Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cruisin'!

The day after Cason finished his CFP test (a year, hundreds of hours and lots of individual and family sacrifices in the making) we got to get on a boat for a week!  Cason's sweet and amazing parents planned to take Heather and Larry (his sister and brother-in-law) and us on a cruise this summer, and we had a blast!

When Cason finished on Saturday, we took Madeleine out to my parents' (where she stayed for 8 nights - what a gift, and they are up for sainthood!) and we got back to to Houston just in time to enjoy a dinner out at El Ranchero, our favorite Mexican neighborhood spot.  We felt so FREE after being done with Cason's test - we couldn't believe it!  Cason and I still had to pack (!) but NO WORRIES.  We had a great time with our visiting family that night, and got ready to get down to Galveston the next morning.  

After a yummy kolache breakfast (thanks for stopping in West, Bristers!) we loaded up the Tahoe to get down to Galveston.  We were so excited to get on the boat and get the vacation started.  Thanks to Trish's frequent cruising, we had quite a few perks on this cruise, including boarding privileges. :)

Yes, these are pictures of our embarkation pictures...me=cheap.
We had lunch on the ship, got settled into our rooms, and eventually set sail that afternoon!  Of course we toasted as we left Galveston!  I enjoyed...sparkling water. :)
Our rooms were beautiful!  We loved being on 12 - the spa and sports deck.  We were super close to the spa, with access to all the facilities, no kids on the deck, and our balconies all opened up so we could sit outside together.  Perfect!  We did lots of reading on our kindles (the guys got new ones for the trip, courtesy of Trish!) and it was so nice to just relax!  The Magic is a beautiful ship.  I loved the art deco theme of all the extravagant decor!  The other ship I had been on, the Conquest, had a look of watercolors and impressionists, which was also beautiful, but I preferred the Magic!
We spent a LOT of time at the spa.  All of the ladies got facials, and we all enjoyed the facilities - the thalasso pool (lukewarm with minerals) and the hot tile beds...ahhhh so relaxing.  The only hiccup was that in the hottest steam bed room, Bill accidentally threw his towel on the hot coals (in his defense, they were encased in something that looked like a wooden towel rack.)  According to the workers at the spa, it happens all the time.  Larry removed the evidence!  I felt baby girl move a LOT while I laid on those beds.
We really enjoyed the first few days at sea while we traveled south.  We were fairly anti-social cruisers, pretty much hanging out all together or in couples the whole time.  We didn't go to any shows, Trish was the only one who ventured to the casino, and I do think Heather and Larry got out and about the ship quite a bit, but we were content to be in the spa, on our balcony or on the adults-only serenity deck. Cason, Larry and Bill also gave the waterslides a go a few times.  I wanted to...maybe next time. :)
On one of our at-sea days, we had our first formal night.  It was fun to get dressed up and enjoy dinner!  We didn't last long in our fancy clothes though - it was back into the Thalasso pool up on deck 12 for us!

Our first port day was in Roatan, an island off of the coast of Honduras.  We had a nice tropical rainstorm the night before. (So nice hearing that rain hit our cabin window!) and we had a mild day in Roatan.  Heather found a great private tour for the six of us, at only about $25/person!  Ronald drove us all over the island, stopping at a place where we got to play with and see some jungle animals, Halfmoon bay for lunch (YUMMY shrimp!) and a stop at a cameo shop where we got to watch a woman carve cameos.  Cason and I enjoyed a walk along some nature trails before we got back on the boat.  Since it wasn't a "beach day" we were grateful for the mild, overcast weather.

