Friday, 28 December 2012

Winter Wonderland

Monday, 24 December 2012

O Holy Night

...A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn...

Today marks four and a half years since we lost our sweet daughter. It is the fifth Christmas that we will celebrate without her. There is something about the holidays that makes me long a little more for my Leah. She would have been four this year, just a little younger than Tommy, and I know she would be anticipating the day with as much wonder and excitement as he is. And I'm missing it.

I'm weary from the missing, and from the longing, and the yearning. As the years go on living without Leah becomes more and more routine, and the freshness of the grief is long past, and the rawest scars have healed over. But the dull ache never subsides. The beauty of that ache is that it always reminds me how weary I am, and how much I need Christ to arrive. I need the new and glorious morn that he brings, I need his transformation and his new life.

...Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices! Oh night divine, the night when Christ was born...

What hope the birth of a baby can bring. The freshness of new life and the mystery of God's plan for that little one are such precious gifts. How much more so when the new life bears the title Messiah, when he is the promised Holy One, the God With Us. I wonder how the Shepherds felt, as they sat in a cold field in the middle of the night and suddenly the night sky was filled with angels proclaiming to them that their lives would change, that the world would change, that Christ the Lord had come. I wonder how they felt five years down the road. How had this brush with the divine altered them? Were their expectations met? Did they feel let down?

This year has held disappointment for me. Did you know that we found out about Mom's cancer on the very same day that my pregnancy with Kenny was finally officially declared "low risk?" I never even had a chance to revel in the peace that that pronouncement brought. I had only a few hours to rejoice in that amazing news before my world went dark. I know Christ has come. I know his hope, and yet, I struggle. Even having experienced his beautiful redemption of my deepest hurts, I struggle when trials visit me again, when life fails my expectations, when my hopes are not met.

...The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend;
He knows our need, To our weakness is no stranger...

Emmanuel means God With Us. This Christmas I am clinging to that name. God With Us. God on earth. God who was born covered in slime and gasping for breath. God who slept in the humblest of beds. God who experienced hunger. God who lived under oppression. God who walked among us. God who loved sinners, from prostitutes to tax collectors to Pharisees. God who lost friends and family members. God who suffered. God who died. But best of all, God who rose again.

Gods knows. He has experienced. Truly, these are tidings of comfort and joy. Tidings I need to hear this Christmas eve, when our activities sag a bit under the weight of our sadness. As we fight for normalcy and joy, the question "is this the last Christmas as we have known it?" lingers on the edges. We certainly hope that it isn't, but we don't know.

Christmas has not been the same for Jeff and I since Leah died. I know it hasn't been the same for Jeff since his Dad died, even before we lost Leah. As the years march on, we will repeat this scenario again and again with different people and different losses. At least we know that Christ did this too. God With Us has shared our pain.

....Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, And in His name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, Let all within us praise His holy name; Christ is the Lord, Oh Praise His name forever...

At Christmas we long for peace. We long for all to be made right. For the promise that God made when he sent his son to see fulfillment. For our world to be restored. God's work through Christ is ongoing. There is more to be done, more restoration on the horizon, more redeeming work.

As I contemplate the birth of Christ, as I ponder the mystery of a God who fulfills the hope of generations by providing a baby born in the most inauspicious of circumstances, as I wonder at the oddness of God's strategies and his painful and strange and beautiful plans, I realize how inadequate my only response can be: praising His holy name.

I hurt. I don't understand. I pine for life to be different. I long for the end of oppression. I know that God With Us has done the same.

The miracle of a babe. The mystery of a holy night. Oh night divine, the night when Christ was born...

Monday, 17 December 2012

Update on Mary: It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

The boys and I are now in California and we are all getting ready for Christmas! We've picked out a tree, baked and decorated a big pile of cookies, and watched The Bells of St. Mary. We are excitedly awaiting the arrival of the rest of the family (and hiding most of the cookies).

Please pray that mom would stay healthy and strong during the next few weeks. Please pray that she will get plenty of rest, that she wouldn't catch any of the many viruses circulating this cold and flu season, and that her stomach will not bother her. Please pray that she would be able to recover quickly from chemo this week (Thursday) so that she will feel well by Christmas. Please pray that we would be able to enjoy our time together and make some really wonderful memories.

Thank you all for your prayers and support this past year. We are so thankful that Mom has made it to Christmas and that we have the blessing of celebrating the birth of our Savior together this year. We attribute this to your keep them coming! We hope you have a very Merry Christmas.

