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Friday, December 30, 2011

Beauty from Ashes

Exactly one year ago today, we were doing this:

Don't let the happy people in the video fool you... this year has been a rough one. Life "after the airport" was a stark reality check and a bit of a slap in the face for me. Make no mistake: adoption is hard. Adoption is expensive. Adoption is emotionally draining and exhausting.

And yet, I wouldn't trade this year and all of its experiences, lessons, blessings and provisions for anything in the world.

Some days were good.

Some days were bad.

Dan captured this beauty of a pic at the Fall Festival this October. That's my signature "oh Lord, help me" look. Our four big kids had just single-handedly caused a multi-body pile up at the tug-o-war station.

Some days were downright rotten (and I'm not sharing any pictures of those days).

But it's all been worth it. Every second. Every penny. Every tear. Every desperate prayer. And Dan and I are not the same people we were this time last year.

If you take anything away from this blog, ever, take this: The miracle here is so not that Dan and I stepped out in faith and did this thing. The miracle is that the Lord did it. And although he could've done it all by himself, He allowed us to participate.

Tonight, we're feeling so very blessed that He allowed us to be a part of his plan for Hannah and Joseph's lives. We're thankful for this life He's called us to. We're thankful that His plans for us are so much better than the ones we come up with on our own.

"Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
-- Matthew 10:39

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Grinchy Christmas

Last year, Dan, Hannah and Joseph spent Christmas in Africa. Madeline, Davis, Charlotte and I spent Christmas at my Dad's house in North Carolina. Some of you might remember this post -- the day we realized we wouldn't be getting the Christmas homecoming we'd hoped and prayed for.

Last year, with half our family in Uganda and half in North Carolina, we learned what Christmas is really about -- and it's so not about the stuff under the tree. For Heaven's sake, even the Grinch knows that...

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”

Even with two more children added to our brood this year, we spent less money on Christmas than ever before. With five kids, we only spent $150 on presents for our immediate family -- and we had lots more to give away. We worked hard this year to make the season more about people, and less about the stuff that comes from a store. Thanks, Grinchy.

Some of our highlights from the Christmas season, 2011:

Serving a Christmas lunch, with our entire family, at an inner city church in Atlanta:

Madeline accompanying Dan for a business trip to Pennsylvania (surprisingly, Dan says this was the first time he's ever gone ice skating on a business trip):

Attending a Gingerbread House party which raised money for the SixtyFeet house-building fund:

Hosting a Christmas Nativity Play in our backyard for our neighbors:

Taking all five kids to an abbreviated, kid-length (and kid priced) version of the Nutcracker, at the Fox Theater:

Madeline's Christmas piano recital:

Attending a lunch n' learn at the Tellus Museum in Cartersville, GA where we learned about the science behind the Star of Bethlehem. Did you realize that most astronomers agree that Jesus was actually born on September 15, 5 B.C.? I love homeschool.

My kids and the Grauley crew, admiring the oversized dump truck at the Tellus, before the Planetarium show.

Christmas craft & cookie day with Grandad:

"Kidnapping" the kids after they'd already gone to bed, loading them up in the car, handing out candy canes and going to look at Christmas lights. Sorry, no pictures of this one -- it was a spur of the moment thing, but so, so fun. A new tradition, for sure.

Christmas Eve carols at a friend's house, Christmas morning services at our little church, Christmas lunch with friends, and Christmas dinner at home with 25 candles lit in honor of our Lord Jesus:

That's it. That's what Christmas is to us, in a nutshell. On Christmas Day, we gave each of the littles some very simple gifts -- books, notepads, candy and gift certificates for special time alone with Mommy & Daddy. Everyone was truly delighted and our hearts were full. Grinchy was right after all, Christmas just doesn't come from a store.

Much love to all of you and blessings for the new year. See you in 2012!
Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Favor for You and a Favor for Me

Seeing that it's Christmas and all, I thought you and me could do a little gift exchange. I have something for all of you -- my sweet and faithful blog readers -- who have tolerated me for nearly two years now. And, in the spirit of Christmas, I was hoping you might do a little something for me?

For your part, if you're willing, please hop over to the Cultivate Wines site and cast a vote for SixtyFeet to win the December grant they're giving away. We're not only in the running -- we're now in second place and could very easily win up to $10,000 at the end of the month!

Voting just takes a second and you can actually cast one vote per day until the end of December -- which is just over a week away. Please vote AND spread the word, via blogs, facebook and twitter. That is definitely the best present you could give me this season!

And now, a gift for you. I recently stumbled across something that I knew I had to shall with y'all. This blessed me immensely because I've been studying the Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew 5, this month. Read and enjoy! Merry Christmas, friends.

The Beatitudes for Parents

Blessed are parents who listen to their children, for they in turn will be heard.

Blessed are parents who do not expect more of their children than is appropriate for their level of maturity, for they shall not be disappointed.

Blessed are parents who can laugh at themselves, for their children will laugh with them and not at them.

Blessed are the parents who may be called "old fashioned." They can be assured they are on the right track and that their children's opinions will change by the time they are old enough to pay taxes.

Blessed are parents who teach their children to understand and love each other, for they shall not get caught in the crossfire of a sibling war.

