He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress and for his children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

Monday, May 26, 2014

Anabelle's Ariel Cake

Anabelle is really not that into Arial anymore, but for whatever reason she has been dead set for months that she was going to have an Arial cake for her birthday.  We had no intentions of planning a big party for our 3 year old.  Just figured I'd ask her which friends she wanted to come and have cake with her and we'd do cake and ice cream one evening after dinner.  Well.   Her list literally included about 20+ people- all her little friends and their big brothers and sisters and parents (her favorite "aunts and uncles"- our overseas family)  So we had a crowd.  Still tried to keep it simple and stick with cake and ice cream but Maddie got in on the action so our menu expanded a little...

As for the cake, Anabelle had a very specific idea in mind.  For WHATEVER reason, I decided it would be a good idea to let her sit in my lap while I browsed through pinterest to come up with some ideas.  Good grief.  Of course, she immediately went for the cake that had the actual Ariel doll IN the cake and incorporated into the design.   Those have always kind of creeped me out, but I couldn't persuade her otherwise so I decided we'd have to go for it.

Naomi and Maddie had the idea to paint some of our shells pink and purple for decorating the cake and cupcakes.  We have TONS of shells in our craft drawer from various beach trips so I was glad for an excuse to use some of them!  Here they are painting shells.  

 For the Ariel cake, I made 1 large 9x13 and 2 smaller round cakes that would be the mound that Ariel is sitting on.

We were all a little concerned about the end result when I got started.  And despite the fact that she CHOSE the design, AB was a bit freaked out that Ariel was stuck in the cake...

A little icing (ok, a LOT of icing), and several toothpicks later and it's all coming together...

The "sand" is brown sugar held on by a crumb layer of icing and we also decorated with the painted shells and Anabelles' Little Mermaid squinkies...  That's what the Sebastian and Flounder and Scuttle on the cake are.  

We made cupcakes with the leftover cake batter and decorated them with the painted shells.

And Maddie wanted to make starfish cookies so our menu expanded a little more...

We also had THIS birthday punch that has kind of become a staple at our birthday parties- so yummy!

I've also started adapting THIS popcorn recipe for just about every birthday party or other event involving kids.  It's so versatile and fun to do with different colored sprinkles and you can dye the white chocolate to match what you're doing.  And it's SO yummy..

So the final spread was a bit more than I originally intended but it's a good thing since AB had such a long list of invitees....

Happy Birthday Bella Rose!  You are loved!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Backyard Gardening Phase 1

If you know me, it's no secret that I love the great outdoors, and the lack of green in this part of the world has been one of my biggest adjustments.  I posted HERE several years ago about making our balconies a green haven at least as much as I could.  Don't get me wrong, this is a beautiful part of the world with it's own unique beauty (check out my post HERE about our camping trip in the desert last year), but as far as just walking out your front door and having green around you, that doesn't happen quite as much.  I am so amazingly thankful for the yard space we have in our new apartment and the opportunity it has provided to put a little green right out our front and back doors.  The space out our front door was already pretty well established so we really didn't have to do a whole lot.  When you come in our front gate, there is a little walkway down to the side with rosebushes, jasmine, fresh mint and aloe plants already well established.  Growing up, way gave my mom a new rosebush for her garden every year on Mother's Day so I got my first Mother's Day rose bush this year!

Here's the front gate (we did plant new potted flowers- lots of purple- but you really can't see them very well)

and here's the little walkway that goes down the side...

and another angle

and here's this little knobby kneed angel waiting to greet Daddy when he gets home from work...

Anyway, the backyard area was definitely the bigger challenge and has honestly taken us a good year to get started and we are still just getting going.  Gardening has been in my blood for a long time.  Here is me and my Grandaddy back in the day ready to work in his backyard garden.  Memommy even sewed him a matching orange snail onto his khaki pants to match mine (I'm sure he was thrilled!!).  I remember so vividly helping him in his backyard and the minute I smelled my tomato plants I was taken back 30 years to his garden. 

All of the girls love to be outside, but Maddie is definitely a gardener at heart too.  We're thankful that Papa and Nana (Jason's parents) now have a farm with a garden so we've been able to get our gardening fill every time we're in the states.  Maddie always wants to know if our US trips will coincide with any work to be done in the garden. 

Here are some pics of Maddie in Papa and Nana's garden...

So, our backyard presenting some unique challenges as far as gardening.  Wasn't nearly as easy as just going and picking out what we wanted to plant and going for it.  First of all, we have this lovely screened in porch.  

It really IS nice, but at the same time it is a total dust trap.  Combine the fine dust of desert living with the construction site next door and it makes it nearly impossible to keep clean, therefore it's really not a space that we use much.  AND going back and forth out into the yard area becomes a pretty messy process, especially with a toddler.  

But oh how the toddler loves to help clean!