Maybe this one...

Papa's boy

Uncle Kevin plays peek-a-boo

Nothing better than cookies in the morning

The Baby Whisperer

Papa ate most of the cookies

Nic ate most of the sprinkles

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Terrible But True

Recently in the Klug Household...

I was softening our last stick of butter to make a coffee cake. Nicolas found it and licked it up and down like a lollipop. I used it anyway. (Don't worry, the cake was only consumed by our family).

I was changing Kenny with Nic's "help," so I set the dirty diaper behind me to make sure Nic didn't play with it. Then Kenny let loose with a little stream. While attempting to dodge said urine shower I fell backwards and sat squarely on the old diaper that had fallen open. To add insult to injury, I wasn't quick enough to dodge the pee Kenny was shooting at me, so I got wet on both sides.

Tommy learned a hard lesson about putting down the toilet seat and closing the lid when he stumbled backwards while brushing his teeth and fell all the way into the toilet. He was totally soaked and it scared the be-jabbers out of him...and it didn't help that one of his two parents was doubled over laughing at the spectacle.

I emerged from the shower to find Tommy jumping up and down on the coffee table in an attempt to yank the cord to our ceiling fan. He and Nic had thrown some objects on top of the fan and wanted to turn it on to watch them fly off. He is about an inch away from being able to activate the fan and shoot tennis shoes everywhere. If you given them ten minutes by themselves...

And. most terrible of all, Nic broke our digital camera (accidentally). I wish that had a funny punch-line. Thus, no more pictures until we hit CA for Christmas.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Remembering Hope

Advent is a time of longing. A time of waiting. A time of anticipation. A time of hope. We look forward to Christ's return, we look forward to the celebration of His birth and the fulfillment of years of waiting for God to send a Messiah for His people. But we wait and hope and yearn for little things too. For the bits and pieces that comprise the things we long for the most. Those things don't matter to humanity the way that the coming of a Savior and his eventual return do, but in our small stories they mean everything. And I know that they matter to God, because He orchestrates both the big and the small picture. He carefully oversees not just the redemption of man, but the redemption of me.

This Advent I have found myself reflecting much more on the things that I long for. Perhaps it's timing. This is the fifth season of advent that we have celebrated since losing Leah. For me Advent has never been more real or more personal since I walked through it while desperately longing for an actual child. Advent is a hard time when you yearn for a baby, but yearning also makes it so much more meaningful because you intimately understand the urgency with which we should be craving the coming of our Lord.

In my current day to day, which is filled to bursting with children and their laborious (but joyous) care, I forget what it feels like to long for anything more than a clean kitchen and a three day nap. In the midst of this, Advent is a precious reminder to stop and yearn, to stop and anticipate, and to hope. Sometimes God wipes the lenses of my eyes clean. They have been so clouded with sorrow about my mom's illness, disappointments with Jeff's job, frustration with our living arrangement, and a difficult situation concerning one of the kids. I often feel like I am treading water very poorly, spiritually speaking, instead of clinging to God's grace and allowing him to do the work of keeping me afloat. So this week he threw me a life preserver.

Sunday was the first day of Advent. I was feeling draggy and grumpy because Nic is still teething, and then he wakes up Kenny, and trust me, it's a vicious cycle. I dressed Kenny up for church and was tearing through the boy's bedroom unsuccessfully searching for his second church shoe, when Nic came in grasping a baby tennis shoe, and offered it to me. Kenny had never worn these shoes before, and I knew as soon as I saw Nic holding it that it was a little shoe of hope.

In order to understand the impact Nic's gesture had on me, you need to know the story behind the shoe. And, perhaps it is a silly story, but, when you are grieving things that seem trifling to others can be terribly important to you.

