Lowry Park and Orlando

We’ve been here two weeks.  For the most part, it’s been a delight.  The last couple of days, however, have been a little dicey.  Maybe a full moon is coming.  I dunno.  All I know for sure is that we had to make an emergency call to daddy today for a little over-the-phone discipline.

Not. good.

Here’s to hoping tomorrow is a better day and they simmer down a bit!  We have had some fun in our two weeks stay.  We went to Orlando the few days before Lee arrived where we spent time with family, went to downtown Disney and ate at the world’s largest (and most obnoxiously loud) McDonalds. 

I also went shopping BY MYSELF at the outlet mall.  BY MYSELF PEOPLE!  CAMA! (Russian for ALONE)  It was the greatest day of my life.  I mean, outside of my wedding day and the day my children were born.  So it was, like, the fifth greatest day of my life. 

A few pictures for your viewing enjoyment.

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Every other year when I grew up, my parents rented a condo on Clearwater beach for one month.  We’d pack up our (smokin’) minivan and trek from Wisconsin (when I was younger) or St. Louis (in my teen years) and drive down.  So this beach is as much home to me as any place else. 

While down here, my aunts and uncles would come over and stay with us in the condo.  Many of my favorite childhood memories are on this beach with my cousins.  I love recreating those memories for my kids.

My cousin Kristen came to see us in Orlando with her four children.  Her third born, Fiona, and Tia became fast friends.  It was such a blessing to be with them.

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Landon and Kristen’s youngest, Miles, struck up a mean round of ping pong.  After which we ate lunch and Landon decided to take a snooze poolside.

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After swimming with the cousins, we dried off and headed to Downtown Disney.  I’m not ready to pay the high prices for Disney World yet.  I want all of the kids to be old enough to remember it before we go.  But Downtown Disney was a fun place to visit, shop and eat.  The kids all had money to spend and had a great time searching for the perfect toy to bring home.  Even though it was 4,000 degrees, we still managed to have a good time.

My brother and his girlfriend, along with her little girl, joined us for a little hotel swimming and Downtown Disney.  The next night we got to play at their home for a bit.  It was so fun to connect with them.

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This week we decided to take the kids to Lowry Park Zoo.  The original plan was to hit up Busch Gardens, but then we found out how much it cost and did a quick about face.  Lowry Park was significantly cheaper and the kids had a blast.  They got to ride ponies and camels, as well as a log flume and roller coaster (kiddie coaster).  And we got to feed goats and parakeets, as well as a giraffe, which was, for me at least, the highlight.

My favorite quote of the day was Landon on the roller coaster.  As we zipped around the first turn, he laughed and yelled, “Dis a fuuuun.”  Then we gained momentum and roared around the first turn and his eyes almost popped out of his head.  “I stared, I stared (scared)” he cried.  So cute.

I was all up in his grill (grille?) - Oh yes I was.

I was all up in his grill (grille?) - Oh yes I was.

His tongue stretched all the way to my hand.  Dang!  It was freaky.  Notice how the kids are not nearby.  They kept a safe distance.

His tongue stretched all the way to my hand. Dang! It was freaky. Notice how the kids are not nearby. They kept a safe distance.

This was a singular moment of fun for Tia.  Mostly, the flapping parakeet's freaked her and Landon out.  Those tiny, devilish little birds.

This was a singular moment of fun for Tia. Mostly, the flapping parakeet's freaked her and Landon out. Those tiny, devilish little birds.

Careful...they spit.

Careful...they spit.

Whew. We’re tired.  We are having a great time, but I will admit that the kids appear to be tiring of one another as is evident by their near constant bickering.  I’m trying to take them out one at a time for some one on one time and to keep them from killing each other.  We just have a few more days and as much as I’ll hate leaving this place, it will be nice to return to the routine of home.

Until then, we will continue to have fun in the sun!

The Photo Session

They’re so cute.  Seriously – I’m not sure how it is that I bore such adorable children.  But adorable they are. 

See?

