Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Few of my Favorite Things :: Spring Edition

"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things..."

My faithful blog readers might remember when I did my "Favorite Things" post last summer. My plan was to do a post of my favorite things each season - Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring. Unfortunately, we moved in the Fall (followed by me being sick a lot) and we were overseas for most of the Winter - so those two months got skipped! (I just couldn't bear to talk about my love of Christmas lights and snow when I was struggling with homesickness in India.) I'm bringing it back this month though - SPRING (even though it already feels like summer here in AL) and will add in the other seasons as they roll around this year. And just like my Summer blog - each of these will be followed up with a giveaway of one of my favorite things!

#1 - Flowers in Bloom
I always know it's coming when I see the first daffodil - or jonquil (or jonathan as my baby brother used to think they were called! ha!) Pretty soon there are pretty yellow flowers everywhere and the trees are bursting in blooms of pink and white! You can't deny it's Spring! I have so many fond memories of picking sweet smelling daffodils for my mother & grandmother growing up. Someday (when we buy a home) I am planning on having hundreds of them in our yard!

#2 - Easter
As much as I love Christmas, Easter is right up there with it for my favorite holiday. What an incredible celebration of LIFE and HOPE! Of course it's important to our Faith that Christ came (Christmas) but what He did at Easter CHANGED EVERYTHING! (I wrote a blog about that this year - check it out here).

 #3 - Baby Bunnies
If you know me at all, then you know I have a thing for bunnies. We had the cutest little baby bunnies in our backyard in Michigan that I tried to catch (unsuccessfully) for almost 3 years! (Which is how I got the nickname "Bunny" from my husband.) Baby animals, especially bunnies, are definitely one of my favorite things about Springtime! I mean, look at that picture. Isn't that the sweetest thing you've ever seen?! Someday I might add a bunny necklace to my wardrobe like this one... or this one...

#4 - Pastels
I'll admit I've already jumped into the super bright, bold colors for summer... but I love it when pastels begin to make their appearance in the Spring! There are few things sweeter than little ones in pinks, baby blues, pale yellows, and seafoam green! I found the perfect Spring jeans this year in a pale aqua. LOVE them! (Mine were a $5 find on a sale rack - score! If you love the look, here are some similar ones from ModCloth.)

#5 - Hanging out in the SUNSHINE!
Oh... the warm, warm SUNSHINE! It does something to ya, doesn't it? There are few things better than stepping out and turning your face to the sun that first Spring day! I remember how early Spring used to come when I was in school at Auburn... every March you'd see girls in shorts and flip-flops laying out in whatever sunny spot they could find on campus!

#6 - Teva Flip Flops
I'm pretty sure that the first thing I do every Spring is put on my flip-flops! When it's warm enough for my toes to show it's time for a pedicure and my Tevas! These are absolutely my favorite flip-flops. They are super comfy (they even have some arch support), cheap (only $25!), and cute too! I love that they have extra straps (to me it's a little bit dressier look than just your typical flip-flop). I have them in brown and black and they're my go-to shoes when it's warm out. They travel all over the world with me too!

#7 - Arbonne's FC5 Exfoliating Scrub
I actually use this product year-round, but I'm especially fond of it in the Spring and Summer! With ingredients like Cucumber extract, Carrot extract, Mandarin Orange Peel, Lime Oil, and Grapefruit Peel, it smells so fresh and fruity! This is the perfect scrub to get rid of that dry skin from the winter. It makes your face feel so smooth and soft! (*check back tomorrow for a chance to win this product!)

#8 - These pictures
When we were hired as iStock models, our photographers did a shoot for every season. I think the Springtime shoot may be my all-time favorite! Our first iStock sighting was a photo from this shoot, featured in Neue Magazine! Here are a few of my favorites from that day...

Okay - your turn! What are your favorite Springtime things?

Monday, May 28, 2012

I believe in MIRACLES...

I just keep looking at this page, over and over again. It's been a week since it happened, and I still can't quite put my feelings into words. One minute I want to run around like a crazy person, shouting about the GOODNESS OF GOD, and the next, I just want to fall on my face in thankfulness. I have seen my fair share of miracles in my life, but somehow they never cease to amaze me!


It's hard to even fathom raising that amount of money, and yet, we agreed to try. Our Indian Partners had gone to another organization to ask for their help - a much bigger, more successful organization - and they turned them down. They told them it was impossible. Why did we say yes?! It certainly wasn't because we felt like we could do a better job.... It wasn't because we knew we had an amazing fundraising plan up our sleeve....