Blessed are parents who let their children do for themselves what they are capable of doing, for they shall not be merely unpaid servants.

Blessed are the parents who take their children with them often, for they shall see the world with fresh eyes.

Blessed are the parents who have found success-outlets for their energies, for they will not need their children as status symbols or as justification.

Blessed are parents who do not pretend to be perfect, for their children will not be disillusioned.

This gem was printed by the Association for Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

May God richly bless you and your family during this special season and throughout 2012. Happy birthday, Jesus!
Thursday, December 15, 2011

What a Ride

Today I took all five kids to see a performance of the Nutcracker, at the incredible Fox Theater in downtown Atlanta.

It's at times like this that I have an especially hard time imagining Hannah and Joseph in their former circumstances.

Throughout the show, I kept glancing over at the two of them. They sat on the edge of their seats, enraptured. They loved every minute of the ballet. And I just kept shaking my head in wonder. I may have even cried a little bit...

Just two years ago, Hannah and Joseph were orphans, living at M -- scared, sick, lonely and seemingly forgotten. Today, they're like any other Atlanta kid, dressed up and enjoying the Nutcracker ballet at the Fox like it's the most natural thing in the world.

Make no mistake -- Dan and I didn't rescue Hannah and Joseph by adopting them. We didn't save them by bringing them to America. We haven't redeemed their past suffering by giving them a new life. But God did. And throughout their lives, He will continue to rescue, save and redeem them. Just as He's done for me.

Every now and then, these God moments sneak up on me and cause me to remember that I've been privleged to be part of something truly remarkable. I'm unworthy, I'm unqualified, I'm so unequal to the task set before me -- and that's exactly why I believe He was able to use me for this.

To God be all the glory -- I thank Him just for bringing me along for the ride.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011


My friend, Lovelyn, often blogs during mid-day and shares what she and her (7!!) kiddos are up to. I love hearing about her days and reading the comments that share what other mommies around the country are doing.

No matter your circumstances, I bet our days look more alike than we'd think.  And sometimes it's just fun to remember that we're all in this thing together.

I hardly ever have time to blog during the day. But today we're taking it easy and keeping school simple, so I thought I'd take my chances and see if anyone's out there.

Here's what we're doing...

Today, we're experiencing unseasonably warm weather in Atlanta. Between school lessons, the kids have been outside most of the day. We don't even have to wear coats!

I'm baking bread and two kinds of muffins.

Madeline is practicing for her Christmas piano recital on Sunday afternoon. I absolutely delight in hearing her play.

I'm picking up the house and prepping some actual adult food for dinner -- because we're having some friends over tonight.

The kids and I are reading on the couch -- we just finished a book on Dolley Madison.

What are y'all doing today??
Sunday, December 11, 2011

Convictions -- and What To Do With 'Em

This weekend involved some serious Christmas fun for our family.

On Saturday, the four big kids spent the day at a Christmas Camp hosted by our friends, the Jacksons. Each year their family hosts an all-day camp including crafts, stories, activities and a Christmas parade. The cost is $35 per child and they use 100% of the proceeds to pay the secondary school tuition (not cheap) for a handful of Kenyan teenagers. Our family pretty much wouldn't miss it for the world.

On Saturday evening, our family attended a gingerbread party. This was hosted by the Grauley family, who I love dearly. If y'all think I'm crazy, you should meet the Grauleys. These people open their home every year for 9 hours, to hundreds of people, for a gingerbread-house-building party. This year, they used their house-building party to raise money for another house -- namely, the SixtyFeet home in Uganda.

(Side note: We've raised almost $40,000 to date for the SixtyFeet match for the land purchase/building fund. If we can raise the last $20,000 before December 31, it will all be eligible for the match! Please spread the word if you can).

And on Sunday, we hosted a little soiree of our own for our neighbors -- a backyard Nativity play, complete with handsome wise men:

Yes, poor Joseph is wearing his sister's flower robe and Davis is wearing an Asian princess gown. This was a rather low-budget production, ok? Trust me, the girly outfits did not affect the manly quality of their performance.

Breathtaking angels:

And a truly star studded cast:

Thank you, Chick-fil-a Cows, for helping us celebrate the birth of Christ.

The activities of this weekend represent everything that I think Christmas should be about. Sweet times with friends, family, neighbors and even strangers, gathering in Jesus' name and with the intention of doing His work and sharing His message. Nothing more and certainly nothing less.

I know y'all are probably growing tired of my anti-Christmas posts, but my heart is convicted -- and I hope yours is too. I can't stop thinking that the American version of Christmas must grieve the heart of Christ.

For really fabulous Christmas ideas and thought provoking reading, read this. It has totally blessed me this season and made me look forward to many, many changes and new traditions for next year.

Merry CHRISTmas, y'all!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Beauty of Being Cheap

Yesterday, my tiny baby girl...

turned 2. I cannot believe it. She's out of babyhood and officially a toddler.

This year has absolutely flown by. Some of you might remember this photo from Charlotte's first birthday party, last year. Admittedly, it was a little sad:

Dan was in Uganda completing Hannah and Joseph's adoptions. The guy in the picture is not my husband -- but our family friend and pediatrician, David. He's holding my laptop and skyping with Dan so, while in Africa, he could watch his fifth baby eat her first birthday cake.

