Tuesday, March 31, 2015

happy 50th ...

...to my hero !!!

My handsome husband turns the big five-oh today :) I'm in the throes of party prep (which just means wrapping presents and getting our family ready to head out the door for a special surprise something we have planned) ... so this is just a drive-by post. We celebrated a little this morning with donuts and a card, promising him fun tonight ... meanwhile my two chief bakers have been busily whipping up some marvelous cakes ... it's going to be a spectacular time honoring the Chief Dude of The Rice Ranch !!

Pictures to come, but in the mean time ....

... this is just a little plug for my online Scentsy store, featuring a variety of fragrance products, such as laundry soap, perfumes, body butters, warmers and scent bars, car scent disks, and more.

If you would like to help a wonderful family in need, go shop from The Alvarez Basket Party  (simply click on that party when you visit my Scentsy Store to shop)- all proceeds from the party are going to friends of ours who are facing some great medical costs. Lee Alvarez has been waiting for a kidney and pancreas transplant since last fall ... this Scentsy party is to help Lee and his wife Belinda with medical and living expenses, as Lee has not been able to work since his health deteriorated last year. Thank you ahead of time for any orders placed- I so hope we can bless Lee and Belinda as they go through this difficult time.

I'll be back soon with party pics and some sweet news about an orphan I blogged about several years ago.

Until then ...

Happy 50th Birthday, Sammy !!!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

His eye is on the ladybug

A few days ago I had a revelation from the Lord.

Now I'm not normally one of these people who walks around "hearing" from God on a regular basis.

Have you talked to people like that before ? It's ... unusual ... to me when I hear some people say that they have daily ongoing conversations with the Lord.

I don't mean the kind where you pour your heart out in prayer, and you feel like God is giving you a scripture verse to think about, or that He whispers something to your soul.

I'm talking about people who have elaborate conversations with God, the kind they can replay for you in precise detail days or even weeks later.

We watched a Sunday School video series at church years ago, and the gentleman speaking did just that : he was talking about financial direction, and he recounted word for word several lengthy dialogues he (supposedly) had in the past with God. And he recounted them verbatim. And the cynic in me thought- I can't even tell you verbatim what my husband and I discussed yesterday, let alone three months ago.

And right now I am having a total deja vu moment, so if I've blogged in the past about my cynical mind while watching Sunday School videos at church, please forgive me.

Anyhoot, my point is this : I am a natural mocker and skeptic and cynic, and that may or may not have anything to do with the fact that I don't go around having daily, lengthy, specific, detailed conversations with the Lord. Don't get me wrong- I have a personal, living, vibrant relationship with Jesus. But our communication for the most part, takes place in the form of prayer (me speaking to Him) and Bible reading (God speaking to me through His word.)


A few days ago I had a revelation from the Lord :)

(Don't you just love how I poked fun at someone else for saying basically the same thing, but when I declare I've heard from the Lord, it's the real thing?? Lord, forgive me if I mistakenly judged others who really did hear from you, even if they sounded like they were making the whole thing up just to be sensational.)

Sooooo ... are you just on the edge of your seat right now, wondering what that heavy revvy (church slang here) was ??

Scroll down for my heavy revelation ...

Keep scrolling ....

Here it comes .....

Wait for it .......

God sees it all .

I know.


But really ... God sees it all .

I snapped this photo of Hayden in our backyard last week, observing a "wady-bug." (iPhone pics only on the blog today, so excuse the grainy quality. Oh, who am I kidding that's the only kind of pictures I post anymore - no apologies !) There is a little family of ladybugs making their home in our yard, and he had just discovered them a few days before...

He was climbing up and down the stairs outside and babbling on and on in his adorable toddler voice about the birdies (what birdies doing', Mama ?) and the neighborhood cat (what Butters doing', Mama?) when suddenly he squatted down and stared intensely at something on the ground.

I got down on his level and looked in the dirt for what it was that was captivating his attention, and instantly I saw it- a tiny, perfect little ladybug. She (are there he ladybugs?) was crawling around minding her own business, spreading her wings a few times, and then deciding to stay on the ground instead ....and Hayden was fixated on her. He gasped in surprise when she moved, he covered his mouth in disbelief and whispered OHHH, he pointed to her in sheer amazement. There was such an awe-filled reverence in his voice and on his chubby little face. Pictures don't do it justice.

