Phone Photo Friday



Most of my Phone Photo Friday pictures are from my Instagram feed. Follow me @mahlbrandt if you’d like!

Before & After: Bookshelf


From ugly, cheap bookshelf to cute, cheap bookshelf!

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While on the hunt for a dresser for the next kids’ room, I came across this little piece of junk bookshelf. It’s pressboard with a wood patterned laminate and it was dirty and wobbly. BUT… it was only $6.99 and I couldn’t resist! I’m on the lookout for bookshelves for the kids bedrooms, the den, my office…basically, I could use a lot of bookshelves in a lot of places.

My dear husband is the perfectionist when it comes to home projects. When I was in elementary school my mom bought me a poster of a kitten covered in paint that said “I’m not messy; I’m creative!” That pretty much sums up the way I do projects, which Jason can surely confirm. He also calls me the Swedish Chef as he’s cleaning up after me in the kitchen. All that to say, I painted the heck out of this thing. I was experimenting as I went. First I tried gray primer spray paint but it ran out. Then I tried flat black spray paint. (I’m a horrible spray painter, by the way.) That ran out too so I changed tactics and went with white ceiling paint for primer because we have a 5-gallon bucket of it in the garage. That worked. Then I painted it with the same quart of Glidden wall paint that I’ve used for the little nightstand dresser in Ali’s room and the recently purchased dresser. I figure maybe one day they’ll all end up in the same room. It took me 3 coats to cover this thing! Even after all my “primer” coats.

Before painting, I had added a few screws into the sides to try to stabilize it. They helped but I realized that it originally had a panel on the back, which would have helped the corners stay square. I came up with the idea of adding a piece of stained plywood to the back. We had the stain on hand. I used a rag to rub it onto the face and the edges of the plywood. When it was fairly dry (OK, not really…I was impatient…) I tacked it onto the back of the shelves with finishing nails. I really love how it turned out with the Granny Apple green and the American Walnut (color) wood. Oh, and the only thing I had to purchase was the plywood, which was around $10 and I had cut to size (from a 2’x4′ sheet) at the store. So this whole deal cost about $17.

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For now, it’s residing in the den. I needed a spot to put the DVD player so this room could start feeling more like a den and less like a playroom. I was also excited to have a spot to set up some of the awesome Barbie furniture my Granny made me. I could only fit about 1/4 of it on the shelf but that’s fine for now.


Ali immediately said “House!” when she saw it and she’s pretty excited about these two mutilated “Darbies” from my childhood.


The blonde has a broken neck and Ali is quite concerned about her head popping off. She brings it to me every time and says, “Oh no, Mama!” They’re both naked, missing one limb (from a dog attack) and have butchered haircuts. Based on how rough Ali plays with them, though, I think I’ll wait a year or two before buying her any new Darbies.


Mid-Century Modern Birdhouse


Jason and I built this birdhouse a few years ago. It used to hang from a dogwood tree in the back garden at our last home. We didn’t realize at the time that it had a major design flaw: it couldn’t be opened to clean it out. Apparently birds like to move in, build an intricate nest, and then move out. Eventually the bottom boards started to get loose so I decided to give it a little TLC a couple weeks ago. I took the bottom two pieces of 1×4 off and reattached them with hinges and a brace that can be unscrewed when I’m ready to clean it out again. I also added a little perch under the front door. All of these were just bits and pieces we had in the tool box. I was planning to hang it up in a tree but I wasn’t happy with how much it moved when the wind blew. I ended up nestling it in this bush along our back chain link fence.

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It was important to me that it was located where I could watch it from the living room. One morning while I was having a cup of tea, I spotted some little birds hopping around near the house and then one went it! I was so thrilled. There were two of these little birds and they ended filling it with twigs and making a nest.

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I’m glad I made it openable because these cute little birds have already moved on. This ugly black bird decided to investigate but passed. Either he was too big or unhappy that the previous tenants moved out and left all their furniture inside. I guess I need to do a little more Spring cleaning.

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Junior Landscaping Apprentice


When Jason and I are doing yard work, Ali is either sleeping or helping. And by helping, I mean “helping.” Bless her heart, she wants so badly to be useful.


I was planning on getting Ali a sandbox this summer and then I realized, hello! We have a whole courtyard full of crushed rocks. Welcome to the giant sandbox, darling.


Look how she follows Jason around with her tiny shovel, trying to do exactly what he’s doing.


Such a beautiful picture of parenting and discipline, isn’t it? She learns how to act by watching and imitating us. We lead by example and it’s her instinct to follow.


