Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Blessing

Last evening (Christmas Eve) as I rocked Zelda a short bit before bed, tears filled my eyes as I realized I would never spend another Christmas wondering when we would have our second daughter home with us. She was here, in my arms, and we will spend the rest of our lives together. Having her, and Ron and Annalee are my blessings this Christmas. The many presents under the tree and in the stockings were just tasty frosting on the cake.

We attended the 4 p.m. children's service at church yesterday. All the children were invited to sit up in front of the altar as our rector told the story of Jesus' birth. At intervals, the congregation sang Christmas songs as individual children were invited to bring different statues up to the front of the altar and create the manger. Zelda was among the first children to approach. With help from Rev. Aimee, she carried a sheep. Once baby Jesus was put in the straw, Zelda decided to pick him up, study him and carry him back to her seat. Our rector just carried on and easily transitioned Jesus back to his appointed place on the altar.

I have to say, I think Zelda looked magnificent in her little silver sparkly gown and matching sweater; and she just looked so at home wandering about on and near the altar. Annalee, too, looked gorgeous in a black velvet-topped dress with a burgundy satin skirt. (Pictures will come soon, I promise.) Truly, I reveled in having my family - and not just Ron, Annalee and Zelda but our friends who have become our family - around me to enjoy the beauty of the day and this season. And, we're blessed to have Ron's dad here with us, too, this year.

So, from our house to yours, we wish you a very merry Christmas and peace to you all today and throughout the coming year.

The blessing from church on this holiest of days is as follows:

May Christ, the Son of God, be manifest in you, that your lives may be a light to the world; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Picture is Worth...

I have so many different posts to write that I thought I'd just capture recent events here in one long blob (sic).

First, here is a slightly blurry, yet very good picture of our tree so that you can see all the colored - and white - lights. I admire our tree every time I walk through the living room, which is often, since we have a circular flow to our ranch house.

Last week, Annalee, Maia and I made Arabian hat cookies. Zelda was very interested in the peanut butter, so I gave her the mostly empty plastic jar of Jif. She REALLY liked it!

Last weekend, I tried so hard to get a beautiful picture of Annalee and Zelda. You know, one picture with both of them looking great - and at the camera. This was the best of them. It's not perfect, but neither is life. I think they look beautiful.

Yesterday during Zelda's nap time, I was thrilled to haul out my five cases of jams, jellies and pickles that I have made since June and actually label each one. I ordered custom labels from Label Creations, and I'm quite pleased with them. I'm happy to report, too, that only two of the jars were a mystery to me. I think they're Bumbleberry Jam, but I'm not positive. So, I labeled them Berry Surprise.

If you're on my Christmas list, you may just find one of these in your package. Even more exciting for me was actually packing up four teachers' gifts to send to school with Annalee on Monday. I feel so organized!

Our friends Dianne and Bill returned home from China today to the sheer joy of their youngest child, Maia. In addition to their family, they were greeted by four families from their first travel group to China (us included). Maddie was a year old in November.

Earlier this week, we experienced the joy of the first snowfall of the season. Annalee and I were so excited to share it and show it to Zelda. Despite the extreme cold, we bundled up and made our first snowman the first day it snowed. (I didn't realized the camera lens had fingerprints on it, hence the smudgy looking picture.)

The following day, an even colder one, Annalee came home from school and begged to go out and play in the snow. We were in the middle of a beautiful, peaceful snowfall with about two inches already on the ground. So, I bundled up her and Zelda and helped them waddle out the patio door into the yard.

It was this picture, below, that made me stop. And smile. And say to myself, "These are my children. My two beautiful daughters. I have TWO children. How cool is that!?!"

Annalee showed Zelda how to make her (presumed) first snow angel. Zelda just followed Annalee around the yard. I'm not quite sure she knew what to do in the snow. But, she made the most of that white fluffy stuff. You can believe they both slept well that night.

Lastly, I'll leave you with this picture of my family. Yesterday was Ron's birthday. When he returned home from work, the girls shouted with excitement and followed him to the bedroom while he changed into lounging clothes. Then, he carried them, laughing all the way, to the kitchen. I spotted them through the family room doorway coming toward me, which gave me time to get the camera ready to take this picture. Zelda's becoming a daddy's girl - and very quickly. Obviously, Annalee already is (most of the time, anyway).

