InstaFriday: January 18th

instafriday

1. Fast approaching date!
2. 30 weeks shadow.
3. My bro-in-law asked if Lola pooped out the plastic star…
4. Mrs. Potato Head.
5. Ahhh girls’ retreat to the mountains last weekend.
6. Lola’s fave sleeping spot.
7. Anna saw her first jellyfish at Discovery Place.
8. More rainy day fun at Discovery Place.
9. My little love bug.
10. This is what happens when Anna picks out her outfit.
11. Spookiest house ever….found on the side of the road as I drove up to the mountains.
12. Woke up today to Anna’s first snow! Too bad there wasn’t enough to really play in…

Shedding Light on the Zambian Orphan

As you know, God has really been breaking my heart for the orphan. Jon and I definitely have adoption on our hearts for the future. I believe that part of God’s preparation for us is to¬†grow in awareness¬†and educate ourselves on the orphan crisis.

Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to our friend, Tom Keith, who is on the board of directors for All Kids Can Learn International (AKCLI). Tom was gracious enough to answer some of our questions about the orphan crisis in Zambia:

There are an estimated 153 million orphans worldwide. What drew you to¬†AKCLI’s work in Zambia?

Our church, Fairfax Community Church, in Northern Virginia started supporting the AKCLI/Villages of Hope a few years ago. During one of the sermons, Pastor Rod Stafford introduced our congregation to the problems in Africa. He spoke on:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.‚ÄĚ James 1:27

And then he mentioned these statistics:

  • In Africa, 10-15 Million Sub-Saharan children have been orphaned by the¬†AIDS epidemic.
  • Every 15 seconds, another child is orphaned.
  • Every day, 5,760 more children become orphans.
  • Every year, 2.1 million more children become orphans in Africa alone.
  • Women make up 61% of AIDS victims in Africa.
  • Every day, 5,400 people die because of AIDS¬†‚Äď one in every 16 seconds.
  • 76% of all AIDS-related deaths occur in sub-Sahara Africa.
  • 80% of all AIDS orphans live in sub-Sahara Africa.

Sunset in Zambia

A Zambian teenager confesses, “If we are the future and we‚Äôre dying, there is no future.”

Our goal at Fairfax Community Church is to support organizations that we believe are utilizing¬†‚Äúbest practices‚ÄĚ around issues that directly relate to or¬†impact the lives of widows and orphans in sub-Sahara Africa.

You have to start somewhere,¬†and we chose Zambia as a place to start. Zambia has the largest number of¬†orphans per capita of any country in the world (10%)! We¬†have been blessed that God has allowed us to help provide love and¬†support to AKCLI ‚Äď an organization that is now rated number one in the Central¬†Province (the largest Province in Zambia) of orphan care facilities.

At the AKCLI/VOH, we seek to bring hope to children at risk. We provide love, food, education, critical life skills training, housing, and healthcare.

I personally serve on the board of directors for AKCLI. Wearing my ‚Äúcitizen hat,” I am¬†helping the CEO create a 5-year strategic plan.

I’ve visited the Villages of Hope in Zambia before, but this year, my wife, Becky, and I will be joining a team of 6-8 people from our church to travel to Zambia in June 2013.

What are the specific challenges that children face there?

Most of the children that come to the Villages of Hope have lost their parents due to HIV/AIDS. Since unemployment is so high in Zambia, most orphans are on their own. In most cases, their relatives cannot take care of them.

We only take in orphans that are cleared through the Kabwe office of Central¬†Province Social Welfare. Zambia government officials are in touch with every child we bring into the orphanage. The Zambian government has¬†its own Board of Directors and so we have joint responsibility and oversight to¬†ensure that the orphans are raised in a ‚ÄúZambian‚ÄĚ environment.