Our second day was much sunnier in Belize!  It was so hot, but BEAUTIFUL!  By the time our boat got out to the snorkeling reef, after a 40 minute ride, we were ready to jump in that amazing water!  We saw so many colorful fish, and we went to another location where we went swimming with too many rays to count and at least three nurse sharks!  If you know Cason White, you know this is a big deal.  What's an even bigger deal is that I spotted a beautiful conch shell at the bottom of the ocean, nestled in some waving seaweed.  I thought surely it had vacated the shell/died based on the fact that the pink side was facing up.  I showed it to Cason, and he dove down to the bottom to get it, right before we got on the boat.  We asked our guides if we could keep it since it was empty, and they agreed!  I felt like my sweet husband had so pursued my heart in that moment, risking life and limb, swimming among sharks to get the pretty shell I had seen. :)  I'm so glad he did - I couldn't ask for a better souvenir.
After our swims we headed into Caye Caulker for lunch.  We had some yummy local food, and the view was an old cemetery with views of the beach and water.  So, so lovely. 
The night of our Belize excursion was the second formal night.  We were so wiped out from Belize that we decided to just get something yummy from the lido buffet and get in the thalasso pool at the spa.  What can I say?  We love the nightlife. :)  Our last port day was Cozumel.  After two busy days, we decided to not plan any excursions in Cozumel, but just take it easy.  Bill and Trish stayed on the boat because Trish had some dizziness, so the 4 "kids" headed into the village for just a bit.  We so wanted to jump into that beautiful water!  The Conquest was also in port in Cozumel.  It was kinda neat to see the two ships I'd cruised on side by side.
After Cozumel, we had one more day at sea before we got into Galveston on Sunday Morning.  We slept in, enjoyed room service again, played a little bit of mini golf and actually watched two movies that day.  Imagine that.
We were sad to say goodbye to everyone, but we were THRILLED to see Madeleine.  We made it into Houston in time to catch Sunday School, so we got to see her after church.  My parents picked her up and we reunited underneath a covered driveway at church.  She came running to us and gave us big hugs.  It was so, so sweet.  When we got on the bus to go to the parking lot, she kept saying "I am so glad you came back!" Lest you think she was so very neglected, please see the pictures below from her week and see how much she was mistreated. ;)  We are so grateful she had a Granna, Grandad and Aunt Liz who all took turns making sure she had fun while her parents were gone.

One of the greatest gifts of the cruise, among many, was coming home to a daughter who felt like a novelty again.  I must have spent the first week back just in awe of her and grateful for who God made her to be.  In parenting there are always seasons when we get weary, so it was amazing to be re-invigorated in my parenting, in my marriage and in my life in general, having enjoyed rest and so much stress-free time with my sweet husband.   What a trip.  Bill and Trish - we can't thank you enough!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Houston 1:8 - Sun Blossom Mountain

One of my favorite things that our church does is Houston 1:8 (formerly known as Houston Project.)  It's basically a one-week mission trip during which about 1,500 volunteers from our church go out to areas around Houston to get to know residents of various neighborhoods.   This was my third Houston Project in which to take part - some years we've had some conflicts.  Cason actually couldn't participate this year due to the proximity to his CFP test.  Despite serving without him, this year was extra special to me for several reasons.


One, this site, Sun Blossom Mountain, was a brand new site for our church, and our sweet friends JP and Megan Johnson were the site leaders and they are in our Sunday School class.  Megan and I were also in Tridelt together at Baylor, so it has been fun to have our paths cross again.  I knew they would do a fantastic job, having both the passion and the organization to carry this project through.

Another exciting component, to me, is that I was no stranger to Sun Blossom Mountain - many of the refugee women I worked with as Program Coordinator for The Community Cloth live there, so I was excited to see them and spend time with them again.  The Burmese and Bhutanese Nepali refugee families are close to my heart!

Another "exciting" (see also "improvisational!") component of the week was originally I was going to have a different role on site.  I took a turn at the childcare house on Monday night, and I got a call from Megan that there were more women wanting to participate than they had originally thought, and "could you come up with some programming for them for the next three nights?"  I was thrilled but also nervous.  I knew that many of these women didn't speak English, so coming up with some sort of Bible study would be complicated.