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009

On the first Sunday of Lent, we had a guest priest give the sermon. It focused on the meaning of Lent and what this season is really about and how easy it is to lose sight of that in all the hype of Santa and gift-giving. Among her closing words were, "Stay alert, stay quiet and be aware for soon a child will be born...He will show you the glory of the world." That message has stayed with me this week as we prepare for Christmas - and all the excitement of the season.

This week's blessing:

Holy eternal Majesty, Holy incarnate Word, Holy abiding Spirit, bless you for evermore.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Oh, Christmas Tree

The title of this post needs to be said with some exasperation, the way my aunt Minnie used to say, 'Oh, Jackie' when she just didn't know what to think about something I had just said or done.

That's because this was the state of our pre-lit Christmas tree when it came out of the box on Saturday for it's fourth season.

Pretty, isn't it? I wish the picture had come out better. But if you look hard, you'll notice that only about a sixth of the tree is actually lit up. Thankfully, I anticipated having to light it up myself - again - this year, it's final year. We figure at this point, it doesn't owe us anything, since we bought it on clearance after Christmas when we decided to go artificial several years ago.

Doesn't that sound like we went 'green' for Christmas? Well, after spending too many holiday seasons feeling sick from allergies, I thought it might be the tree. One year, when we dragged out our live tree and I felt better within 24 hours, I figured I was on to something. So, we do the fake thing now, and, truthfully, I don't miss the mess of needles. I miss the smell of the tree, but I can buy that in a box.

In buying the artificial, I even made a big change, going from the colored lights to white lights. When we went to the store to buy the tree, the colors of the colored lights were so vibrant and obnoxious. To me, anyway. I had grown up with these lovely, faded kind of colored lights. I even still had boxes of them that I had collected during the after-Christmas sales for years. I was always ready with a new strand when one or two of the old ones were bound and determined not to light each year. (I still can't figure out how that happens. They were working when they came off the tree, got wrapped up and put into the box. Then, they come out the next year and are dead.) So, we skipped the bright, nearly fluorescent colored lit trees and went for white.

Our first Christmas with the tree was very cool. I was so tickled to pull four parts out of a box, snap the posts together, spread the branches and plug it in. Beautiful. The white lights really highlighted all the ornaments.

The next year was a little touchy. The first time everything got plugged in, one section didn't light. A little jiggling took care of that. Then, last year, things got ugly. About 1/3 of the tree didn't light. I was livid. I ended up running lights all over the tree - colored lights, mind you, because that's all I've ever owned. After I calmed down, I got to the point where I could find amusement in the tree and it's crazy lighting.

This year, we knew what we were up against before the tree even came down from the attic. Zelda and I ran out to the store Saturday morning while Ron and Annalee put the tree together. I came home, walked into the living room and just laughed. Then, I turned around, went into the garage and found the Christmas box labeled 'Lights.' And, I got to it. Wouldn't you know it? Three strands from last year didn't work this year. Go figure.

The girls and I also put all the ornaments on. Well, truthfully, we started to do the ornaments, went to take a break for lunch and got distracted when Zelda bit Annalee in the waist, so then we stopped. I ended up finishing the tree in the afternoon when Zelda was napping and Annalee was at a birthday party. I was so at peace.

Here is where it ended up:

I love it. I even put all our new Chinese zodiac ornaments on the tree. Each one of the 12 has long red tassles.I'm still working on taking a picture that really shows the lights in all their glory.

So, now, when I walk through the living room, I say, 'oh, Christmas tree!' with a bit of excitement - and a little pat on my back - and I feel a sense of admiration, joy and wonder. Perfect for the season.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

More Than Thankful

As we celebrate this country's national holiday, we at our house have so much to be thankful for. Topping our list is that we are a complete family - and that is all that we have prayed for these past many years.

So, today, we wish our family and friends near and far - and on a plane to China, too! - a very happy, blessed and safe Thanksgiving day, weekend and holiday season!

NOTE: Birthday wishes to Aimee, April and Darlene today!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Shots and Tears

I took Annalee and Zelda for the first of their A/H1N1 vaccine shots today. I knew Annalee was panicked, as she hates shots and starts complaining about going to the doctor long before a routine check-up appointment simply for fear over getting a shot. I figured if I prepped her well enough yesterday, we might get through it with minimal trauma. I talked with her about relaxing her arm to help it not hurt so much. We sort of practiced it.

