Sweet Home Alabama…

We put the cart before the horse on this one…

We started saying goodbye to things before we really explained what’s going on. The dinnermesa is moving out of Texas and headed toward Alabama. There’s a lot of different reasons why, but I’ll just say, it’s something that we felt was best for our family and something that God was calling us to do. It sure makes this decision make a lot more sense now that we see how it was going to pan out.

It’s been almost 3 years since we came home as a family from Colombia. I talked to my oldest daughter tonight, and she told me that this would be the fourth time she’s moved in her 9-year-old life. I told her it was my fourth time to move in my 35-year-old life. Unlike her, I was much more the captain of my destiny than she was (even with my parents at the helm). She was put in a car a couple of times, and everything she knew changed… with no parents at the helm.

When we told the kids it might happen, we told them that no matter if they wanted to stay in Texas (two of them) or move to Alabama (two of them) (one undecided), we needed to pray for God’s will. If it was His will, we prayed for open doors. If it was not His will, we prayed that He shut those doors clearly. We also prayed that our kids who still have a little of South America in them would learn to stop calling it “Halabama.”

After about two months of slowly developing situations, the decision was made, and announced. It was a mixed bag. Some tears and some fist pumps (a new Americanism we’ve picked up this past year).

Then ramifications of the move started coming in like waves with highs and lows.

“So, we will get a new house?” “Yay!”

“So, we’ll loose our teachers, school, and friends?” “Awe!”

“So, we’ll get new teachers, school, and friends?” “Yay!”

“So, we are moving away from grandparents, aunts and uncles?” “Awe!”

“Since Alabama has a lot more trees, hide and seek will be a lot more fun.” “Yay!”

I was a little worried that for some of them, this would look like another crazy, life-changing transition in a long line of transitions in their lives, so we talked through the things that wouldn’t change.

  1. Mom and Dad are Mom and Dad forever. That’s not going to stop, and we will be going with you.
  2. The dogs are coming with us too. (I didn’t think this was a big deal, but that was one of their biggest concerns when we discussed the move)
  3. Our cars are coming with us too.
  4. We will have the same clothes, toys, and furniture. It is also coming with us.
  5. No matter what we face, we face it as a family.
  6. Mom and Dad will still be taking care of the family like we have always done. You don’t have to be an adult. You can be a kid and just be along for the ride.

I don’t know if it hasn’t hit some of them yet, but they are taking it like champs. Our kids’ greatest strength/problem is they transition really fast (all of them). If it happened 15 minutes ago, it is ancient history, and we are on to something else (maybe that’s why they relate so well to the dogs – they are the same way). So we have sober moments in 15-minute bursts, and then we start thinking about all the fun stuff or whatever we were doing before the moment struck.

Aside from packing up stuff to stage our house for selling (which was under contract after 20 hours of being on the market), our lives have been minimally disrupted by the transition. I’m sure when we are hugging family goodbye at the airport, it will get a lot more real, for kids and adults alike. We are about two weeks out from that.

I’m hoping that this can be one of the last transients I personally throw at them, but if they learn that in this world, the things that are constant are God and, to a lesser extent, family, then I guess that’s a hard but good lesson.

I just hope I’m OK at this new job! To quote the movie “Braveheart”, “We didn’t get all dressed up for nothin’.” I’ll let you know in a month or so!

At the dinnermesa,

Ty

A Tale of 3 Boys and 120 Square Feet…

“Let’s try to raise our youngest son’s bed off the ground so the boys can have more room to play.”

That’s what my wife said to me a few months ago. It seemed like a simple enough job, but it turned into something else altogether. It was sort of like “Oceans 12” when they decided the easiest thing to do was to raise an entire building 6 inches higher in order to pull off their heist. There were a billion reasons why every plan we made to raise a bed would not work (not structurally sound, boards going across the room, no ascetically pleasing, etc…). After lots of googling, white-board drawings, thinking, and planning, we decided the easiest thing was to blow it all up and start from scratch.

We spent 6 days, and blew our $200 budget by $75, but it is now the coolest room in the house. I stopped Beth just before she asked the boys to swap with us. Here is a photo documentary of the event. In typical before/after comparisons in marketing, we took pictures of the boys’ room before on a bad day when they had not cleaned to make the effect look more dramatic.

The oldest and middle sons' bunk bed. We had white bins underneath for toy storage. This narrow isle between the beds was about 2 feet wide and didn't give enough room to do much other than go to your bed or pull out toy bins.

