Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Name Game

Okay, I'm late on posting this, as it's from Christmas, but it was so fun it's worth sharing. :)  My sweet baby brother (does 22 still count as baby?!) was playing with unifix cubes with Dean - and Dean absolutely LOVES letters and names.  Once Matthew had made one name, everyone else wanted theirs done too. The kids think the name collage hanging up in the kitchen is pretty great. Look how well each photo showcases their personalities:

 A total camera hog, Taylor loves "fashion" and an photo opportunity.

 Dean is not a fan of sitting still for the camera.  If I can coax him to show his face and smile he'll still find a way to move a mile a minute (notice those legs?).

 Sweet Julia - barefoot sock-hater, insisted on several snapshots of different positions and smiles.

 10 month old Bruce - oblivious because there was candy on the floor.
 Dean has gotten really into holding Bruce and being a big brother!

 Getting closer to a winning photo...
 ...AND done!
 My hubby is a quiet kind of hilarious and will totally surprise you sometimes.  Here's his solution to fitting the tallest body into a photo with the shortest name!

And characteristic of myself: trying to avoid being in a photo at all (not a fan of seeing how unattractive I am). I eventually cooperated to make Dean happy.

Our Foreclosure Journey: Part 3 - Sherrif's Sale- Peace or Panic?

Thursday was the Sheriff's Sale.  At 10:30 am on Thursday I was far too busy with Dean's surgery to allow myself to be concerned with the reality of losing my home.  My 5 year old was having a colonoscopy and endoscopy (due to lifelong ongoing medical issues).  The bowel prep for a child who is not fully toilet trained (has never pooped in a toilet) is messy.  Really messy. And smelly. Oh, and keeping that kid from solid foods required constant supervision; he is one sneaky little dude.

Wednesday was already a really busy day (therapies for the kids, therapist for me, eating disorder clinic for Julia, our first day with PCAs) and I managed to be sick also.

By 10:30 am on Thursday (the time of our Sheriff's Sale) I had already been awake since 4 am, carried my 5 year old, his bag of to-dos, his weighted blanket, and my diaper bag into the hospital room, forced meds down his throat, was kicked in the face while attempting to put his hospital gown on, and helped hold him down while the anesthesiologist started an IV (family history of MR - cannot use the gas anesthesia).  I'd downed 2 Red Bulls in a poor effort to stay awake (no wonder I get sick), ran into a friend in the cafeteria and heard her heartbreaking news, colored several rainbow pictures with Dean, and was awaiting his return to the post-op room.

I was home for only long enough to get all the kids fed and squeeze in some schoolwork with the 4 girls (we've now got some co-homeschooling going on, which has been really fun) before the district special ed team arrived for Bruce's more complete eval.  He's a smart little guy but will be getting some services for speech (no words, no babbling, but he has a great laugh), sensory and behavioral issues.  Which is good, I guess, but I'm getting a bit stressed out by life's many appointments.

[Here's Bruce at the Neurologist kissing the bumblebee chair. He gave it some hugs too. He gives the best hugs!]

The Neurologist Clinic called and can get Julia in the next day. Turns out, after a somewhat traumatic EEG, that neurologically she looks fine.  No abnormal brain activity!!! No appearance of seizures - Praise God! Despite gaining some weight after a couple months of treatment at an eating disorder clinic, her little body is struggling. Her blood pressure is low, bilirubin is high, she lost 2 of the 5 lbs she had gained, is very dehydrated, and has been having abnormal EKG results.

Her team at Melrose feels she should switch to inpatient care despite gaining weight.  We have a family vacation planned in less than 2 weeks and her doctor agreed to wait and reevaluate when we return. 
 [Bruce loves the scale in the exam room. He also has decided he loves to smile for the camera now.] 

There are far too many things competing for space in my head that I don't have much room for the whole foreclosure thing...

Friday I begin to feel peace - maybe now the worst part is over? It's official? We can begin to prayerfully seek new housing and walk away from this home that is falling apart untraumatized and debt-free? What is this sudden panic that consumes me? Scripture tells me not to worry about such things but in my humanity I am afraid.  Where will we live? Will our credit be so destroyed by this that we are unable to rent a safe home for a fair price? How much debt will we walk away with?

I thought we had done a pretty good job of researching all our options and discussing what a foreclosure realistically meant for our financial lives beforehand.  I was wrong.  There have been no shortage of solicitations since the Advertisment was published. The calls and letters will only become more aggressive now that we are officially in our redemption period.

But today's call threw me a curveball. That stinkin 2nd mortgage, our home equity line of credit, owned by the same credit union as our first mortgage. (We had done an 80/20 loan 10 years ago to avoid PMI costs.) It would not disappear like we thought it would.  It is not included in the foreclosure, the home was purchased by our bank at auction for exactly what we owe on the FIRST mortgage. I did not realize that the bank could sell our home for well above that auction price, pocket the $40k equity as profit, AND sue us for the $46,000 plus fees due on the HELOC.  No wonder they refused to do a short sale or deed in leiu.  No wonder they advised us to "let it go."