But a video might :)

Fast forward to a few days later, when I was standing in my kitchen washing dishes. Readers, allow me a moment of brutal honesty here ? I was doing more than washing dishes... I was sobbing my eyes out, having a first class Pity Party with a capitol P.

My husband and Mackenzie left last Tuesday for a five day father/daughter trip to San Fransisco. This trip was planned a month ago, and they were meeting my husband's brother halfway through it for his birthday. Jason and Naomi and their children were there on spring break as well, and they all met up for some lunch and sightseeing in downtown San Fransisco. Hayden and Lily do not do well on long road trips, so Sam and I have (since my meltdown !!) planned a getaway for the four of us in May.... Hayden is still nursing (don't judge !) and Lily requires 24/7 care, something that is a little bit past the pay grade of my older children at this point. So while we do have something for the future planned... I didn't have anything on my radar that day.

I was feeling overworked (did I mention that we were hosting potty training camp while daddy was gone??) and underpaid (unless you count the secret stash of Girl Scout cookies hidden in my bedroom closet for such a time as this) and a week of single-parenting was wearing on me.

And in the spirit of "brutally honest" I'm going to make a statement here. I'm sure there will be some real single parents who protest that I know nothing about being one, but I'm willing to bet there are about 50 others who will give me a hearty amen.

But here it is : when you are married to a working pastor ... meaning my husband works a regular 40-hour-a-week secular (paying) job and is a full-time (non-paid) pastor as well ... you might feel like a single mom on any given day.

I am NOT saying this to complain or grumble, I am NOT saying this to exaggerate, and I am NOT saying this for sympathy. I am simply stating a fact : life as the wife of a working pastor can be a struggle.

There are days ... many days ... where I feel like I cannot possibly juggle it all. I wear many hats - chef, taxi-driver, maid, parent, teacher, friend, sister, daughter, pastor's wife, confidante, nurse, counselor (kids only !!), laundry lady, personal shopper (lol) , potty-trainer (?!?!?!?) and I often feel that I don't wear any of them well. Sure, I can put any of those hats on for a few moments and try to give my attention to being the best possible - insert title here - that I can possibly be. But most days I feel like I am stretched to my limit.

speaking of hats ;)

For instance ...

I might wake up one morning and decide that today I am Master Chef Mom, and my family is going to have only the healthiest of meals, the organic-ist of vegetables, the best and most balanced menu I can possibly give them (on a budget of course) ....

... and suddenly Children A, B and C are in desperate need of Taxi Driver Mom. Which would be me.

And at the same time that they decide they need to be in three different places at once, Sister So-and-So from church calls and asks if she can get a lift to her doctor's appointment - because she forgot to plan ahead and take the bus (lots of needy folks we meet in the ministry!)

So we head out the door (shelving Teacher Mom for a few hours, because doctor's appointments and work schedules don't always coincide nicely with homeschool hours), only to discover that Child H is puking violently, and needing Nurse Mommy to run back inside and hold her head over the toilet.

Ten minutes later, puked-on floors mopped up, and Child H placed in the tender care of Child E, Daddy calls and says he "forgot to bring his church shirt to work with him today, and would Laundry Mom be able to touch it up and make sure it gets to church tonight ?" (it's a Wednesday, when we have our midweek service). Laundry Mom makes a mental note (which will be stored and forgotten until five minutes after pulling out of our neighborhood when we are headed to church) to iron Daddy's shirt, and proceeds to shuttle children and sister-so-and-so to appointments, work and the doctor, hopefully all in the correct order.

Later on, Teacher Mommy returns home and frantically answers algebra, world history and English questions (why DO we diagram sentences these days anyway ?? Has ANYONE actually used that stuff in real life???).

Shortly afterwards, Maid Mommy looks at the morning dishes and realizes Children A, B and C did not do their chores before they were deposited at their various locations. Maid Mommy makes a mental note (filed right next to the one about touching up Daddy's shirt for church) to address this forgotten chore with her children when they return home later on today... but in the meantime Children E, F and G need lunch, and Child H is still puking on the couch.

