Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Just Because

Last weekend our country music station had a "Tall Guys of Country" theme goin' on all weekend long. Which means I got precious little of my favorite guy crooning over the airwaves. So today, I'm sharing this song and this video Just Because.

Because they are awesome lyrics. Because he captured in words what I only wish I could say myself. Because I do try to say it, but it's never so eloquent. Because who doesn't need a little KU to start their morning?!

This one's for you, Boss... I'm in!

Monday, August 30, 2010

First Day, Round One

Today is Shaggy's first day of school. The first day of his JUNIOR YEAR. The first day of another year of cyber-schooling. He's a mite ticked, as this first week is "orientation week." Full of activities to which he successfully oriented himself last year. The first complaint of the day came when he scored a 29 out of 30 on a reading benchmark. When he knew better. Such a perfectionist, my boy is!  Then, he grumbled a bit about an activity that was exactly the same as the one he had to do for last year. My son does not love "busy" work when he feels as if he's already conquered said lessons.  I'm trying to be sympathetic. I don't enjoy the monotony of that part of education either. I get what he means when he says it feels a tad condescending.  Seriously, at this age I do agree with him that orientation should be either about acquiring new skills or getting to "move on" if those skills are already in place.... But that's just my two cents and I'm sure his administrators don't really need to hear it from me.

In other news, (I can't believe I forgot to mention this milestone!) Shaggy got his driver's permit last weekend.  He's been out with The Boss practicing once already. They barely went over 4 mph but both came back feeling quite victorious. A benchmark of a whole different kind!  The thrill of a new stage of life, of new  things to learn, was palpable. The Boss and Shaggy were almost giddy in their excitement and anticipation.

Listening to The Boss and Shaggy fill Dr. D in on all the silly mistakes and funny stops and starts in the kitchen the other night, I couldn't help but marvel. I was standing among my three men. How on earth did this happen? Where has the time flown?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

She's Got Skillz - Part 5

This is it. I promise. This is the last rambling of how we (I?) worked through the process of deciding to send Li'l Empress to pre-school at the tender age of three . . .  Not to say that I won't post a follow-up or two detailing just how she's handling the changes. Or how I'm handling the changes, too.  :) Cuz I know you are all dying to know how marshmallow Mommy is going to handle dropping of her little princess. . .  The blogs are FULL of teary mommas and grinning, back-pack clad kiddoes. Why be any different?!  :)

I was telling you about the issues I've been able to identify that make Li'l Empress's separation anxiety different than, say, my four older bio kids' experiences. While this list is not exhaustive, and might not even be true for any other family going through similar pangs, it's what I am working through and feeling as I'm praying through the journey and ministering to my daughter. I'd love to hear what you guys who have struggled with these kinds of anxieties have experienced... I'm sure your journey and process will help me think and improve my skills at attending to my daughter's heart.

First, I have to continually remember that the noise levels and changes of environments are NO. SMALL. ISSUE. for her. Or for any other child with any degree of hearing loss. For now, while she's on this tremendous learning curve about her environment, changing those environments is a big deal to her. Her Hearing Support teacher and the Speech therapist have been telling me this from the get-go, and seeing it play out in her ever-expanding world is proving their words to be very true.

Second, I need to remember that, while adoption does not DEFINE her, it certainly cannot be discounted when discussed in the context of her sense of security and confidence. Most of the three year-olds with whom she is interacting have had three full years to build trust and confidence that Mommy will come back. That Daddy is a safe place for me to land. That home is permanent.  Li'l Empress has yet to reach the two year mark of that journey. And it IS a journey.

Finally, I regularly remind myself that I didn't push the separation from Mommy with the other kids when they were this age. Baby BlueEyes and Dr. D both really struggled to stay for a full morning in their respective classes, even up through Kindergarten. And sometimes, I'd have to leave Baby BlueEyes in the nursery of our local co-op to teach my American Literature class while he was screaming as if a limb was being torn off one layer at a time. In fact, many times, I would show up early to his room just to give us both time to settle in and calm ourselves before my class. I've always tried to be of the mindset that the more my kids handle these developmental milestones at their pace and their comfort level, the more confident they would feel. And the more confident they would feel, the better it would "take."

