Orphan hosting (and hosting to adopt) – Ten Things You Need to Know

“Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” – Andy Stanley

Our family is planning to host an eight year old orphan from the Ukraine this summer.  If all goes well, we are open to adopting him.  This will be our fourth experience hosting orphans using three different hosting agencies.

In the following post, I want to tell you why we continue to host orphans, share briefly about the seven kids we have hosted over the years, and then provide you with the Top Ten Things you need to know about orphan hosting.  It is my hope that by the end of this post, your heart will be more inclined to maybe consider hosting for yourself and your family. 

The reason our family continues to host orphans is because God has given us a heart for children that are without loving families and kids that have been rejected.  I have been rejected many times over during the course of my life, especially during my childhood, and God has since healed me. And now I’d like to give back and be an instrument of love and change in a child’s life.  My desire is to show these kids without a family that God loves them, we love them, and they have inherent worth as human beings despite the difficulties and hurt they have faced in their young lives.  The other reason is that we are hoping to host to adopt.  More on that in a moment.  

Another reason we host is because we believe it pleases God and accomplishes his purposes. To start, God Himself is their Father: “Father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God is his holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5) And the Bible commands his followers to look after them: “religion that our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their time of distress, and keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27) If caring for the orphan is important to God, I feel like it should be important to me and my family, too.

Our Brady Bunch Christmas: We hosted three kids from Latvia this past Christmas (2018) and it was a great experience! It was fun and busy to have three extra kids in the house!

I wanted to take a moment to tell you about all the kiddos we have hosted over the years.  All of these very brief stories will give you a well-rounded picture of what orphan hosting may be like if you decide to do it.  

Dennis: “Dennis the Menace” had behavior issues and would blow right past the boundaries I set for him. He was also sneaky and foolhardy. Dennis had been hosted before and knew the words “Waterpark” and “Rollercoaster” quite well and immediately asked if we could go do both of them.  One time Claire caught Dennis literally one second from killing all the fish in her fish tank when she walked into her own bedroom and saw him, with an evil grin on his face, right before he dumped a whole tub of liquid detergent into the fish tank. 😱 Another time we found Dennis pouring water down the kiddie slide at the park and making a huge mud puddle at the bottom of the slide while all the three year olds and their parents watched in horror. 😶 When Dennis wasn’t being difficult, he was a fun kid to have around, got along great with my son Logan (Logan cried his guts out when he left), he played well with the neighborhood kids, he could be sweet and affectionate with host mom, he was quite funny, and one night he received Jesus Christ as his savior.  Even for just that one event, it was worth it to host Dennis. When we drove him to the airport so he could go back to Latvia, he cried. At that moment I realized that we meant more to him than I realized.

Khloe, Logan, and Dennis catching fireflies! Hosting doesn’t have to be complicated. Catching fireflies is free. 🙂

Sasha: Sasha had special needs that became evident within the first few moments of hosting him.  My heart sank when I saw him flapping his arms and jumping up and down in the corner of our living room within ten minutes of him coming into our home.  The description we had of him beforehand turned out to be inaccurate.  BUT…we loved him anyway and I tried to take care of him the best I could.  I talked to him, prayed for him, took him on fun family outings, fed him, smiled a ton at him, and gave him a super fun week in our home (he was then transferred into a family who had experience with special needs). Sasha taught me that all children have worth and that God loves them too.  Note: it is very unusual for a child’s hosting description to be so incorrect. I guess God just had a plan for us to host him.

Sasha loved to go out on fun outings with our family!

Misha and Masha: This sibling group was a busy small force of energy and activity.  The girl, Masha (we had fun calling out Masha! Masha! Masha!) was very easy and independent and played by herself all day long. She loved to watch Frozen and would sing “Let it Go” all day and night in our home!  Her brother Misha was a handsome boy with a huge heart and competitive drive, but he was foolhardy and didn’t always listen to me.  Although Misha did struggle with behavior issues, he was also very sweet. He loved to bake with me, play with Logan, and he was sweet and affectionate with Erik. It was so cool to see Erik giving him the fatherly love he was longing for.  We told both of them about God’s love for them demonstrated the love of a family to them.  

Misha needed love from a dad. It was so cool to see him get it!
Masha loved to bake! And to sing “Let it Go!” all day long!

Lasma, Samantha, and Daniel.  So this past winter I really went for it!  I decided to host three kids at the same time, right during a major kitchen remodel, with no local family support.  Oh, and we had just moved to a new state!  And I’m so glad I did because this past winter (2018) was by far the best hosting experience we have ever experienced!  In the fall when I began perusing hosting websites looking at adorable kiddos, I intended to only host potentially adoptable kids.  After a lot of internal wrestling and prayer, I settled on two kids in a guardian situation who were potentially adoptable. But I also kept going back to an older girl, age 17, who seemed different and special.  There was something about that kept drawing me back.  So I prayed and decided to host her too. And I’m so glad I did!  Lasma was an amazing addition to our family and was a complete joy to have around.  She literally helped me around the house multiple times a day with cooking and cleaning (of her own accord – no pressure from me). Here was a typical conversation:

Lasma: “Hea-der. I only helped you three times today.  I help you seven more times.”

Me: “Lasma, hon.  You are here to relax and be in my family.  I love you. You don’t have to work for me.  You already helped me three times.  Relax.”

Lasma: “No, I help you. Give me broom.  Broom is my friend.”   

And then little Samantha would come up to me while Lasma was sweeping and say: “help you?”  In fact, “help you” was the first two English words Samantha learned on her own. The two girls would almost compete with each other to help me and they actually wanted to (unlike other humans I know who live with me who shall remain nameless….). The three of us girls had a great time preparing meals in my recently remodeled kitchen.  For several nights Lasma cooked me dinner while I drank wine and relaxed. These three host kids were all good kids, well behaved, listened to host mom, got along great with my own kids, and it was so fun to have six kids all playing happily together screen free in different pockets of our new house.  

Lasma on a “boring day” playing a card game! Our kitty liked boring days too!
On a “fun day” we went to the lake, a park, and McDonalds. Total cost: about ten dollars!
Samantha loved to do crafts! I was glad to finally find a kid in my house who was still into it and used my art supplies!
Khloe is great at hair-styling! Check out Daniel’s new do!!
Here’s an example of a “major outing.” I took the kids into Chicago to the top of the Willis Tower! Super fun! We had a scary but fun time on the overhanging glass structure! Hosting doesn’t have to be this involved but it can be what you make of it. The kids have fun doing regular things and more involved things too!
Lasma learned to ride a bike at the age of 17!!!

Lastly – this is the cutie we plan to host this summer.  We are hosting him through https://www.frontierhorizon.org.His description is encouraging.  We’ve seen videos of him and we are looking forward to hosting him!  (There are other kiddos still available for summer hosting on their website.)

Below are the Top Ten Things you need to know about orphan hosting in a Q and A format.  

1.  What is Orphan Hosting and give me some general facts:

In brief, orphan hosting is when you invite an orphan into your home for a short period of time (about four weeks, perhaps a bit more) in order to show them the love of a family.  There is a to do list of paperwork and you have to pay for the child’s flight and other expenses, and then you let the kid schlep around with you wherever you go for that four week period.  There are several hosting agencies, a few countries they work with, and two hosting seasons: Christmas and summer. For more detailed information on hosting in general click here: https://www.kidsave.org/host-a-child-mentor-a-child/

2.  Which foreign countries participate in hosting programs?

Ukraine, Latvia, Colombia, Phillipines, Kyrgystan, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, China, and other countries.  Please use google for more information.

3.  What are the main hosting agencies? 

We have used three different hosting agencies: 

New Horizons for Children (http://nhfc.org)

Host Children (hostchildren.org)

and Frontier Horizons (https://www.frontierhorizon.org).  I have most recently hosted through Frontier Horizons and Host Children.

Here are a few I’ve heard of but have never hosted through: 

Rainbow Kids: https://www.rainbowkids.com/hosting-a-child/hosting-programs

Project 143 www.p143.org.

BB: http://www.bbinternationaladoption.com/Colombian-Child-Holiday-Hosting-Program(BB hosts kids from Colombia. They have very short programs so this might be a good one to look into.  And they claim that the children are already cleared for adoption!)

Project 143 has a great Q and A on their website about hosting in general.

I also just found out that Madison Adoption Associates participates in orphan hosting. Please google them.

4.  What are the pros and cons of hosting?

The pros are that you give an orphan the love of a family for a few weeks.  If you are a person of religious faith, you can introduce your host kid to God’s love as well.  There are other benefits such as your children seeing your example and sharing their toys and their time.  They will get a little less self-centered and more giving and flexible through hosting.  Also – all the kids (yours and the host kids) really bond and it’s honestly and truly a lot of fun to have more kids in the house.  I’m not kidding.  You will have to host to believe me on this.  Cons: it can be hard and the kids can be not what you expected.  It can be tiring for the host mom if she thinks it’s “all on her.”  It takes work and there can be frustrations. The other con is that I’ve heard that some orphanage directors are not always completely accurate or honest about America or the hosting experience (at least this is what I have heard). The kids can cry when they go, and you feel bad.

5. Can I host to adopt?  (if you are not interested in hosting to adopt, please feel free to skip to number 6.)

Absolutely!!  But it’s getting harder to do. At least in some countries. I will add that hosting to adopt is a lot easier if you are open to older kids, larger sibling groups, and kids with potential special needs.  

Let me give you a very realistic model of what will happen when you attempt to host to adopt and you want as much information on the child beforehand as possible.  First, you get on a hosting website and peruse it.  You see a bunch of super cute kids that you are drawn to.  Some are sibling groups of two and you think “cool, I’m open to siblings.”  So you make an inquiry of the hosting coordinator.  So you send an email and say: “Hey Lilia! (actual host coordinator or hostchildren.org, who is great and her story is below). Can you give me more information on B142 and whether or not he is clear for adoption?”

Below are a few ways she will answer you: (I have heard literally all of these a number of times each from several different coordinators. Below are possible responses for Latvia and Ukraine.)

  • No, the child is not available for adoption, sorry. 
  • I’m so sorry, but unfortunately, we have no information on their adoption status.  
  • Yes, they are available, but you need to know that the child has two older siblings, ages 13 and 15.  You would have to adopt them too.
  • The children are in a guardian situation, and while it’s possible to adopt from that situation, it’s tricky, and the guardian would have to sign off on it and other things would need to happen. 
  • The child is in a foster care situation and a new law was just passed stating that you cannot adopt a child in foster care. 
  • He is available for adoption but there is an issue with his sister so they would have to legally separate them for the adoption to occur. 

So while it is humanly possible to host to adopt, with changing laws and changing attitudes and foster care this and guardian that, and the uncertainty of adoption in the first place, it’s getting harder.  I also had a friend who hosted to adopt and they were all set to adopt the child, and then at the last minute he changed his mind.  Adoption is a difficult thing sometimes.  

But have many people done it?  Absolutely.  Let me briefly explain how hosting to adopt works.  First, you host the orphan and determine that “hey, I think we could adopt this kiddo.”  Hopefully, your child is indeed available for adoption. And then you just start the adoption process, and most host agencies are streamlined to set you right up with an agency.  International adoption can take a decent amount of time and is a lot of work (and money). Each country is a bit different but once you settle on an adoption agency, they will walk you through the process. And for the sake of brevity, that’s all I will say on this topic.

6. Can I just host just to host, with no adoption interest?

100 percent yes!  In fact, I would say that this is a great way to host. Just think of it as a four week investment for both you, your family, and the host kid. Give them love. And have fun!

7.  What if we both (host mom and host dad) work full time.  Can we still host?

Yes! It’s much easier to do if you have local family support OR paid, consistent reliable child care support, and if you and your husband can each work from home every other week or have a flexible work schedule, etc.  Some hosting agencies allow you to place your child in a licensed day camp.  You would need to identify those hosting agencies and host through them.  So yes, whatever you are doing during the day with your other kids, theoretically you could do with your host kids.  I would just say though that the more time that the host kiddo can get with you and your family within the context of you home, the better.  And the more flexible and less intense your own work schedule can be, the better.

8.  Can I put the child in a summer camp if I need to?

Yes.  I must say that I have never once used a summer camp while I hosted because I thought “I should be here with the child 24/7.”  But honestly, I just learned that I can do this (some hosting agencies allow this) and I plan to put our host kid in a day camp or two with my other kids (I am talking one or two weeks out of four or five).  I can say that if you do not use a day camp ever, you will feel like it’s all on you and it can be tiring to feel like you have to entertain them all day long (but you don’t, see the next question).  If you choose a summer camp, work carefully with the camp staff as the child will likely speak limited English and may not even be able to swim. 

9.  What do you do with the host kids all day long?

The short answer is whatever you are normally doing with your own kids.  You don’t have kids?  Then whatever is in your capacity to do with some emphasis on what you think they would like to do.  I used to think I had to entertain them continually but after Dennis left and it took me a week to recover, I knew I had to find a better way.  Now, I take the pressure off and use a “one boring day, one more fun day” model.  On “boring days” we stay home, I get stuff done (including working part time), we play games like UNO and other simple games, they play outside, etc.  The host kids are perfectly fine on boring days and I often find them doing their own thing quite happily with no adult intervention.  🙂 On “more fun” days we go out and do stuff.  Sometimes it’s super simple and cheap things like going to a (free) park and getting a $1 McDonald’s vanilla ice cream cone. Anyone reading this blog post I think can handle that.  🙂 Other days we do more involved activities like go to a pool, or go on a major outing like a theme park or ice skating or camping or the beach.  You live on a farm?  Have the host kiddo help you with farm chores.  You live in the city?  Take your kiddo to a free museum.  Have a pond with small fish in your neighborhood?  Give them some worms and a rod and a little snack and let them fish. Taking your own kid to his soccer game or swim meet? Take the host kid too. Stuff like that. Don’t go crazy.  The pressure is off.  Just love them. And have fun!  But it doesn’t have to be super fancy stuff.

10.  What if the kids have behavioral issues?

So I would be lying to say that there are no behavior issues, but lot of times they are not super major and can be handled.  Ask yourself (if you are a parent) “do my own kids sometimes have behavior issues?” If they answer is yes, then imagine how hard and strange it is (yet exciting and rewarding) it would be to come to a new country and only speak limited English and try to fit into an already existing family? Most issues can be easily resolved with loving boundaries and google translate.  You can also call the chaperone.  Or, you can be like me and host an awesome older kiddo who speaks the language fluently and can whip the younger kids into shape.  Seriously though, the bottom line is that the hosting coordinator or chaperone is a call away, a face time away, or a What’s Ap away and can definitely deal with the kiddos.  

Important point: the orphanage directors and the in-country hosting staff do their very best to select the kids who have the best chance of doing well during the hosting season.  If they have severe behavior issues where they currently live then they are not a good candidate for hosting.

One last thing: only two kids out of seven we have hosted had behavior issues. The three girls were all a complete joy with no issues.  One boy had complaining and pouting issues but again we used google translate and the chaperone to help us.  The issues were resolved.

