Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Cleveland Botanical Gardens

I was going to add this little segment to my ridiculously photo-overloaded Easter post coming soon, but I decided to post these today in honor of Earth Day.

The girls didn't have school on Good Friday, so I decided to take them to the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. I had wanted to take them earlier in the week to snap some pictures of them in their Easter dresses. Luckily I didn't get around to it -- seeing as it wasn't quite the idyllic Springtime backdrop I had envisioned...

Poor, poor Cleveland.

To make up for the lack of outdoor scenery, Polly the Bee was buzzing around to provide some sort of photo op for moms with their cameras.
Mina was in love, and Aubrey suddenly turned into that big kid who looks awkward posing with a costumed character. 

And, um, since I used the Chick-fil-a cow dressed up as Santa over Christmas, I'm chalking this one up as our trip to see the Easter Bunny. (Mom of the Year, folks.)

Moving on.
So the outdoor area of the Botanical Gardens was downright pitiful, but the indoor elements were a bit more colorful. Aubrey even whipped out her camera.

Sidenote: Aubrey's outfit. She insisted on this floral cardigan ("Mom! It's perfect for the botanical gardens! I'll look like a fresh Spring bouquet!"). I had been cleaning out clothes that were too small in her closet when she spotted it. Oh well, I must admit I like her appreciation for themed apparel. :)

Mina couldn't stop saying, "Whoa, Mama! Woooook!"

The girls spotted a stage filled with insect / bird / animal props.
Aubrey was basking in her full-winged glory of a captivated audience.
(It's truly a shame that she inherited my "singing" voice.)

And then little Mina came out just flapping her wings and smiling at everyone. 

Next we were off to find our way through a ladybug labyrinth...

And the girls' favorite part -- the glasshouse filled with all sorts of plants and insects.

Despite the look of these pictures, the whole place was PACKED.
I was worn-out and stressed-out after 90 minutes, but the girls were loving every second.

So I guess it was a small price to pay.
Especially since I skipped out on the Easter Bunny this year. ;)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Three Things Thursday

Thing 1: Weather

Signs of Spring started popping up here in Cleveland despite the cooler temps...

And then it warmed up beautifully and even exotic pets were out enjoying the fresh air!

And then this happened...

And we spent the afternoon watching (and singing) Frozen because it just made sense.

Thing 2: Books

Daniel started reading chapter books with Aubrey this year. I decided I wanted in on the action too because -- Good Lord -- Mina wants the same 10 page books read from dusk till dawn.

Curling up with my big girl and reading a book has been beyond delightful. It's the perfect afternoon wind-down after school and once I put Mina down for her nap. I'm going to miss that sweet time with her when she's in school all day next year. (Waaaaaaah!!)

A bonus is when there's a movie based on one of the books. After we read the book, we pile up and watch the movie together. I love how (so far) Aubrey's decided that she likes the books more than the movies. She'll often say during the movie, "That's such-and-such character?! I had a totally different picture in my head! I like my brain idea more..."

Here are a chunk of the books we have read: The Jungle BookPeter PanThe Secret GardenRamona the PestShanghai Secret, and The Lion's Paw. Daniel has also been reading her the Chronicles of Narnia set. I asked her today what her favorite one has been so far and she said The Secret Garden. We just finished The Jungle Book last week, and she's trying to decide between Mary PoppinsThe Voyages of Dr. Doolittle and Pollyanna right now.

And, just a sidenote: When did Aubrey turn into a full-blown big girl?

Thing 3: Recipes

My friend posted this Cafe Rio Shredded Chicken Copycat recipe on Pinterest. I have never heard of Cafe Rio -- much less eaten at one -- but after trying this, I'm pretty sure I'd want to eat there at least once a week.

It's a crock-pot recipe (three cheers!), and you can eat it any way you like: taco salad, soft tacos, or just on a bed of romaine lettuce. My girls gobbled it up in quesadillas. It's SO good.

Cafe Rio Shredded Chicken with Cilantro-Ranch Dressing 

       (Image via here)

  • 2 pounds chicken breasts
  • ½ cup zesty italian dressing
  • ¾ tablespoon minced garlic
  • ½ tablespoon chili powder
  • ½ tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 1 oz package dry ranch dressing mix
  • ½ cup water

  • Optional toppings:
  • minced cilantro
  • roma tomatoes, chopped
  • olives
  • fresh lettuce
  • cilantro ranch dressing
  1. Spray the inside of your slow cooker with cooking spray. Add all of the ingredients except for the chicken into your slow cooker. Mix until combined.
  2. Add the chicken and cook on low for 4-6 hours or on high 3-4 hours until the chicken is no longer pink and cooked throughout.
  3. Remove chicken from the slow cooker and shred. Replace the chicken back in the slow cooker and mix with the juices. Enjoy!

