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.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Full Night

Did you see the full moon last night? We did. We were sitting in front of the fire pit and just starting to roast marshmallows. Ron was doing the honors - and doing a nice job of it, too. So, I sat back in my chair, looked up and there was the moon just starting to peak out where we could see it in the eastern sky.

Something about the full moon, the barely warm summer evening and the sound of the fire crackling just made for a perfect evening.

It was especially fun for me to have Ron roast the marshmallows. In all the years I've known him I didn't realize that he was such a good roaster.

He said he only breaks out his talents for very special occasions, like a nice summer evening with his daughter and wife...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Introducing Our New Daughter!

We'd like y'all to meet our new daughter, Zelda Cui Na!


We're busy celebrating and sharing with family, so I don't have time to say much now. But, we were bowled over by her and can't be more excited!

FYI - these are pictures of our pictures, since our scanner isn't working. Not the best quality, but you can still see how cute she is. ;-)