So this year, we resolved to do Charlotte's birthday right. I mean, just check out her gift. It's a vintage spring rocking horse. A genuine Mr. Clip Clop.

Anyone want to make a guess at how much this beauty cost us?? Well, if you know me at all, you must know it didn't cost much. In fact, it was free. Many years ago, it used to be mine. Told you it was vintage.

But there's more...

Do you know that Dan and I have actually given this Same. Stinkin'. Horse. to ALL of our children on their second birthdays? Not a similar horse. The exact same one. When a second birthday rolls around, we drag it out of the attic, wipe off the dust and present it to the honored recipient.

So far, Mr. Clip Clop has a perfect track record -- every two-year-old we've gifted it to has been absolutely delighted with the thing. And never once have we been questioned by any of our toddlers as to why they are receiving a used rocking horse as a gift.

Each one of them has loved it, riden it tirelessly and then grown bored with it after about 6 weeks. (The average shelf life of any toy around this place). So Dan and I pack it up, stuff it in the attic and leave it there for the next babe.

And do I feel guilty for this? Not a bit. Because there's not a two-year-old in the world who needs, cares about or even understands elaborate birthday parties and extravagant gifts -- it's just more money that we don't need to spend on ourselves.

Earlier this week, a fellow adoptive mom wrote a post on a similar topic that's been floating all over the internet. I'm linking to it below and would encourage you to read it in it's entirety if you haven't already. It's long, it's opinionated and I will warn you in advance -- it may be the most offensive thing you've ever read. But she really gets at the heart of what I'm talking about here.

No matter your family traditions, your personal belief system, your idea of a good time... truth is truth. Read the Christmas Condundrum here, by Jen Hatmaker.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Our Year In Review: Instead of a Christmas Card

I can’t believe it’s been almost an entire year since this:

Or since this post on my first full day with five children.


For once, I actually feel thankful that I’ve taken the time to blog – because it’s caused me to document and remember this crazy year in all its glory. And what a year 2011 has been.

If Dan and I had to sum up this year with one statement, I think we’d say this: “We’ve learned A LOT.”

We started this year with a first grader, a preschooler, a 12 month old baby and two newly adopted African children who formerly lived in a prison.

We ended this year with a second grader, a kindergartener, a 2 year old and our 4 & 5 year old son and daughter who happen to have been born on the other side of the world.

We’ve come a long way. But I’ll say it again… we’ve learned a lot. And to summarize the year, here’s a bit of what we’ve learned:

Practical Lessons:

Having two boys is exponentially crazier than only having one boy. It's not double trouble... more like quadruple trouble. I mean, just look at these two. They are so not as innocent as they look:
Davis and Joseph, first soccer game. September 2011

Homeschooling makes for some busy, crazy days. But it's also rather practical and fun for large families. Especially on Johnny Appleseed Day.

If Momma up and goes to Uganda to serve on the mission field for one week out of the year, everyone will survive. In fact, Daddy might even handle it better. Even Mommies of five should take the time to go and serve.
Shelly and Colleen, Kampala, Uganda, October 2011

Good Lessons:

Our capacity to love and the available space in our hearts is far bigger than we realized.

Forcing five children to share one small bathroom is actually a really good thing.

Stretching yourself thin and going the extra mile, for the sake of letting a child know they are loved and cherished, is totally worth it.

Madeline's 8th birthday. Out for breakfast, alone, with Mommy and Daddy.
It’s totally possibly for older adopted children with developmental delays and learning disabilities to master the English language, learn their ABC’s and count 1-50… if they have a dedicated group of cheerleaders (aka siblings) to encourage them. We've come so far, even since this post, that it blows me away.

Fixing African-American hair can be completely fun and theraputic. Although I still have no idea what I’m doing. Poor Hannah.

God can use teeny, tiny people to do big work. In so many ways, Baby Charlotte has been the glue that's bonded our family together this year. A baby changes everything -- even if she's your 5th baby.

Hard Lessons:
We’ve learned that the feelings of hurt and loss, for an orphaned child, run far deeper than we ever realized.

We’ve learned that formerly malnourished children will steal food, lie about food and eat out of your garbage can – even when they’re well fed and cared for.

We’ve learned to swallow our pride and to accept help. This year we've gratefully accepted gifts of time, money and service -- something we've never needed before. Cheerful giving is easy. Cheerful receiving is hard and humbling -- but the lesson is worth it.

We’ve learned how to treat worms, parasites, fungus and all sort of other conditions that stem from unclean drinking water, malnutrition and lack of basic, regular healthcare.

We’ve come face-to-face with our own feelings of entitlement, selfishness, laziness, favoritism, anger, impatience and full-on, unadulterated sin. We have some black hearts. We’ve seen em’ this year like never before. We need Jesus.

We’re so thankful to the many, many friends, family members and even strangers who have stood with us this year and supported us in our desire to live out the gospel in all our craziness. We can’t imagine 2011 without you.

This year has crushed us, shattered our pride, broken us down and opened our eyes like nothing we’ve ever experienced. And for all of it, we’re so grateful. Because the last 12 months have caused us to need Christ and to really, truly know Him like never before.

