Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Loving the Heart of a Grieving Child

I have agonized over whether to blog about this because it is so personal. But, in talking with other parents and reading about other peoples’ experiences, I thought it may help someone else who is going through the same things.

One of the most difficult things I have had through this adoption is trying to teach my daughter that she is safe, loved, and how to grieve in a healthy way. Grief comes out in many different ways. There are many terrific books and resources out there, but it is such an individual thing. Grief looks different for everyone. At our house, it comes out through lying and stealing. For a long time, we let things go because we couldn’t really distinguish between a language barrier and knowingly telling a lie. Well, we are past comprehension issues, and it is just a means of manipulation.

I must say, one of my biggest irritants is lying. It bothers me much more than just about anything else. When the kids get in trouble, we can work it out if they tell me the truth. But, there is no reasoning with a lie. It just doesn’t work. What makes it even worse is that it is not lying across the board. It is mostly directed at me. And not about the big stuff, but little stuff too. I can stand there and watch an action, ask why she did it, and her response is that “it wasn’t me” or “I didn’t.” Ooooo. I just saw you with my own eyes little one, I don’t believe it.

This is an ongoing thing, but we are making progress. Not too long ago, I was to the point of absolute desperation. After trying everything that I could think of, from punishments to rewards, to extra attention, to quiet time alone, or going to bed early; that I asked, “What happened when you got in trouble in China?”

Well, that stopped her in her tracks. We were all sitting at dinner, all of us there, and since she is a terrible liar, she was busted again. I was at my wits end, and trying to be calm. She just looked at me. So I asked, “What happened if you told lies to China mama or China daddy (her foster parents)?” Her very quiet response was “my bottom spanked.”

Ok, so we know that it was not allowed in her first 6 years; that is a good start. “So, why do you tell lies to mommy and daddy? Why do you steal from your sisters and brothers?” A very quiet, “I don’t know” was the response. We could both tell from her reaction that we hit something very deep. Scott asked “Do you like living here with us?” And she immediately nodded her head and said yes. Hmm, we were on to something.

I asked her to stand next to me so I could put my arm around her. I asked, “Do you miss living in China?” Nothing. “Do you miss China mama and China daddy?” Nothing. “Do you love China mama?” It was like talking to a statue. “Do you know mommy loves China mama?” Tears flowed silently down her face. “Do you know daddy loves China mama? Do you know mommy loves China daddy and China sister? Do you know daddy loves China daddy and China sister?” By now she was on my lap, face to face, fully crying. “Do you miss living in China with China mama and China daddy?” A very tearful nodded yes.

Once the flood gates were open, we could talk about mommy and daddy missing where we grew up, and missing our families too. She began to talk about when her foster sister took her out to eat, and took her different places. Even with tears on her face, there was finally a smile too.

OK, now it was time to move on to the behavior…

So we asked Jenna what happens when she gets in trouble in school (a regular occurrence since Jenna likes to talk to her friends instead of listen to the teacher ). Jenna explained what she has to do, including that she has to tell mommy about it after school. Then we can talk about it and hug and snuggle and Jenna can try to make better decisions the next day.

When we asked Julia why she doesn’t tell us that she gets in trouble and we have to hear about it after it has gotten bad enough for the teacher to send a note, she said she didn’t know. We pointed out that the day before, both Jenna and Julia got in trouble, but that Jenna told me the truth, and Julia lied and said she didn’t get in trouble. Julia was punished for lying, but Jenna and I sat and talked and then Jenna participated in that nights activities. We explained (again) that the difference was caused by the lie, not getting in trouble for talking at school. Then we went around the table, and all the kids told about when they got in trouble at school at some point, but they told mom and dad the truth, and we talked, but it did not result in punishment in the same way Julia’s did. We asked over and over if she understood that everyone gets in trouble sometimes. But we must always tell the truth. And then I asked another question that stumped her.

“Do you know that I still love you when you are in trouble?” We were back to a blank stare and no response. “Do you know I love you?” Nodded head yes. “Do you know I love you when you are in trouble?” Nothing. “I love you no matter what you do, even when you are in trouble.” Now we were back to tears. “I am your mother, and I love you. I HATE to have to punish, I would rather talk and play and hug and snuggle. But I cannot talk to a liar. But, even when you are in trouble, I love you. OK?” Nodded head yes.

Did we get through? The next day, she came in the door and I asked about her day. She looked in my eyes and told me she sat in the safe seat because she talked. I hugged her. I wanted to throw a party. Not because she got in trouble, but because she told me about it. We talked about it. I kissed her head and told her thank you for telling me the truth. Then she ate her snack and had a good day with the other kids.

I still catch her in lies, and I have to remind her that in this house we tell the truth. We have talked about China more and she has opened up about things that she did and that she misses. Lying and stealing irritate me. But, when I remember that she is still processing grief, I can redirect our conversations to how she is feeling when she does these things. She is still learning to trust us, she is still learning that no matter how hard she pushes me away, I am still her mom, and I will never leave her. If I could pour out enough love into her broken little heart to heal her wounds, I would do so in an instant. But there are some wounds that take a long time to heal. I am still praying for her, and for me. She is grieving a loss bigger than I can imagine, and even on the happy days, she can have moments of sadness that cause her to act out.

Watching her grieve and knowing that I cannot make it better is hard. But, she is still as amazing as she always was. She is learning and growing, and slowly trusting. It is easy to trust with the happy stuff. It takes longer to trust with the sad stuff. She is beautiful and strong and resilient, and growing into all the wonderful potential that she has.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Birthday to Jenna!!

I am a few days late, but Jenna turned 7 last week, so here are 7 things about my Jenna:

7. She shares her middle name with my grandmother, my mother, my sister, and my niece.

6. She loves the color blue with a PASSION!!

5. She may be the smallest of the bunch, but she can give the big kids a run for their money any day.

4. She doesn't care much for "girly" toys, but loves to play pirates, star wars, police, or anything else that involves the boys. Forget the pink bike too, she likes the boys' style better.

