Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Life is Significantly Different Since the Last Time I Posted

Well, it's December 31st...last day of, I though I'd get one last post in before 2012, because well, A LOT has happened here at the end of the year. Why have I not posted before now?...I've been an absolute crazy woman from October to December 25th, during which I had not a single clear thought and any spare time (there wasn't any, but if there was...) I spent it breathing into a paper sack.

So here's a quickish summary of what we've been up to...

Sometime in September we turned in our initial paper work to New Life Adoption Agency to begin the process of adoption.

Sometime in October we turned in our official application to New Life which included medical history, statement of faith, how we became Christians, why we want to adopt and lots of other essays and papers to fill out.

Then we had to wait over a month to hear if we were accepted as New Life family.

The weekend before Thanksgiving we moved into our house! I had forgotten how much I LOVE LIVING IN A HOUSE!!!!!

Home Sweet little casita!
I'll post some more pictures tomorrow. The outside looks a little different from when I took this picture and I'll take some pictures of the inside, but I have to clean first! ;)

Okay, so at this point, we were getting moved in, finally feeling at home, but I couldn't relax too much cause Christmas was right around the corner and I hadn't begun any of my shopping or decorating.

Just as the stockings were being hung, we got an email from New Life saying that we had been accepted as a New Life family but we needed to come in for an initial meeting after the New Year to make sure we were all on the same page regarding open adoption. (New Life requires that the families commit to maintain communication with the birth mom with pictures and letters.) Well, as you can imagine, we were tickled to pieces to be that much closer to adopting, and taking the next step in January sounded perfect, because, as I said, Christmas was pounding on my wreathless front door.

About a week later, we got a call from one of the ladies at New Life. She wanted to go ahead and meet with us before the New Year. Well, of course we would meet! would be nice to meet face-to-face finally and talk about what January would look like. So we went to the meeting. We confirmed our desire to have an open adoption and everything was going great. And then...just as I was about to wish her a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, she explained to us that she wanted us to get all of our home study completed in December.

After I quit choking, I blinked away my panicked eyes, smiled and said, "Um...Of Course! So you think maybe, that week after Christmas?" Surely she means the week after Christmas!

"No, no,"she says, "I can't that week. How about the week before?"

This time the panic could not be blinked away, and it's possible a mild swear fell out of my mouth, but because we are anxious to adopt our sweet baby and because we don't really know who we are unless things are completely insane, we agreed to complete all of our paperwork, inspections, photographs, video and home visit the Thursday before Christmas.

So...two weeks before Christmas:
- we had to finish MOVING IN!
- get ready for Christmas and Christmas events that I had already planned
- and complete a 26 item checklist of things to do before our home study on the 22nd

Long story short (too late)...we did it! I mean...there were lots of tears, some spells with irritable bowel syndrom, and I consumed about 15 gallons of Starbucks Iced Black tea, but we did it! We got the house ready, the nursery (sort of) set up, Christmas presents under the tree, dinner parties hosted and attended and every item on our adoption checklist done...minus our infant CPR and reading requirements.

We finished our home study Thursday.
Had a Christmas Eve Eve Service on Friday.
Went to Sugar Land to be with my family on Christmas Eve.
Spent Christmas Day with Casey's family.
Came home on Monday.
Been pretty much a recluse ever since. Seriously. I've slept a lot. Cleaned a lot. Cooked a lot (which didn't really happen the other 3 weeks of December). Played Wii a lot. Vegged a lot.
Lord, how I needed it. In fact, we may make that a Cease family spend the week between Christmas and New Years at home...resting and recovering and rejuvenating, preparing for the next year. Now, I feel ready for 2012 and the idea of going out into the world and seeing other people doesn't make me want to cry.

So there you have it, friends. We moved from our apartment to our beautiful new house and we could be adopting any time now. Or it could be a year from now. Who knows? We're back to waiting. But, I will say, even though those two weeks were some of the craziest weeks of my life, I am so thankful that the Lord has moved us through the process so quickly. Our part is (mostly) done. Now it's just up to Him to bring our profile to the the right birth mom. Then this family of three will finally be four! I can't wait!

Happy New Year everyone!
(And by everyone I mean, mom...since you're probably the only one still checking my blog. ;)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Braelyn is Blogging Again!

I have much to report on regarding our new adventures in homeschooling. Unfortunately, today is not the day for that. BUT! I do want to send you over to Braelyn's Blog! It's been quite a while since she has posted, but hopefully you'll start to see her work a little more regularly.

For the last three weeks we have been reading teddy bear stories in our read-aloud time, and to close out the unit Braelyn has written a delightful teddy bear story of her own. She has also picked out 3 of her favorite titles from the teddy bear books that we read.

