Friday, August 23, 2013

For the birds...

I don't want to complain.  I am blessed beyond measure.  I am trying to stay focused on thankfulness.  I keep singing "It is well with my soul" over and over again.

Because let me tell you: being without a functioning kitchen or dining room stinks.  Big time.  It's been four weeks, and we have four more to go, and even then, we still won't be done... but by then, I'll have counters and cabinets, appliances and lighting.  And, it will feel mostly done.

I tried to pick a pretty timeless look because, let's be clear, I don't want to do this again for a very long time.  A very, very long time.

New floors and island base in the kitchen...

What the rest of our house looks like... something out of Hoarders!  Argh!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Free Stuff

It does not come as a surprise to those who know me (and probably those who don't) that I enjoy finding a good bargain.  I used to have a blog dedicated to the very idea.

Now, I mostly keep the savings stuff to myself, as I start to sound kind of crazy when I talk about it with those not quite like minded.  Yes, I get pretty jazzed walking out of CVS having only spent $12 for $97 worth of stuff, but talking about it makes me--well--come off as mental.

But, I do have to share the two easiest (EASIEST) progams for free or cheap stuff.  You never even have to leave your home.  I just feel bad keeping these to myself!

#1: Tryology
Tryology is an outcropping of ExpoTv, an online review site.  At Expo, you get a little less than $5 for almost every one minute review you post on their site.  Just this week, I posted a video about sunscreen and one about my favorite wine (anything from Stags Leap winery, if you're curious).

But, I think the most interesting part of ExpoTv is the division known as Tryology.  At Tryology, you are emailed short surveys, and if you are interested, you fill it out; if you're not, you delete it.  Most of these products are not available yet, and you're getting the option of "trying them first."

If selected, you try the item, you post a two minute video review... and you get to keep the item.  Last year, I received so many free items that I actually had to pay taxes!!!  Bret and I have received several high end electric razors, several electric toothbrushes, tons of toys, and even an outdoor shed! You probably get one or two emails a month, but hey, free is free.  Just today, this arrived, and I think I know one little girl who is going to give it 5 stars:

If you are interested in Tryology and/or Expo, check it out HERE.

#2 Office Max, Max Perks

Listen people. This one shouldn't be legal, but it is.  It's the fastest, cheapest and best program out there, in my opinion.  Essentially, almost every week, Office Max runs a series of items that qualify for 100% back in reward cash.  One week, it might be tape, scissors, labels and staplers.  The next week, it might be backpacks and paper.  The next: sharpies and dry erase markers.  I have a stash (and I mean A STASH) of free office supplies.  You are paying tax, but shipping is usually free (I have never paid it).

You can order two of each max perk item each week.  So, if a stapler is offered, you can get two of them.  If post its are offered, you can get two of those too.  What could you possibly need with two staplers and $147 in post it notes (yes, actual figure).  Well, I actually donate most of the items.  I send them to service men and women overseas, use them for Operation Christmas Child, send them as teachers' gifts throughout the year... well, you get the idea.  I realize that I spend $12 or so in tax on those post it notes, but I have enough post it notes to last a LIFETIME (well, maybe not the way Grace uses them), and I get to give them away!  It's a win-win for me!  So, every Monday morning or so, I pull up office max, type max perks in the search bar, make a few clicks, check out in one quick motion, and have it show up two days later.  It's a five minute process for LOADS of savings!

Now, you do have to pay for all the purchases for one quarter before you get that quarter's reward cash.  But, from then on, it's cyclical.  You pay for "this quarter's purchases" with "last quarter's reward cash."  And so on.  The first quarter just kind of stinks.

Oh, and I go through or for more discounts.  This week, for example, I "spent" $240 at office max.  Of that $240 about $17 was tax, but I went through shopathome where I received $12 back.  So, I received $240 worth of office supplies for roughtly $5!  If you are not hooked up to some sort of online cash back system, you need to be.  Bret and I probably make about $500 a year from these two sites.  (We don't make a transaction without thinking about if we can do it online to get a rebate.  Okay, now I have shared THREE things... starting to get crazy up in here.)

Just to give you an idea, click HERE to see JUST SOME of what is available this week at Office Max.

Okay, that might be enough crazy for now.  Contact me with questions, and we can be crazy together!