Rewind almost five years. Jeff and I announced we were pregnant, and congratulations and such poured in. Along with those came an offer from a neighbor, who mentioned she had boy clothing that she would be happy to pass on to us if we needed it. As you know, we didn't. We had a daughter, and she only needed a burial gown. Then I did something silly after we lost Leah; I asked for the clothes anyway. At the time, I didn't know if we would ever have a child, much less when. We had begun our adoption, and we knew that there was a higher chance we would be matched with a boy. So, it sort of made sense. But it didn't matter to me whether or not it made a lick of sense, because my parents had space in the attic and were willing to indulge my crazy hoarding whims. You see, to me it wasn't just a pile of baby clothes, it was a pile of hope. A tangible collection of material objects that reminded me that as dark as my life seemed, and hard as it hurt to lose Leah, and travel the excruciating road of waiting that was our first adoption, that someone believed that we would really and truly have a baby enough to give me the things that I would need when my baby arrived, even if they might have served someone else "faster" or "better" had they been donated to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. It was like our neighbor who donated the clothes, and my parents who patiently stored all those bags, really believed that a baby would come into my life, that a little child would someday snuggle in my arms and need all of those tiny outfits. As I longed for that baby to come, I needed hope (and really, when you consider how many piles of rocks our Old Testament heroes collected to remember and remind, making a pile of clothes isn't that odd).

When the pile of clothes was delivered to my parent's house, we had just been given a referral for a baby who never ended up joining our family. I carefully sorted through clothes picking out his sizes and packing what I would need for our trip to get him in Uganda. I was full of hope. I carefully selected my favorite teeny tiny outfits (he was small), and delighted in little bitty baby shoes. Because let's be real, baby shoes are ridiculously unnecessary and therefore ridiculously cute. I picked from the bag the most absurd baby shoes, Nike tennis shoes in the smallest size possible, looking brand spanking new because they clearly hadn't been walked on. They struck me as the most adorable thing, and I couldn't wait to get them on our little man's feet. But that was also not to be, and after our referral fell through all that stuff went back into bags to wait a little longer. When Tommy finally became part of our family he was much too old and grown up to wear the tiny baby shoes. Back in the clothes bag they went again. When Nic came home I tried again with him. While he fit in many of the baby (6 to 12 month) clothes, his feet were (and are) rather large for his body, so the shoes barely went over his toes. Back in the clothes bag they went. I got them out when Kenny started needing shoes for the purpose of holding on his socks, but I never quite got around to putting them on. Eventually Nic and Tommy decided they were cool and tried to wear them in an effort reminiscent of Cinderella's step-sisters. The shoes got separated and one was misplaced, and they never ended up on Kenny's feet, until that first morning of Advent.

As I slid that little shoe on Kenny's feet, zipped it up and pulled the velcro tight, it was as if God was whispering into my ear, "Remember, your crazy pile of clothes? Remember, you have hope. Remember what I have done."

It was a culmination of a longing. Not that Kenny has completed our family in a way that is better than Tommy or Nic. He is no more my child than they are. All my children are equally mine, and they hold the same place in my heart. All of their lives and stories are equally miraculous to me. But in those dark days I longed for a baby, I dreamed of tiny hands, newborn cries, and chubby thigh rolls, because I had lost those things. I had lost not only a daughter, but an experience. When we chose to adopt internationally, we knew we were giving that up, and we knew that it was the right choice for us. But I always hoped for tiny little feet to wear those shoes, and those itsy newborn onesies, and sweet little sleepers, and Kenny has done all those things. We've awakened many times a night to his sweet snuffles and pathetic little cries. We've changed countless diapers, given careful baths, and had our fingers grasped by tiny little fingers. We've introduced solids, been gnawed on with tender gums, and chomped on by a first tooth. Kenny is almost as old as Nic was when Nic joined our family, and we are just about done experiencing infant "firsts" that have been as new to us as they are to Kenny. It's been a bittersweet journey, one that has dredged up bits and pieces of loss and grief, but it's also been healing, and joyous, and good. So, so good.

But it is easy to forget how good life is when your mom's doctors tell you she is going to die, and when your children fight, and when your house has no space for playing, no appliances for dishwashing or laundry, and the funk that is effecting our economy hits your household. That's why I needed the little reminder of how much God has done: a little pair of white tennis shoes that carried the message of a longing fulfilled on a day dedicated to anticipation, to yearning, to expectation, and to that ache in one's heart that whispers, "and yet, there must be something more."

Christ was here once. His coming fulfilled a long awaited promise, and when He came He brought with Him hope. Hope in a restored relationship with God. Hope in a restored world. Hope that all the hurts and sorrows we bear will pass away. Hope that all of our yearnings and deep need will be met, through God's provision, and in His time. I needed to remember that this Advent. I needed to remember to take time to let my heart ache, to yearn, to know that my life is just a small part of a big redemption story, one that God is actively working to bring to completion, just as he is actively working to complete a good work in me. And knowing all that, remembering all that, I hope.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Early Morning Football

Inspired by last night's game, this morning Tommy got up, ate breakfast, and suited up for the football game he intended to play with Nic on our bed ("I need my helmet so we can play football on your bed!"). While this idea was nixed, we did allow them to play on the floor. When we explained that playing on the bed might be dangerous, he responded, "but we're wearing helmets!"