However, in the midst of all of these factors, I'm also seeing that on many levels, Li'l E might need a nudge or two stronger than Dr. D or BBE needed. I have to figure out when it is okay to assure her of my love and my return and then walk away. I have to get a balance of when to "push her" to the next level of getting "off the edge" of her emotions and when to let her feel it all and be comforted in the settling. In fact, this recognition of that necessary nudge is one of the biggest reasons that I was able to come to the decision to send Li'l E to pre-school this fall. I don't really know yet what exactly tipped the scales for The Boss. But when I have spent those times thinking and praying and researching, I just kept coming back to one big factor. While I could work really hard to provide and supply all the same things that pre-school will provide for her academically and therapuetically (in terms of listening skills), this "nudge" could only be accomplished in this season in this way.

It's a humbling thing, to come to the recognition that your three-year old needs something you can't give her. I mean, I've had this revelation many times, over the years of parenting the five kids God has given us. I've learned it in many different forms. But each time I learn it, I'm still humbled. And not just a little startled. Startled at the degree to which I must have somehow thought I could handle this one on my own. Startled that I haven't fully learned yet just how much I need Him for wisdom on this journey. Startled at how slow I must be, how dense I am to think that the last time I learned the lesson wasn't enough.

Conversely, or maybe in tandem, I am also grateful to learn that I can't do this all for her. I'm grateful that she has the opportunity to learn from others, along-side others. I'm grateful that there are resources out there to help us with these "necessary nudges."

But most of all, I'm so humbled and grateful that the Lord is her best parent. Her ultimate parent. I get to be the vessel through which He parents her, when I'm cognizant of my proper role and status in His eyes, that is! It takes the burden off my frail shoulders and keeps it where it belongs. His shoulders are big enough to bear it all and when I keep this mindset, I remember that the outcome lies in His hands. He knows the process I've been through to come to this point and He's using it to better equip me to parent her.

Hopefully in that process, I'm also learning skills that will help me parent the other four more effectively. And maybe even help me to be a better, more supportive friend to the moms around me who might be struggling with a part of their journey.

He created her. He loves her even more than The Boss and I ever possibly could, and He will work out in her the things which He needs to do for her growth and maturity. He has a plan for her life, and I'm grateful I can be a part of it. Even if I'm a little slow on the uptake and tend to over-think every step of the way. He knows that about me, just as He knows how scary it is for Li'l E to see me walk away from her. He will cover it. I'm counting on it.

So, on Wednesday, Li'l Empress will start pre-school at the tender age of (JUST NEWLY) three.  Sigh. It still feels incredibly young to start this educational environment. It still makes me tremble to think of dropping her off for 6 hours a week away from me. I think I'd better make sure there's a box of tissues under my driver's seat. I have a feeling I'm going to need them!

Friday, August 27, 2010

She's Got Skillz! - Part 4

If you haven't read the beginning of the journey we've been on recently about Li'l Empress and pre-school, you might want to head here. Or, you might not.  :)
It's been a lengthy set of posts. But then, it's been brewing in my brain and percolating in our home for more than 6 months already, so....

As I was saying in Part 3, there are plenty of things we've been learning along the way to deciding what is best for Li'l Empress this fall. I've so appreciated the perspectives that some of you have shared with me, here, in private and on F@cebook. I've also appreciate that so many of you have understood where I was coming from, as we walked through the decision-making process. Thanks for the information, the input, and the encouragement!
~ ~ ~ ~

So. We've had an incredibly busy summer. Unusually busy, even for us. Between the shortened summer schedule (due to our local district's teachers' strike), the addition of band camps and football camps, and a part-time job for Shaggy, I feel as if I spent a good portion of July in the front seat of my van. That translated to a lot of rushing and hustling on the occasions that I chose to bring Li'l E and/or the other kids along for the ride. Or a lot of "Mommy has to run out for a minute, I'll be right back," when I needed to leave her behind with one of the big brothers.

On the one hand, I think most of the time it was very confidence-building for her to be left home to see and experience that Mommy will always come back for her. On the other hand, when the days were particularly fast-paced and busy, it also led to a lot more chaos in the house. Which negatively affected her listening environment (Picture 6 of us rushing through potty time, meal time, shoes on and out the door... See what I mean?). The "in and out" of the car also seemed to be a bit of a struggle for her, in terms of changing scenery too often and too quickly. She learned some valuable skills this summer about going along for the ride, rolling with the punches, and all that. But I don't think we always struck the right balance and sometimes she got pretty wigged out and over-stimulated.

