Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Birthday Blessing Review and GIVEAWAY! {Ended}

***The winner of the giveaway is Sharon Westphal!
Sharon, please respond to the email that we sent to you and we'll make sure you get your package right away!  CONGRATS!

I am beyond excited to write this review!!!
And even more excited that one of my readers will be able to have one of these at home as well!

Several weeks ago,  I was introduced (online) to The Birthday Blessing sisters through a blogger Facebook Group!. These ladies have created something so special for parents and their children.  In this "digital" age, they wanted to be able to put something in the hands of their children that embodied their love for them.

So what is The Birthday Blessing?
Well, it's a journal and a wooden birthday cake that can be purchased together or separately.  They were gracious enough to send me the package so I could do a full review!

The concept is that every year, during the 7 days leading up to your child's birthday, you take special time out of your day to sit with the family and have purposeful discussion about the importance of your child in the family's life!  Each day, leading up to their birthday, there are written devotionals to read with the family and thoughtful questions that will prompt you all to think about God's provisions, His promises, and His work in your child's life!  

There are sections that allow your child to write their name, what they want to be when they grow up, and more milestones for mom and dad to fill in.

It even instructs you to request a family member or friend to write a special letter to your child during the week so that you can read it to them 2 days before their birthday! There is a spot in the journal to then paste the letter as a keepsake.

There is room in the journal to share this tradition every year until your child is 18! Then, when they leave home, they have this beautiful journal to keep and read and share with THEIR children someday! It really is precious...I can't wait to fill this up!

The package also comes with a cute shabby chic "birthday cake."
The idea is to use this as a centerpiece in your home so that the whole family is reminded that it's BIRTHDAY WEEK for someone! It's a visual reminder that the week is dedicated to celebrating the child who is turning another year older.

I know in our family, we have tried to do something special with each child on their actual birthday without the other kids....just to take some special time with them alone. And then there's usually a birthday party sometime close to that as well.  

This is much different than that, but a really sweet compliment to any other festivities we might be having.  

More than just a celebration, it's a time of encouraging, affirming our love for, and lifting up our child.  I feel like this concept can easily get lost in today's busy world!  This is intended to be a blessing to our kids as we intentionally plan for this time to show them how special they are to us and how God has created them in a special, unique way to live for His glory.

Sadly, we didn't know about this before our kids' actual birthdays!  I wish we knew when Joy was a baby!  But Jackson just turned 1 in March, so we started this journal for him.  We do intend to purchase 3 more for the girls and Tobi though!

I want to do this for all my kids!

We will cherish this for years to come as our children grow and I can't wait to look back at years prior to see God's faithfulness in the lives of our kids and our entire family.

I HIGHLY recommend this to my fellow moms and dads!!!
Even for those of us who are adoptive parents...imagine how much this will change each year as our kids come home, as they learn new languages, connect and bond with their siblings, etc!  I can't wait to start Tobi's when he gets home!!

Please visit to see their creative and thoughtful product.  I would consider giving this for a 1st birthday gift (because we know many gifts for 1 year olds are really for the parents;)  It makes a GREAT baby shower gift as well!!!

Now, I DO have the opportunity to help one of my readers take this home!!! 
There are a number of ways that you can enter using the giveaway tool below.  Please share this blog post on Facebook or Twitter to spread awareness about this special product as well as to let your friends know about the chance of winning a FREE one!

The giveaway starts now and will close on August 7th and the winner will be announced at the top of this blog post.  I will share the post on Facebook as soon as we have a winner as well!

I will collect the winner's information and your Birthday Blessing package will be shipped directly from the company!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Is it Getting OLD?

These past several weeks have been a little intense for our family...who am I kidding - the past couple YEARS have been a little intense with our adoption.

But we as adoptive Congo parents have banded together and really been working as a unit for a few months now.  We've come to recognize Facebook profile pictures and the first and last names of people we have never met (unless we DID meet in D.C.!)...but those people understand us and we understand them.

And one fellow mama recently brought up the thought:
 "Does anyone else feel like their people don't want to hear about this anymore?"

