Friday, June 24, 2011

God IS Faithful!


A few weeks ago I introduced you to a family that has become very special to us, the Housers. They had just found out they were going to the Ukraine to adopt! Well Kim posted this morning that IT IS OFFICIAL! Sveta Josie Houser will hopefully be home by July 12!! Go back and read Kim's story from the beginning - it will touch you. Look at this sweet girl who finally has a forever family :)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Family Ties

We also had a family reunion yesterday! (Busy day :)) We have the Warren reunion every year, and it's a great chance to see cousins we usually only see once a year. Some were missing this year, but it was great to catch up with those that were there.

Here are a few shots from the day. Notice the theme of cupcakes and hotness!!


Ready to go again!



Travis & Brittney and their crew :)

Candi and her girls (If anyone wonders where Abby gets her looks - here it is!!)



Cooper and his new shirt that he LOVES.


Brock's first cupcake!


Lillee :)

I kind of like these guys :)


Cousins :)

Piano Recital

Abby had her first piano recital yesterday. She did such a GREAT job and we are SO proud that she loves it! She has an awesome teaching team. If you need a recommendation, let me know. They are the BEST!

Here are a few pictures and even a short video shot by her teacher. Way to go Abby!

Practicing at home before we left




The BEST piano teaching team :)


Daddy & EK


So proud of her :)


Flowers after the performance.

And a trophy for her hard work!


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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Love Takes You In

Once again, I have much to catch up on, but first I had to share something WAAAY more important!

This past school year, I learned that one of Abby's classmates had a very special "something" in common with her. Somehow in an innocent 1st grade lunch conversation, Abby and Paige both realized that they had sisters in Heaven! I can't describe to you the look of wonder in Abby's eyes as she told me that night how excited she was that Paige had a sister in Heaven too! It was hard not to sob that my baby needed that kinship with another sweet soul, but precious still that God allowed them to share that little tidbit among lunchables and grapes that day.

Now Paige's family needs our help!!! They have answered the call to adopt!! I am blown away by those around me who have sacrificed everything to follow God's call to his children to take care of HIS special babies. The sacrifice and faith by these families puts me in awe!!

PLEASE visit the Houser's blog. They leave in 1 week and are in financial need and most of all in need of all of our prayers for them, the kids as they stay here, and sweet Sveta.

God is good and the love of His children is absolutely humbling and amazing!!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day in Perspective

Wow - so much has happened all around us since my last post. Unless you've been under a rock somewhere, you know that North Alabama has been declared a national disaster from the tornadoes that ripped through miles and miles of land last Wednesday. Towns and neighborhoods that once were, are now gone. Property was destroyed - lives were lost. In a word devastation.

Thankfully, we are all ok and our area suffered little to no damage. The past 10 days, I have been helping in other areas that did receive damage. Let's just say that you don't know busy in an insurance office until you have a national disaster in your area! I feel bad even saying that because that's what we do, and frankly that's exactly why you have insurance, but none the less - busy is an understatement! Because I didn't have a large number of clients directly hit, I have been helping out in areas that did. I've been in the field in Arab and all over the Harvest and Monrovia areas. I'm sure all of you have seen the pictures, and many have been and volunteered yourself, but seeing it in person is life changing. I hope I never forget what I saw and what I felt that first day I walked through the neighborhoods and saw what God can do. I also never want to forget what I felt when those people looked to us for help, and certainly never forget what I felt when we gave them a little of what they needed.

Here's a story from yesterday from Christy Jordan of Southern Plate. She was also volunteering at the Monrovia Community Center yesterday while some of the Madison County ALFA team were there as well:

This is from Amy Harbour: "Spent the afternoon helping children that were victim’s of the tornado make mother’s day gifts for their mom’s for tomorrow. After losing everything we helped them have a little bit of normal back. One little girl worked with me for the longest time on hers. As I was packing it up to go her aunt came over and whispered to me that the little girl’s mom died in the tornado."