One of the best ways we've found to combat that over-stimulation is to get her into the pool as often as possible and for at least an hour at a time. Not only does it wear her out (always a bonus in terms of ensuring a good nap!) but it also opens up her listening environment. Getting outside, having the vast-ness of the yard and the pool area, it all worked towards "opening up" her ability to handle background noises when she was struggling.  I noticed that even when the kids had the stereo pumping out there, she can focus on our voices and communicate without whining and without tuning us out.  I'm not totally sure if that's a coping skill, a release-valve, or a distraction issue; but we all benefited from it and utilized it as often as we could squeeze it in before nap times.

However, even with this kind of prevention mechanism in place (and a couple others that I've figured out over the years of parenting pre-schoolers), we found that there has been some regression to some what we call her "anxious behaviors." For example, when we first arrived home with Li'l Empress, she did a fair amount of hair-snatching as a self-soothing technique when she would take a bottle and fall asleep. We got her a little "lovey blanket" that we call Wubby Dubby and re-trained her hands to occupy themselves with that when she was drifting off. The other day, I was cleaning her room and found an excessive amount of hair accumulated on top of her storage bins under the crib. My heart sunk. I knew it was more than just normal hair loss that comes from rubbing her head on her pillow and mattress.

Another thing we've noticed is the return of the "Royal Melt Down," when she is "on edge" or struggling to feel secure. We'd actually had quite a fair length of time without these "freak outs" (as the boys call them) prior to July. I'd say even a few months of a stretch without this level of hysteria. They aren't pretty - her heart races, she screams at this ridiculously, high-pitched frequency that makes dogs (and Daddy!) cringe, and she gets clammy and sweaty if she's not reeled back in quickly. Most of the time, they are precipitated by some kind of separation from me. It can be as big as being left in her Sunday school class without me or as common as me walking away from her too soon after nap time. The hardest part is that once she gets to this level, it takes a fair amount of face time (mainly with me) to pull it back. On the positive side, we have noticed that she doesn't linger in that funk nearly as long now as she did, say last summer. But still, they are hard to press through when they occur.

There are a couple other little habits creeping back in, nothing as big as the previous two I've mentioned. But ones that bear monitoring. Especially in context of the unpredictable schedule, the big learning curve of being three, and the changes coming to her little world. I've talked about it before, but context is the key issue that I think I keep coming back to. None of her behaviors, anxious or typical, are really that unusual. But in the context of . . .  her world. IN CONTEXT. In my frustration with her struggles, I have to remind myself to give the conversation its proper context. For example, one behavior has cropped up JUST since we started introducing the conversation of pre-school. It might be a coincidence, it might be developmental, but it's there, it's relatively new, and it's happening. I cannot ignore it. I'm not reacting to it, rather addressing it calmly and matter-of-factly. And I'm still talking up the plans for next week's first day of school. But it is there, still.

Several weeks ago, someone asked me what the difference was between Li'l Empress's separation anxiety and other three-year olds' anxiety that is developmentally normal.  It's a fair question and on some levels, I don't know why it's so much more provoking for her than it is for her little friends on Sunday mornings. But on another level, I know it's different for several reasons. The biggest thing I do know is that if it isn't attended to in a trust-building manner, it quickly escalates to PANIC. And I think we all agree that allowing our kids to feel that level of panic serves nothing. And can even do some damage if we're not intentionally covering it with our love and comfort.

In my next post, I'm going to address several issues that I think about when I'm addressing Li'l E's anxieties. I don't do them all consciously. In fact, I had to sit and think for quite a while after I was asked that question about why her separation anxiety might be different. It's certainly not exhaustive, nor is it perfect, but it's some of  the stuff I've come up with that motivates me to act in a loving and protective manner with our girl.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Stolen from a friend's page. I just couldn't resist.

For more Wordless Wednesday fun,
head over to 5 Minutes for Mom.

My posts on our pre-school process will resume shortly . . . 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

She's Got Skillz! - Part 3

The first part of this series can be found here. In case you care to read the full story of our foray into the world of pre-school. . .

So. I'm sure you are getting the picture by now that the decision to put Li’l Empress into the local E@ster Se@ls pre-school program was not made lightly. Or quickly. In fact, her therapists have been gently nudging and suggesting and leading into conversations about it for almost the whole time that Li'l Empress has been in the Early Intervention circuit. I heard them. I thought about it. I talked with The Boss about what I was learning. I prayed about it. I read information when and where I could find it. I questioned other BTDT moms who have children with varying levels of hearing loss. I went back and questioned them again. I asked The Boss what he was thinking. I prayed. I thought. I prayed some more.