3. She is learning how to read books, and her favorites are the Junie B. Jones series.

2. She could climb all the way to the top of a playground "rock wall" at 2 years old. She was only 18 pounds, and other moms gave me dirty looks for letting a baby do something so dangerous, but she was determined to be a big girl and proove everyone wrong. She can still climb like a monkey.

1. She is mine, and in the words of Mary Poppins, "practically perfect in every way." Don't change anything Jenna. You are great just the way you are!!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This Morning's Bus Stop Conversation

"Hey, Mom, do you know you have gray hair?"

"Yeah, Mom, you have a lot of gray hair right there."

"Gee, thanks guys."

I teach my kids to tell the truth, and this is what I get. :-)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Happy Birthday Jacquelynne

Jacquelynne turned 11 three days ago. Wow, time sure flies. So in honor of the prettiest young lady in 5th grade this year, here are 11 things about Jacquelynne:

11. She shares my middle name.
10. She is an incredible artist with a very good eye for balance and composition.
9. She is sensitive and caring toward all her younger siblings.
8. She has my attitude.
7. She is growing up so fast, and taking longer to get ready in the morning.
6. She loves purple.
5. She already has her vet school picked out for after college.
4. She is an avid reader, and is currently enjoying historical fiction books.
3. She is our little dog trainer.
2. Her favorite TV shows are on Animal Planet.
1. She is growing into an amazingly beautiful young lady.

- Love you sweetie,

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Monday night was meet the teacher night for Back to School. As we were getting ready to go to 3 different schools to meet 5 sets of teachers, Joseph's sweet little heart showed through again. I had the kids gathering their school supplies to load in the car and get their shoes on and I told them that we had 10 minutes to get out the door. I was heading upstairs and told them I need to "put my face on" and they needed to be ready when I was done. (Yes, I have this down to 5 minutes or less on most days)

Anyway, as I was turning to go upstairs, Joseph looked up at me with his fully loaded backpack on his back and his arms full of Kleenex boxes and said, "But mom, I think you already have your pretty face on." Aww. I told him thank you and gave him a kiss and he added, "you just need lipstick, that's all."

He made my day!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Happy Birthday Jackson

Today my very first baby turns 13. What a wonderful young man he is. It is hard to believe it has been 13 years since I first saw his perfect little face. Today, he is a teenager and at the beginning of a new chapter. Being his mom just keeps getting better and better.

This week he is off on his grand 13 year old adventure with Grandpa and Grammy. He boarded a plane on his own last Friday. Everyday this week they have jam packed outings customized just for him. They have explored the International Spy Museum in D.C., visited the civil war battle site Antietam, seen the new Harry Potter movie, visited the National Zoo, and the week is only half over. And Tuesday night they went to my sister's house to see his Aunt Chrisi, Uncle John, my mom, and his 3 cousins to celebrate his birthday.

As hard as it was to let him go, I know he is having such a great time. So in honor of the big 13, here are 13 things about Jackson:

13. He is compassionate with his younger siblings.
12. He is intelligent and curious, and a terrific learner.
11. He is a fan of Harry Potter and Star Wars.
10. He reads books to his little sister.
9. He taught himself how to make stop action movies with Windows Movie Maker, Lego's, and my old camera.
8. He spent last summer with one of my old German text books just because he wanted to learn something new.
7. He can build a house of cards.
6. He plays the viola so beautifully it brings tears to my eyes to sit and listen.
5. He is my tech support kid. He can plug in and set up the DVR, DVD, Wii, Xbox, and computer.
4. He sang a solo part at our church in front of approximately 3000 people when he was only 9.
3. He draws cartoons.
2. He is funny.
1. He is now a teenager.

I love you buddy!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lazy Morning and Wii

After cleaning the house top to bottom last week, we are enjoying a lazy, rainy morning today.

Quick update on last week's cleaning frenzy... 5 large bags stuffed full of kids clothes went to goodwill. Yippee!!! I *LOVE* cleaning out and purging stuff we can no longer use.

So this morning, we are playing Wii NASCAR racing. The kids are so much better than I am. OK, really, I am terrible at this game. However, playing with the kids is fun. My favorite Wii game is the Family Game Night set. Battleship is my game.

Gotta run now. Almost my turn.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cleaning Day

It is cleaning day here at the funny farm. We have stripped bare the kids bedrooms, thrown out garbage bags full of papers and broken toys, and filled old Wal-mart sacks full of shoes that are too little. My washing machine has been loaded to the brim 3 times so far, and the pile just keeps growing. 5 beds of linens make for a mighty big laundry pile.

All five kids have wiggled under beds and into the far reaches of closets. I cannot even count the number of times I have heard them say, "Wow, having five kids is a lot of work."

Now, we are all taking a break for apple slices and a card game. All of us except the washing machine that is. :-)

Not so fun to read about I am sure. But a clean house is always a good thing.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Big Scare, Glad It Is Over.

Two days ago, we had one of our biggest scares ever. Jenna fell and hit her head while rough housing with her older brothers. For several minutes I told her she was ok and tried to sooth her crying. Something wasn't right. I can't tell you exactly what it was, maybe the way she held her head, maybe the way she told me, "I'm trying not to cry." But something wasn't right. This went on for several minutes. My gut told me we needed to have her seen by a doctor. So, I told her to get her shoes, that we would go to the doctor. I gathered my things and got ready to go call the family doctor, and then everything changed. Jenna threw up. I mean, really bad kind of threw up.

I am not a doctor or a nurse, but since I do work in an ER, I have seen reactions from medical personnel change to key things (chest pain, trouble breathing, etc...). Every triage nurse I have ever worked with asks 2 questions to someone who hits their head. 1. Did they lose consciousness? 2. Did they throw up? If the answer is yes, they respond differently. So, combine that with my Jenna was nearly limp after vomiting, and my response changed very quickly too.

I scooped her up, she didn't need shoes anymore because I could carry her in faster than she could walk anyway. I told Jacquelynne to call daddy at work and tell him to meet us at the ER. Forget the family doc, he is a nice guy and pretty smart, but we now needed a cat scan and he doesn't have that at his office. So off we went to the ER.