Tommy thought up this outfit all by himself: I'm rather proud of the shoulder pads in particular. When Nic saw Tommy's get-up, he wanted to join in on the fun.

Tommy announced, "I'm Jetski and Nic can be Johnathan Franklin." (For those of you who don't bleed Bruin blue, Jetski is Johnathan Franklin is The Mayor). So we suggested he choose another play for Nic, so Nic got to be one of the other favorites, Brett Hundley. He even knows their numbers from watching games this season - 23 and 17. He noted last night that it is nice that they have chocolate skin and curly hair just like he does.

My little boys are football fans. Just about every fourth word out of Nic's mouth is "football." They've enjoyed that the last few Bruin games were televised nationally so we actually got to watch some of the game together (the games have been on too late for them to stay up for the whole thing). Tommy likes to watch the players and ask questions about them, work on figuring out their numbers, and try to decipher exactly what is going on in the game. Nic enjoys the band. He stands closer to the TV so he can hear even the faintest melody, and claps along to his two favorite songs, Sons of Westwood and the Mighty Bruins.

Jeff has never really been interested in football, but since the kids love it so much he is learning the rules and following along with the games. This is the sign of a great dad, in my opinion - being willing to take up his kids' interests even when they aren't his. Given Jeff's excellent memory, he will probably know more about football than I do very very soon. It is funny to watch football with an adult who isn't familiar with the game, because all of the stuff you take for granted when you grow up watching football - like the inane babble of certain commentators - seems odd when you aren't used to it.

Some pictures of the boys, all suited up and ready to play:

Kenny enjoyed watching from a safe distance.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Spotlight on Nic

I realized that I haven't posted much on Nic lately, poor middle child. I have blog-neglected him. Hopefully one day he will forgive me.

The more I get to know Nic, the more I love his sweet, nurturing, and silly personality. As his ability to express himself grows we have the joy of experiencing new facets of Nic. I could do without the two year old tantrums, and the shrieking in frustration when his limited speech skills fail him, but on the whole it has been exciting to watch him learn to be more aggressive in declaring his opinions and to see his personality unfold.

He continues to have speech therapy once a week, and it is working wonders. He is still very delayed, and we expect him to continue in therapy when he transitions to the school district over the summer (when he turns three), but his progress has been helpful in easing his frustrations. The more he is able to express himself, the more his therapist is able to pinpoint the causes behind his delay. It isn't a language comprehension issue because his receptive vocabulary is great. He simply continues to struggle in making certain sounds. The good news is that he has become very responsive to prompting, he perseveres in attempting to make himself understood, and he really enjoys being praised for getting words right. He is now using two-word phrases in therapy, but I've heard him use three word phrases on occasion. He also attempts repeating much longer sentences from books, songs, and in imitation of me or Jeff. He uses too many words for me to attempt to record them...but in the last few days we've heard "Mack" (from Cars),'Wii," "pickle," "snuggly," "snuggle Mommy" (my favorite), and "snuggle baby" (not Kenny's favorite).

He hasn't had any sickle related problems lately. We are so thankful. I am pretty obsessive about handwashing when we get home from things, and we've only had a few sniffles so far this flu season, but nothing serious. I took the boys for flu shots on the very first day our pediatrician offered them, and Jeff and I got ours as well, so hopefully we can avoid the ER for a while longer. His next scheduled blood draw/hematology visit isn't until next year.

The other big update is that he has only one more molar and we will be done with his teething. Nic is that child who teethes for months and months. Tommy's teeth seemed to appear without warning and overnight, so all of the misery that Nic has experienced took us by surprise, but it is almost over! His final two-year molar should be arriving any time now.

The true sign that Nic is a "big boy" is that he is now pushing his own shopping cart at Trader Joe's. The last time we went he got his first cart and dutifully followed me around the store at a nice, slow pace. The problem was, he kept stuffing things he liked in his cart! We didn't even make it past the first aisle before he was helping himself to some frosted mini-wheats. Then he added Christmas cookies and chips. Even worse, he refused to put things in his cart that he didn't like. Everything I put in that he disapproved of was carefully removed and placed back on the shelf. It was so funny. And no, he didn't get to keep the sugar cereal or the cookies and chips. He will have to learn that we shop off of a list sometime,and it might as well be now.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Cards, Cards, Cards

I am happy to say that I have ordered my Christmas cards and am now only on the hook for labeling and sending them...that's one big chore off my pre-Christmas list!