11.  (bonus) How do I communicate with my host kid? (if they don’t speak English)

It’s much easier than you think using Google translate (an Ap), charades, gestures, and using common words like toilet, pizza, host mom, host dad, yes and no, etc. They study a little English, you study a little ______.  Call the chaperone and tell them what’s going on; he/she will translate for you. You develop a groove and you end up speaking Spanglish (or the appropriate country derivative) and they end up speaking Russ-glish, Ukraine-glish, or Chinese-glish.  It’s all good.  You will be ok.  Trust me, this is the last thing you need to worry about.  

12. Last Question: What is the best thing about hosting?

For me personally, it’s knowing that I can impact one person for good.  I can make one small difference in a child’s life.  I can possibly even change the trajectory of that child’s life by my sacrifice and time and energy.  God blesses me back every time I host.  He gives me the grace and strength to do it.  I love knowing that the kids all learn about God and His love in our home.  My kids are better for it, and so is my husband.  And so am I! It takes a leap of faith I know…but it’s well worth it.  You feel good knowing you are giving a wounded kiddo a loving home for a short period of time. And you really end up liking and loving the kids.  It’s truly a self-sacrificial win-win. 

I am closing this post with an email I received from my winter host coordinator named Lilia.  I had no idea she had once been hosted many years ago!  And her story sums up the entire point of hosting: you never know how one act of love can be used to completely change the trajectory of a child’s entire life.  And that’s the bottom line of why we continue to host.  😊

Heather –

Every time I greet our host children and families at the arrival airport, my mind is momentarily taken back to the time I was hosted myself. A long time has passed since I was hosted, but my recollection of the  experience is still very fresh in my mind.

I was so honored and grateful to have been hosted together with my sister, who is a year and a half older than me. Two teen girls are not likely candidates to get hosted, we thought. How pleasantly surprised were we when the director of our orphanage shared the exciting news with us that a family in America wants to host us!

For the first time in my life I got to celebrate my birthday with an actual birthday party that my host family organized just for me. Our host mom invited family and friends, had special decorations and cake in my honor, but I do not think that she realized just how much that meant to me. Was I really important to someone, I thought? Important enough to have them put together this wonderful birthday party? Did someone genuinely care about me even though they just met me? I will never forget that day and I will always be grateful for the wonderful host experience my sister and I had.

My sister and I were fortunate enough to be adopted and we are grateful beyond words. My sister has a degree in International Business and works at a law firm. I am a Host Program Director and have the privilege of organizing and running host programs for orphaned children around the world. I am a mother to an amazing son and am thankful every day for the way our lives turned out.

Hosting goes beyond a memorable vacation for the children. It is the feelings of belonging, of being cared and loved that serve as validation of their worth, which they so deeply need and desire. Please consider hosting a child this summer. Not only will you provide the children with an unforgettable experience, but you will also change their life and give them hope for their future. Thank you for reading my story,

Lilia

PS: to just take a peek at the kids available for hosting, go to any of the websites listed above and/or also visit Host Children (hostchildren.org) and Frontier Horizons (https://www.frontierhorizon.org)

PSS: if you would like to read a post about the power of doing good to one person at a time, please read this: https://permission2speakfreely.com/2017/05/14/small-things-with-great-love/

Thanks for reading!! And if you have any questions about hosting, please feel free to leave them in the comment section. 😊


These girls were always competing with each other in a good natured way to help me in the kitchen even before my kitchen was even finished!
Terrible picture of me (host mom Heather). Samantha (for whatever reason) didn’t wash her hair when she showered. 😳 So I just took her to my bathroom and did it for her!
Lasma got her FIRST hair cut in her ENTIRE LIFE at the age of 17. Can you believe it?
The night before they left, the kids wrote us the sweetest note and Lasma choreographed an entire dance routine for us!
Misha loved to bake!
Dennis! Having fun with my kiddos. He could be a super fun boy when he was being good!
Christmas!
Advertisements

We Are Hosting Three Orphans Over Christmas!!

IMG_9265

Things are going to be a lot busier around our house for Christmas this year! Why?  We are hosting three orphans from Latvia over the Christmas holiday! I am both excited and nervous at the same time. Their plane arrives tonight!

Two of the kids are a sibling group – brother and sister, ages 10 and 8, respectively.  The other girl is 17, and in fact she will celebrate her 18th birthday while she is here with us. 

So why are we hosting over Christmas?  Especially since we just moved this summer and we are in the midst of a kitchen remodel?

Since I like bullet points, here you go:

  • First, we are hosting to potentially adopt.  The two younger kids are orphans living with a non-relative caregiver and could eventually be eligible for adoption, but there are a few barriers/qualifiers.  First and foremost, in order to adopt, there has to be a connection with these kids.  I love kids, and kids are great, but I don’t want to adopt all the kids of the world into my family.  There has to be that special spark and/or that special nudge from God in order to move forward with an adoption.  Secondly, they live with a non-relative guardian and we have heard that it is very hard to adopt from that situation. Honesty, we do not have our hopes up that this hosting experience will lead to an adoption and in fact have accepted that it probably will not.
  • (Quick fact: hosting to adopt is a huge category in the international adoption space.  We have tried this twice in the past and, while it was worthwhile for many reasons, it has not led to an adoption.  Although we are adoption ready in the country of Latvia, things have dramatically changed in that country due to new laws (more Latvian kids are going into foster care rather than being adopted by foreigners), changing attitudes (Latvians wanting their own kids to stay in Latvia), and changing staff (there are only two ladies who run the adoption program in the whole country, and both are out on maternity leave).  These realities have left us in the “Adoption Waiting Room” for over two years now, which is very hard and frustrating.  I will leave one thought on waiting at the end of this post.)
  • Secondly, we decided to host because I kept sensing that God wanted me to leave my comfort zone and welcome one of “the least of these” into our new home.  We have a huge extra room upstairs and I kept thinking that we should use it for something.
  • Third, we are hosting because it is good for our kids.  Our kids are typical American kids who are used to the comforts and  conveniences of American life.  It’s good for our kids to have to share their Christmas and to have to be inconvenienced for other children that have less than they do. 
  • Fourth, it’s good for Erik and me.  Serving is a huge category for us that we don’t do as much as maybe we could or should.  My prayer is that these kids will feel the love and acceptance of God while they are here. 
  • Fifth, it’s good for the kids we are hosting.  We have heard numerous testimonies that hosting can change the trajectory of the lives of these kids in some amazing ways!  I am especially excited to hear the story of the 17 year old we are hosting (who is not adoption eligible due to her age), as she was never adopted and is about to turn 18.  It is my prayer that Lasma will feel the love while she is here with us.  
  • And finally, we are hosting because God has blessed us so very much, and we want to give back.  I have a heart for these kids because I, too, have struggled with feelings of rejection.  I want these kids to feel love and acceptance from a family and especially from God.

Confession: I am already tired thinking about hosting three kids.  Logan (my son) just threw up right before he went to bed just now (I’m not kidding).  Our kitchen is in the midst of a remodel.  We just moved and I have no family close by (we do have one niece who lives one hour away, hi Lauren!) and barely any friends in our new area.  Sometimes I think I’m crazy for doing this.  But I know I kept feeling nudged to take a leap of faith, and I prayed a lot, so here we go.

I keep thinking that where God guides, He provides.  I’m hoping and praying He will provide the grace for this adventure.

Final deep thought: waiting is hard and waiting for an adoption to take place is really hard.  Hosting gives us an opportunity to do something while we wait.  

I have been especially encouraged by two verses of Scripture about waiting and trusting:

Isaiah 49:23 “And they that wait for the Lord shall not disappointed.” 

And “I am still confident of this, I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”  Psalm 27:13.  

I am trusting in the Lord and His timing (and his will in general) for our adoption. It’s hard and frustrating though.  And honestly, I don’t know if Latvia will work out for us.  We might have to go to a Plan B. 

But for now, we are hosting these three kids over Christmas.  

Please pray for us!

Merry Christmas!

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  Matthew 25.

 

Christian College Student by Day, Southern Cocktail Waitress by Night -Part II – Tips from a Waitress

By Sandie Brown, guest blogger

I will always remember working my first shift on the Lounge side at the Ground Round restaurant in Lynchburg, VA, where I was working my way through college in the early 1990’s.  I was only 19 years old and this was my first job in the restaurant business.  Every time I walked past by a set of booths, some guy was cat-calling me (“hey cutie, how ya doing?”), which left his girlfriend threatening me to assault me (“girl, I’m going to beat the sh*&^%$t out of you”), all because I was doing my job and seating people.  I began to cry and went to my amazing boss Stan and told him that I didn’t think this job was for me. He calmly reassured me this was no typical night. 

I managed to suck it up and lasted a few years more at the Dirt Circle, as the staff called it, moving through the ranks of hostess, waitress, and assistant manager. I had no business being a manager as I had no idea what I was doing!  I thought my main job was to count the money and run the reports (and study for my classes at school). The staff would often play jokes on me, and there were many nights I closed the restaurant by myself, walking out in complete darkness at 2 in the morning.

Working almost 30 hours a week and taking a full class load was not for the faint of heart, but waitressing my way through college taught me many valuable life lessons, and below are just a few of them, mostly using the phrases of the business that Heather used in her previous post, found here.

1. Waitressing can be a real “meet” market, in a good way. During my 8 years of waiting tables, the best thing I learned is that it is very possible to make some great friendships with coworkers and regular customers – and those relationships can last a lifetime.  I met Heather when we were 19 years old, and we are still best friends to this day!

Sometimes you get regular customers and the regulars are placed in your life for a purpose. It was during my time at the Ground Round that I was working to pay my way through Central Virginia Community College (CVCC). I had been waiting on an elderly gentlemen, Jimmy Sales, regularly for a few years and we had become good friends. He asked me what I would do to further my education now that my years at CVCC were up.  I said I had not idea but I knew I still want to pursue teaching. I don’t recall the timeline of that conversation but it became the catalyst for what happened later that summer.  At some point after one of our regular weekly lunches, he left me an unexpected tip.   It was a check typed out to Liberty University for $1,200.00.  I remember staring at him slack jawed. He told me that God had put it on his heart to help me transition to a new college.

For the next 3 years I continued to waitress and Mr. Sale would always ask each semester, “how much do you owe?” He would never pay the whole amount but always gave me a generous contribution to help me through.  When I graduated I asked him later how I could ever pay him back. His reply?

“Don’t bother-just pay it forward when you can.” 

IMG_9029
Jimmy Sale with Heather and me.  He was always so generous and never expected anything in return. He helped me financially through college by leaving me huge tips in the form of checks written out to my school!  I have been paying it forward ever since.

I had a lot of regular customers who were big tippers and none of them ever wanted anything in return. There was “The Cookie Man” named John who tipped with amazing homemade cookies and breads, the General Manager of a local baseball team named Ronnie who gave me a Bible, and a local car salesman, Eddie, who gave me a cowboy hat and boots as a Christmas gift.  No strings were attached to any of these gifts; just kind, genuine people placed in my life.  With the exception of Eddie, these regulars are still in my life to this day. 

I believe there are people on earth with the gift of generosity and tipping a server is a place for them to use their gift.  You never know how God might bless someone with your tip. It might be a standard 20% tip or it may be something a little more surprising like Mr. Sales’ gift of $1200.

img_0198.jpg
That’s me in the middle, bartending at the Rio Grande, and amazing Tex Mex in Virginia.  I made a lot of great friends in the restaurant business.

2. “I have Campers!” The aim for all waitresses is to get as many customers to rotate through your station during your shift in order to make the most amount of tip money possible because servers do not receive a paycheck.  In the 1990’s, the hourly rate was $2.15 per hour, but when you claim your tips on your tax return, you never actually received anything other than the tips you earned – you usually received a zeroed out check stub.  The worst was when a table came into your section and continued to sit long after their food was eaten. If you were lucky, that camping table would tip you big by end of night, but most of the time, they didn’t.

But in life, you do want campers – the people who stay by you through thick and thin. I have been blessed with a few campers. Campers don’t give up on your when you are at your low points and they don’t allow others to keep you down either. Instead they cheer you on and they encourage you to be your best.  Campers are the ones that have staying power. They accept you for who you are. They give you grace when needed and have the guts to speak honestly to you. I have been blessed with some amazing campers in my life.  At this point in my life my campers all live miles apart from me. But I know I have a handful of amazing campers who have my back. 

3. “Oh no! They did the Dine and dash!” The worst shifts happened when a table decides to eat and then run off without paying the check.  It may not seem like such a huge deal in the grand scheme of life, but it sure makes for a crappy night of tips.  That happened to me once at the Rio Grande in Reston, VA. But when the staff heard there was a dine and dash table, other servers chipped in so that the monetary loss was shared by all and the impact on me was minimized.

Just as in most restaurants the dashers leave and the server is left to pay for the cost, I think this is true about life in general with the words people say and the choices they make. They dump on us then leave.  It could be a reckless word or a hapless deed.  It can be intentional or unintentional.  Most of the time we are left wondering ‘where did that come from’ and ‘why am I left cleaning up the pieces?’ 

I have learned through many hurtful times that although someone may dine and dash emotionally on me, I don’t have to accept their bad behavior.  It’s okay to feel the impact, but then I choose not to be offended.  I have a saying of recent that is my manta: always consider the source.  It isn’t necessarily something they did as much as why they did it, and usually people do things from a place of brokenness.  Of recent I am in a place that forces me to put up with a lot of dashing.  It is temporary and I have had to remind myself that I am not responsible for fixing someone else’s baggage. I do have a response to be loving, be a light, and at times even be bold and draw necessary boundary lines.  We sometimes find ourselves in these hard places but the good news is we don’t have to choose to stay in them forever.

4. “86 that!” When you are in the restaurant business you know what these two numbers mean.  An 86’d item is one that is out; take if off the menu- it is no longer available.  I hated informing a customer that we were out of the item they desired to order because it would usually be followed up by disappointment. There are things in life that we have to consider 86-ing.  Of recent my family and I moved across 5 states to be closer to family.  On leaving I had to 86 some things in Missouri that were a part of my life for the past 5 years.  Deep friendships, a church that felt like family, an amazing book club and a beautiful neighborhood where my kids thrived and had an idyllic childhood (Heather’s note: we just did this too, and it is very hard.) In making the decision to leave Missouri, my husband and I began purging a year before we even sold our home. When moving across state lines, the moving company charges you by weight. We begin to process what is truly needed.  I had phone calls with an organizational coach that helped me sort through the why behind the what. Why do we want the stuff? What do we do with the stuff?  In that process, many things were sold, donated or gifted out.  We wanted to travel light with only the necessary things.

In life, there are times you need to go through your stuff and 86 the things that weigh you down.  I learned a long time ago to minimize. Before moving to Missouri, I had a similar purge where there were just some items I had a hard time releasing.  One in particular was a beautiful jacket I had purchased that I had spent a fair amount of money on. It no longer fit and yet I knew what I had paid for it. I have a knack for frugality. I tend to know what can resale and what is not worth the time.  This I knew would sell if I stayed persistent and kept reposting it.  But time was running out and I had to decide to pack it or donate it.  It never sold and I had a hard time just giving it away. I begin to think of verse in the Bible that says “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every hindrance that so easily entangles us…” This jacket was hindering me from joy. I would look at it and regret not fitting into it any longer. I would spend time posting and reposting it on Facebook buy-sell-trade groups. But at the end of the day, it was a waste of time and energy. Once I donated it, I didn’t even think of that jacket again until writing this post.  Bottom line?  Be ok to let some things go.