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Oh wait, no…that’s not the right photo.  Hang on…

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That’s more like it…

Or how about this shot?

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Wait, wait, wait…

That’s not the photo I was looking for.

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Much better.

Okay…so the photo shoot didn’t go exactly as planned.  I did, however, snap a couple of decent pictures of all three as well as a few individual shots.  I also fed them pancakes (yes, I bribe my children into letting me take their picture. I’m not ashamed) and I let them hunt for seashells. 

All this before 9 am.

Her hair is nearly white.  The cuteness is overwhelming...

Her hair is nearly white. The cuteness is overwhelming...

He's playing air guitar.  Of course...

He's playing air guitar. Of course...

OMG! Freckles!

OMG! Freckles!

Weekend Favorites

I am in total vacation mode.  I cannot think long enough to put together a coherent sentence most of the time (because I’m relaxed, though I have admittedly had a few Margaritas, an amazing Sweet Tea Mojito and some wine…not all today, of course…Sigh.  Never mind.)

My point is – blogging and writing are not on the top of my list.  That’s a good thing.  I needed the break.  But I feel bad – like I’m letting my readers down (all ten of you).  So I’m sorry.  Not so sorry that I will promise to regale you with witty tales of our beach days, of coures, but sorry nonetheless.

Ahem.

The weekend was fabulous, but went by far too quickly.  Lee arrived Wednesday night.  We celebrated our anniversary on Thursday with our kids.  We went to the beach, we swam in the pool, we ate dinner out with my parents where Sloan got to experience his first grouper sandwich (it was bigger than his head and he managed to finish almost all of it).  Later that night we snuck away to our favorite spot on Clearwater beach where we sat next to the firepit and watched the sun set whilst drinking the aforementioned Margaritas.

Bliss.

We took a boat ride this weekend, we swam a lot, we relaxed, we tried paddle boarding for the first time, we attempted to kayak on the paddle board together only to realize there was no way we were going to make it without becoming shark bait, we played games on my mom’s ipad and proceeded to fight over it because we all wanted to play something different, we took naps - we vacationed.

Then Lee went home and we all cried.  But the kids and I have another week and a half here and we have plenty of fun in store – including a trip to Busch Gardens.  For now I will leave you with a few photos because I’m so tired that my eyelids are waving the white flag and my brain is threatening to implode.

I hereby give you – The Weekend.

The kids played ball with my dad who they call "Boss."

The kids played ball with my dad who they call "Boss."

Lee and I played kissy face on our anniversary, thoroughly grossing Sloan out.

Lee and I played kissy face on our anniversary, thoroughly grossing Sloan out.

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We've done a lot of jumping into the pool. They're starting to get crazy.

They are diving, flipping, twisting and turning into the pool. The only thing they haven't tried is a back flip. I'm okay with that.

They are diving, flipping, twisting and turning into the pool. The only thing they haven't tried is a back flip. I'm okay with that.

Lee spent a significant amount of time flinging them into the air.

Lee spent a significant amount of time flinging them into the air.

One of our favorite things to do with the kids is take them to The Sand Pearl at sunset.  Lee and I sit by the fire and the kids run around in the sand with glow sticks.  A massive lightening storm foiled our plans the other night, but after the storm was over we walked down to my parent’s dock to see this spectacular sunset.

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Pardon my beach hair. When I'm down here I refuse to dry my hair or wear makeup.

Pardon my beach hair. When I'm down here I refuse to dry my hair or wear makeup.

Since Landon was so little the last time we came here, it’s been fun to watch him rediscover Florida.  He is a fish, refusing to get out of the water every time we swim.  He loves the sand and has found a particular fondness for chasing seagulls.  All around he’s having a blast.  The only glitch is bedtime.  He still sleeps in a crib at home.  Here, he’s on an air mattress in the same room as Sloan and Tia.  He seems to think that bedtime is party time every night.