Cilantro Ranch Dressing

      (Image via here)


1 packet Hidden Valley Ranch mix (not BUTTERMILK)
1 cup buttermilk
2 tomatillos, remove husk, diced
1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro
1 clove garlic
juice of 1 lime
1 jalapeno (if you like it mild, just remove the seeds)


Mix all ingredients together in the blender or food processor. That’s it!

I just realized this would be a perfect dish for Cinco de Mayo!
How fantastico!

Monday, April 14, 2014


Easter is just around the corner, and it always gets me.
I will cry this Sunday in church.
The overwhelming magnitude of its significance will flood my heart, which will then result in mascara cascading down my cheeks.
I'll look like a mess by the time it's all over.
And that's okay.
We're all a mess anyway.
I'd say Easter is the one day we might as well embrace it.

I mean, have you ever really meditated on the fact that God came to down to us through the incarnation of a man?
Ever actually let that sink in?
Or at least imagined, "What if...?"
That He physically walked this Earth.
Breathed our air.
Burped after a meal.
Got splinters working as a carpenter in His dad's wood shop.
Hugged His friends.
Went to the bathroom.
Became one of US.
It's absolutely mind-blowing when you take the time to even attempt to process it.

A dear friend of mine shared on Facebook that this book was free for download one day on Amazon.
So, I figured I'd download it. (Why not, right?)
And it turned out that this book put into words some of the very things I had been wrestling with since reading the Bible in its entirety a few years ago.

One of the main takeaways from that year for me was the realization that Jesus and what He taught is scarcely seen in professed "Christians" today. More specifically, it is RARELY seen in ME.

I feel like God has been telling me to be more INTENTIONAL.
Intentional with my family, with my friends, and with people God puts into my life unexpectedly.
To not be in such a hurry, but to see people through His eyes.
Not with judgment, but with compassion.
Really get to know what's going on.
Know their struggles.
And then serve them right where they are.
However that looks.
Each person / relationship will be different.

I'll be honest, there are days / months / years when I do a super crappy job of being intentional.

We had a neighbor in Oklahoma who was a retired, never-been-married woman with not many (if any) friends or family around. She lived all alone, and I went and visited her one time.
We lived there for four years.
I was home every single day.
She was home every single day.
I never invited her over.
Not once.

In this book, Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth, the author highlights the God incarnate life of Jesus on Earth. The God-Man literally walking our streets. How He interacted with people. He was SO intentional -- particularly with "big sinner" people. The way He treated them is so vastly different from how most "Christians" treat them today.

There were several quotes from this book that I feel like said exactly what I've been thinking...

Jesus was teaching that godliness is not about trying to hide our humanness and appear more like God. That always comes off smelling like inauthenticity and reeks of hypocrisy -- and neither God nor the observing world buys it. Worse, it doesn't work anyway.

People are not pagans to be converted, projects to be preached at, or demographics to be reprogrammed. Humans should never be generalized, categorized, dismissed, judged, or underestimated. Every person is a story, rich with history, experiences, creative potential, strengths and weaknesses, clarity and blindness.

You must learn to respect people's lostness; you must become a deep listener and learn to dignify people's spiritual journeys. And when you hear what has happened to them or not happened to them regarding spiritual matters, you must identity with them or put yourself in their shoes so that maybe someday you can help them see Jesus ans separate from those bad experiences. You've got to help them see the real face of God.

Jesus transcended all the dilemmas, arguments, trite judgments, and religious expectations simply by not picking a side. He neither condoned nor condemned, and yet people felt accepted by Him...and they felt conviction.

People of every sexual orientation miss God's design for marriage. In fact, they miss His design for just about everything. It's called sin -- missing God's mark. But for some reason, God looks past that and still shows up at our parties, our ceremonies, and our dinner tables. He wants to talk. He did way back then. I believe He still wants to talk today. Jesus shows us that there's never a change of mind unless there's a change of heart, and there will never be a change of heart without a conversation between trusted friends.

We have to remember that how we treat people influences what they may believe about God, and if you look like you've got an agenda other than loving, listening, or blessing, your God will look like a conquistador instead of a compassionate King.

If any of this resonated with you, I highly recommend you read this book.
It's written in a down-to-earth / conversational way.
It will encourage and demonstrate how to live more than just skin deep life.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Unexpected Baby Blues

Aubrey's teacher recently sent out an email to the parents in the class: 

We need everyone to send a story about when your child was a baby. Add a fun baby picture to attach to the story and the class will make a baby book of all their pictures and stories. 

My heart cracked in half.
On one side was the realization of just how long ago it was that Aubrey was a "baby".
On the other side of my broken heart was little Mina.

I thought of the only baby pictures we have of her:
Her finding ad photo when she was one month old.
Her referral photo in the orphanage when she was somewhere between 5-6 months old.
Her photo the day she went to live with her foster mom when she was 7 months old.

