Monday, April 22, 2013

The Bunny Goes To Toomer's

*I'm writing this as a back-dated blog. I didn't get a chance to write it in April, but it's something I don't want to forget, so I'm sharing it now. :)

Last weekend, we went to Auburn for a very special event. It was the final rolling of Toomer's Trees - the beloved oaks that sit at Toomer's Corner. Our beautiful trees had been poisoned by an ignorant, hateful Alabama fan more than a year before, and now they were dying. The University did everything they could to save them and now they were beyond hope. You can see in the pictures how terrible they looked. It was time to cut them down. But first - we were going to celebrate all our memories there with one final roll.

I knew it was going to be an emotional day. I'm sure there are people reading right now who think this is silly.... and to them, I would say, "you just don't understand". Our Toomer's Oaks were more than just "something we roll" to celebrate football games. They were the beautiful trees arching over the official entrance of the University - the corner where our campus meets the city. They were the trees we celebrated football wins under, yes, but we also celebrated graduations and wedding days and elections beneath their branches. There are men who kissed their wife for the first time under those trees... and others who decided that spot would be the perfect place to get engaged. Their branches hold so many precious memories for the Auburn Family.

Rusty and I each threw one final roll...

Those trees were there when my Dad went to Auburn... and when I went to Auburn... and when my little brothers went to Auburn... and I had hoped that they would be there when my children attended someday.

And that is what made this day even more emotional.

I was already sad about losing our trees and all the memories we'd made beneath them. But then to realize my children, and specifically our little girl Kate, would never get to see them absolutely broke my heart.

So we decided to take her with us - the only way we knew how. We took her little bunny.... the one we bought in Thailand (for our child "someday") and the one that now sits out to remind me of her everyday. We thought that at the very least, we could take a few pictures of her bunny at Toomer's Corner to show her that we were thinking of her and missing her on this special day. And so, we did.

There were a couple of people who asked what the bunny was about (as I'm sure we looked strange!) and they were super supportive and kind when we explained it to them. But after a couple of questions, I could tell my emotions were on edge. I began to feel the sadness set in, and the lump in my throat form. I began to feel even more angry that some hateful Alabama fan had stolen this tradition from me and my little girl. I began to feel angry that adoption takes so long and she wasn't already home. And as I looked around at all the parents with their little girls in their little Auburn cheerleader outfits - sharing this tradition for the first and last time - I felt the tears sting my eyes.

When that happened, we decided it was time to take a break (because really, I wasn't prepared for a full-out cryfest in the middle of the crowd beneath the trees) so the bunny went back into my purse and we walked around campus for a while. When I felt like I had a better hold on my emotions, we decided to walk back to Toomer's Corner. But first, we stopped to snap some pictures at Samford Hall.

While standing there, I looked down and saw two of the most beautiful little Asian girls. "Don't they look Thai??" I asked Rusty, who agreed but shrugged it off. I couldn't help but watch them play while Rusty took more pictures - they were adorable! But I figured I was just assuming they were Thai because I was missing Kate. And besides, I couldn't run up to them or their mom and awkwardly ask, "So... what ethnicity are you?" That's just too weird! So we turned to leave. But then - someone ran up to us and asked if we would take a picture of their group of friends. And that group just happened to have those 2 beautiful little girls and their beautiful momma in it!

After we snapped some photos for them we chatted a bit, and before long we found out - not only were those gorgeous little girls half Thai, but their Thai Mom (Uma) was also an Auburn grad! I was absolutely beside myself with excitement! We have lots of Thai friends in Thailand, but none in America. The next thing I knew it was a blur of us speaking Thai, meeting her little girls, taking pictures, and sharing information. They were excited to hear about our adoption, and even offered to help in any way they could (it turns out that Uma's sister works for the US Embassy in Thailand!) I was blown away!