To be honest, I hadn't stopped to think about it, but I bet there are plenty of my Facebook friends or relatives that are tired of hearing about our adoption...or our adoption BATTLE, or the ways we are asking others to assist us in getting stories out, signing petitions, making phone calls and emails to politicians and the WHITE HOUSE.

And really, if you're that person, I don't blame you.  

I don't take it personally.
There may be times when you are beside us, doing what you can, maybe even donating to our adoption fund and most importantly PRAYING for us and our son.  But this has been pretty drawn out.

You've probably seen other struggles in your own life come and go.  You may have seen prayers answered.  And maybe you have had huge hurdles that The Lord has helped you overcome.

We've seen those as well!  But not with this.

Our struggle hasn't ended.  Our ultimate prayer has not been answered, and this mountain of a hurdle has yet to be overcome.

It's still fresh for us.  We don't tire of trying to bring our son home.

We don't get weary of DOING something in order to get our voices heard....or our son's voice heard.

It never gets old for us because every single day we wake up to our 3 beautiful children and know that the other one is a world away.  

Every day when we pray with our girls, they request that God would bring Tobi home soon...EVERY day they pray that.

Every time we look at his empty bed that has random toys on it and now needs to be upgraded to a twin size, we are reminded....we are not whole.

Every time we open the boys' closet to put Jackson's clothes away and we see that Tobi's side is FULL of clothes ready and waiting for him, we know that we are still waiting as well.

And every time we go on Facebook and see one of those precious few that made it home from Congo this year, we have tears of joy and sadness all at once.  We rejoice that those lives are safe in the loving arms of their family, but we have the sting of knowing that there is still more room in ours to be filled.

So do we get tired of hearing about it?  Well, the only thing we've gotten tired of hearing is that we need to WAIT.

That's why you've heard so much from us parents these last few months.  We're tired of hearing no one speak out and ADVOCATE for our children.

So we've done it ourselves.

And THAT my friend, is why you are hearing from us so often.
Because of all we've done, all YOU'VE done, and with The Lord guiding us, we have made some serious headway.

But it isn't over, and you won't see us be silent until all our kids are home.

Those moms who now have their little ones home will still be asking friends and family to help because they understand us and know that we need to do all that we CAN in order to bring the rest home as well.

I won't apologize for being passionate about bringing our son home.

I don't think that you would either if it was your child...adopted or biological.  If your child was STUCK somewhere...ANYWHERE, would you not do absolutely everything possible until they returned?  And would you not request that your loved ones do the same?  

Well that's what we're doing.  And we are so eternally grateful for the love and support we have from family, friends, and those we have never even met.

Tobias has no idea how many are over here waiting to love him.

And if you are getting a little irritated seeing my never-ending posts regarding the adoption, updates, and requests for action, then please understand...this isn't over.

It continues daily for us and we are blessed to finally HAVE something to do.  

It beats sitting around everyday wondering what on earth is being DONE for your child.  Now we know a little bit more and now we have seen what action can do.

So bare with us, join us, pray with us, and ACT with us as we won't be taking a back seat to this issue until we see welcome home photos and videos of all these precious little ones entering their new lives.

Lord, bring them home SOON!

***As always, hateful remarks will be deleted promptly :)


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Topical Steroid Withdrawal {9 months in}

So we are now closer to being a whole year off of topical steroids!

Noelle has sure been through a lot these past 9 months...and so has the rest of the family as a result.

My last post regarding Noelle's skin was 2 months ago at her 7 month mark (read here).

At that point, we had finally seen some improvement!!!  In her 7th month, Noelle also went through a really bad week and a half of sleep...or the LACK thereof, but with some prescription medication and watching her foods more closely, she improved.

Well, it's hard to recap the last 2 months as she has seen so many different ups and downs.

She had a stomach virus several weeks ago and didn't eat for a few days....that made her skin look AMAZING!!!!  Clearer than it has EVER been with no redness at all.  However, it got red and itchy almost immediately after she started eating again.  

I did some research and with the help of some other TSW moms, found out that just the act of eating and how the body digests and processes food can heat up the body and cause itching to start again.