It’s not forced. She could have been just playing in the rocks and that would have been fine. But she wanted to help Daddy. She wanted to do what Daddy was doing. She wants to be like Daddy.

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A Gut-Wrenching Adoption Story


I love to cry over a good adoption story. What can I say. I get adoption and it gets me. Every time. So I was thrilled to discover the Archibald Project. It’s produced by a couple that documents families’ adoption stories with video and photography. Great quality photos and videos to go along with great adoption stories? I’m there. One story in particular has really been wrecking me lately.

The Via family.

When I started watching their documentary, it sounded like many other adoption stories. They felt called to adoption and decided to add to their family of 5 by adopting a fourth child from Uganda. They were matched with a precious little girl named Chloe. But then their story takes an unusual twist.

Check out the video for yourself. You won’t be sorry.

Through a turn of events that I don’t know enough about to explain, the US government repeatedly denied Chloe access to come home to her new family in the United States. What would you do if your child was stranded somewhere…halfway across the world? To what great lengths would you go to get her, to bring her home? How hard would you fight? What would you be willing to sacrifice, to give up in order to have your whole family together?

The Vias were forced to ask themselves that question.

Their resolution: If they could not bring Chloe home, they would bring home to Chloe. They decided to pack up their lives in Raleigh, NC and move their family of 5 to Uganda so they could finally be together as a family of 6. Read their story and see lots of photos here.

This is the most beautiful picture of adoption I have ever seen. It blows all of the ill-minded pre-conceived notions about adoption out of the water. This was not about a family who just wanted a baby or a child. It was not about achieving a goal. It was not about a token piece for their family or making a statement about international adoption or transracial families. There was not one once of selfish motive. It was all about this: there once was a little girl who didn’t have a family. But she is an orphan no-more.

The Vias made it to Uganda and were united with Chloe. Go here to see the pictures of their airport send off, their travels across the globe and the beautiful moments their family of six was finally all together. 

Oooh! And just posted: Adjusting to life in Jinja, Uganda.

(In case it’s not obvious, the video below is an advertisement. Click on the links above to watch and read this adoption story at The Archibald Project website.)

Phone Photo Friday


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Most of my Phone Photo Friday pictures are from my Instagram feed. Follow me @mahlbrandt if you’d like!

God Bless This Home



I had a blog post written that I was going to post on Monday about how the processes of Ali’s adoption and building our new house had been occurring simultaneously since November 2011 and both got completely wrapped up last week when we received our daughter’s new birth certificate in the mail AND closed out our construction loan and began our conventional mortgage. BUT. The latter ended up not happening for a million frustrating reasons. It’s not going to happen this week or probably next week, either. It’s been a busy, stressful week around here and I’ve had moments of wanting to pull my hair out.

I needed to stop and remind myself of the truth. 

We live in this beautiful home—a blessing we never expected to experience at this point of our lives. God has given us favor over and over again in this process, just as He did with Ali’s adoption and back when she was in state care. He never leaves us or forsakes us. He never gives us more than we can handle. We have so much to be thankful for. In addition to our beautiful girl and our home, Jason and I have a great relationship, we have wonderful family and friends, we have jobs that we love, we have a kitchen full of food and closets full of clothes. We have more than enough; overflow to share. We are abundantly blessed.

We haven’t received any calls from DCS regarding foster placements yet. I’m surprised. Also, I’m relieved. Mainly because of the mortgage stuff. Also because of some upcoming travel. Even if we did get a placement, I’m sure we could overcome those challenges with a new temporary family member along for the adventure. It’s comforting to know that God’s timing is always perfect.

Random Ali-ness


At 20.5 months, Ali is making us laugh with her silly antics everyday. She knows what she wants and how to express it. One morning while I was on a long and important phone call, I managed to get her diaper changed, get her dressed and prepare her a breakfast of toast, fruit and yogurt. When I put her in the high chair and offered her each of those 3 things, she said no to each. When I finally got off the call I said, “You don’t want any of these things? What do you want?” And she answered very clearly, “Eggs.” Duh, Mama. She loves eggs. She also loves to try on Jason’s and my glasses. She called them “See!” because I always tell her I need them to see.


Everyday Ali asks to go “outside!” She loves playing outdoors, regardless of the weather. When it’s nice I try to get her out to the playground so she can burn off some energy. I’m really looking forward to warmer weather so we can spend more time outside everyday. Spring has been noncommittal this year; we’ve had gorgeous days and then chilly, dreary days.