Right about then some of our friends walked up (Malerie and Kevin Huguley, who adopted a precious little girl from Korea) and within a few minutes we were all chatting and the girls were playing together. Then, as I was explaining everything that had happened to Malerie and telling her how much I'd been missing our Thai baby girl that day, something completely unexpected happened. Suddenly, the two Thai little girls stopped playing, ran over to me, and threw their arms around me! I have no idea how they knew I needed a hug from a Thai little girl that day, but they did. It was all I could do not to break down in tears.

I don't know what the odds are of us running into a Thai family in Auburn that day, but I do know they are slim. Thais make up only around .05% of the US population, so it hasn't been easy for us to meet Thai friends in the US. The fact that we would meet this precious family on a day when I was so heartsick for my little girl was so, so special. I'm grateful they took time out of their day to talk to us (and hug us!) when we really needed it. To me, it was a special blessing. I felt like God was reminding me that He hasn't forgotten about us (or our little girl!)

We spent the rest of the day and night with the Huguleys, which fully distracted me from my earlier emotional state. I mean, how could you not be happy chasing around a little Korean cutie like this?

We love the Huguleys and I was really glad that their adorable little girl was home in time for them to share the Toomer's tradition with. We laughed and joked about what must be going on in her little head. I'm sure seeing all that toilet paper everywhere was really a strange sight to her!

And so, even with all the emotions it brought, we ended up having a great day. And it turned out that the "final roll" brought us just as many precious memories as all the special rolls in the past.

Thanks Toomer's Oaks, for bringing together the Auburn Family like you always have.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

4 years...

Today, I celebrate 4 years of marriage to the man I love. Just 4 short years ago this afternoon we were saying, "I do" in a small church in my hometown of Alabama. And oh, what an adventure it has been ever since!

In the last 4 years, we have spent almost 8 months overseas in Thailand, Burma, India, Swaziland, South Africa, The Grand Cayman Islands, Canada and Mexico. We started a non-profit organization that has helped care for over 200 children around the world. We've snuggled majestic tigers and ridden massive elephants. We've stared at zebras and giraffe on Safari and wondered at the beauty of Niagra Falls. We've spent time in slums, leper colonies, refugee camps, and brothels. We've been blessed to explore together and to serve together.

We've moved across the country - twice. We've lived in snowy Michigan and sweet home Alabama and spent a lot of time in Arkansas too. We've also spent a lot of time traveling between those three states! I wish I knew how many hours we've spent in the car together since we got married. I think it's safe to say, A LOT. We've also spent a lot of time in airplanes together... and a lot of time stuck in our office together working full-time from home. Surprisingly, we haven't killed each other yet. Even more surprisingly, we still like each other! ;)

In the past 4 years, we have grieved together and celebrated together. We have loved through sickness and health. We've experienced great success, and devastating failure. We have had our hearts broken. We have seen extraordinary miracles. Through our non-profit organization, we've had the incredible opportunity to buy a Children's Home in Thailand, to buy land for a Children's Home in India, and to make an incredible impact on the lives of our children in Africa through education initiatives and sustainability projects. We are continually humbled to see how God uses us... two flawed, stubborn individuals - just because we're willing to be obedient. (even if sometimes we don't have the best attitude about it! He is too good to us!)

On our 1st Anniversary, Rusty surprised me with an incredible trip to DisneyWorld! My very first trip to the most Magical place on earth was... well... magical! We were super broke, but had some dear friends who gifted us their timeshare and skymiles, and some other dear friends who gifted us Disney tickets. (Seriously, we were SO blessed!) It was a trip I will always remember, and it was just the sweetest time to celebrate our love.

On our 2nd Anniversary, we were working in Thailand, and we were surprised by the most incredible event on our "special day". Our Karen partners, Hebrew and SerneGay, had decided that they too would get married on April 18th! That day, we got to share "our day" with this extraordinary couple. A couple who has very little. A couple who has given up their rights and their lives to care for children in a refugee camp.