There have been many times that families have complained to me at work that they have to sit too long in the waiting room to be seen. One thing that I know for sure is that non-life threatening cases do have to wait when we are overloaded. This may sound strange, but the ER is the one place you DON'T want to be first in line, because that means you are potentially really sick or injured.

Since I work in our local ER, I knew the registrars and nurses. I also knew it was not good to be pulled into the triage room and told that she would be going back to a bed as soon as her vitals were done. She was limp, rated her pain at a 10 out of 10, and threw up again in triage. I guess it is good that I don't know specifics of how bad it could really be, because I just cannot go there about my own kids. But I knew it just wasn't right. So we got a cat scan, saw the doctor, and I tried really hard to be patient. My baby was hurt, and I couldn't fix it.

Now for the good news: no fracture, no bleeding, no bruising. She will be fine. She had a concussion with nausea and vomiting. We stayed overnight in the hospital so she could be watched and get iv fluids and zofran to help with the nausea. We had to wake her every couple of hours, but she responded well. After a good long nap, she perked up enough to eat and was very happy to find out she could have all the jello and chicken noodle soup that she wanted, and that the pediatric unit is stocked with over 200 movie choices for her to pick from.

We are home now and she doesn't really like that she can't rough house for a few days. And, I am making her take naps because she doesn't realize that she is sleepy because she is still recovering. We will see the family doctor Thursday afternoon and hopefully get an "all clear." But at least I know she will have a full recovery and she is getting back to her old self again.

I am grateful that she is ok. I hate being the mom whose kid is so sick she cannot wait in the ER waiting room to be seen. Hopefully, we won't be doing that again any time soon.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Dirt Under the Fingernails, and Other Life Lessons

Obviously by my previous post you can see that time has just flown by around here. We are now in July, and my poor flower garden has been neglected up until this week.

I have a tiny garden budget each year to add flowers and such to my yard, so I tend to stick with perennials that will come back year after year. I know some people prefer annuals and redesign their gardens every year, but honestly I don't have the time or budget allowance for that. So this week I went to Lowe's to see what plants they had on sale (since it is later in the planting time, we got some good deals), and to our local nursery for my annual mulch delivery (yes, I realize I am 3 months late...better late than never). This week, and this coming weekend, we will be expanding our current flower bed by quite a bit. I have this picture in my head of what my house will look like in another 5-8 years surrounded by deep, lush perennial beds. Let me tell you, I have learned to dream big and take it in small steps.

I have learned a lot from my flowers, and the dirt around my house.

Lesson #1: There are no mistakes that cannot be corrected with a little effort. I have placed plants and completely underestimated the growth rate of it and the plants around it. I have divided and spread out plants that ended up to close for good healthy growth. I have relocated plants that do not thrive in the original place for lots of reasons; too much or too little sun or water in a particular spot is a big reason for me to move stuff around.

Lesson #2: Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, color, and budgets. I have spent as little as 60 cents on plants from the clearance aisle and seen them blossom with a little tender care to rival a plant that cost me $25. I have discovered beautiful little gems in my tiny hostas that grew to 3 feet across. A small packet of seeds for shasta daisies that were sprinkled into a corner just to see what would happen, and they become a bright spot in an afternoon shadow. My all time favorite flower, my black-eyed-susans are slowly spreading and filling in sweeps of what used to be bare spots and they don't seem to mind that we have hard clay instead of great soil.

Lesson #3: Dirt and a garden hose makes the best play toys for kids and grown ups alike. Dirt, water, sunshine, shovels... Need I say more?

Lesson#4: Time really does heal quite a bit. Hail damage or tornado weather? Beaten down plants will reach for the sun and damage is soon replaced with new growth. Too much or too little water for a while? Wilted leaves will recover after proper proportions are restored.

Lesson #5: Reading the directions really will save time and money in the long run. Shade plants placed in full sun won't thrive. Full sun plants placed in the shade tend to look pitiful.

Lesson #6: Flower beds brimming with riots of color make for a pleasant place to sit and enjoy the quiet of a lazy summer afternoon. But, it takes time, planning, and energy to get there.

Lesson #7: Weeds and pests are inevitable, and roses have thorns. It takes ongoing work to keep the beauty from being overtaken by a small pest or weed problem. It is easier to maintain if the weeds are pulled out as they crop up than to wait until they over run the garden.

Lesson #8: Maintaining a flower garden is a family affair, and gives time to talk and just be together. Kids help pull weeds, pick flowers , and dig holes for new plants. Life is explored at hand, and they can see the cause and effect principles of life at their finger tips. I think that as an adult I need to be reminded of how simple these lessons really are.

Lesson #9: A $2 pack of petunias can keep kids busy for 2 hours. For my love of perennials, I buy annuals too. These are turned over to my youngest to "fill in where they will look pretty." No rules, no planning on mama's part. I am meticulous where I place perennials because they will come back year after year. Petunias and impatients are happy little flowers that will last for a season, and I let the kids be in charge of them. This also makes it easier to get kids to help water and weed the garden later because they want to keep "their flowers" healthy and strong.

Lesson #10: There are no set rules. My garden looks different than my neighbors'. It makes me happy. I can play with color and texture, and the look is unique to my garden. I pick flowers because they make me smile.

My garden so far is a collection of roses, hostas, black-eyed-susans, shasta daisies, a bleeding heart, bushes, and trees. This week, we have added daylilies, yellow coriopsis, cone flowers, a butterfly bush, more hostas, a clematis, and a few other little perennials that didn't have names on them but they were pretty.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Still Here

Has it really been so long since I posted? I guess it has. Despite evidence from this blog, we are still here. Busy summer days, but I wonder sometimes where the time has gone... Some days I think I spend too much time wasted on stuff that doesn't really matter. Then I have other days that I wonder where the time went.

OK, here's a small scoop:

Mom was here for a visit off and on for several weeks. She got to come stay with us, then go to her mom's, then back home, back here, and then home again. She racked up some serious flyer points on the airlines. While she was here, we joked that we were attempting to stimulate the economy by a little shopping, and eating lunches out several days. Most of the time, we just hung out here.