If you don't have your cards all figured out, and don't feel like sending a picture card this year check out Katie (formerly Cox) Truelove's cute stationary Christmas cards at her etsy shop Hello Truelove.

Or, if you were thinking you wanting to send out greetings decked with cute family photos another great option is my friend Julie's adorable designs. Remember our awesome family pictures? She is responsible for them, and since they turned out great despite that being one of the worst mornings ever prior to arriving at our appointment, I owe her big time.

Also, the website, Treat, which I used to make a funny birthday card for my dad (which was modeled as a campaign poster for the "Mayor of Oldsville"), is currently running a promotion that allows you to send a personalized card for free. It's only good for two days, November 19th and 20th, so if you would like to take advantage of this deal you should hurry!

The code for the free card is TREATBLOGR.

Enter it at checkout and sending the card won't cost you a thing. I'm planning on sending an anniversary card to my Grandparents. It only takes a few minutes to find a great card and send it to someone you love. I've used this site before and been very happy with the results...and since it's free you have nothing to lose. Head to Treat to get started before the deal expires!

(Full Disclosure: Treat gave me free card credits for sharing this deal with you. I was not compensated for sharing the other two links, I did it because I happen to love the women behind both those businesses).

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Update on Mary: Cruise Control

I apologize for the lack of posts on my mom, I know that many of you who are across the country and around the world praying for my mom get updates here (and we love you and want to keep you in the loop). Lately there just hasn't been anything to report, which is both good and bad. I would really prefer to have lots of exciting news about shrinking tumors and such, but we don't have any of that, and it gets a little depressing writing about how the best case scenario is nothing getting worse. But as of now that is mom's prognosis.

Mom's next CT scan isn't until January, and until then she will be sticking to her current chemo protocol. Sometime in the new year she will be adding a second (and new studies have shown, effective and life prolonging) drug called Abraxane. You may have heard of it because it is commonly used to fight breast and lung cancer. It has just been shown to help pancreatic cancer patients in a clinical trial, and although it is not approved by the FDA for pancreatic cancer, Doctors may prescribe it while the FDA goes about approving it because it is currently in use for other cancers. We are thankful to have a new option and hopeful that mom will react well to it. More time with her is such a blessing to us!

Following in the theme of "more time"- Mom turned 56 this week. Such a spring chicken! She looks amazing, and has been known to comment, "I'm the healthiest dying person I know!" Also, my Dad has officially become useless retired, so they are enjoying more time together. He's been retired less than a week and they've already been to Palm Springs. Not bad!

Please pray that the chemo Mom is taking will continue to be effective. It isn't a picnic for her, but the side effects are manageable, and so she is still able to be very active and do the things she loves.

Pray that Mom would feel great for Thanksgiving and get to sit around and enjoy the day and her family.

Pray that Mom would feel encouraged as she fights this long battle and that those of us around her would know the best ways to support her.

Thank you all for you continued prayers. This fight has gone on longer than we thought it might when Mom was first diagnosed (Praise God), and we are so grateful to have you walking alongside us. Mom wanted to make sure that you know that she believes the only reason she is still alive is because of all the prayers she has received, so keep at it!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Triumphant Ever More

And you can hear, from far and near, the MIGHTY BRUIN ROAR!!!

Here are the boys celebrating the first touchdown of the big game:

Tommy was so inspired by the Bruin's play that he decided to hone his football skills during halftime. Nic wants to play for the baseball team instead, as you can see.

The boys had so much fun watching the game, it almost makes me wish we had cable (but not quite). They were very excited when the Bruins triumphed over the Trojans. Tommy told me he wanted to be at the Rosebowl. My parents and Emily and Kevin got to go, and I even heard a rumor that Mom and Kevin got on the Jumbotron doing "Gangnam Style." Now that would have been worth getting soaked in the rain to see!

Game Day!