....we said YES because we heard 33 precious little boys and girls crying out to God one Friday night in November,  praying boldly for their Father in Heaven to provide land and a new home for them. After hearing their passion and seeing their great faith, how could we say no? And so, we agreed to give it a try.

I have often felt like David vs. Goliath as we tried to figure out how to conquer this great need. The two of us, with our little non-profit organization that is only 2 years old. It felt impossible! And yet, something in me knew that God would not ignore the prayers of His children. After all, He is a good Father who longs to give good gifts to His kids!

As the months passed, we began to make some progress, and we were encouraged. But when we returned in April from a month in Africa and found out the deadline had been moved up, doubt crept in again. Suddenly, we only had 30 DAYS to raise $75,000! It wasn't long enough to put together any kind of big event, and we were mentally and physically exhausted from our trip overseas. We had no idea how to come up with that amount of money in only a month! We knew then it was going to take a miracle... and a BIG ONE! "God, you are going to have to do this!" we prayed. "We know it's impossible without you!"


We needed to raise $75,000 in 30 days. 3 weeks passed, and we still needed $54,000. Then, the last day of fundraising came - and we were still $20,000 away! But in just a few short hours a MIRACLE happened, and by 9:30pm (2 and 1/2 hours before our midnight deadline) the Asha Mission Land Project was FULLY FUNDED!!!

That means that this precious "family" below is getting their own piece of land in India - which puts them one (huge) step closer to their new home!

I wish I could share every single story that made this happen. We got letters, phone calls, emails and tweets sharing why and how people wanted to give. It was incredible to hear all the ways God was moving in the hearts of His people all over the nation. The sacrifice and obedience of so many is what made this miracle possible! (Rusty did a great job sharing about that on his blog. You should definitely go read his version of this story!)

For each and every one of you who shared in this burden - THANK YOU just doesn't seem enough! I know that there are so many of you - quite a few that we've never even met - who donated, shared, tweeted, emailed, blogged, posted, called, prayed, begged, borrowed, and sacrificed to make this happen! I absolutely mean it when I say, YOU ARE HEROES to our children in India! Every single one of you were a part of this incredible MIRACLE!

And that miracle is the reason this page is so beautiful to me. It's not just a website. It's not just a fundraiser. This tiny corner of the world wide web represents 190,000 reminders of God's GREAT FAITHFULNESS!

I don't know about you, but I definitely believe in miracles...

Friday, May 18, 2012


Yes, this is another post about the kids at Asha Mission Children's Home and our URGENT fundraising need for land! I don't normally inundate my blog readers with constant updates like this, but we have never had a need this BIG or this URGENT before. And I am reminded of what Asha Mission Founder, Babu John, said - "I will get on my knees and beg for these children, if it keeps them from becoming beggars." AMEN. (For those of you who don't know - many orphans and vulnerable children in India are kidnapped and disabled on purpose (eyes gouged out, legs cut off, arms cut off, etc) to become more pitiful, more "effective beggars". It's disgusting. And we will NOT let it happen to any of the precious kids we care for!)

But the good news is, we have a pretty INCREDIBLE update for you today! If you remember, months ago we started this fundraiser needing $200,000. On Sunday I updated you that the need had dropped to $54,000. Well friends - it has been an AMAZING week! Our current total needed is only $24,500!!!

WE are completely blown away! The stories people are telling us about their donations are so humbling and encouraging. One church gave away $11,000 out of their building fund so our precious kids could have a home. A dad in Mississippi gave away $5,000 he'd been saving for his son's college housing fund. People are choosing to sacrifice their future plans for the future of these 33 little boys and girls in India. It has been incredible to hear how God is moving in the hearts of people all over the nation! We are absolutely watching a miracle in the making!

Just a reminder - these are the precious kids you are caring for when you give to this need! 
Asha Mission Brothers (above) and Asha Mission Sisters (below).

But friends - we are down to the wire! We only have until midnight THIS Sunday night (May 20th) to raise the last $24,500! So I am asking all of you - one more time - to get involved! Ask yourself what you can sacrifice for these kids. Will you donate part of your savings account? Will you give away your tax return? Will you ask your friends and family to give by sharing this blog, this link, or this video?

Donate Now

Let's make a miracle happen!