In retrospect, if we had it to do over again, knowing everything that we know now... we'd do it all again in a heartbeat. Because the Lord's plans for our lives are so much better than anything we could ever come up with on our own. As King David once said... "Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere." -- Psalm 84:10

And right now, we're exactly where we're supposed to be. And loving it.
With Love,
The Owens Family

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Making God Laugh

On Palm Sunday of 2004, we baptized our Madeline Mae:

That's Dan and me (looking a whole lot younger) and my Grandma who passed away earlier this year.

In September of 2006, we baptized our beloved Davis Daniel:

Baby Davis with his Aunt LeeAnne and Uncle Kevin

And life was happy and good. We had one precious girl and one darling boy – everything we’d ever wanted. Our plates were full, our days were jam packed and our baby days were over.

So who could have imagined that five years later, on November 27, 2011...

We’d be baptizing our two little Ugandans:

AND our Baby Charlotte:

No longer at our fancy mega-church with the beautiful stained glass windows...but at our little church plant that meets in an elementary school cafeteria.

God has such a sense of humor. And surely, He had to have gotten a chuckle out of this blessed day:

After all, if you want to make God laugh, just tell Him all about your plans for your life.

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." -- Proverbs 16:9
Monday, November 21, 2011

The Waiting Place

Lately, Dan and I have been spending a lot of time in prayer over a particular topic. There's this thing going on... and we need to hear from the Lord on it, rather urgently. At least we think we do.

We keep praying and waiting and watching but, so far, we've just ended up with a bunch of...


And I confess, it's in times like these that I start to quetion whether He's really heard my prayers at all. Or I wonder if my lame, unsophisticated prayers aren't really worthy of a serious response.

Of course my head knows this isn't true.

But my heart still struggles with the silence. And the waiting. And waiting. And waiting. As Beth Moore once said, "Never think waiting is idle. It's probably some of the hardest work we'll ever do."

My friend, Kathryn, a Bible teacher here in Atlanta, recently made an observation that felt so relevant to my life right now. I think it's for anyone who's stuck in The Waiting Place or experiencing what feels like silence from God. Here's what she said...

"Zechariah. You know the priest who went to the temple and an angel appeared to him and said he was going to have a son, and to name him John – and then Zechariah didn’t believe him, so the angel made him mute. Remember him?

It just kinda hit me that maybe Zechariah was made mute to develop his character. God just wasn’t being mean – it was actually a loving act of discipline.

During those 9 long months. I imagine Zechariah’s heart was changed from unbelief to repentance to grumbling to surrender to contentment to anticipation to praise. Whatever happened in Zechariah, it was good!"

Kathryn's words remind me that God's plan is good, perfect and right. He doesn't make us wait because we're being punished or because He didn't hear.

Whenever we wait, we can rest assured that there's purpose and righteousness in it. So we might as well just pull up a chair and enjoy it... He won't waste our waits.

Friday, November 18, 2011

And the Good Ideas Just Keep Comin'

Still looking for fun and affordable ways to donate to SixtyFeet this season?

If you're in the Atlanta area, order a turkey! Not just any turkey -- a fried Bojangles turkey. Ohmuword. If you happen to be from North Carolina, like me, you recognize the gravity of this situation.

I cannot begin to recount the number of times my college peeps and I stood in line at the Chapel Hill location for seasoned fries and cajun chicken biscuits. But even I cannot claim having eaten a Bo' turkey for Thanksgiving. This is a whole new level.

Bojangles is generously donating $10 from every turkey purchased before Saturday (that's tomorrow) to SixtyFeet! Even if you're not able to use the turkey yourself, perhaps you could buy one as a gift for a client or someone else?

Pre-order here: http://www.bojanglesatlanta.com/turkey.htm. And act fast -- this offer ends tomorrow!

Home Page Image
Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Is This Fair to My Kids?

Yesterday, thanks to a precious friend's willingness to babysit my crazy crew, Dan and I took our biggest girl out to breakfast for her 8th birthday, all by herself. It was a truly blessed time for just the three of us:

I honestly cannot remember the last time that Dan and I both went somewhere with Madeline, alone. The last time she had both her Daddy and her Mommy all to herself was probably years ago. These days, those precious moments are few and far between.

Our family has grown and changed by leaps and bounds over the last two years. As our oldest, Madeline has felt the impact of those changes more than any of our other children.

Two years ago, Madeline was just an average kid in Atlanta. She attended kindergarten at a private school. She had a little brother and a baby sister on the way. During the day, she and Davis basically had my complete and undivided attention.

Today, Madeline shares me with four other siblings and an Africa-based ministry. Instead of private school, we’re homeschooling. During the day, I often need her help with the younger children. It's not that life is bad. In a lot of ways it's really good -- but it is different.

I’ve encountered many people over the last few years who have shied away from making the hard, tough choices for their families, because they worry about what those decisions “might do” to their children. They feel a nudge to adopt or go into full time ministry or serve on an overseas mission trip – but they don’t. Because you know…the kids.

I should know -- my kids used to be my own excuse. I used to struggle and stress and convince myself that we couldn’t take any real risks for the Kingdom and I couldn’t dedicate any real time to ministry work (certainly not something outrageous, like spending an entire week in Africa at a time!) – without stopping to consider that these things might actually be good for my children.