That day I got to make another Bride feel special... just like my friends and family did for me 2 years before. I did her hair... I did her makeup... and I was even recruited to create the flower headpiece she wore to her ceremony. If there is anything that could make our "special day" even more special, it's that we now get to share it with this amazing couple. They even sent us an anniversary message this year!

Our 3rd Anniversary, we had just returned from a month in Africa and we were exhausted! A planned trip to the beach became, "can't we just stay home?" and so, we rested instead. We did manage a nice dinner out though... ;) This Anniversary signified something very special - we had now been married long enough to adopt a child from Thailand!

And now, here we are, at our 4th Anniversary. We are being pretty boring again this year, and just going out to dinner on a PF Chang's gift card I got months ago. But this year, there is so much MORE on the horizon! This year we will buy our very first house (though it is the third home we've lived in together) and we will spend hours upon hours working on adoption paperwork to bring home our Baby Girl! This year at our anniversary dinner, we will not only get to reflect on the wonderful blessings God has given us in the past, we will get to focus on everything He is doing for us NOW, and all He is going to do to over the next year get our little girl home and into our arms.

I can't help but wonder how many more anniversaries we will have before our sweet Kate is home. Will it be just one more? Will it be two? Could we possibly be on our way to get her this time next year? Either way, we are feeling very grateful to have each other today, and excited about God's future plans for us as husband and wife and mom and dad to-be!

Years ago, I got some wonderful advice from an incredible couple who led my college ministry. They told us that you would know who you were supposed to marry, when you knew you could do more together for the Kingdom, than you could apart. As I look back over the last four years I am more convinced than ever that this is true for me and Rusty. Together, we have accomplished more than I ever could have done alone. Together, we are a complete team!

Thank you Rusty Jackson for sticking by my side through all of our crazy adventures! Thank you for being willing to take great risks to be obedient to what God has called us to. I love you, and I'm grateful to have you as my partner in life. I can't wait to see what the next 4 years has in store for us!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Gia's Storybook Baby Shower

Last Thursday marked 6 months since sweet Gia came home, which means I am at least 7 months overdue on sharing pictures from her special Baby Shower with you! Oops! So let's get to it, shall we? It seems like Spring is the perfect time to have a baby, or to announce a pregnancy (or an adoption!) Maybe this blog will give you some ideas for a special Mommy-to-Be in your life!

Gia Love's Homecoming ~ October 11, 2012

This was my very first baby shower to plan, and I had so much fun! Gia's shower was a Storybook Baby Shower, because at the time we didn't know when she would be coming home. We weren't sure what size clothes, shoes, etc she would need, but we knew books would be a "perfect fit" no matter how many weeks passed before their travel call. Plus, her mommy Malerie is a teacher who LOVES books! So we decided to stock her bookshelves. (This is a great shower idea for any adoptive moms who are in the "waiting" process. You can't go wrong buying books!)

The Invitations

For the invitation, I used a play on words from most Fairy Tales (and the fact that sweet Gia was far, far away in Korea...)

Invitation insert ::

We went with Cherry Blossoms for the invitations and other decor as a tie to Gia's Korean heritage. The invites, envelopes, inserts, stickers (for party favor bags), and place card holders were all created on (They were actually wedding thank you notes that I edited into custom Baby Shower invites!) I love that you can often find matching print items on Vistaprint, you can design and edit them yourself, and they are typically a lot cheaper than any other printing company!

Custom Book Plates

The custom book plates were a little trickier, because they weren't available on Vistaprint. So, I took a screenshot of the cherry blossom branch (I know, I'm so sneaky!) and pulled it into Microsoft Word. Then I created custom book plates with 3 and 1/3 x 4 labels (Avery template #5164). 

Of course, you can always find super cute custom book plates on Etsy!

DIY Name Banner

This little pretty took a lot of work, but I am absolutely in love with the outcome! I read several DIY tutorials for banners, and then picked which techniques would work for my idea. I wanted a cloth banner that would stand up over time, so it could be used for birthday parties or room decor in the future... but I didn't want to have to sew it.  Luckily, I came up with a design that I think turned out really cute!