5. “Behind you!” Oh how I still use this even at home and sometimes get mad at my husband in our “one butt kitchen” for bumping into me when he should be communicating “behind you.” I can’t stay mad at him because he has never waited tables.  But as a waitress, if you don’t speak up and say “behind you!” you will end up with all kinds of spills and mishaps.  My worst was once at the Rio Grande where I was balancing a hot sizzling fajita platter on my shoulder and was bumped from behind. The hot plate burned the nape of my neck as it slid off the tray. I bear the scar of that hot plate still today.  It is important to keep communication lines open and don’t assume people know how you feel.

Always state the obvious even when you think someone knows what you are thinking. Speak it out loud.  To the spouse who needs to hear it say “I love you.” To the dad who hurt you long ago say “I forgive you.” To the coworker or child who needs recognition say “I see you.” And always to your friends who live in these challenging times we live in say “Behind You!”

6. “I’m stuck in the the 111’s” I had to throw this term in myself. It was specific to those who waited tables at The Rio Grande.  It was last sat, least desirable section and it was mine for a solid 8 or more weeks until some unfortunate newby was hired and I moved up in seniority.  It was a row of tables that separated the smoking and the non-smoking section in the restaurant.  Why was it so horrid? Because that section was the separation.  It was a row of tables adjacent to the row of smoking tables with a view of the bus boy station.   Mostly customers seated there were either “first available” on the wait list or where customers sat when all other sections were filled. It was the last sat and first emptied out. The 111s was the section you DID NOT want to be assigned to.  But I was in a tight place. I had just moved to the DC area and needed money.  My friend Heather was making money hand over fist at this restaurant but I must have arrived at a time they were fully staffed and I was the last hired in a place that assigned sections according to seniority.

Sometimes you find yourself in a tight place.  TD Jakes describes a tight place is a place where you are not there yet. You are closer than you were but you are not there yet.  You are closer than you were but you are not sure you have the push to get to the next place. Sometimes in life you are assigned to the 111’s.  You will move out of it but for the time you are in it, it’s humbling, it’s hard, and you have to grit your teeth til, something gives.  I’ve been in the 111’s since this summer. My husband and I stepped out in faith to leave Missouri and return to Virginia so that we could be closer to family.  Things have not YET worked out as we had thought.  I know they will eventually sort out and we will look back and know there was a reason for this season in our lives- but we are not there yet.  To listen to a 7 minute video of TD Jakes describing a Tight Place, click here: A Tight Place.

There have been days that I feel like I’m in the least desirable section.  I wake up, I muster up enthusiasm and joy, choosing to see things thorough a long-term lens and trusting our faith will be rewarded, but for now things remain the same.

What about you?  Are you stuck in the 111’s? Well pull up a seat and sit at the table with me because I have learned it’s just a matter of time until we are assigned a new section. I hope, like me, you will have a story to tell and we can look back and know that God was with us in our tight place.  We need only trust his plan and be patient in the waiting.  The reason for my faith is that I know that God is my manager, and He will only keep me in the 111s for as long as it’s needed for something He is seeking to accomplish in me. And then He will move me on!

img_9035.jpg
We would often go hang out after our shift and relax.

IMG_8932
More fun on Halloween!

When Heather invited me to write this waitressing blog post with her, we had fun reminiscing about past memories and people. Some memories made us laugh and some made us cringe, but we both agreed that they provided strong life lessons.  Later when I moved to Northern VA, we reconnected at Rio Grande Restaurant and saw that the same lessons apply in the waitressing world no matter where the restaurant. I am amazed that waitressing terms learned from almost 20 years ago have influenced me in a positive way throughout the years.  Waitressing is hard work indeed, but anything worthwhile is.

And those are my best tips from a waitress, learned the long and hard way.  I hope some of my tips and lessons can be yours as well.

____________________________________________________________

Heather’s closing note: I will always remember meeting Sandie for the first time at the Ground Round.  She was a hostess with bright and beautiful blue/green eyes.  She was super sweet and kinda blunt and we became fast friends.  She showed me the ropes of the Lounge as she was from the South and was able to understand the clientele better than I could.  I had been praying for a best friend as I was lonely at a new college, and God sent me Sandie.  Years later we both worked at the Rio Grande in Reston, VA together.  The tables were turned and I then “showed her the ropes” there.  I will always remember lamenting the dine and dashers, the campers, the weird customers, and the strict or nice managers with Sandie, but also enjoying the many good things about the business: the money and the relationships being at the top of the list.  All in all the restaurant business brought us together and we are forever grateful for all the life lessons and life-time relationships it gave to us.

After waitressing, Sandie and I both worked professionally for a number of years and then became stay at home parents.  Sandie is now working part-time again while I sit on my butt and occasionally write blog posts. 😀

We are both forever grateful for the many tips we received (both financial and otherwise) in the restaurant business!!

PS: if you missed Part I of this short series where I share my own perspective of working in the restaurant business through college, you can find it here: Christian College Student by Day, Southern Cocktail Waitress by Night – Part I.

Thanks for reading!

IMG_9030
Heather and me, back in the day.  We graduated from college and worked professionally for many years.  We have never forgotten the life lessons we learned through waitressing!

Christian College Student by Day, Southern Cocktail Waitress by Night – Part I

My best friend and I share what we learned by waitressing our way through college

file6.jpeg
Sandie and me (Heather) working one of our many, many shifts at the Ground Round in Lynchburg, VA in the early 90s.

I’ll never forget waitressing at the Ground Round restaurant in Lynchburg, VA where I worked my way through college at Liberty University in the early 90’s.  

The Ground Round (we called it the Dirt Circle) served two personalities.  The clientele of the Dining Room tended to be a combination of families, college students, church folks (Lynchburg has a plethora of evangelical churches in addition to Liberty) and other “regular” folks from town who would come in for the free popcorn and the famous Ground Round Platter, which was their signature dish consisting of a juicy burger, french fries, and a side salad. 

IMG_8753
For whatever reason, I kept a menu from the early 90s.  Here it is!  You should see the prices inside!

The clientele who were attracted to the Lounge side were the usual range of adults of drinking age: businessmen, groups of friends who came in for happy hour, and what I would respectfully call “very Southern folks.”  Others, being less respectful, might refer to them as Rednecks. But that was not for me to judge.  I just wanted to make a good tip at every table. 

I will always remember the free popcorn (and at some Ground Round restaurants, the free peanuts) that the Dirt Circle was known for.  The popcorn maker would run day and night and popcorn was usually scattered all over the floor.  I usually worked the Dining Room side and tried to avoid the Lounge as much as possible, as the Lounge had somewhat of a Biker Bar feel.  There was this pervading “let’s all order a lot of alcohol and sit around and get drunk” party atmosphere, which frankly intimidated me, especially because from time to time I would peek in at some of the clientele and honestly, some of them looked like they were… 

…running from the law.  

Especially the loner men in dark sunglasses who were very quiet, serious, and would sit drinking their own pitcher of Bud light, always facing the front of the restaurant and checking everyone who walked through the front door. 

Or sometimes, when passing through the Lounge, perverted men would look at me like I was a piece of meat (one guy even asked me if I wouldn’t mind dancing on the table for him!!), and then they would flag me down and start flirting with me.  However, as soon as I opened up my mouth and they heard my Northern accent, that was usually enough to turn them off, especially when I forgot to use “ya’ll” when addressing them (whoops) and instead used “you guys.”  (That’s a cardinal sin for a server in a Southern family-style restaurant, FYI.) 

The bottom line is that I avoided the Biker Bar Lounge and told the management that I would prefer to work in the Dining Room.  

But one day they must have been short staffed in the Lounge because that’s exactly where I found myself.  I remember confronting Stan, my favorite manager, about this.  He kindly said to me:  “Sorry Heather.  We need strong waitresses in the Lounge. Just give it it a try.”  

A few moments later I got my first table.

“Hello!  Welcome to the Ground Round!  How are you guys doing today?” I said to the older couple with my very best Northern accent.

They looked at me curiously and said something with a very strong southern drawl, which I had trouble understanding.  I then asked them if I could take their drink order.

“Yeah,” the petite woman said.  “I’ll have a Maaaaaaahhhh Taaaaaaaaahh.”  She drawled.  

Each word lasted about five complete seconds.

The guy ordered a drink that sounded very sexual (something about “sax” and “bay-ch”) but I didn’t recognize the drink itself.  

After I took their order, I ran to the back room to look at the infamous Drink Menu on the Wall.  

You need to understand that the Drink Menu On the Wall was a huge construction paper board with every alcoholic concoction on it you can think of written with a black sharpie.  It was an 90’s mixologists’ dream come true because it was so incredibly thorough.  Parts of it were seriously pornographic in nature and went from bad to worse.  Here are the names of just a few of the drinks I can still remember to this day:

  • Sex on the Beach
  • Slow comfortable F#@%$
  • Slow comfortable F%$#@ up against the wall 
  • Slippery Nipple
  • Blow J*&^%b
  • Orgas&^%$m

After I figured out that the guy wanted a Sex on the Beach, I still had no idea what the heck a Maaaa Taaa was so I went strait to the bartender, Shiela.  Shiela was great!!  Very nice and very good with the Biker Bar crowd, and also good with Northern Christian waitresses.  

“Sheila,” I said with stress in my voice.  “The woman ordered a ‘Maaaaaaaaaa Taaaaaaaaaaaa’, and I don’t know what that is!” I cried out.

Not missing a beat, she chortled: “Oh Heather, it’s a Mai Tai, honey!” She went on to say: “Now remember, sweetie, the lady can only have up to three Mai Tai’s before you have to cut her off, as it’ a five shot drink.”  

Yeeks.  Let’s hope petite Southern woman is not hoping to drink more than 15 shots today (she actually ended up having three drinks that night but thankfully did not request a fourth!).  And that’s probably the first lesson I learned working in the Lounge – that many of my clientele seriously wanted to get drunk.  It was my job to skillfully manage their alcohol consumption in such a way so that I would not have to cut them off, thus killing my tip, and yet still have them perceive that they were having a good time and receiving an adequate amount of beverage.  

And that’s how I officially became the following (drum roll please)….

Good Christian Northern College Student by day, and Wild Southern Cocktail Waitress by night.  

Because from then on, for whatever reason, I got stuck in the Lounge, usually section 1 (the worst section) about half of the time!  The Lounge could definitely be a wild place to work: a drunk man once fell through the full-length plate glass window, shattering it into a million pieces; there was also a shooting in the back parking lot, due to a sordid love-triage; and finally, a woman would come in with a see through white dress on, and there was literally nothing left to anyone’s imagination.

I tried to make the best of my time in the lounge: I perfected my Southern accent, learned how to relate to the Biker Bar crowd (most of them were very nice but you needed to be fun but firm with them) and tried to make the best tips I could.

And when I say Wild Southern Cocktail Waitress by Night, I mean NIGHT!  Last Call was at 12:30 am and Light’s Up (when the bar officially closed) was at 1 am.  I remember many nights working until 1:20 am, driving back to campus, parking WAY far away from my dorm, walking through the dark, all the while wondering if I was going to get snatched by a Serial Killer.  It always took me at least an hour to “settle down” enough to fall asleep, only to wake up at 7:15 am for my 8:00 class the next morning.

Honestly, working so much (sometimes 32 hours per week) and so late, on top of taking so many classes (usually 18 credits every semester) was very challenging and exhausting, and looking back, I regret working so much and taking so many classes during that time.  I joked to my friends that my experience at the Ground Round (as well as other restaurants) put “hair on my chest” and made me into a stronger person.  I often struggled with jealousy when my college friends would come in to visit me, as they had much more of a “normal” college experience.  I loved seeing them, but I struggled with having to work so hard just to afford college.  It didn’t seem fair.

The Ground Round was just one of the restaurants I was employed by through high school, college, and post-college.  In high school I worked at Friendly’s and Ponderosa (we called it Ponder-gross-a).  In college I worked for the Wharf and Appleby’s in addition to the Ground Round (I also worked at a Ground Round in Fayetteville, NY during the summer and college breaks).  After college I raked in my best tips ever at Uncle Julio’s Rio Grande Cafe in Reston, VA.  

All in all, the Ground Round was a great place to work through college.  I made decent tips, learned some valuable lessons, and made some lifelong friends to boot (more on that in a moment). 

img_4628.jpg
That’s me (above) with some of my male server buddies.  And yes, there was a lot of shenanigans that went on behind the scenes in the restaurant business. Try not to be offended at the guy who is pretending to squeeze my booty.  This was before the #me-too movement. 😵 Below, Stan, my favorite manager (and me) inside the actual bar of the Lounge, with a TON of booze behind us! Cuz it was the Lounge.

Before I get into lessons learned, here are a few phrases from the restaurant business that I still remember to this day:

  • “I have Campers!” (customers who sit and and sit in your booth and never leave – preventing any turnover and thus preventing any tips) 
  • “Oh no! They did the Dine and dash!” (customers that order, eat, and sneak out without paying) 
  • “86 that!” (when the restaurant was out of something)
  • “Behind you!” (what we all said to each other so as to not cause a tray/food/dish collision)
  • “If you can’t afford to tip, then don’t go out to eat!” (what all the servers said to each other after we had gotten stiffed by a table)

and finally….

  • “I’ve been quadruple-sat!” (when a hostess seats our entire section all at once!)

In addition to the phrases that are still with me, the many lessons are as well. I can honestly say that I learned a lot about people, life, and myself while waitressing and was able to pay for almost my entire undergrad and graduate degrees throughout my nine years in the business.  

Below is a list of the top 5 things I learned as a waitress that I still remember to this day…

1. Never judge a table.

I honestly think this was my very first lesson.  I must admit that I did judge certain tables in the beginning, but quickly learned that some of my best tippers didn’t look like they would tip me well, and sometimes the nicest, most well-dressed, most put together people completely stiffed me or left me a cheap tip!  On a similar vein, a good waitress has to learn how to read a table.  There is a delicate dance with every table.  Sometimes customers are chatty and engaging, other times they are more serious and private.  If you don’t have good people skills when you start your serving career, you will surely develop them as time goes by. 

Sometimes people were strange or rude though, and it made it hard for me to not judge them.  One time a couple came in and the guy ordered a T-bone steak medium well, and happily consumed the whole entire thing. However, at the end of the meal he flagged me down to show me a patch of bright red blood on his empty plate.  Huh? He demanded that I comp his meal (give it to him for free) because he said his steak was rare, and pointed to the blood on his plate.  I went and got my manager Lisa and she went to investigate.  She thought something was fishy so she refused to comply with his request.  He was pissed and left the restaurant without tipping me.  Later, Lisa found several wadded up kleenexes shoved into the side of the booth with bright red blood on them!  We both surmised that this guy actually cut himself open and dripped his own blood onto the plate, just to try to get a free meal.  What a weirdo!  I definitely had several customers over the years that did some strange, creepy, rude, or disrespectful things to me.  I had to learn to deal with some seriously abnormal human behavior, all with a smile on my face!