So back to Madeline.

I don't know if the changes Madeline has experienced over the last two years are “fair.” But the Bible doesn’t promise us fair. At least not according to our idea of what fair should be. We’re also not promised easy, safe or comfortable.

What we are promised is this: A life spent pursuing Christ and His plans for your family will be a life well spent. That's the legacy I want for my children. I want it far more than their comfort, their leisure time, their extra-curricular activities and their academic success.

Dan and I have purposed not to go through life protecting our children from the wrong things. We won’t arrange their lives in a way that prevent them from practicing humility, patience, love and service – as a lifestyle, and not as a “once in a while” thing. We won’t shelter them from knowing the depths of injustice and despair in this broken world. And we won’t shield them from growing a desire to get up and do something about it.

I could teach my children these truths by saying them over and over. Or by pointing them to certain pages in the Bible. Or by sending them to Sunday school every week… Or I could just provide them with opportunities to live it out.

"While it may break the heart of a wise parent, they realize that it is not love to shelter a child from every adversity and all hardship. It is through occasional adversity and the winds of life blowing against us that we develop the muscles to stand strong and steady, gaining our moral balance. "

-- Katherine Walden, I Lift My Eyes Ministries
Sunday, November 13, 2011

Christmas Open House, Bring Your Own Egg Nog!

Welcome to our First Annual DIY Christmas Open House! Come on in and make yourself at home. We're so glad you could join us. Merry Christmas, y'all!

We'll start by saying this post isn't so much about it's particular content and ideas - as much as it's about the heart issues behind them. At the end of the day, we all know there's nothing radical or crazy about cutting back on our Christmas spending.

There's nothing crazy about a bunch of rich Americans buying less stuff for ourselves and our rich friends so we'll have more to give away more to people truly in need. Especially since we do all of this in celebration of the birth of Christ.

Neither of us are crafty, artsy fartsy or terribly talented in some area or another and we pray you'll use this post and these ideas as a jumping off point. Use it to get your creative juices flowing, to reign in your spending this holiday season and to consider how you can make this Christmas a great heart-changing experience for you and your family.

So let's get this party started and talk about...

DIChristmas Gifts!

1. Gifts of Food
We know this one is rather obvious and over-done, but there's something Biblical to it. Esther 9:22 says this about the Purim celebration: "He told them to celebrate these days with feasting and gladness and by giving gifts of food to each other and presents to the poor."

Prepare Dry Cookie Mixes with your kids. Give them as teacher gifts, neighbor gifts, grandparent gifts or to most anyone who likes cookies. Attach a fabric bow and a handmade Christmas ornament or small wooden baking spoon to the top for added cuteness. Here's a great website with tons of dry cookie recipes.

2. Gifts of Time
This one's biblical too... Isaiah 58:10 exhorts us to not just to spend our money but to spend our very selves... "spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday."

  • Offer to babysit. Take it from two Mommas of large families... this is the single best gift you could ever offer. Instead of purchasing a gift for your friends or your sister-in-law or your cousin's wife, give them a gift certificate for free babysitting so they can have a date night instead.

  • Offer any other services or talents you might have... Can you teach piano? Offer art lessons? Paint a bedroom? Set up a website? Are you good at home organizing? If so, offer up yourself and your time!

  • 3. Gifts for Children
    This is a tricky one, since children dream about toys, toys, toys from the moment Christmas commercial appear on TV in October. But here are some fun options...some for their stockings, some for under the tree.

  • Tri-Fold Puppet Theater - this is a great gift for all the kids, especially if they're a little older. You can make this yourself, with just a few inexpensive items found at Wal-Mart or Target and very little crafty ability. Here's a website with a list of needed items and instructions. Just think, Sound of Music's puppet theater, without the lonely goat who's high on a hill.

  • Time with Mom and/or Dad - what child doesn't crave special attention from their parents? Find something that each child loves and give them a gift certificate for special date with them to do that very thing. You could even add a small, related gift item so the present is more fun to open. For example, if your child loves to cook, give them some inexpensive, child-sized cooking tools and a certificate for a three hour cooking date with mom.

  • Bubble Bath Paint - this site gives all the instructions. We're talking three ingredients and about five total minutes of prep time.

  • Make your own personalized coloring books - this site has a super cute idea for putting one together using family photos and a little Adobe Photoshop action.

  • 4. Other Random Gift Ideas
    Here are a few more ideas that might get the wheel's a-turnin' for other things you can make.

  • Christmas CD for Grandparents - Do your kids play an instrument? Record them playing a few of their songs and burn them to DVD or CD. Get them to belt out some Christmas carols to add to the mix. Then make your own CD cover on your computer. Granny will go nuts!

  • No-Sew Rag Wreath - Shelly stole this idea from her friend, Andrea. It's the cutest, easiest wreath ever and, unlike a lot of crafts, the materials hardly cost anything. This is Shelly's made last fall, still proudly hanging in the den. The cost was $8.

  • Get on the Internet and Research! - Seriously. We could go on and on here. In doing the research for this post, we came across everything from homemade bundt cake candles to popsicle mold soaps. There's SO much good stuff out there that's easy, inexpensive and non-crafty. The only hard part is getting over the pressure and temptation to spend, spend, spend for Christmas, as the world says you should.