Perspective - this baby girl was doing everything she knew to show her Mommy her love. How she was going to get it to her, I don't know, but she obviously had a plan. Mom wrote this yesterday:

At first I sobbed and couldn't help it. I still well up with tears when I think of it. But this morning, God sent some peace to me reminding me that HE allowed that little girl to have hope of presenting a gift to her mom - that's why it was so important that it be packed so well and so carefully. It had a ways to go. I don't know how she meant to get it to her, but she had hope. Hope. I remember after Stephanie's little Olivia was stillborn and we were devastated and even speaking of it was almost more than we could bear. And little Abby, who was only 3 at the time, spoke up about the "four" people in her family now. And as Stephanie bravely reminded Abby that little Olivia was now in Heaven, Abby reminded us with such conviction "But she's still a special part of our family!!!" And everything changed. The grief wasn't gone - but acknowledgement and love of that sweet life, instead of just hurt and devastation from the loss - even though she was now away from us and in Heaven - what a gift from God. I believe this little girl's effort to honor mommy on Mother's Day was another one of those gifts from God. How precious are His promises. Please, sweet Jesus, don't let us take our blessings for granted, and please wrap your arms around all those that are hurting as ONLY you can do.

Mother's Day has always been bittersweet since we lost Olivia. Every holiday is. There's always a sense of something missing. But oh how sweet is the innocence of a child. I will always believe God has spoken through children at times when we were too busy or had too much knowledge to listen for what HE was trying to tell us. His peace is all encompassing when we let it. The past two weeks has re-focused my mind on what is important. When you see people who have lost it all, literally, and they come up to you to tell you they are blessed, it really makes you humble down and say, "Lord. please forgive me for the tizzy I was in a few days ago about whatever minor detail of my day that didn't go as I planned!"

Life is fragile. I know this firsthand, but sometimes we need to be reminded. I am blessed today to be the mother of 2 precious girls that are with me, and 1 angel dancing (or singing :)) in Heaven today. His promise is that I can go to meet her soon - and oh what a Mother's Day that will be.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter 2011

We had a great Easter! It started with the annual challenge of trying to get a decent picture with everyone looking the same way - HA! We had church, dinner at Grammy's, dessert at Sandra's and a couple of egg hunts thrown in too!! And of course a visit from the Easter Bunny!

One funny - Stewart and Abby were talking about the real meaning of Easter over breakfast and he read the story of the resurrection from Luke. Abby got so into it that she wanted to read it herself and take notes - that kid :) Later in the morning, she told me, "You know, Daddy could make a really great preacher!" OH NO SISTER!!!!!

Here are some pictures :)

 

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EK's BFF - Griffin

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Mimi and Papaw - They won't admit it, but they're still recovering from last week!!

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Abby & Dacy

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Cousins :)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

God Bless You and God Save the Queen!

On our last day, we took a day trip over to London! We rode a super speed train that went under the English Channel, and then spent the day on an open-top, double-decker bus taking in the sites. It was fun! London and Paris couldn't be more different! It's amazing to think they're probably only as far apart as Huntsville and Atlanta, but their cultures are worlds apart!! I loved the accent, and it just cracked me up that every departing greeting was "God bless you and God save the Queen!" It was even cooler since the whole city is super involved with getting ready for the BIG Royal Wedding next week. There were stands being built all along the route from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace for spectators. It was also the Queen's birthday. There was a running of the royal guard which included hundreds of horses running through Hyde Park and a 41 gun salute with cannons!

Here are a few pictures :)

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Buckingham Palace

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Big Ben

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Some of the viewing stands being built

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The front of Westminster Abbey

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Where's Waldo?? Oh, wait - that's my boss, Charles :)

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Th Royal Wedding China

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Tower Bridge

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Springtime In Paris

So here are the few pictures I do have from our last few days. I just happened to take a small extra camera, so I did get a few shots. Several of the others that were with us are going to share their shots with me, so hopefully I'll have more to upload soon :)

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Arc de Triomphe

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Notre Dame Cathedral

The rest of these photos are from our day trip over to Normandy. We visited the US Memorial to those killed in the Battle of Normandy and also visited the beaches and cliffs where the attack took place. This was an amazing site!! To think that all those thousands of men gave their lives on that spot against an enemy that seemed insurmountable! This was a turning point in World War II. Without these brave souls, we may very well not have the freedoms we enjoy today!

