weary by the time we pulled into our driveway on the evening of 12/29. Especially since we drove all those places except Chicago, which also meant our Khaki was also able to join us. She’s vacationed with us before and has always done well in the car and hotels, but we could tell she was as ready to be back in our own bed as we were. She did have her first elevator ride, as one of our hotel rooms was on the sixth floor. I was able to teach her to get in, go to the back and sit down, but once we started moving, she always had to get about an inch from the opening in the door. She didn’t mind the ride, but she wanted to be the first out!
She even received Christmas toys from her Grandma Jan. Here she’s being extra patient to wait before chomping down on this stuffed little gingerbread girl so you can see it’s cute little face.
We went to Cincinnati for the week of Thanksgiving. That was the first time I’d been home since we moved to Arkansas, so the week was very full. My sister graciously lent me her kitchen to make Thanksgiving dinner. My mom and I enjoyed the afternoon cooking together while my sister went to her in-laws. Then we all enjoyed a nice, quiet Thanksgiving dinner. It was also nice that the hotel we stayed at was in the parking lot of a mall. So I was able to get quiet a lot of Christmas shopping done.
The following week we flew to Chicago (my absolute favorite city) courteously of The Bald Eagle’s company, who flew us both in for year-end meetings and the annual holiday party. It was nice to finally get to meet some of my hubby’s co-workers that I’ve heard so much about. Plus I won a $50 gift card to Target in a raffle (Merry Christmas to me!). It was also nice that I had a week with very little responsibility to recharge after Thanksgiving. The Bald Eagle had to work during the days, but given some of the spouses were in town, the meetings ended on time or early, and we were even able to get a dinner in alone. But the highlight of my week was taking the train downtown and meeting my nephew, who goes to Columbia College. That particular day it was -10 ° wind chill in Chicago, but we did get to walk down Michigan Ave. just so I felt like I’d officially been to Chicago. I get so excited for my nephew and his future – it’s fun to live vicariously through him and my niece.
We came back to AR to find a big surprise – snow and ice-covered everything. The storm had come on Thursday, and we flew in on a Sunday, but if we didn’t realize it before, it officially sank in that we live in the south now. Even though Ohio would have had the road conditions completely cleared four days after a storm that only brought a couple of inches of snow and ice, the strategy here is evidently just to wait it out until the sun melts it all. I will give them credit, we live at the bottom of a pretty big downhill S curve, and after seeing the road conditions leading up to that hill, I thought for sure we’d be lucky to turn into our drive on the first try if not just to make it down the hill without landing in a ditch. Surprisingly the hill had been totally salted/sanded and was in perfect condition – thank goodness! The most difficult part of our drive proved to be the last 100 yards and the small incline at the end of our driveway, but after four attempts The Bald Eagle skillfully guided us to the front door.
After Chicago, it was back to work for me, but then that weekend we made the six-hour drive to Dallas to volunteer with Operation Christmas Child for our third season. I wrote about this charity before Thanksgiving. We were at the processing center sorting, inspecting and preparing the shoeboxes for their trip to their destination countries and hands of children all over the world. I’ve actually started a separate blog about Operation Christmas Child at http://occshoeboxes.wordpress.com/. Check there for tips and information about packing your own shoeboxes this year.
After Dallas, it was back to AR for one more week of work, and then back to Cincinnati for Christmas. We got to spend time with our families, go to the candlelight service at our old church to see everyone, and have a great meal with a couple that’s very dear to both The Bald Eagle and I. We had a great dinner with my in-laws with all the traditional family favorites – The Bald Eagle’s favorite cheese ball, chili spaghetti and my mother-in-law’s infamous apple pie. I’ve never tasted a better apple pie in my life and every one is just as good as the last. This year I finally asked my mother-in-law for her cheese ball recipe (and why didn’t I asked for the apple pie recipe, too?!?!) so I could complete New Year’s Eve for my husband by making it for him. Mama Jan’s Cheese Ball
This year The Bald Eagle gave me one of my best Christmas gifts, I was able to spend all of Christmas day with my family participating in all our family traditions. This was the first Christmas I was able to be a part of the whole day in more than a dozen years. And what are our traditions, you ask? Well, we start Christmas Eve with an Italian dinner at my mom’s house. Normally I make a lasagna, but this year I mixed things up with shrimp stuffed shells from Cooking Light (Recipe Here).