Truman, our new little toy poodle puppy, and Teddy, mom's puppy (and Truman's litter mate), have kept us on our toes. Potty training two puppies is not easy work. I will be taking Teddy to mom next week and I will miss him. Truman jumped off the guest room bed a few weeks ago and broke his back leg. After surgery to put a rod and pin in his leg, he is still recovering. He will see the vet Tuesday for a follow up xray, and if he is all healed, we will be able to let him run and play again. I have to admit that he is pitiful spending so much time in his crate. The vet assures us that is what we have to do so he can heal properly, but I will be glad when this is over.

The kids have graduated to the next grades and are enjoying an enrichment summer school program for the month of June. Jackson is now 7th, Jacquelynne 5th, Joseph 2nd, Jenna 1st, and Julia will be in her first full year of K. Jackson is studying the Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas. Jacquelynne is studying Africa, she made a power point presentation about Kenya. Joseph is learning about Egypt. Jenna is learning about communities. Julia is learning the kindergarten routine with extra support in learning English.

The week between school getting out, and the summer school program, Jackson had his tonsils removed. He had a long recovery, but is finally feeling better. After he gets his final ok from the ENT surgeon, we will be seeing the dentist for all the kids' semi-annual check up.

We had our 6 month post adoption social worker visit on June 4. It is hard to imagine a time that Julia wasn't here, and yet she has only been home for 6 months. Her English and behavior is getting so much better. I know that I get frustrated a lot of days, but I appreciate the joy and progress we have made. We still have our challenge areas, but overall things are going pretty well.

I got an email from one of the other mom's from our China travel group. Their little guy was 4 1/2 at adoption, and he was on the same special needs list Julia was. I cannot tell you what it was about him the first time I saw his picture, but I prayed over him for a long time. Seeing him in Beijing with his new family was the biggest shock I had in China. But, seeing his picture with a family update was a HUGE blessing for me this week too. His mama shared some of the same sibling attachment issues that we have been going through, but overall a good transition. It seemed like she could have been talking about us. God's timing is always perfect, and once again He used a picture of this precious little boy to remind me that He is in control. And, if I will get my head out of the day to day and look at the big picture, He gives me a glimpse of how far we have come.

Today, I checked on a few blogs that I enjoy reading. I feel for the frustration and pain, and the very long WAIT. But, even still, I am inspired and filled with hope today for all of the little ones who will soon be coming home to their forever mamas and forever daddies.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

God is Good

It has been a while since I posted. We have had a busy couple of weeks. We are still getting over sickness and fevers. I am focused on school work. I started as a consultant for Mary Kay cosmetics. And, we have a new addition coming home with us this Saturday. Whew.

OK, to start off with, Fever. I. dislike. fevers. Especially when it is my kiddos that are sick. Poor Joseph started with it. 4 and a half days of alternating Tylenol and Motrin, and he is finally better. The first day Joseph was fever free, Jackson started with it. This morning, Jackson went to the doctor and we were told it is tonsillitis. 10 days of antibiotics, and a visit to an ENT in two weeks to discuss removing tonsils, yuck. Jackson started feeling better today, but at bedtime, Jacquelynne showed a 101.2 fever. Oh my. Please make it stop!!! 3 down, I am not betting against the other two having it before the month is out.

School is going well. I love grad school. That may make me a total geek, but I do. I love it. It is fun, stimulating, and applicable to real life. My current class is even online, so I can work around the rest of my crazy schedule.

Last week I signed up as an independent consultant for Mary Kay. I sold Mary Kay years ago, and I like the company. Extra money is a good thing.

And, yes, you read it right above, we get a new addition on Saturday. It is the furry, four footed kind, with a curly coat of hair and a soft wet nose. :-) I'm getting a toy poodle!!! His name is Truman, and he is incredibly cute. I will actually have his brother for a few months until I can get him to my mom for her birthday. (Don't worry, she already knows, we just can't get him there earlier). I'll take him to her house when I go in June for her birthday. I have wanted a lap dog for a long time. I still love Max, but at 65 pounds, he is NOT a lap dog, he just thinks he is. He is just a really spoiled big baby. It should be fun to introduce them.

It is crazy busy around here. But a good busy. I love it. God is good. All the time, He is good.
Have a great week!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Back To School for Me (Again)

Classes started again this week. It seems like I am stopping and starting classes all the time. I am a third of the way through my master's program, and this new class is one more step towards being done. Off to study some more.....

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Joubert Syndrome is Confirmed

Just a quick note to say Julia's Joubert Syndrome diagnosis is confirmed. I heard from the doctor that her MRI is characteristic of Joubert Syndrome. We gave permission for this doctor to forward her MRI to another doctor out of our area that specializes in Joubert Syndrome. We had done basic research on this before the adoption and this was in her paperwork from China, so is isn't a shock to us. It is a relief to have the doctors here agree and now we can move forward with her care. Basically, she will have extra tests done to check her kidney and liver functions as she grows, and if they notice any changes, we will go from there. Also, we will have to follow up with some physical and occupational therapy to help her master large motor skills. Other than that, she is a healthy, happy six year old.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Update on the MRI, and other "stuff"

Thank you for the kind thoughts and prayers for Julia (and for my peace of mind). I am happy to report that she came through just fine. Now all I have to do is patiently wait for the doctor to call with the results (Hmmm...I think I have mentioned that I am not the most patient person in the world). We are really expecting to just confirm what we have already been told about her diagnosis, but it will be nice to have a definitive answer.

The kids are all off to school and I have just a few more days with my mom here before she heads off to her mom's house. I have decided that having a retired mom is a pretty good deal. In her "career life" she was a teacher so she came to visit for long trips in the summer. Now that she is living the "retired life" she can come whenever. Pretty good for me. So she will be here for a few more days and then drive to spend time with her mom. Saturday, they will both be back here and my grandmother will get to meet Julia for the first time.

We have had a pretty good visit so far. We have enjoyed being lazy and just hanging out at the house. The kids have enjoyed her reading to them and just spending time together. It was a little awkward the first day mom arrived and Julia ran off the school bus excited to see her, gave her a hug, and asked, "where's Grandpa?" Since I don't know how to say "he's in heaven" we settled for "he's not here." She seemed ok with it, and seems very happy to have her grandmother's attention.