I had no clue how Zelda would handle it. The only clue I had was that she didn't make a sound when the nurse pricked her finger earlier this week for a lead test at the pediatrician's office.

So, we worked our way through the maze at the county health department building this morning and were finally ushered to a table. The nurse suggested that Annalee go first. Maybe she figured Zelda would freak out if she got her shot and then that would freak out Annalee.

Annalee sat on one of my legs while I held Zelda on the other. Gigi helped block Annalee's view of the needle while I talked to her about relaxing her arm. Before you know it, the shot was done. I think Annalee was in shock that it was over, too. She just sat there. No tears, nothing. At least from her.

I was the one who began crying. I had been so worried about her fear of the shot. And, then she was so brave. So, I cried for her. The nurse was so sweet; she told me I wasn't the first mom to cry instead of her children. She made me feel much better for it.

Then, it was Zelda's turn. My second brave daughter. Not a peep; not a flinch. No tears, nothin'.

Given their display of bravado, I gave Annalee her pick for lunch. She called for a Happy Meal. Chicken nuggets all around.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Peace at Last

The peace of the house is around me. Zelda fell asleep after I realized her screaming fit meant that she wanted her belly filled with rice cereal before she could get in her crib. Annalee just finished reading her book, and her light is out. Ron turned in early.

Earlier tonight, Annalee was taking a bath while Zelda looked on. We thought Zelda seemed interested (she hasn't been keen on a full-blown bath to date), so we encouraged her. Off came her clothes, and in she went. The two of them had a laugh fest lightly splashing water on each other and on me (I was not laughing). When they were out of the tub, I held both of them on my lap wrapped up in their towels. Annalee always liked 'to be held like a baby,' and I think she was pleased that we could still do that with Zelda now, too.

That fun was followed by a dinner in which both of my children (how cool is that to say!) ate everything on their plates. Annalee always eats well, so no surprise there. But, Zelda even ate everything I gave her. As I was preparing dinner, I just thought to myself that kids need exposure to the same food several times over before they may like it. So, I pushed on and put this stuff she has declined numerous times on her plate. Next thing I know, her plate was clean!

As if all that wasn't enough to make my evening, Annalee, Zelda and I hung out on the twin bed in Zelda's room and read books together. Zelda was busy kissing Annalee and me while we were trying to read. Annalee's still not thrilled about the kisses, but she went along as best as possible. Zelda really seems to come alive in the evenings, shouting all sorts of sounds and giggles. So, we had lots of laughs together.

The real high came when Annalee took Zelda in her arms and sat in the rocker and sang 'Annalee's song' to Zelda. Annalee's song is 'You Are My Sunshine;' I have sung that song to her since I first held her in my arms. Before we left for China, I asked her if I could sing it to Zelda or if I needed to find something different. Annalee told me I needed to find something else, because that was her song. So, tonight, when she began rocking and was talking about singing, I told her I had never sung her song to Zelda but had sung other songs. And, then Annalee just started singing it to her little sister. I, of course, had to hold back the tears. The scene will forever be in my heart.

We have waited so long to complete our family. After tonight, I know everything is exactly as it should be. That's what I call peace.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

5-Year Family Day

When I learned the dates of our trip to China to adopt Zelda, I was relieved to know we would be home in time to celebrate Annalee's five-year family day.

Five years ago today, Ron and I were in Changsha, Hunan province, China with seven other families from our travel group to adopt Annalee. She cried and cried when put into our arms. It was our first joy of parenthood.

We have remembered that day in 2004 and the days in China that followed often during the past two weeks as we were in China again to adopt Zelda.

While we celebrate Annalee's family day today, Nov. 15, and will celebrate Zelda's future family days on Nov. 1, we celebrate our family of four every day.

Here are the girls together this morning, playing dress up. What you can't see is me behind the camera with the very large clownish Ringling Bros. circus hat on my head, tulle bow on my waist, sheer pink butterfly wings on my back and silver sequined shoes on my feet. You're better off.

Home Safe and Sound

We are home from China safe and sound with our little Zelda. It was a wonderful, meaningful trip of a lifetime. I'll post more very soon.

It is 2 a.m., Sunday, and Zelda and I are both awake. So, I will put this out there for friends and family...feel free to contact us via e-mail, but please refrain from using the phone. Given our wacky sleep schedules that I have dreaded for months, I don't know how soon we'll get ourselves turned around to be awake during the day and asleep during the night. I was hopeful for tonight, as we didn't go to sleep until after 8 p.m. yesterday (Saturday) after being up since 1:45 p.m. central time on Friday. But, Zelda woke up hungry and I felt a little awake too. So here we are making a post.