What comes next? Do we try to sell our (broken, messy, very busy) home? We cannot afford realtor fees and there is no realistic way we can be "showing" clean - nor do I see homeschooling & all other commitments being accomplished if we are constantly being kicked out of our house. On any given day, we can have 4 adults, 6 kids, and 7 animals creating chaos here. Will we owe this money on the 2nd mortgage and have our wages garnished? Will it be possible to rent with our credit now tarnished and debt looming over us?

How do I even begin to find the time, in this very busy life, to do research, make phone calls, meet with various industry experts?!

So I am finding myself consumed by new panic.  Those sickness-inducing worries about money flood back in an instant.  Despite how majorly sleep-deprived I am, I cannot sleep. Of course. Dan & I have spent the better part of 13 years burdened by the stress of money - of simply surviving, meeting our needs, and paying for medical needs when there is not enough money.  We did not live paycheck to paycheck - we always lived about 2 weeks behind. Petrified what will happen if we drop the balls we are juggling.

Dan works hard. 60 to 80 hours a week of manual labor - despite shoulder and back problems.  I am overwhelmed caring for a house full of special needs children. We can neither cut back much more nor bring in any more.  We are not lazy. Yet here we are - consumed by the same financial fears we have faced for so long.  There was a brief moment of peace and relief as we decided to walk away and let the home go, but the panic is back now.

I'd love to tell you I am handling it all with grace and strength, but since I've taken off my cape and am revealing bare naked emotion here, I will go ahead and admit I'm feeling anxious and fearful. I am so grateful I can come to God just as I am, that He will meet me precisely where I am at.

1 John 5:14 - "And this is the confidence we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us."  -- God hears my prayers!! He IS listening. 

In my quiet time (it is now 3 am on Saturday morning - truly my only actual quiet time) I reflect on Philippians 4:6-7: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ."

Worry and panic take my focus off of God and His promises.  They rob me of deep trust in Him and a closeness that comes from that trust.  I know I can cast my cares upon Him because He cares for me (1 Peter 5:7)!

Hebrews 13:5 assures me that He will be by my side: "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."  While my anxiety is not so much the result of the love of money it does have to do with fear of not having enough.

So for today, I choose peace.  I'm not totally there yet, but fake it till you make it, right? 

A Very Hungry Caterpillar Themed 1st Birthday Party

Planning a party for Bruce's First and Dean's Fifth Birthdays was a wonderful distraction from all the daily stressors.  I love a good party with a fun theme - and an excuse to get a little creative!  We could all use a bit of fun around here!

I'm a fan of coupons, DIY, being thrifty, and snagging a good deal.  I cashed in a ton of Huggies Rewards Points for a $75 Amazon gift card and snagged some great party decorations, got coupons from Recycle Bank for $14 savings on the food items from my local grocery store, and was able to use Shutterfly coupon codes to order free Thank You cards, address labels, and photos I used to decorate a wall for the party.

I made these fun invitations on Picmonkey by using photos Meagan took at Bruce's 1 year photo shoot & clip art I found on a blog.  Bruce was the main focus of the invite in part because it was his FIRST birthday (and that makes him the star) and also because Dean isn't a big fan of cooperating for the camera. I chose to order 5x7 photos from Costco to send out, but I did get a 4x6 out of curiosity and that actually looked just fine, if you're looking to minimize costs even more.

 Decorations were easy - the butterfly garland I got with the Amazon gift card - it's "Eric Carle" brand. Balloons and streamers from Target were a great cheap decoration and we got a few helium balloons from the dollar store to tie to the mailbox & add color to the living room.

I took our usual framed photos off one of our living room walls to make space for photo caterpillars.  I taped photos from each monthly picture of Bruce & his giraffe on the wall, with the age written in green circles. For Dean I found a few from each year and made another caterpillar for him as well.  A bit of red & purple cardstock for the head completed the look. I saw this idea on Pinterest and those photo-caterpillars were way cuter than mine (but the subjects of my photos are cuter than anything out there!).  I also added some of my favorite pictures from Bruce's One Year Photo Shoot to the wall.

We had a display on the piano of each of the boys' baby books (yes, each of my kids gets 2 so I can give them one when they graduate/get married/something like that) and their Shutterfly birth - 2 weeks album. 

I snagged this adorable little caterpillar at my local Half Price Books (and used a $5 off coupon from Recycle Bank plus my educator discount).  A few Sharpies in a mason jar (plus a sign my daughter made) sat beside it.  All the guests signed the body & it makes an adorable keepsake in the boys' bedroom!