Enjoy! And...I'm sure she'd appreciate your feedback. ;)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Meet Amelia

Allow me to explain our dog situation. When we moved out of our house in Brenham, we felt it necessary to find a new home for our pug, Tucker. We were moving to an apartment and our lives were just so crazy we didn't think that having a dog in the mix was the best idea. So we did. We found a lovely new home for Tuck.

Of course, Braelyn was a bit heartbroken over this, and from the day we moved into our apartment in the Woodlands, she asked us for a dog everyday. Literally everyday. I'm not kidding. Despite the desperation on her face, Casey and I, being hard as nails refused her request time and again. Okay...we refused her request...until we moved into a house. :|

Casey and I were committed to keeping our promise to her, but not-so-secretly we found being petless rather freeing and enjoyable. But, my sweet girl has no siblings and she talked of her future dog everyday, so there was no going back on our promise?! It was imminent...a dog was coming.

Well, I haven't mentioned this yet, but we are building a house! Yes, some preliminary papers have been signed and we have picked out cabinets and countertops and tiles and all those fun things and soon we will be happy homeowners once more. (More on this later.)

So, the craziest thing...heh...Well, the Monday after we got back from New York, Casey checked his Facebook wall or board or whatever it is and saw that some friends of ours in Sugar Land had just rescued a little puppy from a storm drain. They were not able to keep the dog, but wanted to find a good home for it. Casey, obviously against his better judgement showed the picture of the puppy to Braelyn, and to me. This was a mistake...because we still had 6 months to go in the apartment, and everyone knows that once you look at a dog picture, especially a dog rescued from great're done for.

Sure enough, because we are dumb and don't know good sense if it hit us in the face, we drove down to Sugar Land and picked up Amelia.

Just wook at that wittle girl!
A very happy day for Braelyn!
Here's cruisin' Amelia.
"What? I'm comfortable!"
sweet, snuggling Amelia
stretching Amelia
"A proper stretch goes from your tail to your tongue!"
upside down Amelia
in bed Amelia
(No, she doesn't sleep in our bed, but every night she curls up with me for a few minutes before lights out. We love it!...Amelia and I do. Not sure how Casey feels about it.)

good girl Amelia.
Not gonna lie. I'm a bit head over heals for this little lady, who is a chihuahua-miniature pincher mix...a "chipin," if you will. Yes, so I used to kinda roll my eyes at people who were so crazy about their dogs and had clothes for them and strollers and took them everywhere. Well, I'm rolling my eyes at my own self lately! I can't help it! Wook at her ears!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New York: Days 3 & 4

Day 3: The day I nearly pushed my family to the breaking point. :\

The Statue of Liberty

Before Casey and I went to bed on day 2, we very wisely bought our Liberty Island tickets online. When we got there, we walked passed hundreds of people to get on the ferry. It was a victorious moment.

Here we are on Liberty Island.

And there she is! Gorgeous!

It was very sunny. I'm not sure if the hubs meant to stick his pinkie out like that, but that's all I can see in this picture.

After we spent a little time with Lady Liberty, we decided to get back on the ferry, pass by Ellis Island and head to lunch, as we were getting quite hungry. Now, while the handy online tickets were brilliant in getting ON Liberty Island they proved to be of no value WHATSOEVER in getting OFF Liberty Island. We waited in line for well over an hour, in the sun, herded in like cattle before boarding the ferry back to Battery Park. It. was. brutal.

A Brooklyn Excursion

Once we were back in Manhattan, we were a little grumpy and a lot hungry. We grabbed a Starbucks (the daily venti black tea) for the train and headed to Brooklyn to try a little restaurant that my dad just raves about, Pete's Downtown.

Well, after about 45 minutes of jumping from one wrong train to the next and a bit of a walk after the right train, we made it to Pete's. Thankfully, I mean really...Thank the Lord! was delicious!

Meatball sliders.

And of course, we had to grab some ice cream from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory right on the waterfront with a perfect view of the Brooklyn Bridge. It turned out to be such a lovely excursion. All grumpiness was lost in gluttonous amounts of heavy Italian food and coffee ice cream. Which was good, cause there was still much more on the agenda.