At this point Master Chef Mommy decides that she can't possibly make it to the grocery store this afternoon - not if she is going to get Children H and I down for a nap and go retrieve Sister-so-and-so from the doctor in time. Take and Bake pizzas sound like the only reasonable solution at this point, even though Master Chef/Dietician Mommy is cringing on the inside and kicking herself for not planning ahead. (Except that Monday and Tuesday looked an awful lot like today, and that trip to Whole Foods keeps getting delayed for yet another day.)

I could go on and on ... but you get the point. And of course I've left out the late-night Counselor/Mommy sessions (teenagers always seem to schedule these things directly after everyone else has gone to bed) and Potty Training Mommy, who has donned that hat nine times over the years, and is just this week wading into those (pee filled) waters once again.

But this blogpost is getting long, so I will reiterate my earlier point : motherhood can be a struggle.

I don't care if you are a single mommy, a working mommy, a stay-at-home mommy, a married mommy, a Mommy of One or a Mommy of Many : motherhood can be a struggle.

It is at this point that I take you back to our scene : Burnt Out Mommy, tearfully pouring out her woes to God over a sink of dirty dishes.

And it was right in the middle of that Pity Party, with all of my imaginary "hats" lying scattered across our peed-on, puked-on, toy-strewn kitchen floor, that I had my revelation.

God sees it all.

And the funny thing was - I didn't even get that revelation for myself.

As I was crying and scrubbing and drowning in my own sorrows, I suddenly had the most intense feeling that I needed to text a friend across the country (who shall remain nameless- but you know who you are ;)) and tell her the following :

God sees you.

He sees your heart to serve others and your sacrifice and the long hours you serve as a mommy when nobody notices. 

He sees the fact that you never get a break or a vacation and that you feel alone and that some days you just wonder how you can make it through another day.

He sees all that you have endured and He sees the times you've cried that nobody else sees. 

And He is a faithful rewarder and one day it will all be worth it.

He  sees it all.

And suddenly God spoke to my heart - He really did- and said: those words are for you as well.

I didn't hear an audible voice, and there wasn't a bolt of lightning or a rainbow over my sink-ful of dirty dishes, and a hallelujah chorus didn't suddenly, miraculously fill the air ...

But I knew I had just heard from Heaven.

Just like that earlier moment, when my 22 month old golden haired little boy stared in amazement and wonder, past the dirt and weeds, and he beheld that beautiful little ladybug ... God sees it all.

However insignificant I may feel, however many hats I drop and people I fail, whatever my emotions and brainstorms and crises and disappointments, through the trials and the tears and the heartache and the self-loathing and the Pity Parties, through ALL OF IT -

God sees it all.

And He sees me.

But this wasn't really just my revelation, was it ? It's a revelation from the heart of God, revealed to the ancients long ago.

"From his throne he observes all who live on the earth. He made their hearts, so he understands everything they do." ~ Psalm 33: 14,15

His eye is on the sparrow, don't you know ? And the ladybug as well.

And how about you, dear blog reader ?

Are you struggling like me ?

Do you have moments or days, or even SEASONS where you feel alone and unappreciated and maybe even a little abandoned ? Are you struggling to keep a good attitude, juggling a kajillion hats and watching helplessly as they all fall to the pee-soaked floor ? :) Are you crying over your proverbial sink of dirty dishes and asking yourself if anybody even cares ?

God sees you.

He sees you and He cares, and He is just waiting for you to "cast your cares upon Him, for HE careth for you" (1 Peter 5:7).

His eye is on the sparrow, and the ladybug, and the mama crying at the kitchen sink ...

God sees it all.

If you don't know the love of that all-seeing and merciful and loving Savior, stop what you're doing this minute- and run into His arms. Pour out your sins and you cares and your burdens to Him, and He will give you rest. 

And after all of that .... .... DITCH all of those wearisome hats for a day and hand the reigns over to someone else . . .

.... SHOPPER MOMMY is stepping OUT !!! 