Rainbow cupcakes - no, we didn't NEED more cake, and no, they aren't Very Hungry Caterpillar themed, but the colors did match nicely, and since it was Dean's party as well, I made these for him.  Dean is OBSESSED with rainbows. He chose funfetti cake - so I used a box mix.  Homemade buttercream frosting tinted blue and piped on, with mini marshmallows and Airheads Extreme for the rainbows.  Mine weren't as pretty as the ones on the cover of All You Magazine, but Dean was thrilled. 

This is the fat caterpillar at the end of the book. :) Bruce has many food allergies, so I made his smash cake (head of caterpillar) dairy-free. My very first foray into fondant - using homemade marshmallow fondant. This was simple cookie cutter letters - and with the leftover fondant my daughter made "confetti" circles to decorate the tray.

Costco cake - just in case there wasn't enough cupcakes, or mine were an epic fail.  $17 for a half sheet of chocolate with chocolate buttercream -sooo good!

Despite never having had cake, Bruce seemed to know it was worth diving face-first into!

Bruce insists on using a fork or spoon every time he eats! This had to be the LEAST messy a toddler has ever been with a cake! #lovethiskid

This was my first foray into piping frosting onto cookies - they turned out pretty good for a first try.  Julia (my oldest daughter) and I made no-chill sugar cookies. Way unhealthy, using a boatload of butter, but sooo yummy and very easy to roll out and work with the cookie cutters.

Royal icing was a simple powdered sugar and water combo - thick for outlining the edges, then a bit more water added to thin the frosting a bit to fill in the rest of the cookie.  I used Wilton gel colors to tint the frosting and piping bags with different size tips to frost the cookies.  It did take a looong time to make 4 dozen cookies though, so these were a true labor of love.  (Gave me a great excuse to binge watch Sherlock!)


The Hungry Caterpillar only ate through ONE lollipop and that just won't do for a party full of little kiddos, so I made this fun centerpiece to add a splash of color and ensure enough suckers for everyone.  I used that Amazon gift card to order suckers and gumballs.  These fruit gumballs are so fun - they taste just like the fruit they are shaped as and have little sprinkle seedlings inside.  I filled a glass vase with the gumballs, stuffed all the suckers into a styrofoam ball and placed that on the vase.  Then I added one larger, fancy schmancy lollipop and a label.  Total hit with the kids.  

 These candy-coated marshmallow caterpillars did not turn out entirely like I had imagined in my head, but then again I was in a total time crunch from a too-long to-do list. I did learn that Kraft jumbo marshmallows shoved on the skewer held up much better than the store brand ones.  I just dipped them in melted candy coating - they probably would have looked a bit nicer if I dried them upright in a styrofoam block a la cake pops.  The chewy Sprees in the vase were a BIG hit - even the grown ups were devouring them by the handfull!

I filled 2 tables with food, here's a shot my daughter took of the work in progress.

Rainbow Jello for Dean.  He was soooo excited about the rainbow and clouds (Cool Whip on one, none on the other for Brucie, me, and any else who is dairy-free - hey, that rhymes) AND it was actually really good. Then again, I'm a Jello fan.

Those deviled eggs back there have a sign "A tiny egg lay on a green leaf" because that darned caterpillar did not eat enough regular food and I had to get creative.

LOVED the Trix bars! They were cheap and easy to make, added a pop of  color (they totally match the decor, right?!), tasted better than rice crispy bars, AND Bruce could eat them (he's allergic to rice).  I am especially proud of the "chocolate cake" my hubby made.  We already had a cake and 2 types of cupcakes, so I opted for brownies with frosting and cherries on top.  They were super cute.

Pickles, cheese, sausage and salami, crackers, watermelon, apples, oranges, strawberries, sub sandwiches with fixings, and yogurt covered raisins (egg on a leaf - my daughter was proud of how clever that was and I HAD to encourage her creativity on that one).  The punch dispenser was labeled "butterfly nectar" while rainbow barrels of juice were called "bug juice."

The chicken caesar salad was Sunday's "one green leaf."

Julia made signs for all the "stations" around the house (which was very sweet).  In Dean's room we had party hats, paper lunch sacks, clip art from the book printed out, stickers, glue, tape, markers, and glitter.  Guests could decorate a party hat and a goodie bag.

Bubbles with a caterpillar label taped on, stickers, lollipops, Chewy Lemon Heads (fruit shaped!), mini color books,
fruit scented markers, glitter glue, and glow balls and "caterpillar" fidgets.

One of the Birthday Boys! Dean has very minimal experience with parties and I was impressed he held up as long as he did.  Towards the end he was walking up to people and asking them to leave his house! Sensory overload perhaps?! :)

Forgive the awful quality of the photos -- I forgot to take photos before the party, so these are shots of the aftermath taken by my 12 year old.  And yes, my cat IS that fat. We had a few activities set up in the basement: egg carton caterpillar making, coloring sheets, and colorful necklaces made with Fruit Loops and colored pasta.

Photo Credit: Meagan Wanschura

What a blessing this past year has been!