The Empire State Building

By the time we got back into Manhattan, it was early evening and the plan was to go to the Empire State Building. Now, I thought I was being kind of go to the top at night...surely the heavy tourist hours are during the day, right? So we take a nice little walk from our hotel to the Empire State Building, but not without a brief stop into Macy's and H&M. :)
When we get to the ESB there is a CA-RAZY line out the door. Apparently, I'm not as clever as I thought. Casey immediately wants to pull the plug on the ESB. But me, being the Go-Big-or-Go-Home traveller that I am, thought the line was moving pretty fast and surely it wouldn't be that bad. So we get in line. We get inside and I think, "Man, we are gonna be up there in no time! Good thing we didn't abort the mission!" Then we get to the first snake-line room...a giant room with a snake-line from end to end. At this point, I know my family's tired, so I give in and offer to abandon the ESB adventure. But Braelyn wanted to go to the top and and so did I, so we decided we were in it for the long haul. No turning back. Casey was less than enthusiastic.

5 or 6 or 20 HUGE snake-line rooms, 2 hours and 1 unhappy husband later, we made it to the top.

Happy Braelyn. Happy Steph. Casey.
It was awesome to be up there, for sure. But it was nothing like the movies. Even if Debra Kerr had made it to the top of the ESB to meet Cary Grant, she never would have found him in that crazy crowd anyways!
In the end...I'm glad we did it.

All of that was Day 3.
(In case you were wondering about how Braelyn fared through all of that...she was as delightful as ever! I couldn't believe what a trooper she was!)

Day 4:

A much lighter day by far, as was the plan. This day we took leisurely walks around the quainter, less touristy parts of Manhattan.

The West Village

First of all, let me just say, the whole area is so charming. Would love to go back and just spend a few days strolling around the West Village. One little treasure I found here, and one of my favorite spots from the whole trip was Buvette. My oh my! The loveliest little French cafe! (Go to the, my pictures do not begin to show how wonderful this place is!)
(Notice the uh, VBT? Venti Black Tea? How do you think I kept up the energy to be the travel nazi that I was? The VBT!))

Crepes! And, btw...that little water glass is called a buvette.

French baguette with olive oil, fresh mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, arugula! This is the food I love!

The East Village

After a leisurely afternoon in the West Village we took a cab to the East Village to the legendary McSorely's...the oldest pub in NY. It was a pretty great place I have to say, albeit a far leap from Buvette's. It's community seating and things are about as simple as you can get at McSorely's. A 3 item chalkboard menu, a 2 item drink menu and there's no bill...the server just tells you what you owe and you're expected to hand over the money when he gets back. ;) It's full of character, that place!

Visiting My Relations ;)

That evening we took the train to northern Manhattan to see my cousin Mollie and her sweet kiddos, Parker and Lizzie. We saw their gorgeous apartment and enjoyed a delicious picnic dinner looking out over the Hudson River. A perfect way to end the tip. But I didn't take any pictures of that...cause I'm an idiot. :\

So that's our trip.
And I just have to tell you that this trip was a gift to us from my mom and dad, who overwhelm me time and again with their kindness and generosity.
Thank you so much, Mom and Dad! We made wonderful memories here. We will remember our trip as a sweet and precious time.
We love you!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

New York: Days 1 & 2

So...We went to New York! About a month ago! CRAZY!

(BTW...I fear that my blog time has gone from scarce to non-existant. But I just can't quit you...! So I'll try to cram some posts in where I can. ;)

Here's The Ceases in New York.
DAY 1:

Breakfast of Champions.

Central Park

Braelyn on the Carousel that she didn't particularly love.
She is also holding my Venti Black Iced Tea. Got one of those babies every single day.
I could not have been the vacation slave-driver that I was without them! Thank you, Starbucks!
Potential Christmas card photo?
Or this one perhaps?
We figured out that if we let Braelyn take pictures we could get her to walk longer without complaining. ;)
Sweet Girl!

The American Museum of Natural Science

To be honest this wasn't our favorite stop. My family was just too worn out to fully appreciate it, I guess. Braelyn's favorite part was the little discovery room for kids.
She's digging for fossils.
Alice's Tea Cup for dinner. One of my favorite eateries!
They gave Braelyn fairy dust and fairy wings when we got there (which there aren't actually any fairies in Alice in Wonderland, but whatever, Braelyn loved it) and we had a proper pot of tea before dinner.

DAY 2:

A lovely, breezy breakfast on the patio at Juniors. But we are right across from our hotel, not in Brooklyn.

30 Rock

Enjoying some chocolates and frozen hot chocolate from Jacque Torres in the 30 Rock underground shopping area. Delish!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of my favorite places by far, but IT IS SO BIG! We were there for several hours and probably saw 30% of the museum. I HAVE to go back!

Got into a bit of trouble for taking this picture. Forgot my flash was on. Oops! (But also worth it!)