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One Crazy Night in Paris....Just like that!

One crazy night in Paris..........Stewart and I have a history of crazy vacation experiences. We laugh, but really you just have to laugh to NOT cry! Why did we think Paris could be any different??

The last time I updated, we had just arrived in Paris. We enjoyed a company dinner that night with the other agents and their guests and afterward decided we couldn't waste any time.....we HAD to get to the Eiffel Tower. So here we went. We would be true Parisians and walk. I mean you could see it in the distance, it couldn't be THAT far, right?? We finally got there just as they were finishing the last trips to the top. No worries - we sat in a beautiful park under the full moon and the lights of this world famous romantic landmark. I even had the most yummy crepe to snack on (you know there's always a food element in any story!) So, it was late - we needed to get back. No big deal EXCEPT sometime while we sat in that lovely park the fact that we'd been awake for 36 hours and on a plane for 12 of that kicked in. It also became evident that the lovely pedicure I had gotten earlier in the week maybe, just maybe, was too aggressive since my heels had now split open in EXTREMEly ugly sores. There were cabs, but we thought we'd save those Euros and take the metro (subway). HAHA - we walked 6 blocks to the very scary metro station only to see that the ticket machine wouldn't take our credit card and we hadn't had a chance to get and Euros yet. By this time, we are stranded on the streets of Paris at 1:00 AM, I'm hobbling like a 90 year old with NO transportation options. Through much grumbling, we made it back to the hotel on foot - VERY sore feet!!!

We learned our lesson - oui? HAHA - non!!! Monday was filled with a city tour of all the famous landmarks, lots of walking (still with insanely sore feet and evidently the wrong shoes!!) but still all good! We decided we would go to a real French bistro and sit out on the street and have dinner like a real Parisian would do. Here we go on the next vacation saga.......we scored a prime outside table only to be told that they stop serving out there at 5:00 - it was 4:58. We were welcome to go inside and eat. Alrighty then........it seemed a little fancy, but we've done fancy before. The menu was ALL in French, but we managed to figure out it was 6 courses with choice of rabbit, duck, goose liver pate, and many other "delicacies". In classic, "I'm from Alabama" fashion, we found a side door and snuck out before the waiter even took our drink orders!!!!

Still, this was NOT going to ruin the night. We decided to head back to the Eiffel Tower because it was early enough for us to go to the top, make some awesome pictures and truly experience this once in a lifetime event!We took the metro (we thought we knew what we were doing by now), got there, stood in line for a total of 2 hours, but finally got to the top!!! It was awesome, manufique, etc. So, here we were AGAIN needing to get home. Walking was NOT an option, I was virtually crawling and I would have thought nothing of lowering my pride at that point for a wheel chair!! No big deal, we were metro experts now, right?? We had tickets, figured out which line, got on, whew......EXCEPT when it came time to switch lines, they closed our connecting line right in front of us!! WHAT?!? We were no where near the hotel! Then all French speaking workers discussed this heatedly among themselves while we stood and stared and told us we could catch a bus at the top of the metro stop and take it to another stop fairly close to our hotel.

OK - we can handle that. (BTW - it's now midnight again, and I am constantly looking at my feet to make sure they are still there because they are now hurting so bad they were virtually numb) The bus pulls up on the OTHER side of the very busy Champs-Elysees (just at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe - the crazy traffic roundabout with no lanes, and about 100 cars in it at once. If you've seen National Lampoon's European vacation, you know what I speak of. Let's just say Stewart and I are changing our last name to Griswald!)