Looking back at the statistics I mentioned above, we address several of the challenges the children
face:

  • Loss of parents: We provide Christian Zambian ‚Äúhouse mothers‚ÄĚ at each¬†‚Äúhome‚ÄĚ.
  • Loss of a home (when the children lose their parents they are often on the street): We provide a home.
  • Lack of food: We raise crops and farm animals to provide a well-balanced diet.
  • Lack of education: We built a school (which when expanded) will cover grades 1-12, preparing the children for college or work. We also provide work skills so that the children can earn a living when they leave the orphanage.

wind mill in zambiafarming in zambiahope school in zambiaClassroom at Hope SchoolHope School Book Storage

Through the church, school and staff, we introduce the children to God and the Bible. In many ways, we are rising up a future generation of Christians who we pray will continue to spread the Word of God throughout Zambia and the world.

Tell us about AKCLI’s holistic approach to caring for orphans. How is your
model different than other orphan care programs?

AKCLI/VOH has created a ‚Äúmodel‚ÄĚ orphanage that within the next five¬†years will be self-sustaining and can be replicated throughout Africa,¬†and even the world. We are all about supporting the orphans in their native¬†environment. With 230 acres, we grow our own food.

zambian chickens

We have¬†built a church, a school (currently up to grade nine, but we are adding a grade¬†each year to be able to support the children through the 12th grade), homes and¬†infrastructure to continue to grow. Part of our self-sustaining model is to sell the¬†surplus crops and chickens (and eggs) through a store we built at the orphanage¬†entrance along the highway. We have started several other small businesses¬†onsite that are profitable ‚Äď thus they support the orphanage’s general operating¬†fund. We will continue to grow those businesses and add more businesses to¬†create a fully self-sustaining environment to support the Villages of Hope.

The children learn trades and learn to work. Raised on the 230-acre¬†‚Äúfarm”, the children are introduced to both farming skills and small businesses. ¬†They will eventually graduate with a¬†high-school education.

making bricks in zambiazambian bricksfarming skills

Since I have started several small businesses myself, I feel right at home¬†working with AKCLI’s entrepreneurial founders. I support the Board of Directors in thinking¬†strategically, helping them to come up with additional ideas to make AKCLI even more self-sustaining.

During your time spent in Zambia, has there been a particular child whose story
has gripped you?

Meet Matilda Figo.

When Matilda first came to the Villages of Hope in 2009, she was nine (more the size of a five-year-old) who was dying of Spinal Tuberculosis. AKCLI stepped in to help. In the beginning of April she came to the guest house where the founders, Benedict and Kathleen Schwartz live, so that they could tend to the wound she had from a recent burn on her leg. Another ministry in Lusaka has given her a shiny red wheel chair, just her size, and provided free physical therapy to help strengthen her legs for walking and to prevent future fractures in her hips, legs, and knees.

By the time Villages of Hope took Matilda in, the Spinal Tuberculosis had already caused extensive damage to her spine and spinal column; she had been unable to use her legs or walk unassisted since the age of five.

Kayla Cook, a surgical recovery nurse from Louisville, KY, was at the VOH at that time and wondered if there wasn’t more that could be done medically for Matilda. So Kayla talked to an orthopedic surgeon here in the United States and to the staff at the hospital.
 The doctor, after looking at Matilda’s x-rays from Cure Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia, felt that there was help he could offer her. So he and Kayla put together a team of doctors who offered to provide their services
free of charge. In addition, the hospital provided free services, and the company that manufactures spinal hardware offered to provide their equipment free of charge for Matilda. A team has brought Matilda to the United States several times for surgery (with additional future surgeries planned). She has also been going through extensive physical therapy, with the hope of eventually being able to walk again.

You can follow more of Matilda’s story here.

What have you learned about God’s love from these children?

When you first get to Zambia and you travel along the hour-long drive out to the Village,¬†it breaks your heart to see the conditions that most of the Zambians live in. You¬†almost get a feeling that there is no sense of hope for most of them. But when¬†you arrive at the Village and you are greeted suddenly by smiling faces of the¬†rescued children who have now have HOPE ‚Äď yes, you can see God‚Äôs love in¬†their smiling faces.