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Death Valley by Night

This week I was briefly in Las Vegas for work.  I know people love Las Vegas, but I've been there many times, frequently for work, and hanging out solo with the merry revelers just isn't my cup of tea.

So Tuesday evening after a hard day at work, I dined at the most brilliantly named, Google inspired restaurant on the planet -- "Off The Strip."  Off The Strip came well recommended by Tripadvisor, and I had a delightful meal of tacos and craft beer.  (Has anyone else had Mendocino's Eye of the Hawk?  Fantastic brew.)

Anyway, upon leaving the restaurant, I called Erin to gloat that I'd wrangled an extra beer and a piece of cheesecake from my waitress at no cost (and I didn't even have to take my top off.)  As I drove out of the restaurant, I noticed a sign indicating that Death Valley was a couple of hours away.

Now I've never been to Death Valley, but I've heard good stories.  It seems like an interesting place -- hot, lots of rocks, dead things -- and since it was only 7pm or so, I thought I could get out there and back by 11pm.  I had these grand visions of relaxing in the 112 degree heat while watching the sun set.  So in my classic style, off I went.

I'm not a complete idiot (yet), so I made sure as I hit the California border that I had a full tank of gas and a charged cell phone.  I even stopped long enough to verify that there was a road heading north out of the park on which I could return to Las Vegas without retracing my steps.  So as I barreled into Death Valley around 9pm, everything was looking good.  The scenery was amazing, it was EXTREMELY hot, and I was able to blare some classic rock on the radio with the windows down.  Good times.

But then my first mistake became apparent.  The two hours from Las Vegas got me to the eastern entrance of the park, and by gum, that is a BIG park.  So by 10pm, I still hadn't gotten to my exit route midway through the park.  Now it was dark, and I was smack dab in the middle of Death Valley in a rental car with no drink, no radio, and no cell phone service.

So I pressed onward.  Around 10:30pm, I saw a sign for the "north highway."  In my research, I thought I was looking for a California state highway -- something like CA-193.  So "north highway" didn't seem like the right move.  This was grand mistake number two.  It was also around this time that I saw a sign for a dirt road heading south to Barstow -- 200 miles.  I thought to myself, "Man would that suck to have to go to Barstow from here."

I kept passing minor roads off to the north, but no state highway.  I considered briefly turning on one of them, but in my head, the atlas showed NOTHING north of Death Valley until you get to Reno or Calgary.  So I was seriously fearful of turning north and running out of gas before I hit civilization.  I also knew that if I kept going west, at worst, I would hit I-5 running north and south through California, and while that seemed like an extreme prospect, it beat being lost.  So I kept driving.  And driving.  And driving.

The western edge of Death Valley is significantly more mountainous than the eastern edge, so now it was dark and I was driving on switchbacks up and down mountains.  Still no radio or cell phone -- only my thoughts to keep me company.  And even my thoughts were telling me, "You're an idiot."

I kept trying to get some help from my GPS, but it wasn't able to show me any detail beyond the park, so I couldn't get a gauge on how far back to Las Vegas it really was.  So by the time I exited the park and hit the intersection of U.S. 395 and CA-190 (map to come), I had already driven around 220 miles, and it was past 11pm.

At this point, I made another decision, which as it turns out, was correct -- but not good.  I decided to turn south on U.S. 395, as opposed to trying to go north to get back to Vegas.  I figured if I went south, surely I would hit an east/west road that would lead back to Vegas, whereas I couldn't think of a way to get back to the north.  (A quick Google Maps check this evening verifies that my guess here was right.)

So I headed south on U.S. 395 to, you guessed it, Barstow.  130 miles, 2 hours.  By the time I got to Barstow, it was after 1 am.  I was beat, so I decided to pull off and take a nap in a McDonald's parking lot.  (I've driven through Barstow multiple times on my various cross country Route 66 expeditions -- ask me some time.  More idiocy.)  I shut the car off in a well lit area, laid back, and immediately fell asleep.