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We spent Lee’s last morning with us at the beach where we made new friends, swam and dove for Sand Dollars.  Sloan and Tia each collected five or six.  They are now sitting in a bucket of bleach so that we can paint them and turn them into Christmas ornaments.

Paddle Boarding.  This is good fun.

Paddle Boarding. This is good fun.

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And finally – Lee found this on the ocean floor while diving for Sand Dollars.  It’s not exactly buried treasure, but it gave us all a good laugh.

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Lovely.

One more thing – Clearwater is on the Gulf side of the state.  And there is not a drop of oil here.  But their economy is hurting.  It’s very sad.  So if any of you have a trip planned down here that you’re considering cancelling because of oil, please don’t!  It’s gorgeous down here and the water is perfectly clear.  Just wanted to throw that in.

Happy Monday.

Boy and Girl Reach a Decade

First there was a boy:

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And a little girl:

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Through the carefully woven threads of life’s tapestry, they ended up in the right place at the right time.  Both boy and girl knew, after only a couple of interactions, that they were designed to be life partners.

The boy and girl fell in love. And the girl learned a valuable lesson – you should always put pants on when a boy enters your room late at night.

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The boy and girl spent more and more time with one another…sometimes crickets crashed the party (much to the girl’s dismay).  The girl and boy realized how much fun life was when they were together.  They even dressed up in vintage garb and headed out to a fancy restaurant for dinner, just to watch the way others would react.

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They finally decided that they wanted to be together permanently.  So the boy proposed.  Eight months later, the boy and girl became man and wife.

In the ten years since we wed, Lee and I have climbed many mountains – some of them literal. We’ve weathered many ups and a few downs.  We’ve survived unemployment, personal heartache and frustration.  We’ve worked hard to establish individual careers.  Lee has been my cheerleader as I’ve pursued my own passions, and I have been his as he’s developed his own dreams and goals.

Along the way we’ve forged sweet, sweet friendships and we are infinately grateful for the way that we have been poured into, loved and encouraged over the years.

We have traveled to the Bahamas (twice), California, Florida (too many times to count) and countless other places in between.  In just two months we will embark on a new adventure as we travel through Italy and Austria together to celebrate our ten year anniversary.  We laugh often, fight little and work hard to appreciate each other every day.  It’s not always easy, but it’s seldom very hard.

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In ten years, we’ve become mom and dad - three times.

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It’s made being man and wife more of a challenge.  We have to work harder at finding time to be together, but we don’t have to work hard at enjoying one another.  I love to be with Lee as much today as I did ten years ago when I became his wife.

A couple of years ago, I shared the story of Lee’s wedding ring and the engraving on the inside.  We are ten years into that goal.  It is significant and I’m so honored to have spent the last ten years with this man who I love so much.  I can’t wait for the next 50 years, 4 months and 22 days…plus.

See how he adores me?

See how he adores me?

Happy Anniversary, Babe.  Glad you’re here to celebrate!

To read our entire love story, click here.

Florida 2010

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We’re having just a little bit of fun. :)

Girl and Boy become Mom and Dad

With our lovely and eventful honeymoon now over, Lee and I set up house in Frisco, Texas just north of Dallas.  We had a sweet little third floor apartment that I loved not only for its charm but also for the fact that I could vacuum the entire place without once having to unplug the vacuum cleaner.  Big bonus!

When we returned from our honeymoon, the job that we thought was lined up for Lee had fallen through.  But, thankfully, another job opened up immediately as a sales rep for Hewlitt Packard.  He was going to make 36 grand a year and we were certain we were rolling in the dough.

I commenced to freelance writing and editing.  I had a gig as a co-author with Joe White on an upcoming devotional and I also had several contacts who threw ghostwriting opportunities my way.  Because these took a lot of time, I decided to forgo the traditional 9 to 5 job and get something with more flexible hours.