This past Saturday, I found out that my friend Heather was in town to visit her parents, so we got together Saturday night for the oh so exciting grocery store run. This just might permanently stick me in the boring as mud category, but yes, we multi-task by visiting and shopping at the same time. Some people shop for clothes, we shop for groceries and laundry soap. This was my semi-annual stock up shopping, so it was nice to have extra hands. Mom, Heather, and I hit both WalMart and the grocery store, and I ended up with 2 carts at each store. Fortunately Scott was ready to help put things away when we got home. I've been doing these semi-annual stock up trips for several years. I just might have to break down and do it 3 times a year instead of 2. My kiddos are getting bigger, and I am getting older, and 4 carts in one night about did me in. Laundy soap, paper products, shampoo and such adds up quick.

That's about all around here. Hope you have a great week!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Prayers Please

Julia's MRI is scheduled for this Thursday. She will have to be put to sleep for it, and we have NO IDEA if she has any history with anesthesia. Anyway, this is to confirm her original diagnosis from China so we can proceed with her care. So, if you would, please say a prayer for her this week. Thanks.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Pipe Dreams vs. Goals

Every so often my brain kicks into overdrive as I evaluate where I was, where I am, and where I am heading. This is where I have been this week. For many years I have kept an ongoing list of things to do before I die, and things I have already accomplished. These lists are sometimes in my head, but often written down in little notebooks that end up all over my house. I love to plan. I love to think strategically about how I will get from where I am to where I want to be. I keep 1 year, 3 year, and 5 year plans in the back of my head. These are my goals. I work towards them. I make progress, and I fall back, and I readjust my goals to real life. For the most part, I know where I am and where I want to be, and what it will take to get there.

There are goals for every aspect of my life (marriage, kids, education, career, finances, etc.). These goals include giving my children the best possible education and opportunities for the future that I can, but do not stop with my children, or my husband. It saddens me to think back at when I was so wrapped up with raising kids that I could not see past the toddler stage. But honestly, there was a time in my life when my only priority was making sure dinner was on the table and diapers were changed. Maybe it is because I am getting older and my kids are getting older, but as much as I want to devote to raising intelligent, productive kids into productive adults, that is not all. At the end of the day there has to be something left of me in order to draw the energy to keep going. One of the ways that I try to balance "me" in my attempt to not forget who I am or why I am here, is setting goals. It is so easy for me to get lost in the day to day activities of life.

But, before I could set goals and work to accomplish them, I had to understand the difference between a goal and a pipe dream. I know a lot of people with pipe dreams. I had a lot of them, for many years. For me a pipe dream is like a wish on a star. It is something that would be really nice, and I would like to get there, but it is either 1) not realistic, or 2) I talk about it but don't bother to make the effort to accomplish it. On the flip side, goals are 1) measured by a set of priorities, and 2) something I actively work towards.

Goals are different for everyone. If I ask 100 different people what their highest goals in life are, I would wager I'd get 100 different answers (that is not a scientific statistic, just my opinion). I would also guess that many people would confuse day to day tasks with life goals. When I look at individuals and how they invest their resources, their goals and the value they place on their priorities shine through.

Over the years, I think I have gotten better at determining the difference between my own pipe dreams and life goals. I don't want to be one of those people who looks back a hundred years from now and realize I squandered the time I had. Of all the resources at my disposal, some are for now and some are to be developed for future use. These resources include but are not limited to: time, money, education (formal and life lessons), relationships, inspiration and creativity.

So how do I measure my goals to make sure they are realistic and worth working towards? First and foremost I have to set those priorities. The one true measure of any goal or priority in my life is whether or not it will glorify God. Everything I do in this life, I want for His glory instead of my own. This focus will automatically eliminate a lot of pipe dreams that just aren't worth my time and energy thinking about. This also eliminates my need to make others happy or be what someone else determines I should be. I cannot be responsible for anyone else's happiness. Besides, happiness is fickle, it comes and goes depending on the environment and situation at the time. Life is full of ups and downs and spending precious resources trying to be up all the time or keep others up is just a huge waste of my time and energy. There is a better alternative to happiness, it is called peace, and it can only come from the God who created us. John 14:27 (NIV) states "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives." This kind of peace holds firm int he middle of a storm. This is the peace that promises spring after a long harsh winter. This is peace that comes from surrender to something greater and bigger than oneself.

So, after setting goals that I can realistically accomplish, I have the responsibility to work towards them. Remember part 2 of the goals? If I don't actively work towards it, it is only a pipe dream. Settling for the status quo just isn't me. Just because things have been done a certain way in the past doesn't mean that I have to continue to do them that way. If the current path and daily tasks aren't moving me towards a specific goal, it is time to 1) re-evaluate if the goal is still worthwhile, and if so 2) change the daily tasks onto a path that leads to the goal. This is where I tend to get stuck and extremely frustrated. I see where I am, how far away from the goal I am, get frustrated, and the lazy side of my brain whispers that I have to give up on my goals. Wake up call, little voice. If the goal is still worthwhile, I change the tasks, and I can still achieve the goal.

Many times over the years I've changed my timetable of what I think I should have already accomplished. But, I am making progress. There are a lot of things that I have already completed, and many more still to be done. So this week I have spent evaluating where I was, where I am, and where I want to be.

Am I exactly where I want to be? No, but I am moving in that direction.
Can I see where I want to be? Oh yes.
Is it realistic? I think so.
Will it satisfy everyone else around me? Nope, but oh well.
Will it honor and glorify God? I think so.
Will it contribute to raising these kiddos into intelligent, articulate, contributing members of society? I think so.
Is it worth investing my resources into it? Yes.
Am I stuck wishing on a star for a pipe dream, or waiting for someone else to do it for me? Not anymore.

This is me. I am still becoming. And if you made it to the end of this rediculously long, rambling post, congrats. I wish for you a clear set of your own goals and the energy to accomplish them.