We were scheduled to start swimming lessons last month but because of some issues with the pool at the community center, they had to cancel our class. I’m bummed. I plan to spend a lot of time with Ali at my parents’ pool this summer working on the basics. She’s fearless and adventurous so we are taking water safety and survival skills very seriously.



Ali has always been very social but lately phrases have been coming out more clearly. The other morning she enthusiastically said “Hi, Daddy!” to Jason, followed by “You’re cute!” Some other phrases she’s said: I’m ready, I want Daddy/Mama, Where’s Ali/Daddy/Mama/Lucy/Gramma?, There she is, Where are you?, I love you, Let’s see… (when we open the fridge).

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Ali still says “boops” instead of books, even though she can say “duck.” She also has been informing us when she needs a tissue but saying she has “boobers” which is super cute. She said “uh ho” instead of uh oh and “no no!” instead of “oh no!” I know I’ll miss those words when they’re gone. She still can’t really say Grandma and Grandpa; they sound like “Ma’ama” and “Mampa” but it works and I know they love to hear it. Some other random words she says: hi, yes, yeah, hello, no, bye-bye, goodnight, amen, ball, up, help, see, elbow, knee, eye, hair, owl, Ali, baby, tea, toffee (coffee), picko (pickle), cheese, toast, yogurt, saysu (raisin), Sucy/Ucy (Lucy), sauce, shoes, shocks (socks), stinky, poopoo, potty, bass/baff (bath), aldi (all done), tan to (thank you), peesh (please), dis (this), dintz/ditz (drink… took us a while to recognize this one!), taco, owives (olives), cookie, cacka (cracker), cheese, milk, baba (bottle), cup, diapu (diaper), outside, side (slide), swing, chalk, dubbus (bubbles), duck, doddy (doggy…it sounds a lot like “daddy” which has led to a few embarrassing situations for whatever man is standing near a dog), mama/mommy, daddy, I-is (Iris), Eyza (Eliza), Jeejee (Jaron), Nana (banana), Ninny (Nana), Papa, E-ey (Eli), Awi/Ali, Jesus, Doda (Dora), Gabba (Yo Gabba Gabba), Elmo, fowwa (flower), stickoos (stickers), cuwu (color), nap, musis/deedeedeebababa (music/turn on the music please)… and I’m sure there are more I’m not remembering.  Ali will repeat the whole alphabet letter by letter but hasn’t mastered g, r, n, l yet. She’s very good at communicating in general


Ali tries to imitate everything we do which is awesome for teaching her things like putting away toys, wiping up spills, putting on pants/socks/shoes and trying new foods. It’s also super cute when she tries to help us with yard work, walking Lucy and in this case playing the guitar like Daddy.


Along with all of the fun and cuteness, the challenges also increase, but I think that’s just the way it goes with the toddler years. She keeps us on our toes and constantly learning and trying new parenting techniques. Jason and I often comment to each other that she gets more beautiful everyday. We are blessed and thankful to get to be her parents. I’m savoring this time when she has us all to herself as an only child.

“Did you have a baby?”


Kids are honest. I love how they just ask whatever they’re thinking about without any hang-ups. This conversation happened with my friends’ 3 year old son last year while we were visiting them. I wrote it down at the time but haven’t shared it until now.

Ben: Did you have a baby?

Me: Alianna is our baby. We have her.

Ben: Was Alianna in your belly?

Me, thinking: How the heck am I going to explain this to a three-year-old?

Me: No, she was in a different woman’s belly. She had a different mommy before she came to live with us.

That was the end of the conversation but I brought it up again later when his parents were present so they could help explain it to him. Ben has two younger siblings, the youngest was just a month old at the time so he understands that babies are in mommies’ bellies before they’re born.

A while back I also had a conversation with friends’ daughter who I think was about 7 at the time.

Ruby, admiring baby Alianna: Maybe one day you’ll have a baby of your own, too!

Me: Well, you know what? If we get to adopt Alianna, then she’ll be our own. She’ll stay with us and be part of our family forever.

Ruby: Big, delighted smile. Yeah!

It’s kind of amazing how a simple, honest answer satisfies a simple, honest question, isn’t it?

Have any of you other foster or adoptive parents had interesting conversations with kids about the process? Foster care seems particularly difficult to explain sometimes (without getting in too deep about abuse or kids getting taken away from their parents) but I haven’t had any negative experiences trying to explain the basics. What about you?

Related post:

Foster Care Terminology