UCLA Beat $C!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

15 Things You Can Do to Support an Adopting Family

It's adoption month, and we aren't adopting, or starting an adoption, or paying off an adoption, so I feel like I can post this without anyone thinking it's about me. Actually, all of the below are wonderful things that people stepped up and did for us when we were adopting, which is how I came up with the ideas in the first place. All Christians are called to care for the vulnerable, and as James reminds us, this means orphans. You may not be called to adopt (or perhaps you are, consider praying about it this month), but you can provide for an orphan by supporting a family in the process of adopting. Here are a few ideas:

1. Pray! Pray for the child being adopted, pray for the family adopting them, pray for the family and friends the child is leaving behind, pray for the process, pray for the child's birth country. Just pray.

2. Offer to bring a meal or watch kids when the family is preparing to travel. Those last few days are exhausting and crazy.

3. Make a "new baby" meal when they come home. Adoptive parents are physically spent from travel and jet-lag, all the kids have adjustments to make, there is unpacking to do, relationships to form, and all the regular demands of running a house/family. A meal helps more than you know.

4. Offer to babysit so adopting Mom and Dad can have one last date before they travel - most families are hesitant to leave newly adopted kiddos with babysitters for the first few months (it's standard adoption/bonding advice), so getting that last night out before the new little one comes home is crucial.

5. Offer hand-me-downs during the adopting process. Adoptions cost loads of money, much of which has to be scraped together and paid out in large chunks, and many adopting families save that money by cutting back on normal expenditures. Your hand-me-downs could save another family that extra few hundred they need to pay for their homestudy, their visa, or their plane tickets. Seriously, they help so much.

6. Offer to lend or give hand-me-down baby gear when they get home. Most families are still paying off the travel costs that they put on their credit cards last minute. Have a stroller you aren't using? A baby swing to lend? Not having to purchase those items is a lifesaver. Just be forewarned that any family who is still being scrutinized by the state has to check everything against recalled product lists - so they may need to ask you the make/model before they say yes (and it isn't because they are picky or rude).

7. Depending on your comfort level (and that of the family) and the age of the child coming home, if you are a nursing mother with a good breast pump...offer milk. We were so blessed to have a few month's of breast milk donated to us when T first got home. Since you can't buy it this is literally priceless.

8. Do you have the a gift for photography? Offer to take pictures! You could provide the shots for the birth announcement, or do some new family photos. Adopting families often don't have enough pictures of their child's early years and are thus scrambling to make up for lost time.

9. Each adoption starts out with a homestudy that includes a home inspection. Offer to help clean things up the day before the inspection - families never know whether their social worker will be glancing in every room or searching the they have to be overly prepared.

10. Host a fundraiser for them. Most families don't have $30k lying around when they start the adoption process. Shocking, I know. And most of us don't really enjoy constantly talking about how much adoption costs, or how much we need money. Really, it isn't fun at all. Trust me. It is such a blessing when someone offers to help you raise money. Hosting a garage sale on their behalf is great, throwing a craft boutique, or selling whatever cool thing you have the skills to make on their behalf, all of it helps.

11. On the subject of money, you could also consider just donating some to an adopting family. We all spend loads of money on plenty of things that don't have a fraction of the value that adoption does. Consider giving up a "luxury" in your budget and just giving that money to a family struggling to raise funds to bring a child home. I know the costs of adoption seem excessively high, but they are usually almost entirely out of the adoptive family's control, and for a waiting child they are the difference between a life in an institution and a life with a family.

12. Host a prayer meeting right before they travel. It feels so good to leave for a trip knowing that you are covered in prayer.

13. While Mom or Dad (or both) are gone, plan a play date or special time with any siblings left at home. Their world has just turned upside down, and it is about to get much crazier with the arrival of new kids in their family. A little special time for them is a good thing.

14. Host a baby shower for the new little one, especially if it is the family's first child. Chances are that Momma has spent many years attending baby showers while longing for a baby, and would really appreciate the time to celebrate the new addition to her family.

15. Write emails, FB comments, blog comments, etc while the family is in-country, especially if it is a long stay. It's always nice to get a note from home, and encouragement is always needed!

16. Pray! Pray for the adoptive child, pray for the family, pray for the family and friends the adoptive child is leaving behind, pray for the process, pray for the child's birth country. Just pray. (Yep, this is first and last, because it's the most important and warrants repeating).

A great video on how to come alongside an adopting family:

And a post about fundraising and adoption:

Friday, 9 November 2012

Proud Mum

Today I attended Tommy's first parent-teacher conference, and as you can deduce from the title of this post, it was a success.