Friday, February 27, 2009

5 School Conferences, 3 Schools, 2 Days, and 1 Elementary Economics Lesson

It's that time of year again. It was Student Led Conference time. That is really just a fancy way of saying that the kids get to bring the parents to school and show off how much they have learned so far this year. The teachers spend a lot of time prepping the kids and preparing a portfolio of their work and mini stations to let the kids show off. I really enjoy it. They all have samples of work that were done at the very beginning of school and samples from current work. I love to see the progression of how far they have come in just a few short months.

This past week, we of course had 5 conferences at 3 schools, on 2 different days. Not too bad as long as we stay on schedule and don't get behind. Monday night it was middle school night. Jackson and Scott went and Jackson said that he really enjoyed showing dad what his schedule looks like in real life. He is over half way done with 6th grade. Wow. Time flies. Tuesday, Scott was out of town and I had the 4 remaining elementary school conferences at two different schools. I started with Julia's at one school at 4pm, and then Jenna, Joseph, and Jacquelynne at the other school. By the time we made it home it was 8pm (a half hour after bed time) and every one was tired and a bit grumpy. But, they all seemed to have a blast showing off their work. Each child had between 30-45 minutes and we went table to table in each class completing little activities as a sample of their regular learning. The kids did great and I appreciate the hard work the teachers did. Of course I know my kids are great, but it was so nice to hear them praised in by their teachers.

By the time we made it to Jacquelynne's class, Jenna and Joseph were wearing down. Poor kids, this was done after a full day of school, and it happened to be on the same day my mom flew in for a visit, so they had used up all their energy earlier. Jenna spent Jacquelynne's conference time on my lap at each station, resting her head on my shoulder. After they were all done, we still had to swing by the PTA book fair. Jacquelynne had some of her spending money, and she wanted books. Joseph and Jenna had already spent theirs, and they didn't understand why I wouldn't just buy more books for them. It took a bit of time for Jacquelynne to select her books, and estimate the tax so she could make sure she could cover the bill, but she did great, and didn't complain. She is such a wonderful young lady. She selected her final purchases and stood in line to check out all on her own. She paid her bill, and we were finally done.

Oh yeah, did I mention that while she was selecting her books, I stood by the register with Jenna and Joseph crying into the hem of my sweater because they didn't have spending money? They didn't like my answer that they had already spent theirs and that Jacquelynne had saved hers for this book fair. Kindergarten/First Grade Economics 101: If you spend your hard earned $$$ at Toys R Us, you can't buy books at the book fair. The Bank of Mom does not issue credit. Of course the school principal and other moms around me smiled sympathetically and nodded in agreement that budgeting is hard to learn sometimes.

We all made it home, and bedtime soon followed. They were all down by 9 (an hour and a half late) and mommy was off to bed too. Despite our meltdowns at the end, they did a great job. I am so proud of them and all they have learned so far this year.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Goals, Software, and a Couple "B" words (Budgets and Blogs)

This year I have tried a few new things to help me stay on track of finances here at the funny farm. Seeing how our economy has tanked in the past year has been frightful, and I am thankful for the steps we began taking years ago. We have been refining our finances for the past 4 years or so. There were many times when it seemed difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it is coming along. Also, I have found some really great (free or really cheap) resources along the way.

For a long time we ran our budget using excel and it worked well. It was very basic, and I still keep some of my info in excel documents just to have it handy in one place. This past January I started using Microsoft Money Plus and I am now a HUGE fan of it. I admit it was frustrating to figure out how to set up all the little features, and I still fiddle with it now and then. But, it has been great to see what categories can still be trimmed, or need to be expanded.

When we first got married, I read a book about budgeting by Larry Burkett. I cannot remember the name of the book, I just remember that it was way to complicated and I overspent the first week and then felt guilty, and I stopped all together. Since then, we have tried different methods of managing cash flow, but it seemed that I was spending hours on end trying to plan for the unexpected. Didn't work so well. About 4 years ago, we found a way that both Scott and I could understand and use easily to manage cash flow. The excel spreadsheets were born out of the fact that I was too cheap (and broke) to buy expensive software for it. Since that time, I have learned that the word budget is actually a really good word, and even better if used properly (unlike my early attempts). I have come to enjoy seeing our financial picture improve over the years, and I am excited to be able to plan better for the future. We have learned to really determined needs and wants, and we save for big expenses. Of course we have our set backs, and the term "emergency fund" seems to create little emergencies (like a $700 repair bill on my car last month), but overall my budget is my friend. And with the help of free online resources we are on our way to a debt free life.

The other thing I have found this year has been personal finance blogs. Just like I still garner encouragement from adoption blogs, and large family blogs, I am now building a small list of personal finance blogs that encourage me to stay on track with our goals. One of my favorites so far has been "Budgets are Sexy" (see the link on the side under Blogs I follow). This is written anonymously by "J. Money" and I found him originally from MSN Money's Smart Spending Blog (another really good resource). As I find some that I really enjoy, I will add them to the list on the side. I hope that these resources are helpful to you as well.

Till next time.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I finally did it....and it WORKS!

I planned meals for an entire month, printed the menu, and we are actually staying on the schedule. This is a super easy way of planning and grocery shopping that I got from Jillienne (click here for the link to her post). In a nut shell, every night has a theme and a pre-set side item. Then in each category, make a list of 4-6 different entrees that go with that theme. Throw the whole thing onto an excel spreadsheet, and then at the bottom of the page add a monthly shopping list. Planning the meal list took less than 10 minutes. Compiling the shopping list and checking what I have on hand took about 45 minutes. So in less than 1 hour I have a month worth of meals planned, and posted on a spreadsheet for everyone to see.

I broke down the shopping list by how items are stored or found in the grocery store so I can stock up on items that I need several times during the month. The shopping list has one column for weekly items, one column for meats, one column for shelf stable pantry items, and one for produce and frozen veggies, and one for dairy. After I print off my menu/shopping list I sit and check off which items are on hand, and I know which items I need to pick up for this week or for the rest of the month. This way I can check to see what is on sale and try to get the right amounts when they are on sale.

In planning the meals I could see at a glance which meals would have left-overs for me to use in a different meal later in the week so everything is used efficiently. For example, on the weeks we have a roast chicken on Sunday, we boil the left over anyway to make broth and use the remaining meat for a casserole or soup later on in the week. Also, I planned meals according to how much prep time is available on each weeknight. Evenings that are typically more rushed because of school and work schedules have super easy prep meals, and days where we have more time, we have more in depth meals.