That's it.

It makes me so, so sad.
I can barely breathe thinking about how one day it will probably make Mina so, so sad too.

She's already starting to ask questions.
"Mommy from China?"
"No, sweetie. Mommy isn't from China."
"Daddy from China?"
"No, Daddy isn't from China either. But Mina is!"
"Yeah! Mina from China! Aww! Happy! Mommy happy too?"
"Yes baby, Mommy's happy too..."

I know this is just the beginning of her search for answers.
Right now it's simple conversations during an afternoon popcorn snack.
One day it might be gut-wrenching questions over a box of tissues well past midnight.
But the thing is -- no matter what -- we are in this together.
Which takes a little of the sadness away...

Monday, March 31, 2014

Spring Break, Grammy / Pop Pop Edition

We spent the second half of our Kentucky Spring Break at Grammy and Pop Pop's house.

And, like most of our trips to Kentucky, the time seemed to fly by.

Speaking of flying by...

Aubrey loved flying kites at Grammy and Pop Pop's house!
Why just fly one kite when you can fly two?

Poor Mina had a hard time and just yelled at her kite (or anyone who tried to help her). It was pretty comical considering she rarely gets mad at anything!

But Mina sure loooooved getting to see her new cousin. 
She begged, "Hold Baby!!!!"
This was our compromise... 

Is he not the cutest thing in the world?! Even when he's fighting a nap... :)

Grammy and Pop Pop let the girls get in a practice Egg Hunt before Easter.

They even filled the eggs with fun things like candy, bath/water toys, and money! 

And, as luck would have it, we were in town over my grandmother's birthday!
We wanted to do something that she'd never done before...
81 years old, and this was her very first pedicure!

Fun week of memories!
Only three more months until we'll be back in the good old Bluegrass for good!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Spring Break, Zubie Edition

We decided to take our Spring Break a tad bit early, and we traveled South!
At the moment, we're soaking up time at Zubie's house.
We're also taking advantage of NO SNOW on the ground! 

We're also making time for educational enrichment...
"I want to see some GERMS!"

We piled up on the couch and introduced Zubie to the movie Frozen.

And it wouldn't be a trip to Zubie's without the girls smothering the poor cat!

Thank you for having us, Zubie!
We love you!

Monday, March 17, 2014

The End of the Lucky Green Hat

It's had a good run.
And I think after this St. Patrick's Day, it's time to hang up the lucky green hat.
So, let's see it one last time.
Take it away, Mina...

Good-bye you silly green hat!
Thanks for five years of cuteness!
(2009201020112013, and now 2014)
Happy St. Patty's Day!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

School, Skating, and Sunshine!


Mina has been dying to go to school like "Aubie" so I signed her up for a Mommy and Me class that meets one day a week. The class is like getting to be a fly on the wall at a Mother's Day Out program. The kids are learning how to behave in a "classroom" setting, while all the moms are within reach in case separation anxiety strikes. It's so cute to watch the kids interact, and at the same time I am always convinced I could NEVER be a preschool teacher.

Mina asks me every single day, "Mina class?!"
She is the first one in the door and introduces herself, "Mina! From China!", scurries to hang up her backpack, washes her hands, finds her Mina "Mitten" to place in the basket signifying she's present, and then she's off to do some important preschool work.
Basically, she's the cutest thing ever.

I've always been impressed with Mina's ability to focus.
School is serious business for this girl.
One little boy in her class is always trying to get her to play.
This scene unfolded the other day: he nudged his chair over to her, leaned over to check out her work, and finally worked up the courage to ask, "Mina play?" to which she responded, "No, I'm fine. Busy."
I predict she'll be a brilliant heart-breaker one day.


I took Aubrey ice skating a couple weeks ago and decided she was / is the most adorable ice skater ever.

I don't think I had been ice skating since Middle School, so we both about busted it when our blades hit the ice. Aubrey said, "It's so slippery! Who even came up with this idea?!"
After clinging to the rink wall for dear life, we started to get the hang of it by the third lap.

This is the pose she struck when I suggested, "Lets take your picture to send Dad." after he texted me to see how it was going.

Then she wanted me to take a video to send him, which didn't go quite as planned...

(The boy talking in the video was calling for a friend named "Temere". 
He wasn't saying, "Come here"  to Aubrey -- just to clarify in case that was confusing. ;))

I was hesitant to post that video of her falling, but I love her resilience afterward. 
"That was a little tumble!"  

She is so awesome.
Gosh, I love her.


The other day the temperature warmed up to 47 degrees. A few more degrees and the girls would have asked to get the inflatable pool out. It felt SO warm compared to the tundra we've been living in since, well...I can't remember. I do recall our pumpkins having snow on them well before Halloween, so yeah. It's been awhile!

I think Mina was in a slight state of shock at first...

But it didn't take long for that smile to defrost...