Pre-Theater Dinner at The Pig N' Whistle Irish Pub
And walking to the New Amsterdam Theater to see Mary Poppins. In the rain. With our umbrellas. So fitting.
Braelyn LOVED Mary Poppins! She got upset when she realized it was over. But daddy made her feel better with a mini Mary Poppins carpet bag. ;) But I think it's faulty, 'cause my floor lamp DOES NOT fit in there. I've tried so many times!
Anyways, we had such a good time! We're still singing show tunes a month later!

(NYC Days 3 & 4 coming...
Well, who knows when they'll be coming! ;)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Huge-ish Life Decision

The last week of July there was a lot to do. Casey was preaching at a camp at HBU. I was trying to catch up on chores and such since we had been away at camp for several weeks. I had get us ready for New York, try to visit the Hubs a little bit in Houston, see some friends that I'd been missing, AND see a friend and her new baby boy in the hospital.

Well, in the midst if all of this, Casey and I were having some serious conversations about Braelyn's school. We really loved the school she was at last year and had enrolled her for her Kindergarten year. But we started to question our decision, mostly due to finances. See, there are a few really important things that we are trying to save for. A house being one of them. And we just got to thinking that we couldn't save the money we want to save AND send Braelyn to this school. We went around and around, weighing our options (not arguing, just thinking things through ;). Thursday afternoon (this was July 28th), Casey was at HBU and I was driving back from seeing my friend at the hospital. I called Casey and the school conversation came up. With tuition being due on Monday, and leaving for New York on Monday...we had to make a decision. When we hung life was on a whole new path. The homeschool path.

Now, if God doesn't have a sense of humor, I don't know who does. It just so happened that the very next day a two-day homeschool conference was being held in The Woodlands. So I made a few phone calls (to prepare myself for the onslaught of information that was sure to assalt me upon my arrival, of course), I made a strict vow not to cry, and I went to bed early.

Friday I had spent a long time in the Classical Conversations booth. I had been familiar with the classical education approach for a while and it appealed to me very much, but I did worry that maybe I liked it more for myself as the teacher than I did for Braelyn as the student. But, I went to several sessions about CC and went home that night and did a little research. I went to the CC website to look for the groups in my area (the CC group meets once a week, plus field trips and such) and my eyeballs nearly fell out of my face because leading one of the groups was my good friend Melanie B. I clicked her name and began typing away an email explaining our crazy situation. Being the sweetheart that she is, she met me at the conference the next day and we talked for several hours about the program and homeschool in general.

In a nutshell, I went Friday morning with virtually no idea what I was going to do as far as philosophy, curriculum, HS group, nothing. And by Saturday afternoon I had a plan, a curriculum, a group and a certainty that the Lord had orchestrated it all.

So...there it is. In a matter of about 3 days we became a homeschool family.

I got a loose outline of my HS plan on Saturday and then put the whole issue (and all of our other life issues, quite frankly) on a shelf in my brain.
Went to church on Sunday.
Packed suitcases.
And left for New York on Monday morning.
I have never in my life been so ready for a vacation. EVER.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

1000 More Pictures from June & July

Okay, so I'm about 10 blog posts behind so this is gonna be quick. Let's do this!

Event #4: Vail
June 21-23 Casey and I went to Vail for the Acts29 Pastors Retreat. It was gorgeous there and of course, the retreat sessions were very encouraging, but really the best part was our time with the Hydes. It was so great to just relax, eat delicious food, have meaningful conversations, have uninterrupted meaningful conversations, go hot tubbin', snack on gummy cokes and enjoy that perfect Colorado weather with dear friends. A definite summer highlight.

Dr. Hyde and myself...IN SWEATERS in LATE JUNE! (although mine is doing something weird, not sure what's happening there.)
The Hubs, Einstein & Justin
Ceases in what was probably snack stop #6 out of 12. We did a bit of restaurant hopping on this trip. ;)

Event #5: I lost some of my sparkle.
No picture for this sad news...shortly after Vail I had to take my nose ring out. I know. It's sad. Cause I just loved my little nose ring. But it kept getting this bump thing and it was driving me crazy and I didn't want to end up with a permanent bump or a hideous scar or something, so I took it out. Still a little heartbroken over that.

Event #6 The Wedding!
Yes, Erica's wedding has come and gone already! It was such a fun weekend. She was a beautiful bride and the big day was just perfect. Here's some pics.

Just look at that gorgeous girl!
The bride and flower girl. Once again, Braelyn performed her duties as flower girl with grace and elegance. She is like a professional now.
And Erica and her matron of honor...who looks a little weird. This matron of honor learned on this happy occasion that full hair and make-up do not bring out the best in her. ;)

Event #7: The Civil Wars
We LOVE LOVE LOVE this little band called the Civil Wars. We tried to see them a while back, but the guy singer couldn't sing. Sick or something. Thankfully they rescheduled and we got to see them at The Mucky Duck. A great night with great friends.

