Thursday, February 22, 2018

CFA NEXT 2018

My brain feels mushy right now.  I was in Orlando for the better part of 9 days, and since I've been home, it has basically rained non-stop, to the point that school was even canceled due to flooding in our district.  what.🌧 in.🌧 the. 🌧world. 🌧

But, I'm showing back up on the blog to recap the fun - there was SO much that I am still recovering. First things first, John and I headed to Orlando for our annual CFA pep rally.  It used to be called Seminar, but now, it is called NEXT, and I still have a hard time calling it that, even though it's been named that for years.

Anyway, CFA always does it up right for us, no matter what it is called.  John and I had delightfully smooth travel that included a free upgrade into super cush seats that we thoroughly enjoyed on our 2.5 hour flight to Orlando.

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The highlights included seeing dear friends,

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trying new CFA products coming soon to a CFA near you,

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staying at the JW sans kiddos,

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laughing a lot while having multiple mocktails,

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having boxes of macarons readily available, (I consumed most of these.)

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seeing Olympian Laurie Hernandez, (she's the cutest! and also fierce.)

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and Jim Gaffigan making a surprise appearance!

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I also really appreciated hearing from Jennie Allen and the other great content that CFA lined up for us.  It is truly such a gift to be part of a company that pours into us all.

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The lowlight of our time included finding out that William had a fever during our first meal there.  I had them go to the doctor's office immediately on Monday morning to find out that he had the flu.  Right before our Disney trip.  So, so stressful.  It feels like things like this often happen when we go out of town (our track record is shockingly bad), but I had to remind myself that it could be SO MUCH worse and that there are many times where nothing goes wrong.  (though with four kiddos, this is more the exception πŸ™„)

Because of the sickness on the home front and the Disney trip still in front of us, I changed my plans and came home earlier on Tuesday than expected to gauge where we were at and help my amazing in-laws who were giving Tamiflu to ALL of the kids, something I would not wish upon my worst enemy.  So, I tried to live up my return trip from Orlando with a visit to the airport Express Spa, which is not as good as the real spa, but definitely does the job in a pinch!

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And, on Wednesday morning, I flew all the kids back to Orlando to hit up Disney World for six nights.  More on that to come!

Here are CFA Seminars of the past!
{2017}  {2016}  {2015} {2014}  {2013}  {2012}  {2011}

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!

We are winging our way to Disney today, but I couldn't miss out on the Valentine fun back home.  So - we made Valentines and sent them to school early!

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The first time I saw this bench on the way to our favorite local ice cream shop, I knew I wanted to take Valentine's pictures with it.  And, since Loblolly is right there, it perfectly lent itself to bribery.  Take a nice picture, get some nice ice cream.  We all win.

And this late January afternoon, we all actually did, which probably surprised us all.

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My love for Valentine's Day runs far deeper than it should.  I love the cheesy hearts and the explosion of pink and red.  I love decorating for it and celebrating it.  Don't we all need more LOVE in our lives?  I think yes.

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So, whether you are celebrating Valentine's Day or Galentine's Day or you are against it all, I hope you find a little more love in your life today.  Happy Valentine's Day from the Spenst crew.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

GETTING READY FOR DISNEY

This week was wild.  It's fair to say that I put too much on my plate.  What I did realize is that I really do not like when all of the fun things overlap each other.  I wish I could spread out the fun.  Where were the Olympics in January when it was bitingly cold and dreary?  I could have used that influx of interest back then, instead of when we are headed off to Florida for a bit. 🀣

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(Yesterday Gran Gran graciously did Violet's hair before our trip! πŸ™ŒπŸ»)

For now, I've been planning for CFA Next, a family trip to Disney and Valentine's Day, all at the same time. I am pleased to say that I am now winging my way to Orlando while things are all packed and ready to go at home and cookies are picked up and the laundry is done.  And so is the Lemon Fish project that got tacked on at the last minute.  πŸ‹πŸ πŸ€·πŸ»‍♀️ Children are being lovingly attended to by John's parents.

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As we prepare for Disney this time around, I realized how much I have learned while doing this over the years.  If you are planning to go, some of this may be interesting and/or helpful.  If not, sorry not sorry.  I love Disney.

Years ago, John took just me to Disney before we had kids, because he knew that I was excited enough that it would be worth it.  And he was right - sadly, I didn't blog that trip.  Because it was just the two of us, it was pretty easy to just show up and make things work.

Fast forward a couple of years, and we ventured to DisneyLand with the girls, grandparents and a sister during the week between Christmas and New Years.  We just showed up, not having any idea of the chaos awaiting us.  We actually encountered stand still walking traffic,  πŸ˜±πŸ˜© and the wait times were incredibly long for everything.  It was beautiful to see at the holidays, but it was not that fun.

Because CFA has taken us to Orlando practically every other year, we've taken two other trips to DisneyWorld: one without kids and another with just the girls.  The trip with the girls four years ago did involve a higher level of planning, and I had a little help from a travel agent, but I started pretty late and didn't fully map out our time.  We had a great trip, but I cannot underscore how exhausted we were.

I give all of that Spenst Disney history to explain how I ended up here.  This year, I started planning way in advance (we booked last July), and I spent about a week in August in a total Disney fog mapping out "ideal" park/dining/activity scenarios.  I was the person online at 5 am 180 days out from our park check-in to ensure that I could get each dining reservation that I wanted.  There are LOTS of Disney planners out there who are free to use, but I knew that I would want to fully understand our itinerary both before and on the ground, so I planned it myself.