Fifteen seconds later, there was a tap on my window, and a disheveled man with more eyes than teeth was pecking on my window.  I guess he saw something in my face because he started screaming, "I ain't no bandit, man!"  I started the car and made my way to a gas station across the street to get some caffeine and Combos.  As I got out of my car, another Barstow zombie approached asking if she could wash my windows.  "I'm a hard worker!  I ain't 'fraid of work.  Just let me wash your windows!"  I'm sorry, but my benevolence and need for a clean windshield are both pretty freaking low at 1am, so I politely declined and scrambled back into my car.  Next sign?  Las Vegas - 150 miles.

I made it as far as a rest stop another 30 mins or so away before I pulled over for an hour nap.  I had to get off the road, and by this time, I was looking at my watch thinking about my 7:00am flight.  If I'd had my suitcase with me, it would have been closer to fly out of Los Angeles or freaking San Diego, but all of my stuff - clothes, computer, sanity - were in my Las Vegas hotel room.  So on I pressed.

By the time I got back to the hotel, I had enough time to shower and head to the airport.  Luckily I sleep well on planes, so I was able to catch up on most of my sleep.  But if you ever think to yourself, "Gee, Death Valley by night seems like it could be fun" - think again.  It will be exhausting, provide little reward, and your wife will call you an idiot at least 50 times when you get home while she's on hold with your life insurance agent trying to up your policy.

Total mileage?  500, almost exactly.  Indianapolis to Atlanta.  All to see hot rocks.

View Larger Map

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Kitchen Fun

Box 1

Of 100

Let the NOT FUN begin...

Friday, August 02, 2013

God and Adoption

There isn't a day where I don't stand in amazement about how God formed our family. There is no way to describe fully to someone who has not walked the adoption road--how someone "not yours" originally--belongs to you, was meant to be yours.

There is no stronger evidence of God's love than the idea of adoption.  It's the whole gospel message narrowed down to one word.  I was outside of God's family, living in rebellion.  And, then, because of the love of God and the work of Christ, I am miraculously inside God's family--an heir, a child, a part of a family. People often confuse Christianity with a bunch of rules and expectations, partly because the western church has done them a disservice.  Christianity is an adoption story at its deepest core.

I have been thinking of these things this morning, on the fourth anniversary of first holding Grace MinWei.  Nothing could have prepared me for the love I have for her.  Nothing could have prepared me for this amazing, unforgettable life we are living as a family.  Nothing could have prepared me for both the twinge of pain and the gush of pride at hearing Grant tell me how he handled someone telling him yesterday that "Grace isn't really your sister."

Grant knows, even if he doesn't have all the words to express it.  He knows deep down.  He knows, partly because we have talked about and partly because it's hard wired into each of our souls.  He knows that being "blood related" has nothing to do with being family.  He knows it has nothing to do with love.  He knows that God invented adoption, sanctioned it, practiced it, perfected it.  

He knows God brought us together... into one perfect, crazy, amazing family.  Thank God!

Grace Four Years Ago in China

Thursday, August 01, 2013


So starts another school year!  I took the kids to the bus stop this morning, watched them get on, and I tried desperately to hold that image in my head.  These two little bodies finally going off to school together--hand in hand--the absolute best of friends!

With Grant, while it is sad to see him go, I'm prepped.  He was in full day kindergarten last year, and while I have loved having him home for two months this summer, we're pretty good at this school thing now.  But, it's still hard to send him off--but it's so good for him.  He's a little man now.  Long gone are the days of Thomas the Tank Engine.  He's all boy: video games, karate, fast cars, deadly animals.  Thankfully, for now, he still loves to snuggle with his momma, but I know that those moments are fleeting too.  But, for now, he's excited to head off to the many adventures of first grade.

But, with Grace, even though it is easier in some ways (having walked this just last year with Grant), it is still hard.  She is my bestest bud, and we have done everything together for three whole years.  She is--quite seriously--the most helpful child God created.  And, to be honest, we just love being together.  Even with a crazy and loud toddler at home, my days are going to feel quiet without her.  It's hard to believe that the timid and careful little girl I brought home from China has become this super confidant, super responsible, super social little creature.

It was bittersweet this morning knowing that this was the start of a very long school journey, and with each step, my kids need me less and less.  But, that's a good thing... even though, this morning, it brings a tear to my eye!

But, the tear was short-lived!  My little man and I headed for coffee and reading, a little shopping, and a glorious TWO AND A HALF HOUR NAP.  This momma is okay, I tell you.  Okay.