When you visit their church and you listen to them sing praise songs, or you go to their school and see them learning, and most of all when you see their smiling faces, you can just see the work that God is doing there.

How can we get involved? Are there any specific, immediate needs that readers can help meet?

First we need prayers. This is a major undertaking and unless you have spent time in Zambia (or Africa), you cannot understand the challenges we face in trying to not only operate, but grow and stay ahead of the game.

While we plan to achieve a 100% self-sustaining model in 5 or so years, we are currently at 53% self-sustaining.

We will continue to grow the orphanage and to grow the school. By the end of our next five-year strategic planning period, we will have several hundred children in the school. Currently there are 135 students.

We are in need of funds to build homes for the children, homes for the on-site staff and to expand the school. We also are in need of funds to hire additional staff, teachers and “house mothers”.

We don’t operate under the sponsorship model, where your donations pay to support a particular child; instead, the money goes into the general operating fund to provide care for ALL of the
children.

Basic school supplies (paper, pencils, pens, rulers, etc.) are always helpful.

Clothes are needed for both girls and boys of all ages. When one of the teachers got married last year, a church sent ties, dress shirts and dresses for the children to be able to dress up for their special teacher. The children attended the wedding with pride!

wedding in zambia

We are looking for individuals and churches to partner with us as we implement our next phase of growth and as we move to a fully self-sustaining model.

We accept donations through PayPal at our website or by sending checks directly to:

All Kids Can Learn International, Inc.
224 North Washington St.
Havre de Grace MD 21078

Lastly and importantly, I am willing to talk to anyone or any church that wants to learn more about how they can partner with us. I am willing to coordinate a telecom with myself or one of the other board members, and I can set up meetings with the founders who come back to the US three times a year.

founders benedict and kathleen

Founders Benedict and Kathleen

Benedict and Kathleen love to visit churches or organizations to talk about the Village. We want to add more and more partners who will join us as we build our fully self-sustaining model that can be replicated throughout Africa and the world. We are seeking individuals and organizations to join us as we continue our mission of providing hope to the orphan.

Thanks in advance and blessings to all that might read this!

____________________

Thank you Tom for sharing your heart for the Zambian orphan!

Tom has also sent me a CD which features the beautiful voices of Villages of Hope children singing. I can tell you first-hand that hearing these precious children sing out to Jesus is beyond moving. Want a copy? Just contact me with your address and I will hook you up!

In addition to raising awareness for the worldwide orphan crisis, I am also interested in sharing personal adoption stories on the blog. Have a story that you would like to share? Email me at lettersfromlala@gmail.com

 

2013 Blogging Goals

blogging goals

1. Write about things that matter.¬†Don’t worry, I will still be including all things silly, superficial and sarcastic (after all, blogging should be fun…) but in general I want to take the time to write more posts about issues and causes I am passionate about. In 2013 you can expect more posts about marriage enrichment and adoption.

2. Use my influence (however big or small) for His glory.¬†Blogging takes a lot of time and energy…it can be easy to get bogged down and discouraged by stats and think “well no one is reading anyway…” This year, I plan on spending less time on google analytics and more time connecting with readers. Just like offline relationships, I want to focus on quality, not quantity. Also, as we all know, blogging can be very¬†narcissistic. I want to really examine the heart behind every word in every post…is my writing and photography glorifying myself or God? If you haven’t already, I urge you to check out The Influence Network. I can really resonate with their motto, “Make your online life mean something”.

3. Choose my family over blogging. Every time. I wrote a little more about this last Friday

4. Host more link parties.¬†In 2012, I sponsored the Fave Fall Fixin’ link party. It was a great learning experience and I was able to connect with several new bloggers. I’d like to start a more regular link party in 2013.