Monday, May 14, 2012

An hour in Paris...

It's my 4th night in a row without seeing my husband and I am missing him, so it seemed like the perfect time to write a post about the two of us in the "City of LOVE"! This is actually the longest we have been away from each other since we got married (I know, I know, I'm a wimp... but keep in mind we dated long distance for 11 months - only seeing each other once for one week 8 months in - so we have paid our dues! We video skyped last night and it gave me sad flashbacks to all those skype sessions half a world away :(

Anyway - back to PARIS! If you've followed this blog for long, then you know that Rusty and I travel a lot for our non-profit work. As much as we love our time overseas, our destinations are always 3rd world countries. So when we found a flight to Africa with a 12 hour layover in Paris, I was thrilled!

We typically can't leave the airport even if we have a long enough layover, because we have to bring our video equipment in our carry-ons (and who wants to haul 2 rolling carry-ons + 2 heavy backpacks around?!) so we really planned this one out. We decided to use some of our vacation savings to book a hotel near the airport so we could store our luggage safely, take a quick nap, shower, and then head out to tour the city. But things did not go as planned...

We ended up having a big event right before we left for Africa, and neither of us got the sleep we needed. By the time we landed in Paris we had several days of sleep deprivation + an 8 hour flight wearing on us. The "quick nap" we decided to take turned into about 6 hours (because my precious husband turned off the alarm clock!) By the time Rusty woke me up, we only had about 2 - 3 hours before we had to head back to the airport.

I quickly did the math in my head. We were at least 30 min from the train station. It was a 45 min train ride to the Eiffel Tower, 45 min back, 30 min back to the hotel, and then another 30 min back to the airport. We would never make it in time! We had come all the way to Paris and I wasn't going to see anything! At this point I had a total emotional breakdown got upset. (Do not underestimate what disappointment + jet lag + exhaustion will do to a woman!) I was truly heartbroken that I wouldn't get to see any of Paris, and Rusty felt so terrible. After a few minutes of watching me cry he jumped up, called the concierge, and told me to get dressed. We were going to take a cab straight from our hotel (we will not discuss how much of our "vacation savings" was spent on that!) and I was going to see the Eiffel Tower if it was all we did!!!

And so... off we went. No shower, still sleep deprived, having not eaten anything in over 8 hours. Romantic... right?

Well, to me it was! As bummed as I am that I didn't get down to the river to buy art like I wanted, didn't get to see the Notre Dame Cathedral, didn't get to go to the Louvre...

I am choosing to remember that this was the day my sweet husband did whatever he could to make a memory with me!

We talked random tourists into taking a few pictures of us together....

I shopped at the closest sidewalk cart I could find.....

(Old photographs printed on postcards count as "art" from Paris... right?!)

...snapped a few photos of the "Carousel de Paris"....

... and we ate 2 of the most delicious chocolate crepes on the steps in front of the Eiffel Tower! (Which took the place of our breakfast, lunch, and dinner that day - because I don't think either of us ate a proper meal for over 12 hours!) Seriously wish I had a picture of our crepes... not that I will ever forget how amazing they tasted!

On the way back to the hotel, we hopped into a cab with an Asian driver. When he asked (in French) if we spoke French, Rusty responded, "No, but I understand a little Thai" (in Thai). We totally freaked out when he responded IN THAI!!! Turns out we had found a Vietnamese cab driver - in Paris - who married a Thai woman, and knew Vietnamese, Thai, English, and French! Seriously?! What are the odds?! Definitely the perfect end to our crazy day!

Though it was physically and emotionally exhausting, I can now say we have been to the City of Love (and it was beautiful!)! I hope next time we can stay a little longer!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Asha Mission Land Fund :: UPDATE!

I posted this recently on our Sound of Hope Blog, but it was so important I had to share it again here! It has been so amazing to see what God is doing through this project!!!

Over the past few weeks, we have seen and heard some truly incredible things. We've gotten letters and checks from people in Arkansas who said they couldn't sleep until they gave to this need. We've heard of middle school kids in North Carolina doing creative fundraisers for this land. We've gotten emails from a girl in California working to set up a benefit show to help us reach our goal. We even had a guy in Alabama SELL A CAR and donate the proceeds for our precious kids in India! Over and over we have seen the donations roll in online.... $25.... $500... $1,000 - some from friends, some from family, and some from people we've never even met before!