Enter WOGA – the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy.  As a former gymnast, I had the experience needed to work at this high class facility.  As a russian speaker, I had an immediate in with my bosses, Valery Liukin and Evgeny Marchenko.  So every afternoon, I reported to work and while I coached my level four and five girls, I had the unique privilage of watching a then 13 year old Carly Patterson and 10 year old Nastia Liukin train.  They were amazing even as little girls.  Lee and I also forged some wonderful relationships at WOGA and every time I return to Dallas I try to visit and say hello to my dear friends.

In addition to WOGA, Lee and I attended Chuck Swindoll’s Church where, every Sunday, we sat next to Cynthia Swindoll and soaked up the most amazing teaching.  To say those first years of our marriage were blessed is an understatement.  From our friends at church and at work, we have nothing but fond and sweet thoughts of those days.

But, as happens in life, we experienced our first blow in 2002 when Lee was fired from his job.  We were devastated, shocked and scared.  We loved our life in Dallas and didn’t want to leave, but after four months of looking for work, we had to make the difficult decision to pack up and move.  Lee got a job in St. Louis and we moved in with my parents.

Humbling.

In October, 2002, Lee and I had a little marital conversation.  It went something like this:

Kelli: “I’m ready to have a baby.”

Lee: *crickets*

Kelli: “What do you think?”

And thus Lee laid out a long list of reasons why we should, in fact, NOT have a baby.  They included things like – “We aren’t making very much money,” – “We don’t have a place to live,” – “You just started a new job.”

“Let’s talk about this again in six months,” Lee suggested to which I agreed.

One week later I found out I was pregnant.

So I did what any reasonable wife would do with such amazing news.  I called my husband at work and broke the news over the phone.

After the initial shock wore off, we were both very excited…and terrified.  But look how cute we were:

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We did find a house in January of 2003 and spent the next seven months gutting and rehabbing it.  Because there’s nothing less stressful than trying to rehab a house when you have a pregnant hormonal wife breathing down your neck…

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On July 10, 2003, after five hours of intense labor, Sloan Alexander came screaming into the world.  He was beautiful and fat and sweet and perfect and we could not have been more elated.

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We had the house finished enough to bring Sloan home to it a week after he was born.  We’re still in that home today.  It seems to have gotten smaller over the years, but we love it there.

When Sloan was a little over a year old, we decided to give him a sibling.  Little did we know it would take almost a year to get pregnant the second time around.  It was a very discouraging time for me and while I know that many couples struggle for much, much longer than we did, it gave me a small glimpse of the heartache and frustration of infertility.

Finally, though, after much heartache and prayer, we conceived our second child.  When I was pregnant with Sloan, Lee was adamant about finding out the sex before he was born.  I, however, wanted to wait.  So he agreed that we could be surprised the second time around and true to his word, we did not find out the gender.

We just assumed it would be a boy.  There had only been one girl in roughly five generations of Stuarts so we didn’t think we’d change that trend.  I washed up all the baby boy clothes and lovingly placed them in the nursery.  We chose the name Sawyer Brayden and we waited to meet Sloan’s baby brother. (Sloan, incidentally, though only two years old at the time, insisted that he would be getting a sister.)

On my due date, February 2, 2006, my water broke at 4:20 am.  At 6:19 our daughter, Katya Rose, was born.  That was a good day.

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After Tia, we agreed to wait a bit before having a third child.  The only snag came when Tia was 13 months old and we deiceded to take our first vacation alone together since our honeymoon.  Four weeks later I held a positive pregnancy test in my trembling hands.

Lee was leaving that afternoon to visit his family in Arkansas for the weekend.  I made the mistake of telling him before he left.  He was shocked and his initial reaction was anger.  In fact, we barely spoke all weekend.  I was sick with worry and felt like somehow I had done something wrong.  It was a bad weekend.

I even called a friend nearly in tears to get a little reassurance that we were going to be okay and we hadn’t detrimentally harmed our older children by forcing another sibling upon them so quickly.