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

We're baaaack !!

I can't believe it's been two weeks since I last posted ... it's been BUSY here to say the least.

March is birthday month at The Rice Ranch, with seven of us turning another year older in our immediate family, as well as: my mom, brother, two nieces and nephew, Sam's two brothers, and my daughter-in-love.

It's just one big party here, the whole month long. Like Christmas, without the caroling and cookies and candy canes. Well, and without the lights and Christmas plays and gingerbread houses and reindeer either.

But other than that it's exactly the same.

So if you don't see me a whole lot for the rest of the month here on the blog ... you can find me buried in a corner under streamers, cake, confetti, and crumpled up wrapping paper. And I'll probably have a child or two climbing on top of me and asking for dinner, so feel free to send chocolate if you missed my birthday on the second ;)

Meanwhile, please enjoy a little Oregon loveliness via pictures, and make sure to scroll through all the way to the end to read about another little party I'm hosting this month ....

Y'all knew I could not do a blogpost without sleeping babies in it, didn't you ??

Okay, now for the fun stuff...

This month I'm hosting a Scentsy party in my own online Scentsy store to benefit friends of ours in Redding, California who attend a church in our fellowship.

Lee Alvarez is on a waiting list for a kidney and pancreas transplant. His wife Belinda is the sweetest mama ever, and has been trying to make ends meet while Lee has been unable to work. I know many readers here attend one of the churches in our fellowship, so this is really aimed at anyone who knows Lee and Belinda and would like to bless them financially.

However, the Alvarez Basket Party is now open to anyone who loves Scentsy, even if you don't know this dear family personally. Simply click on Alvarez Basket Party and place an order for your Scentsy products there ... all proceeds from now through the end of March will go directly to Lee and Belinda.

Scentsy offers a wide variety of fabulous products including shower gels, laundry soap, room sprays, warmers and scent bars to fill your home with amazing aromas. I have Scentsy warmers and plug-ins in every room in my house ... some of my favorite scents are Sugar, Luna, Black Raspberry Vanilla and Yuzu Dragon ...

...feel free to email me with any questions about Scentsy products, and thank you ahead of time to all
who place an order from my Alvarez Basket Party to benefit Lee and Belinda Alvarez !!

Happy Spring :)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I was born to do this

What I'm about to share is something I posted on Instagram just a few short minutes ago. Admittedly, I texted my husband and a few close friends with the words "the day I blew up my IG account.

I was shaking a little as I hit "post" when my daughter Abigail walked in the room... "Why are you shaking ??" she asked with a worried look in her eyes.

The truth is, I do not like confrontation. Ask my friends. I am the last person on the planet to look someone squarely in the eye and say "this is not okay." If Sam has been known by some of our family members as "Confrontational Conrad", I should probably be called "Get Along Gertrude." I don't do controversy well.


Lily's t-shirt inspired me today.

So here we go. 

Someone directed me to an article on Yahoo the other day entitled "Why I Terminated My Pregnancy After Learning My Baby Had Down Syndrome." The article was filled with all kinds of matter-of-fact justifications for why someone chose to make the "difficult decision" to end her child's life.

If someone wants to explain that they are not comfortable with raising a child with challenges because to do so would be a burden to THEM, that's their choice. I don't agree with it and I will never agree with it, but it is their choice.

However – don't try to tell me that you were doing the "best thing for your child" by terminating their life. And don't try to justify your actions by saying that there is such a broad scope of functionality when it comes to people with Down syndrome – that not knowing where your unborn child would fall on that scope means your decision to end their life is reasonable. Or selfless. Let's be real.

"Typical" people have various levels of functionality. I know people with the "right amount of chromosomes" who struggle every day of their lives. So which one of them is not worthy of life? Which one of them should have been terminated ? Because after all, we don't want to burden them with such a heavy thing as life.

If I sound passionate – I am.

 Because I live every day with a little girl who is anything but a burden. Every single day I bear witness to the fact that different does not automatically mean difficult. And the longer we let others boldly proclaim that an unborn baby with Down syndrome was justifiably terminated, the longer my little girl faces a world that is hostile at worst and ignorant at best.