By the time we got to the tour of the building and the "meet the teacher" appointment, I was settled. I knew that this was right for her. The Boss? Not so much.  He panicked. The visual of a real classroom and his little princess sitting in that classroom was too much for him. He kinda shut down.

A little bit of background for you all:  in our family, I am the information gather-er. I am the researcher. I am the knowledge geek. If I hear about a topic or an issue that interests me, affects my family, or makes me stop and think, I go about educating myself.  In the process, in my enthusiasm, my family (whether they like it or not!) learns some of the information with me. I can’t help it. It spills out of me. I wish I had been this enthusiastic about learning when I was in school. Or when I was in college. You know, when I was actually PAYING MONEY for this same effort and focus.  But I digress. . .

As the information-gather-er, The Boss has been able to (most of the time!) trust that I have thought and studied the stuff that I’m talking about.  This has come into play much more heavily since Li’l Empress came home to us than ever before in our years together. He is in a high-demand position at work and I have the full-time job of Mom. This kind of thing falls under my job description. We’re both good with that. Most of the time.

When we entered the pre-school building, peeked into the shiny playground equipment and smiled at the mini cubbies for “pakpaks” on the day of our tour, The Boss realized this wasn't just a topic of conversation anymore. We walked and talked, and he listened to everything that the director and I discussed from my mental list of questions.  I say, “the director and I” because the more she talked and walked, the quieter he got. I could feel him shutting out the noise of her voice, her spiel, her intentions and her plans.  She was speaking to us as if attending pre-school for a child with unilateral hearing loss is a foregone conclusion.  Before we entered the building that day, he and I had come to a pretty close to definitive decision that Li’l Empress would indeed benefit from pre-school.

But like I said, seeing the classroom, being in the classroom, observing the other kids interacting with the aides and teachers:  it all became too real for The Boss.  The director was just chatting full steam ahead without the benefit of knowing The Boss’s facial expressions and thought-process; and that’s always a hard way to get true, accurate reactions out of him. High-energy, fast-talkers drain him quickly. And she was. Both.

(Heh. Don’t even go there, I know. I know. Can you believe we’re coming up on our 20th anniversary?! I’ve learned a lot about communicating with an internal processor over these 20 years, I tell ya! And I blog when I have more words than he needs to hear... J ‘Nuff said.)

In fact, he asked a couple questions that really put me off my mental track.  As if he had never heard the information contained in her answer before. I immediately took offense (I know, I'm so mature that way. Ugh.). But when I got off my high-horse and put away the “I told you all that before, weren’t you listening to me?!” huff and puff, I eventually (much later in the day, I am chagrined to admit!) realized that hearing us talk about it at home, while Li’l E was “safe” and under our coverage is one thing. Picturing her in a classroom 10 minutes from home, away from Daddy’s reach, is quite another.

I was reacting quite oppositely, now that I think about it. Seeing the newly painted playground equipment and hearing the songs that the kids were singing – all of that got me a little excited for the new adventure that would be facing Li’l Empress.  I had arrived at the conclusion that this was right for her sooner than he had, and without the need to process the difference between thinking about it and actually being there in person weeks before.  The Boss was playing catch up.

Looking back, I should have anticipated it better. Really, the same thing happened back when Li’l E needed to have her ABR and CT scan done shortly after coming home to us. It happened a time or two in China, as we were working through the early stages of attaching to our baby girl and helping her attach to us.

He’s definitely an “I have to see it” kind of thinker and I see now that I could have anticipated it more before we entered the preLi'l E's particulars first. Sitting to talk with them about Li'l E's needs later, or even at another appointment, would have even been more productive for The Boss. I think I re-learned some good relationship skills while I was thinking through this part of the process and trying to work through it with The Boss.

Stay tuned. I think I might have one more post brewing in my head about this whole adventure. The connections to attachment and separation anxiety cannot be ignored . . .

Monday, August 23, 2010

She's Got Skillz! - Part 2

*If you are here from No Hands But Ours, please
leave me a comment indicating that. I love the honor of
the shout-out I got for this post and I'm interested to see
who came by because of it.

If you missed Friday's post on my first tip-toes into conversations about pre-school, head here.  Otherwise, read on...