I'll leave you with a few pictures from our trip:

This second one is us at the Stone Forest, the first wonder of the world, outside Kunming, Yunnan. This image shows just one tiny part of the park.

This last one was taken at Yun Tai Garden in Guangzhou.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sunday, Oct. 11, 2009

Today's blessing was the same as in previous weeks for this season. However, I found the Collect of the Day something special this week:

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Days of Summer

In early August, when the end of summer was quickening and the days until school started became countable, I asked Annalee a question.

"When you think back on our summer, what were the highlights for you? What did you enjoy the most?"

We were driving in the car at the time, and she seemed to pretend to not be able to speak. I pressed on and asked her to give me some of her thoughts. I suggested it might be a question she's asked when she starts school - 'what did you do this summer?' She wasn't answering but was making some silly noises.

In looking in the rear view mirror, I realized that she was pointing to her magic writing board. And, then it became clear to me. She had written on the board: YOU! Mommy.

Thankfully, we were on a side street, which made it easy to pull over. I couldn't drive 'cause my eyes were flooded with tears. My heart was overwhelmed with joy to know that the time we spent together was the most important part of her summer. I found this especially meaningful given that this has been our first summer when I didn't work. It's also the last summer when Annalee is an only child. So, she really had my full attention everyday.

With the arrival of autumn last week, I thought it a good time to reflect on our summer and share some of our highlights - an idea borrowed from a page of my friend's blog.

Swimming - This summer, Annalee took extended swimming lessons at the YMCA. When possible, she had one-hour lessons, which seemed to really improve her skills. She is now swimming freestyle and putting her head in the water and breathing while she swims! And, many times while she was in her lesson, I was able to swim laps in the same lane or nearby, which was a lot of fun (although sometimes distracting for her). We also enjoyed having a membership to a local community pool. Although we calculated that we didn't get our money's worth from a season pass ('cause the weather just wasn't that great for swimming outdoors this summer), we still had a lot of fun when we did go. And, it was convenient to just say 'let's go swimming for an hour' because we DID have the passes.

Here's Annalee and her friend Alaina at the pool.

And, here's Annalee coming down the tornado slide.

Piano lessons - With the start of summer came the start of piano lessons with Dianne, our friend from Annalee's (and soon Zelda's) China travel group. Annalee and Dianne's daughter, Maia, are good friends. Not only did we have piano lessons each Monday, but then Dianne and I took turns watching the girls for the afternoon. The girls got to play together each week, and each of the moms got one afternoon a week to get our own things done. One day we went to the Morton Arboretum. Several times, we just hung out in the sprinkler in the backyard.

Brookfield Zoo - We went to Brookfield Zoo twice this summer. Considering we have a membership and can go whenever we want, I don't think we went enough. It certainly doesn't compare to previous summers when we went a whole lot more. That said, we did have a TON of fun (yes, pun intended) seeing the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit, since Annalee is a total dinosaur junkie. She had the camera during the most of the dinosaur visit. This is one of the funnier pictures, in my opinion:

Can you tell which dinosaur it is? If not, here's the one I took of the face - and the other face that had trouble looking at the camera that day!

Don't you love the flower clip in the hair and the little purse?

That first visit to see the dinosaurs was on my birthday. You may recall that I share my birthday with a friend of mine. So, we went to the zoo with her and her kids and with another friend of ours and her son. It turned out that the moms all showed up with the same outfits, so we had to take a picture of that.

Our second visit was with Ron. Of course, Annalee insisted we see the dinosaurs again. Unfortunately, those pictures seem to have been wiped off the camera before we uploaded them to the computer. Big bummer.

As for MY birthday, somehow we only ended up with a picture of Ron, Annalee and little Charlotte:

Dinosaur Camp - One spring Sunday at church, our friend's mom was sitting behind us and saw Annalee drawing dinosaurs. It was then that Jane came to know what a dinosaur freak Annalee was (is). So, she asked if it would be alright if she and her husband took Annalee, along with their grandson (a friend of Annalee's) to dinosaur camp at the Field Museum in June. Do you think there was any way we were going to say no? So, Annalee spent two half-days at the museum - and around the museum campus, too. I'm sure she had a lot to tell the teacher about dinosaurs. We don't have any pictures from camp, but we did get to see Annalee on the local 5 o'clock news on ABC-7, when they did a promo piece about the camp. That was cool!