Anyway, so first challenge is keeping the screened in porch cleaned, or even accessible- we're talking about glassing it in, but that's a project for another day.  Next challenge, is getting the yard ready for planting.  

First there was a lot of weeding to do....

We weeded last year when we first moved in when I hoped we might get around to planting last summer (we didn't).  

And then we weeded again this year...

(obviously I had lots of good help!)

Once we got all the weeds out, there was the challenge of bringing in more dirt.  Yes, we already had dirt, but it had settled a good bit and we needed to bring in more so that we could actually plant stuff. It's hard to explain, but our yard is only accessible through the guest room in the back of the house (this leads out onto the screened in porch).   Anyway, so our yard area is actually above the parking lot that is under the building.   It's completely walled in and on the other side of the wall is the drop off to the parking lot.  Like I said, hard to explain.  Anyway, we knew it would be a challenge to have dirt brought in because it obviously couldn't be hauled in through the house....

A local friend knows a guy that manages a plant nursery so he contacted him to see how we could deliver the dirt.  He came and checked things out and within an hour brought a truckload of dirt.  

He negotiated with the adjacent building because it had to be dumped in their parking lot.

From their, we negotiated to pay our building guard and the one from the adjacent building to use the ladder pictured above and haul the dirt paint can by paint can (the big ones) up and over the wall into our yard.  I took the below picture from inside the house because I wasn't sure they'd want their pictures taken...
(you can barely see him coming over the wall in the back)

This whole process took about 4-5 hours.  I delivered them 3 rounds of chai (strong tea with lots of sugar) and attempted to keep Anabelle out of the way.  Ahmed (our building guard) is one of her biggest buddies and she was extremely curious to see what he was doing!

So if you haven't been able to tell, our backyard area is essentially the large screen porch and then 3 separate areas of dirt with a marble sidewalk that goes around the porch and between the 3 areas.    The first area when you walk out the porch door, has a trellis installed and for phase 2 (or 3) of our gardening efforts, we hope to put in grapevines and maybe rose bushes to grow up and over it.

For now I just have cherry tomato plants (against the back wall) and a flowering ground cover (about mid way down on the right- this was about 6 weeks ago and it's more than doubled the area it covers but I still need to get some more of it.  Against the left wall are the zucchini seeds we planted that are beginning to sprout.   I also want to plant an olive tree in this area, more ground cover and then cover the extra dirt with pretty rocks from the Dead Sea area and make a walkway of sorts surrounded by the ground cover.  We've talked about maybe putting a bench under the trellis.  For now though, it served as our experiment area for the seeds Maddie wanted to plant!  

Moving around from this first area is a longer narrow area of dirt in the space behind the screened in porch.  This will probably be the area each year that we use for just planting fruits and veggies.  Maddie had claimed it as "hers" to experiment with and I'm fine with that.    Here you can see the cherry tomato plants along the back.  The middle row is beans and peas.  There are strawberry plants in the front and a few cucumber plants (that didn't make it).  

You walk around past this area, to the third area that is the biggest.  It already had a lemon tree right in the middle so we left that.   We planted tomato plants along the edges and flowering seeds (sunflowers and zinnias) behind the tomatoes.  We put an apricot tree in the far right corner and there are geraniums along the right side that I moved from the front when I bought new plants for that area.  

Oh and I planed more seeds around the lemon tree- chamomile and some yellow flowers that Maddie picked out.   Now, trouble is, I'm not entirely sure which things are weeds (in the middle) and which we planted on purpose.  A lot of the weeds here are still really pretty and flowering so until I determine what's what, I'll leave then for now.  

Also in this area, we're eventually going to plant another olive tree (back left corner) and another one of my favorites in this area of the world that I'm pretty sure I've identified as a Jacaranda.  They were everywhere in Lebanon and here and in the spring their purple flowers are beautiful and leave a covering of purple all over the ground.  Also in this area I'll need to plant some sort of ground cover and also get some rocks to fill in the brown spaces.  We just don't have enough water to plant and maintain grass so we need ground cover that can tolerate the dry, hot summers.  

Here is how it all was looking as of last week...

 (the peas ALL came up which I didn't expect- should I thin them out?)

Also, here, I didn't expect these all to come up..

Anyway, we're having lots of fun watching our garden grow.  Hopefully will soon post pics of phase 2 as I've put in my order with our friend for 2 olive trees, some grapevines and a few more shrubs and flowers!  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

MY story, MY song, second verse

Or third, or fourth verse- I'm not really sure!  

If you've been reading for a while, you may have picked up on how much music has been part of my journey, or even, OUR journey as a family.   I typically have a song that has been my theme for particular seasons of my life- not even really on purpose,  it just kind of happens.  I'm not exactly musically gifted- that's Jason's area, but I love music and the way certain songs take me back to certain places and experiences.  For example, HERE I talk about the music that was a part of our IVF journey.  