  • 5. And last, but not least, here is our favorite DIY (of sorts) Christmas gift, with a two-fold purpose. You didn't think we'd get to the end of a post without mentioning SixtyFeet, didjya?

    This idea came from a recent post from Shelly about her house rules. We thought it would be a fun idea to design these rules in a fun fashion so that other families could display them in their home, too. And the best part is, 100% of the profits will go directly to SixtyFeet.

    Colleen ordered hers on a canvas and absolutely adores it. It's hanging proudly in her kitchen as a constant reminder of these great truths (I think us moms need them more than our children!).

    To view a larger image of all the color and style options, click here

    These would make a great gift for someone, as you can have their last name printed at the top. Peeps love a customized gift (and they're fairly inexpensive!).

    So here's the deal-i-yo on these suckers. They are $15 for the image. Not a physical picture, but a .jpeg file, sized to 11 x 14", that will be emailed to you...complete with the style of your choice and the name you specify at the top. Go here to order (and please, share the link with others!).

    Once purchased, you'll have full copyrights to the image and can upload it to any online printing service to have it printed on the material of your choice...ie, canvas, photo paper, foam core board, etc.

    Obviously, the least expensive option would be to have it printed as a picture onto photo paper. You can get a quality 11 x 14 print for about $7. Watch for sales at stores like Hobby Lobby and Michael's and get an inexpensive frame with a matte on the inside and, voila! You've got yourself a great-lookin' gif

    Here are a few recommended places for printing:


    Easy Canvas Prints

    Canvas People

    Vista Print


    Nations Photolab


    Go to some of these sites and sign up for their newsletters so you can be notified when they've got a sale or coupon code. I got an email from Easy Canvas Prints the other day that was a $28 sale for an 11 x 14 canvas! That's a steal, people.

    And that just about concludes this year's DIY Open House. Thanks for partying with us and for making it all the way to the bottom of this monster post. We hope some of the ideas posted here have blessed and inspired you to redirect your Christmas this year.

    Merry Christmas to all and to all a goodnight.


    Shelly and Colleen
    Your Bloggy Hostesses with the Mostesses

    PS - feel free to grab the code and put this button in the sidebar of your blog to help spread the word!

    Family Home Rules
    Copy and Paste this code to add to your site:
    <a href="http://www.myuglycouch.com/family-home-rules/" target="_blank"><img src="http://i39.tinypic.com/15cfwcn.jpg" border="0" alt="Family Home Rules"></a>
    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Rough Days & Fun Ideas

    Sorry I've been such a lame-o with the blogging this week. It's been a rough one.

    A few of the kids and I have been sick, Dan's been traveling, we're entering our busy season with SixtyFeet and I'm trying to wrap up some homeschool projects before we break for the holidays.

    Yesterday was especially pleasant around here. I learned that it takes the exact same amount of time for me to teach a math lesson to Madeline as it takes for Baby Charlotte to eat an entire tube of lipstick.

    That same period of time also provides ample opportunity for Hannah to draw a lovely picture on her bedroom ceiling, perfectly elevated by the top bunk of her bunkbeds. And for Davis and Joseph to build an outdoor torture machine for the neighbor's cat.

    Like I said, it's been a rough one.

    So I may be down...but I'm not out. This Sunday, my partner in crime (y'all know her as Colleen, the Ugly Couch Lady), and I are co-hosting a lil' Christmas Open House of sorts, right here on the Crazy Blog and on Ugly Couch.

    You might remember I recently asked y'all to consider redirecting some Christmas funds for the BIG SixtyFeet land project? And, while interested in this little idea of mine, you may be wondering how on Earth to cut back on your Christmas budget?

    Well, never fear -- help is on the way! This Sunday at our Christmas Open House, Colleen and I have all sorts of fun DIY Christmas gift ideas to share with you. These are gift ideas guaranteed to save you a ton of money and believe me, they don't require any kind of crafty expertise.

    Please plan to check in with us this Sunday. And don't just come by to read -- please also come to post your own DIY Christmas ideas! We'd love for others to share their secrects and help spread the Christmas cheer, on a budget.

    See you on Sunday!

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    Redirecting Christmas: The Big Announcement

    It's time! This is the follow-up to my first Redirecting Christmas post from earlier this week.

    I was blown away and totally humbled my the number of people who emailed me and are completely tracking with me on this idea.Turns out that I'm not the only crazy one around here.

    If you're one of the many who are desiring for this year's Christmas celebration to be about more than gifts, fun, food and blessing those who are already blessed, then I have a challenge for you. You might even call it a dare. Dare to dream with me that Christmas can be different this year. Details are below.

    Straight from the SixtyFeet site, just published this evening...

    Dare to Dream

    What if the youngest, most vulnerable, most desperate children at M1 and the other facilities didn’t have to be there? What if they could live in a place filled with hope, where they could grow to know and love God, where they would be deeply cared for, where they could receive an education and have a future? What if…

    Since SixtyFeet first began, we’ve dreamed of purchasing land and building a home so we can remove the most vulnerable children who live in the M facilities. We can all agree, these children shouldn’t be in these conditions.