Vacation - This summer's vacation was a week in southwest Michigan. The week started July 3 in New Buffalo for the fireworks (a bit lame - maybe it was the economy) and then July 4th at the above friend's parents house for their annual holiday party. It was our first time attending. We really enjoyed all the traditions that have been carried on for nearly 20 years. Sunday, July 5 was the first of six days spent in a spectacular house in Lakeside, Mich. overlooking Lake Michigan. We were with two other families that included three other children all within one year of Annalee's age.

The week included lots of sand, swimming, some fishing, a night of s'mores, one beautiful sunset, go-kart racing and last, but not least, Dinosaur Day at the Beach.

Dinosaur Day at the Beach began with a dinosaur breakfast - miniature dinosaurs surrounded each breakfast plate. The kids painted small wood dinosaurs. Then there was the dinosaur dig on the beach - each child had a 100 sq. ft. area to sift through to find approximately 7 dinosaurs (the dads lost count of how many were buried - but we think only one was left to fossilize in the sand). We also had those capsules that you put in water and watch the dinosaur sponges grow. We commemorated the day with individually hand-painted T-shirts, which we have all donned very proudly in the days that followed vacation.

Kane County Cougars Game - The Saturday evening following vacation, we went to a Kane County Cougars minor league baseball game. We were joined by two families from Annalee's China travel group. The girls were way too into the baseball players. They're only in elementary school, and I'm scared already. Sitting on the third baseline always makes us feel like the fireworks are right on top of us.

Picking and Canning - When I became a happy hausfrau, I took up canning. Thank you, Becky! Have I told you how exciting it is for me to look at a jar of jam or pickles that I have made myself? Well, it is. And, while I'm doing the canning, I'm often reminded of my grandma Fran and the smell of dill in her kitchen or of when my mom canned in second kitchen we had in our basement when I was growing up.

Here's the 'All My Sisters' girls and Annalee during a canning session.

To get the jam canning done, we went out berry and cherry picking a few times this year. Cherry picking in Michigan was a lot of fun, especially watching the cherry pit pitter do its thing. What a time saver! And, at Garden Patch Farms just south of us in Homer Glen, Annalee enjoyed feeding lots of chickens that they have in a coop to entertain the kids.

Local Events - I don't think it would be summer without visiting some local town festivals. We did the Taste of Westmont with Gerri, Mike and the kids, along with some friends. And, we also went to a couple cruisin' nights in Westmont and Downers Grove. Saw some really cool cars!

Fishing - Annalee west fishing with Ron several times this summer. Not only did she go on vacation, but the two of them went with some other dads and kids to fish locally, too. I'm pretty sure that everyone caught something!

Safety Village - When I was laid off, we realized that Annalee would be able to attend Safety Village of Darien with Alaina. That was the best $90-program we have ever attended. It is worth at least twice that in value for what both Annalee and I learned. Annalee attended three hours a day for a week. They also offered a couple (free) two-hour sessions for parents to hear from our local police and fire officials. I learned a lot, especially about fire safety in the home - where to place your fire alarms, how to do a fire drill and what it would be like if the house caught on fire and how to prepare. At the end of the two weeks, they had a little graduation ceremony for the kids.

If you live in the area and have the opportunity to send your children to Safety Village of Darien, do it. You won't be sorry. In fact, you'll wonder why they don't charge more.

Night at the Museum - No, we didn't spend a night at a museum. But, we did see both Night at the Museum movies. The first was during movie night at church. More fun than the movie was making sundaes in the dark after the power went out. The second time, we went with friends to the cheapo theater one afternoon for a matinee. Isn't there something fun about seeing matinees? Just that word brings me back to an earlier time...

Dragon Boat Races - We went to Chinatown for the Dragon Boat Races and festival. Two families joined us - they joined our family when we traveled to China with them for Annalee's adoption. We watched the races, played at Ping Tom Park and had a tasty lunch at Emperor's Palace on Wentworth.

Don't you just love Annalee's umbrella? She brought this from home to shield her from the sun...and probably just to be cute. Which she was. She fit right in with all the local Chinese folks.

Church Events - In addition to movie night at church, we also took part in Family Farm Fest, a benefit for Heifer International. During our day of games, storytelling, crafts and food, our church raised $20,000 for Heifer, or the equivalent of four arks. How cool is that!