We have raised another $21,000 for our Asha Mission Land Fund in less than a month! We are SO encouraged! To all of you who have helped us spread the word about this need, and to each and every person who donated - THANK YOU for being a HERO to our kids in India!

But the work is not over yet! We still have to raise another $54,000 and we only have 1 week to do it!

We are asking all of you to dig deeper and reach farther than you have before! Dig deep into your heart and ask what you can give. Reach out to your friends, family, co-workers, twitter followers, and blog readers and encourage them to get involved!

Today is Mother's Day. I can't think of a better gift to give in honor or in memory of you Mom, than a donation to care for a child in India who doesn't have a mother!

These forgotten children need YOU to be their HERO! Help us reach our goal by May 20th, and be a part of a miracle!
Donate Now

Monday, May 7, 2012

Ericka’s Quick Guide to Wedding Planning

After our wedding day was over, I began thinking of all the things I wish I had known. I was CLUELESS when it came to planning a wedding, and looking through the stacks of books, planners, and magazines for sale was so overwhelming! I had no idea where to begin or how to get it all done in time (we had a 4 month engagement) or how to stay within our budget! With friends getting married left and right, I decided to sit down and put all my thoughts together. I shared this "quick guide" in a facebook note a few years back but I thought with wedding season in full swing again it would be a great time to add it to my blog!  

Below you will find my advice on the things I would’ve done differently, the things we did well, ways to avoid disasters, tips to cut cost, and any other bits of advice I have to offer. Remember, these are only my opinions, but I hope they help some of you out!

If you are on a budget, find out exactly what it is and start crunching numbers. If you are NOT on a budget, I would suggest setting one for yourself anyway. Wedding expenses can get out of hand VERY quickly! People in the wedding industry play to your emotions and everything is marked up dramatically. It’s important to remember it’s just a day, and you have a life together to plan for after the wedding. (ie – you might want to save some money so you can actually purchase furniture, pay the rent, buy groceries, etc ;)

The next thing you should do is pick the 3 to 5 things that are MOST important to you. This will be different for every bride. (Be sure to ask your groom if there is anything that is really important to him too. My husband really didn’t care about anything and wanted NO part in the planning, but it’s still nice to ask!)
For me, my priorities were:

  1. Dress
  2. Photography
  3. Music
  4. Flowers

I knew that I would choose these things first, and that the majority of our budget would be spent on these things. Everything else could take a backseat because these were the most important things to me! (This is really important for people on a budget. Everything cannot be important...some things will have to be sacrificed.)

Time is ticking!
There are several things that take a lot of TIME in the wedding planning world. Some of them surprised me (and threw my plans for a loop!) Just to give you a heads up, these are the things you should consider doing ASAP:

  • Pick a DATE – I would suggest having a couple of possibilities, as your locations may not be available on your first choice of dates
  • Find a CEREMONY LOCATION – some churches book 2 years in advance!
  • Find a RECEPTION LOCATION – again, these can book a year or two in advance! Also, if you want to dance at your reception be sure to ask if music/dancing is allowed at the location. We were only able to find one location in our area that allowed it!
  • Find a Rehearsal Dinner Location – depending on how formal you want your rehearsal dinner, this may not be as difficult. But if you have somewhere special in mind, book it asap!
  • Choose a DRESS – day #2 of dress shopping we were informed it can take 6 to 8 MONTHS to get a dress in. Not good when your wedding is less than 4 months away! We were very blessed to find “the dress” in the right size already at the bridal shop!
  • Choose BRIDESMAID DRESSES – we were shocked yet again to find out it can take 6+ months to get bridesmaid dresses in! That completely cut out our option to order ‘traditional’ bridesmaid dresses. If you are in a similar situation (short engagement), I would suggest finding a dress you like online for your bridesmaids. The cheaper the better – remember it is EXPENSIVE to be a bridesmaid! It’s an added bonus if they can really wear it again (ie – it’s not too formal or too odd a color/fabric). A couple of suggestions I wish I’d known about:

Modcloth – VERY unique and trendy dresses!
Victoria’s Secret – This dress can be worn 12 different ways, and comes in a variety of colors!

... and these (above) were the dresses my bridesmaids wore (in chocolate brown).They were more expensive than I was hoping for, but turned out really beautifully (and could be shipped quickly). I actually still wish I had one for myself! They also come in a wide variety of colors :)

Network & Delegate
Find friends/bridesmaids/family members who will volunteer to help with the planning process. Many people will want to help and will be honored to be involved! Just be sure you don’t let their opinions/desires overrule what you and your future husband want!