The oldest and middle sons’ bunk bed. We had white bins underneath for toy storage. This narrow isle between the beds was about 2 and 1/2 feet wide and didn’t give enough room to do much other than go to your bed or pull out toy bins.

The youngest son's bed... There was about 18 inches between the end of his bed and the door, and that was the main play space... no wonder they spent so much time in the girls' room.

The youngest son’s bed… There was about 18 inches between the end of his bed and the door, and that was the main play space… no wonder they spent so much time in the girls’ room.

Every boy had a locker, and the dresser top became overflow space for all their random crap.

Every boy had a locker, and the dresser top became overflow space for all their random crap.

Blurry photographic evidence that I provided a lot of manual labor and the children did whatever they wanted.

Blurry photographic evidence that I provided a lot of manual labor and the children did whatever they wanted.

Here is a picture of the kids "helping" me.

Here is a picture of the kids “helping” me.

Even more kids "helped" me when I got the frame up.

Even more kids “helped” me when I got the frame up.

Then they had to get a good night's sleep from all the "help" they gave me.

Then they had to get a good night’s sleep from all the “help” they gave me.

Finally, it's done. Look! Floor-space, and color-coded bins on shelves to delineate who's stuff is who's. Each boy has a personal shelf by their bed for their own things too. We almost put shelves under the middle bed, but decided that boys, like dogs, are den animals, and need spaces like that.

Finally, it’s done. Look! Floor-space, and color-coded bins on shelves to delineate who’s stuff is who’s. Each boy has a personal shelf by their bed for their own things too. We almost put shelves under the middle bed, but decided that boys, like dogs, are den animals, and need spaces like that.

A different angle for your viewing pleasure.

A different angle for your viewing pleasure.

This shelf was an afterthought that I thought I would knock out real fast one morning but wound up taking 7 hours to do. That's why it is getting its own picture.

This shelf was an afterthought that I thought I would knock out real fast one morning but wound up taking 7 hours to do. That’s why it is getting its own picture.

Corner shelves for toys. A=1/2(LW). A=2 square feet for each. We needed it after losing a lot of space under the beds.

Corner shelves for toys. It appealed to my geometric mind. A=1/2(LW). A=2 square feet for each. We needed it after losing a lot of space under the beds.

We now have a blank wall that has fast cars, super heroes, and sharks for decoration. We are only a monster-truck poster away from having all of our bases covered.

We now have a blank wall that has fast cars, super heroes, and sharks for decoration. We are only a monster-truck poster away from having all of our bases covered.

If you are cramped for space, maybe it will give you some ideas. The boys are pretty excited, and we are less stressed when we enter their room now. Win-win!

At the dinnermesa,

Ty

Push Came to Shove…

Well, I come to the interwebs a little embarrassed tonight…

I try to live consistently with my beliefs such that I don’t ever appear to be hypocritical or have to take back things I’ve said. However, yesterday presented me with a situation in which two of my principles were at odds with one another… principles I have blogged about previously:

1. I will take care of my family and keep them safe.

2. I will avoid debt at all costs.

The situation that created the dilemma was Maroon 5, (AKA – Ottobus) our 2006 Ford Van, dying.

I saw the writing on the wall and was already thinking about what we would do when it did finally bite the dust, but I was hoping to limp along with it for another year or so. My master plan was to finish paying off our adoption expenses in March and immediately build a war-chest so that we could buy a more reliable car about this time next year. Maroon 5 forced my hand.

I believe that Ford makes a pretty decent car, but I think we just got a lemon. We purposely bought that car in April of 2012 for our children. It was six years old, but it had low miles, and we could definitely afford it.  We wrote a check for it, which was great to do. It was the vehicle that we first rode home as a family. It was the car that we have have gone everywhere as a family since we have been a family. For those reasons it was very special to us.

However, as the months ticked by, we had lots of little problems. Within 3 months of owning the car, we got our first “Check Engine” light. The following year and a half, we had 4 more “Check Engine” lights, one of which is chronicled in this blog post. Over time, I slowly pumped in a lot of my personal time and money to keep that car running. The engine computer was replaced. The alternator was replaced. The fuel filter was replaced. I ran full synthetic oil in it, but changed the oil out on a non-synthetic schedule. Factoring in purchase price, fuel costs, maintenance, and insurance, the van was costing me about $1.50 per mile to operate with me doing 75% of the labor. I kept hoping that we would find the knee of that curve and start to see operating costs go down at some point, but stuff kept breaking. We just really needed to keep it going another year to make my plans work.