    Late last year, we had a matching donation to raise funds so we could acquire land. The land was to be used as the site for a home where the youngest and most vulnerable children at M1 could live in a loving, nurturing family-like environment. Some of you may be wondering what happened to that.

    Well, we were blown away by your generosity, as usual, and you sailed past the $10,000 match raising a total of $30,000. That money, unfortunately is still sitting in the bank – set aside and earmarked for the home we so very much want to build.

    Various obstacles prevented us from moving forward with our original plans (we’re learning that sometimes we just need to be still and wait on the Lord). So that’s what we’ve been doing. But we never gave up hope. Ever since then, we have been praying that we would be able to raise the remaining funds to start this home.

    Recently, several incredible donors have stepped forward to offer a whopping $60,000 as a matching gift in order to make this dream a reality. Yes, that was not a typo and you read it correctly. Every dollar we are able to raise between today and December 31, 2011 – up to $60,000 – will be matched, dollar for dollar.

    So what does this mean for SixtyFeet and the children? With the $30,000 that was raised last year, we are hoping and praying that by January we will have $150,000 in order to purchase land, build a home and have a place where we can nurture these precious children. But we’re not just thinking land and a home. We’re thinking bigger… way bigger – as in community. We want to build something sustainable.

    Given the size of this gift, we also pray we can use a portion of the funds to expedite our plans to remove and house many of the older children at the M facilities. We hope to establish multiple homes for boys and girls 10 and older where they can live with up to 20 other children and be mentored by young adults, who themselves have been in similar situations but who now have a heart to give back and serve.

    So as we enter this holiday season, please dare to dream with us. Dare to dream of the eternal impact this will have in the Kingdom and in the lives of the children of M. Dream of the children who may arise from these homes. The leaders, the doctors, the pastors, the educators. All of whom may ultimately come from M and go on to serve and do amazing things in the name of Christ. Just imagine it.

    To donate to this amazing cause, to have your donation matched dollar for dollar, and to make a big difference this Christmas, click HERE.
    Sunday, October 30, 2011

    Redirecting Christmas

    For Heaven's sake, it's not even Halloween and it's started already. The "Get Ready for Christmas" rush is here.

    My mailbox is crammed full of magazines advertising the perfect gift for everyone on my list. The stores already have their isles packed with stockings, trees and ornaments. Today I even saw a giant, candy-cane shapped dog bone at T*rget.

    I'm not a Scrooge. I actually happen to love Christmas. I love family traditions and Christmas music and twinkling lights on trees. I love cookie swaps and children's nativity plays and carolers at my front door.

    But what I hate is this: the amount of money I feel compelled to spend on Christmas each year. Between the gifts, the decorations, the parties, the party attire, the Christmas cards with the matching outfits, the postage, the Santa breakfasts, the Nutcracker tickets and the travel expenses, Christmas can add up to a pretty obscene amount of money.

    According to the Advent Conspiracy, Americans spent $450 billion on Christmas in 2009. That's this number: $450,000,000,000. All spent in the name of a holiday intended to celebrate the birth of Christ. The Prince of Peace, the Wonderful Counselor... the One was was sent "to preach the good news to the poor." That one.

    I admit, I've not always been so outraged by a little worldly Christmas cheer. There have been plenty of years that I've succumbed to the pressure. This was our family Christmas card picture from 2006:

    I would be truly ashamed to disclose how much those matching, custom outfits cost. But dang, we had a cute Christmas card that year. Surely, Jesus would want that for my family, right?

    In 2007, after Dan had received a series of raises and promotions at work, I threw our strict Christmas budget out the window and decided to spend "generously" and with reckless abandon. After all, Christmas only comes once a year. (Nevermind that my self-proclaimed generosity was intended only to bless people who were already blessed).

    That year, Dan and I stayed up way too late wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, we woke up way too early to plow through our massive stack of presents.

    And afterwards I felt happy and joyful and completely fulfilled, right? WRONG. Less than half-way through the morning, the kids were bored with opening gifts. I was irritated because I felt that the kids were being ungrateful. Dan was irritated because I'd clearly spent too much money. And all I really ended up with was a big pit in my stomach and a serious case of regret.

    (By the way, Madeline's favorite gift from that year was a glass paperweight with a small, pressed flower on the inside. A student in my VBS class had given it to me that summer as a teacher's gift and, at the last second,  dropped it into Madeline's stocking. She loves it to this day.)

    Anyways, I know I'm stepping all over toes, but I can't help myself. My husband spends several weeks per year in Africa. I've just returned from Africa myself and I can say this with a high degree of confidence: We don't need anything else.

    I was introduced to this short video clip back in 2008 and I've never forgotten it:

     If you're one of the few people who is still reading this post and is not completely offended, perhaps it's because you're tracking with me on this subject. Perhaps you're desiring, like Dan and me, not to rid our lives of Christmas, but to celebrate it differently.

    Later this week, we'll be announcing a HUGE project from SixtyFeet. It's something that's been a long time in the making and it's very near and dear to my heart. If you desire for your Christmas to be about something different this year, I pray that you and your family will consider redirecting some of your Christmas funds to this opportunity.

    If you're a fellow blogger and would like to partner with me on this project, please email me at shellyowens at gmail dot com for "advance" information. I'd love to have others help spread the word.