It’s also a good idea to check your networks for friends who might be able to offer services at a discount. We had a family friend print our invitations, programs, and thank you notes. Another family friend gave us our reception location at a discount!

If you are in Oxford, Alabama, DO NOT USE WORLD OF FLOWERS. I cannot stress this enough! Our flowers were a DISASTER because of them (and remember, flowers were high up on my list of priorities). Everything was the wrong colors, they sent back our special ordered blue flowers (our wedding was chocolate brown and blue) for PURPLE ones, the corsages were wrong, the daisy halo for my little flowergirl was HUGE and looked ridiculous, they broke my mother’s 21 year old glass globe that she used in my aunt’s wedding, and here’s the WORST part.... They charged us $500 more than they quoted us! $500 more! That was a huge problem for people on a BUDGET! And this was after I spent 2 hours with the florist picking out exactly what I wanted in person, AND after I’d emailed them a BOLD PRINT, bulleted list of exactly what we wanted. I won’t lie... even 3 years later I am upset about this!

My best advice to avoid this kind of disaster is:

  • Find a picture of what you want and email/bring it to the florist
  • Double check your order the month before, week before, and week of the wedding
  • Get a detailed contract signed with a quote
*Money saving tip – use your bridesmaid bouquets as centerpieces for your reception, and your bridal bouquet as a centerpiece/decoration on your cake table.

*Recycling tip – re-use your flower arrangements by blessing others with them after the ceremony. Have a friend take them by a nursing home or hospital, and ask the nurses to deliver them to the rooms of patients who don’t receive visitors.

Veil & Headpiece
Wedding veils are probably the item with the highest mark-up. Tulle is about 15 to 30 cents a yard, yet wedding veils are $100 and up! If you don’t want a detailed veil (with lace trim or other adornments) you can make one for around $10 to $15. All it takes is a friend or family member with a little bit of sewing experience. My mom made mine, and she loved the honor of making something I wore on my wedding day!

Headpieces can be very expensive too (rhinestone headbands, tiaras, etc). I would recommend looking online or in a shop like Claire’s before going to a Bridal Shop. I found a gorgeous tiara from an Ebay store (new, not used) for $35. The ones in the bridal shops were $100 - $200!

Invitations, Programs, & Thank You Cards
These can get pricey VERY quickly. There are so many options and it’s easy to get carried away! Remember, it’s JUST PAPER. You and your parents might each save a copy, but everyone else is going to throw them away!

*Money saving tip – go to a local print shop and see if they can print these items “in house”. We were able to show them what we wanted from a book, and get them done “in house” MUCH cheaper. The only difference was that the ink wasn’t embossed, which was NOT a big deal to us.

*Go GREEN – you can opt out of the “formal” invitations, which require not only an outer envelope, but an inner envelope and tissue paper insert. This wastes a lot of extra paper that, again, is THROWN AWAY! A single page/card in one envelope is much friendlier to the environment. It will save you some extra money and time too!


Bed, Bath & Beyond I cannot say enough good things about this store! We went to 4 different stores in 4 different states and in every one the customer service was incredible! They go above and beyond to help you register, and make the process much less stressful. They also have a GREAT return policy - they keep your registry online for 2 years, don’t require a receipt, and give you CASH BACK for items you return! They even replaced one of our wedding gifts (3 years later) that was defective! Amazing!

Target & Walmart – While these may not seem like the classiest or most fun places to register, the giftcards we got from here were a huge blessing! We were able to buy everything we needed to set up our home (trashcans, vacuum, mop, cleaning supplies, etc) and also all our groceries for our first two months. Their return policies are a pain though – so I would recommend only registering for giftcards or a few ‘basics’ here.

Amazon – Some friends of mine recently registered here and I thought it was GENIUS. Register from the comfort of your home for practically ANYTHING you want or need! They even registered for giftcards for other stores and restaurants!

Photography & Videography   

Even if you don’t think this is important, remember your PICTURES and VIDEO are the only things that last from your wedding day! (Well, other than your marriage of course! ;) You will forget all your guests, you’ll forget what the minister said, you’ll forget a lot of the special moments between each other and your friends. You will miss so much that happens that day! A good photographer and videographer will capture it all!