5. Work on incorporating more design into my posts. As a designer, I love visiting blogs which incorporate beautiful editorial layouts and read more like magazine spreads (Design Love Fest is a great example). Too often I get lazy in this area.

6. Learn how to create and post an artistic animated gif.¬†I plan on using Pugly Pixel’s tutorial to create my own.

7. Grow an authentic online community. I really love it when readers leave comments. This means you! I want this to be a safe place for lively discussion and encouragement.

8. Take a leap of faith and launch a side-photography business.¬†There. I’ve said it out loud. Ahhh this one is scary!

I plan to accomplish all these goals in my free time, you know, after caring for a newborn (ETA March) and chasing my toddler around…

What are your blogging goals for the new year?

Also, be sure to check out my guest post today over at Ciera’s Design Blog. I’m sharing my thoughts on when to walk away from a freelance project.

How to Blog Without Making Your Hubby Mad

how to blog and not make your husband mad

Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar?

  1. You find yourself “sneaking” over to the computer when your husband isn’t looking just to “finesse” those last few words in your post for tomorrow.
  2. Your husband begins to roll his eyes every time you pull your camera out because he knows his life is being deconstructed into another blog post to be facebooked, tweeted and instagrammed out to the entire world wide web.
  3. You and your husband rarely spend time together in the evenings any more.
  4. This is the third time this week you have asked him to take photos of you for a What I Wore Wednesday post.

Let’s just say I’ve (guiltily) been there.

Blogging has become such a valuable creative outlet for me. I have grown to love the blogging community like family. But I have to keep blogging in its place Рand remember to keep my marriage first.

Without further ado, here are some tips for how to blog without making your husband mad:

  1. Respect your husband’s privacy.¬† Before I ever started Letters From LaLa, Jon and I sat down and discussed what we were and weren’t comfortable sharing about our family online. This is something we have to revisit from time to time. Trust me, it is far better to have this conversation before hitting that “publish” button on a post. Also, be considerate. Ask your husband before you post a photo of him online. If you are feeling a little hesitant to share a particular post, have him read it first and ask his thoughts before publishing.
  2. Protect your time as a couple.¬†Quality time together is sacred. Especially after you have kids! Don’t let time spent blogging overshadow your relationship. For me, this means limiting my blogging to nap time (for the most part). Evenings are typically reserved for Jon and I to spend time together talking, unwinding and snuggling while we watch our favorite tv shows. I realize that many bloggers work full-time and don’t have the option of blogging during the day. If that’s you, I would recommend setting a blogging schedule that you agree on as a couple. Just be sure that you also block out time to be spent together.
  3. Be wary of over sharing. We bloggers like to share EVERYTHING. We like to call it being “authentic”. But some things are not meant to be shared. Before posting a particularly vulnerable post, ask yourself if you have shared the specific vulnerability with your husband. Many of us treat our blogs like our private journals. We bare our souls while we process our emotions and feelings through the written word. But we have to remember that blogs are PUBLIC. How would your husband feel if he were to read your innermost thoughts on a blog post after the rest of your readers? Share your soul with your soul mate FIRST.

And Jon, I just want to say thank you for supporting my blog and all of my creative endeavors. You are constantly challenging me to become more of the woman God made me to be. Thanks for all your “off-the-clock” hours spent filming and editing videos, coding my site, fighting hackers and general trouble-shooting. Have I told you that you’re my favorite?

how to blog without making your husband mad

Photography by The Schultzes

I’m honored to be co-hosting¬†the Tell Your Story link up today with my good friend Andi from¬†The Hollie Rogue. ¬†Be sure to check out Andi’s story today about contentment. This link up is a chance to tell YOUR story – what’s on your heart, what God has been teaching you, maybe even an embarrassing story. Can’t wait to read your story. Link up below!

tell your story



Slugs and Snails and Puppy-Dogs’ Tails

that's what little boys are made ofThat’s what little boys are made of. Or so the nursery rhyme says.