Li'l Empress's unilateral hearing creates some unique (to her) circumstances that make pre-school this year (at the tender, early age of JUST 3 - gasp! Sigh.) a really important consideration.  Now, I'm no expert on hearing or hearing loss, nor am I academically equipped to give you all the technical jargon for what happens inside Li'l E's head. But AS I UNDERSTAND IT, the ability to effectively tune out background noises and TUNE IN to important (and sometimes even urgent) sounds is a skill that must be developed over time. It does come naturally to some degree, as she's never known anything different. But it also has to be practiced and developed. It's been a conscious effort on our part to change some of our environment to aid her acquisition of these skills, and she's been quite successful here in the safety of our home setting. And if there's a set-back or regression in her handling of the noises of home, we all re-adjust or tighten up some of our habits. It's been a safe place for her to try, to experiment, and even to fail. None of this has been terribly conscious on her part but we see her growth and her efforts regardless. The progress and the change in just two years has been fun to experience together.

This mechanism that she is developing and honing continually requires tweaking and adjusting even within the consistency (at this point in the summer, my older kids call that monotony!) of our home life. When our home environment changes significantly for any length of time (for example, when we had my sister and her family here for 5 days), she has to almost "re-calibrate" the norm that she is experiencing. Or rather, she has to re-calibrate how she functions in response to that environment. At this stage of her life, that shows up in moodiness, exhaustion, or anxiety. In fact, with the unusual schedule and pace we've kept this summer, we have also seen some regressions in her separation anxiety.  (That's a post for another day, trust me!)  

So, while she is perfectly capable and successful at "knowing" what noises are background (sibling chatter, dishwasher running, etc.) and what noises are crucial (Mommy's voice, Shaggy's drumming :), Daddy's car in the driveway, Kai Lan on the tv!) here at home, "knowing" the difference between other kinds of noises elsewhere is a skill she must acquire to be successful in school and not experience any regression in her hearing and communication skills. Now, this may be a really dumbed-down description of the type of processing that goes on when Li'l E hears environmental noises, but it's the best way I can summarize the research I've read and the clinical discussions I've had with her therapist, audiologist, and ENT. Introducing her to the school environment (at the tender, early age of JUST 3 - gasp! Sigh.) seems to be the best move for Li'l Empress. It seems to be a tried and true means of introducing her to the next level of acquiring the listening skills needed for the eventuality of the elementary classroom. (Sigh. I can't ignore or deny the information, no matter how hard I try.)

AND, (because it can never just be one thing at a time when parenting children!) that's all ON TOP of the normal skills that pre-schoolers are adding to their repertoire. Shaping and molding her strong will toward  submitting properly and respectfully to our covering and authority. (Have I mentioned before? She's the strongest willed of all five of our kids. By FAR and away!)  Teaching her some age-appropriate emotion-management skills. Guiding her choices and figuring out the delicate balance between independence and reliance. Being as consistent and present as possible with her for all of it. Those are tasks set out before me that, in and of themselves, make me want to cower in my bed and delay the start of yet. another. long. day. by another hour. Or two?! Put all of it together, and that's just for one kid?! Oh, but wait. This post isn't about me.  Hee, hee. Gulp.

Yeah. So. Where was I? Oh, yeah. Pre-school . . .

So, we made the decision to put her into the local E@ster Se@ls pre-school program for two mornings a week.  I have so much more to share about the process and the different reactions we've had to it all.  In fact, I think I might make this a multi-parted series of posts.  Not because I have any great wisdom or knowledge to share. But because I really hope that what we are learning can help someone else. Because I learn so much from all of you and your insights and comments. And because writing it all out like this helps me process and think through the journey - hopefully saving me struggles on the learning curve for future adventures with this little one.

Parenting a special need child, parenting any child really, is something that none of us should be doing alone. I've said many times since we chose to pursue a Waiting Child adoption that I feel like I've gone back to college, given the amount of academic-type reading and information-gathering that I've done in the last three years.  This conversation about pre-school is not one I'd planned on needing to consider when I was researching microtia or unilateral hearing loss (or when considering our history of not "needing" it with the older kids), but it's been valuable and terribly interesting for me in the process.  No matter where Li'l Empress falls in the continuum of special needs, no matter what success she has or doesn't have going into the new school year, the skills I've been gaining along the way have been very useful.

And not surprisingly, I've learned a lot about a few other areas of life that are sure to help this momma as I grow in my role as her advocate and biggest cheerleader. That's coming up soon. . .