2. Be generous and respectful.

I am almost embarrassed to admit this but I used to be very, very cheap.  I mean, so cheap that, as a teen and out with my friends, I wouldn’t order any food but would instead pick leftovers off of my friends’ plates.  I also wouldn’t leave a tip. Waitressing adjusted that for me big-time.  Why?  Because, once I became a waitress, it felt awesome to get a great tip, and it felt terrible to get a cheap one.  

I will always tip waiters and waitresses at least 20 percent or more because I know how it feels to be in their shoes.  Sometimes my husband and I receive bad service at a restaurant and our conversation goes something like this.  Erik: “hon, the service is slow.”  Me: “yes, I know.  Maybe the kitchen is slow tonight.  Maybe they are short-staffed.  It’s probably not the waiters’ fault.”  Then later, Erik: “Babe, our waiter is not very friendly and he sucks. I am not going to leave him 20%.”  Me: “Hon, you can’t do that!  Maybe he’s a single father, or maybe he’s had a bad day.  C’mon, cut him some slack.”  Erik generally relents and still gives a generous tip because he’s a good guy and because he married a former waitress. God has blessed us generously and I want to give back.  To read my earlier post about my childhood, money and generosity, click here: Blue Collar Girl Trapped in a White Collar Marriage.

One day I was working at Uncle Julio’s Rio Grande Cafe when I walked past a table of three men with a water pitcher in my hand.  One of the three men (nicely dressed, wealthy looking)  waved at me frantically, calling over to me: “Water girl!  Oh, water girl!  Give me some more water!”  I looked at the two younger men next to him and they both looked very embarrassed.  I stopped at his table and said politely but firmly: “Sir, I am much more than a water girl, but I would be happy to refill your water.”  

Since having been treated like a mere water girl with nothing to offer the world (not to mention a dumb blond and a piece of meat), I have always tried to respect everyone regardless of their station in life.  I try to never look down on anyone, ever, because we are all in this thing called life together.  We should try to get along and be kind and respectful to each other, no matter what.

3. Organize your life as if you are triple-sat.  

This is probably one of the coolest lessons I learned.  From time to time I was triple or quadruple sat.  I had to figure out a way to meet the needs of the entire group of people but not take too long doing it.  I didn’t have the luxury of going up to one table, doing a perfect job, and then getting another table a few minutes later. I had to learn to prioritize and meet the needs of my entire section.  Honestly, that meant some people had to wait longer to get their drinks or their check, etc.  I learned to handle the big rocks first, and put them into my jar (so to speak), and then after that I could get the smaller rocks in, too.  This caused me to be a more efficient and productive waitress and then later, an efficient and productive career woman.  I had to learn how to achieve my main priorities while not losing focus, and still have time for the smaller ones. Here is a slightly cheesy YouTube video that explains this concept in detail: here.  Bottom line?  I still approach my to-do list with the larger picture in mind, put my top priorities first, and not get distracted by the little things until my top priorities are met.

4. Be steady, but not slammed.

There were times I was extremely busy (we called it being “slammed”), which consisted of me running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to frantically keep up with my tables.  I don’t think I did a very good job for my customers when I was slammed.  There were other times when I was what we called “steady,” where I was busy enough but still had time to do a good job with each table. I usually made much better tips when I was steady vs. being slammed.  To this day, I work very hard to remain steady with my obligations and priorities, while trying hard to not take on too much on, thus becoming slammed. Why?  Because my peace and joy go away when I’m slammed and it’s not like I’m doing that great of a job with juggling so many different priorities anyway.  One quick qualifier: sometimes you are just very busy and that’s the way life goes. I just try not to stay in that place forever.

One last comment on this point: you are also capable to do more than you realize sometimes.  A waiter named Whit challenged me to stop writing down all of my orders but instead memorize them in my head.  I thought “no way!” but I started with a two top, then went up to three top, then four, etc.  And then I never wrote down another order in my remaining years of serving.  My record was a party of 15 – Whit’s was about 30!  I couldn’t believe watching him do this, but I saw it with my own eyes.  Lesson: I was capable of more than I realized.  And I am glad I stopped writing down my orders. Honestly, once you get into a rhythm of it, it’s not all that difficult.  (I promise.)

5. If you pray before you eat, you had better leave a good tip.

As a waitress, I would always try to Never Judge a Table (see point number one) but on Sunday during the lunch shift – I admit – I judged.  Why?  Because that’s when the Church Crowd came in.  They were all very nice, of course.  The trouble was that they were usually really cheap! They often left me a Christian tract (a tract is a little pamphlet which explains the gospel message) and a ONE dollar tip.  I wasn’t the only one they did this to – all of the servers complained about it as well.  What a horrible testimony of what it means to be a true Christian! So, I decided to do something about it. I wrote a note to Jerry Falwell (The Chancellor of Liberty) and left it on his car windshield (a lot of students back in the day would do this) and told him all about this strange phenomena called Christians Who Are Crap Tippers.’ Jerry was a super cool guy (don’t believe what you may have heard about him in the press) and I had waited on him and his wife a few times before.  He was always very nice and always left a 20 percent or more tip.  Anyway, he actually read my letter to his huge church and told them that if they didn’t leave “at least 20 percent tip, then don’t bother to leave a tract.” (He may have even said “oh, and if you can’t afford to leave a tip, then don’t bother to go out to eat,” as well, but I can’t be sure… 😂 )  He went on to tell them that they needed to be a better witness to the town of Lynchburg and to stop being so cheap!  Go Jerry!

The bottom line is that if you are a person of religious faith, my suggestion to you is that you be a good example and leave a good tip.  ‘Nuff said.

IMG_8930
Sharing the gospel with someone in an appropriate way: good.  Giving a server a super cheap tip with a tract: not good.

Before I close, I want to give a shout out to Uncle Julio’s in Reston, VA.  We called it “The Rio” and it was a very busy restaurant that served some really good Tex Mex food.  The clientele tended to be young professionals and young-ish families and they generally tipped very well.  Although it was the most strictest restaurant I ever worked for (they used to line us up and inspect our uniforms, making sure our shirts were professionally dry-cleaned with extra starch), I ended my waitressing career on a high note as I truly made the very best tips of my life in that restaurant.  I also made some great friends and made some great memories to boot.

IMG_8931
I have a ton of photos from my years at Uncle Julio’s (that I can’t find right now) but here is just one of them – we are doing an event at the Reston Town Center. Sandie’s post will have more!

This leads me to the last life lesson I learned through serving.  One of the best things about being in the restaurant industry is the relationships you develop with other servers and managers.  We partied, went to bars after work (and left huge tips – the best tippers are servers!) went on ski trips together, dated each other, did Bible studies and went to church together, and opened up our lives to each other. We became like family.  We got into each others’ business and supported each others’ dreams.  We joked around together, ate free food together, and had deep talks together. I’m still Facebook (and real life!) friends with a number of server friends many years later.  I met Sandie, my best friend since college, at the Dirt Circle and we are still “together” to this day!!

file2-2 copy 2
The staff had a great time on Halloween night!

IMG_8932

There are still things I miss about serving.  I miss the camaraderie and friendships.  I miss the movement and life of a busy restaurant.  I miss the free food.  I especially miss the huge wad of cash in my apron pocket at the end of my shift.  I tell Erik that if he ever loses his job, I might go back to serving.

In the very next post, Sandie will share her perspective on waitressing and what she learned over her eight years of serving and bartending. Sandie and I shared MANY great times together at the Dirt Circle and later at the Rio Grande cafe. She’s also a true Southerner, so be sure to read her story, too.

In closing, as Sandie and I brainstormed topics for this post, we realized that waitressing bonded our friendship together almost more than anything else.  In fact, between the lessons learned, money made, relationships formed, and the fact that Sandie are still  best friends to this day, those were the best and longest-lasting tips that the business ever gave to us!  

And for that, we are forever grateful.  

Be sure to check out Sandie’s story, coming shortly!

file4-2.jpeg
Sandie and I worked our butts off so we could achieve this bottom line: we both graduated from college!

PS: feel free to comment about lessons learned or anything I missed about working as a server!

 

Missing Cats, Dogs, People (and Socks). Where do they go? Do they ever come home?

IMG_8351
This is the flyer that went into 100 mail boxes in our neighborhood. Lila is still missing. I learned that most missing cats stay close to home, while dogs can roam farther away.

IMG_8619
Our family went to San Diego on vacation in August.  We saw this missing person sign.  So sad what happened to Mollie.  Most missing person stories have a happy ending, but Mollie did not.

Recently, my beautiful calico cat Lila went missing from my home, and I think it’s all my fault. You see, we had just moved into our new home in Illinois and we were in the process unpacking all of our boxes, which meant a house strewn with lots of boxes and packaging paper that needed to be put out for recycling.

Thursday, August 2 was recycling day, and I remember that fateful moment when my hands were too full with broken down boxes and debris to shut the front door. I had a brief thought that I needed to hurry back and shut the door lest one of my kitties slip out. So right after I put out the boxes I hurried back to my house and shut the door.

It was either in that moment, or another moment when one of the painters may have left a door ajar, but that day Lila decided that she wanted to have an adventure.

And as of the time of this writing, she is still missing!

I quickly set out to do all of the things you are supposed to do in order to find a missing pet. There is a fairly long part-time job list of things you need to do, mostly focused on getting the word out (we distributed about 200 flyers and email blasted our new neighbors) calling all of the appropriate people (like animal shelters, local police non-emergency numbers, etc.), and looking for them in certain places and at certain times.  I personally knocked on about 30 doors in my new hood and asked if I could poke around their back yards or look under their decks.  Still no Lila.

One night at 1am I woke up and something told me to go look on my front porch where we had left food and water for Lila. I crept up to the window and slowly peered around it, only to see a cat that looked very similar to Lila, eating the dry cat food!! Her back was to me so I didn’t have a good look. When I slowly opened up the front door the cat ran into my super thick bushes. About a week later we actually humanely trapped a kitty who looked similar to Lila.

So was it Lila I saw that one night, or this other stray cat? I’m not sure, but this story has a happy ending: after we trapped this other cat, it was quickly adopted by another family in our neighborhood. 🙂 I’m glad I could help out this other stray kitty and give her a loving home.

God works in mysterious ways sometimes.

IMG_8429
This is the stray kitty we humanely trapped.  She was adopted by a family in my neighborhood!

On an interesting note, as I’ve been leaving cat food and water out at night, we’ve also attracted some other interesting creatures.  For several night in a row we saw an Opossum on our porch, happily eating dry cat food.  And then another night we saw the biggest raccoon I had ever seen eating Lila’s cat food with both paws.  Erik (husband) says it’s time to stop feeding the marsupials and small mammals in our neighborhood.  🙂

img_2607.jpg
This Opossum visited us several times, looking for the cat food we left out for Lila.

All of this got me thinking….where do cats that go missing actually go? And what percentage of them actually come back? And because I am a very curious person, I expanded my list to dogs too. And while I was on the topic of dogs, I thought it was only fair to figure out what the deal is with missing people. And I threw in missing socks for good measure because that affects every person on the entire planet and drives us all to drink!

Below is an Internet-based search as to all things that go missing.  I must confess that I thought that tons of people go missing every year (they do, but wait…) and tons of cats and dogs disappear and never return.  What I found in my research surprised the heck out of me, and I hope it surprises you as well.  So let’s get going.

Let me start with those darn missing socks, since that’s much more simple, short and sweet.

Missing socks: apparently, there is a secret trap door in certain washers and tumble dryers where missing socks actually end up. The other best places to look are different drawers other than the sock drawer, under the bed, and in between (or under or behind) the washer and dryer. Missing socks can also end up mingled in other clean laundry (like fitted bed sheets).

If missing socks rankle you, try having a “missing sock bin” and put stray socks in there. I have done this myself for several years with about a 50 percent success rate, but it does build up over time and you have to determine to make time to go through it. I have found that most of my missing socks are just separated socks…and I have to look in my kids’ drawers thoroughly.  If you are a missing sock geek, I will put two helpful posts in my P.S. for additional googling.

The first thing that surprised me in researching missing things is that, at least in my humble estimation, socks have the lowest successful return rate of all the other categories!

Now let’s move on to missing cats, which the whole reason I started this post.

Missing cats: for starters, missing cats generally stay relatively close to home. That’s great news for me!! From a helpful post:

“If he (or she) is not used to being out, or doesn’t know the area, he will likely be within 300 to 500 feet of where he was lost, if he can find a place to hide. Most lost cats who have always lived indoors will not go far from home. Many are discovered hiding just a few doors away or even a few feet from the front door. Start by looking under nearby porches, in basements and garages, in bushes, and even under cars.” Source: here.

Even outdoor cats have a relatively smallish area where they hunt and roam around.  Lila is hopefully hiding somewhere in my hood, under a deck, under a porch, in a shed, or in a little crevice. She may come out at night to look for food and water. I have looked high and low and have been very un-shy about knocking on neighbors’ doors to ask for help. The one cool thing about having a missing cat is that I have really gotten to know my neighbors faster and better than I otherwise would have.

Bottom line of missing cats: with persistence, they can (usually) be found (unless they are hit by a car or attacked by a predator or taken in by a new family), but get the word out right away. They are usually somewhere relatively close to home (though some stray farther, you must put up flyers in other neighborhoods and feel free to call local farms…) and come out at night. Get a flashlight, rattle some food, call his or her name, set a humane trap on your front porch, put out their litter box or favorite blanket (the scent travels far), and hope for the best.

Quick note on the humane trap: You have to know what you are doing with one of these, and keep an eye on them, as you could trap another animal like a raccoon, which you most certainly do not want to do. But humane traps can work like a charm when trying to pin down a skittish cat (and most even sweet cats become skittish if they are lost).

IMG_8405
Logan with my other cat, Quinny-Chi.

Missing dogs: dogs actually travel much farther than cats from home (from one to five miles away in some cases, depending on age, health, and breed), and while some are hit by cars, and some are hiding somewhere in survival mode, and some are just hanging out waiting to be helped out, many of them are picked up by good samaritans and kept as a “new pet” for their family. While semi-understandable, this practice is not good on many levels and is illegal in all states. Some people think that might be killed by a wolf or coyote. However, that scenario usually does not happen nation-wide but could happen in certain areas (for example, I live near a forest preserve where coyotes are commonly seen).

Sadly, many dogs (and some purebred cats) are actually STOLEN. I couldn’t believe it until I was perusing a lost cat and dog Facebook page (yes, you start really taking an interest in something when it happens to you) and I actually saw a dude, on a surveillance camera, actually steal a puppy from someone’s front yard! Apparently, there is a market for stolen dogs, and two million pets are stolen each year, mostly for re-sale purposes, breeding for dog mills, and dog-fighting. A great article is found here: stolen pets.

Bottom line of missing dogs: many are picked up by a good Samaritan, some are hiding, some are hanging out, and some are stolen. Most come home eventually but it takes time and effort to get them back with the aid of flyers, social media, calling shelters, uploading your dogs’ photo to social media sites and shelters, and persistence (do all of this with cats, too). You can’t be lazy and just hope your dog will just show up because they tend to travel a bit farther than cats. They might show up naturally, but they might not. Get off the couch and do something. (more info here.)