What do you think? If you're interested in a step-by-step tutorial of how I made this banner, just comment below and I'll consider sharing that in another blog :)

DIY Book Wreath

My co-hostesses tackled this project to decorate the front door, and it looked SO cute! Unfortunately I didn't get a picture the day of the party. But it was a beautiful "storybook" addition to the front door! And the winner of our Korean Trivia game took it home as a door-prize (quite literally!) To make your own DIY Book Wreath, just follow these instructions.

DIY Napkin Flowers

These dainty little flowers were cheap, easy, and beautiful! They really made the party feel more girly and complete, and the best part is, I can use them over and over again! (good thing too, because even though they're easy, it took forever to make as many of them as I wanted!) I used this tutorial, and my end result was...

I love how versatile they are! I used them to decorate the balcony, and to fill vases around the house. You can also hang them on the wall, or tie them to a present!

Adoption Shower Games

I'm not a huge fan of the typical shower games anyway, so the fact that this was an adoption baby shower gave me an excuse to get creative! I chose games that were adoption themed, or that were Korean themed (to focus on Gia's birth culture). I think everyone really enjoyed the change!

Our first game was an "Around the World" matching game, with the word "baby" in different languages. I downloaded it online here, and we raced to see who could get the most correct answers in the least amount of time!

Our second game was a Korean Trivia game that I created. I researched fun Korean facts and made cards with each question (and a multiple choice or T/F answer). Then I made little Korean flags on cardstock. I read each question aloud, and the person who answered correctly first got a flag. When the game was over, the person with the most flags won! I'm inserting my questions and my flag template below, in case you'd like to use this game for your shower! (Just right click to save them!) You could easily create a similar game for another country for your adoption shower!

And now that the party was planned, the games were prepared, and the house was decorated, it was time for the shower to begin! Malerie loves breakfast foods, so we decided on a Brunch shower. As you can see, we had a wonderful morning with several of Malerie's family members and close friends. 

We served Gigi's Cupcakes (yum!), chocolate covered strawberries, fresh fruit, homemade sausage balls, cinnamon rolls, and mini blueberry muffins. We also had some chocolates and pink candies to snack on!

For our drinks we had ice water, sparkling grape juice in the punch bowl, coffee, and an assortment of hot teas.

For my other decorations I used vintage Fairytale Storybooks and lots of classic Little Golden Books. They were such a sweet addition to our tables!

(Above) I just adore the vintage set of Fairy Tales my mom bought when she was in college! 

We had so much fun celebrating Mom-to-Be Malerie and helping her prepare to bring her little girl home! Plus, I think it helped her to have this fun event to look forward to in the midst of waiting to get their travel call. And now, it's extra special when I get to babysit sweet Gia and read her these books!

Malerie and her hostesses (myself and Stephanie Howell). 
Katie Howell was our third hostess but she wasn't able to come that day. We missed you Katie!

We love you so much Malerie! Congratulations again on your sweet baby girl! 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Organizing the Chaos

As I explained in my last post, it's been a little chaotic at our place. Apparently, buying a home AND starting the adoption process at the same time will do that to you. So in the face of all that chaos, I decided to be proactive and get organized before my husband found me drowning in a pile of paperwork before I lost something in the move.

While I can't control much in the midst of these two huge, life-altering processes (because Lord knows if I could, our baby girl would be HOME, and we would already be moved in to our new house!) I can be organized. And that, at the very least, makes me feel like I have a handle on things. So for those of you who aren't the best at organization, I thought I'd share how I organized our adoption files! Maybe it will help you get a handle on things too.