Any one of us at any point in our lives could become a burden to others. We have no guarantees. At what point do we stop saying that life is only valuable when it is not a (perceived) burden? When do we stop playing God and stop making ourselves the sole arbitrators of who is worthy of life and who is not?

I can't sit quietly by and listen to or read that message - that a baby with special needs is better off dead - and not lift my voice in protest. If that offends some, so be it.

Come look into my little girl's eyes and tell me she isn't worthy of life. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Bringing Harper Home

It's Tuesday morning, and I'm typing to the background music of a humming dryer, punctuated by bursts of giggles from my littlest ones.  Lily and Hayden spent Saturday and Sunday sick in bed, and yesterday they were still fighting whatever bug they had. Today they are fever free, and although I've wiped their noses at least fifty times since eight a.m., I am confident they are on the mend.

Several readers here, as well as friends on Instagram, have shared a recent news article with me. Have you read about the baby boy born with Down syndrome in Armenia? His mother was unwilling to keep him, and because his daddy refused to give him up, he has now been served divorce papers.

It's a tragic and beautiful story, all mixed into one - I'm not going to pass judgement on the mom, who must have been very misinformed about what life with Down syndrome looks like. She lives in a culture where giving up a child with special needs is a typical practice - babies with Down syndrome and other similar issues are often placed in institutions at birth.

So no judgement here, just sadness for what she missed out on- and praise for a dad who decided packing up everything and moving back to his homeland of New Zealand to raise his child alone was the best decision he could make for Baby Leo. And props to the THOUSANDS of kind hearted people who contributed to the Bringing Baby Leo Home go fund me account that was set up for him shortly before the story ran. My son Jason texted me the link to the article with the words "I donated to this dad!" and made this mama's heart swell ... I know how tight things are for Jason and Naomi as he works full time at the hospital while attending college to earn his nursing degree - I'm sure countless others set some personal needs aside to help this brave daddy raise his little boy alone.

Having said all that ... I just wish things could have been different for that little mommy in Armenia. 

Leo and his daddy will undoubtably be okay. They will face challenges together, just like any other family, special needs or not. But I'm sure the love that has already written their story will carry them through whatever they face - it already is.

And yet ... how different that story could have been .

I can't fully imagine what that mom is feeling right now. I'm sure there is a vast range of emotions she must be going through : loneliness, uncertainty, grief ... and I have to think that if fear was one of the main motivating factors in her decision to reject her baby, there must also now be some measure of relief.

There were probably many family members and medical staff encouraging her that an institution was the best place for her baby boy. And although no one who has carried a baby for nine months makes that decision lightly,  I'm sure that mother honestly felt she was "just doing the right thing."

And yet - I wonder.

I wonder if amidst all the swirling feelings and whispered encouragements and perhaps even prayers - if this mama feels something else ...

.... regret.

I wonder if this unnamed Armenian mama strokes her empty belly at night, remembering the gentle kicks and slow steady movements of the month before, and aches for the baby she'll never know.

I wonder if she returns home to an empty bassinet, little unworn sleepers and perhaps a homemade blanket or two and thinks : where is he now ?

I wonder if she wakes in the morning, alone in her bed, staring at the ceiling and breathing in the emptiness and contemplates what might have been.

I wonder if - in the future, as she puts the past behind her and "picks up the pieces' to start over again - she will come face to face with what could have been her child

I wonder if - when she startles in recognition at those star-studded almond eyes, at features that must certainly mirror those of the child she never raised - she catches a glimpse of the beauty she missed out on ... and feels the sting of regret.

We all have moments of regret in our lives - things we wished we'd said, places we never went to, friendships that dissolved and we never made the effort to get them back - but I can't imagine the regret of refusing your own child. I can't imagine what a weight that would be to carry, and how a mommy would process life from that moment on. My heart just breaks for what I can only imagine as a giant hole in her heart, wondering about the child she'll never enjoy.

I know pictures don't tell the whole story of what life with Down syndrome entails, and I'm not trying to simplify things by sharing them in this message today. I've been accused of "disney-fying Down syndrome" on my blog in the past - painting a picture that is only beautiful and colorful and bright.