Yesterday, while at work, I get a call from a panicked wife telling me “it’s doing it again.” This time, Maroon 5 let us know it meant business by skipping the “check engine” light, and going straight to the picture of the crescent wrench!

I came home fully prepared to spend a very cold evening underneath Maroon 5, dropping the gas tank or changing out the pressure sensor on the engine… whatever was my best guess (both were listed as probable causes for the indicator I was receiving). I even got into my nasty crotch-ripped pants, and my big grey oil-stained sweat-shirt. As I was changing, I asked Beth a series of questions… What was it doing? When did it start? How did it act? In the midst of this back an forth, I asked another question that was both on and off topic at the same time: “Do you have confidence that this van can get us to Pennsylvania and back this summer for our big road trip?” Her answer echoed what I was thinking: NO! It was becoming clear to us, that our car could no longer meet our needs.

Every extra dollar we have is going to pay off the adoption, and, as previously mentioned, it is almost finished. We will be doing a happy dance in March as the repo man can’t ever take the kiddies back (Wasn’t there a Forest Whitaker movie like that a few years ago?) Because of our aggressive plans at retiring debt, we didn’t have the war-chest to buy a car outright like we planned for next year. My family needed a reliable car, and the only way I can give it to them was to finance a new (to us) one.

I don’t know if a lot of people find their principles at odds with one another, but I sure did in this moment. I sat and tried to exhaust every other idea I could, searching for a way to have consistency between my words and my actions, but it was clear something was going to have to give. I had to weigh the two principles I had, and maintain the one with the highest priority – Providing for my family.

So, I got a car loan, for the first time in four years. It still makes me sick to think I was less than 2 months from not owing anyone except the mortgage company, and now I am saddled up with another debt… Beth and I will still have to say no to a bunch of things, and keep working as hard as we have the past two years for a little while longer, but I guess it’s OK.

Things don’t go to plan. Life gets in the way. I had all of these excellent plans to get out of debt, get a few bucks in the bank, tear down my barns, build bigger ones, sit back and relax, and not have to depend on God so much (sarcasm intended)! I also wanted to be a person of integrity and do what I said I would do: avoid debt at all most costs. It’s a little bit of pride, and it’s a little bit of just wanting more control in my life. I hope I made the right decision. As much as I am sickened by the year-long consequence of my decision yesterday, I think I did.

The good news is, I got a new car attached to that car loan… and not a moment too soon. The old Ford died as I pulled into the dealership… I had to push it into a parking spot with the help of the lady that sold me my Toyota Tacoma (with twice as many miles and only one problem in seven years), and the Toyota Matrix that we would still be driving if it would fit 7 people. This time, she sold me a Nissan NVP. Yes. We are back to having an all Japanese fleet again!

Is it an SUV? Is it a van?

Is it an SUV? Is it a van?

It's a box on wheels.

It’s a box on wheels.

What Darth will see at least twice a day from now on.

What Darth will see at least 45 minutes a day… This is her spot.

Slidey door view... for the tight parking spots we have to put these whales in, it's nice to have a slidey door.

Slidey door view… for the tight parking spots we have to put these whale-sized cars in, it’s nice to have a slidey door.

The piece of mind of having two reliable cars is nice, and the kids are fans. They told me they named it this evening. It is “Jerry” named after their favorite cartoon rat. They also told me it was married to my pickup which does have a lady’s name: Molly.  That’s good… the two of them will be spending the next ten years together in wedded bliss in our driveway if I can keep these plans! We’ll see.

At the dinnermesa,

Ty

Full House…

(Tyler Blog)

In cards, a “full house” is when you have three of a kind and a pair, and you usually go all in. In real life, a “full house” is when you have three boys and a pair of girls, and you wonder how you will go all in! Seriously, if you count the dogs, we have 10 living things in about 1300 square feet of space! I think Bob Saget had a better ratio.

We bought our house in April of 2007, well before we ever entertained the idea of adopting, much less adopting five kids. We did it in a bit of a rush as Beth was working a ton and I was busy splitting my time between my doctorate and work too, but we found a neat little place in the DFW area in a bunch of streets named after Monopoly streets. I often joked about buying all the houses and putting up a hotel. Beth moved in, and I stayed with my folks until we got married that November. Let me pause right here and say it’s a tad frustrating being a first-time home buyer in 2007 when you hear about a first-time home buyer tax credit for people purchasing in 2008! Oh well. You win some, you lose a lot!

