Harry Potter Birthday Party

Our kids get a friend themed birthday party when they turn 5 and 10. This was Ariana’s year as she turned the big 1-0. She has recently finished the Harry Potter books, so this was the theme she went with. Which made this mom and dad swell up with pride. *sniff*

14 awesome girls were part of this special day, and I’m never sure if I have more fun or if they do. Here are the party details, and as usual, many things aren’t pictured because we’re terrible at taking pictures during events like this!


Pictures of our guests. Four came late, and I completely forgot to get this shot of them, but oh, these faces were epic!20161105_190015033_ios20161105_190037483_ios20161105_190127019_ios20161105_190154754_ios20161105_190226877_ios20161105_190305172_ios20161105_190341631_ios20161105_190409452_ios20161105_190440741_ios20161105_190519369_ios

Food in the Great Hall. We almost forgot to get photos of this, but there was still some left by the time we remembered.20161105_192302974_ios20161105_192313507_ios20161105_192321624_ios20161105_192330274_ios20161105_192334623_ios20161105_192339340_ios20161105_192354791_ios

Before the “students” began school, they took a trip to Diagon Alley to get supplies, beginning with Gringotts to withdraw some Galleons.20161105_192404159_ios20161105_192412198_iosThe wand chooses the witch! We made these with dowel rods, hot glue, beads, and spray paint. We were super pleased with the results!20161105_192427443_ios


Our sweet little witch running Honeydukes!20161105_194237332_ios20161105_194649122_ios

Of course you can’t start classes until you’re sorted into houses20161105_193732317_ios

The activities were in the form of classes. Mainly real Hogwarts classes mixed with a few grammar level ones for the sake of having enough.
Care of Magical Creatures where they designed dragons20161105_210536423_ios20161105_210527144_iosHistory of Magic where they studied Harry’s scar by trying to pin it in the right place20161105_130539000_iosHerbology where they painted planter pots20161105_200032254_iosQuidditch! Bill made these hoops and they were fantastic!!! We had the girls bounce a ping pong ball on the table, trying to get them through the hoop.20161105_203256570_iosFlying Lessons where we did several broom relays. Many of our awesome neighbors let us borrow their brooms for this!20161105_215602382_ios20161105_215723008_iosGrammar, complete with Mad Lib20161106_141220649_iosGeography as a Horcrux scavenger hunt. I printed the clues on the back. Bill made these maps, too! This man is creative, ya’ll!!!20161111_211358098_ios20161111_211408844_iosPotions where we mixed baking soda, dish soap, food coloring, and vinegar. The girls had more fun with this than anything else! They could have stayed with this activity for an hour, I’m sure. I got these adorable little cauldrons on Amazon, and they made cute party favors.20161111_211825993_iosOther activities we forgot to photograph:

  • Dueling in the form of freeze tag
  • Charms using Wingardium Leviosa to keep balloons in the air with their wands
  • Defense Against the Dark Arts where the girls fought a dementor (black tablecloth pinned to the wall) with wands (shooting q-tips from straws)
  • Vocabulary as Harry Potter Bingo

The birthday girl’s ice cream cake20161105_212642215_ios

Sillie selfies!!20161105_192255399_ios


Happy Birthday, Courtney

My love,

As we’ve now had more than a year of the family tradition of writing birthday letters, it seems only right that I compose this one for you. These letters always seem to serve the dual purpose of remembering God’s goodness and saying a blessing for the coming year of life. There is much I have to say of both for you.

Looking back, it is clearer than the most perfect diamond that God our Father has been working all things together for good for you. The sweet little girl who grew up under her mother’s godly example, the years of shining in music, our path into a renewal of the gospel in our hearts, the addition of child upon child—what a ride! All of it has been part of the tapestry Dad has weaved of your life, whether painful or exhilarating or dull.

Still, what I find weird is how much harder each subsequent year is than the previous one. Sometimes I can’t decide if that’s good or bad—though ultimately I always lean on God’s goodness that it is, in fact, good. In particular, to say that adoption has owned almost every waking moment of the last year (plus!) is no exaggeration. As stupid as it sounds, I really expected that adoption would be so much easier than this. I thought with six bio kids under our belt, adopting more would be only marginally different.

I was far more than marginally wrong.

I say all of this because adoption is not just part of our family, but also part of our tapestry. In many ways, it’s overshadowed so much before it that I can scarcely remember those days. We’ve had to fight the good fight of faith together and that fight hasn’t always gone well. We’ve learned weakness in excruciatingly new ways.