I did this up 3 weeks ago, and it has made dinner time so incredibly easy, I could just kiss Jillienne for the idea. Even the kids love the plan. They like to know what will be for dinner ahead of time, and they can easily see when their favorite meal is coming up on the schedule. Scott and I don't have to stare into the pantry wondering what to make for dinner anymore, and since I can see at a glance what is coming up the next day I can get meats pulled out of the freezer the night before.

Dinner time got a whole lot smoother here at the funny farm. This is working so well that I now have planned out 6 weeks, and keep an ongoing shopping list of items I can stock up on and know they will be used in the right amount of time to eliminate waste. So, if you plan on stopping by for dinner, here you go:

Mondays: Chinese Food (I am learning so it is not great, but Julia gets happy when she sees it so it is totally worth my effort)
Tuesdays: casseroles
Wednesdays: Soups in the crock pot
Thursdays: Italian / Pastas
Fridays: Mexican
Saturdays and Sundays: Homestyle (roast chicken, meatloaf, meatballs, cooking the grill, etc)

Till next time,

Monday, February 9, 2009

Counting My Blessings

Throughout our entire adoption process, we have been asked many questions about how we are doing. Ever since we arrived home from China, we have been asked how she is doing with the change, and how all five kids are adjusting to each other. I have this standard response, "She/They are doing awesome."

For those in the adoption community, you can probably understand that it is difficult to answer this question sometimes during the initial adjustment time. I have read and read about the trauma of change, and about the stages of adjustment for an older child. Let me be the first to say that I have had to draw on that pre-adoption education more times than I thought I ever would. However, I am afraid that my "awesome" response does not do justice to my children.

You see, I mean it when I say that they are doing awesome. Are things perfect? No. Is this the hardest adjustment we have had to cope with when adding a new child? Maybe. Are there really THAT many levels of grief, trauma, adjustment, and attachment? OH Baby, YES!!!

These past few months have stretched me past what I thought I could be as a mom. It has been difficult, and heartbreaking to see my daughter grieve. It has been frustrating to deal with the red tape. It has been comical to begin to see just how many idioms in the English language are really quite ridiculous if you take them literally; Amelia Bedelia anyone??? It has been down right irritating to hear comments of "Now, why would you do something like that?" and "Aren't 4 kids enough?" Once again, God has taught me more about the love He has for us, through the gift of my children.

I love adoption. I love the promise that God makes that He will not leave us as orphans. I love the scripture that promises a hope and a future. But, this is tough work right here, getting to the promise. And, we have a long way to go as we evolve into the family that He wants for us to be.

I have seen with my own eyes how much I have taken for granted all my life. I have celebrated when my child trusted me enough to feed her again, that she walked away from a half a plate of food because she was full. I never thought I'd have to earn that level of trust. My other kids learned it so early, from the day they were born, and I took it for granted. I celebrated when I got my first spontaneous hug and kiss from Julia because she wanted to show me that she loved me. I don't remember having to earn the other kids' love. I love all of my children as much as I thought was possible, but now I can appreciate their love for me in return. I took for granted that my kids would snuggle with me as we watch a family movie. Now I celebrate that Julia wants to snuggle with me too. I rejoice that she allows me to comfort her when she is sad, or lonely.

I thought I knew what family meant. I thought I knew how to love unconditionally, without the expectation of love expressed in return. How wrong I was. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to open my eyes to the miracle of how God is developing this family into what He wants us to be.

Julia has endured a greater trauma than most people will ever face. Even though we know what she has gained, she has had to give up everything she knew to gain all we can give to her. And top it all off with learning a new language at the age of 6. Jackson, Jacquelynne, Joseph, and Jenna have learned about poverty and abundance, and the meaning of losing parents at an early age. They have battled fears that most children in their circle of friends have never had to consider. After all, if Julia could be orphaned, could they? These five kids are amazing. Their capacity to love and accept each other without reservation is astounding.

Please don't misunderstand me, this is tough. We are this family, and yet we are still becoming. And, even though my answer to "How are you doing?" may sound too easy, it it true from the bottom of my heart. They are doing awesome. We are doing awesome. I am blessed to have each and every one of my 5.

Even though we have a long way to go, especially with the language barrier, I am treasuring every moment. I don't want to take any of it for granted.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

25 Random Things About Me...

Well, I was tagged to do this on Facebook, and it seemed fun. So here you go...

1. I am married to my high school boyfriend, and I am still in love with him.
2. We have 5 terrific kids.
3. I have been to the Taj Ma Hal.
4. I grew up in the D.C. area and took for granted that I could go to the Smithsonian any time I wanted to. Now I miss it.
5. I have climbed the Great Wall of China, and been to the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City.
6. I still have my 2 best friends from childhood, and I like them more now as grown women than I thought possible.
7. Holding my oldest son as a newborn taught me more about God's amazing love for us than any Sunday School class ever did.
8. I am proud of my "little" sister, and the woman that she is today.
9. I work 3 nights a week 6pm - 6am so I can be with my kids during the week.
10. I like my husband now better than I did before we got married, and he is a terrific hubby and father.
11. I am proud of my mom and all that she has accomplished since dad died.
12. I have the greatest in-laws any woman could ask for.
13. I went to the Berlin Wall the June after it came down, and brought home little pieces of it.
14. I love to travel internationally.
15. I plan on filling up my passport (and Scott's) with travel visas and stamps before they expire.
16. I enjoy grad school, and learning.
17. I read the Wall Street Journal online every day.
18. I like my coffee with milk and splenda.
19. My dream cruise would be to Antarctica.
20. Green plants do not survive long at my house. I have a very brown thumb.
21. One day I'd like to get a PhD.
22. I am currently working on a Master's Degree in Public Affairs.
23. I believe that everyday people can make a huge impact to change our world for the better, more so than any big celebrity or politician ever could.
24. I plan on "retiring" early so I can spend my time working to deliver international humanitarian relief after my kiddos are grown.
25. I am blessed.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

5 Kids Out the Door By 8am into the Cold

5 kids
5 breakfasts
Lots of clean teeth
10 clean hands
4 brushed heads of hair (Joseph still has his buzz cut)
10 socks in place
10 shoes over socks
5 backpacks cleaned out and ready to go
1 lunchbox packed (Julia isn't quite ready for school lunches yet so we send what we know she will eat)
5 coats
5 warm knit hats
10 gloves
2 noses pressed to the window "on lookout" as the others finish with coats
1 Daddy ready for work
1 car warmed up to drive kids to the bus stop
........all leads to



1 Mommy enjoying 1 cup of coffee and a moment of silence.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

One of my favorite new quotes from our China trip....