Our first house

Our first house

Nonetheless, Beth had a bed, a TV tray, and a futon pillow. That was about it. We used to think, “How will we ever fill this massive house?” Little by little, our spartan walls and floor-space morphed into a pretty comfortable place to be for two people. Some friends from church gave us their old bed and dresser in 2008 (which we still have, even though the mattress tag says it was manufactured in 1982! I was manufactured just two years earlier). In 2009, we splurged and spent our income tax return getting a sectional and a recliner for the living room. It was our first and only new store-bought furniture, and we were so excited, we slept on the sofa for a week straight. By 2010, because interest rates had gotten so low, we refinanced from a 30-year loan to a 15-year loan for almost the same price (That’s the “you win some” part). By US standards, it wasn’t much, but we filled it with love and we have tried to bless as many people as we can with it. When 2011 came around, I discovered that by non-US standards, this place was a mansion as I saw how people lived in a very poor part of Peru on a mission trip. This trip also broke my heart for South America, which is why in 2012, five Colombians were able to call this little house their home too. Now, in 2013, I sit and wonder, “how did this place fill up so fast?”

Habitación de las Niñas

Habitación de las Niñas

Habitación de las Niños

Habitación de los Niños

The living room... and dining room... and kitchen.

The living room… and dining room… and kitchen.

So, for the past six months, all 10 of us have been living here. It isn’t too bad, and I know guys on submarines have it worse, but we started thinking about buying a bigger house. We contacted a realtor and a mortgage company to see what the real estate business is like since we’ve been out of the game for 6 years. Good news! Rates are low and prices are down, but we needed to act fast because these incredible deals won’t last long!

Our vision started out small. I thought about how nice it would be to get to my sock drawer in the closet without having to move the vacuum right in front of it. Beth imagined having a laundry room where we wouldn’t have to stack the washer and dryer and turn them sideways to get them to fit. We started thinking about having a nice big common room for our kids to play. We thought about possibly getting four bedrooms so we would only have to double-up instead of triple-up like we are doing now. We also considered possibly having a pool and/or some acreage for our kids to enjoy. I wanted to have a bigger garage or a storage building for tools and hobbies.

After doing some homework, researching the area, and looking into financing, we got the dollar-figure that we would have to pay a month to make it happen. It was bigger than I was expecting, but it wasn’t out of the realm of what we could handle. So we started to pray, seeking God’s wisdom, and we stacked up pros and cons…

Pros:

1. We have more space to spread out and we can have all that junk I said in paragraph 5.

2. We get a good interest rate since they are still super low right now.

3. We can buy a bigger place right now because housing prices are still depressed from a few years ago.

4. We can bless others by having parties, family events, and dinner guests at our house, more so than we can now.

Cons:

1. We would take longer to pay off our adoption debt, which, right now, we are planning to have cleaned up by this time next year.

2. The extra jobs we are working right now would no longer be for extra money to dump on our adoption debt but money that we would absolutely need to survive.

3. We wouldn’t have extra money to give to others to help them out.

4. Our marriage and family would be under more financial stress.

5. We would have to say no to vacations, trips to the museum, and other fun things that come up.

I remember thinking, “If we didn’t have to tithe…” NO! Stop! Pare (because we speak Spanish now)! You idiot! When I started rolling around thoughts of stealing from God in order to satisfy my will, I realized that I was on a dangerous path. I also looked at my pro and con list. All of my pros, with the exception of #4 are self-serving. Also, almost every con will make it harder to serve my Lord and Savior (which isn’t me).

We prayed for wisdom, and God answered, even though it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. So, after all that, it looks like our little place in Texas will be our little place in Texas a while longer. Don’t get me wrong, at some point we will move and get a bigger place, but God made it clear to me that now was not the right time. Maybe in a year or two, but for now, I need to be patient and, most of all, content.

I learned some stuff through this process. God calls us to balance stewardship with faith in every aspect of our lives, and certainly, our money is one of those areas. However, the thing that hit me was, I rarely think He wants us to step out on faith when it is satisfying our will and not His. Also, I’ve learned over the past few months, when you are close to your family, you get close to your family. Our kids need to be close to their forever mom and dad right now. They don’t need a few more square feet.