Of course, we also renewed our vows at church for our 10-year anniversary.

Wisconsin State Fair- In early August, Annalee and I attended the Wisconsin State Fair with my dad and step-mom. The weather was spectacular - not too hot, not too cold. Just right.

We saw tractors big and small, hogs and piglets, horses, goats and sheep. That reminds me...Annalee got a brief lesson in the male anatomy when we were in the sheep building. You'd have to have been blind to miss the genitalia hanging there. So, of course, Annalee had to ask about it. I did the best I could to explain it. Briefly. Then, I told her to ask daddy about it. How's that for passing the buck? (Funny me, another pun!)

We also saw award-winning jams and jellies (gave me something to aspire to someday), rode the sky tram from one end of the park to another, and watched pig and duck races. Annalee rode a little pink tractor, a pony and a giant slide. We also saw the Budweiser Clydesdales.

Love those monkey toes!

You weren't expecting to find a picture of a male sheep here, were you? You can stop looking. I didn't get one.

Air & Water Show - Early on Sunday, Aug. 16, we loaded into the car and drove to Lincoln Park to meet our friends for a picnic and enjoy the Chicago Air & Water Show. We ended up getting rained out mid-afternoon, but not before I got this picture of all the girls.

Train Trip to Chicago - For the second year, Annalee and I rode the train to Chicago for a day-trip. This year, we went to the Field Museum to see the dinosaurs. The weather was so beautiful that when we left the museum we walked down to Buckingham Fountain; then we took the train home.

Referral for Zelda - I'd be remiss if I didn't count getting our referral for Zelda among our highlights. And, at the time of this writing, I'm pretty confident we'll be home with her before Thanksgiving!

Other Stuff - Some other fun stuff we did included going to and having cookouts with friends, both new and old. We made a few trips to the Plush Horse Ice Cream Parlor - always a treat. We usually pair it with a visit to the model plane field. We saw some amazing planes and daring flying this summer. We played miniature golf a couple times. We cooked hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire pit. And, we made some yummy s'mores. We visited the arboretum several times (with and without our friends).

Annalee and I spent a rainy day at the DuPage Children's Museum. We took a break for lunch and met friends in downtown Naperville for lunch. Before returning to the museum for more playing, we went to the spice store. While there, the misty rain turned into a torrential downpour. Guess where the umbrella was? Yep, in the car. So, we finally made a run for it. We were soaked by the time we got back to the car. Luckily it was warm out. Annalee said it was the most fun ever.

Wowza. As I look back through my calendar and all our pictures, I am overwhelmed with our many blessings and good fortune. I had the pleasure and pure joy to spend every day with Annalee. We were able to be together and make so many special memories. The time she and I spent together and the time we spent as a family is precious, as is the time we spent with our extended family and many wonderful friends. And, for that, I say we had an outstanding summer.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sunday, Sept. 27, 2009

This week's blessing - a new one for the season:

The Wisdom of God, the Love of God, and the Grace of God strengthen you to be Christ's hands and heart in this world, in the name of the Holy Trinity.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Comfortable Conversations

Many of you know we have a private blog to follow our progress to adopt our second daughter, Zelda, from China. On that blog, I wrote a post about the conversations we will and won't have in public or around Annalee about adoption. I've heard from many friends in the adoption community about the value of this post and how they want to share it with friends and family. Though this site is dedicated to our priceless family moments, I thought it might be valuable to have here for the many who are visiting, given the feedback I've received on the private site.


When our referral for Zelda came through, we were beside ourselves with excitement, thrilled beyond imagination. But, what has really struck me has been hearing the excitement mirrored back to us by our friends and family. Whether it's talking with you on the phone, seeing you in person or reading an e-mail you've sent, I feel the near giddiness and sheer happiness that you feel for us. Ron and I are so blessed to have you with us on this journey. You certainly helped sustain us during the wait these many years.

Now that we have our referral, we have received so many questions of interest about the process, about Zelda and about adoption in general. Part of the reason for this blog is to provide us a place to answer those questions so that everyone will know what's going on, what's next, etc.