The child loves school AND school loves him right back. He's doing fantastic academically, is on track to begin reading, and loves learning and sharing his knowledge. His teacher described him as a leader and as well-liked by the other children. He also is impulsive and can get a little too excited, but, we already knew that. Other highlights include descriptions of him as self-confident and independent, able to engage appropriately with his peers and adults, and is eager to contribute to discussion. Most importantly, he will be ready for Kindergarten next September.

Things I have observed since he started school that have warmed my heart:

He brings home "class books" that the parents are supposed to comment on, and he always wants to dictate a very long comment worded as if it is coming from me and aimed and encouraging the kids in his class. For example, "What lovely children in this class. They all work so hard."

He adores his teachers and wants to go to school on Saturdays just to make sure that they aren't there.

He is very proud of the art he does and loves to display it on our fridge or hang it around the house.

He has also been doing some cooking lately, and I got a request for the recipe for a soup he made recently. He doesn't do the prep, but he does do all the cooking...not bad for four. I figure at this rate I should be getting a really nice meal by the time he is ten or so...

Kale and White Bean Soup

Olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped celery
10 oz Kale, washed and coarsely chopped
2 cans great norther white beans (15ox each), drained
5 to 6 cups chicken broth
salt, pepper, and seasonings (we use Trader Joe's Everyday Seasoning)

Sauté the onion, carrot, and celery until soft. Add the kale, stir until it wilts, add the beans and broth, season and heat up. So easy a four year old can do it!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Our Trip To Springfield: Saturday

On Saturday we went to the Abraham Lincoln Museum. This museum is absolutely worth the trip. The story telling in the exhibits was captivating, the use of artifacts, manuscripts, and historical scenes engaging, and the narrative they constructed of Lincoln's life was more nuanced than other presidential libraries I have visited (cough, Nixon, cough). If you go you will be pleased that you did. It is an extraordinarily high-quality museum, and arranged very well to manage the flow of people through exhibits and to allow you to learn new and fascinating things about Lincoln's life.

Our guide-book said to allow 3 1/2 hours to view it, so we didn't rush there first thing in the morning. That was a mistake. There is so much to see and do there. We saw an exhibit on Lincoln's early years, one on his White House years, one on weapons and medicine in the Civil War, two Lincoln shows, a kid's play area, and a collection of Lincoln "treasures." I am fairly certain we did everything there was to do in the museum. It was a lot, but the kids were champs. Nic got a little fussy at the end and fell asleep in the stroller, but Tommy was absolutely fascinated by Lincoln and his family. He is still talking about Lincoln, drawing him, asking about his kids, and discussing his death. If you are going to go to the museum be forewarned that there is a significant amount of death involved in Abe's life. He lost his mom when he was nine, buried two children, and of course, was assassinated. The museum does not mince words, so be prepared to answer some hard questions. This is also true in regards to slavery. Tommy has not quite connected all the dots on this one. We have explained it in a simple way and begun to teach him about it, but he is too young to understand all of the implications of slavery at this point so we didn't have to answer too many questions about it, but I imagine that if he were a few years older the trip would have brought up even more difficult discussions.

Now, I know some of you may be a little doubtful about my assessment of the museum. You might be thinking, "of course you thought it was good because you love history." It is true that I love history more than probably 99% of the population, and that I enjoy myself at some pretty terrible history museums (ask my siblings how many times I have forced them to visit the museum in Kernville), but trust me on this, the Lincoln Presidential Museum is excellent. If you have ever enjoyed yourself at a history museum, you will be happy at this one.

The long day wiped us out and made us hungry. We tried to find someplace to eat near the museum, but Springfield is basically a ghost town on the weekends, so we ended up at Cracker Barrel, which was at least a novelty for my parents. We wrapped up the day with some special pool time for Tommy, and football with Papa time for Nic.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Six Months

Our littlest guy is now six months old. I'm not sure how that happened! He is the sweetest baby in the world. I am not joking. He goes with our crazy flow, he cuddles, he smiles, and he adores his big brothers and puts up with almost everything they dish out.

We tried his first solid food - bananas - today. Well, first if you don't count the tootsie roll that a very loving brother allowed him to suck on, but that was months ago so we have almost forgotten the incident. He did not eat much of the banana, so we'll try again tomorrow along with something else, maybe pears? He has been trying to get solids for the last few weeks, but I was holding off until after his six month check-up today. Of course, while there I learned that Kenny has lost ground in his weight percentile (but maintained height/head), so it is certainly time to start getting the boy a little more food. Of course, if his metabolism takes after Jeff's no amount of food will help him gain weight and I may as well give up now. If he takes after me it will be a different story entirely.