But all of life holds challenges - from the cradle to the grave we are going to face things that seem too difficult for us, whether that is in the area of careers or marriage or the ministry or parenting or just our average day-to-day.

There are difficulties for every single one of us, and choosing to embrace the challenges of special needs and focus on the joy that Lily brings to our lives every day is what I do both in-real-life and here on the blog.

So no sugar coating here, just the truth : life is a gift, whether that arrives as a "perfect" newborn baby or a perfect little Lily.

We are so grateful for that gift, and all that I can feel for someone who chose otherwise is sympathy and deep, deep sadness - because Leo's mommy missed out on so much.

Leo's daddy was overwhelmed by the support of strangers all around the world ... so much so that he is donating back the excess to orphanages in Armenia to help care for the forgotten treasures there.

Would Lily's readers help me rally around - and spread the word for - some other forgotten treasures across the ocean ?

My sweet friend Julia Nalle and her husband are adopting a beautiful little girl with special needs named Harper from overseas, and there is an auction going on to assist them in the costs of doing so.

I'm going to be honest here - I have backed off in the past year or more from asking you all to donate to adoptions. I've had many inquiries as to why I have done so - in the past, Lily's readers have raised multiplied thousand of dollars to help bring orphans home to their new families. Although I truly believe that we should not withhold giving to strangers because we can't "guarantee" the outcome of what will happen when we do... I felt it best to take a time away from fundraising to think and pray about what I was asking people to do.

Here is my thinking on this- and it is going to sound oversimplified, because I don't want to hurt anyone in a lengthy explanation. There are going to be times when Sam and I give to something where we don't absolutely 100% know how the funds are being handled. We believe that God blesses our gift, and we give when we feel directed by Him to give, and we leave the rest to Him.

However... it is another thing when I am asking others to give.

I've seen some amazing and miraculous and truly wonderful things happen when people band together and give until it hurts to help another family adopt an orphan.

I've also seen some truly sucky and outrageous and unfair and I-can't-believe-they-just-said-or-did-that things happen with a family or two - when I did everything in my power to rally people to someone's adoption. I'm talking absolutely lying, unfair, thanks for the money, stick-a-knife-in-my-back kind of stuff. When my family sacrificed so hard to bless a stranger. And I can handle that - and I do believe God honors our giving even when others blow it and are unrighteous. But I'm not going to ask Lily's readers to do the same. I'm not going to ask you to risk and give and possibly get burned, because I am willing to do so. That's just not something I'm willing to do anymore. Cast stones if you like, but until you've walked a mile in my shoes...

Having said all that (aren't you glad I reduced it to a "simple" explanation ??:))  ...

I trust Julia Nalle. This is a family I believe in, and that I know is doing every single thing they can to raise their OWN money for an adoption, and giving to probably every other adoption on the planet they possibly could have given to as well.

The Nalles are stellar. They've been down this road before, and I have zero qualms about asking readers to go check out the auction being held to help them raise funds for the last portion of their adoption.

I don't - and I won't - say that about everybody. But I know Julia Nalle. She is a trustworthy woman of God, and she is completely deserving of whatever blessings come her way financially.

Will you go help Julia and her husband bring their little treasure home ?

Thank you from the bottom of my heart .


Wednesday, February 4, 2015


I flipped through a magazine this morning and saw: pretty faces with no wrinkles or age spots, toned and tanned bodies that never knew a stretch mark, carefully planned outfits, stain and spit-up free... 

I peeked in on Pinterest and observed : fifty ways to (re)decorate my house, how to plan the perfect dinner party, strategies for getting sexy legs in sixty days, dozens of exotic places I've never had the chance to see.

I gazed out my window just now and noticed: my neighbor's perfectly manicured lawns, flower beds without a hint of weeds, trimmed bushes and tidy trees and not a stray toy to be found anywhere in sight. 

And I thought about my crazy, messy, slightly-un-trendy, definitely-not-sexy, stretched-out, stained, spit-up-on, far-from-exotic little life ... and I looked across the room and smiled.... 

...because I wouldn't change a thing :)