Lori, Lindley & myself.
Had to get one with Brittney.
Okay...had to get one with the Hubs too.

Phew! That was crazy crazy June & July! Not to mention summer camps. Well, I can tell you we were counting the seconds until August all summer long, cause August 1st we left for a 5 day trip to New York City. But of course, in full Cease fashion, about 3 days before we left we made a huge-ish life decision. Some scrambling and minor chaos ensued, but God proved Himself faithful once more. And then by His kindness and mercy, August 1st finally came and He allowed us to leave crazy behind and we got on a plane and flew to the Big Apple with only one have some awesome family fun. And we did!
More on all that next time. ;)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

1000 Pictures from June

Event #1: Erica's Bachelorette Party
First of all, if you don't know Erica, please allow me to introduce her to you.
This is Erica. Isn't she pretty?! :)
Erica lived in our garage apartment for a year when we were in Brenham. During that time, she and I became very sisters...and we have been ever since. I love this girl so much, and would just about anything for her.
Now you'll know who I'm talking about as several of these events involve her.

So, Erica's Bachelorette Party.
Being Erica's Matron of Honor, it was my joy and privilege to plan her bachelorette party. Here's what we did:
A little pre-bachelorette lingerie shower. Bra and panty cupcakes. Cute, huh?

Our next stop was Painting with a Twist. I was a little worried about this to be honest. If it was a dud of an idea I would have felt super old and lame and mom-ish in a group of young college girls, but thankfully it turned out to be pretty darn fun. You bring your own wine, your girlfriends and learn how to paint a masterpiece while chattin' it up.

I made the girls an apron with a rhinestone monogram. Erica's personal motto is, "If it doesn't have sparkles, I'd rather be naked," so the rhinestones were quite necessary.

The bride-to-be and budding artist.

I'm taller than her because she's sitting and I have on big shoes.

We had our doubts that we could really paint, but...Ta Da! Not bad, huh?

After that, we headed to San Antonio's Riverwalk for a late night dinner.
By the time dinner was over it was quite late, (and secretly, I was feeling my age) so we headed back to New Braunfels for...wait for it...a sleep over. Yes, it was my first sleep over in probably, oh, 10, 11 years. But, I had a ball. It was such a great group of girls, and like I said, I'd do just about anything for my Erica. ;)

Event #2: I started Tweeting! kidding. I'm on Twitter. Is this my gateway onto Facebook? Heavens, no! I've made vows about such things. But I do like to shout a bit of nonsense out into the world now and again, so if you're so inclined...give me a follow. @stephcease.

Okay. Do we have it in us for one more June Event?
Oh sure we do!

Event #3: Braelyn's 5th Birthday
Instead of doing lots of little gifts for Braelyn this year, I decided to pack up all remnants of her baby room and give her a new "big girl" room. And...I wanted to do it surprise make-over style. So, On Friday night before her party, she stayed with my mom and dad, which gave Casey and I the entire day to get her room ready. We didn't paint 'cause hopefully we'll be out of that apartment soon, otherwise I totally would have painted.


She likes to tape things to the wall.

And After:
Black-out curtains. 3 words about that...I'm A GENIUS!
And we put up a couple of bulletin boards to display artwork (and hopefully reign in the tape habit a bit.)

Here we have a flower canopy that she's had her eye on for quite some time, a new quilted bedspread, and a few fabric butterflies flying magically around her bed. (I know what you're asking. Did I make the fabric butterflies? 3 more words...No. Pottery Barn!)

And here's my favorite part, although the picture just does not do it justice, but we hung some wall shelves to display art, nick-nacks and special pictures.
I was a little nervous that she might not think a new room qualifies as a birthday gift. There was some serious potential for a birthday backfire, but I think she really loved it. Especially when she snuggled in her new bed and had the pink canopy draping all around her. She fancied herself quite the princess. ;)

About 20 minutes after the big bedroom was party time!

This year, it was a Hello Kitty Gymnastics Party.
4 Words...I'M A GENIUS AGAIN! This was the best party ever! I brought the cake, the birthday girl and some party favors. Then, I sat back and let the kids run and jump and swing and roll around to their hearts' content. They LOVED it!

My little girl is FIVE! How can that be?

Oh heart just melts at that smile.

Alright. That will do for tonight, I think.
Told ya...1000 pictures!
Oh, and for my sweet friends who shared the books they love with me...thank you SO much! They are on the list!
G' night, y'all!