So now, we're on a very crowded, somewhat scary public bus in Paris at 1:00 AM. It goes no where near our hotel, but we just kept riding thinking surely it would loop around at some point. Meanwhile, very strange and smelly Europeans got on and off while we tried to hold on for our lives and hold on to our stuff because BTW Paris is also world famous for its pickpockets!! Our company president had his wallet stolen just that day!!! Our very smelly companions stood too close, and several actually broke out in a fight on the back of the bus! If you had wanted to learn curse words in any language, this was the place!! And then the bus stopped, and EVERYONE got off, and it was evident that this was the last stop. We had NO idea where we were!! Stewart tried to explain to the driver but he just foamed at the mouth in French as he waved us off the bus.

OK - cute story over. Here we were at 1:45 AM, in a very dark, shady part of town with no traffic in sight, no way to communicate - STRANDED. And then I noticed that while all the other bus passengers had went on their way, there was one gentleman lurking about 15 feet behind us. I tried to not panic, until we crossed the street and he followed getting closer to us all the time. My mind was spinning, Stewart just kept telling me to shut up and keep walking. I was trying to decide if I should run (IF my feet would let me) or just start screaming hoping the crazy lady act would scare him off. And then, he was gone. Just like that......and then, just like that, one solitary car came down the road, and it was a taxi!!!!! He laughed at the "silly Americans" and got us back to the hotel.

When we got to the hotel, we started digesting what had happened. First off, where we ended up was so far out of town, it was not even on the city map they had given us. Secondly, that cab ride from all the way out there was only 17 Euros.....it would have been worth WAY more than that to have taken that cab 2.5 hours earlier from the base of the tower! But, I found out why that strange man disappeared and the taxi appeared "just like that". Stewart prayed :) While I was contemplating running or turning into a mad woman, he turned around and asked the Lord to let that man walk away. And he did - just like that! And then he asked for the Lord to protect us and get us home, and HE did - just like that!!

What a mighty God we serve! Even across the globe, in a strange place HE is there.

Last chapter to this night - In my panic and excitement in the taxi, I left my camera in the backseat with all those lovely pictures of that day and night. I hoped the taxi driver would find it and bring it back to the hotel, but no such luck! Even still, a camera is nothing when you measure it with what could have been!!!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Paris - Here We Come!

My updates this week are coming from Paris!!!!!!! Stewart and I are here for 6 days ALONE! Alone except for lots of Alfa friends that is ;) One thing I love about my career switch to Alfa is the opportunity to earn unbelievable trips. The "big" one each year is the Super Star, and this year the Lord blessed me enough to win this once in a lifetime trip to Paris.

We're catching up with the 6 hours time change now, but I thought I'd post a few pictures of the trip so far!

Friday night we started in Huntsville at the Gaither concert. It was great as always, but we left at intermission to head out to Nashville. Mom and Dad were there and took the girls with them. As we left and walked different directions, I caught Abby turning around to wave with a tear in her eye......OH Break Mommy's Heart!!! Mom assured me later that one quick new video at the Gaither table ended any thought of tears - HA!

We flew out of Nashville early Saturday morning to Minneapolis where we had a 5 hours layover. The we boarded for Paris. Imagine a plane with 2 seats-isle-3 seats-isle-2 seats. Well we ended up in the 3 seat middle and the classic Stephanie luck kicked in then. I thought a nice, well-dressed lady was sitting on the other side of me, but all of the sudden there was a seat change and a not-so-lovely gentleman with about as much hair as me, rings on every fingers, speaking French (I think) and all of his bags came piling over!! OOOOHHHH NOOOO!! 9 HOURS being sandwiched between a snoring Stewart who was falling over on me, and this VERY strange man who also kept falling my way (all while he sneezed and coughed the whole way). Let's just say NERVES SHOT by the time we finally landed. I am already praying for better seat assignments on the way back!!! Drea - I know JD is saying "I told you so" at this point!!

We are staying at The Westin which is right in the heart of Paris. We had to stay awake when we got here to try to get used to the time difference so we took a little walking tour just to get a feel of the place. Here are a few pictures of hotel and the room.