And now for my second surprise.  My question was this: do lost cats and dogs eventually come home? The answer is usually yes!

The ASPCA conducted a study in 2012 on missing pets: 93 percent of dogs and 75 percent of cats reported lost were returned safely to their homes.

Another surprise: only 6 percent of dog owners and 2 percent of cat owners found their lost pets at shelters. (more info here,)

Last point on missing pets: get them chipped at your local vets’ office before they go missing!

Missing People: why and how people go missing and if they are found could easily be a whole series of blog posts and this post will only be a skim and a summary.  And there are lots of variables which make it hard to pin down a neat and clean answer, two prominent variables being that it completely depends on if the person go missing voluntary or involuntarily, as well as whether they are an adult or a child/teen. But what I found on this topic actually surprised the heck out of me. I hope you find it interesting as well. And of course I will use bullets, as I love them and they help me.

  • Missing people big picture: on average, approximately 750,000 missing person cases are filed each year (stat from the NCIC database). (Source here.)
  • Missing people in general: On average, 90,000 people are missing in the USA at any given time, according to Todd Matthews from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, a national database for missing people. And more than 600,000 missing persons were reported in 2013. (Source: here.)
  • Missing kids/teens in general: Missing Children can be missing for a wide variety of reasons (e.g., runaway, throwaway, lost, injured, etc.) other than abduction and can be abducted for a wide variety of motivations (profit, ransom, custodial disputes, crazy sicko, etc.)  (Source: here.)
  • Missing juvies in general: half of the 800,000 missing juvenile cases reported each year are runaways. One quarter of missing children cases are abductions committed by family members (think custody issues). Approximately 100 are kidnapping by strangers (but wait, there is another stat on this coming up). In the case of family abductions, 46% are returned within a week and 21% are returned within a month.
  • Watch out for this: many kids are being lured away from home via technology, so parents be mindful! 
  • One other stat on kids/teens: Of the children under age 18, a total of 4,883 reports were classified as “missing under circumstances indicating that the disappearance may not have been voluntary, i.e., abduction or kidnapping” (9,572 under age 21) (Source: wikipedia.)
  • Bottom line on why adults go missing: those with alcohol/drug addiction, psychiatric issues, and the elderly suffering from degenerative brain disorders, make up the bulk of missing adult cases (but as I’ve said, some just choose to disappear for other reasons). (Source: here.)

I would add that a person’s chances of going missing increase if that person becomes homeless and they are not doing well psychologically and do not get intervention. I would also add that if you need help finding a missing person you should consider hiring a private investigator.

Here is another stat that surprised me: according to an interview with Todd Mathews with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System:

“You know, the missing touches everybody, I think. In 2012, we had 661,000 cases of missing persons; and that’s just from that one year. Very quickly, 659,000 of those were canceled. So that means those persons either come back; in some cases, located as deceased persons, maybe never an unidentified person; or just a total misunderstanding. So at the end of 2012, of those 661,000 minus the canceled, we had 2,079 cases that remained at the end of the year as unresolved….In my personal experience, I’ve seen the missing numbers recorded nationally drop. There’s not as many as were listed before.  (Source: here.)

Did you catch that?

A majority of missing persons cases each year are resolved. And the numbers are actually down. I had no idea.

The bottom line of missing people: hard to pin down but here’s my best guess and I am way over-generalizing here: if it’s a runaway teen, they usually return (unless something bad happens to them – drugs, trafficking, wrong crowd, murdered, or if they just choose to remain a runaway). The best way to prevent your teen from running away is to have a good relationship with him or her, and a good line of communication as well.  If it’s a family abduction, the kids are usually returned. Adults go missing due to foul play, accidents, health issues, age issues, suicide, or by choice. If an adult or teen does not want to be found, they may never be found. But the bottom line is that most cases of missing persons do resolve over time, or the family in waiting receives some type of closure.

It is very hard to pin down where missing people who leave voluntarily actually end up going to (physically – location wise).  I googled this and here is what I found (mixed in with my own thoughts): some missing people go where they will not be noticed or can received government services (such as big cities) or to find a job, if they are a teen or adult.  They might run away to warmer climates, or to a friend’s or family’s house in another location.  We recently went to San Diego, CA and, to be honest, it seemed to be a perfect place for someone to blend in and disappear, especially a young person.  Unfortunately, many kids end up being lured away from home by a sveeky 40 year old in his pajamas, where they end up at his house: article on this.

In addition to loving bullet points, I also love qualifiers, so here is a big one:

With everything that goes missing, there exists a huge element of mystery. Not everyone receives any type of closure, and not everything wraps up with a neat bow.  

Case in point: two kids went missing back in the fall of 2014 from the D.C. area where I used to live. I am good friends with their aunt Raelane and we searched high and low for Sarah and Jacob.  Sadly, this case has not yet resolved either way for the family and Sarah and Jacob are still missing. I interviewed Raelane who gives some very interesting inside scoop here: What happened to Sarah and Jacob? A conversation with their aunt – Raelane Turner.

Sometimes missing person situations wrap up neatly and quickly.  I actually have a missing person story (of sorts, more a paragraph rather than a story) involving my grandfather who was visiting me while we lived in D.C. One day I drove my two young kids and my grandfather down to D.C. to visit a museum, where we promptly were separated. I looked for over an hour for my grandpa Art and was stressed to the max. I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten to pray, so I did. I asked God to help me find my grandpa. God immediately sent an Angel from Heaven (I’m not kidding) to help me find him. Here’s the really cool story: here.

I believe prevention is the best way to avoid being kidnapped by a stranger who wishes to do you harm, and I wrote a whole series about how to avoid and deal with serial killers and other bad guys, with a whole list of things you can do to prevent bad guys from taking you or your kids, found here: The Top Ten Ways we can protect our kids from serial killers and other bad guys — Part II.

IMG_8613
Another missing person sign we saw while were in San Diego.  This city was filled with young, free spirited people and lots of homeless people.  It would be easy to disappear in a city like this.  I am praying that Wesley makes it safely back home to his family who obviously love him very much or they wouldn’t have bothered to put up this sign or offer this reward. I can’t even imagine having one of my children, even as a young adult, go missing.

Quick deep thoughts about all things missing: does God even care about my missing cat? The answer is, in my mind, a resounding yes! The Bible is replete with references to God’s care and concern for animals. God knows when a “sparrow falls to the ground” and Jesus himself gave three riveting parables in row about missing items. The first one is the “parable of the lost sheep” and it describes how God the Father will actually leave the 99 sheep and go after the one lost sheep, and rejoices when it is safely back home. Jesus went on to say that “there is more rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents than there is with the 99 who feel that they don’t actually need to repent.”

I have been fervently praying for Lila’s safe return, and actively looking and doing things for her to come home. I have called her name all over the place, rattled food, looked all over for her, left food out at night, set up a humane trap, gotten the word out, etc. But, besides that one sighting that could have been her, we haven’t heard a peep. The way I have been pursuing Lila, who is very much lost, is very similar to the way that God pursues people. God wants them to come into this family and will stop at nothing to seek them out, constantly showing his protection, love and care for them, even if they have no idea He is doing that.

I need to let you in on a little secret: Lila is a reclusive and difficult cat. She has a history of urine spraying and sometimes acts aggressively. She and my other kitty don’t get along that well. However, as with all things difficult, there is always a bright spot: Lila can be very sweet, loves to cuddle me and my husband in our bed at night, and has beautiful green eyes! What I have discovered is that, even though she is a difficult fur baby at times, she is still a part of our family. I love her and I won’t give up on her!

The bottom line of this post is this: missing cats, dogs and people are usually found; they usually come home. This gives me great hope for Lila and for other missing people, too.

I will close with a super short story that drives home this last point.  A friend of mine had a beloved cat that went missing for over a month and not a peep, not a sighting, nothing!  Sadly, my friend had to move to a different home and was in the process of doing that.  However, one day she felt the Lord prompt her to go back to her old home (where her cat went missing) one last time and just “check and see” if her cat was there.  My friend Ragan pulled up to the front porch and lo and behold, there was her missing cat, just sitting on her front porch!!

Sometimes you need a little help from above to have that missing loved-one return home to you.

Sometimes you need God to give you closure, even if it’s hard.

And other times you just have to give up on finding all those darn missing socks. 🙂

And finally, while I have you, would you mind saying a quick prayer for my cat Lila?

Thanks, and with all thing that go missing – keep the faith!

IMG_8353
I’m still praying that Lila will come home safely!

________________________________________________

For further googling:

Missing socks: The best article I found on missing socks is here: https://www.wisebread.com/where-to-find-missing-socks. And this is the secret trap door in the dryer: https://www.countryliving.com/uk/homes-interiors/interiors/news/a3508/lost-socks-secret-tumble-dryer-compartment/.

Missing pets: According to that same ASPCA study, only 15 percent of pet guardians reported a lost dog or cat in the past five years, percentages of lost dogs versus lost cats were nearly identical: 14 percent for dogs and 15 percent for cats, 15 percent of dogs were found because they were sporting identification tags or microchips. (Source:The ASPCA conducted a survey of 1,015 pet households, and the findings of its five-year effort are published in the June 2012 issue of the journal Animals.)“They (lost dogs) will defer to a larger predator.  Lost dogs simply want to survive – so they need to do three things – they will hide from predators (including man) and they will spend their time sleeping and travelling between their food sources and hiding places.   If a dog is killed by a larger predator – the body will usually be found. Predators do not tend to eat other predators and all members of the canine family are predators.”

 

One last sobering stat: there are 40,000 unidentified human remains in this nation.

 

 

What the Star of Bethlehem Tells Me About Our Upcoming Adoption

It’s been over two years since my husband and I began all the hard work associated with adopting a little boy from Latvia.  The first step was obtaining Erik’s (husbands’) Latvian Citizenship as we learned that Latvian citizens who reside in the U.S. could receive a referral of a relatively healthy child of any age range (see my previous post for more details here We are adopting (again!).  After about a year of collecting/filling out paperwork, last November (of 2016) Erik and I were finally able to put our names in the hat for one boy, ages 4-7, with moderate health issues, from Latvia.  We were told by our agency that we would be presented with up to three referrals and would most likely be able to travel during the spring or the summer of this year (2017).  I was so excited with the idea of traveling as a family this summer and finally giving Logan a little brother.  And, for the most part, finally completing  our family.  This is a big deal for me as we have been in the process of building and completing our family since I turned 30. I’m now in my mid-40s.

That’s fifteen years and counting, people.

IMG_2958
Just a portion of all the paperwork we did (and are re-doing) for our upcoming adoption.

Spring came around, so I emailed/bugged my coordinator for an update.  Still no word.

Then early summer came, and I emailed/bugged my coordinator again.  Should I start switching bedrooms and buying clothes?  Can I be doing anything to get ready? My coordinator said to hold off, as there was still no word.

The fall came, still no word.

Late fall came and I received an email which was very discouraging.

I will get to the email in just a moment, but I want to first tell you about a documentary called The Star of Bethlehem, as it relates to our adoption situation.

Here is the gist of this Christmas documentary:

A lawyer/researcher/computer nerd named Rick Larson conducted research to figure out the mystery of the Bethlehem star, and whether it was a true, astronomical event which announced the birth of Jesus Christ, the Jewish King. From Wikipedia:

As a lawyer,[9] Larson examined the text of Matthew, finding nine pieces of evidence in the nativity passage.[10] Using astronomy software to return to the skies over Judea[17] by using Johannes Kepler’s math to calculate positions of celestial objects, Larson thinks he found all nine elements found in the book of Matthew.[10] He also believes that the Star of Bethlehem, is Jupiter, a wandering star,[18] and it stopped over Bethlehem during its retrograde motion on December 25, 2 BC.[19][20] 

But here is the coolest part of the documentary (and why people are really watching it). So apparently, a triple conjunction of planets and stars occurs not once, but twice during the time of Jesus’ conception and birth.  The first one (at his conception) occurred when three stars/planets aligned:

  • Jupiter (the King planet)
  • Regulus (the King star, connected to the Leo the Lion constellation – Jesus is from the tribe of Judah, which is associated with the Lion of Judah)
  • Virgo (the Virgin planet).

Do you see all the connections with the Christmas story?

Nine months later, at Jesus’ birth, another amazing and extremely rare triple conjunction occurred:

  • Jupiter (the King planet)
  • Regulus (the King star, connected to the Lion constellation)
  • Venus (the Mother planet)

How cool is that? No wonder the Magi, those who studied many prophecies and  predictions using the stars, came running to Bethlehem to check out the “one who is to be born King of the Jews.”

For the skeptics out there, let me fill in a bit of historical context. Back during this time in history, most people depended on the stars in the sky for navigation and predictions (and even magic: think astrology).  The whole entire shipping and nautical industry depended on the stars for direction and navigation.  Later, the Sextant was invented to help sailors to navigate using the stars. (Many years ago I read a really cool book about this called Carry On Mr. Bowdich.)

Apparently, this Bethlehem triple-conjunction-star was a HUGE deal back in the day; think of a widely noticed phenomenon, much like the solar eclipse that just occurred this summer (of 2017).

Rick Larson says:

This conjunction was so close and so bright that it is today displayed in hundreds of planetaria around the world by scientists who may know nothing of Messiah. They do it because what Jupiter did makes such a great planetarium show. Jupiter appeared to join Venus. The planets could not be distinguished with the naked eye. If our magus (Wise Men) had had a telescope, he could have seen that the planets sat one atop the other, like a figure eight. Each contributed its full brightness to what became the most brilliant star man had ever seen.

So here is the bad news we had received about our adoption:  our coordinator told us that more and more Latvians are adopting older children, and that what we are looking for seems be “more popular” with Latvian citizens (which is great; I’m so happy more kids are being adopted).  But here is where the news broke down: we are “number 13 in line” for getting one boy, ages 4-7, and that she didn’t think we would get a referral “anytime soon.” I also found out later that we can be bumped by a Latvian family at any time.  She also said that we should consider changing our home study to allow for either an older child, a sibling group, or a child or children with moderate special needs.  And here was the kicker:

“Oh, and by the way, you should start to update your home study (in other words, re-do a bunch of your paper-work) sooner than later because everything expires soon.”

I was discouraged with this news.  It put me in a foul mood about this adoption specifically and adoption in general. Erik and I talked about it and decided that we are now open to raising the age range, possibly adding a moderate special need, and here is the kicker: allowing for a sibling group of a boy and a girl.

I can’t even imagine going from three kids to five, but I’m just not sure how long we will wait for a referral if we don’t adjust our home study to reflect reality.

So how does our adoption relate to the Bethlehem star?

1. God is all about timing.  

Timing is important to God.  He had to line up two planets and one star (and not just any planets, very special planets with specific meanings) in order to announce the birth of his Son, not once, but twice.  Timing is really important to God, not just with the ‘big things’ but with the little things, too. I can safely say that it must not have been God’s timing to adopt up until this point in time.