A few weeks later, her skin got another break....right before another flare :(

The roller coasters are hard because when we see improvement, we want to keep that momentum and just see her healed.  That hasn't happened yet, though and we are daily trying to figure out what helps and what hinders her healing.

A few weeks ago, Noelle took another bad turn with her sleep.  She is sometimes awake for 3-4 hours each night, with an occasional break of only being awake for 1-2 hours.  She will normally crash around 4a.m., but one day it wasn't until 5a.m.!  We usually will then let her sleep until she wakes up...sometimes after 10a.m.!

We think she might have built up a tolerance to Atarax, so we are taking a break from it and will only give it occasionally and see if those nights she does better.

She tends to sleep much better and more soundly if one of us is sleeping with her.
Having a rested 3 year old going through Topical Steroid Withdrawal is much better than an UNrested one!!

So Chris and I have been waking up sore because we're spending several hours of the night/morning in Noelle's bed, stroking her to sleep.

It's hard to understand WHY she goes through these rough patches (well...roughER than the rest).  We are being very careful with what she eats and doing our best to keep up on the supplements her doctor wants her on.

We just saw him again this week and he gave her another homeopathic remedy for allergies - food and environmental.  He also wants her to start taking Magnesium.  She has never been tested for it, but he said if there is a deficiency, the magnesium can really assist her skin in healing.
The itch is just really bad right now. 
It's kind of odd because her skin really doesn't look that bad!  My theory is that it itches more as it tries to heal???

Anyway, here is how her skin is doing right now.

I mentioned in my last post that her legs had just "cycled" for the first time and we were hoping to see quicker healing on her legs from then on.  We HAVE found that to be the case thankfully, but Noelle sets herself back when she gets a hold of her legs with no gloves on and scratches :(

 It doesn't happen often, but one time is all it takes.  She can make herself ooze and bleed in minutes if we aren't carefully watching.  She normally does this during naptime when I think she's sleeping.


So we have had some setbacks with her legs, and they are trying so hard to heal....and they would if Noelle would leave them alone.

Noelle's tummy and back are the same as they have been for quite a while.  They stay pretty clear until something irritates the skin.  Then they get red and bumpy, but usually clear up within a week.

Something really bothered her arms a couple weeks ago - I think it was dog dander/hair.  She scratched them like crazy one night when I put gloves on her instead of tights.  She took the gloves off :/

So we're trying to help her arms now as they are super itchy once she scratches them like that.  And it's taken a good couple weeks to get them back under control.

There are spots on her shoulders and upper arms that are thick and crusty right now.  But thankfully they don't itch too much.  So I assume they'll just clear up the more she leaves them alone.

Noelle has unfortunately really taken up the habit of "picking."  It's painful to watch, so I make sure to keep her gloves on 24/7 unless her hands are occupied.  But if she has the chance, she'll pick at her chin or cheek until it's raw...not because it's itchy, but because it's a new habit.  How nice ;)
Sweet Girl :)

Thankfully right now it's not bad as we've been diligent with the gloves.

She has a lot of redness and roughness on her entire face right now too.  Don't really know why...she's not itching it more than normal.

Her chest gets red occasionally but is not a big problem anymore. 

So after so much encouragement at her 7 month mark, I did expect Noelle to be doing kind of awesome by 9 months.  Sadly, she is not.  And to be honest, it's very hard right now.  She has at least a few episodes every day that consist of crying, whining, itching, begging us to hold her, and screaming at everything that moves with irrational passion.

We are really learning humility and unconditional love as the LAST thing I feel like doing to a cranky little tantrum-thrower is hold her.  But that's what she needs when she's like that and it calms her almost immediately.  I will confess that there are many times...probably daily that I truly forget she is like this because she is in pain and constantly itchy.  I convince myself that she is just being a bratty little 3 year old, and while there are plenty of times that is the case, I need to be more intuitive to see when she just needs comfort.

So PRAY for me!  This is tough and we are looking to the END of it!

I am, however still praising The Lord for what He HAS done so far.  And guys, if you haven't looked at this website, and aren't really familiar with TSW, please take a look.  It shows just how blessed Noelle IS to not have TSW as severe as most others do.