One thing I did know (thanks to my work at Community Cloth) was that these women love to craft!!  They are so talented and they love working with their hands, especially on projects that celebrate the home.  Having come from refugee camps, they are so proud of their apartments, no matter how meager the furnishings or decor may be.   I brainstormed with some friends and made several trips to Hobby Lobby that week, but thank the Lord I was able to come up with three fun crafts to do during the remaining nights.  The first night we painted flower pots and planted zinnia seeds in them, the second night we made pom-pom key chains, and the third night, we painted and decorated picture frames.  Inside the frames, we had the text of John 3:16 in either Bhutanese, Burmese or Spanish, based on the participants' native languages.  It seemed to be a hit based on the 30 women we had crafting on the ground on quilts and blankets.  It was so much fun for me as well, and amazing how God used the experiences I'd been blessed by over the past year to reach these women in this particular situation.  Amazing how He does that, right?
My parents, as the mentor couple for our class, also came to serve at the site.  It was such a joy to serve alongside them and my sister Liz who had just returned from Europe.
Photo credit: Nguyen Nguyen

One thing I have to say is I love these photos that Nguyen got of my mom (below) doing what she does best, loving on kids.  My favorite Diane story of the week involved the boy in the top photo below.  This sweet boy was probably about 13, and he had some mental handicaps.  He wanted so badly to be involved and help with whatever was going on.  He couldn't speak, he was clumsy, and no one in the complex that I could find even knew his name, but he was there every night.  Wednesday night was the night we made the pom pom key chains with the adult ladies.  He really wanted to make a key chain too, and while I was busy with the ladies, mom sat with him and helped him.  Making yarn pom poms isn't always easy, folks, I would often loose my yarn and mess my own up and I was leading the project.  Anyway, Mom very patiently worked with him for awhile.  She had to go off and do something, but at some point I realized he totally figured it out!  He was making pom poms, not perfect ones, but he was getting it.  He was so proud.  I ran to tell mom that he was making the pom poms all by himself, and she just said, as a matter of fact "I knew he could do it."  That's what has made mom such a great mom and teacher over the course of her life - she has the highest, most optimistic expectations of her students, whether in sixth grade math or summer pom pom creation!
Photo credit: Nguyen Nguyen

It was so much fun to watch members of our class serve with such warm and open hearts.  Each night I couldn't believe the hundreds of children who came to learn about Jesus, and the sheer amount of food and snow cones that were distributed!  I am so thankful for the Johnsons' (and many other couples') leadership and the fact that we will get to stay involved with these people throughout the year.
Photo credit: Nguyen Nguyen

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Happy Fourth!

Like many Americans, we extended our 4th of July celebration over several days.  The festivities began with Madeleine's school parade.  I just love that firecracker hat - fits her perfectly in so many ways.  I was also thankful for the paparazzi of my friends that work at the church taking photos of her since I was the mom who did not stick around for the parade! :) 
We were blessed with unusually cool weather that week, so Madeleine and I made the most of it with lots of walks and meals outside. (We had missed this!  Houston is so hot!)  When it warmed up, on Wednesday the 3rd, we made a family pool trip to the YMCA.
On the 4th, Cason made us some delicious patriotic pancakes before we went out to Cypress for some pool time at Granna and Grandad's.  It is a good day when 2/3 meals are grilled outside.  Hot dogs and burgers for everyone!
AJ was in Miami, and Ben was in New York, but Buddy joined us for the festivities since my parents were watching their grand-dog. :)  Madeleine was just thrilled.   She was also excited to pick some veggies from the garden.
Since Madeleine hits the hay between 7-8, and we were having our own low-key, family celebration, we decided to bust out the sparklers before it was even close to sunset.  Priorities!  She loved them, and at first, Granna had a great idea to protect Madeleine's hand with a clear cup and stick the sparkler through.  It worked great!!  She got better with respecting the spark and holding the end, so eventually, we dropped the cup, but it was a great solution. 
We had a great time, and Madeleine and I stayed a couple extra days so that Cason could have some concentrated last-minute time to study since his test was just two weeks later!