Friday, August 20, 2010

She's Got Skillz!

"School" has been a big topic of conversation around The Gang's house recently. The older boys are mentally gearing up for another year of home-study via their individual cyber schools. The middle two kids are anxiously awaiting news of their homeroom assignments and what changes have been made in their little elementary building around the corner. And Li'l Empress has recently been introduced to the little school and new teacher at the pre-school she'll be attending this fall.

Pre-school is such an out-of-the-box idea for our family. We never sent any of the other kids to pre-school settings, beyond the occasional child-care environment at our old home-schooling co-op and kids' classes on Sundays at church. Not that I have anything personally against pre-school - we were just not willing to pay for it, we never "NEEDED" it, and I was quite content to extend their time at home in our own environment for as long as possible.

In fact, I didn't even send my older kids to kindergarten. I home-schooled them for that year, mostly to avoid the complication of the half-day schedule and the interruption to our daily groove. There was always another baby or toddler in the house, nap times to consider; and down-time for little ones, for as long as they can enjoy it, is really important to me. The constant watching of the clock, the rush to catch the bus or be home in time to get little Johnny off the bus: it just was not for me in that season of our family life - and I didn't want to introduce the pressures of that kind of crunch to my kids until I had to. I liked having my little ones home at this stage of learning. I enjoyed teaching kindergarten.  I loved that whatever ages were also home at the time could also participate in the fun. I MOST ESPECIALLY LOVED that I still got a nice, mostly uninterrupted quiet time/nap for everyone the majority of those extra days at home. (I'm a big fan of sleeping kids!)

But with Li'l Empress, things are quite different. In addition to the fact that she's a smart as a whip and really ready, mentally and academically, for the challenge and the intrigue of a classroom setting, we have some other factors that must be considered. Factors that I've been researching, talking through with her Speech and Language therapist, and praying about with The Boss for many months now.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of "She's Got Skillz!" - or a momma's first venture into the world of pre-school. . . 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

That's A LOOTTA Burgers

Saturday we were thrilled to host a big family party around our pool. We had 27 of us, eating, swimming, talking, laughing, and eating some more. The teen boys weren't too happy about being woken up at 8 something on a Saturday morning to help get ready, but thanks to them and my sister and brother-in-law, we had everything ship-shape by lunch time.

The Boss ran the grill, and one of the little ones commented as they ran dripping by, "Wow, Uncle Boss, that's a loottta burgers!"  He wasn't kidding!  All in all, this big extended gang of mine blew through all this food, in only a couple hours:

24 burgers and buns
4 lbs of dogs and buns
2 huge bowls of cut-up fruit
4 qts. of baked beans
5 dozen deviled eggs
1 large garden salad
4 bags of chips
3 gallons of drinks
3 different double-batches of desserts

And that's not counting the second gathering we had of 22 of us Sunday night for Mexican Cornbread Pizza and ice cream sundaes!  There weren't many left-overs by bedtime on Sunday night: whatever was left from the weekend got consumed by the foraging teens.  Now I know why folks say that feeding teens is a lot like feeding a newborn. They eat every two hours!

Here's a few peeks into our family day. 

Grandma with the youngest grandchild.
Aren't they both gorgeous?

Li'l Empress with her "Unca Pawwww."
She loves it when he launches her into the deep
end. She asks for "higher, higher!"
and I stop watching. 

Grandma and Dr. D catchin some rays.
They both have corny senses of humor
and crack themselves up regularly.
We all groan, but I love it. 

My brother. Seconds later he was cracking
us up with one of his jokes. I love his sense
of humor, too. 

 Grandpa, taking it all in.
Don't ya think he looks a little like Merlin Olsen?

 The Birthday Boy, showing off some loot.
All together, we celebrated all the
July and August birthdays. There was LOTS
of wrapping paper and ribbon everywhere!

Li'l Empress got her first baby doll from
Grandma and Grandpa. She was soo cute with it.
Such a doting little momma... 

My youngest sister, getting her baby fix! 

Heh. Sharing new birthday toys with her cousins
was NOT Li'l Empress's favorite past-time.
We really need to work on that.

It's weekends like this that I cherish. I am fully aware that we are blessed beyond measure to have such loving relationships between us as siblings and that it should never be taken for granted. My parents did a wonderful job instilling in us the importance of building real and lasting friendships with each other as we grew up. The extraordinary bonus is that our spouses all feel the same way about investing in the relationships between us all. And I'm grateful that each of these relationships are built on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ. I don't take that for granted at all.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Shaggy is SIXTEEN!