As hard as life is right now for our 3 year old, we are grateful that it isn't harder.

And we look forward to life being more normal for her in the future.  We see our chipper, happy, thoughtful, caring, and empathetic Noelle much more frequently than we used to.  But we anxiously await being able to put her to bed in comfy jammies without tights covering her arms and legs.

And we wait for the day when she doesn't look at her skin and compare the way it looks to the way other  peoples' skin looks.

It will come.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or medical professional.  I simply make decisions on how to care for and improve the health of my own family.  None of the statements on my blog have been evaluated by the FDA and any products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Some Very Important People CARE About our Kids!!

Last month, I took a trip to Washington D.C. so that I, along with around 59 other parents could meet with Congress to request that they ACTIVELY get involved with getting our children home.  If you haven't read the recap of my trip, it's in this post, please read it here.

Since then, we have seen much progress as far as Congressional involvement. 
As I stated in my D.C. post, Senator Feinstein showed tremendous support and her office continues to follow up with us.  

Soon after we came home, the House voted on House Resolution 588 concerning DRC adoptions and it passed unanimously!

Shortly after that, a Senate resolution was introduced and we were able to get more than half of all the Senate to sign on as co-sponsors!  That hasn't even gone to a vote yet, but has a huge head start with the Senators on board already.  We do have Senator Feinstein as well as Senator Boxer down as co-sponsors, so California has our back! ;)

In addition to the House and Senate Resolutions, there was also a Congressional Letter addressed to President Obama that was sent to the White House yesterday.  You can read the letter here.  We were able to get the support of over 160 members of Congress by having them sign the letter requesting Obama to personally reach out to DRC President Kabila and press for this exit letter suspension to be resolved.  We now await his response.

If THAT isn't enough, the Congressional Coalition on Adoptions Institute invited adoptive parents to participate in a conference call that was held this morning.  We were greatly encouraged by the support received from the Senators on the call and their staff.  Like another adoptive parent mentioned, it is REALLY nice to end a conference call more hopeful than when it started (this is NOT the case with the usual DOS conference calls!). 

And I almost forgot that today, we had a national "Call the White House Day"!  We shared with 25,000 people - our family and friends, instructions for calling the White House and leaving a message for President Obama to directly engage President Kabila.  We are told by those answering the phones that our message was HEARD!


On top of that, last week we got the privilege of watching (online) our own Kelly Dempsey from Both Ends Burning testify in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on African Adoptions.  You can view part of the hearing here (there are a couple different clips of the hearing that can be seen on the right hand side of the video player)

We as adoptive parents were so encouraged to see that the Committee cares enough about orphans in Africa to hold a hearing dedicated to it and then to invite Kelly to testify.  She is a wealth of knowledge and has a deep understanding of adoption as an adoptive mom.  You can read her written testimony in this document. (We love her :)

One thing has rang true through this entire process unfortunately...and that is that the Department of State has not been the advocate that we thought they would be for adoptive parents.

You'll notice that they were invited to the African adoption hearing above, but they did not attend.  There are numerous questions we have for them and we have yet to receive answers.  

Thankfully, Kelly led us in our trip to D.C. and as a result, we have HUGE support from our Congressmen and our Senators.  So now, we have very important people heavily involved with this issue.  And many members of Congress are now pressing the Dept of State for the answers that we believe should have been given long ago.

We know that it is Congo that has issued this suspension and is preventing our precious Tobias from coming home.  However, it has taken WAY too long for the appropriate governmental office to get involved.  We have been told multiple times that we are to go to the Dept of State and/or the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa with the questions regarding the issue.

Well, I think that I can speak for MANY adoptive parents in saying that we have gone to them over and over and for whatever reason, we are getting robotic, un-empathetic responses.  We are not seeing passionate intervention for the lives of these children and are not seeing the sense of urgency that they deserve.

I was personally looking forward to seeing what they had to say at the hearing last week, but they did not attend!  If you listen to the hearing, you'll see that Mr. Smith mentioned they'd like to have a "Part 2" of the hearing so that they can have the Ambassador present and give us some information as well as hear more testimony regarding this situation.