But here enters the grace: for his grace is sufficient for us and his power is made perfect in weakness. We always knew that was true with your Crohn’s. Now we know it’s true as parents. Our weakness is a very real reminder of the great grace Dad gives us moment to moment to moment. So while the happily ever after of adoption doesn’t really seem attainable yet, I rejoice because the sufficiency of Jesus has been on display for us in a new array of colors.

That’s not the only thing worth remembering from the last year. God the Spirit has knit our church together in a way we’d always hoped would happen, but were beginning to despair never would. Yet it did. Those ladies are now your best friends. Our church is our family and the ones who are there for us in times of trouble and distress. How blessed we are to have that!

We also can’t forget to rejoice in God for his healing power: your Crohn’s is in remission! We never even thought of that as a possibility, but God gave us more than we could ever ask or imagine. And how cool to see the culmination of years of prayer, beginning with asking our elders at Cedar Grove to anoint you with oil and pray over you. God is far more faithful than we ever expect him to be.

The last year has been both hard and good, both discouraging and hopeful. Bittersweet. But any bitterness will one day be washed away in eternal light and joy. And until that day, there is joy to be had now as we rest in the finished work of Jesus to provide for us and sustain us.

I want to bless you as well. And there are some specific things I have in mind for you, as the Lord wills.

First, the Lord bless you in mothering all of your children together. May the struggles of adoption blur into the joyful struggles of motherhood. May this be the year when we see the family as the new whole it is.

Second, the Lord bless you in your friendships and fellowship. May the transitory and fragmented friendships of our whole lives transform into deeply rooted friendships with your sisters in Jesus. Overlook offenses. Find the good. Be quick to encourage. The Enemy would love to see the relationships you’ve built be torn down and trampled. May it never be so.

Third, the Lord bless your music. He gave you that musical mind, those vocal chords, that harmonic intuition. Some things may have been sitting on the shelf for a while, but it’s time to dust them off. You have my full confidence. I know you and know what you’re capable of. May God grant you humble success.

Lastly, the Lord bless your heart. The darkness has always chased you, but you have prevailed in Jesus. Truly, more and more all the time. But the Accuser rejoices to find new ways to coat his flaming darts with pitch. May the Lord hand you a new shield of faith each time the arsenal gets an upgrade. And may that shield never fail.

One last thing: I love you. I never tire of saying it. And I mean it more than ever. You captivate me and constantly surprise me. You make me smile and laugh and sing. You help me carry my burdens. You are the perfect fit for me. You’re lovely and vibrant and vivacious. I praise you in the gates (the interwebs are my gates) because you are strong and beautiful and holy. You are a blessing to each life you touch, mine more than any other.

Happy birthday, my heart.


Managing Several Small Children–Individual Time

When we started this series, a friend asked us to address how we get alone time with our kids. I would imagine this is difficult for any family with multiple kids, whether that be two or twenty. As Bill talked about on Monday, much of our time together requires the kids learning to love one another and a big part of that is teaching them to talk less and listen more. So when do we really get to hear them out and find out more deeply what’s going on in their little hearts? The Bells attempt to do this in two main ways listed below, and I’ve listed another idea I’ve heard about but don’t currently do.

Late nights–When the kids reach the age of three,* we let them stay up later than their siblings with Bill and me. This started at 30 minutes, but we recently extended the time to an hour. Though we’ll sometimes make suggestions, usually the child gets to choose what we do. This in and of itself helps us see what makes our kids tick. One of our children will almost definitely include puzzles in our time, one will include books, one games, and one art. One thing that’s off limits with very few exceptions is technology. We want this to be a time open for lots of talking, and usually they have plenty to say! Each child gets a late night every other week, and I find myself wishing they could last all night long.

Date nights–Once a month, each child gets a date night with either Bill or me. Bill gets the younger ones one month, and the next month we switch. We usually go out for a couple of hours and do something super simple and free or almost free. For instance, this month I took Liam to Toys R Us to simply look around and play with toys that are set out for that purpose. I’ll be repeating that date with Ariana next week.

Special Occasions: We haven’t done this yet, but I think it’s a great idea and one worth noting. I know of families who will set up babysitting so both parents take out one child for a special occasions like birthdays. Often they will stay gone all day. I think that would be super sweet event for both parents and child.

We usually don’t have a problem getting our kids to talk when we get them alone, but if you have a child who needs some probing, we love the book 201 Great Questions for Parents and Children.

*We find that trying to fit in much individual time with kids under three ends up being a bit of a waste. For one, they end up getting more individual attention naturally simply because they’re so dependent on us as the parents. Second, God designed them to simply discover during this time. More often than not, our tots are good if we’re simply in the room available but tend to get frustrated if we try to engage too much or too long with them. Though we talk to them, play with them, and read to them often, for the most part they want their freedom.