Oh my word. How on earth is it possible that my firstborn has turned 16 already? I mean, all I did was blink a time or two. Sheesh. This "time flies when you are having fun" thing is for the birds.  Humph.

Anyway, Happy Birthday to my wonderful son, Shaggy. You have regularly challenged and encouraged me along the way to be a better mom and a better Christian. Your example of steadiness, discipline, and focus is a treasure to watch develop. I get a thrill of joy every time I see you interacting with your little sister - you have been such a source of comfort and compassion and nurture to her as she's learned what it means to be part of a family.

Your leadership within our home and within your circle of friends is a gift from God. Watching you participate in worship on your drums, listening to you diligently practice for hours every week, and seeing you dig in to learn more is something that I treasure. You are very humble about your gifts and talents, but make no mistake about it - they ARE gifts and talents that make you special and unique. They are the outflow of your consecrated heart and it is such a joy to see you grow in all these areas!

We pray that you continue to grow in His grace and mercy as well as in the giftings He has placed within you. May you continue to seek Him and His Heart and His Plan for your life. Your name means, "there is no one else like our God," and we pray that you will always KNOW in your know-er the deep and satisfying truth of that!

We love you, Shaggy!
Happy 16th Birthday!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Li'l Empress is THREE!

On our journey to you, we learned new levels of trust
in our Father. We learned how to cling more whole-heartedly
as He worked in us a deeper faith. We learned how to wait
actively while still walking toward the dream that He'd given.

On our journey with you, we are learning to laugh more easily
and love more deeply. We are learning truer compassion and
greater sensitivity to those around us who struggle with
various needs. We are learning better team work
and selflessness for the good of those we love.

We love you and are so proud of the wonderful,
and sweet little girl that you are becoming.
Your great big personality is such a joy to everyone
who gets the privilege of meeting you.
Your exuberant hugs and kisses and
"I lub you's" are cherished more than you know.
You have expanded our hearts and our world.
And every day, we thank God for the gift of you!

 Happy Birthday, Li'l Empress!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Snapshot Sunday

Ni Hao Y'all

We are totally crashing today after a whirlwind weekend of fun with friends who have become family... Our agency hosted its annual adoption reunion at a Great Wolf Lodge not too far from our home. A friend of a friend loaned us a beautiful home for the weekend, as cramming 7 of us Gang members into even the least expensive room at the lodge was waaaaaaay out of our budget. We shared the blessing of free lodging with our friends, the Lambrose family. It meant a little more driving for us, but it was well worth the effort. The pay-off was extended time with some of our favorite adoption community friends and some much-needed quiet and down-time in the car between events. Plus, the setting of the home in which we stayed was one of the most tranquil, serene places I've stayed in a long, long time. It was just what this Momma needed at the end of a long, hard month of craziness!

Here's our Sunday Snapshots. . . . better late than never.

The lovely Lambrose family bunked with us
for the long weekend. Brave of them,
considering that till now we'd only ever visited
for quick overnighters or pop-ins to each other's homes.

Really, though, the day that my sister-in-law connected me
to this lovely lady is a day I will forever mark as
"blessed" in my life story.
(For a cool story about the start of our
beautiful friendship, go here.)

Somebody had waaaaay too much energy to burn
while waiting for the rest of the 10 of us to get out the door!

Li'l Empress loved sliding down the big pink tongue
of the froggie at the outdoor pool.

Baby BlueEyes and Dr. D had fun racing down
to the bottom of this huuuuuuuuge water slide. 

Our three boys, ramped up, wet and worn out!

Li'l Empress with two of her favorite little
Living Hope buddies.
The cuteness factor was way off the charts
at dinner. I didn't even need dessert,
it was THAT sweet in there!

 The Gang - stuffed to the gills with yummy
Chinese food and almost too tired to take
another step.

For more Sunday Snapshot fun,
head over here and link in to the party!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Do You Think They Will Notice?

So. I am sitting here at my computer early (ridiculously early considering that I have nothing on the calendar till 11:00!) Thursday morning. In my pre-caffeinated fog. Reading a couple emails, catching up on F@cebook, gearing up for this week's Sunday bulletin, you know the drill.