I hope that they convene again soon while this matter is very visible and on the forefront of many offices of Congress.

This is an exciting time in that I am able to witness our lawmakers at work.  It is very easy nowadays to become discouraged when we sit back and look at how our country has changed.  However, it has been refreshing to see our country actively intervening for the human rights of people all over the world.  It sure isn't perfect, but I am definitely thankful to live in a nation where I am free to reach out to my elected officials and make matters that are important to ME become important to THEM.

I just pray this is important enough to President Obama as well...praying for a miracle.  Praying that Tobias will be home by my birthday in September (prayed that last year too).  Praying that he will celebrate Christmas with his family this year (prayed that last year as well).

And I'm praying that every one of these beautiful dark skinned, bright eyed children will be in the warmth of their parents embrace SOON.  

I think we will have some thank you notes to send to our members of Congress when that happens. 

***Reminder, I don't tolerate hateful comments :)  They'll be deleted.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

FREE Weekly Meal Plan Printable!

Do you enjoy free printables?  
I've really come to appreciate and enjoy the selection of printables available online (LOVE Pinterest) for free!  You can print a whole yearly planner, calender, and other random organizational forms made available by generous web/graphic designers or moms that have just found a nack for designing these adorable forms!

I am REALLY trying to get my home, our days, our weeks, and our meal planning more organized.  It doesn't come very naturally to me like it does to my husband, so I need some help!

I spent some time last night looking for some of these forms I was referring to.  I downloaded and printed a daily schedule and a weekly planner as well.  But what I really wanted was a weekly meal planner to go along with them!

There are TONS of meal planners available to print online, but I couldn't find one as simple as I wanted.  

I, along with several of our friends and family members have been on the Fast Metabolism Diet.

I really love it, but it definitely requires a lot of PLANNING!

There are Fast Metabolism printable planners, however I have to print 3 pages for one week!  So I thought for sure I could find one online for the whole week...but I couldn't find what I was looking for.  

So, I made my own!!!

I am by NO MEANS a web or graphic designer...I wouldn't even call myself a novice graphic designer...I'm more of a mom who takes forever to design something that someone else could design in 10 minutes!  :0

I'm sure the quality doesn't meet many standards as well...but it works for me!!

So anyway, I made what I needed and thought it'd be nice to share it with anyone else who might be able to use it!

I made a couple different versions.

The first one has blank circles for the days of the week so you can fill in what day your week starts on.  
The next has the days' abbreviations filled in, while the last one also has a spot to fill in what "phase" you're on if you're on the fast metabolism diet!

You'll find a line for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Snacks (all are essential with the fast metabolism diet!!)

Each form is available in both jpg and png formats.

Feel free to use however you wish!  I just ask that you let me know if it's been useful for you!

You can print a bunch of these to use weekly, or you can print one and laminate it or place it in a clear sheet protector and use a dry erase marker to make it reusable!

Select the file that you'd like to download below.  The links will prompt you to save the appropriate file.

When printing, make sure to select "shrink to fit" instead of "crop to fit" if necessary!

Planner with blank days (JPG)
Planner with blank days (PNG)
Planner with days filled in (JPG)
Planner with days filled in (PNG)
Planner with phases (JPG)
Planner with phases (PNG)

And if you use this printable, I'd greatly appreciate it if you'd share it as well!  :)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How to Help Prevent and SOOTH Sunburns with Essential Oils!

So if you're anything like me, getting rid of chemical laden products has been a bit of a transition.

If you grew up like I did, the ingredient list on a bottle of lotion was nothing of importance.  And when it came to sunscreen,  as long as it was spf30 or more, we were good to go.

It's only been this past year that I've realized some of the effects that these chemicals can have on the health of our children and ourselves.  Not to mention the fact that most lotions sting Noelle's poor TSW skin like crazy.

I recently wrote a post that listed pretty much every toiletry item in our home and how we had switched out traditional toxic products for natural ones.

One of those products was sunscreen in which I linked to Wellness Mama's blog detailing her sunscreen recipe.  I hadn't had a chance to try her recipe yet so I linked to her for the info.