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I'll admit now that my degree in History AND my 2 years of French in High School are embarrassingly rusty!  I'll post these pictures with some basic info, but go Google yourself if you want full historical details :)

 

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This is a very elite, famous square that includes shops like Chanel, Cartier, etc.  The monument in the center is from the French Revolution I believe :)

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Also in that square is The Ritz.  This is where Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed ate just before she was killed in a nearby tunnel.

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Typical Paris street.  Notice the HUGE Louis Vuitton store on the left!!

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Famous Paris Opera House.

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A church (I'll have to look up which one :)) in the downtown area.

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This is what you see across from our hotel,

 

Company dinner tonight and tour of the city tomorrow!  I'll try to take better notes so I can label my pictures without having to Google it all the time - HA!  Cell phone can only be used for emergency, no emails or FB coming in 24/7 on Blackberry..........it's taking a LOT to get used to, but I'll update at night when we get back to the laptop :)

Au revoir!

 

The Almost Permanent Blog-cation

I'm back!!! I was just reading my last post almost 3 months ago. "My Brick" - well that it was, and I'm just now thinking I might swim out of this one and not drown. Recovery was slow, a little too slow, which led to labs, tests, ultrasounds, specialists.......thankfully it's nothing Earth-shattering and maybe we've started down the right road with some treatments that will help me feel like a busy 35 year-old instead of a half-dead, 1 foot in the ground 90 year old!!! Turns out my vitamin levels were all out of whack and I have Hashimoto's Disease which is an auto-immune disorder that attacks your thyroid. I didn't know what your thyroid did until mine stopped doing it :) Hoping for better feeling days VERY soon!!! SO - during this mode of pure survival, the blog just sat. I really was too busy, too tired, etc. But mostly I just wasn't inspired. Great stuff has happened during that time, but I just felt SO zapped, everything I could think to write came out as a whine or a rant. Now I realize that is part of life, but I didn't want to write it and I was pretty sure that meant no one else would want to read it. I thought I'd just let it go. But I realized, somehow this has become my own personal talk therapy. Somehow it's good just to get it out. Sometimes Stewart doesn't like it - he'd rather keep personal things "personal", but writing it down validates it for me - makes it real. It may not always be wrapped in a pretty package, and it may not be what I wanted it to be - but it's OUR life, and I am blessed to have it! Now why on Earth you want to read it is totally your call ;) So since I'm going to pick it back up, I feel the need to fill in some of the gaps. I'm going to try to date them back to when they should have been posted so maybe it will stay chronological. One day, my goal is to print this as my own "scrapbook", so I'd love for it to be in the correct order. If it all works correctly, hopefully this one will be the first you see :) If you want to go back and see the rest, scroll back. Lots to come.......probably more than you want to see, but maybe I can get my groove back on!!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spring Break Fun

On Thursday and Friday before we left for Paris, Stewart and I tried to fit in some Spring Break fun with the girls. We visited the Treehouses at the Botanical Gardens on Thursday and KidVenture on Friday. Both days were awesome fun!! It's so neat that we have all of this and more just at our fingertips all the time!

The Botanical Gardens was so impressive! All the tree houses were so different and so fun for the girls. They have now turned on the water element at each play station, so I can only imagine how much fun it will be now! Plan to go and make a day of it soon!!

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Quick shot of Toodles and EK in the Barbie Jeep :)

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Sisters :)

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Abby

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Ellie Kate

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Oh me - she is growing up SO fast!

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Anyone else have a hard time getting everyone to smile at the same time?? This is classic - EK is obsessed with her nose!!

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Not sure if you were really supposed to drink the water :)

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Stewart in his natural habitat - eyes on phone!

Then Friday was a stormy, nasty day. What a great day for an indoor playdate!! They even had a painting event with DoodleBugs at the same time! Fun for all!


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Stewart - on phone.......again. Anyone seeing a trend here??

Fun couple of "stay"cation days :) We finished Friday night at the Gaither Concert. The camera was already packed in the car for Paris, so no pictures, but it was AWESOME!