So anyway, I've been feeling nostalgic lately.  Or sentimental may be a better word.  (or possibly hormonal but let's not go there)...  Our sweet little Anabelle just turned 3- THREE!  Is that even possible?  And in the midst of what has been a very busy few weeks, I was able to take some moments and reflect on the miracle that she is and just praise Jesus for His gift.  (HERE is the Anabelle part of our IVF journey that still makes me weep and probably always will)  

A few weeks before her birthday, we were at our weekly worship time where we gather with other friends, our overseas family,  in our homes and do church together.  We were singing "Blessed Assurance" and I was immediately taken back to a similar time of worship, different city, many of the same friends, some different, almost exactly 3 years ago.  On that day, "Blessed Assurance" spoke to and soothed my soul in the midst of my grief over a lost IVF cycle.  I wrote about that HERE.  On this day, almost exactly 3 years later, as I held AB in my arms and sang those familiar words, I was totally blown away by God's goodness and grace, and by the way He is continuing to write the story of our family.  

THAT day, I mourned the loss of a child I would never hold this side of heaven.  THIS day I wrapped my arms tightly around one of the four miracles God has lovingly placed into my care.

THAT day,  I was overwhelmed by the way God weaves even the most painful circumstances into the fabric of our lives to help tell the story of His love.  THIS day, I rejoiced at the beauty that has resulted from that pain as I once again looked around the room and soaked in the gifts of my husband and my daughters and our friends, all such an intricate part of MY story and MY song.  

THAT day, my tears were birthed from pain and a lack of understanding of why God's timing couldn't align more with mine, yet I chose to praise Him anyway.  THIS day, my tears came from a place of joy as I reflected on the journey of our family, OUR story, OUR song, and I praised him for the gift of our children and the music they bring to our lives.  

You see, in our house, you could say life is a song more often than not.  There are days when I have to ask one (or more) of the girls to just stop singing for a few moments so I can gather my thoughts.  There is music as we clean, singing as we do dishes, humming as we do homework.  

You get the idea. At times the song is a bit off key, often times we are wondering WHEN a verse is going to end, and other days we all joyfully sing together.  Whatever the case, we rest assured that with God as the composer, the end result will be a thing of beauty that only He could create.   I praise Him for each of our girls who add their unique melody (or harmony) to the song He is writing for our family,  and this month in particular we celebrate the melody of Anabelle and the joy she brings to our lives.  Whether it be belting out the lyrics of "Let it Go" (again), attempting to sing along in our worship time to a song she has never heard, or humming along (in perfect pitch) to the tune of Jason's coffee grinder, we are all beyond thankful for this precious girl and the music she brings to our lives.  

Another post titled, "This month" since I can't seem to keep up with blogging...

And sadly, I started writing this post almost 3 weeks ago!  Gracious time flies.  

So, yes, April was kind of a crazy month.  The first part of it was not so fun as Jason had a two week trip.  We are typically in a pretty good groove when he travels, but this particular trip was just one of those where everything that could possibly go wrong, did.  Honestly, I can't really even remember at this point everything that DID go wrong (which does not AT ALL mean it was all exaggerated and created in my mind!), however there was a lot of sickness- me and all four girls, including this sweet angel having pink eye for the first time.  She still (over a month later) occasionally comes up to me and says, "my eye all better mommy!".  Sweet thing, it was pitiful!

Also on our April agenda was the spring play at Amman Baptist School that Abbey was a part of.  
This year they did Jungle Book.  

AJ was the Mogle's wolf mother,

and one of the silly monkeys.  

All the kids did such a great job!  Below is Abbey with "Kaa" the snake and "Belou" the bear

Little sisters were so proud!

April also means baseball season is in full swing.  Naomi was thrilled to get the chance to play catcher in the last game.   She also got the award at the end of the game for dirtiest pants.  Apparently that's a thing...

For Easter, we drove up to a nearby "forrest" and had an Easter picnic with some other American family friends.   Jason was thrilled for a chance to get out his hammock.
(which all the kids took advantage of...)

We even managed to take our traditional bunny cake on the picnic- thankfully I got a picture before a football landed on it....

AB LOVES to sing, so much, and she is particularly thrilled when Jason gets out the guitar.

These girls have been best buddies for a LONG time.  Thankful for lifelong friends!

April was also a pretty busy school month for the girls.  Abbey had several presentations and projects including designing her own webpage.  Maddie had a science fair for which she made a solar oven.  
It actually worked pretty well!

The last part of the month the whole family got to go with Jason to a meeting in Greece during the girls spring break.  It was absolutely beautiful!

We rode a ferry across to the mainland one day as our hotel was on the island of Evia.

 We found a little mom and pop style restaurant by the water that served gyros-yummy!

Made the mistake of not ordering AB one, thinking she wouldn't care one way or another.  She cared. Here she is eating mine...

Anyway, I know the month is halfway over, but hope you are enjoying your May!  We are holding on to our hats hoping that things slow down when school ends next month!