2. God’s timing seems slow.

I have often wondered about the slowness of God’s timing and have grown impatient with it numerous times.  But think about how slowly those stars and planets seemed to move to the naked eye.  Each day they were a bit closer to each other, but only barely discernible.  However, stars and planets actually move very fast in space.  So really what seems slow to us, at the naked eye level, may actually be the speed of light in space.  This really messes with me, but the bottom line is that even if it seems slow to me, it really may not be slow.  It may just be that it seems slow to me.

3.  God’s timing is perfect.  

Everything had to line up perfectly in order to have a big miraculous splash to announce the birth of Jesus.  God had to send Gabriel at just the right time to announce to Mary that she would be the Mother of Jesus. God made Elizabeth pregnant at just the right time so that John could be the fore-runner of Jesus. Mary and Joseph left their home at just the right time to travel to Bethlehem for the census, so that Jesus could be born in a manger, in Bethlehem, in order to fulfill prophecy, as well as to the be at the precise place where the triple conjunction seemed to “stand still.” God even had to allow some “back up” time to get everything and everyone aligned perfectly, including the start-time of the Magi, the location of the Shepherds, and the alignment of the stars in the night sky.  So with all of that being true, I can safely assume….

If God is in control of the timing and events of the birth of his own Son, then surely I can trust Him to be in control of the timing of our adoption.

4. God will usually give you just enough information to help you to walk in faith and believe that His timing is perfect.

He did this to me just two nights ago with a devotional we read at dinner time.  I will put a portion of that devotional in my closing paragraph.

Before I close, just a little Christmas confession: I have found that I am more frustrated and impatient with this adoption than I was with the previous other three!  I guess I’m tired of all the B.S. that’s associated with adoption.  From the waiting, to the paperwork, to the re-doing of paperwork, to the back and forth, to the issues with the kids that you have to think about and pray through first, and then deal with secondly…I’m just kinda sick of all of it.  Deep in my heart, I’m starting to think that this may be our last adoption, at least our last “on purpose” adoption.  I am still open to orphan hosting down the road, and if that leads to another adoption…great!  But I am in my mid 40s and don’t feel like doing this over and over again. Adoption is just plain hard.  Is it worth it? Of course!  I have my three beautiful kids to show for it and I would’t trade them for the world.

But adoption is really hard.  And there is always a wait built into the process.  At least there has been for us.

And we are smack in the middle of our wait.

In closing, Khloe (our daughter) read a devotional at dinner just two nights ago that really spoke to me and reassured me that God’s timing is perfect and He is completely in control of our adoption.  Here is a portion:

December 21: (This is God speaking, by the way)

I have a perfect plan for your life.  But I don’t show it to you all at once. It is like a road that you must travel one step at a time.

Sometimes the road feels blocked, or it opens up so slowly that you feel frustrated.  But then, when the timing is right, the way before you suddenly clears.  All that you have longed for and worked for is given to you freely – as a gift.  And that is when you catch a glimpse of my power and my glory.

Just keep walking along the path I have prepared for you, depending on my strength to keep you going.  Expect to see some miracles – and you will. Not everyone can see my miracles, but those who live by faith can see them clearly.  When you walk by faith going step by step with me, you are able to see my glory.

— Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young

This adoption has been a huge step of faith, but at some point, “when the timing is right, the way before you suddenly clears. And all that you have longed for and worked for is given to you freely – as a gift.”

I can’t wait for that day to occur!  Lord, help me to wait patiently and purposefully.

Merry Christmas!

P.S. For those who believe in the power of prayer, we would appreciate your prayers that the Lord would allow us to adopt one or two children in His timing. But I pray that the timing would be sooner rather than later. :). Because it’s already been two years. Please pray that the child or children would be a wonderful fit for our family, and that Logan would especially click with his new younger brother. And, if possible, that we could all travel as a family to Latvia to adopt.  Thank you so much!!

PSS: For those who are interested: The Biblical data points of the star are as follows: it signified birth, it signified kingship, it was related to the Jewish nation, and it “rose in the East”;[11] it was not known to King Herod;[12] it appeared at a specific time;[13] it endured over time;[14] it was before the Magi as they traveled south to Bethlehem from Jerusalem,[15] and then [16] it stopped over the city of Bethlehem.[6]. (source, wikipedia)

PSS: all research for this post was used by googling “The Star of Bethlehem”, watching portions of the documentary, plus Wikipedia.  You can find Rick Larson’s website at www.thestarofbethlehem.org.

Wine in the Woods: Back-Packing with three kids, and Jackson Hole, WY

Imagine the following:

You are sitting by a beautiful mountain lake out in the middle of nowhere, high up in the  mountains.  You’re in the middle of a good book, sipping wine, while your kids happily play (screen-free) somewhere in the distance (somewhere FAR in the distance, because you found a rock very far from camp, over-looking the lake).  You hear a splash in the water and look up — the juvenile-sized trout that inhabit the lake are just beginning to “rise.”  You gaze at the ripples descending across the water.  Your eyes glaze over.  You reach for your phone to take a picture (or more just out of habit, really) but realize you don’t have it with you….for why should you?  There is no Internet availability out here — six miles into the middle of the woods.

You think about what could be going on in the world or who could’ve passed away while you’ve been disconnected from society for the last three days.  You say a quick prayer for someone in your family.  You start back into the book but those darned trout are rising again.  You wonder if you should go grab your pole and drop a line.  Suddenly, the wine hits you and you find yourself getting a wee bit sleepy.  Time for a little nappy-poo?  Of course!!

You quietly sneak into your tent (without your family knowing) and lay on your very comfortable blow-up mattress pad and…

TAKE A NICE, LONG NAP.

Welcome to my version back-country camping.  

It’s a lot more fun (and fun for moms and ladies) than you may think.

Before I get deep into the woods (I mean weeds) about our back-packing trip, let me back up for a moment.  I wrote this blog post for two simple reasons. First, to chronicle our family trip.  Secondly, so you, My Dear Reader, can copy our trip out West to Jackson Hole, WY, down to a tee if you would like. Because it’s so much easier to copy someone else and steal their ideas than to do all the research and endless Internet searching on your own, right?

Of course!

I will start with Jackson Hole, WY: what we did, what we recommend, what to skip, and where we stayed.

First, if you have never been to Jackson Hole, please, if you can somehow make it there (and afford it), GO!

So without further delay, here is the summary of our trip out West starting with…

Our trip to Jackson Hole:

We flew into Salt Lake City as it’s cost prohibitive to fly directly into Jackson Hole (it’s a five hour drive to Jackson Hole from Salt Lake City).  We stayed at the Rustic Inn at Jackson Hole (www.rusticinnatjh.com) which we highly recommend for many reasons which I will put in the P.S. section below.  As soon as we arrived at the Rustic Inn, we promptly swam in the cool and clean mountain creek that runs directly behind the establishment.  Such a blast!  People actually brought tubes and did tubing down the creek.  That night we made smores at the fire pits that they have on the side of the mountain there.

 

DD467305-7F15-49BC-AC48-3FFC5B0AB00E

The next day, Erik (husband) organized our hiking gear, we walked around town and ate at the Merry Piglets for lunch (Mexican, highly recommend), and then that afternoon we visited the Teton Village and took a gondola up to a restaurant overlooking a beautiful view!  (Quick tip: taking the Gondola is much cheaper than the Aerial Tram but the Tram takes you higher up.)

IMG_4841
We rode the gondola up to the top of a mountain at the Teton Village.

Later that evening, we went to the Jackson Hole Rodeo (www.jhrodeo.com).  The rodeo was so much fun for adults and kids alike.  The cowboys had some trouble staying up for eight seconds on the bulls.  Do not spend the extra money to purchase the expensive, covered seats.  We paid about $15 per person (after a 5$ discount if you order tickets on line) and had great seats in the general seating area.

IMG_4845
The rodeo was a lot of fun!  Only one cowboy made it 8 seconds on the mighty bull!

The next day we went back-packing!!!!  Which I will get to in a moment.

After we came back from back-packing, we promptly went on a river float tour followed by a whitewater rafting trip! (Dave Hansen Whitewater and Scenic River Trips.)  It was super fun.  Honestly, to save money, you could probably skip the scenic river float tour (which occurs first thing in the morning, before the white water rafting trip).  First, it’s very cold.  Secondly, you see just a wee bit of bird wildlife. Put it this way: if you are dying to see a bald eagle and an osprey, do the river float.  We saw both!  But, you can just skip that and just get to all the action of whitewater rafting.

By far, whitewater rafting was the favorite activity of the kids the entire vacation.  It was not overly scary (only class 1 and 2 rapids, with perhaps one class 3) but the kids got to sit right up front and got a ton of action (and water) up there.  Erik and Claire got out of the raft and went “swimming” in the Snake River.

IMG_5071
The kids LOVED whitewater rafting on the Snake River!

The next day, we woke up early and watched the sunrise over the Grand Teton Mountains — breathtaking — and then continued on to Yellowstone National Park.  It’s only 55 miles from Jackson but takes about an hour and a half or so to get there.  Beware, the traffic can be very bad once you are inside the park.  You must go see Old Faithful, visit some of the super-piping-hot lava pits, and be on the lookout for wildlife, including bison and bears! (Quick Tip: we watched Old Faithful go off from the raised outside porch located on the second floor of Old Faithful Inn — highly recommend.  Very easy.  You can purchase food and drinks while you wait for Old Faithful to erupt.)

IMG_5033
The beautiful Grand Teton Mountain range.  THIS is why you do all of the work to get here.

IMG_5048
Why…hello Mr. Bison.  Please stay clear of my car.  I would appreciate it.  Yellowstone was awesome; we saw Bison up close.  We also saw a wolf through a high powered lens that a nice man let us look through.

IMG_5065
Old Faithful, at Yellowstone National Park, 55 miles from Jackson Hole.

IMG_5036
Please don’t attempt to enjoy this “natural hot tub.”  You will die.  Plus, they smell like sulphur.  But they’re super cool.  But keep your small children close-by.

The next day we did the ‘Walk Around Town Day’ (shops, restaurants, beautiful artwork, photography, and souvenirs for the kids).  And then at night (6 pm) they have a “shoot out” in the middle of the town square!  Super fun “play” put on by real actors with some real cowboy “shootings” (with blanks, of course) and old-time Western drama.

IMG_5087
Every night at 6 pm in the middle of the town square there is a “shoot out” along with a short, Western, dramatic production.

That night for dinner we ate at the Lift Restaurant.  Great view of the side of the mountain where everyone goes skiing in the winter.

On our final day, we drove back to Salt Lake city but not before I spotted some wild moose by a small creek.  We promptly pulled over and took some pictures.

Back-Packing with three kids:

For those who cannot imagine ever doing this with your kids and plan to skip this part,  please give me two minutes of your time.  Back-packing is hard and wonderful and fun and a pain all at the same time.

Let me first address some of the top fears of non-back-packers: bugs and bears.  Yes, there are a few bugs, mostly mosquitos in August, and you can deal with those quite easily with various bug sprays and products.  Wildlife: in all the years Erik and I have been hiking, we have rarely seen wildlife in any kind of a dangerous manner, or up close.  That being said, we have seen bear and moose from a distance, as well as elk, deer, and bird-life.   As for bears: we always bring Bear Spray with us wherever we go. If you hang your food properly you should not have any issues.

On to back-packing:

We drove about 1.5 hours up to the Bridger Natural Forest and hiked 4.5 miles to Middle Sweeney Lake.  We camped one night.  The next day we hiked only 1.5 miles to our destination: Eckland Lake.  It was beautiful!  The kids helped Erik pitch both tents, and then Erik promptly made dinner.  So what was on the menu for dinner, you may ask?  Erik made each of us a personal pan pizza!  It was the best pizza I’ve ever had!  (I will put some info on camping food in the P.S.S.S. section.)

IMG_4919
The lake where we went fishing.

Before dinner however, while it was still relatively warm (it gets chilly that high up), my daughter Claire and I found a large rock that was located on the side of the lake and jumped into a deeper part of the lake (it was cold!). We were just about to jump in a second time when I saw a leech swimming in the water right near the large rock.  The leech was about five inches long and looked like a small snake or eel.  I must admit that after I saw the leech I had visions of that small creature slithering up to a certain area of my body, where it does not belong, so I did not jump in the lake after that.  🙂

Over the next few days we we went fishing (Logan caught a rainbow trout and learned how to fly fish!), roasted marshmallows/smores, played charades by the camp fire, hiked a few miles here and there to get a beautiful view, (quickly) bathed in the lake water, kids were silly running around the camp, played UNO in the tent while it rained, waited for Erik to cook us the next meal, and just spent some awesome time together as a family.

IMG_4879
This is why we go back-packing.  Just good old-fashioned screen-free time in the woods, connecting as a family.

IMG_4927
Little boy.  Big lake.

IMG_4944
Logan caught a fish! Don’t worry; we threw it back.

Just a quick note to all you ladies and moms reading this blog thinking: “no way!! I could never do back-packing and camping.”

Ladies, things have changed.  Camping is different than you may think.

First, you can bring COFFEE and DARK CHOCOLATE into the woods.  You can also bring WINE into the woods.  You can bring a GOOD BOOK into woods.  You can bring a light-weight AIR MATTRESS into the woods. You can bring portable, light-weight CAMP CHAIRS into the woods.  You can unplug, relax, read, and spent time with family and friends.  And yes, there is hiking and activity involved, but it is often rewarded with excellent views.  Bottom line: back-packing is great for relationships, and it’s great for you, too….to unwind and see the beauty of nature, and to unplug.

IMG_4914
My survival items: first and foremost, my Bible.  I always appreciate God as Creator out on these trips. Secondly, my coffee.  Thirdly, a good book.  Finally, a small bottle of wine.

On the fourth day we hiked out of the woods (about six miles) while the kids asked “when will we be at the parking lot?” about 100 times, got caught in a hail storm, met some people (vegetarians) who drive around the country in their RV looking for wild mushrooms to pick off of logs, and got ready to eat the famous “post-hike cheeseburger!”

We stopped at the The Bird restaurant on our drive down the mountains, which has one of the best mountain views in the area.  And then spent the next four days in Jackson Hole, as mentioned above.

In closing, I am happy to say that in the midst of all the activity, hiking, Yellowstone, white water rafting, doing various activities, and driving for hours at a time, we grew closer as a family and had some great conversations and a lot of fun.  We also appreciated God as the Creator of all the beauty that we saw…from the mountains, to the beautiful birds, to the clear and cold lakes and streams, to the sunrises and sunsets.

I highly recommend both Jackson Hole and back-packing.  Put it on your bucket list, because it was our:

best.vacation.ever. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

IMG_4960
Khloe, dropping a line.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

P.S. We stayed at The Rustic Inn, which we highly recommend for many reasons but mostly because of the unique cabins (try to get Creekside if you can), free breakfasts, and most importantly, it backs up to the most lovely mountain creek I’ve ever seen — and you can swim and fish in the creek to boot (there’s abundant wildlife around the creek as well).  Also, there is a hillside area above the creek that they’ve recently developed into an area with a nighttime Tex Mex bar as well as a fire-pits to roast marshmallows at night from 7-10:30.  Several nights in a row we roasted marshmallows at the fire pits.  Great for memories with your kids!  Below: sunset on the creek and the view right outside of our room.