Then on Christmas everyone goes to my sister’s house in the morning to open presents and eat an incredible Christmas brunch, my favorite meal. The goal of the day is to stay in your Christmas PJs and I succeeded. Even though my niece and nephew are 15 and 19, my sister still makes them sit at the top of the stairs and wait until everyone arrives before they can come downstairs and see what Santa brought them. Then we take turns going around a circle and each taking a turn opening a gift just to draw things out as long as possible. There are always a lot of laughs, and it’s one of my favorite times with my family. My sister always writes very creative and witty tags for her gifts. This year she also give the kids and I a toy (Lego Barbie for me), which was a really neat idea. After a very filling brunch, watching some Christmas movies and taking a lovely Christmas nap, the kids and I got out our toys and played like we were 8 years old. That will have to be a new family tradition. Then The Bald Eagle joined us for dinner, the traditional make-your-own-pizza-bar. I started that tradition at our house many years ago, and it was nice to pass the torch onto my sister. It was a great Christmas. As my mom said – she had a lot of fun on my vacation.
Even though I know Christmas isn’t all about the presents, especially now that we live far away from our family, but I just have to share with you a surprising little gem I received this year. All my Christmas presents were exactly what I wanted, and even though I asked for this, the Ninja chopper/processor/blender far exceeded my expectations. If you spend much time cooking/baking, I highly recommend it!
Lastly, I ask that you keep my friend Kathleen and her family in your thoughts and prayers. Unfortunately her 2014 started with a bang, and not a pleasant one. Earlier this week she came home after work with her two preschoolers and it was literally raining inside her house. A water pipe burst in their attic and water was literally raining from the attic down the second floor and onto the first. If it was raining onto the first floor, you can imagine what the second floor looked like. This is their master bedroom . . .
This is the entrance into the master bath. . .
And this is the view from the attic into the master bath that hadn’t existed before. . .
I really thought I was going to get sick to my stomach when I saw these pictures. I can’t imagine how she felt walking into the house and finding that or the fear her two little children must have had. Fortunately, she has a wonderful attitude and they have lots of family nearby that they can live with temporarily until the house is fixed, which obviously from the pictures, may be a while. I know when I think I’m having a bad day I’m going to look at these pictures and probably realize my bad day is nothing compared to this.
Sorry if I ended on a sad note! Just a reminder to count your blessings ever day. I know even Kathleen would still agree there are many to count.
Hope you all are starting your best year ever!
Baby Blue Bird (aka Dayna)
Happy Week Before Thanksgiving!!
Where has this year gone?!?! It seems like we just moved to Arkansas and 9 months have already passed! How does that happen?!?!
Ok, before I get on topic, I feel compelled to get some random thoughts out of my head.
1) What was up with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ uniforms today??? Most of you probably don’t know what I’m talking about, but think football player disguised as a bumblebee and that’s what I saw on TV today. I’m on the only NFL watcher in the Bluebird house, so I’ve been dying to have this conversation with someone all night. You’re the lucky someone.
2) Have you ever heard someone talk about their best self? I think that was a phrase made popular by Oprah – your best self. Well, I’ve found my best self and wanted to share with you . . .
My best self – tall and skinny. . . or at least skinnier than my real self. I took this picture a couple of weeks ago and have been dying to share it with someone. I haven’t even let The Bald Eagle see it . . . but then again he already knows I’m crazy, so it would be lost on him.
I think those are the only things I’m dying to share, (I realize I used that phrase for both of those odds thoughts – probably not the most accurate choice of words :)). Except of course, for the actual topic, which is one of my favorite seasons of the year. Halloween is but a memory, and I lived through yet another birthday (stop them please!). Now we’re quickly sliding into Thanksgiving, but this week before Thanksgiving is a really cool week.
“Is it the beginning of duck hunting season?”, Khaki wants to know.