Thankfully, though, Lee came home with a fresh perspective and calmed my anxious heart and, with a little time, we grew excited about this new babe.  Then, at ten weeks, I rushed to the ER, bleeding heavily, sure I was miscarrying.  We discovered the next day that the amniotic sac had torn away from the uterine wall.  The doctor used words like “spontaneous abortion” and “D & C” and I feared like never before.  Because as he said those things I was staring at a tiny, beating heart on the ultrasound machine.  I could see arms and a facial profile and all I could think was that if my body failed, this life would end.

It didn’t end, though.  After a moneth of bedrest, the issue corrected itself and on December 16, 2007, Landon Lee was born after what seemed an unending labor and delivery.  (I was in the hospital a whopping two and a half hours before he was born – my longest stay in the delivery room ever!)

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And here we sit – a week away from our tenth anniversary, three children sleeping soundly one room over.  We look a little older than we did the day we walked down the aisle and our lives are definately filled with more crazy.

But I wouldn’t trade that crazy for all the riches in the world.  Especially because these three faces…

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Are the product of what began on the Saturday afternoon in July of 2000.  From where I sit, it’s been one heck of a decade.

To read our entire love story – click here.

Lemonade for Haiti

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“Mom! Can I clean the bathroom?”

“Uh…sure,” I reply, trying to keep my jaw from dropping to the floor.

“Will you pay me a dollar?”

Ah yes.  The catch.

“Why should I pay you a dollar?” I ask.  “The bathroom is dirty because you made it dirty.  Don’t you think you should clean it up for free?”

“But I want to raise money to send to children in Haiti!”

“Oh.  Well, I guess you can have a dollar then.”

“Great!  After that I’m going to go around the neighborhood and knock on people’s doors and see if I can walk their dogs to earn money for Haiti.  I want to get $111.00.”

I start calculating how many miles he’s going to have to walk to come up with that money. It doesn’t seem entirely realistic.  “Hey bud,” I call to my laboring son.  “Come here – I have an idea.”

And thus was birthed the idea for the lemonade stand for Haiti.

I haven’t put on a lemonade stand since I was a kid myself.  And it ended…poorly.  I was eleven-ish and we lived in a brand new St. Louis subdivision.  The neighbors across the street joined me and together we made up lemonade and situated ourselves on the street in front of some new construction.  We figured the builders would like to come buy our lemonade.

But they didn’t.  Despite our shrills screeches for LEMONAAAAAAAADE!!!!

So we put our heads together and came up with a solution to make more money.  My neighbor ran over to her house and raided her parents garage refridgerater.  She came out moments later dragging a cooler filled with…beer.

We commenced to shouting: LEMONAAAAADE…BEEEEEER!

And lo and behold, the builders flocked to us.  We sold several cans of beer and were racking in the dough when her dad came tearing acorss the yard.  The construction workers scattered.

“What are you doing?” he stammered.

“We’re selling lemonade and beer,” we said proudly.  “We’re making a lot of money.”

“Girls!” he cried.  “This is illegal.  You can’t sell beer.”

And that was the last time I worked a lemonade stand.

Despite the popularity of the beer, I refrained from suggesting to Sloan the illegal selling of alcohol.  Instead we kept it innocent – lemonade and chocolate chip cookies.  I also did the smart thing and put out the word on Facebook and Twitter.  Thank you to the sweet friends who came out and supported my tender hearted sons’ dream.  You helped him reach his goal and more. 

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 The neighbor kids joined us in flagging down passing cars.  Unfortunately there was a competing stand down the road, but that didn’t hamper the spirits of the kids.  They waved, they jumped and flapped their arms like chickens, all the while screeching LEEEEEMONADE! 

And people, when they discovered that we were accepting donations for this organization, were extremely generous, paying five, ten and in one case forty, dollars for a glass of lemonade and a freshly baked cookie. 

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 I was humbled as I watched Sloan work so hard to earn money.  Earlier that weekend, I had taken him to Target to use a gift card he got for his birthday.  He had his wallet with him and in his wallet was $20.  His gift card had $15 on it.  He saw several toys that he wanted that were more than $15.  I never said a word to him, I wanted to see how he would respond.