P.S.S.  Other things to do in Jackson: I highly recommend Jenny Lake. There is a short hike you can do that gives you a wonderful view.  You can also take a tram up the side of the one of the mountains.  Gorgeous!  Also, we heard from fellow whitewater rafters that horseback riding up in the mountains was also really fun and that their 13 year old thought it was the best part of their vacation.

P.S.S.S.  Food for back-packing: this will be the hardest part of your entire back-packing trip (mostly the planning, careful packing, carrying it around, and execution of the meal).  My husband is an expert at it, and if you want to contact me directly, that might be the best way to go about this.  But in a nutshell, you need to order some yummy back-packing meals that need to be re-hydrated with boiling water.   A few ideas for meal planning starting with breakfast: instant coffee, bring powdered cream and sugar, instant oatmeal, just-add-water-pancake mix (we put m & m’s in them), and there are some really good egg-wrap meals you can make with rehydrated eggs.  You can also add cheese to the eggs.  Lunch: individual peanut butter packets with individual jellies with mini-bagels, dried salami, cheese, protein bars, trail mix.  Dinners: check out http://www.packitgourmet.com for excellent ideas.  We love the cheeseburger wraps.  Erik made personal pan pizzas using a heat diffuser.  You will need plenty of propane (about two small canisters), a pot for boiling water, a small frying pan, olive oil, small fold-up spatula, camping cups, camping bowls, and camping soap.  Don’t forget a water filter and a fire starter, or camping matches.  You will also need light-weight sleeping bags and a light-weight tent.  There’s more you will need but this will get you started.  Have fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Decorating Tips

IMG_4448
We love our new rustic wood-pallet wall. We hung up an industrial-style clock to mix things up.  Don’t be afraid to mix styles as long as it all blends well together at the end.

I have been happily married for 17 years and have been decorating our home on and off ever since.  After years of flipping through magazines, going over to my friends’ homes and stealing ideas, watching HGTV like everyone else, and just plain wandering through furniture stores and cruising around on-line, I have finally figured out my own decorating style and picked up a lot of solid decorating tips over the years.  I want to share them with you today.

But first, no…I don’t think I’m the most fabulous decorator in town.  I have made many mistakes along the way and I still have a lot to learn. Secondly, there is nothing in this post that is rocket science, just things I have learned over the years.

So without further delay, here are my top ten decorating tips, in order. I will start from the beginning, in case you suck at, errr….are new to, decorating.

Tip #1 Declutter your home and get rid of your old college furniture

If you do not declutter, no matter how awesomely decorated your house looks, it will look BAD because it will look CLUTTERED.   I am not talking about “normal family clutter.”  We all have that.  I am talking about serious clutter.  Get rid of it or find a home for it.  Also, if you have old furniture from your grandma or your college days and you don’t think it’s up to snuff and it’s from around 1985, get rid of it.  (If you can’t afford new furniture, see my P.S. where I give you a couple of ideas of how to decorate inexpensively.) Once your home is relatively free of old stuff and clutter, we can move on to decorating…. woo hoo

Tip #2 Decide your decorating style 

The first question I need to ask you is: which side are you on?  Classic or Eclectic?  Let me explain. Classic decorators include traditional, transitional, country, coastal, antique, etc.  If you are eclectic, perhaps you lean towards modern, vintage, or industrial, or even something crazy like art-deco.  Or perhaps you are somewhere in between.  I visited a friend last year in California and she decorated her home in the style of mid-century modern and I loved it!!  But I have no clue how to decorate like that.  So you first need to decide your style.

Click here for ideas to get started:

www.hgtv.com/design/decorating/design-101/design-styles-defined-pictures

My suggestion?  If you are not sure what to do, choose something more traditional or classic, and add different decor elements from a different style or styles.  My personal decorating style is traditional/classic with rustic, vintage, and industrial touches.

Tip #3 Decide on, and purchase, your big ticket items first 

Choose your furniture and larger items first and foremost.  Make sure they all blend together well.  Beware of darker furniture, because in the light of a furniture store what may look a beautiful wine/brown leather color actually looks black when you bring it home (I know this from experience).  If you have have young kiddos, consider a darker leather couch, or washable fabric with a guarantee of some sort.  Bottom line: get your furniture and rugs (or wood floors) down first before you get all crazy with the smaller stuff.  Or the smaller stuff won’t blend in.

Tip #4 Choose your paint colors carefully.  And “pop color” on a ceiling or a door

I cannot tell you how many paint mistakes I have made.  We once bought what I thought was a beautiful light orange color and painted our entire living room with it.  Once the paint was up, it looked like human skin on a very pale white girl.  It was awful.  We had to repaint it immediately.  Another time I surprised Erik by painting our master bathroom really cool, light “sea foam blue” color.  The only problem?  After it was up it changed into mint green.  That did not go over very well, and he made fun of me for about a year until we changed the color.

Paint color is magical and mystical.  It changes color once it leaves the store and is up on your wall.  It changes color throughout the day.  You will love it at 9 am and hate it at 6pm.  I am not kidding you.  The point?  Try to find a color you can live with/absolutely love 24 hours a day.  If in doubt, go neutral.  Grays, creams, and beiges are still lovely. If you are not sure which color to choose, yellows and blues are good go-to’s.  Beware of super dark colors.  Few homes can actually pull them off well because they are so dependent on natural light, which varies throughout the day.  Your super cool dark red accent wall will look like deep-dried blood around 9 pm.  I would avoid that if I were you.

My suggestion?  Paint you walls warmer colors and “pop a color” on your ceiling or door.  We painted our bedroom a cream color and the ceiling a very dark orange and I think it looks pretty freaking cool.  Our living and dining rooms we painted a cream color (interactive cream – Sherwin Williams) on the walls and then a lovely brown color (canoe- Sherwin Williams) on the ceilings. But make sure the two colors blend well together.  Ask the paint store for assistance in this.

IMG_4444
Paint colors: always tough to figure out.  We wanted a “warm” feeling in our dining room so we used cream for our walls, but then we “popped color” (brown) on our ceiling.

Tip #5 Put up a wood pallet wall or paint a fun color on an accent wall

We put up a wood-pallet wall and we LOVE it!  If you don’t like the wood-on-the-walls look, then paint one wall a different, accent color.  And then decorate it with cool, funky picture frames or other decor items.  Get creative.

*since wood-pallet walls are all the rage, I will put more detail on what we did specifically in my P.S.S. section.

Tip #6 Add smaller items and accent pieces 

After you have purchased the furniture and have chosen your paint colors, and perhaps painted or wooded-up an accent wall, now the fun begins.  Get online or go to stores and find pictures, decor and other items that “speak to you.”  There are so many good places to find inexpensive decor items.  I love the Home Goods Store.  You can try TJ Maxx, Target, Walmart, Michaels, and even K Mart.  You can go on-line wayfair.com.  There are SO many choices now.

My suggestion?  Have fun and get pieces from different decor styles but make sure it all blends together at the end.

Tip #7 Organize all of your family photos and kids art/brag stuff in one area of the house 

We put our updated family photos on our new wood pallet wall.  And all of my kids art work and certificates of achievement are placed in another smaller area.  I think it looks cluttered if your kid stuff and family photos are all over the house (my personal opinion).  Figure out where it looks best and put it all in one spot.

Tip #8 Pop color throughout the house

With every room, the rule is two basic colors and one “pop” color.  So, for my living room, my two colors are cream and brown (kinda boring) but I “popped” yellow in the book case as well as the curtains and pillows.  It looks better with one “pop” color.

IMG_4440
Two basic colors (cream and light brown) with one “pop” color — yellow

Tip #9 Decorate according to your own values

Decorate with meaningful pictures and art work that represents who you are. Like birds?  Decorate with bird art.  Huge fan of music? Purchase an old guitar and mount it on your wall.  Are you religious and want to have a conversation piece?  Pop some religious art.  We hung two really cool pics of “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” in our dining room; a before and after of sorts.  It makes for some great discussion with guests.  I have fun vintage signs in my kitchen which make people laugh and it starts conversations.

IMG_4441
Daniel in the Lion’s Den — a great conversation piece

Tip #10 Got kids?  Create a kid space

Kids are the number reason why houses get MESSY. Try to keep it all in one room of the house.  Do the best you can.  Keep all of your board games in a place you can easily see and access.  Keep all of the art stuff in one place too.

Bonus! Tip #11 Update your lighting fixtures

This one change will greatly affect how the inside of your home looks.  Take a look at your current dining room or kitchen table chandelier.  Does it cover the time span between 1965 and 2005??  If it does, please, for the love of all things, REPLACE it.  You can find some awesome, inexpensive light fixtures online (Amazon, Home Decorators, Wayfair) or at many home stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot.  What about your kitchen?  Does it have that huge fluorescent light in the middle of it?  Get rid of that son of a gun.  Install cool, fun, practical lighting all over your home.  Buy new table lamps with style and color.  Consider small hanging lights (like indoor Christmas lights, but not) in one room of the house (perhaps your kids space). Lighting can VASTLY change the mood of your home.

IMG_4458
One of the best things you can do is update your lighting fixtures!!  We found this one at home decorators.com

Bonus Tip #12 Steal (I mean, get….) ideas from your friends, and decorate slowly

I love visiting new homes and getting ideas from my friends.  Of course, I don’t completely copy them exactly, but I get new ideas.  You can also feel free to steal ideas from me.  And decorate incrementally!!  Don’t stress over how long it takes to get your home together.  It has taken me three and half years to beautify my current home and it’s still not completely decorated.  Take your time and try to enjoy it.

Bonus Tip #13 Remember why you decorate

Finally, remember the ultimate goal of having a nice home is that you have a comfortable space for yourself (if you are single) or for you and your family to enjoy and live together in peace and harmony.  Try not to obsess over your home (and decorating). Love PEOPLE more than you love things.  Things get old, dirty, and broken.  People are gifts from God.  This includes friends and neighbors, too.  Welcome them into your home and feed them some tasty food.  If you love your home and the way it looks, it will make you and your family happier, and you will be much more motived to throw some par-tays.

In conclusion, I hope this post helps get you motivated to replace some old lighting fixtures, tackle a wood-pallet wall, and paint over that dried-blood-red wall with something light, fresh, and pleasing to the eye.  But make sure you like your paint color at both 9 am and 9 pm.  🙂

What about you?  What are your best decorating tips?  Let’s all share and learn from each other!

_____________

P.S.: Here are just a couple of “cheap” decorating tips.  You can find quality, inexpensive paint at Lowe’s and Home Depot.  Choose paint colors carefully.  Paint first.  Got old couches and you can’t afford to purchase new pieces?  No worries.  Buy a couple of nice, cream, matching slipcovers that FIT WELL and then buy some really nice, colorful accent pillows to go in each corner of couches (or love seats).  Pier One has great accent pillows.  Got an 80s coffee table from your grandma?  Fine. Paint it and then distress it (google or youtube this.)  Put some books neatly on the coffee table and maybe a cool vase in the middle. You can find lots of decor items in clearance aisles in various stores and at Flea Markets.  Go to Michaels, buy some cheap frames, and then print off things you find on-line and then put the print in the frame (vintage maps, vintage birds, anything that doesn’t have a copyright).  You can even put your kids artwork in cheap frames.  Check on line deals; wayfair.com has daily deals of up to 70 percent off.  Watch that site like a hawk. Finally, google “cheap decorating tips” and you will find many ideas.

P.S.S: Our wood pallet wall: to make a long story very short, I was originally going to do “peel and stick wood.”  (Just google it.) But it was WAY too expensive and definitely a DIY project (you have to carefully, with a little saw, cut the sides off of pieces that are too long) so I hired a local guy who actually got real, reclaimed wood, stained it in about five different colors or shades of the same color, and then he put it up piece by piece, staggering the wood out in a way that looks cool.  It took him several days to get the wood ready and about two days to install it; the total was about $800.  You can totally DIY this project but it’s a pain as you have to a. Locate the wood b. Make sure the wood is the same size and very straight across the top c. Stain most of the wood in grays and browns (leave several pieces with no color however) and then d. Carefully put the wood up evenly in a staggered way with a nail gun.  That takes a lot of time.  Or you can pay someone, as we did.  If you live local, I will give you the contact information of the guy we hired if interested.  You can also do a wood wall much cheaper by using Lath strips of wood, found at Home Depot, which are about $12 per bundle.  You install them with a Brad Nailer.

Hope this helps!! Thanks for reading!

Small Things with Great Love

mother'sday2017

Me (above) — working behind the scenes to impact my kids for good.  And my kids — who appreciate me one day a year.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Several years ago, a well-known Christian Pastor resigned his post as Senior Pastor of a large church, and moved to Asia in order to serve God in a more behind-the-scenes way.  Francis Chan was quoted as saying:

“I don’t believe God wants our church life to be centered on buildings and services.  Instead, God wants our churches to be focused on active discipleship, mission, and the pursuit of unity.”  He also added: “I think there has been too much emphasis on me.  Even in my own church I heard the words “Francis Chan” more than I heard the words “Holy Spirit,” he said.*

It got me thinking about why someone would give up their position in the spotlight to serve within the shadows?  In our society, there is such a distinction between the hero and the individual; those in the spotlight and those whose roles are more behind-the- scenes.  We tend to subconsciously elevate the rock star, the leader, the politician, the athlete, the movie star, or (for some of us) the well-known pastor.

I call these people the “one percenters.”  About one percent of the human population seems to influence the rest of us “99 percenters,” for better or for worse. These are the people with platforms, followers (social media and otherwise), and cheering fans.  I think it’s sometimes easy to think that those in a position of leadership are the ones who make a difference in this world.

But what about the rest of us?  Do we have a part to play?  Can we make a difference?

I am a humble “99 percenter” who has never had a platform of influence.  However, there was a time many years ago where I worked for a U.S. Senator as his Legislative Assistant.  Although he was the “important one,” I was able to play a key role on his staff and influence and support him behind-the-scenes.  Since leaving the work-force to become a stay at home parent, I have often struggled with wondering if I am making a difference in this world. A lot of what I do is unnoticed by anyone (even my kids!) and I often feel like I’m not making much of an impact.

This blog post is my attempt to figure out if those in the spot-light are more influential than those who work behind-the-scenes. Because in my mind, it’s obvious…it’s the ones who stand up in front of the rest of us who have more of an impact.  So I decided to do a little research on this topic.

In my mind, the greatest one percenter of all time is Jesus Christ.  Before you dismiss me because you may not be religious, please bear this in mind: if you google the most influential figures in human history, Jesus Christ tops almost every single list.  His birth literally split the calendar in two and his death is worn symbolically by millions around their neck in a tiny gold or silver remembrance.  His religion is followed by about one third of the human population to this day.  His religion is followed by me.

So I decided to do a simple study of the four gospels on the life of Christ.  One question I tried to answer was:  did he take the role of the Rock Star hero in front of large groups being admired by many, or did he influence in more obscure ways, working behind-the-scenes?  And which method was more effective?

Because in my mind, surely Jesus-the-Rock star must be way more influential than Jesus the behind-the-scenes.