Make a shot list! You don’t think you’ll forget to get a certain picture, but trust me, in the rush of your wedding day you will! Neither of us got a shot (except for some candids) of just us and our moms. We also forgot our godparents and some aunts & uncles!

It’s also important to make a ‘shot list’ or at least an explanation of what you want from your videographer. Even if they are amazing, they can’t read your mind! Be detailed and tell them what’s important to you! I’d also suggest setting up a “back up” video camera on a tripod. It’s nice to have the whole ceremony from start to finish (and good to have ‘just in case’ something happens with your videographer’s footage or equipment!)

If you're looking for recommendations, I will list the people we hired below. Unfortunately, all of their prices have gone up considerably since we used them - but if they will fit your budget then we would definitely recommend them! They all did BEAUTIFUL work!

Jane Johnson
- Jane was our wedding photographer. She and her husband Josh are friends of mine from Oregon and she does BEAUTIFUL work! It meant so much to have them come down to Alabama for our wedding! Our gallery isn't up anymore, but here are a few of our favorite photos from the day!

Stephen Devries –  Stephen is a friend from college who did our engagement photos. He was so much fun to work with! I was totally stressed out because it was pouring rain on the day of our shoot, but he had the genius idea to incorporate an umbrella and have us stroll around downtown Birmingham. We were thrilled with how the shots turned out! He used a mixture of digital and film and shot on several different cameras. Here are some of our favorites!

Paul & Courtney Bryant (Kinora Films)
- Paul is another friend from college and he did a beautiful job on our wedding video. One of my bridesmaids is actually his wife now, and together they are even better! (You may have seen their incredible work on Matthew Mayfield's music videos!) Paul did several videos for us on our Wedding DVD (ceremony, engagement story, rehearsal dinner, etc), but this was the “overview” he did for our friends and family. We love it!


Wedding Singers
If you decide to have “live music” at your ceremony, let me offer you a bit of advice. PAY THE PERFORMERS! Having sung in quite a few weddings, I know it can get pricey. I have a friend who now has a “contract” because he can’t afford to sing at all the weddings he’s asked to sing for unless his expenses are covered. The wedding singers/musicians have to travel to the ceremony and find lodging. If they are not from the area that can add up! Also, (if they’re good) they’re putting a lot of time into rehearsals for your wedding. Compensating them for their time is a blessing. Another option would be to find them lodging (pay for their hotel room or find a family member/friend for them to stay with) and to give them a gas gift card to help with their travel expenses. For our wedding, we had 3 live singers who also played instruments. We paid each singer $100 and provided their hotel rooms for the weekend.

*Note – If they are a friend of the bride or groom they may refuse payment and say it is their “gift” to you.


If you are looking for ways to cut cost, the reception is an area you can be most flexible in. You can always find a cheaper venue or cheaper food. We decided to have an afternoon wedding (3:30pm) so that dinner was not expected at the reception. This helped us cut cost as our caterer only served foods like pasta salad, cheese, fruit, veggies, candy, and cake. Remember, if you have too much food the cakes may not be eaten (and they are expensive too!)

Our wedding cake was made by a friend. She is no longer in business, but I have two other friends who make cakes as a hobby (and they do a beautiful job!) You can see their cakes by clicking their names below (photo shown is one of Candice's Cakes!)  Creative Cakes by Candice   &  Katie Cakes

*Re-cycling tip – Food is often wasted after a wedding. Check with soup kitchens and homeless shelters in your area to see if they will accept un-used portions of food and cake.

Giving Back
There are lots of ways to incorporate giving back or supporting missions in your wedding plans! You can ask people to donate to your favorite charity in lieu of gifts, or you can give gifts from businesses that give back. One of the gifts for my bridesmaids were earrings made in Thailand by women who have been rescued from human trafficking. We also had a table at our wedding with our prayer cards and info about other organizations that support missions. A few organizations to check out are:

A few more tips:

Ask for Discounts – always ask for a discount! You’d be surprised how many people will agree to one. We got $50 taken off the cost of my dress just because we asked!

Receiving line – these are not done very often anymore, but I would HIGHLY recommend having one! We had a receiving line at the entryway to our reception. It was just the Bride and Groom out front, hugging each guest, snapping a quick picture, and thanking them for coming. The guests hurried through (because the food was on the other side of the door ;) so it didn’t take too long. We were able to see each of our guests and thank them personally. Everyone got a chance to see us, and we had more time to enjoy our reception (instead of everyone interrupting because they hadn’t seen us yet).