He did awesome on his sitting test and on all the other checks except rolling back to front. He doesn't do that yet, and I will not be encouraging it because as soon as he starts rolling I have to start worrying more. I will also not be encouraging crawling or walking. It may be really fun to do that with your oldest child, but after that you wise up and realize that the faster they walk, the faster you will have to run to keep up with them!

And a little story from dinner tonight:

Tommy was apparently having some serious thoughts, at one point interjecting, "Let me get this straight. Some dinosaurs ate salad, and some dinosaurs ate other dinosaurs, but ALL the dinosaurs got killed." Yep. This led into an intense discussion about how disappointing it is to find out that dinosaurs had feathers and not scales. Feather are just not tough at all!

And from Halloween:

I told Nic he could have one piece of candy after he ate his dinner. He responded, "No! Two!" When I related the story to Jeff, in front of Nic, Nic laughed at the end of the story and shouted, "No! Three!" Nic volunteering information like this without any prompting is huge progress. He is really turning a corner in his speech.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Our Trip to Springfield: Friday

I started writing one post about our trip to Springfield and realized it was far to long, so I'm splitting it up...

When Mom and Dad were in town we decided to make a trip down to Springfield to visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. I have been wanting to do this since the museum opened years ago, and I knew that my Mom and Dad would really enjoy seeing it as well, so we decided to take a mini-vacation together. I am so glad we did.

We had an incredible time. Everything went so well, and we had so much fun. I was ready to move to Springfield, but Jeff says we can't because his job is here (what a killjoy). Also, we got stared at a ton while we were maybe it wouldn't be the best environment for the boys. Which is weird, right? Because it's the town of Abraham Lincoln, and his face is everywhere, and everything is about how great he was and how he ended slavery, and so on, so one would think that people might be a little more accepting of a family with both white and black members and not gape at them...but I digress. No one said anything directly negative to us anyhow, just lots and lots of staring.

But you should still go to Springfield. I was so impressed with the quality of family activities they have, and how many opportunities there were for the kids to be engaged and learning. Here is the list of things we did: Illinois State Museum, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, State Capitol Tour, Lincoln Home National Historic Site, and the Dana-Thomas House.

We left for Springfield on Friday. We had great intentions of leaving the house early and getting down there to see things, but we all woke up late and it took forever to get things together, so we arrived around two and decided to go straight to the Illinois State Museum. This FREE museum (or at least, Free to those who don't pay IL taxes) has the most amazing children's museum area. Certain adults (ahem, Jeff, ahem, Mom) may have had an even better time than the kids as they played with a huge microscope. I had a good time assembling broken pottery puzzles in the archaeology area, and of course, digging for dinosaur bones. Tommy packed up a jeep and went camping in a cave, while Nic banged on a little computer. Dad examined his wrinkles in the aforementioned microscope and chatted forever with the volunteer about California. Seriously, it is the best children's museum area I have ever been to. The rest of the museum was well done. The exhibit on how the environment changes was interactive and appealed to all of us, kids included. The upstairs exhibits on the homes of Illinois residents from different communities and time periods was also well done. The only exhibit that looked in need of some TLC was the very random and dated exhibit on the first peoples of Illinois (i.e.the Native Americans or Amerindians, whichever you prefer). We spent our entire afternoon in the museum and didn't leave until they kicked us out!

We went and ate horse-shoes as recommended by the visitor's center. Mom and Dad were not impressed. Jeff and I were, but a piece of Texas toast topped with meat, french fries, and cheese sauce is not for everyone...but since cheese fries are a junk-food favorite of mine that I almost never eat, I was a rather happy girl.

The only aspect of our trip that was less than perfect was the hotel. We didn't anticipate that it would be particularly nice, but the last time that Jeff and I had stayed at a similar type of hotel (different chain. same idea) we had been pleasantly surprised. Trip adviser gave the hotel we chose the highest ratings for the value, but failed to mention that the floors were constructed out of some kind of amplifying material. Either that or a herd of elephants had the rooms above us. Also, the doors were very thin and the hallway was not quiet because the manager apparently personally delivers wake up calls by banging on people's doors. However, it did appear clean, and that counts for something. And it had a pool, so Jeff and I took the big boys for a "late night" swim at seven o'clock and racked up lots of "cool parent" points.