And while Jon and I were secretly hoping for a boy with this pregnancy, the truth is that I’m a little scared about bringing a little boy into this world. I grew up as the baby of 4 girls, and frankly I don’t have a clue when it comes to relating to the male species.

Trucks? Farting jokes? Mud? UFC? An obsession with obscure Star Wars trivia? Someone’s gonna have to help me out here.

But I’ve also been told that boys have a special thing for their mamas, and I look forward to that. This past weekend in church I was moved to tears watching a mother with her son. Decked out in red converse sneakers and a newsboy hat, he looked to be about 3 years old . The crowd was singing along with the worship band and he was just lovin’ on his mama. He played with her pony tail, snuggled her and danced with her to the music. It warmed my heart to think I have that to look forward to.

So tell me – mamas of boys, what advice do you have for me about relating to my son? What is so special about the mother-son bond?

Nesting 2.0: The Master Closet

There has been some serious nesting going on around these parts. I was pretty determined to use every last bit of my energy over Christmas break before 3rd trimester hit. And that I did. Jon and I cleaned out the infamous junk room (soon-to-be Anna’s big girl room), which was the single most dreaded project to complete before baby boy’s arrival in March. We made it fun though – after sending Anna over to Nonni and Poppy’s for the day, we blasted music while we slowly but surely worked our way through the room. About 10 trash bags and 4 trips to Goodwill later, the room was clear. But more on that later…

The other big nesting project I completed was our master closet. Now, let’s get one thing straight. My closet will never look like this…

organized closet

Image source

or this:

Image source

I also don’t plan on spending a million dollars for California Closets to come to my house. This project was not about making my closet look like Oprah’s. It was about PURGING and simplifying. It was about getting rid of the outdated, ill-fitting clothing and getting a grip on this family’s dirty laundry production.

Remember this disgusting mess?

master closet beforemaster closet before

Well, check out the after photo:

closet organization

I was feeling quite accomplished until Jon had the nerve to tell me that “it didn’t look that different.” Argh….and yes you can see my red prom dress from Junior year of high school peeking out in the back. Still have plans to donate that to a good cause, but hey, don’t you agree that it is a major improvement?

What organization projects are you planning to tackle this year?

 

 

InstaFriday: January 4th

1. Christmas crafting.
2. These ornaments represent our four Christmases together. Blessed.
3. The last of the sugar cookies.
4. Breaking news. Godzilla kitty attacks Christmas village.
5. Got to see a bunch of my sweet girlfriends from high school over break – has it really been 10 years?
6. Finally, a toy Lola can’t destroy in 5 minutes.
7. Baby Boy is looking good and chunky at his 26-week ultrasound!
8. Baby Boy did it. #itwasntme
9. We are in full-blown clean-out/purging mode around these parts. Came across my wedding bouquet…pretty sure it is officially dead after 4 years. Also pretty sure this isn’t what Martha Stewart has in mind when she suggests decorating with dried flowers. In the trash she went.
10. Hmmm….pumas or flats? Definitely the flats since I have to be weighed at the doctor…
11. Getting ready to refurbish my childhood dresser for Anna. Of course I love the knobs and drawer pulls from Anthropologie, but I couldn’t pass up this hardware from the Habitat For Humanity ReStore. Spent $6 total. I may be painting them. Any suggestions/opinions? Imagine them on a bright white dresser.
12. New Year’s Eve Project: paint Anna’s big girl room. Anna will be spending her last night in her nursery tonight. Tear.

Christmas 2012

We had a wonderful Christmas spent with our extended families. With my sister Katherine in town from Indiana, Anna got to play with all 10 of her cousins! I wish I had snapped a picture of all of them together, but they move too fast. We spent Christmas Eve with my family.