"The early bird gets the worm, but the early worm gets eaten."

Just a little random thought for the day.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Pictures from the Funny Farm...

Want to see what happens when 5 children pile on a loveseat for mom to take one picture?

I actually took 30 pictures. Most of them look something like this...

I never claimed we were perfect....

This one became my new desktop background picture...

OK, so we got 2 good ones out of thirty...

And, just because they are so darn cute, here are my little 6 year old "twins."

Till next time...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Blog Maintenance for the New Year

Happy New Year, it is the time of the year when I try out new organization techniques, today it is on the blog.

In order to make an attempt at simplifying my life, and keeping track of my random thoughts, I finished cross posting my old Lots of Kids post onto this blog as well. In case you think it looks a little weird, I did it for me. Like an old journal I occasionally go back to see what I was up to at different times in the past. Since my posts on the two sites are different, I wanted to make it easier for me to look back on one forum, instead of two. I am still trying to figure out the best method of keeping organized, so please bear with me. This is my solution for now.

OK, really, I am going to go get pictures of all 5 kids together!!!

Home Management with Lots of Kids...

FYI: I posted at Lots of Kids with our homemangement tips. Here's a copy:

Divide and Conquer

Hello all. I am happy to report that Scott and I are back home from China with our new daughter and everyone is making a pretty good adjustment. We learned a lot on our trip, and there was one night at dinner when it occurred to me that this was what it was like to only have one child. It has been so long since we only had to get one child ready to go it felt kind of odd.

It was so nice to return home to be with the other kids, and it felt good to get back into our home schedule and routine. We have now been home for one week, and it has been a week of discovery in so many ways. One of them is how Scott and I work to accomplish the task of managing the house. Running a house with lots of children is a tough job. I can understand how people with smaller families can be overwhelmed by the thought of keeping everything running smoothly. Well, here is a little peek into our system.

First of all, Scott and I both contribute to our home management. We both work outside the home, on opposite schedules, so we do have to "juggle" a little, but it all runs pretty smooth. Our system can be called Divide and Conquer the Chaos. We each have our own tasks, and the kids chip in as well. Each child can contribute based on their age and ability.

Food: I do the main grocery shopping, maintaining a pretty good level in the pantry and the freezer. Scott stops at the store for between-main-shopping-trips for things like milk, eggs, or special items for dinner. He can stop on the way home from work, and he is able to focus on the task at hand without getting distracted by the weekly sales and specials. I evaluate the weekly sale ad and stock up on our staple items when they are on sale. We maintain an on going grocery list on a magnetic list on our refrigerator door. We all check off items as we are running low. This helps make sure we don't run out of necessities at inconvenient moments.

Laundry: Laundry at our house got a whole lot more exciting just before we left for China. There was a long period of time when we would have 2 laundry days a week, and it was an all day affair each time. We were forced out of that routine this past year and it may be one of the best routine changes we have made in a while. We were without a dryer for several months, and it forced us to change the way we manage the laundry pile. We had established a routine of 2 loads of laundry each day so that we had enough time for the items to hang dry. This system also made sure that we didn't really get backed up on laundry. Well, the exciting part is the brand new super capacity front-loading washer and dryer set that we bought before we left for China. This new set washes and drys wonderfully fast, and we are still keeping up with laundry daily. Now, we still wash a lot of clothes, but in smaller doses so it is not overwhelming. When life throws us a change, we can skip one or even two days, and then catch up relatively quickly. I *heart* the new washer and dryer. Scott does the bulk of the laundry for us, and the children are tasked with putting their own clothes in their drawers.

Kitchen Patrol: This one is managed pretty equally between us. Kids must clear off their space at the table before they are excused, and the dishwasher is loaded after each meal. Snack dishes may be stacked next to the kitchen sink for a little bit, but in the dishwasher before the next meal. Generally, I do the dishes during the day while Scott is at work, and he does the dishes in the evening. I do the majority of the dinner cooking during the week, and since I work overnights at the end of the week, Scott does the cooking on the weekend. The two older kids sometimes help make lunches when they are home, but Scott and I still handle the dinner cooking.

House Cleaning: This is the part of the post where I get to say I am the luckiest woman in the world. My wonderful hubby actually relaxes by hand washing the wood floors and disinfecting bathrooms. This may sound weird to some of us, including me, but after 15 years I have just accepted this is one of his quirks that I enjoy the most. He has tried to explain it to me, and I don't get it, but I am thankful. On the weeks that he is out of town, I take over his regular cleaning routine, and I admit that scrubbing toilets is my least favorite job, EVER. But, I do *love* the results of a clean house. :-)

Bills, Bills, Bills: This one falls to me. Just like Scott relaxes by scrubbing floors, I relax by maintaining our finances. It wasn't always like this, but I have my little routine, and I like routine. I enjoy following the news, world events, and economics, Scott hates it. I get a happy little thrill to mark the statements "paid" each month. The biggest change in this over the years has been the fact that we talk about the bills and goals on a regular basis. The finance gurus are right that open communication means is a good thing.

I know that each family divides home management differently. Feel free to comment with your tips and tricks. Calming the "chaos" of a family with lots of kids is a good thing. Although really, I shouldn't say chaos. Just like businesses are big and small and managers use different techniques to run them, families are big and small and each one needs different techniques to run smoothly.

Have a blessed and organized New Year.

(This was originally posted at the 4 or More: Lots of Kids blog)