It also has become a place for us to share information that we are unable to share in person or on the phone. And, here's why. The primary reason for us to hesitate in conversing about some topics is our concern for how a conversation may be overheard and interpreted by Annalee. Let's keep in mind that she was adopted, so when we talk about Zelda, it would be very easy for Annalee to hear things and apply them to her history. That is not how we want her to develop her 'story' in her mind. Ron and I have been very purposeful in how we talk about adoption in general and her adoption in particular. At six, she knows everything she should know that is age-appropriate for her. In conversations about Zelda, Annalee may hear something that is inappropriate or unrelated to her but she may apply it to herself anyway. So, our goal is to discuss adoption and Zelda in a way that is already comfortable for Annalee.

A second reason for limiting our conversations about Zelda's adoption may be that we believe some information simply is private. We don't believe that every detail of our children's lives should be shared. At some point in the future, each of our daughters may choose to share parts of their history. But it is just that, parts of their history. And, we want them to decide their limits to disclosure. I will grant you that we shared a lot of Annalee's information previously. I believe that in traveling the adoption life, we have come to learn that not everything needs to be nor should be made available for everyday consumption.

Lastly, we believe that some questions, though well-intended, are just inappropriate or unsuitable for public discussion. It may be the language used or poor word choice, or it may just be comments that are off-color. Again, we are always thinking of our daughters first and foremost.

One common question that is often asked of us - and right in front of Annalee - is why did we chose to adopt our daughters from China. Among the many reasons we chose China are that they have a very organized adoption program run by the government, the children tend to be healthy and well cared for, we would not have to worry about birth parents changing their minds about choosing adoption, the wait times were shorter than a domestic adoption (at least they used to be) and, sadly, the children are in social welfare institutes because of cultural beliefs and government mandates (more about this below). Most importantly, though, and the answer you will hear from me is that China is where God told us our children were waiting. He spoke through Ron one morning, and we listened.

Some other topics that aren't always easy to discuss include:

Why the Chinese have so many girls in institutes and available for adoption, why was she in an institute - When the World Health Organization urged nations to reduce their populations, China took this to heart and made an edict that families would be allowed one child. In some rural areas where families need more hands to farm the land, more children are allowed. More recently, families that have enough wealth are paying fines to have more than one child in their family. The reason that girls are the ones predominantly found in institutes is because historically and culturally, China has been a country that values boys for what they provide the family. Boys can work the land with their parents better than girls can. Boys, once they marry, bring their wives into the family home. The wives then become near servants to their in-laws. Boys, in many ways, are the government version of social security for their parents. These views are changing in more progressive areas of the country, but the old rules still seem to hang on.

Why they abandon children in China - It's very important to understand that China doesn't have the word 'abandon' in their vocabulary. It's not understood. It is illegal for the Chinese to leave their children, so they 'leave them to be found.' In their minds, they do not abandon their children but put them in a safe place where they know the child will be discovered and cared for. And, many know that their children will be adopted either domestically or internationally and live their lives in a loving forever family.

Why the wait has taken so long - In between the time we adopted Annalee and submitted our paperwork for Zelda, China opened adoptions to several additional countries. They now work with 16 countries to facilitate international adoptions. More importantly, China opened domestic adoptions for families within China to adopt these Chinese children. And, that's a wonderful thing - for the children and these adoptive parents. China also hosted the 2008 summer Olympics. We can speculate all we want about how the government wanted other countries to view them. We will never know what impact this may have had on the rate at which they processed adoption applications.

Belief in the information that China provides us regarding our children - China provides us dossiers on our children that include medical history, developmental milestones and photos. We have to take this information at face value. It is all we have and it may be all we can provide our children as they grow and learn more about the earliest parts of their lives in China. To suggest that we can't believe this information is just plain demeaning to our children's heritage.

The grief that our daughters did/may experience in transitioning from their lives in China to being part of our family - We recognize that any child being cared for by others and suddenly thrust upon people who look, talk and smell nothing like what they're used to is shocking and painful. We have prepared for this in each of our adoptions. We have learned skills to help our children adjust and let them know they are in forever families who will provide them a loving and safe environment. It is because of this awareness that we may not be very social for the first few weeks or months after returning from China. We will watch our new daughter and determine how best to take each day and each possible new outing or visit. As I've mentioned, our sole focus is on our daughters and their well-being.

What kind of an 'order' we placed with China for a child - When we apply for adoption with China, we provide them a great deal of information about ourselves. Included in that information is a personal letter from us that details our request for a child. In both applications we requested daughters. We also took the opportunity to suggest an age range of a child with whom we would be comfortable and confident parenting. We do not 'order' children, nor is China fulfilling orders when they process these adoptions.