    This project is major. It's going to take a whole lot of redirected Christmas gifts, a great big God and serious dose of faith to make it happen. But I'm believing we can do it.

    The Announcement is coming, later this week. Stay tuned...

    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    House Rules

    It's not just my blog that's crazy. My house is crazy. My calendar is crazy. My life is crazy

    Five young children + traveling husband + homeschool + ministry in Africa + life in general = Abundance of craziness.

    People ask me sometimes how I manage it all and I usually think... uh, I don't. Have you seen my house/children/life lately?

    But I admit, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve.
    Some of you might remember that I got a little help from some Rockstar Moms a while back. I'm still so grateful for the guidance, wisdom and ideas from those precious ladies who have blazed the Big Family Trail before me.

    We've also established some House Rules around this place. There are only five rules on our list – but they cover a litany of issues and offenses. And these five little rules tend to keep the craziness from turning into utter chaos.
     At the risk of my reputation as a fun, free-thinking, Africa-orphan loving philanthropist, I thought I’d share this list of our house rules with y’all tonight. I'll warn you in advance -- this list might make me sound a bit stick-in-the-mud-ish, but that’s ok. This is what works for our family.

    Owens Family House Rules

    1.       The way we say something is as important as what we say. We speak with kindness and gentleness. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1

    2.       When we’re given instructions, we obey all the way, right away and with joyful hearts. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” – Colossians 3:20

    3.       We show honor and respect for adults and for other children. “Show proper respect for everyone.” 1 Peter 2:17

    4.       We know that contentment is bliss. We give thanks and we have grateful hearts. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” – 1 Timothy 6:6

    5.       We value other people, and we value all people, because they are all souls for whom Jesus died. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility, consider others as more important than yourselves.” – Philippians 2:3

    Our house rules are based upon scripture – because, in my opinion, those are the only rules worth following. Worldly wisdom is just that – it’s worldly, it’s empty and it’s destined to fail. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.” – 1 Corinthians 1:25

    Also, these rules apply to everyone in our home – including our biological children, our adopted children and the adults. The kids even have carte blanch to point out to me when I’m in violation of one of them (which of course never, ever happens…).

    There may not be much certainty or any guarantees in this life. But upon God’s Word, we can stand firm and rejoice – for His word will never return to us void.

    For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword…”
    – Hebrews 4:12
    Tuesday, October 25, 2011

    This is Too Easy...

    Hi friends! If you love me and you love SixtyFeet, can I ask you a small favor? Please, go to Giving of Life and cast a vote for SixtyFeet to win a grant, for up to $50,000. And if you register on their site, you get extra votes.

    It just takes a second and it'll cost you nothing... but it could literally make a world of difference to the children SixtyFeet serves in Uganda.

    Please go, vote, register, vote again and share the link. The things we could do in Uganda with a $50,000 grant absolutely blow my mind. I'm dreaming big here, people -- come dream with me!
    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    Ministering in Africa

    Here's what I was doing this time last weekend:

    That's me, in the royal blue. Just last weekend, Kelsey, Colleen, Kirby and I attended a traditional Ugandan engagement party. And we even wore the traditional, native outfits. It was quite the experience.

    Colleen and I pretending to be high fashion models. Posing in the banana leaves. Very classy I think.

    We woke up early Saturday morning to travel way, way, way out to the northeastern corner of Uganda. The party took place in a small village nearly 6 hours from the capital city of Kampala.

    Along the way we saw monkeys swinging from trees, baboons with their baboon babies and the incredible River Nile.

    Colleen's awesome photography capturing God's handiwork.

    As we traveled through this remote region, we also saw poverty. Lots of it. Some of the areas we passed through were very, very poor. Poorer than any place I've ever seen before.

    This simple structure, and many others similar to it, is home for many people in Uganda. Compared to these people, I'm outrageously wealthy. I'm filthy rich. And so are you.

    When I see this kind of poverty, my first inclination is to feel pity. The home in the picture above is so primitive. The lives of these people are so much harder than my own. Surely no one desires to live like this.

    And yet, I have no idea if these people would want anything to do with my American way of life. Given the option, I don't know that they'd want to live in my multi-room house with running water and air conditioning and closets full of clothes and shoes and a bunch of stuff I don't really need.

    After all, along with my American wealth comes a whole bunch of other problems -- materialism, laziness, isolation and, most importantly, an inability to really, truly understand the concept of God's provision.

    We call these people "poor" but in so many ways, they are rich. The Africans that I know cherish community and value their time with friends and family in a way I probably never will. For most of them, stuff is not important -- because they don't have stuff. They joyfully work long, hard hours because hard work is simply a way of life.

    And daily, they experience and rejoice over the blessings of the Lord's provision -- for food, water, health, safety and even the air they breathe. He's the provider. They get that in a way we just don't.

    It's a privilege to minister in such a place and a piece of my heart will always live in Uganda. The people of that country bless me, challenge me, stretch me, inspire me and pretty often, they put my weak faith to shame.

    Dan and I often tell visiting mission teams this: Uganda is not so much a place that we go to tell people about Jesus... as much as it's a place where we go to learn about Jesus.

    I'm blessed to know and visit this country and, truly, I thank God for the opportunity.