Well, it IS summer now and we chose a different route for sunscreen.   We used Young Living's Carrot Seed Essential Oil mixed with coconut oil.

Carrot seed oil has a natural spf of 35-40!! 

And coconut oil has an spf of 2-8. 
We also added lavender to ours which is great for the skin.

I was pretty skeptical about this, as I have never used a natural form of sunscreen before!  
But let me tell you, I usually burn within 45 minutes because I'm pretty fair skinned, and I was in the sun for a couple hours the other day and had NO burn!  

I have been using it on the kiddos as well and we have seen no sunburns on them either!

I'm pretty excited to be able to share this with you guys and say that we are using it with success.

There are many different recipes out there for sunscreen, but I will share what we used and then a couple other options for you to personalize your own sunscreen and help your heal if you're already burned!

What you'll need for my sunscreen:

Whip these together with an electric mixer until fluffy and store in a glass container.
***If it's too warm, the coconut oil won't "fluff up."  You can put the mixture in the fridge for a few minutes to cool before mixing if necessary.
I know, it's a horrible picture...did I mention I'm NOT your average blog photographer?
Apply frequently when in the sun and/or water for a prolonged period of time!

This has worked really well for us so far, but here are some other options as well.

Remember the body butter I made a while back?  You can simply follow those instructions and add Carrot Seed and Lavender to it if you already know you like the texture of that one.

If you want to add some bulk to my first sunscreen recipe, here are two alternative recipes for you to try!

Alternative #1:

To get a nice velvety cream, you'll want to first melt the coconut oil and shea butter in a mason jar set in boiling water on the stove.

Once it melts together, pour it into a separate mixing bowl to cool.
Once cooled, add your essential oils and whip with your electric mixer until creamy!

Want your cream to stay set up in the heat instead of liquifying so quickly?
Try this recipe.

Alternative #2:

Follow the same instructions as the previous recipe! 

Other essential oil options that can be helpful if you have a sunburn:

So, what if you went in the sun and did NOT use any sunscreen?  And stayed out too long?  And now you're burning up and your skin is red and hot to the touch?

Story of my life.

But I have found what helps!

Like I said, I sunburn very easily, and have already burned this year (prior to making my own sunscreen!).

Here's how I have eased my burns and prevented mine from peeling!

What you'll need:

Here is what I do for my sunburns:
As soon as I notice I'm burned, I apply Lavender UNdiluted directly to the sunburn.
Once it's absorbed some, I follow that with coconut oil to keep the skin moisturized.

I try and do this SEVERAL times a day when I'm burned. 

I alternate the Lavender and coconut oil regimen with YL's LavaDerm cooling mist.  This spray has Lavender and Spiknard oils along with Aloe and trace minerals.  It is cooling and very soothing to the skin!

Once I notice the redness has decreased, I make sure to at LEAST continue with the coconut oil for a week or so.  That way I keep the skin plenty moisturized and I don't peel!

Other options for relief:
  • Frankincense is also great for the skin and will "drive" the lavender deeper into the tissue if layered on the skin after the lavender.

  • Peppermint will seriously cool the skin!  Applying a small amount after lavender may help relieve the burn.

  • Apple cider vinegar is wonderful for the skin as well.  I haven't tried this, but have heard LOTS of great things about soaking the skin in ACV and then letting it dry.  Follow with your essential oils and coconut oil. 

So there ya go!

I hope this helps keep you and your family FREE of sunburns this year!  Remember that natural remedies are very specific to each person's needs.  Make sure to test the recipe you choose and feel free to alter it as necessary!

I'm sure that if you've found this AFTER you've already been burned in the sun, the options I've listed will help you get rid of that sunburn FAST!

Let me know if you use any of my recipes and how they've worked for your family!

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or medical professional.  I simply make decisions on how to care for and improve the health of my own family.  None of the statements on my blog have been evaluated by the FDA and any products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
This post also contains affiliate links to the company which I have personally used and recommend.  If you purchase through these links, I will receive a commission, however the cost to you remains the same!

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