Have I ever introduced you to my parents’ pomeranian, Beau? He definitely rules the roost and Anna is OBSESSED with him.

pomeranian

With so many people on my family’s side, we have started drawing names for Christmas gifts with a strict $5 limit. It may sound lame, but it really forces you to be creative and have fun with it. When I drew my mom’s name, I knew I wanted to do something with sugar cookies. After all, she is the sugar cookie queen. I was thrilled to find personalized cookie cutters for her (a “C” for Carol and a dragon fly, which she loves). I baked and decorated a ¬†few to include in the box:

sugar cookies

I believe Anna’s favorite dance partner is her cousin, Ben. He teaches her all the cool Michael Jackson moves…

Aunt Kristan spoiled Anna with her own Minnie figurine. Pretty sure she hasn’t let go of it since she received it.

minnie mouseminnie mouse

My cute big sis, Brittany (whom we affectionately call Britt Bird) with her husband Steve:

My cute big sis Katherine (Brittany’s twin) with her husband Joe:

I love my niece Maizie’s expression of wonder in this photo. You can just see the anticipation of Christmas in her eyes…

Sweet Jeannie Bean…

We spent a quiet Christmas morning at our house, just the three of us. Hard to believe that next year we will have a 9-month-old boy!

christmas tree

Jon and I have a tradition of picking out Christmas mugs for each other each year. Check out this year’s picks:

christmas coffee mugs

No Christmas is complete without cinnamon rolls. Anna joined in the fun this year.

cinnamon buns

It was so fun to watch Anna open her presents!

christmas morning

Later that morning, we headed over to spend the rest of the day with Jon’s family.

Can you tell that Anna is ready to cook?

play kitchen

And take care of baby brother of course…

big sister practice

And the Minnie Christmas continues…complete with light-up Minnie heels

minnie shoes

bows, shopping carts and cash registers…those aunties!

minnie bow

Of course Anna also got in some play time with Cousin Kaylee’s new toys…

Check out her concentration with the tiny muffins…

Have I mentioned how hot my hubbie is when he plays guitar?

guitar

So grateful for these family memories! I think Christmas is even more fun to experience as a mom than it was as a kid…

 

Pajama Party at Nonni and Poppy’s House

Happy New Year!

I’m excited to share some of our Christmas photos with you this week, but before I do, I want to share pictures from Anna’s recent pajama party at her grandparent’s house.

Anna’s Nonni is already establishing fun Christmas traditions with her grandchildren. This year, Anna was invited over, along with her cousin Kaylee, to build gingerbread houses. Of course Aunt Nicole (“Cole Cole”) ¬†shared her decorating expertise…

gingerbread houses

When the gingerbread houses were complete, Kaylee and Anna snuggled up in their matching Christmas pajamas to watch a movie and sip on hot cocoa (or warm chocolate soy milk, in Anna’s case…)

hot cocoa

It means so much to me that Anna is making such sweet memories with her extended family. Thank you Nonni for loving on our sweet girl!

What are your favorite family Christmas traditions?

2012 Recap

It only feels natural to reflect back on 2012 this New Year’s Eve. What a year it was!¬†Here are some highlights:

January

  • Started blogging! Read the very first “Letter from LaLa”¬†here.

February

  • We celebrated with a simple party with family. Sporting her handmade birthday hat, Anna ate her first piece of cake and boogied down to the Elmo Slide with her cousins. Jon put together a video recap of her first year which still makes me cry every time I watch it.
  • We were also the crazy people who gave our one-year-old a puppy for her birthday.

March

April

May

  • God convicted me of the lame excuses I had been making that came between me and time with Him.
  • Anna and Lola had some serious fun in the backyard.

June

July

August

September

October

best friends

newborn photography

cupcake costume

November

nature walk

December

28th birthday

 

sugar cookies

  • Celebrated Jesus’ birth with loved ones.

nativity set

God certainly blessed us this year!

I’d love to see your “year in review” posts. Leave a link in the comments and I will stop by!