I was deeply engrossed in reading this post (which by the way, is fabulous and a MUST READ for every married woman. Period. PEER. YEEEE. YUDD!) when Li'l Empress startled me by shouting out loud. 

Apparently, something on her morning show really! EXCITED! HER! SOOOO! MUCH!!!! The verbal outburst amidst the previously quiet morning slog made me jump out of my skin.

See, this morning, I'm home alone with my girly. Everyone else in the gang had somewhere important to be. And it's just us, with K@i L@n talking in the background.

Anyway. She startled me so much that I jumped up and, out of habit, shoved the rolling keyboard tray back into the computer desk. Quickly. Without thinking. Not normally a huge problem, right?

Except that this morning? THIS morning, I was sitting at my computer, reading a couple emails, catching up on F@cebook, gearing up for this week's Sunday bulletin, AND eating my favoritest cereal in the whole wide world.

Right out of my handy-dandy T*pperware cereal keeper (Cuz I despise milk. And I didn't want to dirty a bowl for just a handful or two.) Without the lid on. Sitting on the rolling keyboard tray.

Yeah. I know. I know. Sigh. I know.

Yeah. My favoritest cereal in the whole world flew up in the air at the impact. And landed all over the living room floor. All. Over.

So, I'm happy to say. I did salvage most of the cereal.  And I do have a nicely vacuumed living room carpet.

All before 8:30 a.m.

Do you think the kids will notice the random cat hair or two in the handy-dandy T*pperware cereal keeper?

I really need another cup of coffee.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Summer's Bounty

This weekend, I made one of our family's favorite summer dishes. I made Stuffed Zucchini. And I say "our family's" but I don't mean to include Shaggy in the liking. Because he doesn't. Like zucchini. At all. In any form or shape or texture. Except for maybe an occasional slice of zucchini bread. And only when he tells himself that the zucchini is smothered in brown sugar and flour and butter and eggs. Yeah. Not a fan of the green summer squashy treat.

I thought I'd share the dish here with you all, as it's been quite a while since I shared a recipe. Just remember, for this particular dish, there's not a "measure this" and "measure that" kind of recipe to follow. It is definitely a recipe that you can tweak and fudge for your family's preferences.  And truthfully, it turns out a little different every time I make it. You'll figure out what works best for your family as you make it a couple times.

Stuffed Zucchini
Take one of the longest, plumpest zucchinis that you can find. (Big zukes work well for this as their skins are firm enough to hold their shape when baking.) Clean it well and cut off the stem end. Cut it in half the long way, as evenly as you can manage.

Seed each half and be sure to leave an even amount of squash inside the halves. It should look like each half has a trench running down the middle. If the halves are very rounded, take a bare thin slice off the rounded edge so that it will lay flat in the pan with the cut side up. Generously spray a 9x13 pan and lay the zuke in, trenched side up.

Brown about a pound of ground turkey breast, breaking it up into taco-meat texture. Add fresh pressed garlic and chopped onions to the browning meat according to your tastes. I also generously pepper the mixture while it's browning. Drain any liquids from the meat.

When meat mixture is done, add a jar of your favorite sauce. This time around, I used a tomato Alfredo sauce (which was very thick and creamy) and I think it was better than any other version I've ever made. On top of the sauce, add an even ratio of shredded Parmesan and shredded mozzarella. Again, the amount of cheese will be to your preferences. When you are done adding the sauce and cheeses, the mixture should be a similar weight and texture to an average cookie dough. Not heavy like meatloaf but not loose and liquid-y.

Spoon the meat and sauce and cheese mixture into the zucchini trenches, generously. It's okay if it piles high. The juices of the zucchini will level everything out.

Sliding it into the oven, it already smelled amazing!

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour. In the final 10 minutes, top with another mixture of Parmesan and mozzarella. Let that topping bubble up and start to turn a little golden.

All baked and bubbling away.
It smelled divine around here!!!!

Serve with whole wheat pasta on the side, along with extra sauce. We also love it with ground beef, but the turkey breast is a much healthier option. And I've often used reduced fat cheeses with excellent results. This time, I mixed the zucchini with yellow summer squash and each were super tasty.  Enjoy!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sunday Snapshot

Ni Hao Y'all

~ Creature Comforts ~

 My laid-back, live-in-the-moment guy.
 He really knows how to relax and let it all go.
Where ever he is, what ever is going on around him.
He knows how to soak it all in.

For more Sunday Snapshot fun,
head over to Ni Hao Ya'll and join in!