This is what I discovered: I found that Jesus did preach to large crowds to be sure, however, he spent an extraordinary amount of time with individuals doing personal ministry, following a daily routine which was directed by his Father in Heaven, and working behind the scenes changing one life at a time incrementally.  He mostly hung out with one person or a small group of people (his 12 Apostles, for example).  He didn’t seem to prefer to be in the spotlight.

The second question I tried to answer was: what was the reaction of the large crowds?  I found that the reaction of the crowds was mixed at best and typically ranged from the crowds believing his message, to confusion, to anger, to unbelief, to curiosity, or to just plain hanging around to see if he would do another miracle.  Sometimes the crowds went to extremes: some wanted to kill him because they hated his message so much, while others wanted to immediately install him as King. The bottom line is that the crowds were all over the place and his impact on them was mixed.

On a side note, Jesus himself was often frustrated with the crowds.  He often expressed disappointment at their unbelief.  He often grew frustrated that they couldn’t see what was standing right in front of them.  In other words, being the most important and influential person in the world with a platform and a huge following wasn’t as great as you might think it would be, and Jesus’ impact on the crowds wasn’t as great as you might think it would be.

What about his work to the individual?  I discovered that Jesus seemed to do his best work in three ways: First, behind the scenes. Second, by impacting one life at a time, or one small group at a time.  And finally, incrementally.  Jesus seemed to understand that change happens one small measure at a time.

Can this model of incremental-influence-behind-the-scenes, or just working behind-the-scenes-while-still-being-vital-to-the-mission be modeled elsewhere?  I believe it can!

Let me give you a few other examples of what I am talking about.

First, the politician. This is a world I know something about after serving as a staffer (and volunteer) to four “powerful, important people” who run our country (as I touched on above).  But here’s a little secret: behind every influential politician is his/her staff, whom that Member is relying very heavily upon.  In fact, staff often advise Members on how to vote on certain bills, write speeches for them, tell them which events to attend, speak for them in meetings, and draft legislation on their behalf. Bottom line: the Member of Congress is the Rock Star, but almost equally as important is his or her staff, doing a lot of the work for them behind-the-scenes.

Secondly, this one is for all you sports junkies out there.  Here is a quick pop quiz:

Q: Who is the most important player on a football team?

A: The Quarterback, of course.  He is the captain, the one who is most centrally responsible for what happens on the field. All the players and fans look to him.

Q: How about the second most important player?

A: The second most important player on a football team is the Left Tackle.

Q: Huh?  What is a Left Tackle?

A: He is the player who spends his Sunday afternoons getting the snot beat out of him play after play to protect the quarterback from getting hit from behind. He is the quarterback’s ultimate protector.

For proof of this, just ask any quarterback or better yet look at the second highest paid player on the team. It is often the Left Tackle. Does anyone know who Tom Brady’s Left Tackle is? Can anybody name one Left Tackle at all?  This is a great example of how people who often make huge impacts often labor in relative obscurity.

Thirdly, one example from history.  Joshua Chamberlain was a schoolteacher from Maine who became a Colonel in the Union Army and was almost single-handedly responsible for winning the Battle of Gettysburg.  How?   He basically had to guard a hilltop from the Confederates, because if they captured it, the Union army would essentially lose the infamous battle. His tattered crew was out of ammo, greatly reduced, and were tired to bone, but at Chamberlain’s command, they fixed bayonets and charged downhill, causing the Confederate troops to retreat, and thus kept the Confederate army from winning the Battle of Gettysburg. Historians have determined that if Chamberlain hadn’t charged that day, the rebels would have won at Gettysburg, which would mean that the South would have won the actual war.  Historians also insist that if the South had won the war, we would live on a territorially fragmented continent much like Europe.  The United States exists as it is today because of one school teacher from Maine who worked behind the scenes and influenced a small number of troops in his charge.  Amazing!*

And finally, Mother Theresa.  She spent her entire life working behind the scenes to the very “least of these” in Calcutta, India.  Here is the list of the people she spent her time with: those suffering with HIV/AIDS, those with leprosy and tuberculosis, the orphans, the poorest of the poor, and the dying.  She even rescued 37 children in the middle of a war zone.  If you want to be inspired, google “Mother Theresa quotes.”

I will leave my favorite one at the close of this post.

I wanted to briefly address the one percenters who actually have a position of influence on the rest of us. I think your opportunities are very clear: you have a huge platform and can make a huge impact!  Use your platform for good!  But just a few thoughts from a humble 99 percenter:

To the athlete: Remember your teammates who often go unnoticed, but upon whom your success stands or falls.

The the political leader: Govern with the individual in mind rather than your reelection, and remember the late night staffer who toils on your behalf.

To the movie/TV/rock star: Use your influence for the good of mankind rather than yourself.

To the CEO: Remember that you would not have a company if it were not for all of the people who run it.  Appreciate them.

Finally, to the Pastor: Love people more than your platform.  Point others to the only One who deserves true worship.  Resist the pride that comes with leadership.  Remember your Congregant, and how his and her gifts are vital to the church and the community.  Listen to their ideas for change!  Consider the example of Francis Chan, who was willing to let go of his platform to work in obscurity.

(A quick note to the Congregant: Don’t make a hero out of your pastor, or idolize them.  They have an important role to play, but so do you.  Play your part and play it well.)

I want to circle back to Jesus before I close this post.

My final nagging question was: how did the number one most influential person in human history end his speaking career?  What did he say and what was the effect?

The last recorded speech he gave to the crowds went something like this: “you will not have the light (me) with you much longer.  Believe in the light while you still have it, or darkness will overtake you.” (John 12: 35-36 paraphrase).

How did the crowds respond?  The Scriptures give us a sobering report: even after Jesus had performed so many miracles in their presence, they still did not believe in him. (John 12:47)

Let’s take a look, then, at two individuals whom he privately influenced from when he was actually in the process of dying on the cross, and then one after he was resurrected.

To the thief on the cross, he gave witness of himself, and the thief put his faith in him as Messiah. Jesus said said these words to him: “This day you will be with me in paradise.” In essence, Jesus saved a soul right before he died.  Then John (his Apostle) brought his mother Mary over to him presumably to say goodbye to her son, when Jesus said “Woman, behold your son.”  Then he looked at John and said “Behold your mother.”  In other words, he was telling John, his number one Apostle besides Peter (and James), to take care of his mom.  As a mom, this warms my heart.  And then after he was raised from the dead he had a long conversation with Peter about feeding his sheep, which influenced Peter to go out and spread his message, which literally changed the world.

I don’t know about you, but Jesus’ example is deeply encouraging to me.   And it’s something I can handle.  We can all be in the the business of working out of the spotlight and changing one life at a time.  Even if the change is incremental, hard to see at first, and can’t be measured by the normal markers of success.  I can start with those right in front of me: my husband and three kids.

We can all have influence, even if we are not in the one percent.  We can all impact one small area of life.

We can all influence one person for good.

And by doing so, we can change the world!

In closing, my favorite Mother Theresa quote:

“Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love.”

Amen!

______________________________________________________________

  • source: “Christian famous” pastor quits his church, moves to Asia.”  Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog 12/22/2010.  According to Wiki, Pastor Chan now works in San Francisco – working to start a church planting and discipleship movement.
  • Source: “The Butterfly Effect” book by Andy Andrews

The Top 7 Conversational Styles that Drive us all Cray-Cray!

 

ragan

Me with one of my very best friends Ragan, as we are about to engage in some good, deep conversation.

So you think you’re a pretty good conversationalist, do you?

Most people think they are. However, I recently read an article that suggested that in our age of social media (verses in-person social interaction), most of us are struggling with our conversational skills.  The article (link below) talks about one big mistake that many people make in conversation: they become a Conversational Narcissist.  This person subtly, or not so subtly, turns the conversation back to himself.  A conversation with a Narcissist (Rob, in the example below) goes something like this:

James: I’m thinking about buying a new car.

Rob: Oh yeah, I’m thinking about buying a new car too.

James: Really?

Rob: Yup, I just test drove a new mustang. It was awesome!  Let me tell you all about it….

Did you see how Rob didn’t give a support response or keep the spotlight on James, but instead turned the conversation right back to himself? Many people struggle with keeping the conversation focused on the other person.  This is probably the number one mistake people make in conversation.  Additionally, many people also struggle with asking the other person any questions at all.  From the article:

Most folks seem to struggle with asking any questions at all and have a very difficult time relinquishing the floor.”

The article goes on to say “It’s fine to share things about yourself, as long you loop the conversation back to the person who initiated the topic.”

The article made me take a hard look at my own conversational skills. I am very introspective and I love deep conversation with good friends.  I really try hard to be a good listener and draw others out.  The only problem is that I have noticed that many people are so impressed with my listening skills that they forget to ask me any questions!!

But I am in no way perfect in conversation. For starters, I am a recovering blabber who used to share WAY too much detail.  Many years ago my employer told me that I went on and on when speaking, which led to me not getting a particular job.  Also, I sometimes have an agenda.   Nope, I’m not interested in selling  you a product, but I might want to sell you an idea.  My husband Erik takes the brunt of this because I’m always pestering him with my ideas about what to do and where to go as a family, or “can we have so and so over for dinner?”  Stuff like that.

So with my own issues in mind, Erik and I (and Ragan, pictured above) have developed a list of conversational styles we have noticed over many years. PLEASE KNOW that this list is intended to be a funny, non-judgmental, yet truthful/helpful look at some of the faux paus that we have consistently seen over the years (and that we, ourselves, have also made).

So, Besides the Conversational Narcissist, which is probably the worst, here are the other 6 Conversation Styles that Drives us all Crazy (in no particular order):

  1. The Story Topper: We all know this one.   He’s the guy or the gal who always has a better story to share. A better car, a better house, better kids, or a better life. Or conversely, he or she has it worse than you, and he wants you to know that you don’t have it as bad as you think you do. A conversation with a Story Topper (in positive form) can go like this: Me: “Hey Sally! You’ll never guess who I just ran into! Harrison Ford!” Sally: “That’s nothing! I just ran into Justin Timberlake yesterday, and JLo is coming over to my house for dinner tonight!” It can also look like this (in the negative form): Jane: “Man, I’m struggling to lose my last ten pounds of baby weight!” Sally: “That’s nothing! Try having to lose the last 50! You don’t know how good you have it!” You know you’re with a story topper when you feel like that cool story you just shared is not so cool, or that your perspective falls short of reality.
  2. The Topic Changer: This is the person who doesn’t prefer to stay on the topic that you are on; they want to talk about what they want to talk about. They don’t stay on point. Just when you are getting into the topic, for some reason, they change it. You know you’re with a Topic Changer when you find yourself frustrated that you were not able to dig as deeply into something as you wanted to, or you find yourself distracted by the conversation, rather than satisfied.
  3.  The Monologuer: You know this one: the person who wants to tell you every.little.detail. about something that happened to them or what they are going through. OR, if your Monologuer is from another generation, he (it’s usually an old man, let’s be honest) will go on and on about World War II, stories of how it used to be, what is wrong with this world, and his opinion on Donald Trump. It’s like they are just talking to themselves. And maybe they are, since most of us tune them out after about five minutes.  The Monologuer makes you feel like you want to find any excuse to leave the immediate vicinity as soon as possible. The problem is it is almost easier to escape quicksand.
  4. The Foyer Talker: These are folks that excel at small talk and don’t know when to leave the party. They stay in the foyer, continuing on with the conversation, oblivious to fact that you need to put your kids to bed, or clean up the house, or sleep. They are unable to read your body language and they are not in tune with  social norms or cues. You genuinely like this person but you genuinely want them to leave so you can relax and watch TV.
  5. The Agenda-cizers: These peeps try to subtly or not so subtly work in a personal agenda into their conversations. For example: “Hey, did you know I’m selling a new product? I’d like you to hear about it. Perhaps you can work underneath my pyramid scheme, I mean…perhaps you’d like to work alongside of me and make lots of money. Let’s have coffee to talk all about it…”  You feel like you always have to play defense with this person while trying to be somewhat open to what they are trying to sell you, err… I mean tell you.   (PS: I mean no disrespect to those people who use social media to promote something they are trying to sell.  I’m not talking about you.  I’m talking about the person who is pushy with their agenda and they are always thinking about it every time they see you.)
  6. Misc. Other Annoying Personas: The following Personalities deserve “honorable mentions.” The Story-Teller is like the Monologuer only better because they are super interesting to listen to while still being a one-sided conversationalist. The Interviewer asks too many questions and seems nosey. The Taboo Talker freely shares their views on religion and politics (or directly asks you about your views) and makes everyone feel uncomfortable. The Mood Changers either bring the conversation more “up” or “down” in an attempt to deflect their own personal feelings of discomfort.   Finally, the Debaters are always trying to “win” the argument or bring you over to their side with persuasion.   Did I forget any?  Please feel free to comment below.  Let’s all speak freely on this!

I will conclude with just one simple rule that each of us can follow to instantly bring our Conversational IQ up 100 points. Here it is:

Consider the other person.

That’s it. Not rocket science.   Just think of two little words help you: PING, PONG. Engage in a game of ping pong by answering their question with just enough detail to keep things interesting, and then PING the ball (the conversation) back to the form of another question.  When there is a pause, hopefully, they will ask you a question, and PONG the ball back to you.  You talk, they talk.  Ping, then Pong.  The goal is that the conversation is a mutual exchange of opinions and ideas.  Share enough, but not too much, unless they dig you for more detail.

Just a couple more things you can do: Don’t hog the floor. Hit the ball back to them.  Share interesting details, but don’t go on and on.  Read their body language.  Ask them questions.  Respect their answers.

If you ask the other person lots of good questions and do a few other normal, human- kindness, non-selfish things, everyone will love you and think you’re the coolest person around and they will leave your presence wanting to spend more time with you. Why?  Because you’re a good conversationalist and you make them feel good by listening to them, thereby affirming their dignity as a human being!

But wait – what if they are a conversational narcissist and/or they don’t hit the ball back to you? I am going to leave my thoughts on that in the P.S. section if you are interested.

In conclusion, if we all consider the other person, and ask good, engaging questions, everyone will leave the conversation satisfied and happy, with the relationship being strengthened and deepened.

So who wants to get together for some good, deep convo?

I’ll bring the coffee!

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­———————————————————————

PS: What to do when the other person is a Conversational Narcissist or a Monologuer or just doesn’t want to play PING PONG with you in conversation?

    • One, let the conversation go flat and see if they PING the ball back to you with a question.
    • Two, you can ask them another question, and hopefully with this round you will begin playing PING PONG again and it becomes a mutual exchange. However this can be dangerous as it may feed into the problem behavior, leaving you frustrated.
    • Three, just say what you want to say as though the other person actually asked you a question.   Just take the floor. Even if they didn’t give it to you.
    • Four, be patient and just let the conversation go naturally. Conversation should be a natural, enjoyable exchange. And it doesn’t have to be perfect. One person may talk more than the other one. It’s really all up to what you want in a relationship.   If you have something to say, just remember that John Mayer song: “Say What You Need To Say.” Don’t wait for a transition or a question. Just say it!!!
    • Finally, when they start to rattle on, drink another glass of wine. 🙂

 

To read about the Conversational Narcissist, click here:

/http://www.artofmanliness.com/2011/05/01/the-art-of-conversation-how-to-avoid-conversational-narcissism/