No! It’s National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child, a ministry that’s very dear to us in the Bluebird house. Operation Christmas Child (OCC) is a project of Samaritan’s Purse. Since 1993 with the help of individuals, churches and other organizations in 10 countries, OCC has sent over 100 million gift-filled shoeboxes all over the world to children age 2-14 desperate for hope. The shoebox is just the beginning. This simple gift enables missionaries across the globe to share the story of Jesus with children that may never learn of His saving grace if it wasn’t for these shoeboxes. I’m not going to use this space to preach, but it’s an amazing ministry that you can learn more about here – Operation Christmas Child
If you want to pack a shoebox this week, it’s this easy:
1. Get an empty shoebox or a plastic storage box the size of a shoebox that you can buy at most stores. You can wrap it if you want to, but it’s not required. If you do wrap it, please wrap the lid separately.
2. Decide if you want to pack your box for a boy or girl ages 2-4, 5-9 or 10-14.
3. Fill the box with new gifts, such as school supplies, toys, stuffed animals, hygiene items, hard candy, gum, mints, T-shirts, socks, flip-flops, hats, sunglasses, hair clips and toy jewelry. If it fits in the box and you think a little kid would like it, pack it! DO NOT include used or damaged items, war-related items like toy guns, knives or military figures, play money, chocolate or food, liquids or lotions, medications or vitamins, aerosol cans or breakable items. You can find help on what to pack and what not to pack here. Gift Suggestions
4. Go to this website Follow Your Box to pay the suggested $7 per box donation to help the box get to its destination country. Through this link you can donate on-line and print out a bar code that will track your box so you know what country it goes to. The site is secure, but if you don’t want to donate on-line, you can simply place your donation check in an envelope in the inside of your box on top. Checks are recommended over cash and should be made payable to Samaritan’s Purse with Operation Christmas Child in the memo line.
5. If you didn’t choose to donate on-line, you still need a label for your box with the gender and age category marked so it gets to the right child. You can download your label to print here. How to Pack a Shoe Box If you don’t have access to a printer, you can get a label at your drop-off site.
6. Find a drop-off site convenient to you here Drop-off sites. Most drop-off sites are open until 11/25 – times and dates for each site are published at the drop-off site link.
If you’re simply too busy to shop, fill and drop off a shoebox right now, for a suggested donation of $30 you can pack a box online here – Build a Shoebox Online You choose from a menu of times what you want your box to be filled with and Operation Christmas Child volunteers will pack the box for you. Simple as that!
I’m now a year-round volunteer for OCC, and we’ve also volunteered several times at the processing centers where these boxes go after the drop-off site and before they go to their destination countries, and I can absolutely say:
1) The contents of the box do have to be inspected so there are no issues with customs, but OCC strongly believes that what you meant for the receiving child to have in that box should stay in the box. Nothing is taken out of or added to your box unless there’s something from the DO NOT INCLUDE list in your box. I’ve seen boxes with baby dolls in it yet the box is marked for a boy. That box stays marked for a boy and is given to a boy because we believe God knows what the child that’s going to receive that gift needs, and we’re not going to let human logic get in the way. We’ve heard amazing stories of how things you would never think a child needs ended up in a shoebox and made its way to a child who really desperately needed those items. It’s a God thing!
2) 100% of the children that receive these boxes love them. Our children are often so spoiled we can’t image how a jump rope, some crayons, coloring book, toothpaste and a toothbrush can change a child’s life, but for children in orphanages and villages that have absolutely nothing, this is a gift of hope and love that’s indescribable. For some children, just to have something colorful in their very dark, dirty world is amazing. Never underestimate the power of the small things you’re putting in this box.
3) The candy will be eaten and the toys will wear out, but the message of God’s love that was given with that shoebox will stay with that child forever. They will also receive a storybook about Jesus’s life in their language when they receive their shoebox. Many people include a picture of their family and a letter in the shoebox. Let your kids draw a picture and put it in the box. Include your name and address and you just might get a letter back from the child that received your box.
Last thing I’ll share is this video ( Warning – you may need tissues). Sorry for the long link – youtube is kind of difficult to link to – but if you click on it you should see the video. If not, go to www.youtube.com and search for Operation Christmas Child A Lot Like Christmas and watch the first video that comes up.
Shoebox season or not, I hope you all have a very merry Thanksgiving next week! Don’t eat too much turkey!
Baby Bluebird – aka Dayna