Developmental delays and/or the health of our girls at placement - Depending on the setting in which children available for adoption live in China, they may experience delays in their development. Frankly, this is expected in most cases when children are in an institutional setting - in China or elsewhere in the world. Once in a permanent home, children tend to thrive with care and with therapies, if needed. Yes, Annalee experienced some muscular delay in her face - remember all that drooling and constant bib-wearing? We won't know if Zelda will have delays until we're home and have her evaluated through Illinois' Early Intervention program. If we determine that she has any delays or health concerns, these may or may not be things we discuss publicly.

The level of care provided our daughters and any differences that may exist between how either of them were cared for in China - Annalee and Zelda, while both Chinese, came into this world in different ways. They also spent their early months in China in different settings. These environments are something we will share with them as appropriate. We do not feel any need to compare or suggest that one setting was better than another. In my heart, I know each of them has been loved by her caregivers.

Where Annalee or Zelda 'came from' - When we travel and someone asks where Annalee came from, I reply 'Chicago.' That's what that question means to me. My daughters were born in China; Annalee was born in Hunan province and Zelda was born in Yunnan province. This may be semantics and splitting hairs to some, but as a writer I would suggest that there is a distinction between where someone comes from and where she was born.

The cost of adoption - If any of you are interested in pursuing adoption and would like to discuss the process, we can certainly have that conversation. For others, I guess expenses are something you can compare to birthing a child.

Truly, though, whatever the cost of adoption, our children are priceless.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Friendly Thanks

My lovely friend Becky over at All My Sisters/We Are Family has changed my life.

First, it was canning. Annalee and I spent a day over at Becky's house with the girls last spring. As we were preparing to leave, Becky gave me a homemade, canned jar of BBQ sauce. I'm sure she didn't think much of it. But, I took that jar home and got to thinking. And, I thought even more about it after I became a happy hausfrau.

I started thinking about how cool it would be to can my own stuff. I could make jams - I love jam! I could make pickles, like my mom and my grandma used to make. I could make foods for my family with fresh, local produce from farmers' markets purchased in season. (I was also reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver around the same time.)

So, as I am apt to do, I went to the library and took out a whole lot of books about canning. And, I read like crazy. Then I asked Becky a lot of questions. Then, I went to a local orchard and picked fresh strawberries and bought local honey. I went to my friend's house and picked rhubarb. After all that, I took the plunge: I made a batch of jam and a batch of preserves. And, they were good!

Becky came over a week after my first round of canning, and we made two more kinds of jams. Since that time, I've been buying fresh strawberries, raspberries and blueberries and freezing them - to the point that my chest freezer in the garage is nearly full.

A couple weeks ago, I was itchin' to make pickles. So, I took Annalee to a farmers' market that we hadn't been to before, and we bought cucumbers and dill and garlic. I made two different kinds of pickles. They're still setting up, so I can't say how good they are, but I sure liked the way canning them made my kitchen smell like my childhood.

As wonderful as it is to make and taste these fresh canned goods, I think I love giving jars of my homemade jams away to friends even more. People get so excited over homemade stuff!

So, if canning was the first way that Becky has changed my life, there must be a second way, right? Yes, indeedy. While I was at Becky's making peach jam a few weeks ago, I noticed a weekly menu planning sheet on her refrigerator. I asked her about it, found the planners at Heavenly Homemakers and printed a few out.

Can I just say OMG! these things have made meal planning and grocery shopping a breeze! I start with my calendar and jot down on the weekly planner the scheduled activities we have, if Ron will be home for dinner, what I might be doing during the day that would impact my dinner prep time, etc. Then, I come up with ideas for dinners. I plug them in on the planner. For instance, for this week, I knew I was going to be canning today, so I didn't want to make a dinner where I'd have to be standing at the stove or grill to cook. So, I planned ribs in the crock pot.

After I have the week's menu, I flip the sheet over and make out my shopping lists for the grocery market and farmers' markets I frequent. When I shop, I buy just what we need. And, when I start to cook, I have all the ingredients necessary to complete my meals. Truly, these menu planners have done wonders to my sense of meal planning and organization.

So, to you Becky, I extend my heartfelt thanks. You have given me great inspiration. And, you have made my homemaking life even more happy! In time, I may even follow you on your $75 weekly grocery challenge.