For about two seconds, I realized I was having so much fun planning that I considered becoming a Disney planner myself.  Then John gently reminded me that I don't love being told what to do and may not take kindly to having to respond to other people's Disney emergencies.  (Please forget you ever read this if I do decide to become a Disney planner one day. 😜)

After doing extensive research (the hallmark of this planning extravaganza), I booked us in a cabin at Disney's Fort Wilderness, because when you have four children, you cannot stay in most Disney rooms.  I quickly figured out that I would need to get two rooms at most places that I was interested in us staying, and once I discovered that the cabins would provide us with extra space and flexibility (for less $), I decided to go that direction.  I'll report back and let ya know if that was a good call. 😬🀞🏻 That main downside of Fort Wilderness is that it is a gigantic property, but that is remedied by renting our own golf cart for the week!

I heavily relied on the website Touring Plans in planning this trip.  It. is. amazing.  I paid the $10 subscription and already feel I've gotten way more than my money's worth for it.  It has crowd calendars and lots of tips, but I loved it most for it's planning options.  You can put in which park you want to visit, what times of day you want to go, what activities you want to hit, and it will spit out a plan for which order you should do everything based on where activities are in the park and how long the wait time will likely be at different times of day.  There are plans already set if you haven't been before, and you can follow those as well.  For us, I used it to craft plans based around our meal schedules and what activities I know our family will enjoy.

There is an app that accompanies it that I'll be able to use in the parks to check off rides etc after we've done them, and we can change things up as we go.  Obviously, OBVIOUSLY, things will not go according to all the plans.  I have traveled enough with my children to fully understand this.  However, I also know that we need a plan to start from, and I also fully comprehend that we will do best waiting in fewer lines and walking less in all the places that is possible.  So, I am cautiously optimistic that we'll follow the loose skeleton of the plans, at least. 😜 Again, I'll report back.

This will also surprise no one who's ever read this blog, but I also mapped out our wardrobes for each day, which I had a blast doing.  I found a lot of great, customizable, reasonably priced Disney shirts by hunting Jane.com which rotates through them pretty quickly.  I also grabbed the Crown shirt from Milk and Honey Tees for the girls and I to wear one day. πŸ‘‘πŸ‘ŠπŸ»

As we have planned for this trip, we have tried to have realistic expectations.  As I've mentioned before, there are a few hard things going on for us, and I'm not sure how it will all go down at the most magical place on earth.  That most magical place is stimulus overload and a bit exhaustion inducing.  I'm hopeful, but also grounded in reality.  We feel as ready as we can be for this adventure.  First up, John and I hit up CFA NEXT, which is always a fantastic experience, and then, we'll be Disney bound!

(edited to add: just found out that William has a fever. will be Disney bound if we can all stay well - prayers appreciated!)

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

CURRENT ADOPTION THOUGHTS

It's hard to put into words the many layers of complexity, both good and hard, that adoption brings into our family.  Because we chose to bring children into our family this way, we've been given gifts far beyond our wildest imagining.  We have an entire extra family that has grown to include some of our closest friends - we never could have dreamed it up!  Our bonus family has expanded our worldview and brought so much bonus love, something we (and especially our children) can never have enough of.

As John and I have both spent time reflecting on the past years and working with a coach and counselor, it has become clear that the adoption complexities do add stress to our family.  Sometimes, there are more questions than answers.  Sometimes, there is more fear than faith.  Often, there are behaviors and issues that arise that we do not feel equipped for.

There's something about being a parent that makes me doubt me.  Like, I'm getting it all wrong and failing in the most important places.  Like I will do irreparable harm when I get angry and snap or yell.  And adoption has a sneaky way of magnifying these doubts.  As if I put them under a microscope and can see even the tiniest details of my failures that lurk beneath it all.  Let's face it - the stakes are very, very high.  I mean, no pressure, right?!?

Please hear me when I say that by and large, I believe (and know deep down) I'm doing the best that I can.  I'm also getting the help and reaching out for even more.  We are scheduled to start Theraplay next month, and I am filled with hopeful anticipation for new tools and increased connection with our children.  With all my heart, I know that we have the family that God built for us, and while parts of it are incredibly challenging, we wouldn't change a thing.

It's tricky to navigate how to tell our combined stories in a way that is open and vulnerable, which creates connection and hope, but is also protective and honoring of our children.  I don't feel at liberty to splash the crazy details of all the drama and mayhem, because I never, ever want any of my children to feel that their personal stories are overexposed.  I know this is a constant and ever-changing personal battle in our current climate, and the older my kids get, the harder it seems to be.  I've heard from mothers of older kids how lonely those years can feel, because you cannot rally immediate support over your teenager's "antics" the way that you could your toddler's.  We're several years away from teenagers, but I can feel the shift beginning.

I love adoption, and more than that, I love the God who creates families built out of ashes turned into beauty.  But I cannot forget or dismiss the ashes - here on earth, they leave traces and stains and require attention and effort and healing.  It is SO BEAUTIFUL and SO PAINFUL all at the same time.  We got all the riches, but each coin that we are holding has those two sides to it - never one without the other.

I say all of this to paint a realistic picture of our current reality.  We are in the trenches.  Some days are absolutely fine, and we seem to be a "normal" family, whatever that means.  Other days go off the rails completely, and I find myself crying in a closet.  It's just where we are.

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I love these two (and my other two) with all of my heart, and I cannot imagine my world without them.  This trip to Target last month had too many highs and lows to count, and I relished the smiles when I got them.  While I was at Target, John was at Wal-Mart (apparently we over-shop at discount stores?) with the big girls, and he ran into the twins' birth mom.  She seemed to be doing all right, but it is still a jarring experience and reminder of all of the good and the hard.

In summation, I'm so thankful and heart-glad and at the same time still trying to figure it all out and praying for lots and lots of wisdom and guidance and patience and grace and strength.