Honeymoon – Don’t underestimate how TIRED you are going to be from all the wedding planning and wedding week/day activities! If at all possible, get a room nearby for 2 nights before traveling to your honeymoon destination. You will want to sleep in the day after your wedding and relax together; not wake up early, repack, and rush to the airport for a long travel day! I would also recommend a relaxed honeymoon. (Just my opinion :) You will have plenty of anniversaries to do fun exciting vacations together. Start out your marriage by relaxing, recharging, and focusing on each other (instead of a lot of outside events). We stayed at a remote cabin in Colorado cuddling by the fire, watching movies, and sleeping in. It was the best thing we could’ve done!

The Day Before – DO NOT plan anything for the day before your wedding. Set apart that day to sleep in, relax, and enjoy time with your friends and family. I didn’t do this, and spent the day tying up loose ends and stressing out! It was horrible! Make a rule that if it’s not done that day, it’s not getting done (or someone else is doing it!)

Your Wedding Day – Something will inevitably go wrong. Decide ahead of time that you will refuse to be stressed out on your wedding day. Find a friend/family member who will be in charge of any ‘wedding day disasters’. Keep your sense of humor. Focus on each other. Take “mental pictures” of special moments throughout the day. Remember, no matter what, you WILL be married at the end of the day! This day will only happen once; don’t let anything or anyone ruin it for you!

Happy Wedding Planning Everyone!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Africa Wrap Up

Friends, it's been a rough week. We had an unnerving late-night incident at our home (that involved the police), my hard drive crashed, Rusty's truck quit, and we have had 2 very discouraging phone calls with 2 different adoption agencies.  I had planned on writing an adoption update today, but I just can't put my feelings into words yet. I will tell you that we have prayed a lot and I have shed a lot of tears. We would appreciate your prayers for our adoption journey right now. When I can find the words to express what we're struggling through (and when I have a better understanding of everything the agencies have told us) I promise I'll write an update - but until then, you will probably just get some fun blogs that I have been meaning to post for a while! 

We'll start with a "wrap up" of our time in Africa! I shared most of these photos on our Sound of Hope Blog, but thought I would repost them here for all of you too. This is a great summary of our work during our month in Swaziland. If any of the photos interest you, check out the caption. A lot of them have links to videos, blogs, and donation info for certain projects! :)

One of our first days in Swaziland! We loved watching the sun set over the traditional Swazi huts made of mud, sticks and grass.

Check out the new Children's Library we started in the preschool at the Nsoko Carepoint!

This little girl was SO excited about the new books! THANK YOU to everyone who donated to this project!

Working in the Community Garden with Phindile. To find out more about this project CLICK HERE.

Nutritious spinach! Just one of the many healthy vegetables the kids will soon be eating!

School's out! The children are quick to run to the carepoint at the end of each day. Year end donations to The Sound of Hope provided the funds for 112 children in Nosko to go to school this year!

Here are a few of the older girls, hanging out together at the carepoint after school.

This beautiful bowl was a gift from my precious new friend Saulinah. It took her 4 days to weave it by hand! Her son Mdeni was one of the students who got his school fees paid through The Sound of Hope. We loved visiting his homestead and meeting his family!

Thanks to a generous donation, all the preschool kids got new Auburn clothes! You can see the video HERE.

There were new shirts for the Swazi staff we are partnered with too! Our work would not be possible without the help of the Gogos that cook for the children, the D-team, the facilities supervisors, the Clinic Assistant, and the Preschool Teacher!

We're also grateful for the American family we're partnered with that lives in Nsoko full-time. THANK YOU Jen, Eric, Claire, and Jacob for the hard work you do around the clock!

We loved seeing some traditional Swazi dances at the Cultural Center in Ezulwini! I even got a quick dance lesson (video here!)

Only in Africa can you see a Journey of Giraffe on the way to lunch! The wildlife in Swaziland is truly unique!

This is Sotja, a 3 year old double orphan who spends most of his days at our carepoint.  I absolutely fell in love with him!

When we see smiles like this one, it makes all our work worthwhile!

We also posted 7 videos from Africa (and we've got a couple more still to come!) If you missed any of those - you can check them out on our vimeo page HERE.

Thank you to all of you who support us financially and in prayer! You make our work in Swaziland possible!