He refused to spend that $20.  “That’s the money for Haiti,” he told me.  And he picked out a smaller toy and a pack of gum instead.  Where did this child of mine come from?  It’s humbling to me.  There is often an ugliness in my heart that crops up when the need to give presents itself.  I get fearful that by giving away my money I may potentially not have what I need (or want) somewhere down the road.  So to see my seven year old give with reckless abandon, not caring about what he might be sacrificing, I was floored.

And honored.  Honored to be his mom.  Ashamed of my own ugliness.  Excited to help him work to earn $111.00. 

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Who wouldn’t want to buy a glass of lemonade from a face like this?

We were out there about an hour and a half before the sky started to fall.  As the rain fell, we grabbed our stuff and rushed home where we counted our money.  $120.  He reached his goal.

“Oh wait!” Sloan cried as we sat on the floor with the money.  He rushed to his wallet and grabbed the money out of it.  “I want to put this in.”

Lee and I looked at each other and back at Sloan, his big blue eyes so sweet and big.  “You know what, buddy,” Lee said.  “Why don’t you keep it.”

We went on to explain how God blesses a cheerful giver and we thought that Sloan deserved to keep the money he had already earned as a blessing for his heart.

“Well, can I put some of it in for the children in Haiti?” Sloan asked.

“You can put all of it in, if you really want to,” Lee said.  “But if you want to keep it, you have our permission.”

He thought about it for a minute and took out five dollars.  “I want to give some of it to Haiti,” he said.

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And then together as a family, we prayed a blessing over this jar of money – and over a certain seven year old who taught me quite a bit in the span of one day.

Blessings.

Seven

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Tomorrow morning, July 10, at 6:21 am will mark seven years since I first became a mother.  It is hard to express in words exactly how proud I am of this child and the young man he is growing into. 

He is tenderhearted and caring. 

He is funny and expressive. 

 He is smart and thoughtful. 

He is spunky and outgoing. 

He is quick to anger (we’re working on this) but also quick to ask for forgiveness. 

He aches when he knows he’s hurt somone’s feelings and will swiftly work to make things right.

He is also quick to offer forgiveness.

He’s loyal and will be a friend for life.

He is a remarkable little boy who grew from a brute of a baby (9 lbs 3oz – no drugs…Oy):

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Into a beast of a toddler:

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Into an adorable preschooler:

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Into the handsome little boy he is today:

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He’s athletic, able to smack a baseball and golfball with the savvy of someone twice his age.

He can speak and read in two languages.  This blows my mind.

He harbors a minor obssession with Star Wars and can rattle off a web of details that I find rather shocking.  It’s terribly adorable to hear him school his brother and sister on the ins and out of the Jedi Order.

Sloan is accutely aware of the suffering of others and desperately wants to help.  Currently he is raising money for Haiti and he is passionate about earning enough to help the kids there who are suffering.

Sloan prays with a boldness that I admire and love.  Listening to him pray is like being in a tent revival.  He brings the fire in his prayers and it’s hard not to jump up and shout “Halleljah!” 

In seven years, Sloan has taught me so many things.  He’s taught me to love people, to smile more, to forgive others swiftly, to trust in the Lord’s protection without question, to take a deep breath before speaking, to pray passionately, to care for others, and so much more…

But mostly, he’s taught me that I have the capability to love far more deeply and powerfully than I ever thought possible.  I didn’t know I could feel such a depth of emotion for one tiny person until Sloan came along.  He is more than I could have ever asked or imagined in a son and I am abundantly grateful to be called his mom.

Happy Birthday, Sloan.

A Girly Girl, She is Not

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She is sugar and spice and everything nice, but she also has a bit of frogs, snails and puppy dog tails in her.

Or, you know, night crawlers.

Ugh…

Let Freedom Ring

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Trying to stay dry from the rain that fell for about ten minutes before the fireworks started.

Trying to stay dry from the rain that fell for about ten minutes before the fireworks started.

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