Our culture here in the US tells us that we need the biggest house we can get, especially when you have so many kids. Our culture also says that adopting five kids, all at once, without ever being a parent before is crazy too. We followed God’s will on that one, and it has been incredible. We’ll just see what He’ll do with this one!

This house is little, but it will always be the place we first called home… and as for me and this little house, we will serve the Lord!

At the dinnermesa,

Ty

What you can do/what you did…

I have some incredible creative & thoughtful friends; this blog is a long time coming.  If you have friends adopting or going through some big life changes I hope that you are inspired to help them too.

Here are some of the ways that we were blessed…

First they cleaned out our kitchen & pantry, thank goodness! 2009 expired mustard, it wouldn’t be so bad if they hadn’t had to throw away 4 of them. Whoops!

Before we left we bought a freezer & Tyler built a huge pantry…they were completely empty.

Then our friends showed up all smiles & got to work (this is after cleaning & organizing our kitchen)

Then they cooked & cooked & cooked…

And baked. Until the freezers were FULL & then went shopping until the pantry was FULL!

They washed & put away all of our kid’s clothes.

Sheets were washed.

Beds were made.

They left us encouraging notes around the house.

Helped us finish projects around the house.

Some things not pictured:

  • Put carseats in the van
  • They made “family rules” posters & translated them into Spanish w/pictures
  • Painted our bedroom
  • Cleaned our house & filled it with fresh flowers
  • Labeled every room in the house in English & Spanish
  • Set up baby gates & child-proofed our house to help the kids learn boundaries
  • Lined up meals for us for 2 months
  • Stocked our refrigerator hours before we landed
  • Organized all the donated clothing, toys, etc in the attic
  • Then they checked on us a LOT, & they still do!!

Please know that this did not take much money but it did take a lot of time.  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:34”  Where is your treasure, are you investing it in others?  Are you allowing others to invest it in you?  We were leaving in 5 days & I was talking with a good friend telling here all about my “to-do list” & she finally took it away from me & told me you focus on your kids, your family & friends will take care of the rest.  Pride was out the window, the realization that none of this happened or would work-out because of something I did.  Find the time to invest & help others, not because of what it can do for you but because of what it can do for them…if you are a Christian this is a command:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

The beautiful gift of time.  To bond & attach with our children, to help with homework, to love on them.  When big brother first came home he didn’t even know all of his letters & now he is very close to reading!!

At the dinnermesa,

Beth

The rooms…

For our dossier we had to include pictures of the kid’s rooms.  After a few weeks of hard work & help from friends:

Schraml family came over for dinner & helped set up the bunk beds they gave us

this is what we have so far…

The boy’s room:

The girl’s room:

And the to-do-list…

So many things, so little checked off…

I’ll keep you posted as projects come off of the to-do list; thankful we have enough to do to keep us busy while we wait “patiently” for the kids!  During this season of waiting this song keeps me company, hope it gives you a smile too:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBTWF1bDPn0

At the dinnermesa,

Beth

It takes a village…

5 beds, 5 mattresses needed.  On facebook I posted  “In the market for 3-4 twin mattresses ASAP any suggestions of great places to get them?”  Within the day we had 5 mattresses donated for all of the kids!

Here are just a few of the members of our village that participated in the “Great Mattress Round-Up of 2012″…

First stop was a pick up from Tina’s house.  Tina was my Sunday school teacher/mentor/role model from 4th grade-always!!  She is beautifully loyal to her family & teaches everyone she comes in contact with how to care about & love one another.  Can’t wait for the kids to be able to meet her!!

Tina & Delani!

The second stop was to our friend Kathy.  Kathy is a mom of 3 boys, she is smart, dependable & honest!  We got to be roommates last year at youth camp & I have never seen a better attitude on someone after chasing teens all day in 100+ degree weather!!  I will definitely be calling her daily for advice when the kids arrive!

Kathy!

Last stop was the Jessica and Jordan.  Jessica & Jordan have two precious kids & they are excited about their new friends coming home from Colombia!  Great having friends who are constantly encouraging us through their family &  teaching their kids about adoption.

Jessica and her kids!

Also we got a new member to our village this past week…

Introducing our precious niece!

Sweet baby girl!

She is gorgeous & we already love her a ridiculous amount!!

At the dinnermesa,

Beth