First, I went to the office supply store (oh, how I love the office supply store!) Here's a list of what I bought:

  • One large plastic file box with a handle (I chose a waterproof box just to be safe!)
  • Hanging files
  • Manila file folders
  • Clear plastic velcro file pockets
  • Color coded plastic folders
  • Large 3 ring binder
  • Clear sheet protectors
  • Plastic colored pocket dividers (I like these because I can stick things "to file" in the pockets)
  • Various paper clips/large clips
  • Post it notes
  • A 3-hole punch
  • A stapler
  • Good pens (These are my favorite! They're so easy to write with, but the best part is the ink is fade-proof and water-resistent. That sort of thing is important when you're signing extremely important adoption documents!)

Then I got to work! It took me a while to come up with a filing system, but once everything was in it's place I felt so much better. Now all those stacks of papers are safe and sound in their box or binder, and I can access what I need quickly! Plus, it's easy to take this box and binder with us when we have a meeting at our adoption agency. Anything we need is with us and accessible then!

Here are my labels for my Hanging Files and Manila folders:
  • Placing Agency
    • Contract & Application
    • Adoptive Family Profile
  • Contract Agency
    • Application
  • Home Study
    • To Do :: Homestudy
    • In Progress :: Homestudy
    • Complete :: Homestudy
  • Dossier
    • To Do :: Dossier
    • In Progress :: Dossier
    • Legalization :: Dossier
    • Complete :: Dossier
  • Misc
    • Basic adoption info, adoption questions/advice, general information about Thailand, info for Adoption Conferences

This helps me keep both finished documents and documents still "to do" in order. I put everything our agencies sent us in our "To Do" folder for our homestudy and dossier, and then I move them to the "In Progress" folder when I'm ready to work on a particular section. We will work on those documents for a few days/weeks, and then mail them to our agency. Once a stack of documents is ready to be mailed, I make a copy of each page, and transfer the copies to the "Complete" folder. The "Legalization" folder is for documents that have to be sent to the Dept. of State to be stamped/legalized before I submit them to our agency.

I use the clear velcro file pockets to protect a stack of papers before we deliver them to the agency office, or to protect a finished section of paperwork that's important (for example, our Adoptive Family Profile.) I use the plastic colored folders to separate a section of documents within our "In Progress" folder. For example, that might hold all the documents we've ordered in one place (birth certificate, marriage license, etc) while the "in progress" folder also has education and misc documents in it. This may be me taking the organization to the extreme, but I've found that the easier it is for me to find documents when I need them, the better!

I will probably add a "FINAL" folder to both the Home Study and Dossier files. That will hold the final, edited, approved, and submitted version of our Home Study and Dossier once they are mailed off.

{ Thank you to Mandy's Moon for this cute stork graphic! } 

In my 3 ring binder, I have the following sections:
  • Home Study
    • Contact info for our Contract Agency
    • Instructions for the Home Study in clear sheet protectors
  • Dossier
    • Contact info for our Placing Agency
    • Instructions for the Dossier in clear sheet protectors
  • Expenses
    • a running list of expenses (printed on cardstock)
    • copies of all our checks and receipts in clear sheet protectors
  • Encouragement
    • Misc bible verses, poems, and notes from friends that are encouraging. I love being able to flip to this section if I'm having a tough day, or really missing our little girl!

I know some people file everything in a binder, but that was just too risky to me. I like having our paperwork in the file box (safe from water, dust, etc) and using the binder as more of a reference tool. It also keeps me from having to put every page into a sheet protector and then having to take it out when I want to work on it. This just made more sense to me.

I'm sure this post was boring to those of you who aren't adopting, but I hope it helps an adoptive Mom or Dad out there who's feeling overwhelmed! If you'd like to download my Expense List template, I'm inserting the PDF below. It's a great way to keep up with how much you've spent and when you made payments. I printed it on cardstock and punched holes in it, then put it at the front of my "Expenses" tab. I update it each time I write a check. 

*Can any other adoptive parents think of something I missed? Feel free to post other helpful tips and suggestions in the comment section! Happy filing ya'll!